Tag Archives: Sparkling wine

60 Second Wine Review — Frank Family 2013 Blanc de Blancs

A few quick thoughts on the 2013 Frank Family Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine from Carneros.

The Geekery
Frank Family bubbles

While today Frank Family is known for big Rutherford Cabs and buttery Chardonnays, its origins were actually sparkling wine. In 1992, Rich Frank, a Disney exec, bought Hanns Kornell Champagne Cellars with Koerner Rombauer.

Hanns Kornell was a German immigrant who survived the Dachau concentration camp during World War II before founding his eponymous sparkling house in 1958.

Using the methode champenoise, Kornell helped innovate many new sparkling wine techniques in California. His wines earned high praise with Marilyn Monroe reportedly being a fan.

Rich Frank later bought out Rombauer’s interest in the winery and changed the name to Frank Family Vineyards. To honor Kornell, they kept producing sparkling wines.

The 2013 Blanc de Blancs is 100% Chardonnay sourced from Carneros. The wine spent 3 years aging on the lees with 500 cases made.

The Wine

Meyer lemons photo by ChaosNil. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under ) CC-BY-SA 3.0

Lots of ripe lemon notes in this wine.

Medium-plus intensity nose. Very citrusy with ripe lemon notes coupled with floral orange blossom. Apples with a toasted pastry element follow.

The palate echos the nose but also introduces an intriguing spiced pear note that adds more depth. Creamy mouthfeel enhances the toasted element and “California Chard” feel of the wine.

Medium-plus body. The medium-plus acidity is enough to feel balanced with the dosage (likely in the 10-11 g/l range). But it could use a little more zip of freshness. Long finish lingers more on the tree fruit, especially the spiced pear.

The Verdict

For around $45-55, it’s a decent value. It certainly offers more complexity and depth than many of your typical mass-market Champagnes in that range like Veuve Clicquot & Moet.

But it’s not going to knock your socks off and there are certainly better values out there. I also got a chance to try their 2011 Lady Edythe Reserve Brut (aged for 6 years on lees), which sells at the winery for $110. That was very tasty as well, but not that drastically different from the Blanc de Blancs.

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60 Second Wine Review — Digby Fine English Brut

It’s English Wine Week, so I’m sharing a few quick thoughts on the non-vintage Digby Fine English Brut sparkling wine.

Digby Fine English Brut

The Geekery

American Trevor Clough and Englishman Jason Humphries founded Digby Fine English in 2013 as a negociant house in the style of many Champagne firms. Purchasing wine (and later fruit) from several sources, they released a 2009 vintage brut and rosé that year.

Clough and Humphries named their venture in honor of the 17th-century philosopher and scientist Sir Kenelm Digby.  Also an inventor, Digby pioneered several new techniques in glassmaking–essentially inventing the modern wine bottle.

The wines are made at Wiston Estate Winery by Irish winemaker Dermot Sugrue. Vineyards for the NV Brut were sourced from the North and South Downs region of Kent as well as Sussex and Hampshire.

The non-vintage Brut is 40% Pinot noir, 35% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Meunier with the Chardonnay seeing an additional 18 months of lees contact before being used in the blend. The finished wine was aged 24 months in the bottle and then disgorged with a 12 g/l dosage. Around 25,000 bottles were produced.

The Wine

Photo By Gaetan Lee - originally posted to Flickr as French tart, CC BY 2.0

Some apple tart pastry flavors but not much more.

Medium intensity nose. Appley with some toasted tart pastry.

On the palate, the apple pastry notes carry through with a little subtle earthiness as well. Lively mousse and acidity complement the weighty feel of the wine. However, the flavors and the finish quickly fade.

The Verdict

In general, I’m a huge fan of English sparklers and have had several that go toe-to-toe with quality Champagne. Chapel Down is probably my favorite. But they haven’t been the easiest to find in the US and I will admit that this one (which I got at a Seattle wine shop for $50 USD) was rather underwhelming.

In the UK, this is direct from the producer at £30.99 (about $40 USD) with some merchants selling it closer to $30 USD. That is a much better price point for this quality level. Without a doubt, US consumers are paying a premium for the novelty.

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60 Second Wine Review — Arthur Metz Cuvee Prestige

A few quick thoughts on the Arthur Metz Cuvee Prestige Cremant d’Alsace.

Arthur Metz Cremant d'Alsace

The Geekery

Founded in Marlenheim in 1904, Arthur Metz was an early pioneer of sparkling Cremant d’Alsace. However, he wasn’t the first with Julien Dopff of Dopff au Moulin likely beating Metz by a couple of years after being inspired by the wines of Champagne while visiting the 1900 Paris Universal Exposition.

However, there is some evidence that Alsatian winemakers were making sparkling wines in the traditional method as early as the late 19th century. The official AOC for Cremant d’Alsace would later be established on August 24, 1976.

Today the house of Arthur Metz includes three properties (Domaine de la Ville de Colmar, Clos St-Jacques and Hospices de Colmar) as well as two pressing rooms–Scharrachbergheim in northern Alsace and Epfig in central Alsace. The estate also works with more than 400 small growers giving the winery access to over a 1000 hectares of grapes.

The Cuvee Prestige is a blend of Pinot blanc, Pinot noir and Riesling grapes grown from both estate and contract fruit. Some releases may also have Auxerrois blended in. Other cremants in the Metz line-up will sometimes feature Pinot gris and Chardonnay. The wine was aged 12 months on the lees before being bottled with a brut level dosage.

The Wine

Photo By Kristina Walter - Own work, Public Domain,

The Granny Smith apple notes of this wine tastes very fresh.

Medium-plus intensity nose. Lots of citrus and apple tree fruit notes. There is also some white flowers.

On the palate, the citrus becomes more defined as Meyer lemon, but the apple notes are the most prominent. The wine has a lively mousse that is silky without being creamy. My best guess of the dosage is in the 0.7-0.9 g/l range. The long finish adds freshness to the apples like sliced Granny Smiths.

The Verdict

At $16-20, this is a very solid sparkling Cremant that’s on the crisp and light side of the equation. Excellent warm weather bubbles that are refreshing without being weighty. Definitely a bottle I’ll be getting again.

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Cali Quick Takes — A tale of two approaches

I’m in Napa and Sonoma for the next few days–away from the comforts of my books and desktop that usually fuel my posts.

domaine carneros menu

But a visit to Domaine Carneros and dinner with a bottle of Joel Peterson’s Once and Future Mataro gave a great contrast in two wineries’ marketing approach that I want to chime in on.

Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah

At Domaine Carneros, I greatly appreciated that they were able to squeeze us in without an appointment. They sat us in a dining area with a menu of tasting option, glass pours and small bites.

My wife went for the bubbles flight (of course) while I had a glass pour of their prestige cuvee, the 2013 Le Rêve. The attendant was helpful enough, explaining briefly the grape varieties in each cuvee and the aging. He did stumble a bit in the sweetness scale–describing demi-sec as “half-sweet” and telling us that if we ever see a bottle labeled as sec that it would be “twice as sweet” as a demi-sec. (Yeah, no.)

But I wasn’t in the mood to be that person so I let him finish his spiel before going off to tend to other guests.

It was then that we noticed how utterly useless the tasting mat that came with my wife’s flight was.

Domaine Carneros tasting mat

#ChateauStyle gobbly gook

Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah

What use is this? I guess I should have had a pen and paper ready to take notes when the attendant was dropping off the wine.

There is not one shred of useful information on this tasting mat. Just marketing blurbs telling me what they think I’m drinking instead of details about what I’m actually drinking.

It would have been extremely helpful to have some worthwhile information about the wines as we compared and contrast. Grape varieties? Vineyard source? Blend percentages? Dosage? Farming style? Bueller?

It really felt more like pandering than anything else. And it was world’s apart to the back label of the 2016 Once and Future Mataro from the Oakley Road Vineyard in Contra Costa.

Can this be the “Once and Future” for all wine labels, pretty please?

Once and Future label

Well done Joel Peterson, well done.

The only thing missing is farming practices. But I absolutely love this approach. Here is a back label that doesn’t take the intelligence or curiosity of its customers for granted.

Yeah, there is a lot of info here that many folks won’t care about. It takes a certain type of geek to get excited about 8×8 head pruning. But it is all hidden away on the back of the bottle to where it is there if you want it and out of the way if you don’t.

And it is far and away better than pandering, marketing gobbly gook telling you to taste “refreshing aromas of lemon zest, grapefruit, golden hay and a floral note reminiscent of the delicate grape flower.”

Oh please.

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The Practical Guide to Picking Out Wedding Wines

If you lurk around on Reddit’s r/wine sub, you’ll often see posts like this one looking for wedding wine suggestions. Back in my retail days, February would be the start of “wedding season” where almost daily through September you’d get customers coming in asking about wedding wines.

Wedding cake

While I understand the sense of not knowing where to start, I actually don’t think going to an online board looking for specific wine recommendations is a great idea. Nor do I think googling “wedding wines under $10” or whatever is worth your time either.

That’s because every wine market is different in both pricing and selection. These lists and helpful suggestions often send you on a wild goose chase looking for something that you might not even be able to get in your area.

Also, the suggestions that focus on mass-produced and widely distributed options (i.e., supermarket wines) may steer you towards wines that you end up feeling self-conscious about serving at your wedding. (More on that down below)

Instead, the best online advice for picking wedding wines is going to be more general. Both Wine Folly and The Knot have good guidelines that are worth a read. I disagree with a few of their suggestions, but they’re solid starting points.

Below I’m going to lay out the practical approach to picking out wedding wines. This is the same advice that I’ve given hundreds of wedding customers during my career and it all begins with the most important rule.

1.) Don’t Stress About the Wine

Photo by Tracy Hunter. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-2.0

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

Seriously. There is SOOOOOOOO much about wedding planning that you’re going to be stressing over. Picking out the booze should be at the bottom of the worry list.

Take a step back and think about the weddings that you’ve attended. How many of them can you remember the wines from? Most likely you’re not going to remember much–maybe the varietals at best. That’s because you weren’t attending the wedding for a wine and dining experience. You were there to celebrate the couple getting married. That is what you remember.

Even though I was in the business of selling wine, my number one advice to couples was to always focus more on the things your guests will remember–the ceremony, venue and maybe the music and food. Those are worth stressing over far more than picking out the perfect wine that will please everyone and pair perfectly with every dish.

Because, frankly, that wine doesn’t exist.

What does exist is a bounty of enjoyable wines that will fit whatever budget you have. That should be your starting point.

2.) Start Planning Early and Have Fun

Picking out the booze should be the fun part of wedding planning. It certainly should be more enjoyable than getting measured for tuxes and dresses or deciding seating charts.

Photo by Geoffrey Fairchild. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

Starting early also gives the wine shop time to order any additional quantities needed. Keep in mind, even in big stores with multiple skus, they may have less than a case of a particular wine at any given moment.
But with enough time, they can usually order more in.

The best way to keep it fun is to start early by visiting a good wine shop that is staffed by stewards you can talk to. This is key because a real live person is going to be able to listen to your wants and concerns. They’re also going to know what wines are available in your price range that the online “Best under $XX” lists can’t cover.

Most importantly, though, you can ask them the very pointed question “What would YOU serve at your wedding?”

If you’re dealing with a good wine steward, a question like that gets the wheels cranking. They’re going to pick out gems (maybe different grapes or unique regions) at whatever price point you give them. You are essentially borrowing their expertize to make you look like a wine expert.

People still probably aren’t going to remember exactly what you served. But if you want a better chance of having “wowzer wines” that impress, this is where you’ll find them.

Don’t be afraid to give a budget–and don’t feel like you have to bust it either.

Again, there is so much good wine out there at all price points. Maybe not blow-your-mind level great but good, solid and enjoyable. Any wine steward that is worth their salt is going to find you the best bottle at your budget that they would feel comfortable serving at their wedding.

But if you are starting early, you don’t have to take their word for it. Take home bottles of a few options. Open them up at a dinner party with friends or family. This is where the fun part of wedding planning comes in.

If you want to add a twist (and are worried about your budget), do the tasting blind and include wines at different price points. Go a little under your budget and a little over. Taste through them and see if you or your friends can notice a difference. That will help you zero in on if your budget is reasonable. It will also let you know if the wine steward you’re working with is a good one.

If all the wines are duds, try a different wine shop or steward. Starting early gives you that flexibility to have fun and explore your options.

3.) Keep It Simple

Mauro Sebaste Moscato d'Asti

I like combining the something slightly sweet and something bubbly together.
A nice Moscato d’Asti or a Demi-Sec sparkling wine is a far better pairing with sweet wedding cake than a bone-dry Brut.


I would hope that the wine steward would also be giving you this last piece of advice. Don’t go crazy with multiple options and multiple varieties. Not to sound like a broken record, but your guests aren’t there to attend a wine tasting experience. They’re there to celebrate you! You don’t need to try and cover all the bases to please every person.

For nearly every wedding, you only need 3 to 4 options.

Something red and something white.
Something slightly sweet and/or something bubbly.

Rosé wine is also a popular substitute for one of those last two. The idea of a dedicated sparkling wine for a toast is falling out of fashion so many couples just have people use whatever is in their glass for the toast.

Whichever direction you go with is up to you but you should always default back to Rule #1–Don’t Stress About the Wine!

Addendum: If you’re self-conscious about your wedding wines, avoid the mass-produced brands

Now, this last one I’m including because even though I bang the drum on not stressing, I know there are folks who will stress over everything. (My wife is one of them!)

By far, the biggest stressor regarding wines seems to be the fear of what the wine selection “says” about the couple. (It doesn’t say anything, really!) Often that fear centers on the cost of the wine and if the image it projects makes the couple look like cheapskates. This can lead to the temptation to bust your budget and spend way more on wine than you need to.

Photo by FASTILY. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

But if you’re not self-conscious about your wedding wines and are in a last-minute pinch, Costco is a good source for a large quantity of cheap booze.


With all the things that you’re going to get nickel and dimed on with wedding planning, I would discourage falling for that temptation. Again, the vast majority of your guests are honestly not going to care and just want to celebrate with you. (Plus, it’s free booze!)

But I can empathize with not wanting to look like you’re “cheaping out” on your big day. Even though you’re not really cheaping out–you’re being reasonable and working within a budget.

However, if you know that is going to be an issue for you, avoiding the big mass-produced names is the easiest way to skip that stress. Because then your guest really won’t know how much you paid for your wines.

Picking a big name wine that is widely distributed at every grocery store, gas station and Costco is like leaving the price tag on a gift.

It’s also like serving McDonald’s at your wedding. Everyone knows the price of a Big Mac and where you got it at. Likewise, anyone that drinks wine or shops at a grocery store has gone by the huge displays of these big name wines and have seen the shiny SALE tag on them. There are no surprises. They will know pretty much exactly what you spent.

Again, this shouldn’t be a big deal. But if you are truly self-conscious about the image that your wedding wines are going to project, avoid the “McDonald wines”.

If you’re working with a good wine steward, they should be able to recommend wines from smaller producers or less widely known grape varieties/wine regions that are going to over deliver on the price. You can get an under $15/10/5 wine that doesn’t taste like (or that everybody knows is) an under $15/10/5 wine.

That way you can remove another stressor from what should be one of the best days of your life. Most importantly, it lets everyone get back to focusing on what really matters on your wedding day.

Figuring out what the flower girl is putting up her nose.

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60 Second Wine Review — Blanc de Bleu

A few quick thoughts on the blue (yes, blue) sparkling wine Blanc de Bleu.

The Geekery
Blanc de bleu sparkling wine

Blanc de Bleu is a California sparkling wine made by Bronco Wine Company. Owned by Fred Franzia, Bronco is noted for its value-oriented brands like Charles Shaw (“Two-Buck Chuck”), Cellar Number 8, Crane Lake, Estrella River, Forestville, Hacienda, Montpellier Vineyards, Once Upon a Vine, Stark Raving Winery as well as Gravel Bar in Washington State.

In 2016, Bronco acquired the iconic Zinfandel producer Rosenblum Cellars from Treasury Wine Estates.

Blanc de Bleu is made from Chardonnay sourced from throughout California. The bubbles are produced via the Charmat method of secondary fermentation commonly used for wines like Prosecco.

After this fermentation, the wine is filtered off the lees with the blue coloring coming from the addition of blueberry concentrate. While I could not find the exact dosage, the wine is labeled as a Brut.

The Wine

Photo by Editor at Large. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.5

The nose reminds me of uncooked, Eggo blueberry waffles from the freezer. Not really any toasty yeast notes or fresh blueberry aromas in this wine.

Medium-minus intensity nose. Very citrus-driven though not very defined. There is a faint uncooked Eggo blueberry waffle note hinting at the blueberry.

On the palate, the blueberry becomes a tad more noticeable. However, the faint yeasty waffle notes don’t carry through. We go from uncooked Eggo waffle to low-calorie blueberry cotton-candy. Definitely more of a fake, flavor additive blueberry than fresh juice.

It’s not as sweet as I was expecting it, but it’s still distinctly on the sweeter side of Brut–probably in the 10-12 g/l range. Moderate-plus mousse is frothy like Prosecco but also feels like a lower pressure. Maybe something more in the 4.5 to 5 atmosphere range rather than 6 atmospheres of most Champagne. Short finish brings back the citrus notes from the nose which become more defined as lemon.

The Verdict

At $15-20, it’s clear that you are paying for the novelty of the color.

Quality-wise, it reminds me of $9-12 Proseccos which would be a better price-point for this bottle.

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60 Second Wine Review — Patrice Colin Perles Rouges Pét-Nat

A few quick thoughts on the Patrice Colin Perles Rouges sparkling Gamay from Coteaux du Vendomois in the Loire Valley.

The Geekery
Colin Perles rouge sparkling gamay

Patrice Colin is an 8th generation winemaker whose family has been cultivating vines along the Loir tributary since 1735.

Today Colin farms 25 hectares (62 acres) organically in the Coteaux du Vendomois VDQS of the northern Loire Valley.

The Perles Rouges is 100% Gamay produced in the ancestral method or pétillant naturel (Pét-Nat) style. Compared to Champagne, the wine undergoes only a single fermentation with the wine bottled partway through. The yeast continue to ferment the sugars in the bottle, trapping the CO2, producing a lightly sparkling wine.

Pét-Nats are rarely riddled to remove the dead lees sediment and can often be cloudy. They also tend to be dry with lower alcohol and no dosage added.

However, the Colin Perles Rouges is riddled (remuage) and one tasting note from a previous bottling (back in 2012) does mention a Pineau d’Aunis dosage. Though my experience with the wine didn’t have smokey hints or candied fruits noted in that 2012 tasting.

Patrice Colin produces around 150,000 bottles at the family domaine. The wines are made with low sulfites and are vegan friendly.

The Wine

Photo by Steve Dunham (dunham_1). Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

The savory herbal notes of this sparkling Gamay remind me of the herbs used to make roasted chicken. 

Medium intensity nose. Dried cherries and cranberries with an herbal tinge.

On the palate those red fruits carry through but taste more fresh than dried with mouthwatering high acidity coupled with the effervescence. Noticeably dry, there is some slight tannin texture to go with the fine mousse of the bubbles. The herbal notes become more define as savory thyme and marjoram. There is also a peppery spice that emerges for the moderate finish.

The Verdict

This is definitely very different from most sparklers. While not as complex as a Cru Beaujolais, I can see the kinship with the Gamay variety.

For $14-18, this is a solid and interesting food pairing wine–especially with savory meats like sausages or chicken.

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Prosecco Ponderings — Paying More For Less

Earlier this week, Wine Enthusiast announced that Constellation Brands was expanding production of Ruffino Prosecco with the purchase of 311 acres (126 hectares) of added vineyards in the Veneto & Treviso areas. Additionally, they acquired a second wine production facility with the capacity to crank out 9.2 million gallons (35,000 hectoliters) of Prosecco.

Photo by John W. Schulze from Tejas. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

Prosecco vineyards in Guia in the Veneto

9.2 million gallons.

If they max out production that would be over 45.6 million additional bottles of Prosecco from Ruffino. Now granted, that is almost a drop in the bucket for a region that produced 475 million bottles in 2016.

But even beyond Ruffino, the Prosecco DOC zone is growing with the Consorzio di Tutela Prosecco DOC authorizing the additional planting of 3000 more hectares (7,413 acres) of vines in 2016. This coming only 7 years after the DOC region was established in 2009 with 20,250 ha (50,039 acres). This was essentially an expansion upon the original 7,191 ha (17,769 acre) Prosecco zone that is now DOCG Prosecco from Conegliano and Valdobbiadene.

That’s a lot of bubbles.

Now wait…wasn’t there a Prosecco shortage?

It certainly seemed that way earlier this spring with breathless headlines encouraging people to “Stock Up Now!” and blaming the shortage on poor yields from the 2017 vintage.

Never mind that we heard this song before back in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

However, with each threat of shortage also came increasing pressure to raise prices with Nielsen data reporting in 2018 that the $13+ category of Prosecco saw the largest growth. Never mind that many of these $13+ Proseccos used to be closer to the $10 mark only a few years ago.

So even when the new Prosecco vineyards are fully on line, we’re likely still going to be paying more.

And for what?

Expansion vs Quality

Good quality vineyard land is a finite resource. While our knowledge and application of modern viticulture and winemaking techniques can help us maximize the potential of a parcel, there will always be a point where expansion means expanding to areas that aren’t going to produce great wine.

In 2016, more than 5.3 million cases of Prosecco were imported to the US with Shaken News Daily reporting the biggest volume coming from LaMarca and Mionetto.

This is a cycle we’ve seen repeatedly throughout history with expansion leading to eventual gluts and wine lakes. In the early 20th century, the European Union was spending around 1.3 billion euros ($1.75 billion USD) a year to encourage the uprooting of poor vineyard sites and “crisis distillation” of excess wine.

Now I’m not saying that these new Prosecco vineyards are going to need be distilled into brandy anytime soon, but I am highly skeptical that we’ll see an increase in quality to go with increase production. I can’t think of a single instance where substantial expansion of an already established wine region has resulted in an uptick of quality.

If anything, expanded production only highlights the value in protecting the original “classico” region that built a wine’s reputation in the first place–a lessons the producers of Soave, for example, took decades to figure out.

The trade off in expanded production zones is supposed to be lower prices following increased supplies on the market. You know, law of supply & demand stuff? But it never seems to work quite that neatly in the wine industry.

Lessons of Champagne

It wasn’t that long ago that the Champagne wine region was riding high and needing to expand their production zone to meet demand. In 2008, the INAO expanded the boundary to include 40 more villages and an additional 33,500 ha (82,780 acres) of vines.

Then the global recession came and the very next year we were talking about a Champagne glut even though the supply from the INAO’s expansion weren’t going to hit the market till at least 2020.

Oh but don’t worry, we’re back to threats of a Champagne shortage again. Even though the recent 2018 vintage was one of the largest on record, that also didn’t stop expectations of prices increases as well.

Gravity Doesn’t Apply To Wine Prices

Photo by Mruzzene. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under PD-user

Hillside vineyard in the DOCG Prosecco production zone of Valdobbiadene.

What goes up, often stays up.

Even with “gluttonous” over supply and waning demand, the best hope is usually just a mere slowing of how fast prices hike up. Each time a new bar is set with pricing, that becomes the new normal–regardless of quality.

A consumer’s best resource against these market dynamics is simply to increase their own vigilance and awareness of what they’re drinking. This means paying more attention to where your wine is coming from and how much you are being asked to pay for it.

There is already a big different in quality of wines labeled as DOC Prosecco versus those from the much more limited and restricted DOCG production zones. It’s worth looking at the bottle to see what kind of Prosecco it is.

Yes, you will likely have to pay a little bit more for a DOCG Prosecco over a DOC one but you’re already paying more for those DOC Proseccos anyways. Now you have to ask yourself if the quality level is what you’re expecting–or if its what you’ve been used to getting.

This truth goes beyond Prosecco to really every wine.

That bottle of your favorite old standby that was once such a great deal, might not be quite as good the next time because now there’s 5x more of it on the market and the winery has had to get different fruit sources to meet that number. It might not be bad. But it won’t be what it once was even though you might be paying the same amount (or more).

As consumers, we will always have choices. Sometimes it’s worth paying a little bit more for something better. Other times there will be different producers or different regions offering options that deliver just as much (or even more) pleasure for the same amount of money that you were used to spending for your old favorites.

You don’t have to settle for paying more for less quality. Though if you aren’t paying attention, that’s exactly what will happen.

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Exploring the Cascade Valley at WBC18

As I was looking back at my notes and photos from the 2018 Wine Bloggers Conference, I realized that I had a serious Day 2 omission. That Friday was a jam pack day. Between the panel on Wine Blogging vs Influencing, Lewis Perdue’s keynote speech and the mystery dinner excursion, I totally forgot to note all the fun discoveries at the lunch sponsored by Cascade Valley Wine Country.

Which is a downright shame on my part because this area is a hot bed for great family wineries. It was also the source of one of the best wines I had at the entire conference.

Some Geekery

Located in north-central Washington State, Cascade Valley Wine Country includes the winemaking hubs of Lake Chelan, Wenatchee and Leavenworth. The area is home to over 50 wineries and many more satellite tasting rooms.

In some ways, the Cascade Valley Wine Country is more geography–rather than terroir–oriented. Just like Woodinville Wine Country, the vast majority of wines made in the area comes from fruit sourced elsewhere in the state like Red Mountain, Wahluke Slope, Horse Heavens and Walla Walla.

However, that dynamic is changing. Several of the wines I tried at the Wine Bloggers Conference (like Hard Roe to Hoe’s Lake Chelan Pinot, Tipsy Canyon’s Viognier and Stemilt Creek’s red blend) came from fruit grown in the valley. With the establishment of Lake Chelan’s own AVA in 2009 and the potential for Wenatchee to get one, the growth potential in this area is immense.

It’s particularly intriguing for an industry grappling with the impact of climate change. While eastern Washington is a lot warmer than many people give credit for, the higher elevation sites around Wenatchee and Leavenworth and the moderate lake effect of Chelan does offer a more temperate climate compared to the very hot AVAs of Red Mountain and Wahluke Slope.

The Ancient Lakes region south of Wenatchee was designated as an AVA and has already shown an affinity for producing outstanding cool-climate wines.

It’s very likely that the future of the Washington wine industry is emerging here in the Cascade Valley.

Wines I Tried

In addition to the lunch sponsored by Cascade Valley Wine Country, I also got a chance to try some of the region’s wines at the speed blogging events on day 2 and day 3.

Hard Row to Hoe 2016 Pinot noir from Lake Chelan

Outside of maybe Otis Kenyon, this winery has the best backstory in Washington. Let’s just say the ladies of Moulin Rouge would be proud. If you are in Manson, it’s well worth the visit to the Phelps family winery just to experience it and hear more of this place’s fascinating history.

Pinot noir is a tough grape to market in Washington. As I noted in my review of Whidbey Island’s Pinot noir from Puget Sound, few Washington Pinots have impressed me. But I do see a lot of potential in this Lake Chelan Pinot noir. It had bright acidity, good balance with oak and nice juicy fruit. It just didn’t quite deliver the depth and layers that you can find from Oregon for the same $40 mark. I strongly suspect that vine age will play an important role because the climate and terroir of Lake Chelan seems, on paper, to be ideal for Pinot.

Succession 2017 Viognier from the Columbia Valley

Owned by Brock and Erica Lindsay, Succession Wines was named this year by Wine Press Northwest as the 2018 Washington Winery to Watch.

Their tiny production of 138 cases of Viognier definitely demonstrates the very fruity, tropical side of the grape. At around $26, I can see these appealing to fans of Pinot gris. I couldn’t find any technical notes but I suspect this wine has a touch of residual sugar which amplifies the fruitiness.

Tipsy Canyon 2017 Viognier from the Columbia Valley

Owned by the Garvin family, this Viognier is sourced from the Antoine Creek Vineyard north of Lake Chelan. That vineyard is also the source of an outstanding sparkling Viognier made by Cairdeas Winery as well.

I will admit that this Tipsy Canyon Viognier was more of my personal style than the Succession one. It tasted noticeably drier with crisp medium-plus acidity and a little stoney minerality. You wouldn’t confuse it for a Condrieu but it is a bottle that you could empty very easily in one sitting.

Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have much of a website or web presence so I couldn’t find out what this Viognier costs. For myself, I would rank this just slightly behind àMaurice’s sinfully delicious Viognier that runs $28-35. If this Tipsy Canyon falls into the $23-28 range, I would have no problem buying multiple bottles of it.

Stemilt Creek 2014 Boss Lady Red from the Columbia Valley

Founded in 2001 by Kyle and Jan Mathison in Wenatchee, Stemilt Creek sources primarily from their own estate vineyard that they farm sustainably. The 2014 Boss Lady is a blend of 46% Syrah, 30% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot.

I am a huge fan of the “Hermitage’d” Bordeaux-style wines that add Syrah to the traditional Bordeaux blend. It takes the structure and dark fruit you typically associate with Cab-Merlot and adds gorgeous spiciness. At $24, this Boss Lady Red from Stemilt Creek is a killer value that should probably be priced more in the $30-35 range.

Baroness Cellars 2016 Riesling from Red Mountain.

Founded by Danielle Clements, Baroness Cellars is based in Leavenworth where Clements makes food-friendly European style wines.

While details on this 2016 Red Mountain Riesling is scare, I’m incredibly fascinated with how well she succeeded here. Though off-dry in style, this wine still had crackling acidity that reminded me a lively German Kabinett. Really surprising to see this came from the very warm Red Mountain AVA.

Put Chateau Faire Le Pont on your radars

By far one of the most impressive wines at the entire conference was the 2014 Chateau Faire Le Pont Sangiovese from the Wahluke Slope.

Making good quality Sangiovese (especially domestically) is tough. Despite the proliferation of Chiantis, Brunellos and other Tuscan wines, the grape is actually rather finicky to grow outside of its native Italian homeland. The Antinori family invested millions into their Atlas Peak Antica project–feeling that was the ideal spot for Sangiovese–only to have to admit defeat and move many of those parcels over to Cabernet Sauvignon. For a family with 26 generations of winemaking experience, that’s a tough pill to swallow.

Can Washington do better? Leonetti has been making a tasty Sangiovese sourced from vineyards in Walla Walla but that bottle is usually $80+. For rosé, it has shown great promise such as this delicious example from Davenport Cellars sourced from Ciel du Cheval fruit on Red Mountain. Kaella Winery in Woodinville also used to make a great Sangio rosé from the same vineyard before an ownership change altered its style.

Wine Notes

The 2014 Chateau Faire Le Pont Sangiovese had a terrific medium-plus bouquet with a mix of bright red cherries and savory spice notes. Ripe medium-plus tannins gave it great structure and held up the full-body fruit of the wine well. The medium-plus acidity enhanced the savory spices and contributed a mouthwatering quality which lingered on the long finish. Sangiovese’s best role is usually on the table and this was certainly a winner at lunch with several bloggers going from table to table to find more bottles to finish off.

Again, details are unfortunately scarce outside of noting it was sourced from the Wahluke Slope and that it runs for around $40. Well worth that price.

Other Cascade Valley wineries I’ve enjoyed in the past

Ancestry Cellars (Manson)

Full disclosure, I went to winemaking school with Jason Morin so I’ve had many opportunities to try his great food friendly wines. His 2017 Pinot gris, in particular, hits it out of the park and shows that not all Northwest Pinot gris have to been on the fruity, slightly sweet side.

Cairdeas Winery (Chelan)

Another disclosure, Charlie Lybecker is also a Northwest Wine Academy alum and I’ve been a big fan of his wines for a while. His Rhones are outstanding and the 2014 Caislén an Pápa Chateauneuf-du-Pape style blend was one my top wines from the 2017 Taste Washington Grand Tasting.

Karma Vineyards (Chelan)

By far, some of the best domestic sparklers in the US. I may only rank Schramsberg in California above them but, honestly, the separation is not much at all. Their wines featured at this year’s Taste Washington The New Vintage made dealing with that hellish cattle-call almost worth it.

Seriously, if you love bubbles. Check them out.

Boudreaux Cellars (Leavenworth)

Rob Newsom is one of the most interesting figures in Washington wine. A trained musician, tasting a bottle of Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon while passing through Walla Walla turned his life around. He learned a lot about winemaking from the Figgins family of Leonetti which he’s used to produce very big, almost Napa-like wines in Washington. I’ve yet to have a bottle of Boudreaux that didn’t beg to be paired with a juicy prime rib. If you like big, bold wines then you need to seek out Boudreaux.

Recommendations for Cascade Valley Wineries

By far, one of the biggest barriers to success for the Cascade Valley wineries is getting their message and branding out.

I would definitely advise them to by looking at what message their websites are sending out. While tasting room traffic and one-on-one dialogue is great, in today’s digital age there will be a lot of customers who are first introduced to a brand via their online presence–including social media.

As much as I enjoyed the wines from this region, I have to admit that writing this post was incredibly difficult. I had a heck of a time trying to find more info about the wineries and wines featured. As a geek, I acknowledge that I sometimes have to play detective and sleuth out details from a variety of sources but 99.9% of wine consumers aren’t going to put in that same effort. You have to make it easy for them to find you and learn more about your wines.

While there are certainly great websites from Cascade Valley wineries (check out Cairdeas and Hard Row to Hoe in particular), most of the sites had very little information or were difficult to navigate. At the very least, tech notes of current and past vintages with details on vineyards and farming practice would go a long way towards filling in the blanks. Beyond that, it would be fantastic to hear more about the stories of the wineries and what make this region so unique and dynamic.

The future looks bright for Cascade Valley Wine Country, folks just need a little help to find these hidden gems of Washington wines.

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WBC18 Day 3 Quick Impressions

Picture of Brokenwood Semillon wine

A big selling point for next year’s WBC will be the chance to explore more Hunter Semillons.

I’m back home from the 2018 Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla. Next year’s event will in the Hunter Valley in Australia and I’m very tempted!

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll get back to posting 60 Second Wine Reviews and Geek Notes as well as a new edition of Keeping Up With the Joneses of Burgundy.

I’ll also have some extended write-ups from the conference so keep your eyes open for those. Till then feel free to check out the previous posts in my WBC18 series:

WBC18 Day 2 Quick Impressions
WBC18 Day 1 Quick Impressions
Getting Ready (and a bit nervous) For WBC18!

On to Day 3!

Breakout Session — Advanced Strategies for Facebook and Instagram

My other options for the morning sessions were How to Seal the Deal with a Kick Ass Media Kit and How to Craft a Compelling Professional Pitch which seem to be heavily tilted towards seeking paid promotions from wineries. Since I have little interest in those kind of gigs, I opted for this seminar hosted by Carin Oliver of Angelsmith, Inc.

I haven’t figured out what I’m doing with Instagram yet. I like pretty pictures as much as the next person but I get bored easily with bottle porn. Tell me something about the wine or vineyard beyond just “Yum!” or “Beautiful!”.

Wine Bloggers Conference Agenda

The “How to Make Wineries Adore You” session also didn’t seem like my calling.

I was hoping that Oliver’s talk would show me the value of Instagram as well what’s the best use of Facebook. While she gave great insights on how Facebook treats blog and business pages, I quickly realized that her talk was geared towards “influencers” who want to make themselves marketable to wineries. Again, that’s not me.

Can Google Read? How your Writing Affects Your Rank in Google Search

This was an awesome session! John Cashman and Nancy Koziol (The Oethical Oenologist) of Digital Firefly Marketing gave a terrific presentation that was the most fruitful of the entire conference.

Around 2/3 of my traffic comes from search engines so I was eager to learn how that happens. Cashman and Koziol explained search engine optimization and the current understanding of how Google analyzes and ranks pages. But the best part was Koziol’s section on how to be a better writer and make your posts more readable.

You can check out the presentation yourself here!

Bubbles & Bites With Gloria Ferrer

The old adage that American wine drinkers “Talk dry but drink sweet” has a lot of truth to it. The sweet Bruts of Gloria Ferrer fit that bill very well.

It probably wasn’t the best idea to schedule this session after lunch but sommelier Sarah Tracey (The Lush Life) did a great job of pairing Gloria Ferrer sparklers with various nibbles.

I wasn’t thrilled with the wines as the Gloria Ferrers were on the sweeter side of Brut with 12.2 g/l residual sugar (2010 Anniversary Cuvee $45) to 12.8 g/l (Rose $29). While the US and EU allows up to 15 g/l under the Brut category, in Champagne the limit is 12 g/l. Believe me, you can taste the difference.

Live White & Rosé Wine Blogging

I missed the Wine and Cheese Pairing with Cheeses of Europe and the Lightening Talks so I could finish yesterday’s Day 2 recap but I made it in time for the second round of chaotic blogging.

This style of blogging is still not my cup of tea but I was introduced to some awesome wines.

Amanda Barnes presenting the Garzon Albarino from Uruguay

Amanda Barnes of Around the World in 80 Harvests presenting the Garzón Albarino.

1.) Bodega Garzón 2017 Albarino — An Albarino from Uruguay! This was a first for me and I totally geeked out over the differences between this and the Albarinos I had the day before from Rías Baixas. The Garzón was crisp but more rich in the mouthfeel with riper fruit flavors. It also didn’t have the trademark salinity of the Galcian Albarinos.

2.) Dr. Loosen 2016 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling GG Alte Rebben — A super geeky old vine Riesling sourced from 100+ yr vines that are still planted on their own rootstock. Crisp and dry with only 6.9 g/l residual sugar, it was a welcomed contrast to the Gloria Ferrer “Brut” sparklers from earlier.

3.) Troon Vineyard 2017 Riesling — I actually got a “sneak peak” taste of this before the speed blogging which I really appreciated. This complex, orange wine-style Riesling merits way more attention than what could be given in 5 minutes. Sourced from biodynamically grown grapes in the Applegate Valley of Southern Oregon, this wine spent 2 weeks macerating with its skins before being fermented dry and aged in neutral oak barrels. Lots of interesting flavors that I don’t regularly associate with Riesling like cumin and saffron with cantaloupe rind. Great texture and mouthfeel with a long finish.

Final Dinner Sponsored by Visit Walla Walla

The Truth Teller and the Wine Lunatic, together at last!

The last event of the conference was a dinner with Washington winemakers at each table. My table got to enjoy the company of Chris Loeliger of Truth Teller Winery and Tim Armstrong of Armstrong Family Winery.

With a more intimate setting, it was great hearing behind-the-scenes anecdotes about what it’s like starting a winery and the challenges that come with it. Of course, those great stories also came with great wines with the Truth Teller Right Bank Bordeaux-style blend Satire and Armstrong’s Cabernet Franc being my favorites. Look for some upcoming 60 Second Wine Reviews on both.

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