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Monday morning was the real start to my Washington adventure, with my trusty rental steed fueled and ready to go, I said goodbye to the Four Seasons and headed north toward Woodinville, armed with my phone’s GPS, a couple of bottled waters and KING-FM cranking out some great classical music (I couldn’t find any Slayer on the radio that early in the morning).  I hadn’t had breakfast yet – thought that could wait until Woodinville, which is only about 30 minutes away.

Woodinville, for those of you who don’t know, has become a veritable kiosk of Washington wineries, a wine tasters paradise, set up as an emissary collective for wine travelers the world over.  You could almost park your car and hit 20 wineries within a 5 minute walk of each other.  The Taste of Washington event is held in Woodinville, where attendees can purchase a three-day pass and visit over 50 tasting rooms.  You should check it out, happens in May.

Anyway, driving toward Woodinville, my mind began to drift to thoughts of my wife, and how I wish she was riding along with me.  We haven’t been doing good lately.  Me and my ineptitude when it comes to communicating with my significant other.  I am paranoid.  I read too much into things that are said.  I assume too much (though in going along with the old saying, “when you assume…” it’s more like ass-me than assume).  I try to shorten my wife’s sentences.  All of which typically earns you at least a two-month stay in the doghouse, yet I continue to do it.  Drinking SmartWater® doesn’t really make you smart, that is for sure.

So I am driving up I-90 toward Woodinville, thinking of my wife and how I miss her, and how I am sure she is glad I am not routinely putting my foot into my mouth if I were with her right then and there.  I have been wrecked by a lot of things, and it has really kept me from being emotionally there for my wife during some of the worst times in her life.  The death of her mother is something she is still wrestling with on a daily basis, and yet me having been decimated by exhaustion, I am about as helpful to her as burnt toast in the rain.

I got to Woodinville, drove around a bit, having arrived too early to hit any of the tasting rooms, but early enough to get a coffee fix and something that resembled breakfast, checking in with my wife and giving my mom a call from a seat outstide a Starbuck’s there.  Recognizing the calm of this particular morning in a fog-covered Western Washington town, the quiet in my head was acutely significant.

I was coming to the realization I have still been in a bit of mourning for a job that really beat me up over a long period of time, really beat down my confidence, and shook me to the core.  Officially, I am coming up on one year at The Party Source, yet I still find myself referring to this place with the pronoun “yours” a lot.  The bottom line is, I am here, at the Party Source.  Grieving for the previous position and the ten years I feel I wasted is proving very unhealthy.  I didn’t waste those years.  I gained an awful lot of insight into this business.  I learned how to do my job better.  I made a lot of friends in this industry.  I expanded my social network significantly.  And I impressed my current employers enough they wanted me to come work for them.  I should feel very lucky.

In a lot of ways, I find myself mourning an abusive relationship.  Things in my former gig weren’t the rosiest of circumstances.  And I find myself still opining for that, almost like an addict in withdrawal.  To be told in one sense of the phrase or another, that you suck, you are constantly fucking up, you start to believe it.  And then you start behaving as though you do suck, and you will fuck up.

All those feelings of inferiority and chaos slowly faded into nothing, as I made my way over to my first stop – Chateau Ste. Michelle.  A staple of Woodinville, and the anchor to the wine business in Washington, their facility is a beautiful place of which I hold fond memories.  Walking their grounds before and after hitting the tasting room, I found myself taking more than a few pictures of their trees and flowers, losing a little bit more of the residual inadequacies I have been harboring as of late.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Syrah Columbia Valley 2011.  Grade=Very Good.   A solid, value-oriented red, slightly spicy with bright red fruit and exotic spices.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Austral Red Wahluke Slope 2010.  Grade=Outstanding.  This very limited, extremely unique blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec is bold, full-bodied and smoldering with dark fruits, dark spices and smoky oak.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Merlot Canoe Ridge 2011.  Grade=Outstanding+.  A big, full-bodied Merlot, blended with 11% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Blue-fruited, rich and decadent.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon Canoe Ridge 2011.  Grade=Outstanding.  Blended with small percentages of Merlot, Syrah and Malbec, this dense, full-bodied red gives you power and elegance.

Across the road – literally – is another long bastion of Washington winemaking, Columbia Winery, which has recently been acquired by Gallo.  My last visit to Columbia wasn’t too memorable, so if anything, the folks at Gallo must have really done something to get the tasting room folks to liven up and learn about good customer service.

Columbia Rosé of Grenache Columbia Valley 2012.  Grade=Outstanding.  Blended with small amounts of Gewurtztraminer and Riesling to give it fragrance and sweetness, this vibrant, off-dry blush shows off sweet, ripe strawberries and hints of rhubarb pie.

Columbia Barbera Small Lot Series 2010.  Grade=Outstanding.  Blended with 3% Malbec, this medium-bodied red is plush, with velvety smooth tannins, juicy blue fruits and hints of brown baking spice.

Columbia Merlot Red Willow Vineyard 2009.  Grade=Amazing.  Juicy blueberry, black cherry notes mix it up with mint, cedar and violets.  Full-bodied.  This is a terrific example of Washington State Merlot.

Columbia Cabernet Sauvignon Red Willow Vineyard 2008.  Grade=Outstanding.  Full-bodied, dense black fruits, sage, mineral and pepper.

Columbia Syrah Red Willow Vineyard 2008.  Grade=Outstanding+.  Impressive effort.  Bold, zesty red fruits, blueberry, saffron and red tea leaves.

Columbia Malbec Small Lot Series 2010.  Grade=Outstanding+.  Really nice, lush with blueberry pie, hints of smoke, dried herbs and black peppercorns.

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Not quite Noon, and having some time before anyone else was open yet, I decided to get some lunch, and stopped in at one of my favorite little wine stores, Village Wines.  Last time I was there, I found myself upset by the fact that they had a Turley Zinfandel by the glass while we in Northern Kentucky couldn’t even get any to sell in retail.  Since then, we get a small, steady allocation of Turley wines at TPS, yet they had another Turley wine by the glass (I think it was a Cinsault).  I settled on some flatbread pizza to go with a taste of two wines from Gorman (whose tasting room across the roundabout was closed that day):

Gorman The Devil You Know Red 2011.  Grade=Outstanding.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Mourvedre and Petite Sirah.  A brand new deal for Gorman, this is a smoothed-out red, easy-to-drink, yet still possessing a bit of grip on the palate.  Nice.

Gorman The Devil You Don’t Know Red 2011.  Grade=Outstanding+.  Syrah, Mourvedre and Petite Sirah, this more Rhone-styled red was dark and smoky, a bit more to my liking.  I went with a glass of this wine to go with my pizza.

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Hoping to squeeze in a lot of tasting before hitting the road, I went just down the street to a row of tasting rooms, anchored by good friend John Bookwalter’s Woodinville outpost:

Amavi Semillon Columbia Valley 2012.  Grade=Outstanding.  A bit of Sauvignon Blanc makes this incredible white wine bright and alive with acidity.  Loads of citrus and stone fruit in there too.  Delicious!

Amavi Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2011.  Grade=Outstanding.  A remarkable effort, medium-to-full-bodied red with robust minerality, dark red fruit, sassafrass, rhubarb, white pepper and white cinnamon.

Amavi Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2010.  Grade=Outstanding.  Bold, rich and densely concentrated black fruits, tobacco and leather.

Pepper Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2010.  Grade=Outstanding.  Mineral and dried herbs weigh on this bold, black-fruited Cab.  A green streak runs through but is buoyed by superripe fruit.

Pepper Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2009.  Grade=Outstanding+.  A bit richer and denser than the 2010.  Loads of blackberry, cigar box, cedar and sage.  Delicious.

Pepper Bridge Trine Walla Walla Valley 2010.  Grade=Amazing.  A full-on Bordeaux-style red.  Mostly Cab Sauv, with 15% Merlot, 5% Cab Franc, 5% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot.  Lush, complex and rich with blackberry, black currant and dark plum fruits, brown spices, chocolate, charcoal and sage.

Pepper Bridge Red Pepper Bridge Vineyard 2010.  Grade=Amazing.  Massive, full-bodied red.  Seductive and decadent.  Merlot dominant (with Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot), this red is a remarkable effort in single vineyard wine.

Ross Andrew Meadow Blanc Columbia Valley 2011.  Grade=Outstanding.  Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewurtztraminer.  Just the right amount of sweet and dry, tethered by brilliant acidity.

Ross Andrew Meadow Rosé Columbia Valley 2012.  Grade=Amazing.  A saigneé of Sangiovese and Lemberger (don’t see this one much), just tasty red raspberry, Bing cherry and watermelon notes.  Bought a bottle for later.

Glaze Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2010.  Grade=Very Good.  Easy-drinking, medium-bodied red, a bit light compared to its peers, but very nice.

Ross Andrew Red Washington State 2010.  Grade=Very Good.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.  Juicy, jammy red, with soft yet firm tannins, savory characters underlying a construct of splashy blackberry and dark plum.

Ross Andrew Syrah Bousey Vineyard 2009.  Grade=Amazing.  A rich, full-bodied effort.  Makes me think of a Cote-Rotie with its pronounced minerality.

Ross Andrew Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2008.  Grade=Outstanding.  Black currants, spicy oak, black pepper and chocolate collide for a lush, rich, full-bodied red.

Ross Andrew Pinot Noir Lachini Vineyard 2009.  Grade=Outstanding+.  A richer, lusher style of Pinot Noir, this is another Oregon Pinot Noir, cast through the prism of a Washington State winemaker’s vision.  Really good.

The Vincent by Mark Ryan Rosé Columbia Valley 2012.  Grade=Very Good.  A dry blush, blended from Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre.  Bright raspberry and cranberry notes.  Lots of bright acidity.  Nice.

The Vincent by Mark Ryan Red Columbia Valley 2011.  Grade=Outstanding.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.  Medium-bodied.  Lots of juicy red berry fruit, black pepper and spices.

Suicide Shift by Mark Ryan Columbia Valley 2011.  Grade=Outstanding.  Syrah and Mourvedre, this Rhone style blend has loads of dark fruit and spice, hints of chile-infused cocoa, and dark mineral undertones.

The Chief by Mark Ryan Columbia Valley 2011.  Grade=Outstanding+.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot, this is a Bordeaux-styled effort, firm tannins, black fruits, dried herbs and pepper.

Bookwalter Bookmark Columbia Valley NV.  Grade=Very Good.  A terrific, every-day red blend, non-vintage for consistency.  Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Bookwalter Subplot Columbia Valley 2011.  Grade=Outstanding.  Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  A solid, medium-bodied red, with cocoa, raspberry, blackberry and pepper notes.

Bookwalter Foreshadow Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2010.  Grade=Amazing.  Bold, powerful Cabernet – unbelievable structure.  Layers of black fruits, spices, herbs, tobacco, oak and mineral.  Just keeps going and going.

Bookwalter Antagonist Columbia Valley 2011.  Grade=Amazing.  Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, this amazing red is a full-bodied wonder, rich with dark fruits, spices and mineral.  A remarkable effort from a very cool vintage.

Bookwalter Conflict Conner-Lee Vineyard 2010.  Grade=Amazing+.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  Powerful, rich, lusty red.  Just a whole lotta stuff happening in this bottle.  Coming from a cooler vintage, you get something akin to a Pauillac, like Lynch-Bages or Haut-Batailley.

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Across the street, coffee was the thing calling my attention as I wanted to hit the road ASAP, but I had to hit one more tasting room before I called it quits for the day:

Mark Ryan Viognier Columbia Valley 2012.  Grade=Outstanding.  White flowers, lemon peel and hints of white peaches, this dry white gives you tons of vibrant acidity, satisfying even the most discriminating acid freak.

Mark Ryan Dissident Red Columbia Valley 2011.  Grade=Outstanding.  Predominantly Cab, this Bordeaux Blend + Syrah is full-bodied, rich and unctuous with its chocolate-covered blackberries, black pepper and cigar box notes.

Mark Ryan Wild Eyed Syrah Red Mountain 2011.  Grade=Amazing.  All Syrah from the Ciel du Cheval, Klipsun and Kiona Vineyards, this is one ridiculous effort.  Just incredible notes of red berries, chocolate, truffle and mineral.

Mark Ryan The Long Haul Columbia Valley 2010.  Grade=Amazing.  Predominantly Merlot, this Right-Bank-inspired red gives you savory notes of grilled meats coupled with black fruits, brown spices, mocha, vanilla and cracked peppercorns.

Mark Ryan Dead Horse Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2010.  Grade=Amazing.  Blended with 9% Merlot, and 6% Cabernet Franc, and 2% each of Malbec and Petit Verdot, this bold, full-bodied red gives you blackberries, raspberries, hints of crushed violets and cracked black peppercorns.

Stopping off at The Commons to get coffee and pastries, I’d be all sugared up for my drive to Yakima, first stop on the ride east toward Walla Walla.  I pretty much drove for two hours in silence, KING-FM becoming nothing but static, as my thoughts kept drifting to my wife, missing her, and wondering why we were having problems.  Arriving in Yakima too late to hit any tasting rooms.  I pretty much did Burger King for dinner, a far cry from the great meals in Seattle, and stayed in my room watching TV – The Bourne Legacy (Grade=Disappointing) before crashing.

Next time, stops in Prosser featuring Milbrandt Vineyards, Gamache Vineyards and Airfield Estates, lunch at Bookwalter in Richland, and checking out the riverfront park by my hotel.

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