Washington

Walla Walla Speed Blogging: The Whites

27 October 2018

Having fun at Speed Blogging.

Complaints about Speed Blogging seem to be more common than usual this year, though it’s always been a bit of a controversial event at the Wine Bloggers Conference. Speed Blogging is, simply put, controlled chaos.

The organizers like to call it “Speed dating for wine,” which is a fairly apt description, except that each winery has a five-minute date with a table of 10 bloggers, not just one. When that five minutes is up, they move on to the next table, and we bloggers receive our next “date,” ready or not.

As I described in my previous post, there tends to be a lot of shouting. “What’s the retail price?” What’s your Twitter handle?” “Who are you? What? The winemaker? Spell your name. I said SPELL YOUR NAME.” This is not the genteel, vaguely aristocratic atmosphere most people picture when they hear the words “wine tasting.”

People complain that this format doesn’t do justice to the wines, that it’s impossible to taste and listen and take notes and take photographs in the allotted time, and basically that this isn’t they way they usually taste wine.

Fiddlesticks. Unless you’re in a seminar setting, most wine tastings are louder and more chaotic than people — even wine professionals — seem to realize. A walk-around tasting, the most common wine-tasting format, tends to be crowded and noisy. Tasters jostle to get to the most popular tables, pourers are trying to talk about the wines — often several at once — and everyone is sharing tasting notes and impressions with each other. Even a very hotsy-totsy “Silent Tasting” I once attended in Bordeaux was surprisingly loud.

It’s far more common to be surrounded by distractions while wine tasting than not, unless you prefer to drink at home alone, of course. Speed Blogging has helped me to focus on a wine and form an impression of it quickly, in spite of what’s happening around me. It’s an important skill that’s served me well over the years.

And so, to the white wines. Whites aren’t nearly as popular to produce in Washington as reds, but the ones they do make tend to be quite good. There was only one wine I really didn’t care for in this round of Speed Tasting, and it came from elsewhere.

2015 Gård Vintners Roussanne: Washington winemaker Aryn Morell told us that this Rhône variety tends to be “oily and full, and there’s no reason to hide that.” And he does not. This Roussanne has heft! I love it. Pear/apple fruit, balanced oak and cream, lightening into acids, white-pepper spice and a touch of eucalyptus freshness… It’s right up my alley. This Norwegian-owned winery made its first vintage just 12 years ago in 2006, but they know what they’re doing. A great deal for $24.

2017 Otis Kenyon Wine Roussanne: Like the Gård, this Roussanne comes from the Lawrence Vineyards, but it’s a very different wine. It has a more savory aroma, rather than fresh and heady. “Our Roussanne is definitely meant to be crisp,” owner Muriel Kenyon explained. It had cool and clean pink-lady apple fruit, and focused acids that, interestingly, had a darker feel than the Gård’s. Excellent balance. This is your summer Roussanne, and the Gård is your winter Roussanne. Another very fine buy at $23.

Consternation is the most common Speed Blogging facial expression.

2016 L’Ecole No. 41 Semillon Columbia Valley: Winemaker Marty Clubb was in the middle of his 36th harvest when he poured this Semillon for us. Talk about dividing your focus! I’m very glad he took time out to present his wine, a Bordeaux-style blend of 76% Semillon and 14% Sauvignon Blanc. It had an unexpected and enjoyable note of rosemary in the aroma, and lightly honeyed fruit followed by white-pepper spice and a dry finish. It was clear how this sort of wine can become Sauternes. Clubb told is that “Semillon is the most underappreciated white grape on the planet,” and I’m inclined to agree (though Furmint is also up there). This is an absolute steal for $15.

2018 Peter Yealands Sauvignon Blanc:  One sniff gave this wine away as a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. “It’s like you’re mowing a lawn in a lime orchard,” exclaimed Aspiring Wino Jeff Colden. I also noticed a little b.o. funk in there as it warmed and opened, adding interest. It’s a very fresh and bright and juicy wine, but it’s a bit of a grass and grapefruit bomb for my taste. You won’t catch me spending $20 on a bottle any time soon, but if you like grassy New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, this wine won’t disappoint.

2017 Desert Wind “Heritage Series” Chardonnay:  Desert Wind purchased a vineyard parcel on a south-facing hillside of Washington’s famous Wahluke Slope in the 1990s, and I guess the 1990s means “heritage” nowadays? Yikes. In any case, this wine kept me in suspense. It started very creamy, and it felt at first like it was totally unbalanced. But then, just before all was lost, some focused acids and a perk of white pepper kicked in, followed by a touch of tannin on the finish, drying the tongue. Would I buy it for $28? I just might.

Go Uruguay!

2017 Bodega Bouza Albariño: An Albariño from Uruguay! Now we’re talking. “I think this is one of the whites with the best potential in Uruguay,” the presenter said as she poured. The family of the winery’s owner was from Galicia in Spain, the original home of Albariño. They brought back cuttings and planted them in Uruguay 18 years ago. The wine had dry herbs on nose, with straw and something surprisingly dark underneath. A very appealing and unusual aroma! But when you drink it, it’s bright, with broad granny smith apple acids, some serious freshness, and a delightful mineral note on the finish. An excellent value at $20!

2017 Hard Roe to Hoe Dry Riesling: Who would have guessed that the innocent-looking rowboat depicted on the label of this wine was a Lake Chelan shuttle service from Lucerne to a brothel? The winery tasting room has a bordello theme, “so keep in mind, it’s not kid friendly,” we were warned. I quite liked the unexpected note of butterscotch in this Washington Riesling’s aroma, with some freshness giving it a lift. It tasted of ripe appley fruit, balanced with lots of sharp, focused spice and prickly acids. If you think all Riesling is sweet, try this one — there is nothing sweet about it, except perhaps for a whisper of a butterscotch deep in the finish. I wouldn’t hesitate to buy a bottle for $19.

2016 Rodney Strong Vineyards Chalk Hill Chardonnay: This California Chardonnay comes from Chalk Hill, part of the larger Russian River Valley AVA (Chalk Hill has volcanic ash soils distinct from rest of the AVA). It moved from lush fruit — creamy pear and peach — to ample spice and a lift of freshness. And did I mention oak? OAK. There’s a bunch of it. That won’t please everyone, but since the wine ends spicy and fresh, it felt balanced, and I quite enjoyed it. I would love to try it with food. The price tag of $22 seems about right.

2016 Cadaretta SBS: Oak-phobes should try this wine instead, aged entirely in stainless steel. A blend of 67% Sauvignon Blanc and 33% Semillon, it also has no malolactic fermentation, which means you also won’t find much creaminess. This wine is the only white this Washington winery makes, so it had better be good, right? And it was. It had a fresh, warmly spicy aroma, along with an ample citrus note. The wine was delicate and perfumed, with a grounding savory note and a lift of bright, focused acids at the end. Wow, it’s a real value at $23! I would have guessed it was some sort of Alsatian something or other.

2016 Frank Family Vineyards Carneros Chardonnay: Made from Napa’s Lewis Vineyard, this Chardonnay presented lots of fresh hay and straw in the aroma, along with some overripe apple. Big ripe apple flavors moved gracefully to acids to oak to white pepper spice, to some freshness and minerality on the ringing finish. It’s pricey at $38, but it’s still a real value. A great finish to Speed Blogging!

For more Speed Blogging action, check out this post about the reds!

Walla Walla Speed Blogging: The Reds

12 October 2018

Amie Brittle of Maryhill Winery, and Liz Barrett, cohost of Name That Wine and writer of What’s in That Bottle, at her first Speed Blogging event

People don’t have shorter attention spans nowadays, according to the Wine Blogger Conference‘s keynote speaker, Lewis Perdue. They’re just more impatient. That’s good news for those of us who write overlong blog posts about wine minutiae. Ahem. And it’s good news for my favorite event at the Wine Bloggers Conference: Speed Blogging.

The conference organizers like to call it “speed dating for wine.” In case you’re too young to remember what speed dating was — does anyone still speed date? — speed dating involved spending a few minutes per person with several different potential matches. I can speak from experience when I say that “eight-minute dating” was about five minutes too long. Nevertheless, I met my husband at a speed dating event, so obviously the format has some merit.

I also love Speed Blogging because, in this era of supposed shorter attention spans, it demands total focus for the hour of its duration. We bloggers, sitting at tables in a big ballroom, have only five minutes each with 12 different wine presenters. They’re trying to tell us about the wine, we’re shouting questions at them, they’re trying to give us carefully produced press kits, we’re tossing them on the floor because we don’t have time to read them… And, through it all, we’re trying to pay attention to the wine so that we can say something intelligent about it. It’s mass chaos, and it’s a joy.

You might reasonably think that we have no business evaluating wines in such a setting. But it’s precisely because of the noise and the speed that Speed Blogging works. I focus intensely on my first impression of the wine, often more intensely than when I’m sitting in my silent living room with no distractions. It’s a challenge to assess wine in these circumstances, and like a vine under stress, the fruit of it can be richer and more concentrated.

On to the reds, mostly from Washington, in the order in which they were presented!

Sager Small of Woodward Canyon

2014 Woodward Canyon “Artist Series #23” Cabernet Sauvignon: The vineyard producing this Cabernet dates back to 1976, making it “old” by Washington State standards. Each label of the Artist Series wines, started in 1992, features a different Pacific Northwest artist’s work (rather like Mouton Rothschild). Composed of 92% Cabernet 6% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot, this wine had a rich, dark fruit aroma with cassis and some vanilla. Very enticing! My mouth filled with fruit, followed by white pepper spice and supple mocha tannins. Oo, that’s a big boy, but with plenty of grace as well — not an easy balance to strike. It’s $59 at retail, and in this case, definitely worth it. “I kind of wish one of you had a steak in your pocket right now,” friend and fellow blogger Liz Barrett told Sager Small, the son of the winery’s owners and its viticulture and production assistant. Alas, he did not.

2015 Mullan Road Cellars Red Wine Blend: Founded by Dennis Cakebread, Washington-based Mullan Road is the “family’s first foray outside of California.”  This blend of 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot and 17% Cabernet Franc had a very appealing aroma of ripe dark cherry, with a bit of chocolate and a touch of green peppercorn spice. Another rich beauty, with full fruit, focused acids and well-integrated, big mocha tannins. Through it all, a shaft of white-pepper spice held everything together. I would pay the $45 retail price for this wine, no question.

2014 Maryhill Winery Malbec: This wine wasn’t the only Washington Malbec that caught my attention at the conference. “We like to consider ourselves representative of the potential of the Columbia Valley; we work with 35 different varieties, and make 50 different wines,” according to Cassie Courtney, marketing director. That’s a lot of wines to keep track of, but certainly they didn’t give the Malbec short shrift. It had delightful fresh plum and prune fruit aromas. Flavors of deep, dark fruit were buoyed by a shaft of green peppercorn spice. Nice, even development, with focused acids and spice — what a deal at $26!

2015 Columbia Winery Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon: Columbia was the first to produce Syrah and Pinot Gris in Washington, but today, they poured their Cab. I liked its plummy aroma, with more of that deep, dark, ripe fruit so many Washington reds seem to have! It developed with grace on the palate, moving from fruit to focused acids and spice to tannins, which get bigger and bigger. The tannins get pretty darn serious by the end, so I would love to try this wine again in a few years. This wine is available only in the tasting room, “So come and see us in Woodinville.” Not at all a bad value at $38.

2015 Domaines Barons de Rothschild “Légend” Pauillac: “I’m in,” as my neighbor said when she saw this wine, and who could disagree? “A wine for every day” produced by the same winery that makes Lafite Rothschild, Légend is intended to make Bordeaux accessible to consumers. This blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot had a fresh plum aroma with some blueberries, and even a touch of cinnamon in the nose. It felt light on its feet, with bright, ripe cherries, some eucalyptus freshness and rather rough-and-ready tannins. They weren’t yet as well-integrated, or as graceful on the finish as I might have hoped for the $50 price. And though I realize that $50 is crazy cheap when compared to Lafite Rothschild, I’m not convinced that price is what most of us are looking to pay for an “every day” wine!

2015 Frank Family Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: “I love this wine, with its cassis and black raspberries,” said Marisa McCann, who handles sales and events at the winery. Please don’t give me tasting notes! Now all I’m smelling is cassis. Well, and a touch of mocha. It’s awfully appealing, I must admit. She said something about Disney and Pretty Woman, but I was too distracted by the wine’s opulent fruit leavened by super-sharp acids and spice, followed by plush mocha tannins. I love it. “That’s a quintessential Napa Cab,” a fellow blogger remarked. Yes. $58

Caleb Foster, winemaker of J. Bookwalter

2015 J. Bookwalter “Chapter 8” Cabernet Sauvignon: This Washington wine comes from vines planted in 1988, which apparently counts as an “old” vineyard. Good Lord! Bookwalter restricts the yield for its Chapter 8 to about one bottle per vine, ensuring impressive concentration. Most vines yield two or three bottles of wine. It smelled of mocha and green peppercorn, and tasted of fresh plum with dark chocolate. I loved the wine’s confident, slow development from fruit to green peppercorn spice and mocha tannins. What a joy! Concentrated, yes, but with real freshness to balance. Sensational. If you can spend $100 on a bottle of wine, you’ll get your money’s worth with this one.

2015 J. Christopher Dundee Hills “Volcanique” Pinot Noir: Dr. Loosen is most famous for its fantastic Mosel Rieslings, but it also partners Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington and Dundee Hills in Oregon. And anything the Doctor has his hands on is bound to be good. Clifford Robben, CFO for Dr. Loosen USA poured this Pinot, which had a bright cherry, cough syrup aroma, leavened with a bit of dust and vanilla. (That’s a very enticing aroma, if you’re in doubt.) It’s a cherrypalooza to start with, moving to white pepper spice and some soft, supple tannins on the finish, with no sag in the middle, as sometimes can happen with lighter-bodied wines. Great balance, and I would certainly pay the $30 price.

2013 G. Cuneo Ripasso Red Wine: I had a little trouble hearing owner and winemaker Gino Cuneo, but I believe he said he dries the grapes for three and a half months on mats, before crushing them. Ah yes, he’s pouring a Walla Walla ripasso, similar in style to an Amarone! I am IN. This blend of Barbera, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo was quite a transparent ruby-red, and wow, it’s nimble, with big cherry fruit, bright and juicy sour-cherry acids, and supple tannins. It’s lighter and less raisiny than I would have expected, but nevertheless, it’s beautiful. A very good deal at $45 a bottle.

2016 Artesana Tannat Merlot Zinfandel: This winery is a project of three girlfriends, according to the presenter, who is foolishly trying to present two wines. In speed blogging, that immediately makes me hate you. This blend incorporates the first and only Zinfandel produced in Uruguay. It has a heady, dark red-fruit aroma, and it’s really lovely, but the chatter about the other wine is driving me crazy. It’s a full, ripe, tannic blend, with sparkling spice and acids keeping it balanced. I rather love it, especially at the $20 price — that’s a great deal. They should have just focused on this wine, since it’s so good. I’ve had mixed experiences with Uruguayan wines in the past, but if this bottling is any indication, they’re making some delicious stuff down there these days.

Terroir, Schmerroir: Dave Phinney’s “Locations” Wines

21 March 2017

Blends across appellations are nothing to fear…

I can think of no buzzier buzz word in the wine world than “terroir.” How often do we read something about how a wine reflects its terroir or expresses its terroir? The phrases describe a wine that represents where it was made, with clear influences from the local climate and soil in its aroma and flavor. Americans are relative newcomers to the concept — we tend to think in terms of grape varieties. It’s the French who have developed the potential of terroir to its fullest extent, as evidenced by regions like Burgundy, where vineyard site is everything.

Nowadays, everyone is jumping on the terroir bandwagon. You can find single-vineyard wines everywhere from the Okanagan Valley to Central Otago. And the fashion for “terroir-driven wines” only continues to grow.

It takes some guts, therefore, to say screw it, I’m going to make a really delicious wine from Portugal or Argentina or wherever, but about 35,000 thousand square miles is as far as I’m going to narrow it down in terms of terroir. Even in California, most respectable winemakers restrict their bottlings to at least a single region, like Napa or Sonoma. A label that simply says “California” doesn’t ordinarily inspire confidence. Unless, that is, that label is on a wine made by master blender Dave Phinney.

California-based Phinney founded a wildly popular and critically acclaimed red blend called The Prisoner (a brand he sold in 2010), as well as the highly regarded Orin Swift Cellars. Blends from both companies have appeared in Wine Spectator‘s Top 100 lists (and even Top 10 lists), indicating that Phinney “has a knack for mixing and matching vineyards and grapes,” as Wine Spectator puts it.

His new venture, Locations, would seem to be all about terroir, given the name, as well as the first sentence of the winery’s Philosophy statement: “In the world of wine there are compelling Locations that exist where soil, climate and vines interact to produce grapes that uniquely express their Location through wine.” But Phinney goes on to lament that “laws and restrictions [discouraging cross-appellation blending] make it near impossible to express true winemaking freedom.” The goal of Locations is to combine grapes from top vineyards across several different regions in, say, Italy, to create a new and entirely unique blend that represents the country as a whole. So in a sense, these wines simultaneously celebrate and obliterate the concept of terroir.

With a collection of nine bottles of Locations, sent to me by the winery’s PR company, I decided it was time to host a blind tasting. I lined the bottles up, turned them around, mixed them up and bagged them, so that not even I knew which bottle was which. My group, a mix of wine professionals and amateurs, had a spirited debate about which wine came from where. We only occasionally all agreed, but there was general consensus that this was one of the most consistently enjoyable tastings I’ve ever held.

All the wines were red except one, a French rosé, which I left unbagged and served as an aperitif. This 100% Grenache from the South of France tasted full and fruity, with plenty of watermelon and strawberry notes, ample acids, a pleasingly bitter note and some minerality on the finish. My friends called it “delightful,” “surprising” and “f*cking good.” Its weight, one taster noted, makes it an ideal rosé for winter. In America, we think of rosé exclusively as a summer wine, but why shouldn’t we drink it when it’s cold outside? Rosé is delicious any time of year, and if I were in the mood to splurge just a bit, I would certainly pay the $19 price for this example.

Of the bagged wines, there was only one that everyone in the group guessed correctly: Oregon, the very last bottle we tried. Oregon made it easy because it was a varietal wine, a Pinot Noir, and because it came from just one region, the Willamette Valley. I got taut cherry fruit, baking spice and a tart, rather austerely elegant finish, but others noted some cough syrup in the aroma and even a touch of Kraft caramels. “It wants fat,” one taster said, and indeed, it worked quite well with some pizza topped with bacon, onion and mushroom.

All the other wines provoked disagreement, and sometimes disbelief when the country was revealed. In the order we tasted them:

Wine #1: Big and dark, with rich black-cherry fruit, soft tannins, a meaty note and some mocha on the finish. Again, there was a touch of pleasing bitterness. “It tastes way better than it smells,” one friend remarked, though I rather liked its plummy aroma with vanilla overtones. I guessed Italy, thinking of grapes like Negroamaro. Others guessed Argentina and France, but it was, in fact, a blend of Syrah, Merlot and Petite Sirah from various vineyards in Washington. Oops!

Wine #2: “Leather!” and “Cigar box!” were shouts I heard about the aroma, which also had lots of jammy red fruit.  The wine moved from ripe, ripe dark-red fruit to a big pop of spice and some rather chewy tannins. “They’re flirting with my cheeks, in a good way,” one taster said of the tannins. And what a fantastic pairing with that bacon/onion/mushroom pizza — big, bold and beautiful. With that kind of flavor, I guessed California, as did everyone else, except for one Argentina holdout. And California it was! A blend of Petite Sirah, Barbera, Tempranillo, Syrah and Grenache from Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and the Sierra Foothills.

Wine #3: “Oh, that’s a big boy,” a taster exclaimed. I got a lot of purple from this wine — dark fruit and a tone of violets in the aroma, and on the palate, some more dark fruit (people called it everything from fresh plums to grape candy), leavened with white pepper spice and a dry, rather tannic finish. We all convinced each other that this wine was from Spain, but it was actually a blend of Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira and Touriga Franca, sourced mostly from the Douro (with a little Alentejo thrown in). So we were close: It was from Portugal.

Wine #4: A transparent garnet color, this wine had a taut red-fruit aroma marked with something savory, something meaty. “Pinot can taste like blood,” one guest suggested. But the flavor made me not so sure: red fruit followed by black olive and black pepper spice, with very few tannins. Olive plus black pepper made me think of the South of France, but everyone else guessed Italy. Sometimes it pays to go against the consensus — it was indeed France! A blend of Grenache, Syrah and “assorted Bordeaux varieties” from the Rhône Valley, Roussillon (near Languedoc) and Bordeaux.

Wine #5: “Son of a bitch!” We all had trouble figuring out this one, with its hooded dark-fruit aroma, ripe dark-red cherry fruit, ample acids, pop of spice and clear, supple tannins. “Zinfandel?” one person guessed. “There’s a squeaky finish on this one. On my teeth!” said another, providing one of the evening’s more enigmatic tasting notes. Somewhat at a loss, we all went for Washington. The wine was from the New World, but in fact it was a blend of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon from the Uco Valley in Mendoza, Argentina.

Wine #6: We felt some relief when we got to this wine, with its raisiny aroma, raisiny fruit, ample spice and serious tannins on the finish. Everyone loved it, and everyone thought it was from Portugal (except for one obstinate guest who insisted on California). The raisins and tannins reminded us of Port, but unfortunately, no one was reminded of passito. Passito wines, such as Amarone, make use of partially raisinated grapes. And indeed, #6 was not from Portugal but from Italy. Argh! It was a blend of Negroamaro and Nero d’Avola from Puglia as well as Barbera from Piedmont. (I can find no evidence of passito-style drying of the grapes.)

Wine #7: “This has biting tannins, but it like it — rrrrr — it hurts so good,” said one taster. “It’s hot hot hot!” another exclaimed, referring to what felt like a rather high alcohol content. I got lots of dark-red fruit, black pepper, an olive note and a bit of mocha at the back of the throat. I guessed that this delicious wine came from Argentina, and others went with Portugal or France. But of course, you know that it was none of these. Instead, it was a blend of Garnacha (Grenache), Tempranillo, Monastrell (Mourvèdre) and Cariñena (Carignan) from Priorat, Jumilla, Toro, Rioja and Ribera del Duero in Spain.

All these wines retail for about $17 to $19, making them an affordable indulgence and an excellent value for the money. Different as they were, the Locations wines each had finely tuned balance and a sense of depth, enhanced by fruit that tended towards the darker end of the spectrum, sometimes leavened with something savory or briny. That’s a profile I can get behind.

Dave Phinney asks, “The question is – do you break the rules, and thousands of years of history and tradition, in pursuit of expressing freedom?” There’s a lot to be said for rules when it comes to wine — they’re doing something right in Burgundy, after all — but Locations makes a compelling case that sometimes you should just toss the rule book into the destemming machine and go for it.

Note: These wines were provided for review free of charge.

Favorite Moments Of The Wine Blogger Conference (Part 1)

15 June 2013

Lake Okanagan

1. Waking up each morning to this view of Lake Okanagan.

 

The view from Tsillan

2. Dinner with Tsillan Cellars‘ owners Mr. & Mrs. Bob Jankelson. The hillside setting of Tsillan presents panoramic views of Lake Chelan, and the well-crafted wines — available only in the tasting room or through the wine club — provide yet more incentive to visit. The Chardonnay tasted rich but balanced and focused; I enjoyed the tight and earthy Sinistra (a Sangiovese-based blend); and about the fruity and full-bodied Bellissima Rossa, I wrote “Yes.” The company was just as good as the wines. My favorite part of the evening came when Mrs. Jankelson asked, with disarming frankness, “So, can you tell me, what is wine blogging? And why is it important?”

 

Karma owner Julie Pittsinger and winemaker Craig Mitrakul

3. Sparkling Wine Brunch at Karma Vineyards. This winery convinced me, along with quite a few of my fellow bloggers, that Lake Chelan’s specialty might well be sparkling wines. Each of the wines we tasted had impressively small, pointy bubbles and bright acids, ensuring that they pair well with a range of foods. My favorites were the 2010 Karma Brut, which had rich apple fruit and balanced lemony acids, and (despite the unfortunate name) the 2011 Hard Row to Hoe “Good in Bed” Blanc de Noir, with its beautiful texture, pronounced berry flavor and juicy, orangey acids.

 

Sarah pouring Moon Curser

4. Bus Tastings. We spent a lot of time on buses at the Wine Blogger Conference this year, for better or worse, and the conference organizers had no intention of wasting that time. Why just sit there when you can be drinking wine? The best bus tasting culminated with a 2011 Moon Curser Petit Verdot, a variety which appears in Bordeaux-style blends far more often than in a varietal wine. It had a gorgeous mocha aroma, dark fruit, rustic tannins, a zing of acids and an aromatic finish. Delicious. The winery takes its name from local gold smugglers, who would curse the full moon as they tried to sneak their booty across the border at night.

 

Hainle Gewürztraminer Ice Wine

5. 2010 Hainle Vineyards Estate Winery Gewürztraminer Ice Wine. Kristof Gillese led a fascinating session about judging wine, selecting several delicious British Columbian wines for us to sample. I very much enjoyed the rich and lively 1996 Summerhill Pyramid Winery sparkling wine, the cheery and earthy 2008 Tinhorn Creek Old Field Series Pinot Noir, and the velvety and peppery 2009 Painted Rock Merlot.

But the Hainle Gewürztraminer Ice Wine was staggeringly delicious. It’s rare to see a Gewürztraminer ice wine, I learned, because the fruit usually falls off the vine before the first frost, or at the very least loses its acidity. Conditions have to be just right, and with this wine, Hainle hit a home run. It had a rich but fresh honeysuckle aroma, and such verve on the palate! It started lush and sweet, as you might expect, but then startlingly zesty acids kicked in, followed by a pop of white-pepper spice. On the finish, I got a touch of orange along with an aromatic tobacco note. It was sublime. If you can find a way to get to Hainle to taste this wine, for God’s sake, do it.

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