Tag Archives: California wine

Getting Geeky about Malbec

Photo by Marianne Casamance. Released on Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-4.0Continuing our celebration of the oddly named Malbec World Day we’re going to get geeky here at Spitbucket about the Malbec grape.

What’s In a Name?

In Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes, the entry for Malbec is under Cot (or Côt) because of the association with grape’s likely birthplace in the region of Cahors in the historical province of Quercy in southwest France. Ampelographers note that like Côt many of the other early names for the grape such as Cos, Cau, Cor and Cors all seem to be contractions of Cahors.

However, the first written account of Malbec was actually in the Bordaux region of Pomerol in 1761 when the grape was called Noir de Pressac (black of Pressac), likely referring to the individual who first cultivated the grape. From Pomerol, the grape made its way to the Left Bank region of the Medoc where it was called Èstranger (stranger) or Estrangey.

The name Malbec came from a grower named Malbeck who propagated the grape in what is now known as Sainte-Eulalie in the Premières Côtes de Bordeaux AOC of the Entre-Deux-Mers region.

When a Mommy Grape and a Daddy Grape Cross-Polinate…

In 2009, DNA analysis discoevered that Magdeleine Noire des Charentes–the mother grape of Merlot (Check out the Academic Wino’s Who’s Your Daddy? series on Merlot)– and an obscure grape from the Tarn department called Prunelard were the parent varieties of Malbec.

In addition to being a half-sibling of Merlot, Malbec has done a bit of its own “cross-pollinating” being a parent grape to Jurançon noir (with Folle blanche) and Caladoc (with Grenache).

Malbec in Bordeaux

Photo by   Ian L. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

Malbec used to be far more prevalent in the Bordeaux region. In fact, Stephen Brook noted in The Complete Bordeaux that it was the most widely planted grape in the vineyards of Lafite in the 18th century. Many of the estates that were classified in 1855 had Malbec account for as much as 50% of their blends in the early 19th century.

However, the later half of the 19th century would usher in the decline of the variety due to its sensitivity to coulure and mildew. Following the devastation of phylloxera, many growers who did replant choose to replace Malbec in their vineyards with the more popular and easier to grow Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Into the 20th century, Malbec still maintain a presence, particularly in the Right Bank, but the devastating frost of 1956 killed off a significant number of plantings and practically signal the death kneel for the grape in Bordeaux.

There are still some small plantings of Bordeaux with the Côtes de Bourg and Côtes de Blaye being the most significant strongholds. In St. Emilion, Cheval Blanc and Jean Faure are two notable estates with some plantings of Malbec. In Pomerol, Chateau L’Enclos (owned by the Adams family who also own Chateau Fonplegade in St. Emilion) also maintain some Malbec.

On the Left Bank, a small 1 ha block of old vine Malbec is still producing for 2nd Growth estate of Ch. Gruaud Larose in St. Julien. Fellow 2nd Growth Ch. Brane Cantenac in Margaux grows a few parcels of Malbec (as well as Carmenère). In the Graves region of Pessac-Leognan, Ch. Haut Bailly owns a 4 ha block of 100+ year old vines that includes a field blend of all six Bordeaux varieties–including Malbec and Carmenère.

Malbec in Argentina

Photo by PABLO GONZALEZ. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

Malbec vines growing in Argentina.

Michel Pouget is credited with introducing Malbec to Argentina, bringing pre-phylloxera cuttings of the grape from Bordeaux to the country in the 1850s.

Compared to their French counterparts, clusters of Malbec in Argentina are smaller with tighter berries. These smaller grape berries create a skin to juice ratio that tends to produce more deeply colored wines with intense black fruit.

The Bordeaux influence in Argentina is still felt today with producers like like Léoville Poyferré (Cuvelier de Los Andes), Michel Rolland (Clos de los Siete), Cheval Blanc (Cheval des Andes), Hélène Garcin-Lévêque (Poesia) and Lafite-Rothschild (CARO) having projects in Argentina making both varietal Malbec and using it in Bordeaux style blends.

Malbec in the United States

The grape is widely planted throughout the US including in states like Missouri, Idaho, Georgia, Arizona, Virginia, North Carolina, New York, Maryland, Texas and Michigan. Here it is made as both as varietal wine and as a blending component.

In Napa Valley, despite being a regular feature of popular blends like Opus One and Joseph Phelps Insignia, Malbec is sometimes considered the “Gummo Marx” of the Bordeaux varieties. Part of the grape’s low standing in the region was historically due to poor clonal selection but as better clone options from Cahors and Argentina become available, Napa is seeing increased plantings of the variety on Mt. Veeder, Coombsville and Atlas Peak.

Outside of Napa, Malbec is most widely planted in the San Joaquin Valley where it is used for mass produced bulk blends. However, there are quality minded producers making varietal Malbec wines throughout the state, particularly in regions like Paso Robles, Dry Creek Valley, Santa Ynez, Lodi and the Sierra Foothills.

Photo taken by self. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons as User:Agne27 and released under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Red Willow Vineyard in Washington State.


In Washington State, Malbec has the curious distinction of being the most expensive grape per ton with the average price for a ton of Malbec in 2016 being $1,587 as opposed to varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon $1,442/ton, Merlot $1,174/ton, Chardonnay $940/ton and Semilion (the most expensive white grape) at $1,054 ton.

While Red Willow Vineyard in the Yakima Valley helped pioneer the grape in Washington State, Paul Gregutt in Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide notes that Casey McClellan of Seven Hills Winery was the first to plant the grape in Walla Walla in the early 1990s.

Want More Malbec?

Check out the hashtags #MalbecWorldDay and #WorldMalbecDay on Twitter and the Malbec tag on Instagram for more fun.

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Product Review — SommSelect Blind Six

Master Sommelier Ian Cauble (of the movie Somm fame) has a unique subscription program designed to teach people how to blind taste better–the SommSelect Blind Six.

Each month for $199 you receive 6 bottles (3 whites and 3 reds) that are individually wrapped in black tissue paper. I decided to give the subscription a go. Below is my experience with my first month’s box (Spoiler alert if you haven’t done April’s wines) and my thoughts on if the subscription (and wines) are worth the cost.

What You Get

In the box, you’ll find 6 individually wrapped bottles numbered 1-6 as well as an envelop containing both instructions and an answer packet to reference after you’ve tasted the wines. The first thing I noticed when I opened the box was that they didn’t indicate on each bottle if they were red or white nor was there any info in the Blind Tasting Instruction Packet. The numbered stickers on each bottle are different colors but not with a consistent pattern to distinguish white versus red. I took a wager on the most logical set up being trying the 3 whites first so I went with trying bottles #1-3 which, happily, were all white.

In the instruction packet, Cauble gives tips on what to look for in each stage of the evaluation as well as what common “clues” often mean. These tips range from things that are fairly well known–like under Sight the tips about looking at the meniscus and how the color varies from the intensity of the core to the rim is a sign of age–to more interesting observations like his note under Nose & Palate that the aroma of dry bay leaf is common in Cabernet Sauvignon from moderately warm climate regions like Napa. While the former can often be found in discussions about blind tasting, the later is the kind of insight you usually only get first hand from someone with experience in blind tasting.

Likewise, the answer packet (which I’ll discuss below) also gives numerous precise details about things to look for in evaluating color and structure that you don’t readily find from other resources.

Tasting the White Flight

Using the Coravin on the white wine flight.

Cauble recommends having a neutral third party person open the wines and pour them into a decanter. While I clearly see the benefit of this approach–not the least of which is that splash decanting is probably the most underutilized tool in wine appreciation–I went a different route for three reasons.

1.) Neither my wife nor I wanted to miss out on the fun so we didn’t have a “neutral third party”
2.) I didn’t want to open up and waste 3 bottles of wine. [Note: Cauble does recommend doing the tastings as part of a multi-course dinner and with friends]
3.) I didn’t have 3 decanters of the same size and shape–which does make a difference
3.5) I also didn’t want to clean 3 decanters along with 6 wine glasses to be brutally honest

So we decided to break out the foil cutter and as carefully as possible use scissors to cut off the tip of the black tissue paper and remove the top of the capsule without seeing any identifying markings. Wine #3 was a screwcap so I just closed my eyes and twist. It felt like I was kid back at home trying to get something out of my parent’s closet while deliberately avoiding the corner where they kept the presents. Then we Coravin each bottle to pour out 2 samples of the cork-sealed wines.

Now other people might take the approach of just blind tasting one bottle a night and enjoying the wine with dinner or what not. It’s certainly an easier and less wasteful approach. However, we really wanted to compare the 3 together because we felt that it allowed us to go back and forth with contrasting color and aroma. It is also more conducive to the blind tasting format of formal examinations. The beauty of the Coravin is that it allows us to only pour two samples of each without pulling the cork and wasting the wine.

Wine #1

The most noticeable thing about this wine was the “onion peel” color with pink hues.

Medium intensity nose with apple and citrus notes along with a white floral element that wasn’t very defined. There was also a subtle doughy element that made me think of raw pastry dough as opposed to something toasty like oak or Champagne.

On the palate the apple fruits came through much more than the citrus with a lot of weight and depth for a medium-plus bodied white wine. This wine had texture that filled the mouth which started my brain going towards Oregon Pinot gris. Medium acidity was enough to keep it fresh but not racy or citrusy like I associate with Italian Pinot grigio. No signs of new oak but that doughy element from the nose could have been from partial neutral oak. Moderate length finish ends with the lingering white flower notes that I still couldn’t quite pin point.

My guess: An Oregon Pinot gris in the $18-20 range. At this point in my practice I’m not going to focus on guessing age.
Turned out to be: 2016 Scarbolo Pinot grigio, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy (Wine Searcher Ave: $14)

Wine #1 — Should have paid more attention to the color.


In hindsight, I should have paid more attention to the color that comes from a practice of skin contact that is far more common in Italy than Oregon. I let the stereotype of “light, citrusy” supermarket Italian Pinot grigio sway me into thinking that this wine was too good and too weighty to come from Italy. Granted, living in the Pacific Northwest I’m naturally bias due to my greater familiarity with Oregon Pinot gris.

Also, (thanks to Cauble’s notes in the Answer Packet) I realized that I should have paid more attention to that “subtle doughy element” from the nose. In Cauble’s notes he describes “hints of peanut shells, stale beer” which plays along those lines of what I was picking up. It wasn’t Champagne biscuity or Muscadet leesy but there was something there that I now know I should look out for–particularly in higher end Italian Pinot grigio from regions like Friuli.

Wine #2

Light yellow color, almost watery with some green specks.

High intensity nose. Wow! This wine is screaming out the glass with lemon citrus (both fruit and zest) and the smell of concrete after rain.

On the palate, those citrus notes comes through but so does the stoniness. This wine is screaming minerality–like liquid stones in your mouth. There is also a sense of salinity in the wine that amplifies the minerality. Clearly I’m thinking Old World here but which grape? Medium-plus acid tilts me away from thinking Sauvignon blanc/Sancerre and more to Chardonnay/Chablis. Medium body with a long finish that lingers on those stoney notes. Very fantastic wine and my favorite of the flight.

Crazy good Petit Chablis. Minerality for days.


My guess: A village-level Chablis in the $25-30 range.
Turned out to be: 2016 Agnes et Didier Dauvissat Petit Chablis, Burgundy, France (Wine Searcher Ave $17)

Outstanding wine and a scorcher of a deal for a Petit Chablis. I was even tempted into thinking this could be a Premier Cru instead of a village-level Chablis because of how vibrant it was. Ultimately I defaulted back to village level because, while it did jump out of the glass, my notes on the wine were still rather short. You expect more layers and complexity with a higher level Chablis. But still, an outstanding bottle and way above what a Petit Chablis typically delivers.

Wine #3

Moderate yellow. Definitely darker than #2 but not golden or anything that would hint at oak.

Medium-plus intensity nose. Spiced d’Anjou pear with LOTS of white pepper. I tried really hard not to jump to conclusions but this was screaming Gruner Veltliner right from the get-go.

On the palate the spiced pear carries through and is joined by some ripe apple notes. The ripeness of the apple and the pear had me wondering if this was maybe a warmer climate Gruner like from California or (Northwest bias again) Oregon. Medium-plus acidity and a sense of stoney river rocks ultimately brought me back to Old World and Austria. No signs of oak. Light bodied with a moderate finish that lingers on the white pepper spice.

My guess: An Austrian Gruner Veltliner in the $14-17 range.
Turned out to be: 2016 Weingut Bauerl Gruner Veltliner Federspiel, Wachau, Austria (Wine Searcher Average $9)

Another crazy good value. Would be a killer glass pour at a restaurant.


While not “New Zealand Sauv. blanc easy”, this was definitely the easiest one in the entire Blind Six. Cauble promises to pick classic examples of each wine style and I don’t think he could have picked a more classic Gruner Veltliner than this.

Tasting the Red Flight

I had a bit of a ego boost with the white flight getting 3/3 grape varieties right and 1.5/3 with the regions–going to do a half point for that way over-performing Petit Chablis. However with the red flight my ego got thoroughly deflated.

My wife and I did the red flight tasting before a meal and decided to make a game of it. After we sampled and evaluated the wines, we compared each to our meal to see what was the best pairing. The “winning bottle” got the cork pulled to be finished with the rest of the meal. We really liked this game and think we’ll make it a staple moving forward with doing the Blind Six.

Wine #4

Light ruby color. Can read through it. Some fuschia hues.

Medium-plus intensity nose. Very ripe Rainier cherries, cranberries with herbal notes–mint and fennel.

Those red fruits and herbal notes carry through but the cherries taste more richer on the palate than they smelled on the nose. Almost candied even. High acidity balances that richness and still keeps the fruit more red than black. Medium tannins and medium body contribute to the wine feeling a little thin. Rather short finish ends on some spice notes that aren’t very defined though hint at being in the baking spice family (cinnamon, clove) suggesting partial new oak? Definitely thinking Old World Pinot with this.

Should have paid more attention to the fuschia hues and candied cherry notes.

My guess: A basic Bourgogne rouge (maybe Cote de Beaune-Villages?) in the $25-30 range.
Turned out to be: Jean-Paul Brun Domaine des Terres Dorees Morgon, Beaujolais, France (Wine Searcher Ave $18)

My wife briefly suggested Gamay as a possibility but we dismissed it because the acids were too high–though in his notes Cauble rates the acidity of this wine as medium-plus. In hindsight, the “candied cherry” and the fuschia hues should have registered more.

Yeah, this was a total miss for me.

Wine #5

Moderate ruby. Can still read through it but much darker than #1. Slight blue hues.

Medium intensity nose. Noticeable oak spice and vanilla. Black cherries and black berries.

On the palate, the oak still dominate with the dark fruit. Medium-plus acidity keeps it from being syrupy with medium tannins holding the structure well. Moderate length finish ends on the oak. This is screaming California Pinot.

While you probably wouldn’t suspect Syrah being blended in, it would be hard not to peg this as anything but a Cali Pinot.


My guess: A California Pinot noir in the $33-38 range.
Turned out to be: 2016 Tyler Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County, USA (Wine Searcher Ave $36)

This was, by far, the easiest one of the red flight and I was seriously close to taking a stab that it was Central Coast as well. It was very oak driven and didn’t have any of the elegance I associate with Sonoma Coast, Russian River or Carneros Pinot noir. It wasn’t bad at all (and it certainly not a huge Kosta Browne wannabe) but it definitely was as stereotypical “Post-Sideway Cali Pinot” as you can get.

Wine #6

Medium garnet with some rim variation that has an orange huge. Can’t read through the core.

Medium-plus intensity nose. Lots of dried roses and tarry tobacco spice. Some red fruits–cherries, pomegranate and cranberries. Also a little animal earthiness.

The red fruits carry through but aren’t as defined on the palate as they were on the nose. It’s the tarry tobacco and high tannins that dominate. Still just medium-plus body though with the alcohol weight. High acidity makes your mouth water and highlights tobacco spice notes and helps keep the floral rose petals from the nose alive. The animal earthiness become more defined and linger on the moderate finish.

This isn’t your “modernist” style Gaja, Antinori, Renieri or Banfi style Brunello. Tasting this made me realize that I need to look into more “old school” style producers.


My guess: A basic Barolo in the $40-45 range.
Turned out to be: 2012 Padelletti Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Tuscany, Italy (Wine Searcher Ave $48)

Once again my wife had the suggestion that maybe this was Sangiovese–which we evaluated more critically this time. The orange hue and the cherry notes played along. But ultimately we thought that the high tannins and high acidity fit the profile of Nebbiolo/Barolo much more than Sangiovese. Turns out, our scale of “high” is apparently Ian Cauble’s medium-plus.

In hindsight, and after reading Cauble’s notes, I realize that I have vastly more experience with “modern” style Brunello producers than I do with some of the classic, old school style of Brunello that Cauble describes in the Padelletti. A big takeaway from this experience is that I need to branch out more in this area.

For dinner we were having Italian sausage with penne and red sauce so this was the “winning bottle” from a food pairing point of view though the Morgon with the fennel notes was a close second.

Ian’s Notes — aka Where You Went Wrong

It’s incredibly enlightening (and humbling) to read a Master Sommelier’s notes on a wine you just tasted. For each wine there are numerous “clues” in color, aroma and structure that Cauble points out that make perfect sense when you go back and revisit the wine.

Like how did I miss the crushed raspberries with the Morgon Beaujolais–one of the tell tale signs of Gamay? How did I not notice the fennel and orange peel from the Brunello?

Tasting a Pinot grigio and Gruner in a flight together really highlighted the similarities and differences between the two.

While there are going to be subjective differences (like the high/medium-plus ratings), overall there is immense insight to be gained in reviewing Cauble’s notes. Beyond just laying out all the clues that you may or may not have gotten, Cauble chimes in with tips about other “lateral wines” that blind tasters often confuse with each other.

For instance, Pinot grigio, Albarino and Gruner Veltliner are part of a trio of “neutral bitter varieties” that often trouble blind tasters. Cauble encourages you to look for a subtle sensation of “over-steeped green tea” at the back of the palate and front of the lips and then try to differentiate from there. Gruner will have the distinctive white pepper (and apparently daikon-raddish which I need to look for) while Albarino will have more canned peaches and Pinot grigio will have that “stale beer” and “peanut shell” element that I also need to start looking more for.

With the Morgon Beaujolais that I completely whiffed on, Cauble goes into brief detail about how different Cru Beaujolais are from the popular associations with Gamay and describes how they are commonly confused for Northern Rhone Syrahs and Loire Cabernet Franc from Chinon. While I, personally, didn’t confuse the Morgon for either of those two–I have a motivation now to actively compare good quality Cru Beaujolais with each.

In fact this is a suggestion that Cauble makes repeatedly throughout the tasting packet–if you have trouble with something then do comparison tastings (non-blind) with what you tasted and what you thought it was. This is another area where the Coravin becomes a valuable tool. The next night after we did the red flight, my wife and I grabbed a Beaune Montrevenots (a tad higher than Cote de Beaune-Village level) and compared it side by side to the Morgon. That was immensely educational (the candied cherry of the Beaujolais was even more pronounced compared to the tart cherry of the Beaune) and we plan to do the same with getting a Barolo to compare side by side with an old school Brunello.

Is it Worth it?

Depends.

If you are looking at it from a straight dollar value of the wine, then maybe not. At $199 for 6 bottles you expect an average wine value of around $33 a bottle. I don’t know how close this month’s box is to the norm but going off of Wine Searcher’s average prices (which is based on retail and not the wholesale that SommSelect is likely getting), I received $142 worth of wine for an average of $24 a bottle. Assuming that SommSelect is already making a healthy retail mark up, it’s fair to see how some subscribers might chaff at the hard numbers.

That said, these were exceptionally well curated wines that in nearly each case drank at a higher price point. If I went with the upper end of my price ranges for each wine (which, like how I score wines with my 60 Second Reviews, is mostly based on what price I feel would be a good value for this wine) that would be $180 for an average of $30 a bottle. Not ideal but not feeling like I’m getting ripped off either.

But the bigger value in the SommSelect Blind Six is truly with Cauble’s notes. For students seeking higher level certifications with WSET and the Court of Master Sommeliers, there is a dearth of material out there when it comes to learning more about blind tasting. There are some online resources (and great podcasts) from GuildSomm and each program includes some material when you pay for courses. When it comes to wine books, Neel Burton’s The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting is pretty much the only game in town.

Truthfully, for the most part, budding wine geeks are on their own in this arena.

If you are serious about wanting to be a good blind taster and are already investing thousands into seeking higher level certifications–this will probably be well worth it to you.


The benefit of the SommSelect Blind Six is that you can easily structure your own self-study program for blind tasting with essentially a Master Sommelier as your personal tutor. The examples that Cauble pick are truly classic and while you might disagree with some of his assessments, you can’t fault the logic and soundness of his conclusions.

But, most importantly, along with the individual wines you taste in the Blind Six, Cauble’s notes helps you pinpoint the strengths and weakness in your approach. With his suggestions of other things to taste and insight into his own personal approach, you can craft a game plan to tackle those weaknesses so you can become a better blind taster.

After one round of the Blind Six, I feel that, yes, it is undoubtedly worth it. Maybe not for the casual wine drinker but most definitely for the wine geek or ambitious wine professional who truly wants to get better at blind tasting.

I’ll continue to review each month’s box to not only track my own progress in blind tasting but to also see how the value/price per bottle ratio trends.

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Getting Geeky with Gramercy Picpoul

Going to need more than 60 Seconds to geek out about the 2015 Gramercy Picpoul from Walla Walla.

The Background

Gramercy Cellars was founded in 2005 by Master Sommelier Greg Harrington and his wife, Pam. Prior to starting a winery, Harrington managed wine programs for restaurants owned by Joyce Goldstein (Square One in San Francisco), Emeril Lagasse, Stephen Hanson and Wolfgang Puck (Spago). At the time that Harrington passed his MS exam in 1996, he was 26 and the youngest person to have achieved that honor.

According to Paul Gregutt, in Washington Wines, while sommelier-turned-winemaker is somewhat common in California and other parts of the world, Harrington was the first to traverse that path in Washington State.

In 2006, Gramercy started a partnership with Jamie Brown of Waters Winery that eventually led to the development of Wines of Substance (later sold to Charles Smith) and 21 Grams (now owned by Doug Roskelley and Mike Tembreull, owners of TERO Estates and Flying Trout Wines).

In 2008, Harrington was named by Seattle Magazine as “Best New Winemaker in Washington” and followed that up in 2014 as the magazine’s “Winemaker of the Year“.

Along with Harrington, the wines of Gramercy Cellars are made by Brandon Moss who joined the winery in 2009 after stints at King Estate in Oregon, Indevin in New Zealand and Waters in Walla Walla.

Drawing from Ampélographie Viala et Vermorel. Uploaded by JPS68 via photoshop to Wikimedia Commons under PD Old

Picpoul blanc grapes by Viala et Vermorel


Gramercy started making Picpoul in 2013 because the variety was a favorite of Pam Harrington. That first vintage came from Olsen Vineyards in the Yakima Valley from a block that was scheduled to be uprooted and planted over to Grenache. The cuttings were sourced from Tablas Creek Vineyards in Paso Robles from original vines at Château Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Subsequent vintages of Gramercy Picpoul have been sourced from Los Oídos Vineyards located in the Blue Mountains of Walla Walla which are managed by Ken Hart and sustainably farmed. In addition to managing Los Oídos, Hart was also involved in the planting of Ash Hollow, Nicholas Cole, Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills East vineyards and today helps manage the vineyards of Abeja, àMaurice, Dunham and Walla Walla Vintners.

The Grape

According to Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes, the first mention of Picpoul (or Piquepoul) was of the black skin variant in 1384 near Toulouse in the Occitanie region that borders Spain. The name is believed to have been derived from the Oc dialect words picapol or picpol which loosely translates to a “place with a peak” and may refer to the cliff-side vineyards where the grape was planted.

The first account that explicitly described the white skin mutation of Picpoul was in 1667. There is also a pink-skin Picpoul gris that is nearly extinct. All three color variants are part of the 22 grapes that are authorized to be grown in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

A Picpoul de Pinet from the Languedoc.


In 2009, there was over 3500 acres of Picpoul blanc planted in France–mostly in the Languedoc area where it is the notable variety of Picpoul de Pinet–the largest white wine producing AOC in the Languedoc. The grape is valued in the white wines of the Languedoc and Provence for its high acidity and lemon, floral aromatics.

In the United States, Tablas Creek was the first to plant Picpoul blanc in 2000. In California, Tablas Creek has noted that the variety is early budding but late ripening and tends to produce rich tropical fruits along with its trademark “lip stinging” acidity. Several producers in Paso Robles will occasional produce bottlings of Picpoul blanc including–Adelaida Cellars, Denner Winery, Derby Wine Estates, Halter Ranch, Lone Madrone, Bending Branch Winery and Broc Cellars.

Outside of Paso Robles, the grape can also be found in Calaveras County where Twisted Oak Winery and Forlorn Hope make varietal examples as well as in the Arroyo Seco AVA of Monterrey County which supplies Picpoul for Bonny Doon. In Arizona, Cimarron Vineyard in Cochise County is growing Picpoul blanc for Sand-Reckoner Winery and in the McLaren Vale of Australia, Picpoul blanc has been produced by Coriole Vineyards since 2015.

In Washington, outside of the Los Oídos Vineyards supplying Gramercy, the grape is being grown at Boushey Vineyards, Corliss Estate’s Blue Mountain Vineyard in Walla Walla and at Tanjuli Winery’s estate vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA.

The Wine

Photo by Vegan Feast Catering. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

The lemon custard aromatics and creaminess of this 2015 Gramercy Picpoul is just one of the many complex layers to this wine.

High intensity nose. There is a lot going on here. Initially it starts out very floral and lemony with subtle pastry crust like a lemon custard tart. Underneath the lemon zest is some dusty gravel mineral notes. In a blind tasting, this would have my brain start thinking white Bordeaux. There is also a white floral note in the background that is not very defined.

But on the palate the wine switches gears and starts getting more tree fruit oriented with spicy d’Anjou pears and the floral notes morphing more into lemon verbena. The custard note from the nose carries through adding a richness to the mouthfeel–creamy but not buttery like a California Chardonnay. Even with this weighty creaminess the high acidity is quite present, offering exquisite balance and freshness. The gravel mineral notes come through and have a “crushed rock” element that is almost electric. The long finish brings a subtle hint of hazelnut that would have me wondering in a blind tasting if this was a village level Meursault.

The Verdict

Incredibly complex wine that jumps out of the glass and leaves a lasting impression on the palate. At around $20 bucks this is an absolute steal for all that this wine delivers.

But even if you can’t find a bottle of Gramercy’s Picpoul, do yourself a favor and find any bottle of Picpoul to try. If you are looking to trade out from your same ole, same ole Sauvignon blanc and Pinot gris, this grape is perfect.

Picpoul has the freshness and zip of a great Sauvignon blanc but with some of the spice of Gruner Veltliner and depth of a well made Chardonnay. Examples from Picpoul de Pinet can be had for $10-13 and are often far superior to what you usually find among Sauvignon blanc, Pinot gris/grigio and Chardonnay in the under $15 category.

This is definitely a grape that should be high on any wine geek’s list to try.

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Book Review — Washington Wines and Wineries

A few thoughts on Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide by Paul Gregutt.

Overview

The Washington wine industry is the second largest producer of premium wine in the United States behind California with more than 900 wineries and over 350 vineyards.

Top 100 lists from publications like Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast are frequently dotted by Washington wines including the 2005 Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon that was named the #1 wine on Wine Spectator’s 2009 list. Numerous Washington wines from Quilceda Creek, Cayuse and Leonetti have earned perfect 100 point scores from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

In 2014, the 2011 L’Ecole Ferguson won Best Bordeaux Blend in the World at the Decanter World Wine awards.

Yet, while you can easily find literally hundreds of books to learn about California wine, the pickings on the people, places and wines of Washington are much more slim.

Thankfully, Paul Gregutt, a former columnist for The Seattle Times and Wine Enthusiast, has helped fill that gaping hole with the best reference standard to date about the Washington wine industry.

With the first edition released in 2007 and an updated, expanded 2nd edition released in 2010, Gregutt’s work is broken into two parts.

Part one includes a brief history of the Washington wine industry from Walla Walla’s first plantings in the 1860s, W.B. Bridgman’s 1917 plantings of Vitis vinifera on Snipes Mountain, to the rise of Associated Vintners and the birth of the modern Washington wine industry in the 1970s & 1980s. In the first edition, Gregutt also discusses the 1825 plantings at Fort Vancouver.

An example of the varietal pages where Gregutt list some of the best Washington examples of several varieties (like Cabernet Franc)

Gregutt then moves into a chapter exploring the (then) 11 AVAs of Washington. Since 2010, the number has grown to 14 AVAs with Naches Heights (2011), Ancient Lakes (2012) and Lewis-Clark Valley (2016) joining the ranks with The Burn likely to soon follow.

The third chapter goes into the major grape varieties grown in Washington State, profiling the wine regions, flavor characteristics and top producers for many of the nearly 70 different grape varieties grown in Washington. Gregutt hits not only the big varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot but also touches on the history and importance of Riesling in the Washington wine industry as well as some of the more obscure but notable varieties grown such as Chenin blanc, Roussanne, Viognier, Barbera, Counoise, Petite Verdot, Tempranillo and Zinfandel.

The final chapter in Part 1 examines 20 of Washington’s most important vineyards, including many that would be considered the “Grand Crus” of the state such as Boushey Vineyards, Champoux and Ciel du Cheval. In each profile, Gregutt talks not only about the history and terroir of the vineyards but also notes which grape varieties and wineries tend to showcase each vineyard’s unique qualities.

Betz, one of the Five Star Wineries profiled by Gregutt.

In Part 2, Gregutt profiles over 200 different Washington wineries–breaking them into categories like Five Star wineries (such as Betz, Cadence, L’Ecole, Quilceda Creek and Woodward Canyon), Four Star wineries (like Boudreaux Cellars, Gordon Brothers, Hedges and Sheridan Vineyard), Three Star wineries (like àMaurice, Apex, Camaraderie Cellars, Chinook, Gamache, Kiona, Otis Kenyon and Tagaris) and then finally Rising Stars (like Efeste, Hestia, Lost River, Doubleback and Whidbey Island Winery).

Some Things I Learned

In the history chapter, I was particularly fascinated with the era following Prohibition where liquor laws that still severely restricted access to hard alcohol and cocktails discouraged the nascent Washington wine industry from focusing on dry European-style wines in lieu of producing sweet, fortified wines.

The rise of Merlot in the 1990s was also an interesting read, especially hearing that Jed Steele, while consulting winemaking for Northstar Winery, was promoting the Walla Walla winery as “Washington’s answer to Ch. Petrus.” I enjoy Northstar quite a bit but I think we should forgive Steele of the hyperbole.

In the AVA chapter, I developed more of an appreciation for the “workhorse wine regions” of the Wahluke Slope and Horse Heaven Hills that often get overlooked in favor of the “Sexier AVAs” of Red Mountain and Walla Walla. With more than 80,000 acres, the Wahluke Slope is responsible for around 15% of all the wines produced in Washington while the Horse Heaven Hills is responsible for 25%–and was also home to the state’s first 100 point wines from Quilceda Creek’s Champoux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.

Even at 14 years of age, this 2003 Gorman Pixie Syrah from Red Mountain still had that zesty lemon-lime note Gregutt describes along with some gorgeous bacon fat!

In Chapter 3, Gregutt does an outstanding job explaining the typicity and unique characteristic of grape varieties grown in Washington soils which are invaluable for folks studying how to blind taste. I know now to look for things like the blueberry and light-olive notes of Cabernet Franc, the distinctive “streak of lemon-lime zest” in Washington Syrahs and the mix of Japanese pears and green apple flavors that tend to show up in the state’s Pinot gris wines.

Wines I Want to Try Because of This Book

Throughout Washington Wines, Gregutt name drops many intriguing wines (particularly in the grape variety and wineries chapters). But after reading Gregutt’s book, I think I’m most interested in doing comparative tastings of Washington terroir.

One tasting that particularly intrigues me is investigating the 10 different Wahluke Slope Vineyards manage by the Milbrandt family–including Northridge, Sundance, Clifton Hill, Pheasant, Katherine Leone and Talcott Vineyards. Ideally I’d want to compare with the same variety (like Merlot or Syrah) and find as many vineyard designated examples from the same winery as I can. Looking on Wine Searcher, I see that Bunnell Family Cellar and Charles Smith’s K Vintners have some individual bottlings from these vineyards.

The history geek in me would also love to try a Muscat of Alexandria from the 1917 W.B. Bridgman plantings in what is now Upland Vineyard on Snipes Mountain.

New Reading Recommendations I Got From This Book

Because Gregutt was blazing new trails in this in-depth overview of the Washington wine industry, there wasn’t a lot of other source material that he could point uber-geeks like me to.

From a historical perspective, it’s worth seeking out Leon Adams’ Wines of America which included the first critical acclaim of a Washington wine–a 1966 rosé of Grenache made by Associated Vintners.

One book that Gregutt does cite is The Wine Project: Washington State’s Winemaking History by Ron Irvine and Walter Clore (“The Father of Washington Wine”). This was actually a required text book during my time at the Northwest Wine Academy when I was earning my wine production degree. Prior to the 2007 release of Gregutt’s Washington Wines, this was virtually the only book that seriously looked at the Washington wine industry.

Final Thoughts

In the very first chapter, Gregutt recounts a story from Master of Wine Bob Betz about promoting Washington wine on the East Coast of the United States. One time after a long presentation about the history of the state, the many AVAs and grape varieties grown in Washington, Betz opened the session up for questions from the audience. The first query he got was someone wondering on what side of the Potomac were Washington’s wine grapes grown.

That anecdotal story encapsulate very well the issues that the Washington wine industry has in distinguishing itself–not only on the world’s stage but also at home in the United States where California casts a very long shadow. Throughout Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide, Paul Gregutt does an outstanding job highlighting the terroirs, wineries and people that make Washington unique.

It is not only a must-read for people who want to learn more about the 2nd largest producer of American wines but also for folks who have already discovered and fallen in love with the bounty of wines that Washington offers.

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Book Review — Washington Wines and Wineries

A few thoughts on Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide by Paul Gregutt.

Overview

The Washington wine industry is the second largest producer of premium wine in the United States behind California with more than 900 wineries and over 350 vineyards.

Top 100 lists from publications like Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast are frequently dotted by Washington wines including the 2005 Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon that was named the #1 wine on Wine Spectator’s 2009 list. Numerous Washington wines from Quilceda Creek, Cayuse and Leonetti have earned perfect 100 point scores from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

In 2014, the 2011 L’Ecole Ferguson won Best Bordeaux Blend in the World at the Decanter World Wine awards.

Yet, while you can easily find literally hundreds of books to learn about California wine, the pickings on the people, places and wines of Washington are much more slim.

Thankfully, Paul Gregutt, a former columnist for The Seattle Times and Wine Enthusiast, has helped fill that gaping hole with the best reference standard to date about the Washington wine industry.

With the first edition released in 2007 and an updated, expanded 2nd edition released in 2010, Gregutt’s work is broken into two parts.

Part one includes a brief history of the Washington wine industry from Walla Walla’s first plantings in the 1860s, W.B. Bridgman’s 1917 plantings of Vitis vinifera on Snipes Mountain, to the rise of Associated Vintners and the birth of the modern Washington wine industry in the 1970s & 1980s. In the first edition, Gregutt also discusses the 1825 plantings at Fort Vancouver.

An example of the varietal pages where Gregutt list some of the best Washington examples of several varieties (like Cabernet Franc)

Gregutt then moves into a chapter exploring the (then) 11 AVAs of Washington. Since 2010, the number has grown to 14 AVAs with Naches Heights (2011), Ancient Lakes (2012) and Lewis-Clark Valley (2016) joining the ranks with The Burn likely to soon follow.

The third chapter goes into the major grape varieties grown in Washington State, profiling the wine regions, flavor characteristics and top producers for many of the nearly 70 different grape varieties grown in Washington. Gregutt hits not only the big varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot but also touches on the history and importance of Riesling in the Washington wine industry as well as some of the more obscure but notable varieties grown such as Chenin blanc, Roussanne, Viognier, Barbera, Counoise, Petite Verdot, Tempranillo and Zinfandel.

The final chapter in Part 1 examines 20 of Washington’s most important vineyards, including many that would be considered the “Grand Crus” of the state such as Boushey Vineyards, Champoux and Ciel du Cheval. In each profile, Gregutt talks not only about the history and terroir of the vineyards but also notes which grape varieties and wineries tend to showcase each vineyard’s unique qualities.

Betz, one of the Five Star Wineries profiled by Gregutt.

In Part 2, Gregutt profiles over 200 different Washington wineries–breaking them into categories like Five Star wineries (such as Betz, Cadence, L’Ecole, Quilceda Creek and Woodward Canyon), Four Star wineries (like Boudreaux Cellars, Gordon Brothers, Hedges and Sheridan Vineyard), Three Star wineries (like àMaurice, Apex, Camaraderie Cellars, Chinook, Gamache, Kiona, Otis Kenyon and Tagaris) and then finally Rising Stars (like Efeste, Hestia, Lost River, Doubleback and Whidbey Island Winery).

Some Things I Learned

In the history chapter, I was particularly fascinated with the era following Prohibition where liquor laws that still severely restricted access to hard alcohol and cocktails discouraged the nascent Washington wine industry from focusing on dry European-style wines in lieu of producing sweet, fortified wines.

The rise of Merlot in the 1990s was also an interesting read, especially hearing that Jed Steele, while consulting winemaking for Northstar Winery, was promoting the Walla Walla winery as “Washington’s answer to Ch. Petrus.” I enjoy Northstar quite a bit but I think we should forgive Steele of the hyperbole.

In the AVA chapter, I developed more of an appreciation for the “workhorse wine regions” of the Wahluke Slope and Horse Heaven Hills that often get overlooked in favor of the “Sexier AVAs” of Red Mountain and Walla Walla. With more than 80,000 acres, the Wahluke Slope is responsible for around 15% of all the wines produced in Washington while the Horse Heaven Hills is responsible for 25%–and was also home to the state’s first 100 point wines from Quilceda Creek’s Champoux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.

Even at 14 years of age, this 2003 Gorman Pixie Syrah from Red Mountain still had that zesty lemon-lime note Gregutt describes along with some gorgeous bacon fat!

In Chapter 3, Gregutt does an outstanding job explaining the typicity and unique characteristic of grape varieties grown in Washington soils which are invaluable for folks studying how to blind taste. I know now to look for things like the blueberry and light-olive notes of Cabernet Franc, the distinctive “streak of lemon-lime zest” in Washington Syrahs and the mix of Japanese pears and green apple flavors that tend to show up in the state’s Pinot gris wines.

Wines I Want to Try Because of This Book

Throughout Washington Wines, Gregutt name drops many intriguing wines (particularly in the grape variety and wineries chapters). But after reading Gregutt’s book, I think I’m most interested in doing comparative tastings of Washington terroir.

One tasting that particularly intrigues me is investigating the 10 different Wahluke Slope Vineyards manage by the Milbrandt family–including Northridge, Sundance, Clifton Hill, Pheasant, Katherine Leone and Talcott Vineyards. Ideally I’d want to compare with the same variety (like Merlot or Syrah) and find as many vineyard designated examples from the same winery as I can. Looking on Wine Searcher, I see that Bunnell Family Cellar and Charles Smith’s K Vintners have some individual bottlings from these vineyards.

The history geek in me would also love to try a Muscat of Alexandria from the 1917 W.B. Bridgman plantings in what is now Upland Vineyard on Snipes Mountain.

New Reading Recommendations I Got From This Book

Because Gregutt was blazing new trails in this in-depth overview of the Washington wine industry, there wasn’t a lot of other source material that he could point uber-geeks like me to.

From a historical perspective, it’s worth seeking out Leon Adams’ Wines of America which included the first critical acclaim of a Washington wine–a 1966 rosé of Grenache made by Associated Vintners.

One book that Gregutt does cite is The Wine Project: Washington State’s Winemaking History by Ron Irvine and Walter Clore (“The Father of Washington Wine”). This was actually a required text book during my time at the Northwest Wine Academy when I was earning my wine production degree. Prior to the 2007 release of Gregutt’s Washington Wines, this was virtually the only book that seriously looked at the Washington wine industry.

Final Thoughts

In the very first chapter, Gregutt recounts a story from Master of Wine Bob Betz about promoting Washington wine on the East Coast of the United States. One time after a long presentation about the history of the state, the many AVAs and grape varieties grown in Washington, Betz opened the session up for questions from the audience. The first query he got was someone wondering on what side of the Potomac were Washington’s wine grapes grown.

That anecdotal story encapsulate very well the issues that the Washington wine industry has in distinguishing itself–not only on the world’s stage but also at home in the United States where California casts a very long shadow. Throughout Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide, Paul Gregutt does an outstanding job highlighting the terroirs, wineries and people that make Washington unique.

It is not only a must-read for people who want to learn more about the 2nd largest producer of American wines but also for folks who have already discovered and fallen in love with the bounty of wines that Washington offers.

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Jancis Robinson — The Beyoncé of Wine

Photo by Financial Times. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

The world of wine has a long history of influential women.

It’s quite possible that the first “accidental winemakers” were women who were often responsible for gathering fruit and storing them in jars that would later start fermenting. Ancient cultures are awashed with stories of wine goddesses like Paget, Siduri and Renen-utet.

In more recent history, we have the notable widows of Champagne and the trailblazing women winemakers of California as well as numerous other women figures from across the globe.

But for me, and my journey in the world of wine, no woman in wine has been more influential than British Master of Wine and writer Jancis Robinson.

Independent Woman

Robinson studied mathematics and philosophy at St. Anne’s College of Oxford University, graduating with a Masters degree in 1971. Her original goal was to write about fashion but tasting a 1959 Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses at Oxford enraptured her with the world of wine. In 1975, she accepted a position as an assistant editor for Wine & Spirit trade publication where she worked till 1980. During this time she began her studies for the Wine & Spirit Education Trust–earning the Rouyer-Guillet cup as the top Diploma student in 1978.

In 1983, she helped launched the The Wine Programme on British television which was the world’s first television series dedicated to the topic of wine.

Initially, the diploma level was the highest level that a person outside the wine trade could achieve but, in 1984, the Institute of Masters of Wine opened up the MW exams to non-trade personnel with Robinson being one of the first to take the exam. She passed on her first try–becoming the first non-trade professional, male or female, to earn the title. She was the 11th female Master of Wine, following in the footsteps of Sarah Morphew Stephen who was the first in 1970.

My very well loved and well used 3rd Edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine.

In 1990, Robinson became the wine correspondent for the Financial Times and, in 1994, was given the task of editing the first edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine. While managing a team of contributors that ballooned up to 167 by the time the 3rd edition came out in 2006, Robinson personally wrote more than a third of the almost 4000 entries. It has been described by The Washington Post as “the greatest wine book ever published.” In 2015, a 4th edition was released.

Irreplaceable

2006 was also the year that I discovered my own passion for wine–at Disney World’s Epcot Center of all places. Touring around the different food pavilions and sampling wine in their mocked up recreations of Italy, France and Germany, my 24 year old palate fell in love with the Valcklenberg Madonna Riesling. It wasn’t 1959 Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses but that was enough to get me hooked and wanting to learn more.

I’ve had my geeky proclivities since I was child, reading for fun things like the Encyclopedia Britannica in my free time. I loved getting lost in what I called “red text journeys” where I started reading an entry, following one of the capitalized red text words to a subsequent entry and so forth till I hit a dead-end. Then I would pick another entry and start again.

It was at Barnes and Noble when I first laid eyes on the beauty that was the Oxford Companion to Wine. The new pages smelled divine and my eyes lit up as I saw all the different entries (and RED TEXT WORDS!) Here was my new Brittanica! Of course, I flipped straight to the Riesling entry which covered 3 pages.

Another well loved and well marked up tome.


Bringing it home, I starting following the red text words from Riesling to German History to Wild Vine to Phylloxera to Bordeaux and on along an endless ride that touched nearly every corner of the world of wine. The history entries and wine regions particularly enticed me as I saw a web connecting my fascination with history and geography to this continuing story about wine. It was a story that I wanted to put more in context which led me to Jancis Robinson’s Wine Course.

Crazy In Love

It was about 2007 when I purchased the DVD series and companion book. I watched the 10 episodes with my wife but the book was all mine to mark up and annotate to my heart’s desire. Here I learned some of the nitty gritty details about tasting wine, deciphering wine labels as well as learning how grape varieties and place intertwined. From interviews Robinson had with people like Dominique Lafon, Lalou Bize Leroy, Didier Dagueneau and Randall Grahm, I learned more about the stories of the people behind the wine which made the time and effort they put into the bottle come to life for me.

It was also at this time that I slowly started moving away from the comfort of my sweet Rieslings to drier whites and then finally reds. How could I not? Watching Jancis enjoy and describe these wines made them too irresistible to not want to at least try! My “crush on wine” was becoming full blown love at this point and I started entertaining ideas of pursuing a career in wine.

I startled my wife when I opened the cover of the World Atlas of Wine and saw this.
She thought there might have been a spider!

In 2008, I left working retail management and dived head first into achieving my first certification with a Certified Specialist in Wine (CSW) from the Society of Wine Educators. That opened the door to working as a wine steward for a major grocery chain. Unfortunately that chain didn’t have much commitment to training and furthering the wine knowledge of its stewards but I didn’t despair. I had Jancis Robinson.

By this point my collection of her books had expanded to include Vines, Grapes & Wines: The Wine Drinker’s Guide to Grape Varieties and the 5th Edition of the World Atlas of Wine which caused me to audibly squeal with joy when I discovered the used copy I bought on Amazon came signed by both Robinson and co-author Hugh Johnson.

All the Single Grapes

I became an active contributor to Wikipedia’s Wine Project as User:Agne27 where I set about to substantially rewrite and expand many of Wikipedia’s wine articles–with my trusty Oxford Companion to Wine at my side. When Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz released their magnum opus of ampelography and geekdom, Wine Grapes, that became another immensely valuable tool. Until the sexism and politics of Wikipedia drove me away, I was pretty darn committed to creating a Wikipedia entry for all 1,368 grapes that Robinson and Co. enlivened my world with.

I don’t think there was a single article of the 1200+ I worked on for Wikipedia that didn’t reference one of Robinson’s works. In my opinion, she was the benchmark standard for reliability when it came to wine. While I found other wine authors and references, if there was ever a conflict of sources, I always went back to Robinson as the most authoritative word on the matter.

For the most part, I toiled away in the obscurity of crowd-sourcing–not really expecting any kind of recognition. But I have to admit that my heart did flutter a bit when I read a 2015 post by Jancis Robinson on her Purple Pages about What future for expertise? where she noted that she often finds the Oxford Companion cited at the bottom of Wikipedia articles.

I know that reference, in a post about the potential waning influence of true experts in this digital age, wasn’t exactly meant to be a compliment. But she noticed!

Though I always tried my best to rewrite and regurgitate into my own words what I learned, I do feel that my frequent citations of her work is a testament to the unpayable debt I have to her. I wanted people to see how often the Oxford Companion to Wine, Wine Grapes and her other works were cited because people who go to Wikipedia should know how much of this is tied back to her. I learned so much during those years and it all comes back to Jancis Robinson.

And I’m still learning from her. All you have to do is look at the word cloud at the bottom of this blog’s front page to see how large the font is for the Jancis Robinson tag. She is still my benchmark standard and, frankly, my hero. To me, she’s bigger than Beyoncé.

A growing collection. Each one as marked up, highlighted and wine stained as the next.

The 1500+ words in this post can never do justice in encapsulating all the many ways she has inspired and encouraged me in this journey. I can only dream of ever accomplishing a fraction of what she has done. But everything that I will end up accomplishing, anyone that I will ever inspire to fall in love with wine and thirst to learn more will be because of Jancis Robinson.

I’m working on the WSET diploma level and, someday, I hope to join Jancis in the ranks of 125+ female Masters of Wine. If I ever do get to that point and go to London to get my MW, you better believe that I will be packing my trusty 3rd Edition of the Oxford Companion of Wine.

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Wine Geek Notes 3/5/18 — Zinfandel, World of Syrah and Washington Wine

Photo by schnaars. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

Here is what I’m reading today in the world of wine.

Interesting Tweets and Weblinks

The Week in Zinfandel (2/26/18) by Tom Lee (@NWTomLee)

This is a frequent series by Lee on the Zinfandel Chronicles that highlights reviews and articles that discuss Zin. He was gracious enough to include my recent review of the 2014 Two Vintner’s Zinfandel in his recent round-up but I was most excited to explore several of the other links he posted. Below were two of my favorites.

Have We Taken the “Less Is More” Wine Aesthetic Too Far? by Jon Bonné (@jbonne) for Punch (@punch_drink)

With Bonné being one of the big proponents for lighter, lower alcohol wines (pretty much the anti-thesis of “Parkerized”), this was not an essay I expected to read from him. But he does make a lot of great points about the value of diversity as he bemoans the lack of interest in what he terms “Ferdinand wines”–big wines that have beauty even at high alcohol levels–such as California Zinfandel, Amarone, Brunello di Montalcino, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Priorat.

Heart of Zinfandel: Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley (Paywall) by Stephen Brook (@StephenPBrook) for Decanter (@Decanter)

As I described in my post Zin-ful Thoughts, my opinions of Zinfandel are evolving and I’m eagerly looking for new areas to explore. Brook gives a nice overview of Dry Creek Zins and has me particularly intrigued by the offerings of Joel Peterson’s Once & Future from the Tedeschi Vineyard, Fritz Underground Winery and Passalacqua’s PQZ.

Cayuse manages to be weird in both taste and marketing. Though, IMO, their Cailloux and En Chamberlain Syrahs–with their boring orange labels–are the best.


World of Syrah Kick-off at Celebrate Walla Walla by Bean Fairbanks of Wine Beer Washington (@winebeerWA)

Part 1 of a series from the World of Syrah presentation given by writer Patrick Comiskey (@patcisco) and Master Sommelier/Master of Wine Doug Frost (@winedogboy). Nice overview of the distinction between the regions where Syrah is used as the primary grape versus more of a blending variety but my favorite quote is the one Bean highlights from Comiskey “The Syrah taste needs to be weird NOT the marketing”.

The beauty of Syrah, especially from the Rocks District in Oregon, is the funky weirdness. But gimmicky marketing is just….gimmicky marketing. If the wine can’t stand out on its own without the gimmicks than that should be a red flag.

Taste Washington Wine Month Links

March is Taste Washington Wine Month which at SpitBucket means that I’ll be nose deep in studying more about the history of the vineyards, wineries and people that make the Washington wine industry so exciting.

The women of wine are taking their rightful place (Jan 2015) by David LeClaire (@SeattleUncorked) for Seattle Dining (@SeattleDINING1)

March is also Women’s History Month and I loved this article from LeClaire highlighting kick-ass women who are not only winemakers (like Kay Simon of Chinook and Cheryl Barber-Jones of Chateau Ste. Michelle) but also sommeliers, writers (Braiden Rex-Johnson of Northwest Wining and Dining), chefs, and educators (Joan Davenport of WSU and DavenLore Winery).

Purple Gold: The influence of Husky alums can be tasted throughout the Northwest wine industry (December 2012) by David Volk for the Columns alumni magazine of the University of Washington.

I stumbled across this link while researching for the The Mastery of Bob Betz post. Every Apple Cup, I want to do a tasting of Husky wines vs Coug wines but, while it is easy to find wines made by WSU grads, until I came across this link I didn’t have an easy resource for wines with UW connections.

Washington’s great vineyards: Upland Vineyard (August 2013) by Andy Perdue (@GreatNWWine) for Great Northwest Wine.

Inspired by Peter Blecha’s essay on the history of Associated Vintners that I highlighted in my 3/3/18 Geek Notes, I wanted to research more about the role that William B. Bridgman played in the history of Washington wine.

That research brought me to Perdue’s article on the history of Upland Vineyard that Bridgman first planted in 1917 with Vitis vinifera varieties like Zinfandel and Sauvignon blanc. Today the vineyard is owned by the Newhouse family who continue to farm old blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin blanc, Merlot and Riesling that were planted in the 1970s. There is also a block of old vine Black Muscat that the date of planting is not quite known but it is possible that these vines are approaching the century mark.

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60 Second Wine Review — Two Vintners Zinfandel

A few quick thoughts on the 2014 Two Vintners Zinfandel from the StoneTree Vineyard in the Wahluke Slope.

The Geekery

Two Vintners was founded in 2007 by Morgan Lee as a sister label of Covington Cellars, where Lee also serves as winemaker.

The 2014 Zinfandel is from StoneTree Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope. First planted in 2000 by Tedd Wildman, it is one of the few vineyards in Washington with Zinfandel planted.

Paul Gregutt notes in Washington Wines that for many years Washington wineries touted Lemberger as “Washington’s Zinfandel” with the first Columbia Valley Zinfandel to gain attention being Sineann’s example from The Pines vineyard located on the Oregon side of the AVA. In the last 25 years, the state has gone from negligible plantings of Zin to around 65 acres in the ground by 2017.

First released by Two Vintners in 2008, around 530 cases of Zinfandel are produced each year.

The Wine

Medium-intensity nose. Jammy dark fruit for sure–blackberry, boysenberry. But not much else.

Photo by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-NC-3.0

This Zin is loaded with rich dark fruits like boysenberries but, unfortunately, doesn’t offer much else.


On the palate, you feel the full weight of the alcohol and the fruit but it is actually fairly well balanced with medium-plus acidity to add enough freshness. But despite all that huge fruit, the flavor itself is rather thin and fades quickly.

The Verdict

Full disclosure, I have a mad vino-crush on Morgan Lee. I think his Syrahs are some of the best in Washington and thoroughly agree with Seattle Magazine that he is a Winemaker to Watch in the state. But this Zin just doesn’t do it for me.

Yes, Zin and I have a complicated history but a recent trip to Sonoma help re-invigorate my enthusiasm for the grape. My gut tells me that the vines in Washington are just too young to make truly interesting Zins, even with exceptional vineyard terroir and winemaking.

It’s worth keeping an eye on but at $25-30, there are far more interesting California Zins or, for that matter, Washington Syrahs and red blends to drink.

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Wine Geek Notes 2/28/18 — Interesting Tweets & Burg Vintages

Photo by William Lawrence. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

Here’s what I’ve been reading today in the world of wine.

Odds & Ends from Twitter

Some interesting weblinks from Twitter that are worth the read.

Smelling Terroir: A New Study Suggests People Can Smell the Difference Between Wines Solely Based on Terroir (but can we, really?) from the Academic Wino (@TheAcademicWino)
Very cool read about a 2016 study that showed that both experts and non-experts were able to smell the difference between wines grown in two different terroirs. Becca looks a little more in-depth at the study to question if it’s really the terroir differences they are smelling or something else.

new maps & saturday afternoon in the meursault sunshine from Bill Nanson (@billnanson) at the Burgundy Report with the tweet coming across my dash via @RealWineGuru
I’m a bit of a map geek (as evidence by my geek out over this Clos Vougeout map) so I absolutely squealed at the discovery of these incredibly detailed Beaujolais cru maps. Also some lovely pictures of Meursault that had me daydreaming about sipping on a Les Charmes.

So you want to be a wine judge by Master of Wine Sarah Jane Evans (@SJEvansMW) courtesy of @WSETglobal
As noted in yesterday’s Wine Geek Notes, I’ve been doing a lot of research on Wine Competitions and this article from Sarah Jane Evans added another perspective. One of the questions that I’ve been debating in my head is “Who benefits from Wine Competitions–the winery or the consumer?” which Evans answers rather bluntly “Remember that ultimately you are doing the judging for the winemaker and brandowner.”

Photo by Marianne Casamance. Released on Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-4.0

Plant more Chenin!!!! The author screams into the void.


Wine of the Week: Lang & Reed, 2016 Napa Valley Chenin Blanc from Peg Melnik (@pegmelnik) at The Press Democrat with the tweet coming across my dash via @jncorcoran1
The subheader is what hooked me: “What happened to chenin blanc in California?” I have a soft spot for Chenin and have bemoaned the lack of interest of it in Washington State so I was similarly disheartened to read the staggering stat of how 3000 acres of Chenin blanc in Napa in 1980 has shrank down to just 14 acres today.

Burg’in Around

For my 60 Second Review of the 2013 Domaine Coquard Loison Fleurot Chambolle-Musigny I did some background research on the estate and 2013 vintage that had me stumbling across a few nifty links.

Pearl of Burgundy YouTube Channel
Features well produced short 2-4 minute videos from several Burgundian producers. While the Domaine Coquard Loison Fleurot vid is what initially caught me, I also enjoyed the videos from Domaine Henri Gouges, Domaine Lamarche and Domaine Grivot. By this point I was hitting the subscribe button for the channel.

2013 burgundy – the fairy-tale vintage? from Master of Wine Jancis Robinson (@JancisRobinson)
Always some of my favorite vintage write-ups. Great summary at the bottom of the article about the big issues facing 2013 but I also like how she explores the potential similarities (and differences) between 2013 and 1996 that also segue into comparing 2012 to 1998/1988.

The 2013 Red Burgundies: Fascinating and Challenging (Paywall) by Stephen Tanzer (@StephenTanzer1) on Vinous.
Tanzer takes a slightly more pessimistic outlook on 2013 and goes into more details about the challenges that the Côte de Beaune, in particular, had.

A Vintage Viewpoint…(2013, 2012, 2011…) from Bill Nanson at the Burgundy Report.
A nice little one page summary of the 2013 vintage in comparison to the 2012 and 2011 vintages.

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60 Second Wine Review — Tagaris Pinot noir

A few quick thoughts on the 2015 Tagaris Pinot noir from the Areté Vineyard.

The Geekery

Founded in 1987 by Michael Taggares, the Tagaris winery honors the original Greek spelling of the family’s surname that was changed when Taggares’ grandfather, Pete, immigrated to the United States through Ellis Island.

According to Paul Gregutt in Washington Wines, Tagaris became a “winery to watch” in Washington when Frank Roth joined the estate as winemaker in 2006. A former cellarmaster at Barnard Griffin, Roth also spent time in Canada working at Hawthorne Mountain and Sumac Ridge before returning to Washington.

Over the years Tagaris has earned a reputation for focusing on small lots from unusual grape varieties in Washington like Tempranillo, Counoise, Mourvedre, Carmenere, Cinsault and Pinot noir from their three estate vineyards.

The 200 acre Areté Vineyard was first planted in 1983 and is certified organic. Located at an elevation of 1300 feet on Radar Hill near Othello, the vineyard is a source of organically grown fruit for Power’s Badger Mountain and Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Snoqualmie Naked wines. The vineyard include 2.27 acres of Pinot noir planted on sandy loam.

Frank Roth’s winemaking style is noted for his restrained use of oak, preferring to use neutral oak barrels that are at least six years of age.

The Wine

Medium intensity nose. Some red cherry notes with a little herbal tomato leaf. With some air a bit of fresh cranberry comes out as well.

Photo by Anna Anichkova. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

This Pinot has fresh cranberry notes.


On the palate those red fruits come through with the herbal notes more muted. There is also a spice element on the palate that is not very defined. Medium-plus acidity with medium tannins and a very light body that makes the fruit taste a bit thin. Perhaps this could have used a little new oak to balance?

The Verdict

At around $30-35, you are paying for the novelty and uniqueness of a Washington Pinot noir.

Admittedly, if you compare this to the quality level you can get from an equivalent priced Oregon or California Pinot, it doesn’t hold well.

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