Tag Archives: Washington wine

Wine Geek Notes 3/15/18 — New Wine Books to Geek Out Over

Photo by Michal Osmenda from Brussels, Belgium. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

Here are a few wine books that I’m highly intrigued by with release dates in March and April.

Wine: A social and cultural history of the drink that changed our lives by Rod Phillips. Released March 13th, 2018.

Along with Huge Johnson’s Vintage, Rod Phillips’ A Short History of Wine is probably one of the best wine history books that I’ve read. He has a very engaging writing style that effortlessly weaves in stories and anecdotes with some hardcore geekdom. It looks like this book explores more of the cultural context behind the role that wine has played in historical events.

As an aside, while researching this I discovered that Phillips also wrote French Wine: A History which I’m adding to my wish list.

Wines of the Loire (Guides to Wines and Top Vineyards) by Benjamin Lewin. Released March 15th, 2018.

I’ve been intrigued by the books of Master of Wine Benjamin Lewin since I reviewed Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan’s Rosé Wine. This looks to be a series that he is doing with editions on Burgundy, Alsace, Champagne and other regions that have been previously released. Since I’ll be visiting Burgundy in May, I went ahead and grabbed that book as well as his book on vintages to see if this is a series I want to invest more into.

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Bethel Heights has always been one of my favorite Oregon wineries.

Oregon Wine Country Stories: Decoding the Grape by Kenneth Friedenreich. Release date April 9th, 2018.

Similar to the case with Washington that I noted in my review of Paul Gregutt’s Washington Wines, there are not that many resources for learning more about Oregon wine. Could Friedenreich’s book fill in that gap? It sounds promising with 192 pages that will include AVA maps and profiles of wineries like Bethel Heights, Eyrie and Portland’s growing urban winery scene.

Godforsaken Grapes: A Slightly Tipsy Journey through the World of Strange, Obscure, and Underappreciated Wine by Jason Wilson. Release date April 24th, 2018.

This is probably the book that I’m most looking forward to geeking out over. I’ve heard good things about Wilson’s Boozehound and, as frequent readers know, I’m all over anything that involves obscure grapes.

I’ve kind of taken trying the 1,368 grape varieties that Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz have cataloged in Wine Grapes as the ultimate #WineGeekGoal so I’m interested to see how far down the obscure grape rabbit hole that Wilson has traveled.

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Wine Geek Notes 3/13/18 — Domaine Jacques Prieur, Les Forts Latour and Geeky Napa Grapes

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

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

Interesting Tweets and Weblinks

Edouard Labruyère’s transformation of Domaine Jacques Prieur by Peter Dean (@TweetaDean) for The Buyer.

Domaine Jacques Prieur is one my favorite Burgundian estates and I was enjoying its sleepy-under-the-radar-status. With as crazy as prices in Burgundy can get, I was selfishly hoping that other wine insiders wouldn’t notice how sneaky good this estate has gotten over the last couple vintages under the winemaking direction of Nadine Gublin. But it looks like the cat is out of the bag.

Still I learn a lot of cool stuff in this article about DJP and its owner Edouard Labruyère–namely the expansion into Santenay (hopefully with affordable bottlings), the family owning Château Rouget in Pomerol, planting Syrah and Pinot noir in Beaujolais and the launch of Labruyère’s Champagne.

Sourcing from Grand Cru vineyards that use to supply Dom Perignon, this Extra Brut style Champagne is partially fermented in old white DJP barrels and spends 5 years aging on the lees. Looks like something to keep an eye out for.

LATOUR TO INCLUDE FORTS 2012 IN NEXT RELEASE by Rupert Millar (@wineguroo) for The Drinks Business (@teamdb)

Since Ch. Latour left the en primeur system in 2012, its been hard keeping track of their releases. While we still don’t know when the 2012 Grand Vin is going to be released, the estate announced that on March 21st, their second wine Les Forts de Latour will be released along with (re-release?) the 2006 Grand Vin.

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

While considered a “second wine”, in many ways Les Forts is really its own entity being sourced from three dedicated plots with only some years having declassified Grand Vin parcels included. That said, these plots are still tended to by the Latour viticulture and winemaking team and is often an outstanding wine.

Back in 2015, I did a side by side tasting of the 2005 Latour and 2005 Les Forts and you could certainly see how the pedigree shined through with the Les Forts. While the 05 Latour was way too young at that point, the Les Forts was raring to go at 10 years with many tasters thinking it was, at that moment, the better wine.

With the 2005 Latour averaging $1119 on Wine Searcher and the Les Forts averaging $263, it was certainly the best value of the night. It remains to be seen what the pricing of the 2012 will be.

14 OF THE MOST UNUSUAL GRAPE VARIETIES IN NAPA VALLEY by Ilona Thompson at Palate Exposure (@PalateXposure)

Ilona at Palate Exposure is quickly becoming one of my favorite content creators in the wine world. Her website is well worth a peak with fabulous original posts about winemakers and wineries with a Napa Valley focus. Of course I geeked out like crazy with this article!

While Grenache and Tempranillo aren’t very surprising and even Pinot Meunier makes sense with sparkling wine producers like Domaine Chandon in Napa, who knew about Lagier-Meredith’s Mondeuse? Heitz Cellars’ Grignolino or even Spiriterra Vineyards’ Scuppernong?

Napa Valley Scuppernong. For realz, y’all. Ilona just gave me my new unicorn-wine list.

Upcoming Posts for Taste Washington Wine Month!

First quick apologies to subscribers as last night we accidentally, kinda, maybe, sorta hit “submit” on an unfinished version of my book review of Paul Gregutt’s Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide. Our bad! All I can say is that the post will be finished properly and published shortly over the next few days.

Other posts in the pipeline for Taste Washington Wine Month include a Geek Out over Washington Cabernet Franc courtesy of Savage Grace Wines, an exploration of the legend of William (W.B.) Bridgman in Washington wine history and his lasting legacy of Harrison Hill and Upland Vineyards as well as a flashback post to last year’s Taste Washington Grand Tasting!

Plus more 60 Second Wine Reviews featuring exclusively Washington wine for the month of March. In April, we’ll get back to our regular peppering of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Napa and other fun wine reviews.

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

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

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

Odds & Ends from Twitter

Some interesting weblinks from Twitter that are worth the read.

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

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

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

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

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


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

Burg’in Around

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

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

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

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

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

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What’s fine (and not so fine) about Vegan Wines

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Veganism is described as one of the fastest growing lifestyle movements in the world. Some estimates claim that in the United states alone, there was a 500% increase between 2014 and 2017 in the number of Americans (around 19 million) identifying as vegan.

For the wine industry, that is a sizable demographic that retailers and wineries have value in marketing to.

So what makes a wine “vegan-friendly”?

For the most part, veganism is a code of conduct that avoids using any animal products or by products as well as anything that has been tested on animals. There are various reasons why people adopt veganism but often ethical concerns about the treatment of animals and impact on the environment are cited.

While wine is often assumed to be vegan, the use of animal-based fining agents such as casein (milk protein), albumin (egg whites), isinglass (fish bladders) and gelatin (animal collagen) in winemaking is problematic for many vegans.

Let’s Talk About Fining Agents

As Alison Crowe notes in The Wine Maker’s Answer Book, fining agents are used to help clarify and stabilize wine by binding to molecules such as proteins and excess tannins. These are items that can cause unsightly haze in the bottle, aggressive bitterness on the palate, off odors and flavors. The agent binds to the target molecule to form larger structures that eventually precipitates and settles to the bottom of tank or barrel as sediment.

Bruce W. Zoecklein et. al in Wine Analysis and Production classified the various fining agents into 8 categories based on their nature.

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

Isinglass and bentonite fining trials.


1.) Earths like bentonite and kaolin
2.) Proteins like the animal based ones above
3.) Polysaccharides like gum arabic and Sparkolloid
4.) Carbons like activated carbon
5.) Synthetic polymers like polyvinylpolypyrrolidone (or PVPP)
6.) Silica gels like silicon dioxide or Kieselsol
7.) Tannins often derived from insect galls on oak leaves though oak chip fining can also fall into this category.
8.) Others which includes both enzymatic fining (more fining aids rather than fining agents) and chelators that assist in the removal of metals such as “blue fining” with potassium ferrocyanide (illegal to use in the United States).

The different fining agents work on principles of electrical charge (like positively charged gelatin reacting with negatively charged tannins), bond formation (like the carbonyl group of PVPP bonding with the hydroxyl group of tannins) and by absorption/adsorption (like activated carbon absorbing off odors or bentonite adsorbing proteins).

There are positive and negative attributes to each fining agent with no one fining agent being perfect for every situation.

Animal-based Fining Agents

Egg whites (Albumin) Used primarily to remove excess tannins. Works by forming hydrogen bonds with the hydroxyl groups of tannins. Compared to other fining agents like gelatin, albumin tends to remove less positive flavor and aroma traits. Egg whites have a long history of use in winemaking in places like Bordeaux and Burgundy. The usual addition is 1 to 3 egg whites per 225L (59 gallon) barrel.

Casein (Milk protein) Used primarily to remove browning or pink color in white wine. Can also be used to remove some off odors. Works by adsorption and attracting negatively charged particles. Like with egg whites, it has a long history of use in wine production, particularly with the great white wines of Burgundy. It also has the benefit of reducing the concentration of iron and copper in wine. In red wines, it can negatively impact the wine by removing the polyphenol resveratrol that has been associated with various health benefits.

Gelatin (derived from the boiling of animal tissues like bones and tendons) Used primarily to remove excess tannins. It has a positive charge that reacts to the negative charge of harsh tannins. It can be prone to over-fining that can strip a wine of positive flavors and aromas.

A heat stability trial for rose wines that have been fined with isinglass.

Isinglass (derived from the air bladder of fish like sturgeons). Used primarily to help clarifying wines, remove excess tannins and to “unmask” or bring out varietal character.

Chitosan (derived from chitin in the exoskeleton of crustaceans) Used primarily to remove haze causing proteins from white wines. A positively charged agent, it often needs to be paired with a negatively charged fining agent like Kieselsol to be most effective.

Blood Albumen (derived from the blood of ox and cattle) historically used but illegal in the United states, France and several other countries.

Vegan-friendly Alternatives

The website Barnivore is a database of wines and other liquors that have been vetted by users to be either “vegan-friendly” or not. In answering queries about their use of animal based fining agents, many wineries share their alternative methods.

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

Letting the wine settle and clarify on its own before racking into another container is one method to avoid using fining agents.


One common method is the use of time and gravity to let the wine settle and clear out on its own. This is the technique used by Baldacci in the Stags Leap District and many other wineries. Depending on several factors like the health of the grapes, method of pressing, pH and temperature, this method could take several months and even then the wine might not be completely stable. Some wineries facilitate this method with the use of mechanical centrifuges and ultra-filtration but these carry the risk of being overly aggressive and potentially stripping the wine of positive flavor and aroma attributes.

Along those lines, many wineries adopt a hands-off method of not fining or filtering their wines at all. This is the method used by many high-end wine producers like Black Cordon and Kapcsandy in Napa Valley. This does carry the risk of haze and sediment developing in the bottle but the risk is often presented to consumers as a trade-off for having potentially more complex and flavorful wines.

The most used “vegan-friendly” fining agent is bentonite, a type of clay that can dramatically swell in size to adsorb protein molecules. This is the method used by wineries like Chinook in Washington State, Ideology in Napa Valley, Spier in South Africa and many others. One big drawback is that it causes significant loss of wine volume due to the heavy sediment it creates. As much as 5-10% of volume could be lost. Roger B. Boulton et al notes in Principles and Practices of Winemaking that these voluminous bentonite lees also create a large amount of solid waste that can have an environmental impact (such as sealing percolation ponds) if not properly disposed. In red wine, there is also a risk of color loss.

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The lees sediment and volume loss from bentonite can be significant (between 5-10%). Using counter-fining agents like isinglass can help with lees compaction but would obviously make the wine not vegan-friendly.

Some wineries like Amici use the technique of “yeast fining” for wines like their 2013 Russian River Pinot noir. This involves adding fresh yeast to a wine where their cell walls (which are about 30% positively charged proteins) can adsorb many polyphenols and compounds that can cause off odors. It brings the risk of the yeast breaking down as lees, releasing sulfur compounds and enhancing reductive notes. Also, if not removed by filtration, the yeast in the bottle can start re-fermenting any residual sugars–causing spritziness in what is, otherwise, supposed to be a non-sparkling wine.

PVPP is a synthetic polymer that can remove bitter tannins and brown discoloration from white wines. Like casein, it can remove the polyphenol resveratrol from red wines. There is also a risk of overfining with the PVPP binding to desirable tannins and anthocyanins needed for structure and color.

Sparkalloid is a blend of polysaccharides and diatomaceous earth (fossilized algae) that can be used to clarify white wines. It does take significant time to eventually settle and creates a fair amount of waste with the DE that requires proper disposal.

Activated Carbon can be used to remove off-odors such as mercaptans (rotten eggs, burnt match). It does have the risk of overly oxidizing wine as well as stripping color and resveratrol from red wines.

New Developments on the Horizon

Ronald S. Jackson notes in Wine Science that fears about the prions potentially in gelatin and “Mad Cow” disease, encouraged studies into the use of plant proteins like wheat gluten as a substitute for gelatin. (Note: most gelatin used in US winemaking is derived from pigs rather than cows) Likewise, a New Jersey company has been experimenting with using pea proteins in conjunction with bentonite and silica as an alternative to gelatin.

Interest in food allergies have also spurned innovations with Scott Labs developing a technique to isolated chitosan from the fungus Aspergillus niger (instead of shellfish and crustaceans) that can be used as a fining agent.

The California based ATP Group has developed a way to extract tannin powder for fining from white wine grapes instead of insect galls to help soften tannins.

In 2016, a Swiss company announced that they were experimenting with the use of UV light to soften tannins in lieu of using animal-based protein fining agents.

The Biodynamic Quandary

While wineries can avoid using animal products in the winery, there is a question of whether wines produced from fruit sourced from biodynamic vineyards are truly “vegan-friendly”. This is because several of the “preparations” used in biodynamic viticulture require the use of animal products such as cow horns (BD 500 and 501), stomachs, intestines and bladders.

In an anecdotal account of a visit with the vineyard manager of the biodynamic Pinot noir producer Sea Smoke, Kirsten Georgi (The Armchair Sommelier), describes how the “Biodynamic approach” to removing gophers without the use of poisons or chemicals involves trapping several gophers, killing them, burning their ashes and spreading those ashes over the vineyard during winter solstice as a means to “scare off” the rest of the gophers. This method of “peppering” vineyards with the ashes of pests is not unique to Sea Smoke with recipes on biodynamic websites recommending its use for everything from weeds, snails and insects to mice, rats, rabbits and opossum.

Photo by Mark Smith. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

Manure composting at a biodynamic vineyard in Tasmania.

Despite these practices, organizations like PETA recommend biodynamic wineries as “vegan friendly”. The UK website Vegan Wines Online notes that while “…natural animal products can however be used in the growing process all the biodynamic wines they sell are somehow suitable for vegans.

Even organic viticulture could be problematic with the use of animal-derived bone and blood meal being used in lieu of chemical fertilizers. There is even debate if manure, as an animal by-product, is acceptable. Like honey and milk, manure doesn’t require killing the animal but still often requires farming to acquire.

There is also the question of whether the increased presence of insects in healthy and vibrant vineyards that eschew the use of chemicals can make a wine less vegan-friendly due to the higher incidence of insects as MOG (material other than grapes) getting caught up in the harvest. On the Barnivore website, Calcareous Vineyard in Paso Robles expressed this reservation though their wines were still classified as “vegan friendly”.

More Manipulated=More Vegan-friendly?

With the concerns of high insect MOG, biodynamic viticulture and organic animal-derived fertilizers, is it possible that the vineyards that can produce the most “vegan-friendly” wines are really the ones being farmed with heavy saturation of pesticides (no insect MOG there) and chemical fertilizers? Mass produced wines like the PETA recommended Sutter Home and Moët & Chandon often employ these conventional, chemical dependent styles of viticulture.

While avoiding using animal-based fining agents to remove excess tannins and haze forming proteins, big mega-corps can use other tricks to manipulate the wine with things like lab designed enzymes, oak adjuncts and Mega Purple which will “smooth out” bitter tannins and cover up off-flavors.

Just a single drop of Mega Purple had this white Riesling looking and smelling like a Grenache rose. Crazy stuff.


Sure, Charles Shaw reds (Two Buck Chuck), Sutter Home Cabernet Sauvignon, Meiomi Pinot noir and Yellow Tail reds are made without animal fining agents but should vegans (and really all wine drinkers) be concerned with what other products are being used to make these wines?

And while it can be exciting to see advances in the use of pea proteins and fining agents derived from fungi like Aspergillus niger, its worth asking if these are only adding to the laundry list of the 60+ (and counting) additives that can be used in winemaking–taking it even further away from being just “fermented grapes”?

Now What?

While I’m not vegan myself, I wholeheartedly support anyone that chooses to live their life by convictions that eschews the use of animal products. I respect their ethical concerns for the treatment of animals and the impact on the environment that using animal products have. It’s also not my wish to stress out vegans who just want to relax and enjoy a nice bottle of wine.

But I do believe it is fair to think about the big picture involved in many seemingly “vegan-friendly” wineries that utilize viticulture and winemaking practices that may not align with the ethical and environmental concerns of many vegans.

However, it is clear from sites like Barnivore that there are tons of environmentally conscious wineries (many of which are even owned by vegans) that are producing vegan-friendly wines. They may not be the easiest to find at grocery stores or restaurant wine lists that can be dominated by the portfolios of the large mega-corps but these often small family-owned wineries are well worth seeking out and supporting.

And that’s something that I think both vegans and non-vegans can drink to.

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Getting Geeky with Cave de Genouilly Aligote

Going to need more than 60 seconds to geek out about the 2015 Cave de Genouilly Bourgogne Aligoté.

The Background

Cave de Genouilly was founded in 1932 as a co-operative of family growers in the Côte Chalonnaise region of southern Burgundy. Today, the co-op includes 90 growers with 180 acres based around the communes of Genouilly, Fley, Bissy-sur-Fley, Saint-Martin-du-Tartre and Saint-Clément-sur-Guye. Many of the growers are second and third generation members of the co-op.

In addition to Bourgogne Aligoté, the co-op also produces Crémant de Bourgogne as well as still wines from the AOCs of Rully, Givry and Montagny–including some premier cru.

The Grape

According to Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes, Aligoté is an offspring of Pinot and Gouais blanc, making it a full sibling of Chardonnay, Melon de Bourgogne, Gamay and Auxerrois.

Robinson speculates that the name Aligoté is derived from the old synonym for Gouais blanc, Gôt. The grape first appeared in written records in 1780 under the synonym ‘Plant de Trois’ which refers to the tendency of Aligoté to produce three clusters per branch. The name Aligoté, itself, appears in the Côte d’Or for the first time in 1807.

The grape earned some notoriety after World War II when the mayor of Dijon, Félix Kir, created a cocktail that blended Aligoté with Crème de Cassis. Today that cocktail is known as the Kir and, while it has many derivatives, the classic incarnation still features Aligoté.

Photo by Arnaud 25. Released on Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-3.0

The classic Kir cocktail of Aligoté with Crème de Cassis paired with gougères, a savory puff pastry made with cheese.


Today there is around 4800 acres of the variety planted in France–virtually all in Burgundy. Producers tend to plant Aligoté either at the very bottom or very top of the slope, leaving the prime mid-slope section for the more profitable Chardonnay and Pinot noir.

While most plantings are found in the Côte Chalonnaise, particularly in the Bouzeron AOC, the grape was permitted in Meursault throughout the 19th century and is technically still authorized for use in the Grand Cru of Corton-Charlemagne thanks to a 1930s legal judgement. Bonneau du Matray maintained 1 ha of Aligoté in the Grand Cru until the mid-1970s.

In my post Brave New Burgs, I noted that the list of Burgundian producers who seem to have a soft spot for this obscure variety is impressive. Aubert de Villaine (of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti fame), Lalou Bize-Leroy, Marquis d’Angerville and Michel Lafarge, to name a few. Aligoté is even planted in the prime real estate of the Morey-St-Denis Premier Cru Clos des Monts Luisants owned by Domaine Ponsot.

Outside of France, Aligoté can be found in Switzerland (≈ 50 acres) and several eastern European countries such as Bulgaria (≈ 2700 acres), Moldova (≈ 39,000 acres), Romania (≈ 18,000 acres), Russia (≈ 1,000 acres) and Ukarine where the grape accounts for 11% of total vineyard area with ≈ 24,000 acres.

By Ensenator - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, released on Wikimedia commons

Aligoté grapes growing in Romania.


In the US, California winemaker Jed Steele makes an example in Washington State called Shooting Star sourced from 2 acres of Aligoté planted in the Yakima Valley by the Newhouse family in the 1970s. Josh Jensen of Calera has also experimented with the variety in the high-altitude Mt. Harlan AVA in the Gabilan Mountains of San Benito County, California.

The Wine

Medium plus intensity nose with citrus and fresh cut white flowers. A little grassy. Makes me think of a Sauvignon blanc.

The mouthfeel has surprising weight with a medium plus body that helps balance the medium plus acidity. It rounds it out and keeps the wine mouthwatering rather than bitey. Apple flavors appear alongside the citrus (lemon) and fresh floral notes carrying through from the bouquet. The grassiness doesn’t, though, which has my thoughts shifting from comparing it to a Sauvignon blanc to something closer to an unoaked Chardonnay from the Macon-Village.

The Verdict

In Brave New Burgs, I summed up my tasting note on the 2015 Cave de Genouilly Bourgogne Aligoté “As if a Sauvignon blanc and an unoaked Chardonnay had a baby. Great mouthfeel with weight. Smooth but fresh.”

The wine has a lot of character that makes it enjoyable on its own but with its mouthwatering acidity, I thinks it place to shine is with food. At around $15-18, its combination of fruit, acidity and structure gives great flexibility on the table letting it pair with anything from white and shellfish to fatty tuna and salmon as well as vegetarian fare, poultry and pork.

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Beaver State Bubbly

I’m a bit of a bubble fiend. I love drinking sparkling wine. I love talking about it.

Easily at least half of the wine reviews I post here are about bubbles and when I get new sparkling related wine books like Bursting Bubbles, I eagerly devour them.

Living in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve watched with excitement the growth of the Oregon sparkling wine industry that Forbes.com contributor Joseph V. Micallef highlighted in a recent post.

The founding father of Oregon Bubbles is Rollin Soles who started Argyle Winery in Dundee in 1987. His venture had a lot of all-star firepower backing it with Australian winemaking legend Brian Croser (the 2004 Decanter Man of the Year) and Christian Bizot, then owner of the Champagne House Bollinger.

In 2001, Argyle became part of Lion Nathan corporation with their US branch spinning off in 2012 to become Distinguished Vineyards. Now Argyle is part of a portfolio of brands that includes MacRostie, Wither Hills and The Counselor. In 2013, Soles stepped away from the winery to focus on his brand ROCO that he founded with his wife, Corby Stonebraker-Soles.

While I’ve enjoyed Argyle since Soles left, I must confess that I haven’t been as wowed by the winery’s offerings in recent years. Part of it could be the increase in competition as wine shops have been bringing in more sub $25 Crémants from Alsace, Burgundy and the Loire that way over deliver on value. While years ago, Argyle’s basic brut at $20 stood out from the pack, now it is just middle of the road with even sparkling wines from New Mexico like Gruet and Jacqueline Leonne delivering delicious value in the under $15 category. Still, the 1998 Argyle Extended Triage remains one of my all time favorite wines.

But times change and winemakers move on, which is why I was very excited to try Soles’ new ‘RMS’ sparkling wine project at The Herbfarm’s holiday dinner series “The Holly & The Ivy”. While it didn’t reach the level of that 98 Extended Triage, the 2014 RMS Brut did remind me of all the things I missed about Argyle.

Not a bad way to start off a 9 course meal.


Around 66% Pinot noir with the remainder Chardonnay, the wine had high intensity aromatics of spiced pear wrapped in a toasty pastry crust. Those notes carried through to a creamy but powerful mouthfeel not that dissimilar to Charles Heidsieck. It also reminded me of Pol Roger where the weighty flavors are balanced by fresh citrus notes and racy minerality that give lift to the wine. An incredibly well-made sparkler that would probably continue to age even in the bottle under cork. It is certainly well worth the $65 winery price.

What Makes Oregon Bubbles Special?

In his Forbes post, Micallef quotes Tony Soter on how the “sweet spot” of Oregon’s cool-but-not-too-cool climate gives its an advantage over both warmer California and cooler Champagne.

“[In Oregon you have] … a generosity of fruit that is expressive of the grape varieties (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) reaching a high level of maturity while still maintaining an admirable level of acidity, finesse and elegance critical to sparkling wine. [While] … in California, the weather is too warm, forcing a premature picking to minimize excessive alcohol at the expense of the nuance and delicacy of fully developed grapes.” — Tony Soter, as quoted on Forbes.com January 19th, 2018

Far from being an “Oregon-homer”, Soter’s opinion on the differences between Oregon and California’s terroir is backed by his 30 plus years of experience working at some of the best names in California wine like Chappellet, Araujo, Shafer, Spottswoode and Dalle Valle.

The stats on Oregon’s favorable “goldilocks position” also bares out according to Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson’s Wine Atlas. While Champagne sits along the 49th parallel and averages a daily growing season temperature of 58.4°F, Napa Valley (home of Schramsberg, Domaine Chandon, Mumm Napa, etc) sits on the 38th parallel averaging growing season temperatures of 66.8°F. The Willamette Valley is nestled right in the middle of that on the 45th parallel with average growing season temps of 60.6°F.

Photo by Hahn Family Wines. Released on Wikimedia Commons via Flickr under CC BY 2.0

In addition to losing acidity, if you wait too long to harvest your grapes in warm climates you risk “baking out” the more delicate and complex flavors. This produces over ripe and dried fruit notes that the French call ‘sur maturité’. For many California sparkling wine producers, its a Catch-22.

Harvests in California for sparkling wine regularly taking place in early August while in Oregon it doesn’t start till September. In Champagne, which wine authors like Robert Walters in Bursting Bubbles claim often harvest too early and too unripe, harvest typically begins late August and early September. Many high quality grower producers in Champagne harvest later into September.

The timing of harvest is key because you want ample acidity for sparkling wine production which you can risk losing if the grapes hang too long on the vine. But at the same time unripe grapes can give bland and uninteresting flavors. Tom Stevenson and Essi Avellan note in their Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine that having ripe grapes is absolutely essential for high quality sparkling wine.

Photo by Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives. Released on Wikimedia Commons under Oregon Historical County Records Guide public use

In the Willamette Valley, daytime highs in July in the low 80s (°F) can drop to the low 50s (°F) at night.

Like Washington State, Oregon also benefits from having drastic diurnal temperature variations during the growing season where temperatures can drop at night 30-40 degrees from day time highs, letting the vine literally “chill out” and retain fresh acidity.

This extends the growing season, allowing the grapes to hang longer on the vine, developing riper flavors while still maintaining that vital acidity.

Oregon Sparkling Wine Producers to Seek Out

Micallef notes that there is around 40 producers making sparkling wine in Oregon. While most of the production is small and limited to sales at the winery’s tasting room or wine club, there are some producers with ambitious aims.

One that is mentioned in the Forbes article is Radiant Sparkling Wine Company that was founded in McMinnville by Andrew Davis, a protege of Rollin Soles. After 8 years at Argyle, Davis founded his company to serve essentially as a mobile méthode champenoise facility, traveling to wineries with his sparkling wine equipment and technical know-how to help winemakers turn their base wines into bubbles.

Among the wineries that Davis has worked with includes Adelsheim, Anne Amie, Brooks, Ponzi, Raptor Ridge, Sokol Blosser, Stoller, Trisaetum and Willamette Valley Vineyards. In 2017, Davis helped create over 20,000 cases of Oregon sparkling wine to add to the 25,000 cases that Argyle produces yearly.

The Stoller rose sparkler more than held its own in a line-up of impressive bubbles.

One of these wines that I’ve recently had the opportunity to try was the Stoller 2014 Legacy LaRue’s Brut Rosé. The 25% Chardonnay and 75% Pinot noir base saw 10 months aging in neutral French oak before bottling and secondary fermentation. The wine spent 2 years on the lees prior to disgorgement with around 275 cases produced.

The LaRue rosé had a beautiful medium plus intensity nose of fresh cherry and strawberries. But what most intrigued me was the tinge of citrus blood orange that framed the red fruit notes. On the palate, the wine added another depth of flavor with some spicy and mineral notes.

I had this wine only about a couple weeks after I had the Louis Roederer 2011 Brut Rosé that I described in my post Cristal Clarity. We had another bottle of the Roederer rose opened with the Stoller and it was quite impressive how the Stoller showed in comparison. While it was more on the delicate and minerally side versus the fruitier Roederer, the Stoller clearly won out with much more vivid aromatics and longer finish that didn’t fade as fast as the Roederer. Considering that the Stoller LaRue is $65 while the Roederer is around $70 and you have some substantial value.

For a relatively young sparkling wine industry that just reached 30 years, the future looks exciting for wine geeks wanting to explore Oregon bubbles.

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Zin-ful Thoughts

Joseph Swan Zinfandel from the Bastoni Vineyard in the Fountaingrove District of Sonoma County.

Originally planted in 1906, the vineyard was significantly replanted in 2005.

In honor of the upcoming ZAP 2018 Zinfandel Experience in San Francisco, the Lodi Winegrape Commission released a very informative FAQ page on Zinfandel written by sommelier Randy Caparoso.

I must confess that being based in the Pacific Northwest and a bit of a Francophile, my experience with Zinfandel has been limited—mostly the uber jammy and commercialized examples from producers like Rombauer, Michael David and Klinker Brick. We do grow a little bit of the variety here in Washington State (65 acres as of 2017) but many of the examples that I’ve tried have been a bit underwhelming.

A trip last year to Joseph Swan Vineyards in Sonoma started to change my perception of Zinfandel. Here I found examples of this “big bruising grape” that were elegant, spicy and downright mouthwatering. So I was very intrigued to read Caparoso’s post and ended up learning a lot.

Some of the cool things (not all Zin related) I learned from Caparoso’s post:

1.) One of the reasons why Zinfandel likely became such a popular and widely planted grape in California during the 1800s was because of how easy it is to grow, particularly in the goblet “bush vine” style. Growers could just stick cuttings into the ground, without the expense and labor of trellising, and tend to the vine with the relatively low-maintenance spur-pruning system. Add to the fact that Zin produces reliable yields, it makes sense why this was a choice variety for many of the European immigrants who planted the early California vineyards.

2.) Due to the decline in popularity of White Zinfandel, overall plantings of Zinfandel have decreased which means that when the 2017 USDA acreage report comes out, it will likely show Zinfandel as the 4th most widely planted wine grape in California behind Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. I wouldn’t shed a tear for desperate housewives as pink Moscato is there to fill their empty glasses. I’m sure Zinfandel fans are not going to mind.

I appreciated how the Sobon Primitivo was full bodied with rich dark fruit without being overtly jammy.
The Rocky Top was spicier and more my style but the Primitivo had it charms.


3.) While Buena Vista, established in 1857 in Sonoma, is widely credited as being the first commercial winery in California, that honor actually belongs to the Vignes Winery that was established in Los Angeles in 1833 by Jean-Louis Vignes. In the Zin hotbed of Amador County, d’Agostini Winery was founded a year before Buena Vista in 1856 with the cellars and vineyards now owned by Zinfandel specialist Sobon.

4.) While currently terms like “Old Vine” and “Ancient Vine” are unregulated and can apply to anything that a winery’s marketing team wants it to, there is a movement in Lodi and other Zinfandel regions to adopt something similar to the Barossa Old Vine Charter. This charter established designation of 4 tiers of “old vines” covering a span of vine ages. On the LoCA FAQ, Caparoso gives his suggestions on tiers beginning with ‘Old Vines’ denoting vines at least 50 years of age going up to ‘Historic Vines’ that are over a 100 years of age.

5.) It’s hard to define a “Lodi-style” of Zinfandel because many of the region’s largest producers (like Michael David & Klinker Brick) tend to produce a very commercialized style of Zinfandel that often sees a significant portion of Petite Sirah blended in as well as judicious oaking.

My Zin-exploration plans for the year

Located across the street from the Mancini Ranch (notably used by Carlisle), the vines here are over 100 years old

I want to explore more terroir driven examples from vineyard designated bottlings of Zinfandel. At Joseph Swan, in addition to trying their Bastoni Vineyard pictured above, I also got a chance to taste a bottling from the Zeigler Vineyard in the Russian River Valley. This one had a intriguing floral smokiness to it that I didn’t find in the more peppery Bastoni. It was almost as if a Pinot noir and Syrah had a baby. It was very fun trying these two Zins side by side. They had a streak of similarity but were very different.

I also want to hunt for this elusive “Lodi-style” that is hiding under the shadows of the area’s big producers. I’ve had the opportunity to try wines from St. Amant Winery that Caparoso highlights as one of Lodi’s Zinfandel specialists. Here, again, trying two different vineyards side by side was incredibly fascinating with the century plus vines of their Marian Vineyard (planted in 1901) showing spicy, dark fruit notes while the Mohr-Fry (planted in 1945) was more more berry fruit and floral.

Some of these differences could be terroir, some could be vine age. I want to learn more about that.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Zinfandel#/media/File:Crljenak_kastelanski.jpg

A Crljenak Kaštelanski vine from the village of Kaštel Novi in Croatia. Read the Wikimedia Commons link for some more fascinating info about this vine from the photographer User:Amatulic!


A holy grail of geekdom for me would be to get my grubby little hands on a Croatian Zinfandel. When I visited Croatia in 2016, I was quite disappointed in that all I could find among reds was Plavac Mali, which was a tasty grape but no Crljenak Kaštelanski.

Finally, I want to keep a more open mind about Washington (and Southern Oregon) Zinfandel. I have a hunch that two factors that have been driving their (in my opinion) underwhelming style has been a combination of very young vines (I couldn’t find any info on what is the oldest planting of Washington Zin but I would be shocked if it was more than 25 years) and that many winemakers here haven’t figured out what they want to do with the grape yet.

We produce so many exceptional red wines from varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah that I feel like producers are throwing the techniques that have made those wines successful against the wall and seeing what sticks. A Zin that taste like an oaky Cab or a more alcoholic version of Syrah is not very appealing. On the flip side, Washington-versions of the jammy commercialized Zins aren’t very exciting either.

The art of winemaking involves a lot of trial and error so this seems like something that will work itself out. There are just too many talented winemakers in the Pacific Northwest to think that someone is not going to hit on something delicious when it comes to Washington Zinfandel.

Till then, I’ll keep my eyes open and drink up where I can.

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Wine Clubs Done Right

It all started with a tweet.

Terret noir!?!

This was a grape that I was only familiar with as one of the obscure little brother varieties in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. For some added geekiness, courtesy of Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes, the noir is a color mutation of the Terret grape with their being blanc and gris versions as well. Apparently in the 1950s, Terret gris was the most widely planted grape variety in the Languedoc with over 20,000 acres!

Who knew? But now there is only around 257 acres of Terret gris left with around 3500 and 460 acres of Terret blanc and noir respectively. This is a pretty obscure grape so I was excited to read about Tablas Creek’s version. I visited Tablas Creek several years ago where I geeked out over their nursery of Rhone varieties, taking many leaf and vine pictures that I uploaded to Wikipedia (as Agne27). I’ve always been impressed with Tablas Creek’s effort to introduced new varieties to the American consumer.

So I tweeted my enthusiasm and went to Tablas Creek’s website to see what they had available.

Petit Manseng! Clairette blanche! Picardan! and, of course, Terret noir. But there was a catch—beyond many of them being sold out. Most of these uber geeky bottlings were limited to members of Tablas Creek’s wine clubs.

Instead of being bummed, my reaction was to appreciate the brilliance and good business sense. This is because my biggest gripes about wine clubs, and why I join very few of them, is that they rarely offer compelling value.

What makes a wine club appealing to join?

Wine industry folks talk ad infinitum about how to improve wine clubs to encourage more sign ups. It is no secret that the financial stability of consistent wine club sales is important to many small wineries’ bottom line. With so many things competing for a consumer’s wallet, how does a winery entice folks to join?

Well for me, my decision to ultimately sign up for the Tablas Creek wine club was driven by 3 factors.

1.) How easy can I get your wines at home?

Photo taken by myself (as Agne27) on Wikimedia Commons

I actually live a little closer to Beaucastel in Seattle at around 8600km than Tablas Creek is to their partner estate. But I have no problem finding bottles of Ch. Beaucastel.

This is a big reason why I don’t join the wine clubs of many Washington (especially those in Woodinville) and Oregon wineries. Living in Seattle with an abundance of wine shops and tasting rooms close by, I can pretty easily get most any wine I want from these local wineries. Yes, getting a 10-25% discount and invitation to “members only” events is nice but what is more appealing is access and exclusivity. This is where I tip my hat to Tablas Creek for their impressive selection of “Members Only” wines.

This created value in my mind because I wanted access to these wines. I want to try a Terret noir. I want a varietal Picardin. Even if I lived right next store to Tablas Creek, I still couldn’t get these wines easily if I wasn’t a member. That’s a strong incentive for a wine consumer like me.

Yes, I know plenty of my local Washington and Oregon wineries have “Members Only” bottlings but very, very few of those wineries put them front and center on their wine shop page or highlight them as much as they should. And, truthfully, many of these “Members Only” bottlings are not that exciting compared to what the winery is already producing.

A special one barrel “Members Only” blend? Um, okay that could be great but your regular red blend that I can buy is pretty darn good so why should I buy the whole cow and join your club when I’m already happy with the chocolate milk?

I really enjoyed the Espirt de Beaucastel but that is not enough on its own to get me to join the wine club

Now a 3 bottle “Members Only” set of the same grape variety but from 3 different clones, 3 different vineyards or 3 different kinds of oak barrels–THAT’S intriguing. That is not something I can regularly get from yours or any other winery. That’s something with compelling value and exclusivity.

In the case of Tablas Creek, I would have to do a fair amount of hunting on WineSearcher.com to find a bottle of Terret noir. While I can easily get their Esprit de Tablas and Patelin de Tablas blends at local wine shops, with these obscure varietal bottlings their wine club provides a chance to get something above and beyond their typical retail offering.

That’s intriguing. That’s worth buying the cow for.

2.) How many bottles am I committing myself to?

But to be honest, I don’t really want a whole damn cow.

Frankly, I’m a bit of a slutty boozer that likes to play the field with many different types of wines and alcoholic beverages. Pretty much just peruse the archives of this “wine blog” and you will see. For every couple of wine-related posts I do, I’m just as likely to post about a whiskey like the Edradour 10 year or a beer like the Bourbon County series from Goose Island.

I want to commit but I’m truly only faithful to my wife.

That is why flexibility with wine clubs is so key. Here, again, I’ll tip my hat to Tablas Creek for offering options of 6, 12 and 24 bottle commitments. Each tier has its own ancillary perks, letting consumers pick just how much cow they want to bring home. Starting with a 6 bottle a year commitment is not going to tie down my wine racks.

But I decided to go with the 12 bottle VINsider tier because A.) I saw 12 bottles on their shop page alone that I want to drink and B.) It seemed like having “Shipment wines specially selected by our winemakers” increased my odds of getting the geeky bottles I want.

3.) How likely is the style of wine going to change?

In our tumultuous era of mergers and winery acquisitions by big mega-corps, there is always a chance that your favorite winery is going to sell out. That potentially could mean a new style of wine driven more by focus groups rather than a focus on terroir. While I know that doesn’t matter to everyone, it matters to me and how I spend my money. Sometimes it is not even an acquisition that changes a style but rather a winemaker moving on with the new winemaker doing things just a little bit too different for your taste.

As a newbie wine lover, I learned this lesson the hard way when I first moved to Washington State in 2004. I fell in love with the wines of David Lake at Columbia Winery and joined their club. Failing health caused Lake to retire in 2006 with him passing away in 2009. Of course, you can’t blame the winery or David for that but the style of the new winemaker, Kerry Norton, just wasn’t to my taste. It took a year’s worth of unexciting wine club shipments for us to finally realize that the style had changed and wasn’t coming back, leading us to quit the club. This was before Gallo later bought Columbia and took it even further away from David Lake’s style.

Though I do wonder what happened to this potted Grenache blanc vine. Is it still chilling outside the tasting room or did it grow up to be a big boy vine in the vineyard?

Change happens. I get it. But if I’m going to invest in a wine club, I want to wager on one that I’m confident that I’ll be liking their wines for a while.

Looking at Tablas Creek’s website, I got a lot of comfort seeing the continuity of their leadership, viticulture and winemaking team. Many of the same people that were making those delicious wines I tried on my visit in 2012 are still there 6 years later.

That makes Tablas Creek feel like a solid bet of being a winery that I’m going to enjoy being part of their wine club.

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Making a Bet on Washington Chenin blanc

Earlier this week the big news in the Washington wine industry was the announcement of a collaboration project between the highly acclaimed Betz Family Winery and the Stellenbosch estate of DeMorgenzon Winery called Quinta Essentia. Sourced from four vineyards of old, head-trained bush vines, this South African Chenin will be produced in a dry style and retail for $40 a bottle.

Like many Washington wine lovers, I was intrigued. This was certainly an interesting spin for the fabled Washington winery which has long been known for its outstanding reds. It also made sense giving the South African heritage of the winery’s new owners, Steve & Bridgit Griessel. However, it also left me a little dishearten in that it looks like Washington Chenin blanc is being left in the dark once more.

There is just not enough sunbreaks (and good Chenin blanc like this example from Convergence Zone Cellars in North Bend) in the Pacifc Northwest.

There is just not enough sunbreaks (and good Chenin blanc like this example from Convergence Zone Cellars in North Bend) in the Pacifc Northwest.

Back in 2011, Sean Sullivan of the Washington Wine Report (and now Washington editor of Wine Enthusiast magazine) wrote a terrific article about why Chenin blanc deserves saving . At the end of the article he makes a recommendation for several Washington Chenin blancs, all of them on the off-dry or sweet side, with the driest being Marty Clubb’s L’Ecole 41 Chenin blanc sourced from 30+ year old vines planted in 1979. At around 4000 cases a year, L’Ecole remains practically the lone champion of the grape in Washington State with a bottling that is likely to be available at retail and restaurants. There are other producers with a passion for Chenin in the state, like Scott Greenberg of Convergence Zone Cellers, but these are usually made in very small quantities that are sold through the wineries tasting rooms and wine clubs. Even still, very few of these Chenin blancs are truly dry.

This is disappointing because in other markets (particularly the East Coast), wine consumers are getting hip to what sommeliers and wine geeks have been crowing about for some time–that Chenin blanc makes some mouth-watering and outrageously delicious dry wines with layers of complexity that can match a vast array of cuisine. In a foodie culture like the Pacific Northwest which embraces the flavors, charms and fusion of Asian, Latin and African dishes with ease, you would think that a grape that embraces the balance of acidity, texture, aromatics and fruit so seamlessly as Chenin blanc would be right on the table.

But its not and I think a big reason for this is that no one, outside of L’Ecole 41, has really made a big bet on Washington Chenin blanc and no one has taken the chance to produce and market some of the electricfyingly dry styles that are capturing people’s attention across the globe. This is why it was so disappointing to see that Betz’s new project was going to focus solely on South African Chenin blanc. It’s clear that the Griessels and Master of Wine Bob Betz know good Chenin. So when they took the bold step of introducing the first white wine to their portfolio, and chose to look beyond Betz Family Winery’s home state, it felt like a damning write-off of the potential of Washington Chenin blanc.

“Quinta Essentia emphatically confirms why Chenin Blanc is one of the world’s great white grape varieties… This is not the overcropped, insipid quaffer that Chenin has most often become in the U.S. This is old vine Chenin Blanc, conscientiously grown in a unique site, crafted by a skilled artisan.” — Betz news release

Betz is both right and wrong here. Yes, for a long time US Chenin blanc has sucked. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Just think of how exciting it would have been if Betz announced their collaboration with DeMorgenzon and took a page out of Allen Shoup’s book with Long Shadows or Chateau Ste. Michelle with Eroica and Col Solare. What if, instead of just doing a single South African bottling, they set out to change wine lover’s impression of American (and by extension, Washington State) Chenin blanc as being an “overcropped, insipid quaffer”. Working hand in hand with their South African partner, Betz could have done something truly unique in creating two companion bottles, one from Washington State and one from Stellenbosch, made with the same skill and care, that demonstrates the terroir and incredible potential of Chenin blanc. A project that would have combined the credibility and renown of Betz with the passion and respect for Chenin blanc of South Africans would have been just the jolt that this little underdog grape needs here in the Pacific Northwest.

If only Betz was willing to take a bet on Washington Chenin blanc.

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