Tag Archives: Malbec

Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Palmer, Valandraud, Fombrauge, Haut-Batailley

Photo by Berndt Fernow. Released on Wikimedia Commons under GNU-FDLOffers for the 2017 Bordeaux futures campaign are starting to come in. Today I’m going to look at four offers and share my thought process on whether I’m going to buy in on these wines or pass.

But first, let me explain my general approach to the 2017 vintage.

Value & Cellar Defenders

Personally, I don’t approach buying Bordeaux futures as a financial investment where I hopefully “buy low and sell high”. I’m not trying to make money off of these deals. While I may do some wine locker trading with friends down the road, in general, I approach these campaigns with the mindset of buying wines that I expect to drink myself.

Despite the positive spin that merchants and the Bordelais themselves are trying cast on 2017, I’m not convinced that it’s a great year. I think it is certainly better than 2011 and 2013 but this is not a vintage that I’m going to invest heavily in or pay a premium for. Instead, I’m going to be looking for value with prices less than 2016/2015 and more in the range of the 2014 vintage which I feel is the most apt comparison to 2017.

I bought fairly heavily in Bordeaux during the 2015 and 2016 campaigns so I will have a decent amount of great Bordeaux in my cellar that I won’t want to touch for another 10-15 years. As I learned the hard way with many of my 2009/2010 (and even 2005s), the temptation to open these bottles can be very seductive only to have my momentary pleasure give way to pangs of guilt as the wines reveal only a shadow of how good they could have been if only I had given them more time.

Therefore I place value in making sure I have wines that I call “Cellar Defenders”. These are wines from less highly acclaimed vintages that generally reach their peak drinking window earlier than wines from outstanding vintages. Plus with these wines usually having better price points, I can open up these “sacrificial lambs” with far less guilt even if they aren’t quite at their peak.

Photo by Raphael Reynier of Onewineproduction. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Wine critics tasting at one of the 2017 en primeur events in Bordeaux.


A Note About Scores

In my breakdown of the wines below I will include the barrel scores from several notable critics as well the Wine Searcher Average of critic scores for previous vintages. As I describe in my post on my own personal approach to scoring, I prefer to rate wines with my wallet and whether or not I think they deliver enough pleasure to merit the cost.

But I’m not going to get a chance to taste these wines anytime soon so I still see some value in using the opinions of professional critics as tools in my decision making on whether I want to invest in buying these wines. I don’t take any one critic’s opinion as gospel truth but rather look for a pattern to see where their opinions tend to overlap.

Ch. Palmer (Margaux)

Brief winery geekery: Third Growth estate owned by 22 shareholders, including the owners of the negociant firms BorieManoux and Sichel. Since 2004, Thomas Duroux has been the winemaker. Their second wine, Alter Ego de Palmer has been produced since 1998 with some critics (like The Wine Cellar Insider’s Jeff Leve) feeling the wine performs at the level of a 4th Growth. In 2017, the vineyards of Palmer were certified 100% Biodynamic. The 2017 is a blend of 54% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Petit Verdot making it a Merlot dominant Left Bank wine. Between 8,000 to 10,000 cases are produced each vintage.

Critic scores: 97-98 JS (James Suckling), 96-98 WA (Wine Advocate), 94-96 WE (Wine Enthusiast), 92-95 WS (Wine Spectator), 92-95 JD (Jeb Dunnuck), 96 JL (Jeff Leve)

Sample review:

… very deep purple-black in color and leaps from the glass with freshly macerated blue and black fruits: wild blueberries, blackberries and black cherries plus hints of licorice, rose hips, tilled soil and oolong tea with a waft of truffles. Medium-bodied, very finely crafted with exquisitely ripe and smooth yet firm tannins and sporting great mid-palate intensity and wonderful freshness, it finishes long and minerally. — Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Wine Advocate

2017 Wine Searcher Average $273
JJ Buckley $284.95 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at Oakland location)
Vinfolio $279 + shipping
Spectrum Wine Auctions $274.99 + shipping (no shipping if picked up in Tustin, CA)
Total Wine $284.99 (no shipping with all wines sent to a local store and only 50% down upfront)
K & L $279.99 + shipping (no shipping if picked up at K & L locations in California)

Previous vintages:
2016 — Wine Searcher Average $339 Average critic score: 94 pts
2015 — Wine Searcher Average $359 Average critic score: 96 pts
2014 — Wine Searcher Average $253 Average critic score: 94 pts
2013 — Wine Searcher Average $257 Average critic score: 92 pts

Buy or Pass?

This one is tempting but ultimately it will be a pass for me. I actually find myself more interested in finding bottles of the 2014 Palmer as I see that vintage performing a similar “cellar defender” role at a little better price point.

This 2011 Valandraud I tasted when I visited the estate back in 2016 was drinking fantastic for something from such an underwhelming vintage like 2011.
This give me optimism that in a much better vintage like 2017 that Valandraud will produce a winner.

Ch. Valandraud (St. Emilion)

Brief winery geekery: Premier Grand Cru Classe founded in 1989 by Jean-Luc Thunevin as one of the first “garage wines”. Vineyards planted to 70 % Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon with the remaining 5% split between Malbec and Carmenere–making Valandraud one of the few St. Emilion estates to use 5 red Bordeaux grape varieties. Around 3,400 cases produced each vintage.

Critic scores: 95-97 WE, 94-97 JD, 93-96 WS, 94-95 JS, 93-95 WA, 94 JL

Sample review:

Lots of beautiful blueberry and blackberry fruits here. Medium to full body, round and very polished tannins and a flavorful finish. Wet-earth undertones. Velvety mouthfeel at the end. — James Suckling

Wine Searcher Average $141
JJ Buckley $159.94 + shipping
Vinfolio — No offer yet
Spectrum Wine Auctions $144.99 + shipping
Total Wine $149.97
K & L $149.99 + shipping

Previous vintages:
2016 — Wine Searcher Average $179 Average critic score: 93 pts
2015 — Wine Searcher Average $167 Average critic score: 94 pts
2014 — Wine Searcher Average $141 Average critic score: 93 pts
2013 — Wine Searcher Average $141 Average critic score: 92 pts

Buy or Pass?

While I’m not going to go crazy, this is a buy for me. Valandraud is one of my favorite Bordeaux estates, regularly producing wines that I would put on par with $200+ Napa Valley wines. It’s worth having a couple bottles in the cellar when I’m craving something bold and luscious but with enough complexity to still remind me it is a Bordeaux.

Ch. Fombrauge (St. Emilion)

Brief winery geekery: Grand Cru Classe that is one of the largest and oldest vineyards in St. Emilion with parcels neighboring Ch. Pavie. Since 1999, has been owned by Bernard Magrez who also owns Ch. Pape-Clement with Michel Rolland as a consultant. 2017 vintage is a blend of 93% Merlot and 7% Cabernet Franc. Around 14,000 cases produced each vintage.

Critic scores: 93-95 WE, 92-94 WA, 90-93 WS, 91-92 JS, 90 JL

Sample review:

Offers nice flesh, with a mix of black currant and plum fruit inlaid with subtle black tea, graphite and anise notes. Reveals a tobacco edge on the finish. Well done. — James Molesworth, Wine Spectator

Wine Searcher Average $25
JJ Buckley — No offer yet
Vinfolio — No offer yet
Spectrum Wine Auctions — 6 bottle minimum $149.94 + shipping
Total Wine $28.97
K & L — No offer yet

Previous vintages:
2016 — Wine Searcher Average $28 Average critic score: 89 points
2015 — Wine Searcher Average $33 Average critic score: 90 points
2014 — Wine Searcher Average $35 Average critic score: 90 points
2013 — Wine Searcher Average $29 Average critic score: 88 points

Buy or Pass?

This is a definite buy for me and pretty much exemplifies the value that I’m looking for in 2017. The Magrez/Rolland style tends to favor early drinkability with “New World-ish” fleshy fruit. These are wines that I expect to be drinking fine 5-10 years from vintage date, making them perfect cellar defenders to help protect my 2015/2016 from being opened too soon.

Photo by Christian Haase. Released on Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-3.0
Ch. Haut-Batailley (Pauillac)

Brief winery geekery: 5th growth estate that was previously owned by the Borie family of Ducru Beaucaillou fame and managed by Francois Xavier Borie (who also owns Grand Puy Lacoste). In 2017, the estate was sold to the Cazes family (of Lynch-Bages fame). The vineyard is currently planted to 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc with the Cazes family planning on decreasing the amount of Cabernet planted and increasing the amount of Merlot. Vineyards divided among two parcels with one neighboring Ch. Latour and the other Lynch-Bages. Around 9000 cases a year produced.

Critic scores: 94-95 JS, 89-92 WS, 94 JL

Sample review:

With a good depth of color, the wine shows a nice purity of juicy cassis while a leafy olive and pepper component keeps you interested throughout this full bodied, crunchy and classic experience. The tannins are a bit uncompromising right now but give the wine time, and it will prove to be worth the wait. This is the debut vintage from the new owners, the Cazes family. — Jeff Leve The Wine Cellar Insider

Wine Searcher Average $61
JJ Buckley — No offer yet
Vinfolio — No offer yet
Spectrum Wine Auctions $64.99 + shipping
Total Wine $64.97
K & L — No offer yet

Previous vintages:
2016 — Wine Searcher Average $57 Average critic score: NA
2015 — Wine Searcher Average $51 Average critic score: 92 points
2014 — Wine Searcher Average $44 Average critic score: 91 points
2013 — Wine Searcher Average $41 Average critic score: 89 points

Buy or Pass?

This is going to be a pass for me. Definitely not a compelling value compared to previous vintages. While I’m a huge fan of the Cazes family and can anticipate exciting things in the future for Haut-Batailley, I think it will be a few years before we really see their influence in the wine. I don’t see a reason to pay a premium over the $51 average that the 2015 vintage has just on the potential of the Cazes family’s involvement.

More Posts About the 2017 Bordeaux Futures Campaign

Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Pape Clément, Ormes de Pez, Marquis d’Alesme, Malartic-Lagraviere
Bordeaux Futures 2017 — Langoa Barton, La Lagune, Barde-Haut, Branaire-Ducru

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Event Review — Stags’ Leap Winery Dinner

Daniel’s Broiler in Bellevue, Washington is one of my wife and I’s favorite restaurants to visit. Each year they host a Champagne Gala that we love going to. Even when we’re not thrilled with the wines selected, we nonetheless always enjoy the exquisite food crafted by Executive Chef Kevin Rohr and a chance to try interesting food pairings.

Recently I got to attend a dinner featuring the wines of Stags’ Leap Winery with Assistant Winemaker Joanne “Jo” Wing.

The Background

I geeked out about some of the backstory of Stags’ Leap Winery in my 60 Second Review of their 2013 Napa Valley Merlot. With a long history dating back to the late 19th century, the winery is one of Napa’s most historic properties.

In California’s Great Cabernets, James Laube notes that the rise of the modern-era of Stags’ Leap Winery under Carl Doumani went hand in hand with the “Cabernet boom” of the 1970s that saw the notable Cabs of Burgess, Cakebread, Caymus, Clos du Val, Mount Eden, Mt. Veeder, Silver Oak and Joseph Phelps hit the scene. It also saw the birth of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and decades-long legal intrigue.

The War of the Apostrophe” soon took off with Warren Winiarski of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (and winner of the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris) suing Doumani–who promptly counter-sued.

The two men eventually settled their differences in the mid-1980s and released a special collaborative bottling between the two estates called Accord from the 1985 vintage to commemorate. The agreement was that Winiarski’s Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars would have the apostrophe to the left of the ‘s’ while Doumani’s Stags’ Leap Winery would have it to the right.

You could tell that the Treasury Wine Estate rep at the dinner wasn’t too happy about the apostrophe typo on the menu.

Around this time, the two wineries faced another challenge with other wineries in the area like Gary Andrus’ Pine Ridge Winery, Steltzner Vineyards, Shafer Vineyards and more wanting to use the Stags Leap name and petitioning for American Viticultural Area (AVA) approval under that name for the region. After more legal challenges, a compromise was struck for the name of the new AVA to be the Stags Leap District (SLD) sans apostrophe.

Today the winery is owned by Treasury Wine Estates where it is part of a vast portfolio that includes 19 Crimes, The Walking Dead wines, Beaulieu Vineyards, Beringer, Ch. St Jean, Penfolds, Provenance, Hewitt Vineyard and more.

The current winemaker is Christophe Paubert who succeeded Robert Brittan when the later left Napa to make wine in Oregon at his own Brittan Vineyards and consult for wineries such as Winderlea.

A Bordeaux trained winemaker, Paubert has extensive experience working at such illustrious estates as the 2nd Growth St. Julien estate of Ch. Gruaud-Larose and the First Growth Sauternes estate of Chateau d’Yquem. Prior to joining Stags’ Leap in 2009, Paubert was the head winemaker for 4 years at Canoe Ridge Vineyards in Washington State.

Assistant Winemaker Joanne Wing is a New Zealand native who started out at Indevin, one of New Zealand’s largest wine producers. She gained experience working harvest across the globe from Saintsbury in Napa to Mount Pleasant Winery in the Hunter Valley of Australia as well as in Bordeaux before accepting a position at Stags’ Leap as a harvest enologist and working her way up to Asst. Winemaker.

Gorgeous Viognier that is well worth seeking out.


Passed hors d’oeuvres paired with 2016 Stags’ Leap Winery Napa Valley Viognier
Smoked sablefish with soft scrambled farm egg, ikura, chives and Chevre crostini with watermelon beet, grilled apricot, chili spice

I’m not a big beet person so I let my wife try the Chevre Crostini while I had the smoked sablefish with the ikura roe caviar. Both were smashing pairings with the Stags’ Leap Viognier with the wine being a particular revelation.

Sourced primarily from cooler climate vineyards in the Carneros AVA and Oak Knoll District, the Viognier had medium-plus intensity nose of orange blossoms and white peach notes.

On the palate, those white peach tree fruits carried through but also brought some tropical notes of passion-fruit and papaya. However this Viognier never came close to the tutti-fruity “Fruit Loop Cereal” style that unfortunately befalls many domestic Viogniers–especially those fermented and aged only in stainless steel. To avoid that pratfall, Paubert and Wing fermented the wine in neutral French oak barrels with weekly batonnage for 4 months. This very “Condrieu-style” approach produced a Viognier with textural weight and depth but with enough medium-plus acidity to keep it from being flabby or overly creamy.

The acidity also matched perfectly with the hors d’oeuvres, cutting through the “fishiness” of the sablefish and roe. My wife was particularly impressed at how well the acidity matched with the Chevre–the tangy goat cheese that often calls for high acid whites like Sauvignon blanc.

At $22-27, this is an outstanding Viognier with loads of personality and complexity that I would put on par with the àMaurice Viognier from Washington State as one of the stellar domestic examples of this variety.

The preserved kumquat vinaigrette on the salad were quite a treat.


First Course paired with 2016 Stags’ Leap Napa Valley Chardonnay
Spring Salad with Belgian endive, baby kale, avocado, marcona almonds, preserved kumquat vinaigrette

Sourced from the Carneros and Oak Knoll District, this Napa Chardonnay counters the stereotype of over-the-top, oaky, buttery Chardonnays. With 25% fermented and aged in new French oak, 50% in “seasoned” French oak and the rest in stainless steel with no malolactic fermentation, this Chardonnay aimed for an elegant and food-friendly style.

The wine had a medium intensity nose with apple and citrus lime notes. A little subtle baking spice from the oak rims around the edge.

On the palate, the citrus notes came through the most and played off the baby kale and avocado very well. Medium-plus acidity maintained freshness and balanced the moderate creaminess in the wine. The clove oak spice and an almost marzipan nuttiness lingered on the moderate finish.

Overall, this was a very drinkable and pleasant Chardonnay that did hit the target for food-pairing. But, admittedly, at $25-30 it didn’t jump out as anything wow-worthy–especially following in the footsteps of the scrumptious Viognier. It’s a very well made California Chard but it is still one of hundreds of similar well-made and similarly priced California Chards.

The star of the night. I can still taste the braised short ribs and that delectable sauce.

Second Course paired with 2014 Stags’ Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Braised short ribs with seared sea scallops, morel mushrooms, chervil

From a food perspective, this was the winning course of the night. The braised short ribs melted in the mouth and had you dearly wishing you had more than just the bite. The scallops were perfectly cooked and while I was skeptical with pairing them with a big Cab, the morel and au jus sauce from the short ribs offered just enough weight to carry the pairing.

As with other wines in the white label Napa Valley series, the Stags’ Leap Cabernet Sauvignon includes some estate fruit but is mostly sourced from vineyards throughout Napa Valley. Joanne Wing noted that while Paubert likes the flexibility of having some fruit from warm climate sites like Calistoga, he’s far more excited about the fruit from the cooler southern reaches of Napa like Coombsville, Oak Knoll and Yountville.

Medium-plus intensity with rich dark fruit–black currants, black plums, blackberries. This screams Napa Cab from the nose but it is not as overtly oak-driven as the norm with a little tobacco spice element.

On the palate those dark fruits carry through but there is a little earthy forest-floor element that emerges that adds some intrigue. Medium acidity adds juiciness to the fruit but not enough to be mouthwatering. The oak is a little more pronounced but is more spice driven than vanilla. The medium-plus tannins are still quite firm and young but are more tight than biting. Moderate length finish ends on the fruit which testifies to the youth of this wine.

Stags’ Leap Winery Assistant Winemaker Joanne Wing.

At $45-50, this is priced in lined with many of its Napa peers as a sort of “entry-level” Napa Cab. It’s hard to say it is a compelling value compared to what you can get for equivalent pricing from other regions like Washington and Paso Robles. Like the Chardonnay, I feel like this Cab is certainly well made but not blow-your-socks-off-you-must-find-it good partly because of the premium you are paying for the Napa name (and the winery’s history).

However, I do suspect that this wine could kick it up a couple notches with a few more years of bottle age that potentially could make it far more compelling.

Third Course paired with 2014 Stags’ Leap “The Investor” Red Blend
Piedmontese New York Steak with herb polenta, spring vegetables, blackberry demiglace

Admittedly, this was one of the few times I’ve been disappointed with a Daniel’s steak. Perhaps it was just this cut but I found it was in the weird position of being both too fatty and too dry and lacking flavor. The polenta and blackberry demi-glace were excellent though. But I found myself again wishing that the braised short ribs were the main course.

A unique blend of Merlot, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, The Investor pays homage to former owner Horace Chase who made his fortune investing in gold and silver mines during the Gold Rush days of California. The Merlot and majority of the Petite Sirah come from estate fruit in the Stags Leap District and Oakville while the Cabernet and Malbec are sourced from vineyards throughout Napa Valley.

The medium-plus acidity and savory, herbal element of The Investor red blend definitely helped interject some much needed flavor into the Piedmontese New York steak.

Medium-plus nose with a mix of red and dark fruits–plums and currants. There is more overt oak vanilla on the nose of this wine than with the Cab but it doesn’t seem overwhelming. Underneath there is also a blue floral element that is not defined.

On the palate, the mix of fruits carry through with mouthwatering medium-plus acidity tilting the favor towards the red fruit. Some savory herbal and smokey notes join the party that dearly helps the food-pairing with the flavorless Piedmontese New York steak. The vanilla oak notes add a layer of velvety softness to the high tannins that still have a fair amount of gripe. Like the Cab, the moderate length finish ends on the youthful fruit.

At $50-60, The Investor intrigues me a lot more than the Napa Cabernet (and the Napa Merlot) because of the savory, smokey element and mouthwatering acidity. It’s still young and has some “baby fat” of oak that needs to be shed but this is a unique blend that could turn into something exceptionally good.

Dessert paired with 2014 Stags’ Leap Napa Valley Petite Sirah
Chocolate torte with Devonshire cream, coconut crisp

While the chocolate torte was amazing and sinfully delicious and the wine outstanding, this was not a winning pairing. The wine was nowhere near sweet enough to balance with the torte.

While delicious on their own, the pairing of the chocolate torte with the Stags’ Leap Petite Sirah just didn’t do it for me.

Still, it was somewhat fitting to end the Stags’ Leap Winery dinner with the wine that truly epitomizes the estate. While the name “Stags Leap” is synonymous with Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags’ Leap Winery was always a vanguard in cultivating and promoting Petite Sirah.

High intensity nose that started jumping out of the glass as soon as the waiter poured it. Blackberries and boysenberries with some peppery spice and violets.

On the palate, the first thing that hits you is the weight and richness of the wine with the full brunt of the dark fruits and high tannins. But there is an elegance with the juicy medium-plus acidity and fine balance that keeps the wine from being overbearing. On the moderate finish, there is some subtle dark chocolate notes that come out but not enough to make the food-pairing work. This was definitely a wine to savor on its own.

At $32-40, this is a more premium-priced Petite Sirah but it is well worth not only its price but also its reputation as the winery’s flagship. During this course, Jo told us about the Ne Cede Malis block of Prohibition-era vines that is a field blend of majority Petite Sirah with Muscat, Malbec, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Carignan and up to 9 other varieties. The grapes are harvested together and co-fermented to produce a limited release bottling. I have to admit that if Stags’ Leap Winery’s mobile ordering website wasn’t so buggy and difficult to navigate, I would have purchased a bottle of the Ne Cede Malis Petite Sirah (as well as several bottles of the Viognier) right then.

Overall Impressions

Attending this dinner left me wondering if Stags’ Leap Winery is a victim of its own name and location in Napa Valley. While the winery absolutely shined with its Viognier and Petite Sirah, their more typical Napa offerings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay were just “ho-hum”.

I do appreciate that Treasury Wine Estates has let Paubert, Wing and Co. continue producing their more obscure bottlings but I have no doubt that the health of the winery’s bottom line depends on the case sales of the bread and butter Cab, Chardonnay and Merlot. It’s where the money is–especially in Napa–and that is what they’re out to sell.

Yet after tasting their outstanding Viognier, scrumptious Petite Sirah and very character-driven Investor blend, its hard not to think about what more the winery could do with their talented winemaking team and unique approach if they didn’t have to live up to the name Stags’ Leap.

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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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60 Second Wine Review — Chambert Gourmand Cahors

Today is Malbec World Day (Why it isn’t World Malbec Day, I don’t know) so I thought I would share a few thoughts on the 2012 Château de Chambert Gourmand from the Cahors region of southwest France.

The Geekery

Château de Chambert is a very old estate in Cahors, founded in 1690 by Madamoiselle Lalvallette. In 1857, one of her descendants married into the Bataille family with the estate passing into their care.

The French General Marie Désiré Pierre Bataille, a hero of World War I who died at the battle of Col du Bonhomme, was born at the Chateau.

Today the estate is owned by the Lejeune family who began converting the property to biodynamics in 2007. At around 160 acres, it’s the largest certified biodynamic producer in Cahors.

Stéphane Derenoncourt, the notable Bordeaux consultant (of Canon-la-Gaffelière, La Mondotte, Pavie-Macquin and Les Carmes Haut-Brion fame) assists the winemaking.

The Gourmand label is the estate’s “bistro wine” and is usually majority Malbec with some Merlot blended in.

The Wine

Medium intensity nose. Red fruit mixed with blue flower notes that aren’t very defined. Around the edges is a subtle herbalness.

Photo by Fir0002. Released on Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-3.0

Red cherry plum notes characterize this wine.

On the palate those red fruits come through and are more pronounced as cherry plums. A little bit of black pepper spice joins the party with the still undefined herbal notes. Medium-plus acidity seems more tart than fresh and also amplifies the grippy medium-plus tannins. The moderate finish brings back the floral notes but mostly ends with the tart cherry plums.

The Verdict

At around $9-12, this bistro wine is meant to be enjoyed with food and it did pair well with the burger I had it with. But I suspect that it’s probably at least 2 years past when it should have been opened as the faded fruit is not enough to balance the acidity and tannins at this point.

Though I would have no qualms with trying a newer vintage as I can see it delivering a fair amount of value.

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60 Second Wine Review — 2004 Opus One

A few quick thoughts on the 2004 Opus One from Napa Valley.

The Geekery

Opus One was founded in 1979 as a joint partnership between Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Ch. Mouton-Rothschild.

In his 1989 book, California’s Great Cabernets James Laube describes Opus as one of the “First Growths” in California back when they were making around 11,000 cases a year.

The 2004 Opus One is a blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc and 1% Malbec with around 22,000 cases made.

The Wine

Medium intensity nose. A mix of dark fruits that aren’t very defined, noticeable oak spice but also some tertiary tobacco notes.

Photo by terri_bateman. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under  CC-Zero

Simple black currant fruit characterize this wine.

On the palate those dark fruits become slightly more defined as black currants and bring an herbal element with them. Medium-plus acidity adds freshness and balances well with the velvety soft medium-plus tannins. The mouthfeel is the best part of the wine by far. The mix of oak and tobacco spice are still present and last thru the moderate length finish.

The Verdict

This was the third time I’ve had Opus after tasting the 2009 at an event and 2011 at the winery. I was very underwhelmed with both but have been told repeatedly by wine folks that “Opus needs time” and that it’s unfair to judge them with less than 10 years of bottle age. After trying an Opus now with more than 13 years of bottle age, I have to wonder what follows the old proverb after “Fool me thrice…”.

Especially at the $300+ price point (with the 2004 now around $450 a bottle), I can name dozens of Bordeaux wines at or below that level that deliver way more value and pleasure. From Napa, there are bottles from Chappellet, Groth, Bevan, Frank Family, Moone-Tsai, Diamond Creek, Blankiet, Dominus and more that I would be happily content with having 2-3 bottles of for the price of one Opus.

It’s not a horrible wine but it is distinctly one that you are paying more for the name than anything else and, frankly, I’m done paying.

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60 Second Wine Review — Ancestry Cellars Pinot gris

A few quick thoughts on the 2017 Ancestry Cellars Prosperita Pinot gris from the Columbia Valley.

The Geekery

Ancestry Cellars was founded by Jason and Erin Moran in 2011. Full disclosure, like Michael Savage of Savage Grace, Jason is an alum of the Northwest Wine Academy and was in my wine production class.

The accolades for Ancestry came quickly after its founding with Sean Sullivan of the Washington Wine Report and Wine Enthusiast noting that Jason Morin particularly excels with his white wines.

With a tasting room in Manson, as well as in Woodinville, Ancestry Cellars has been focusing more on the developing Lake Chelan AVA. In addition to sourcing white grape varieties like Pinot gris and Chardonnay, Ancestry also produces a Malbec sourced from Dry Lake Vineyard in Manson.

The 2017 Prosperita Pinot gris is sourced from fruit from the Lake Chelan AVA and from Sagemoor Vineyards in the greater Columbia Valley AVA. The wine is 100% Pinot gris that was fermented and aged in stainless steel.

The Wine

High intensity nose of fresh white peaches and orange blossoms. In the background is a little pear note as well.

On the palate, that fresh white peach note comes through but the floral orange blossom notes gets more zesty and citrusy. Medium-plus acidity keeps the mouthfeel very lively and fresh but is amply balanced by the medium bodied weight of the fruit.

Photo by Fir0002. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-NC-3.0

Lovely fresh white peach notes in this Pinot gris.

Dry but fruit forward. The acidity also adds a mouthwatering aspect that quickly makes you want to take another drink. Moderate length finish brings back some of the floral notes.

The Verdict

This wine tastes like Spring and is exceptionally well made. While some Northwest Pinot gris producers have a difficult time balancing the sense of fruitiness/sweetness with crisp acidity, this Ancestry Pinot gris hits those notes perfectly making a dry Pinot gris with ample weight and fruit.

For $12-15, this is a delicious white wine that is perfect for patio sipping as well as food pairing.

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Getting Geeky with Bunnell Malbec

Going to need more than 60 Seconds to geek out about this 2009 Bunnell Family Cellars Malbec from the Northridge Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope.

The Background

Bunnell Family Cellars was started in 2004 by Ron and Susan Bunnell. A botanist by training, Ron’s interest in wine led him to UC-Davis to study for a masters in viticulture.

From Davis, Bunnell went to work at some of California’s oldest wineries such as Charles Krug and then Beringer where he was mentored by Patrick Leon (of Mouton Rothschild and Opus One fame) and Jean-Louis Mandrau (of Ch. Latour fame) who were consultants for Beringer along with emeritus winemaker Ed Sbragia.

He was working at Kendall-Jackson with Randy Ullom when he got the opportunity to move to Washington State to take over the red winemaking program for Chateau Ste. Michelle in 1999. In this position he followed in the footsteps of Mike Januik and Charlie Hoppes who left to work on their own projects. Here Bunnell worked closely with Renzo Cotarella of Antinori for Col Solare.

Leaving Chateau Ste Michelle in 2005, the inaugural 2004 vintage release of Bunnell Family Cellars was quick to earn accolades in the Washington wine industry.

Apart from Bunnell’s great wines, every Washington wine insider knows that if you are in wine county in Eastern Washington, one absolute must-stop is always Susan Bunnell’s Wine O’Clock Wine Bar and Bistro in Prosser. Fabulous food, wine and ambiance that I would put against any bistro in Seattle, Walla Walla or the Bay Area. Truly a gem.

In addition to their Bunnell Family Cellars (BFC) line, the Bunnells also produce a dedicated label for their Wine O’Clock bistro, a RiverAerie line named after their homestead overlooking the Yakima River and the wines for Newhouse Family Vineyards which is done in partnership with Steve Newhouse, owner of Upland Vineyard on Snipes Mountain.

The Vineyard

Photo by Williamborg. Released on Wikimedia Commons under PD-self

The Saddle Mountains of the Wahluke Slope.


This 2009 Northridge Malbec is from the Bunnell’s Vins de l’endroit series or “wines of a place” aiming to highlight some of the unique terroirs of Washington–in this case the Northridge Vineyard owned by the Milbrandt family.

Located on the western edge of the Saddle Mountains in the very warm Wahluke Slope AVA, the vineyard was first planted by Butch and Jerry Milbrandt in 2003. Situated above the flood plain, the shallow soils of Northridge are a very old mix of sedimentary caliche and basalt. The high elevation promotes a wide diurnal temperature variation of 40-50 degrees from daytime highs in the summer to nighttime lows. This allows the grapes to maintain acidity and freshness as they develop ripe tannins and dark fruit flavors.

Below is a very cool video (3:16) from the Milbrandt’s YouTube channel that features a tour of the Northridge Vineyard with their viticulturist Lacey Lybeck and Milbrandt’s winemaker Josh Maloney.

The Wine

Medium-plus intensity nose with a mix of black fruits–blackberries and black cherries–with red fruits like pomegranate. Surrounding the fruit is savory black pepper spice and bacon fat that gets your mouth watering before you even take a sip. Underneath there are some tertiary tobacco spice notes wanting to peak out but, overall, this is still a primary fruit driven bouquet for an 8+ year old wine.

On the palate, the richer darker fruits carry through but still taste quite fresh with the medium-plus acidity. The black cherries in particular have that ripe, plucked-off-the-bush juiciness to them. Again, surprisingly young tasting for a Washington Malbec–a style of wine that I often find starts to taste faded after 6-7 years. The maturity of the wine reveals itself with medium tannins that are very velvety at this point and quite hedonistic with how they wrap around your tongue. Once you get past the textural hedonism, the intellectual hedonism kicks in on the long finish that carries the savory bacon note with just a tinge of smoke.

Around 166 cases of the 2009 Bunnell Northridge Malbec were made.

The Verdict

Photo by Sgt Earnest J. Barnes. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under PD US Military

The savory bacon notes coupled with the lush dark fruit in this Bunnell Malbec make this wine a real treat to enjoy!


What is most remarkable with this 2009 Bunnell Northridge Malbec is that it taste like a Washington Bordeaux blend blend had a baby with Rhone Syrah from Côte-Rôtie. A very delicious combination of rich fruit, mouthwatering structure and savory complexity.

I usually feel that wine drinkers pay a premium for Washington Malbec because of their novelty and that rarely do they exceed the value you get from Argentina. That is definitely not the case with this 2009 Bunnell Malbec. At around $35-40, it is worth every penny and well worth the hunt to find.

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60 Second Wine Review — Hence Syrah

A few quick thoughts on the 2015 Hence Syrah from Walla Walla.

The Geekery

Hence Cellars was founded in 2001 when Henderson Orchard and his father, Willis ”Papa” Orchard, planted their Powerline Estate Vineyard in the foothills of the Blue Mountain.

The 2005 vintage was the first release of Hence Cellars wine with Troy Ledwick, a protege of Stan Clarke from the Walla Walla Community College’s Enology and Viticulture program and formerly of Basel Cellars, Forgeron and Long Shadows, assisting the Orchards.

In addition to their Powerline Vineyard that is planted to Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, the Orchards also own the Ruzzuti Estate Vineyard that was planted in 2000 with Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

The 2015 Hence Syrah is 100% Walla Walla Syrah with around 112 cases produced.

The Wine

High intensity nose. Pop and pour this just starts jumping out of the glass with black plums, pepper spice and a savory-sweet tamarind chutney note. In the background are some blue floral notes that aren’t very defined.

Photo by Madhura Vaze. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

The savory-sweet note of tamarind chutney in this Syrah is very mouthwatering.

On the palate, those dark fruits carry through with the savory-sweet tamarind note bringing a meaty element along with it. Still, overall, fruit dominant but I can see the interplay of the savory elements coming out even more after some bottle aging. Mouthwatering medium-plus acidity balances the ripe full-bodied fruit very well and adds freshness. The medium-plus tannins contribute to the big mouthfeel but are quite ripe and smooth. Moderate length finish at this point ends with the black plums and pepper spice.

The Verdict

At around $30-35, this is a scrumptious Walla Walla Syrah that is drinking quite well now but is still on the young side. Beautiful balance with the fruit taking the forefront in its youth but the promise of more savory and complex tertiary flavors lurking in the background.

It’s a great value now for a delicious Washington Syrah but I can see this jumping up another level in 2-3 years that will make it even more outstanding of a deal.

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Flashback — Taste Washington 2017

The 2018 Taste Washington Event is nearing so I thought I would do a throwback post to some of the gems from last year’s Grand Tasting. I’ll also share my thoughts on if the cost of the tickets are worth it and tips on how to get the most out of your experience.

The Background

Taste Washington is the largest event in the state highlighting the food and wine of Washington. Now in its 21st year, the event will feature over 225 wineries and 65 restaurants as well as seminars and culinary exhibitions. It looks like VIP tickets are sold out at this point so the 2 Day Pass for General Admission (2-5:30pm) to the Taste Washington Grand Tasting is $145 while individual days are $95 a piece.

In addition to the Grand Tasting that will be Saturday & Sunday, March 24-25 from 1pm(VIP)/2pm-5:30pm at Century Link Field, Taste Washington will also feature:

Red & White Party at AQUA by El Gaucho–Thursday, March 22nd 7-10pm ($175)

Dinner and tasting featuring 91+ rated wines from àMaurice Cellars, Lauren Ashton Cellars, Fidélitas Wines, Leonetti Cellar, Guardian Cellars, Obelisco Estate Winery, L’Ecole No 41, Quilceda Creek, Passing Time Winery, Doubleback, Woodward Canyon Winery and more.

Taste Washington on the Farm–Friday, March 23rd 10am-3pm ($85-185)

Three different farm to table experiences with lunch and farm tours that people can choose from places like Center for Urban Horticulture in Seattle, Heyday Farm on Bainbridge Island and Finnriver Farm & Cidery in Chimacum, WA with featured wineries such as Matthews, Rolling Bay and Doubleback.


The New Vintage at Fisher Pavillon–Friday, March 23rd 7-10pm ($80)

Small bites by celebrity chefs, a Rosé Lounge, live music and dancing featuring the wines of Alexandria Nicole Cellars, Boudreaux Cellars, Browne Family Vineyards, DeLille Cellars, Hedges Family Estate, Mullan Road Cellars, Sinclair Estate Vineyards, TruthTeller Winery and more.

Taste and Savor Tour of Pike Place Market –Saturday, March 24th 9am ($80)

An early morning food tour through the historic Pike Place Market operated in conjunction with Savor Seattle.

Wine Seminars at Four Seasons Hotel Seattle Saturday & Sunday, March 24-25 10:30 to 12pm ($45-85)

Six seminars featuring writers, winemakers, growers, educators as well as Master Sommeliers (Chris Tanghe, Rebecca Fineman, Jackson Rohrbaugh, Greg Harrington) and Masters of Wine (Bob Betz, Mary Ewing-Mulligan) covering a variety of topics from blind tasting, single vineyard Syrahs, Celilo Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge, Washington vs the World and more.

Each seminar features a tasting of 6 to 12 wines from producers like Savage Grace, Andrew Will, Gorman‘s Ashan Cellars, Avennia and Two Vintners as well as non-Washington comparative tastings from Mollydooker, Lynch-Bages, Joseph Phelps’ Insignia, Duckhorn and Glaetzer Wines’ Amon-Ra.

Sunday Brunch at Quality Athletics — Sunday, March 25th 10am-12:30pm ($75)

Music and two celebrities chefs host a brunch featuring bloody mary’s and brunch cocktails.


My Top 5 Wines from the 2017 Grand Tasting

Even with some hard core dedication, and using the extra hour VIP ticket, I was able to hit, at most, around 60 of the 600+ wines available for tasting. This is why trying to minimize the stress of the crowds and maximize the experience (see my tips below) is so important. You’re paying a decent chunk of change to attend the Grand Tasting and you want to leave the event with some great memories and new wine discoveries.

Still, out of those 60 or so wines, I tasted a lot of great juice. Here are five wines from last year’s tasting that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Aquilini 2014 Red Mountain blend — Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend made by Napa Valley rockstar Philippe Melka. I most certainly did not spit this one out. It was the run away Wine of the Event for me and got me to sign up for their mailing list. Tremendous structure, velvety fruit, fresh acidity and long finish. I would put this toe to toe with virtually any $100+ Napa wine. Unfortunately they don’t look to be pouring at this year’s event.

Cairdeas Winery 2014 Caislén an Pápa–a Chateauneuf du Pape style blend from Meek Vineyard in the Yakima Valley. Beautiful balance of rich fruit and savory, spicy complexity. They will be pouring the 2015 vintage of this wine at this year’s event.


Andrew Will 2014 Malbec — a known winery but you hardly ever see a varietal Malbec from them and this was scrumptious! Reminded me of a spicy Cabernet Franc. It doesn’t look like they will be pouring a Malbec this year though.

Cloudlift Cellars 2015 Lucy rosé of Cabernet Franc — In my tip section below I talk about making a point to periodically refresh your palate with bubbles, dry Rieslings and rosés. There are so many delicious reds that will wear you down and start tasting the same if you don’t give your palate a frequent jolt of crispness and acidity. It was this strategy that led me to discovering this beautiful rosé. Gorgeous nose and lively fruit. Best rosé at the event. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look they will be pouring a rosé this year. Update: In the comments below, Tom Stangeland of Cloudlift Cellars note that he will be pouring the new vintage of Lucy.

W.T. Vintners 2013 Les Collines Syrah — Seeing that Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen of W.T. Vintners was going to be on the panel of the Washington vs the World Sunday Seminar, with his Boushey Vineyard Rhone blend being poured, pretty much sold me on attending that event. This Les Collines Syrah was spectacular and demonstrated everything that is knee-bendingly delicious about Washington Syrah–beautiful balance of rich yet mouthwatering fruit, high intensity and inviting aromatics with a long memorable finish. Looks like they will be pouring the 2014 vintage of this wine.

Is it Worth it?

General Admission, yes. VIP upcharge, no.

While I can’t speak for the seminars and other events, I’ve gone to the Grand Tasting six times and each time I had a blast attending. If it wasn’t for some scheduling conflicts, I would be attending the Grand Tasting again this year but, instead, I’m going to attend one of the seminars and the New Vintage party to see how those are.

The extensive list of wineries and restaurants that you can experience in one setting is a wine geek and foodie’s dream. But that said, it can be very frustrating with how crowded it quickly gets. I’ve sprung for the VIP (which was $210 for the 2-day pass/$165 per day) and even that first hour got aggravatingly crowded about 20 minutes in. The VIP is really not worth the extra $70–especially when you can get the two day General Admission pass ($145) for less than a single day VIP admission ($165).

Even the $95 for a single day General Admission which gives you 3 and half hours of the Grand Tasting is still a good deal with everything that you have a chance to taste and experience–especially if you follow some of my tips below.

Grand Tasting Tips

1.) Uber/Lyft or find a hotel close by. Believe me, even if you are extremely diligent about spitting (which is hard with the people crowding the tables and blocking the spit buckets) you will much prefer having someone else do the driving or walking back to your hotel after the tasting. For the spitters, bringing along a red solo cup is also not a bad idea.

2.) No wine is worth waiting in line for! Seriously, there are so many great wineries and new wines waiting to be discovered that it is pointless to wait around a crowded table to get a pour. You only have around 3-4 hours and you will find yourself getting irritated at the crowds. Tables like DeLille, Col Solare, Mark Ryan, Figgins, K Vintners, Long Shadows, Pepper Bridge, Upchurch and the like always draw crowds–and they certainly are outstanding wines–but they’re not worth stressing over.

Yes, the big name tables deserve the attention but sometimes your Wine of The Event is hidden away on a table everyone is passing by.


Periodically swing by and check the table but if its crowded, go somewhere else. Ditto with the food–which is why I’ve never bothered with the AQUA by El Gaucho oyster bar. There is always going to be some table, somewhere that doesn’t have a line. Check them out and you may end up discovering your new favorite wine or restaurant to try. The Aquilini I mentioned above as my Wine of the Event was just this scenario. No one was at this table and it was probably the best damn wine being poured.

3.) Along those lines above, make it a point to visit wineries you’ve never heard of. With more than 900 wineries, even the 200+ at Taste Washington is only a tiny slice of what the state has to offer. Sure, you have your favorites but they’re your favorites because you’ve already had them. Why spend $95 to $200+ to taste them again? When I attend, I aim for a 1 to 2 ratio–for every 1 known winery I taste at, I visit the tables of 2 new ones.

4.) Visit the sparkling wine producers periodically to help refresh your palate. This year Karma Vineyards, Townshend Cellar, Treveri Cellars, Domaine Ste. Michelle and maybe Patterson Cellars will be pouring bubbles. Aim to visit one of these every 45 minutes or so to wake up your palate and keep it from getting fatigued. Likewise, producers of dry Rieslings and rosé are also great tables to visit frequently. A few names I spot from the winery list that look to be pouring these kinds of wines include Ancestry Cellars, Randolph Cellars, WIT Cellars, Balboa Winery, Locus Wines, Tunnel Hill Winery and Gard Vintners.

5.) Check out the featured vineyards and AVA tables. These tables are rarely crowded and offer fantastic opportunities to geek out and compare different wines made from similar terroirs.

6.) Enjoy the food! Yes, as wine geeks it’s tempting to think of the wine as always the star of the show but, truthfully, most years I feel like the food was the best part of the entire experience. It’s very fun to hit up a food table, grab some tasty bite and see what random, nearby wine table has a wine that may pair well with it. I can’t count how many amazing discoveries of food & wine pairing bliss I’ve encountered with this method. It truly completes the package of the Taste Washington Grand Tasting experience. Plus the food helps quite a bit with dealing with the alcohol.

Most importantly, have fun and stay safe!

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60 Second Wine Review — Fidelitas Optu Red

A few quick thoughts on the 2009 Fidelitas Optu from the Columbia Valley.

The Geekery

Fidelitas was founded in 2000 by Charlie Hoppes, a 30 year veteran in the Washington wine industry. A graduate of UC-Davis, Hoppes started out working with Mike Januik at the Snoqualmie/Langguth winery before moving onto Waterbrook. He returned to Chateau Ste. Michelle where he worked with Januik and Bob Betz, eventually rising to be in charge of red wine production.

While at Chateau Ste Michelle, he worked with the Antinori family for the inaugural 3 releases of their joint Red Mountain project, Col Solare. In 1999, he left Chateau Ste. Michelle to help launch Three Rivers Winery in Walla Walla and to work on his own project with Fidelitas.

Known as the “Wine Boss” of Washington, Hoppes also runs a consulting firm where he has worked with numerous small wineries such as Gamache, Market Vineyards, Ryan Patrick and Goose Ridge.

The 2009 Optu is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 5% Malbec and 5% Cabernet Franc. The wine was sourced from Champoux Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills, Red Mountain Vineyard located near Hedges Estate, Milbrandt’s Northridge Vineyard and Weinbau on the Wahluke Slope with around 240 cases made.

The Wine

Medium-minus intensity nose. Some dark fruits but they seem pretty dried and faded at this point. Little tobacco spice around the edges.

Photo by Emőke Dénes. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

The black plum fruits flavors in this wine are a little dried out at this point.


On the palate, those dried dark fruits carry through and get some definition as black plums and currants. The tobacco spice is more pronounced and also brings an autumn forest sort of woodsiness. Medium acidity and very soft medium tannins keep good balance with what is left of the fruit. Moderate length finish.

The Verdict

It’s clear that this wine is on the waning curve of its life but it still has some pleasure to give, especially if it can be paired with food that can compliment its soft elegance.

At around $50 for a bottle, it’s holding decent value for an 8+ year old wine.

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