Tag Archives: Washington State

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2014-03-20 14.23.39

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Last year, I wrote about the passing of a friend, Ed Langdon, and how despite having known him only a few days, he made me feel as if I had known him my whole life.  I met him on one of my trips to Washington State, brother-in-law to Brother Lou, and his passing was a real shock.  Recently, his wife Barbara – Brother Lou’s sister – was in town, and Brother Lou invited me over to his house to have a glass of wine with him and his sister.

It had been a long time since I last saw Barb.  She seemed in great spirits, and it was great to reminisce a bit, and hear how she was doing.

I haven’t been feeling all that great about myself lately.  It’s funny when the darkness sometimes overtakes the light, but it happens, particularly to folks like me.  So it was an incredibly meaningful thing when Barb told me just how my little post about Ed had touched so many people in their family.  My little tribute to her late husband, a man a barely knew, had an impact I had not expected, and it meant so much to hear it meant something to them, the words I used to describe such an amazing individual as Ed Langdon.

In a world where so much hatred and disrespect is spewed forth, whether in social media, on TV, or just anywhere in public you may go, it’s good to know saying a few kind words can make a difference to others.

If we could only view each other as Ed did, maybe we may find something closer to peace.

Meanwhile, Brother Lou recently paid a visit to the Wine Bar with John Kraushaar from Merryvale Vineyards & Starmont Winery.

Starmont Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2012.  Grade=Outstanding.  Light, crisp and delicious.  Shows off a bit of creaminess toward the finish.  Meyer lemon, jalapeno skin, guava and white grapefruit.

Starmont Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2013.  Grade=Outstanding.  Leaner with more acidity.  Lemon curd, melon, lime, pineapple and quince.

Starmont Chardonnay Napa Valley 2011.  Grade=Outstanding.  Slightly buttery with vanilla cream, apple pie and pineapple notes.

Starmont Pinot Noir Carneros 2012.  Grade=Outstanding.  Loads of cherry and mulberry fruit aromas and flavors, hints of black pepper, truffle, mushroom and dried herbs.

Starmont Merlot Carneros 2012.  Grade=Outstanding.  Blue-fruited, full-bodied with great balance of acidity.

Starmont Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2009.  Grade=Outstanding.  Full-bodied, rich, loaded with chocolate, blackberries and tobacco notes.

Merryvale Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2009.  Grade=Outstanding+.  Big, rich, unctuous Cab, full-bodied, velvety tannins, dense notes of black currants, blackberries, dark plums, pepper and leather.

in-store events wine reviews


2014-03-07 21.32.21

The early-ons of new events always discourage me.  When you start something, and it doesn’t draw anyone in, you think you are a colossal nincompoop.  So it goes with this thing I have named the Hit or Miss Hour.  Kind of like the ol’ Smash or Trash radio schtick, you know, the DJ plays a song, you call in and tell ‘em it’s a smash or it’s trash, and enough folks vote for it, and it ends up in regular rotation.  In this case, if it’s a hit, then we add it to the shelf.

Recently, it was a threesome from my friend John Bookwalter, along with a little something from California’s Armida Winery:

Bookwalter Couplet Chardonnay-Viognier Conner Lee Vineyard 2011.  Grade=Good.  I reviewed this one and the Notebook a while back.  A little leaner and lighter than when I first tasted it.  Not as fresh, yet still drinking well.

Bookwalter Notebook Riesling Washington State 2011.  Grade=Very Good.  Showing a bit sweeter than when I first tried it.  Emulating something from the Mosel with its minerally subtext and hints of juicy fruits.

Armida “Poizin” Zinfandel California 2011.  Grade=Very Good.  Haven’t seen Armida around here in a long, long time.  Here is a simple California-appellated Zin, juicy and jammy with sweet red and blue fruits, baking spices, mocha and fig jam.

Bookwalter Foreshadow Merlot Columbia Valley 2008.  Grade=Outstanding.  Still poised and elemental with its bold blue fruits, black pepper, mint, sage, dark earth and oak spices, this full-bodied Merlot is still phenomenal.  Previously reviewed.

The verdict was the first two Bookwalters were a miss (both old) and the Armida and Bookwalter Merlot were hits.  We’ll see what happens.  Hopefully, RNDC gets in new vintages of the Couplet and Notebook.  Definitely, they need to be fresher.

Join us at The Party Source 8-9pm every Friday for the Hit or Miss Hour (or more profanely the Hit or Sh$# hour).

wine reviews



I love wine.  Hopefully after nearly 6 years of blogging about it, you have probably figured that one out, yet of all the regions I get truly geeked-out about, Washington State seems to be my fanboy weakness.

Ever since my first trip out to the Evergreen State, I have been in love with their wines.  Ever since that first trip, I have been one of Washington State’s biggest advocates in this part of the country.  Nowhere is the quality-to-price ratio so heavily tilted in the consumer’s favor.  And of all the Washington State producers whose wares are such bargains, Milbrandt Vineyards would rank one of the best.

Butch and Jerry Milbrandt, brothers and grape growers, began producing their own wines beginning in 1997.  And recently, Kymber Tymber dropped in with the lovely Kelly Milbrandt, daughter of Jerry, and brand advocate for the U.S.  Kelly lined up some great wines and the TPS staff joined in to try:

Milbrandt Traditions Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2011.  Grade=Very Good.  Clean, fresh stone fruit aromas and flavors with a hint of lemon, a touch of cream, and well-balanced acidity.

Milbrandt Traditions Riesling Columbia Valley 2012.  Grade=Very Good.  Semi-dry white hailing from the Evergreen Vineyard (home also to the Kung Fu Girl Riesling by Charles Smith).  Tropical fruit, mineral and a hint of petrol lend complexity to this Mosel-styled Riesling.

Milbrandt Traditions Merlot Columbia Valley 2010.  Grade=Outstanding.  Blended with 6% Malbec, 4% Petit Verdot and 3% Syrah, this juicy red is splashy and refreshing, showing off pretty red and blue fruits, light cocoa, fresh flowers and a touch of mint.

Milbrandt Traditions Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2012.  Grade=Outstanding.  With 6% Merlot, 5% Malbec, 2% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot.  Consistently one of the best values in Cab, this fresh-fruited, juicy Cab gives you blackberry, vanilla, pepper and spice box notes, medium-to-full-body and plush tannins.

Milbrandt The Estate Merlot Wahluke Slope 2009.  Grade=Outstanding.  Blended with 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, this full-bodied Merlot is certainly a step up from the Traditions, with its dark plum and blueberry fruit, mocha, mint and mineral notes.

Milbrandt The Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Wahluke Slope 2009.  Grade=Outstanding+.  With Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec, this ripe, rich, multilayered Cab is full-bodied, unctuous and loaded with black fruits, espresso, leather and spice.

Milbrandt The Estate Malbec Wahluke Slope 2010.  Grade=Outstanding+.  Blended with 11% Cab and 1% Merlot, this incredible example of Washington State Malbec shows you a different side of the grape being made famous in Argentina.  Here you have less smoke, more baked blue fruits, more hickory spice, chocolate, mineral and dark-roasted coffee bean.

Milbrandt The Estate Syrah Wahluke Slope 2010.  Grade=Outstanding+.  One of my favorite Syrahs from Washington, there is deep, dark, black cherry, black raspberry and mountain berry fruit, velvety tannins, cinnamon, fig and kirsch notes.   Gorgeous!

Milbrandt Sentinel Red Wine Northridge Vineyard 2009.  Grade=Amazing.  Here is a superb blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot, a “Pauillac-themed” blend from the Wahluke Slope.  It’s full-bodied, rich and densely layered with hints of chocolate, black currants, mint, sage, tobacco and black pepper notes.  A real rock star!

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Motivation is something I have been lacking for a long, long time.  I took the better part of last week off from work, as well as the blog, in the hope of getting a few things done around the house, as well as taking the 2nd level WSET exam down in Louisville.  It would seem one week later, that all I accomplished was irking my wife to new extremes and perhaps eeking out a pass grade on the test.

Aside from that, nada.

If ever there were an award for mastering the art of self-sabotage, it would be me.  What the hell is wrong with me, I have to ask myself, because I have no effin’ idea.


I have an incredible wife and yet all I do is find myself defensive of any observation or critique she may make.  Without her, I wouldn’t be where I am today.  I have always been a bit undisciplined, and my concentration levels have been on par with the most comatose of human beings, yet I manage to function pretty well at work.  Why is it my personal life is almost always set to implode?

Here I am in what can only be recognized as my personal mid-life crisis.

I have all these grandiose ideas about what I plan to do with my life, outside work, yet once I get in my car and I am driving home, all I want to do is go to sleep.  It’s like the car ride itself is a soul vacuum that sucks the very life from me (and if you drove across the Brent Spence Bridge each and every day you’d probably feel the same way).

Is this all simply the darkness I have been fighting all my life?  Have I become some sort of masochist, inciting fights with my wife in some deep-rooted, deviant need to be argumentative?  Am I just crazy?  Or is this just one of those phases married couples go through?  How do I come back from this?  I’ve got a lot of making up to do to my wife, but after being such a certifiable asshole, will it be enough?  I have to say I feel pretty lost at the moment.

In a strange, clumsy sort of segue, I’ve been a bit behind on my tasting notes.  The following wines come from a tasting I did with Kymber, just before heading out on vacation:

House Wine Chardonnay Washington State NV (3 liter).  Grade=Very Good.  A decent, clean Chardonnay, lemony with yellow apple and pineapple notes.

House Wine Riesling Washington State NV (3 liter).  Grade=Very Good.  Slightly sweet with citrus and golden cherry notes.  Tasty!

House Wine Cabernet Sauvignon Washington State NV.  (3 liter).  Grade=Very Good.  Soft and supple style of Cab, a good quaff with black fruits, chocolate and spice.

La Fiera Pinot Grigio Veneto 2012.  Grade=Very Good.  Easy-drinking, clean white wine, crisp with lemon and lime notes.

La Fiera Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2012.  Grade=Very Good.  A soft, splashy red with bright fruit aromas and flavors and a soft and smooth finish.

Santa Julia (+) Pinot Grigio Mendoza 2012.  Grade=Very Good.  Clean and crisp.  Hints of lime, cucumber and lemon.

Santa Julia (+) Torrontes Mendoza 2011.  Grade=Very Good.  Light hints of orange rind, honeysuckle and litchi, finishing clean and crisp.

Santa Julia (+) Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza 2011.  Grade=Outstanding.  A helluva value!  Medium-bodied with blackberry, spice and hints of cocoa and espresso.

Santa Julia (+) Malbec Mendoza 2012.  Grade=Outstanding.  Medium-to-full-bodied with blue fruits, dark plums, clove and cigar box.

Voga Prosecco d’Italia NV.  Grade=Very Good.  Light and lively, with simple notes of stone fruit, mineral and lemon.

Voga Merlot d’Sicilia 2012.  Grade=Very Good.  Easy-drinking red, soft and smooth with blue fruit and spice notes.

Voga Rosso Dolce d’Italia NV.  Grade=Very Good.  A decent, semi-sweet red, easy on the palate and the pocketbook.

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Dopplegangers.  No I ain’t talkin’ bout no beer here.  Talking about doubles.  Recently I’ve read about Red Hot Chili Peppers’ drummer Chad Smith telling Will Ferrell to stop impersonating him, and Samuel L. Jackson destroying a news anchor on a local station for confusing him with Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne).  You always hear that ol’ wives’ tale about there being someone who looks just like you somewhere in the world, and oddly enough, I’ve heard that my whole life.

Interestingly I sometimes get mistaken for J.P., the wine buyer out at Party Town, in Florence, KY.  I’ve known J.P. for a number of years – we’ve crossed paths in this business obviously, yet I here customers come in and ask what I was doing pouring at the tasting at Party Town last week.  It’s kinda funny really.

Yet J.P. and I, in my opinion, don’t look anything alike.  He’s better looking than I am for one thing, and his hair is longer.  But other than that, I can see how people get us mixed up.

Meanwhile, I had to reach into the lost archives for this one – a visit from Kymber Tymber with the wines of One Hope and Chocolate Shop:

Lady Lola Sparkling Pinot Grigio Italy NV.  Grade=Good.  A decent, effervescent PG from the folks at Voga – who know absolutely nothing about how bottles fit on shelves.  Another ridiculously-shaped bottle that will garner nothing but puzzelement and dust on the shelves.

One Hope Sparkling Brut Calfornia NV.  Grade=Very Good.  100% French Colombard.  Lively and fresh with clean acidity and bright stone fruit aromas and flavors.

One Hope Chardonnay California 2010.  Grade=Fair.  Headed south; think this one is turning for the worst, though it still shows some apple and pear fruit.

One Hope Sauvignon Blanc California 2011.  Grade=Very Good.  Herbaceous and citrusy with some light notes of lemongrass, cilantro and dill.

One Hope Zinfandel California 2011.  Grade=Very Good.  Juicy red fruits, baking spices, cocoa and graham cracker.  Pretty enjoyable for Zin fans.

One Hope Merlot California 2011.  Grade=Fair.  Fairly mediocre Merlot; a bit of blue fruit, some pepper and herbs, then rolls right off a cliff.

One Hope Cabernet Sauvignon California 2011.  Grade=Very Good.  A medium-to-full-bodied red, spicy with dense black and red fruits.

Chocolate Shop Chocolate Red Wine Washington State NV.  Grade=Very Good.  For your sweet tooth; this red wine tempered with dark chocolate is exactly what you’d expect, yet showing some balance and restraint.  Great in lieu of a dessert or giving your dentist a heart attack.

Chocolate Shop Crème de Cocoa Washington State NV.  Grade=Very Good.  Like biting into an Ester Price’s chocolate-covered cherry; it’s sweet of course, but again, has a nice balance of acidity.


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I was thinking about this last night, in the midst of all those semi-erotic dreams of Dana Delaney, semi-naked and swimming in apple butter.  My blog posting has morphed from this all-over-the-map blathering, to being fixated on tasting notes, to now, a fragmented diary of “woe-is-me-and-shit” and oh, here’s those obligatory tasting notes.

Unfortunately, it’s how my mind works.  Like a dog with a chew toy, and then all of a sudden, “squirrel!”  I work in an environment where I have to whip it out as soon as possible, and no, I am not talking about my junk – that would be repulsive.  Amusing, but repulsive.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about how to wind this year up.  I hope to do things a bit differently – not so much soapboxing after my egomaniacal Top 100 list comes out in two weeks.  I’ve been mulling over actually rating my wine reps and their respective companies, just for laughs.  There are some great companies we work with regularly, and the sales reps are all fantastic people.  Yet there is still a company or two that insists on letting us know how big they are by flexing their bureaucratic muscles, and showing us that for every company who wants to work with us, they choose to make things more and more difficult.

I’ve never understood the concept behind the existing laws and regulations in place now, regarding wine and spirits.  I get that the main goals are to keep people from skirting their legal responsibilities of paying taxes, preventing minors from accessing wine and spirits, and curbing alcoholism and alcohol-related crimes, but the way it all is addressed is monumentally archaic.  Along with the state alcohol beverage control boards, you would think that along with addressing the aforementioned responsibilities of this industry, these organizations would want retailers and restaurants to sell more product.  It benefits every level of the industry if retailers and restaurants are successful, yet the impediments that currently exist are problematic at best.  I won’t blather on any further about it, except to say, it really doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Moving on, I cracked open the wines of NXNW, King Estate’s Washington State venture, to taste with the staff:

NXNW Chardonnay Horse Heaven Hills 2012.  Grade=Very Good.  Clean, crisp Chardonnay, showing ripe apples, pears and lemon.

NXNW Riesling Horse Heaven Hills 2011.  Grade=Very Good.  Bright acidity shows in this light, white wine.  Pretty white flowers, lime and mineral notes shine.

NXNW Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2010.  Grade=Outstanding.  Full-bodied Cab, firm tannins, ripe black berry fruit, dark plum, pepper and sage.

NXNW Late Harvest Riesling Wallula Benches 2011.  Grade=Outstanding.  A ridiculous value, this half-bottle of dessert wine is toffee, orange zest, apricot, chamomile and orange blossom.

One day, I am hopeful that the nonsensical way wine and spirits laws are enacted and enforced will change.  Then again, you will probably find me dead in a corner, bloated and blue from holding my breath indefinitely.  Thank God for my sales reps, who are real human beings.

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Wednesday morning, I found myself waking from one of the most restful night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time.  Feeling pretty refreshed, I hit the road early, making a Starbucks run before hitting the long road to Walla Walla.

Talk about your desert drives… and of course, not being able to escape those curséd orange barrels, I hit a dead stop on Highway 12, seemingly the only way in or out of Walla Walla.  Still being in contemplation mode, the time parked on the highway flew by, so before I knew it, I was on my way into town.

I got there a bit early, with only Charles Smith Wines’ tasting room on Spokane Street being opened.  Of course, being the first to walk through the door, with the high volume assault of punk rock blaring through the speakers, I might as well have been an apparition, so I turned around and headed to the next new winery (to me) on my wish list, Saviah.  The cool thing about this small producer was the surprise of finding out they do not charge for their tastings:

Saviah Rosé Walla Walla Valley2012.  Grade=Very Good.  Sangiovese and Barbera.  Pretty, floral with lots of fresh strawberries and hints of rhubarb.

Saviah Sauvignon Blanc 2012.  Grade=Very Good.  With 9% Semillon.  Clean, refreshing white wine.  Citrus aromas and flavors.  Touches of grapefruit and lemongrass.

Saviah Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley.  Grade=Outstanding.  With 15% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot.  A bold, rich red.  Firm grip.  Chocolate, blackberry, plum and tobacco notes.

Saviah Laurella Red Walla Walla Valley 2008.  Grade=Outstanding+.  60% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc.  A great take on the Super-Tuscan style.  Lingering notes of black cherries, dried herbs, and black pepper.

Saviah Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2009.  Grade=Amazing.  A rich, well-concentrated red.  Layers of chocolate-covered black berry fruits, dark plums, graphite, pepper, cocoa and sage.

Being a Wednesday, the majority of my wish list destinations were closed (thank you Beresan and Sleight of Hand) yet in with Beresan’s tasting room was a winery my friend Rob Andersen from the Washington Wine Commission had spoke of – Balboa Winery.  And what a find they were:

Balboa Red Columbia Valley 2010.  Grade=Outstanding.  100% Sangiovese.  Exuberant notes of rich, chocolate-covered cherries, vanilla bean, cigar box, black olives and rosemary.

Balboa Merlot Walla Walla Valley 2010.  Grade=Amazing.  All from the Pepper Bridge Vineyard, Block 64.  A gargantuan Merlot, juicy and rich with tons of black cherry and blueberry, hints of mint, chocolate and cedar spices.

Balboa Constrictor 2009.  Grade=Amazing.    50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Petit Verdot and 17% Malbec.  This is a kick-ass find!  Bold, rich and dark notes of black fruits, truffle, vanilla, mocha and cigar box.

Balboa Mith Red 2009.  Grade=Amazing.  100% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Full-bodied red, delivering a brilliant, layered attack of blackberry, black currant, mint, sage, pepper and mineral.

Balboa Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2012.  Grade=Outstanding.  Medium-bodied, with bright tropical fruits mixing it up with apples, pears, hints of vanilla and allspice.

Driving down State Line Rd., I stopped in at a pretty impressive-looking vineyard, Va Piano:

Va Piano Bruno’s Sauvignon Blanc 2012.  Grade=Outstanding.  Lemon and lime interspersed with jalapeno skin, grapefruit rind, and verbena.  Well-balanced acidity makes this a star.

Va Piano Bruno’s Merlot 2011.  Grade=Outstanding.  Juicy blue fruit, hints of baking spice, cedar, and finishing up with bright minerality and well-balanced acidity.

Va Piano Bruno’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2009.  Grade=Outstanding.   A solid effort.  Bold and spicy with chewy tannins, cherry cream, black currants, plum and tobacco.

Va Piano Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2009.  Grade=Amazing.   With 10% Cabernet Franc.  Noticeably bolder and richer than the Bruno’s, this demonstrates a confident grip, black fruits, spice box, tobacco and leather.  Well done.

Va Piano Syrah Columbia Valley 2009.  Grade=Amazing+.   A
remarkable effort, bold, spicy with red and blue fruits, sassafrass, chocolate and exotic spices.

Va Piano Syrah Les Collines 2011.  Grade=Amazing.  Single-vineyard excellence, this 100% Syrah is majestic, powerful, yet never losing sight of its elegance.  Gorgeous in every way.

Va Piano Syrah Portteus 2011.  Grade=Amazing+.  Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, it does.  One of those wines so good, you feel you have to smoke a cigarette after it; decadent blue fruits, chocolate and cinnamon, with hints of white pepper and bacon fat.

Heading back to town, I decided to give Charles Smith another go, this time with much more success:

Charles Smith Sauvignon Blanc Stoneridge 2012.  Grade=Outstanding.  Brand new for Mr. Smith, this is like drinking lemon meringue, in a good way.  It’s a decadent rendering of Sauvignon Blanc, though showing the right amount of acidity for balance.

K Vintners Viognier Columbia Valley.  Grade=Outstanding.  Grapefruit, white peach and white flowers give this slightly oily, viscous white a brilliant sheen.  It’s a lovely, lovely white wine.

Charles Smith Viognier Lawrence 2011.  Grade=Outstanding+.  A bit more hedonistic than the K Vintners, you get a bit more creaminess, oiliness and density, orange blossom and peach cobbler piped with an airy vanilla crème fraiche.

K Vintners Syrah Milbrandt 2011.  Grade=Amazing.  Chocolate-covered strawberries fed to you by Catherine Zeta-Jones; it’s delicious, sexy and it could last all night

K Vintners Syrah Motor City Kitty 2010.  Grade=Amazing+.  This can talk the talk AND walk the walk; it’s got all kinds of wild berry fruit going on, sweet spices, black pepper, a hint of red chiles, saffron, white cinnamon and white pepper.

Charles Smith Merlot Stoneridge 2011.  Grade=Amazing++.  A Herculean effort, this is one of the best Merlots I have had in recent memory.  Mr. Smith swings for the fences with this one, and puts it well over its mark, with a full-bodied, rich red, dense with chocolatey blue fruits, mint and cedar spices.

K Vintners Malbec Broncho 2010.  Grade=Amazing3.  Holy #$%&!  I love Washington State Malbec (I feel I am repeating myself again), but this is one bad mother#$%er.  Blueberry smoke, clove tobacco, chocolate, cigar box and baked earth.  It’s a massive, massive wine intended for the most prime cuts of beef right off the grill.

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Lunchtime ended up being a wasted trip to A&W Root Beer, where they were out of Root Beer and hot dog buns.  Two sucky burgers and a coke later, I was ready to begin what would turn out to be a drive into the sticks, heading out to Spring Valley Vineyards, the place where my Washington Wine love affair really began.

It wasn’t that far out of town, but it was mostly wheat fields and desert.  I caught a bad case of the shutterbug, taking pictures of dirt devils and rusted out car parts before coming to the winery.

Spring Valley Vineyards Merlot “Muleskinner” 2010.  Grade=Amazing.  A stunning Walla Walla Merlot, full-bodied, blue-fruited with all kinds of oak spices, mocha and mint.

Spring Valley Vineyards Petit Verdot Walla Walla Valley 2010.  Grade=Amazing.  A rare find, this incredible 100% Petit Verdot shows black currants, black peppercorns, cigar box, leather and dark chocolate.

Spring Valley Vineyards Cabernet Franc “Kathryn Corkrum” 2010.  Grade=Amazing3Earthy and rich with loads of red and blue fruits, roasted grains, white chocolate and tobacco  Piles on the layers, and the finish just rolls on.

Spring Valley Vineyards Uriah Walla Walla Valley 2010.  Grade=Amazing.  This predominantly Merlot/Cab Franc blend is a West Coast Cheval Blanc – dark red berries, incense, mushroom, pepper and cocoa.

Spring Valley Vineyards Frederick Walla Walla Valley 2010.  Grade=Amazing.  Predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, this powerful Bordeaux-inspired red gives you firm grip, dark plum and blackberry notes.

Spring Valley Vineyards Nina Lee Walla Walla Valley 2010.  Grade=Amazing3100% Syrah, this gorgeous red shows loads of blackberry pie, sweet spice and vanilla bean.

My appointment wrapped up earlier than anticipated, so I decided that before check-in at my hotel, I’d drive to the other side of Walla Walla and hit up the old school house, L’Ecole:

L’Ecole No. 41 Chenin Blanc Columbia Valley 2012.  Grade=Very Good.  Lively, light-bodied white wine boasting some lime, melon and pear notes.

L’Ecole No. 41 Semillon Columbia Valley 2011.  Grade=Outstanding.  Blended with 11% Sauvignon Blanc, this crisp, lively white wine has been one of my go-to whites for well over a decade.  Round notes of lemon chiffon, lime meringue and white grapefruit, buoyed with crisp minerality and well-balanced acidity.

L’Ecole No. 41 Luminesce Walla Walla Valley 2012.  Grade=Outstanding.  This blend of 61% Semillon and 39% Sauvignon Blanc leans toward a creamier texture than the Semillon, with rounded notes of passionfruit, lemon curd and apricot.

L’Ecole No. 41 Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2012.  Grade=Very Good.  Medium-bodied white wine, nice stone fruit, tangerine and mineral characters.  Bright minerality and slight creamy oak undertones give it depth.

L’Ecole No. 41 Merlot Walla Walla Valley 2010.  Grade=Outstanding+.  With 13% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% Cabernet Franc.  Sweet blue fruits, leather, mint, cedar and oak spices.  Gorgeous.

L’Ecole No. 41 Cabernet Franc Seven Hills Vineyard 2010.  Grade=Amazing.  100% Cabernet Franc in all its glory.  A phenomenal red, full-bodied, luscious, and rich with blue fruits, cocoa, anise and tobacco.

L’Ecole No. 41 Apogee Pepper Bridge Vineyard 2009.  Grade=Amazing.  Heavy on Cab, with 30% Merlot and the rest Cabernet Franc and Malbec, this luxurious, full-bodied red is bold, rich and unctuous.  Loads of black fruits, chocolate, mineral and pepper.

L’Ecole No. 41 Perigee Seven Hills Vineyard 2010.  Grade=Amazing+.  60% Cabernet Sauvingon, 15% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 10% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot.  Richer and denser than the Apogee – surprisingly – this full-bodied beast is all kinds of sexy with its decadent black fruits, spices and oak.

L’Ecole No. 41 Syrah Columbia Valley 2010.  Grade=Outstanding.  A terrific medium-to-full-bodied red, spicy blue and red fruits, cocoa, white pepper and molasses notes.

L’Ecole No. 41 Syrah Seven Hills Vineyard 2010.  Grade=Amazing+.  Earth and tobacco notes, white and pink peppercorns, violets, duck fat and wild raspberry and mulberry notes.  Full-bodied and delicious.

On my way to the hotel, I thought about stopping at a few more places, but was quite wine-d out and ready to clear my head, make a few calls, and get some dinner, settling on Public House 124, for a bit of pub food and a beer.   I had their hanger steak, which was phenomenal, and an Iron Horse Brewing Irish Death on draft.  I indulged on desert with their Sailor Jerry’s Key Lime pie which was like a mojito cream pie – yum.  I was stuffed and spent, all before 8 pm (not that I am a big partier to begin with).

It had been a great trip, and though I still had one more day in the state, I couldn’t help but think about what I had seen, and what I had not.  I had wanted to pay a visit to Barb and Ed, who put me up my last trip out, and had also wanted to get in touch with an old high school brother who had been living in Seattle for some time, but never got around to getting his number.  I thought about the places I hadn’t been able to visit, and most of all, was thinking of my wife and how I wished she could have made the trip with me.

Next time, the finale with stops at Red Mountain’s Col Solare and Columbia Crest all the way out in Paterson, before hitting the road back to the Emerald City.

commentary wine reviews wine travel


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Tuesday morning.  I was finally acclimated to Pacific Standard Time, and feeling pretty relaxed.  It’s a feeling I don’t think I have known in quite some time.  Listening to my therapist, I was trying to give my wife her space, and not calling her obsessively every half-hour wondering if she was alright.  And on her end it was damn-near radio silence, which under normal circumstances literally would have had me climbing the proverbial walls.

Yet I was ready to hit the streets, stopping at my favorite roadside breakfast destination, I-HOP, along the way.  At least it was until my stop there.  Nothing like lukewarm French Toast topped with frozen berries to really disappoint the #$%& out of you.

Moving on, I hit the highway, stopping in Prosser for coffee before visiting a few tasting rooms.  They have this little group of tasting rooms called the Winery Village, with street names like Merlot Drive and Cabernet Court.

First up was Milbrandt, home of my good friends Butch and Jerry Milbrandt.  Being their first visitor of the day, I opted to try some of their higher-end offerings, most of which we (TPS) won’t see this side of the Mississippi.

Milbrandt Grenache Wahluke Slope 2010.  Grade=Outstanding.  Incredible white pepper notes amidst dark cherry and plum aromas and flavors.  A great way to start my day.

Milbrandt Tempranillo Wahluke Slope 2010.  Grade=Outstanding.  Impressive red with firm tannins, dark cherry fruit and loads of dried herbs and spices.

Milbrandt Merlot The Estates 2010.  Grade=Outstanding.  Blue-fruited to the core, sexy, velvety tannins really dress up this red.

Milbrandt Mosaic Wahluke Slope 2010.  Grade=Outstanding.  Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre.  A robust, powerful red.

Milbrandt Petite Sirah Wahluke Slope 2010.  Grade=Outstanding.  The first straight Petite Sirah I think I have had from Washington State.  Really, really good.  Inky purple in color, velvety smooth across the palate and loads of blueberry and blackberry jam.

Right next door, was a winery I’ve never tried before but was always looking for their product – Gamache Vintners.

Gamache Viognier Columbia Valley 2012.  Grade=Outstanding.  Stunning wine!  Tropical fruit nuances coupled with vibrant acidity and fresh white flowers in the nose really sing.

Gamache Riesling Columbia Valley 2012.  Grade=Outstanding.  Crisp, dry white wine with nice notes of lime zest, mint and white grapefruit.

Gamache Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley 2010.  Grade=Outstanding.  Blueberry, black cherry and dark plums mix it up with oak spices, cocoa and a touch of hickory.

Gamache Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2009.  Grade=Outstanding+.  Dense, full-bodied red with smoky black fruits, black pepper and sage.

Gamache Syrah Columbia Valley 2008.  Grade=Amazing.  Dark and brooding, this muscular red shines with notes of dark red and blue fruits, exotic spices, root beer and saffron.

Gamache Nicolas Blend Columbia Valley 2008.  Grade=Outstanding+.  Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  A juicy, full-bodied red blend influenced by Right Bank Bordeaux.  Reminding me of Chateau Ausone – voluptuous presence, brilliant minerality and loads of wild berry fruits.

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I had to drop in on the folks at Airfield Estate, and as it just so happened, Mike Miller, the owner of Airfield Estates was around, and offered myself and a group of fellow oenophiles from Puerto Rico on a private tour:

Airfield Dry Riesling Yakima Valley 2012.  Grade=Outstanding.  Very dry style.  Clean and crisp with lemon zest, orange peel, white peach and mineral.

Airfield Sauvignon Blanc Yakima Valley 2012.  Grade=Outstanding.  I’d hazard to say this is one of the best SBs from Washington State – lemon, cilantro, jalapeño skin and grapefruit notes.

Airfield Pinot Gris Yakima Valley 2012.  Grade=Outstanding.  Like eating a super ripe pear right off the tree.  Fresh and fruity.  Very nice.

Airfield Flygirl White Yakima Valley 2012.  Grade=Outstanding.  Pinot Gris, Viognier, Semillon and Marsanne.  A delicious, vibrant white, floral with supple notes of stone fruit and citrus.

Airfield Ruby Rosé Yakima Valley 2012.  Grade=Outstanding.  100% Sangiovese.   Pretty red raspberry and mulberry notes, a touch of strawberry and rhubarb.  Dry with the perfect amount of acidity for pairing with food or drinking on its own.

Airfield Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Yakima Valley 2011.  Grade=Outstanding.  Ripe, rich red fruits with touches of dark plum, pepper, charcoal and cocoa.

Airfield Semillon Yakima Valley 2012.  Grade=Very Good.  [Note – this was right out of the tank.  Not intended for its own bottling, used as a blending varietal.]  Sad to say this doesn’t get its own bottling; it’s pretty good considering coming right out of the tank.  Clean, sharp notes of lemon amidst melon, pear and mineral.  Very pretty.

Airfield Marsanne Yakima Valley 2012.  Grade=Very Good.  [Note – this was right out of the tank.  Not intended for its own bottling, used as a blending varietal.]  Again, sorry this isn’t bottled solo; it’s supple and round, with hints of stone fruit, citrus and white flowers.

Airfield Aviator Red Yakima Valley 2010.  Grade=Outstanding.  This Bordeaux-styled red, predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, is well-balanced with black cherries and black currants, hints of pepper, mocha and vanilla.

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I decided to hit the road to Richland, where I was staying, and find somewhere along the way for lunch.  Just before my exit, I noticed a sign for good friend John Bookwalter’s Winery and Bistro, and decided there would be the perfect spot for lunch.

It was quiet, just a few tables in the small JBistro, and immediately I opted for the Chicharrones Tacos – crispy pork belly, roasted tomatoes, smoked salsa verde and sour cream, and paired it up with John’s new rosé.

Bookwalter Scarlet Hexflame Rosé 2012.  Grade=Outstanding+.  This amazing saigneé of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Syrah is bright, fiery and full of gorgeous red berry fruit, white cinnamon, allspice, vanilla bean and squash blossom.

Sitting down gave me a bit of time to think about a few things personally and professionally.  I have had a lot of luck in my professional life, winding up with the wine business version of the New York Yankees, yet my personal life has been nothing if not tumultuous the past few years.  I have to hand it to my wife – she is an amazing woman to have put up with all my bullshit these last 13+ years.  I am as neurotic as they come, worrying about things beyond my control, frustrated by the most trivial of things, and finding just the right time to utter the wrong thing.  Not to mention my Adult ADD.  With all that she goes through with her own health issues, it’s no wonder she hasn’t offed me in my sleep.

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After a fine repast, and some quiet contemplation, I wasn’t completely wined out yet, so I ventured next door to Barnard Griffin’s tasting room.

Barnard Griffin Viognier Columbia Valley 2012.  Grade=Very Good.  Supple stone fruit notes with hints of grapefruit and white flowers.

Barnard Griffin Pinot Gris Columbia Valley 2012.  Grade=Outstanding.  Clean and taut with bright lemon, lime and green apple notes.

Barnard Griffin Reserve Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2011.  Grade=Outstanding.  Creamy, rich Chardonnay, revealing lush notes of tropical fruits, baked apples and crème brulee.

Barnard Griffin Reserve Merlot Columbia Valley 2009.  Grade=Amazing.  A sexy, blue-fruited beast, with luscious hints of black cherry, mint, cocoa and pepper.  Tethered with notes of charcoal, leather and pencil shavings.

Barnard Griffin Zinfandel Columbia Valley 2005.  Grade=Outstanding.  A very nice surprise!  Red fruits, blueberry, graham cracker and chocolate silk pie.

Barnard Griffin Orange Muscat Columbia Valley 2011.  Grade=Very Good.  Not as sweet as I was expecting; nice acid, bright notes of citrus and mineral.

Barnard Griffin Syrah Port Columbia Valley 2010.  Grade=Outstanding.  Truly decadent.  Black fruits, chocolate and oak spice.

Barnard Griffin Rapport Columbia Valley NV.  Grade=Outstanding.  A delicious, fortified wine with fragrant spices, vanilla, chocolate and baked black fruits.

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The road to Richland wasn’t far, and I ended up getting there too early to check into my room.  Fortunately, I found myself right next to a park along the Columbia River, and seeing how it was such a nice day, I decided to roam the banks of the Columbia River, taking pictures of carved tree sculptures, sea gulls, and the view across the river itself, as well as dropping in on a local art gallery.

It is very weird for me to travel, and to travel solo is even more so.  I found myself strolling aimlessly around the park, trying really hard not to look like a pedophile (with all the kids running around).  Funny how you have to be cognizant of things like that these days.

I was pretty wore out from all the wine tasting and driving, so I opted for takeout from a place called Tri-Teriyaki, that features Japanese, Korean and Mongolian cuisine.  Nothing like a little Kim-chee and some Korean short ribs before hitting the sack.

Next time, rising and shining on my way to Walla Walla, and a little bit more self-reflection.

commentary wine reviews wine travel


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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.

commentary wine reviews



The anatomy of a newsletter – where does one come up with this stuff?  For ten years at Mordor, and now 1 year here at TPS, and even before all that over at the long-defunct Chateau Pomije Wine Store, I have been coming up with newsletters on a fairly repetitive basis.  Whether it monthly, weekly or bi-weekly, I have long been charged with the propaganda arm of the wine department at my respective employers for quite some time.

A newsletter is a cornerstone of marketing a department, particularly in the dynamic world of adult beverage retail.  With the constant influx of new brands, new vintages, new wine producing regions, etc., etc., it is hard to get all the information necessary to sell these things to the customer in a more concise manner than the ol’ trusty newsletter.

Every newsletter author has a different approach.  You can go the ole catalog route, and simply list items, vintages and prices.  You can regurgitate scores from the various wine publications.  You can get super-weird and talk about how your day’s idiosyncrasies relate to the newest products.  I have found a combination of all the above and more work.  The problem is, you have to be as brief as possible with each description.  You have to answer the question, “Should I care about this wine, this product, this newsletter?” with a resounding “Hell Yes!”  And you should be as consistent as you can with the frequency of your pieces as possible.”  If it is a monthly newsletter, you need to make sure people will look for it.  Likewise if it is bi-weekly.  I go with weekly though because it gets your customers used to checking their inboxes for new information.  It’s like a Christmas present every week.

Yet you have to give them a reason to read it.

Limited items.  A special price for a popular product.  Whatever it is, that is the reward for folks taking the time to read what you’ve written.

I’ve begun to notice folks carrying in a printed copy of our weekly newsletter with greater consistency.  Items I’ve featured seem to move better than before.  I am not apt to consider my incessant online correspondence with our customers an overwhelming success yet, but I am seeing some progress.

Point of view plays a big role.  You can’t write a newsletter as if you are the King and your readers are mere peons.   You have to engage the reader without being condescending.  Wine is intimidating enough already.  You don’t need to complicate it more.  But you don’t need to dumb it down either.  Make it informative.  But remember, folks aren’t in it for a sermon or lecture; they want to understand and be interested all at once.

So while formulating the newsletter that will come out while I am away in Washington State, I am also trying to get through the various samples piling up in the Studio.  Brother Lou dropped off 3 wines from Lapostolle a few weeks ago:

Lapostolle Sauvignon Blanc “Casa” Rapel Valley 2011.  Grade=Very Good.  A bit of lemon meringue and pineapple upside down cake in the nose, showing a drier personality on the palate, with gooseberries, guava and lemon zest.

Lapostolle Chardonnay “Casa” Casablanca Valley 2011.  Grade=Very Good.  Yellow apples, lemon and tangerine notes, very clean, lots of bright acidity.

Lapostolle Carmenere “Casa” Rapel Valley 2011.  Grade=Very Good.  Blue fruit in both the nose and on the palate.  Brown spices, hints of black pepper, tobacco, wood smoke and twigs.  Finishes with a creamy blueberry streak.  Very nice.

Writing has always been a weird outlet for me.  And over the years, I have somehow managed to separate the personal writing style I have – something of a vernacular version of the Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus – from my professional (thank you Wright State Professional Writing profs), though every now and then, the ghosts of Hunter S. Thompson and Henry Miller possess me to come up with the weirdest wine descriptions.

God, I love my job!

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