Friday, April 1, 2011

Tasting 2009 Burgundy

As many of you may know, I have just returned from a trip to Burgundy, France. Burgundy is one of my favorite wine regions, producing many of the best examples of Pino Noir and Chardonnay in the world. The tricky part about Burgundy is that good vintages only happen every other year, and great vintages only pop up two or three times a decade. On top of this, the best wines from Burgundy are among the most expensive in the world, regardless of vintage, so this is not exactly an easy wine to shop for. Now the good news. 2009 was an excellent vintage in Burgundy, with lots of warm weather and an early harvest. I could not have visited at better time, in terms of wine tasting anyway, as most of the wine from the 2009 vintage is still in barrel for another month or two. This gave me the rare opportunity to barrel taste red burgundy to get a idea of the quality. Yes, I did taste quite a bit of luxury priced, lovely, juicy, floral, perfumed nectar that costs more than my school tuition. No, that's not the only thing I did. I really wanted to find great bottles of Burgundy that I could offer my customers, and I did. One of the greatest things about a vintage like 2009 in Burgundy, is that even the inexpensive wines clearly show the quality of the vintage. This is the perfect vintage to introduce people to Pino Noir as the wines are dark in color, loaded with fruit, and unusually full bodied. I knew I would be waiting for a while before I would see any 2009's roll into the Seattle area, so I tracked down some great wines from he 2008 and 2006 vintages to offer at the shop. Keep an eye out for my expanding Burgundy section. Louis

Monday, February 21, 2011

2009 Louis Latour

One of my favorite parts of working in the wine business is attending industry tastings. This gives me the opportunity to taste wines from all over the planet, made from just about every grape variety you could think of. This past week, I was lucky enough to taste through one producers wine, from one great vintage.

The producer was Louis Latour, from Burgundy, and the vintage was 2009. This vintage was near ideal for Burgundy and everyone has been waiting for the wines to hit the market. Louis Latour is a Negociant, meaning they buy grapes and sometimes juice and wine, in order to have enough quantity to meet demand. You see, in Burgundy the vineyard holding tend to be small, thanks to the laws of inheritance, so most cannot afford to make their own wine on such a small scale. Instead, owners of small parcels sell their harvest to Negociants, who have the means to make wine.

Louis Latour is known for clean, crisp, ageworthy wines. They have extensive holdings in the Grand Cru vineyards of Corton, for which they are well known for both their red(Pino Noir) and white(Chardonnay) versions. The reds from Louis Latour are soft, fruity, and very accesible on release. Personnally, I find the most interest in the white wines from Mersault, Batard Montrachet, and Corton Charlemagne. The Mersault is a textbook example, offering a rich mouthfeel, tropical fruits, and a toasty finish. The Batard Montrachet is the longest lived, with flavors of orange peel, minerals, hazelnuts, apple and pear fruits. The Corton Charlemagne is my favorite and is loaded with smokey, steely, almost honeyed citrus fruits.


Monday, January 31, 2011

Washinton vintage, 2007 or 2008?

I am often presented with the question "how are the 2008 reds from Washington?". Before I get a chance to respond, the second question "2007 and 2005 are better right?" is asked. I've spent a considerable amount of time thinking about the difference between 2007 and 2008. The new edition of Wine Spectator included a vintage chart for Washington, rating 2007 at 96pts and 2008 at 95-100pts. How could this be?

It's true, 2007 produced some of the most cellar worthy reds we have ever seem. Would I agree with the statement "if you didn't make great wine in WA in 2007, then you don't know how to make wine", not so much. Critical decisions present themselves in every vintage, and 2007 was no exception. When did you pick? How much tannin was extracted during fermentation? What was your final alcohol concentration? It all depends on the skill and experience of the grower and winemaker in any vintage.

The 2008 reds from WA are already showing a very accessible personality, and many have very bright acidity. On average, I would say that we will drink the 2008's well before we will even begin to work on the 2007's. Does this make them lesser in quality? I don't think so. I appreciate vintage variation, it's what makes drinking and collecting wine so interesting. If I had to sum up the character of the 2008 vintage, I would say it has immediate charm.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Italian Chardonnay

The wine world is so broad, it's near impossible to explore every region, let alone the different styles in those regions. One category of wine I am always impressed with is Italian Chardonnay. The funny thing is, it took reading an article in the latest issue of Savour magazine to bring this to my attention. The focus of the issue was tools, techniques, and ingredients used by top chefs. Half way though the issue I came across a small list of Chardonnays that came highly recommended.

Two selections from this list fall into my top ten favorite Chardonnays, the Jermann Chardonnay from Friuli and the Gaja Chardonnay from Peidmonte. The Jermann Chardonnay comes from northeast Italy where the climate is continental, and the soils are white with calcium carbonate. The cold nights of Fruili help maintain acidity late into the season, while the soils impart a distinct minerality. When I first tasted the Gaja bottling, at an industry tasting, I thought they had poured me Pinot Blanc. The earthiness on the nose and delicate, yet rich texture on the palate was unforgettable.

Another Italian winemaker that has mastered the art of making great Chardonnay is Paolo De Marchi, of Isole e Olena. His winery is in the heart of the Chianti region and makes classic wines, in a very modern style. I was lucky enough to meet him during his visit to Washington last year. I was so impressed by his Chardonnay, I had to ask him how he created such a perfect example, from an area not exactly renowned for the quality of it's Chardonnay.

Paolo knew that in the hot climate of Chianti, producing top quality Chardonnay was going to take a lot of work. He travelled to Burgundy to learn how the best wines were crafted. He contacted vine growers in Burgundy to source clones that would ripen properly in the heat. In Burgundy the best wines come from southern slopes that get late day sun, so Paolo did the opposite, planting a dozen different clones on north eastern slopes, to protect the vines from late day sun. The results are quite impressive.

If you would like to explore Italian Chardonnay, any one of these wines is a great starting point.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

2009 in France

When it comes down to it, I am very new to the wine world. I've spent the last few years studying everything I can get my hands on about grapes and wines. At times I've spent more hours a day, reading about wine, than I spent at school and work combined. Nevertheless, I was only four years old when the legendary 1982 vintage of Bordeaux was on the vine. When the 1990 Burgundian harvest was safely picked and in the cellar, I was more concerned about the price of the newest video game, than the price of Burgundy futures.

What am I getting at? In my limited years of wine tasting, nothing has impressed me more than the 2009 vintage in France. There are a number of reasons for this, not least is their great early drinkability. In regions like Muscadet, an area that typically doesn't get enough heat to make noteworthy wines, the vintage was almost a once in a lifetime effort. These wines are ripe, laced with minerality, and show lots of fruit. In the Macon and Beaujolais, the wines have a freshness and bright fruit I have never expierienced. I just brought in a declassified Syrah from the northern Rhone, for under twenty dollars, that is just dripping with lavender and blueberries.

I have created a display at the shop, highlighting some of the best 09's to cross my palate as of yet. All are $25 or less, and none will disappoint.


Monday, January 17, 2011

The great wines of Burgundy

The red grape of Burgundy, Pino Noir, is probably the most finicky grape on the planet. The number of locations it can be grown successfully, can be counted on one hand. If the weather fails to cooperate during any part of the growing season, the wine will lack the magic these grapes can yield.

To describe, in words, the flavors and textures sealed in a bottle of red Burgundy is like trying to appreciate a great painting by reading about it. It just doesn't work. If I had to give you tasting notes on a 10 or 20 year of bottle from a good vintage, I would say "flowers, baking spices, and ambrosia". The great MW Michael Broadbent describes the flavor of red Burgundy as "beet root" and describes the way the flavors fan out on your palate as a "peacock's tail".

The ability to age gracefully, is one of this wines greatest strengths. Bob Betz shared a story of a small cash of wines discovered when a friend renovated his home. Among the many gems, was a bottle of Clos de Vougeot from the 1890's. He described the wine as fresh and expressive given its age. Another friend described drinking great burgundy by proclaiming that "Bordeaux is from earth, Burgundy is from Mars". I have been lucky enough to drink several 20 to 25 year old bottles that simply shined. There is simply nothing I have tasted that can compare to these bottles.

I had a discussion about red Burgundy with Chris Upchurch of Delille. He offered this quote "If you asked what the best bottle of wine in the world was, I would tell you I don't know, but it probably says Burgundy somewhere on the bottle".

I am on a mission to track down the best bottles of Burgundy to offer our customers. This includes traveling to Burgundy during the end of March. During 2011, each month I will bring in something new (to our store that is) from Burgundy. If you are interested in trying one, stop by or give us a call.


Monday, January 10, 2011


If you have not yet heard about Tranche, I would recommend trying a bottle. This winery exercises great patience and only releases wine when they feel it ready to drink. Right now you can buy their 2005 Cabernet and 2006 Chardonnay. The Chardonnay is one of my favorites from WA and is made from grapes harvested from the famous Celilo vineyard. This white reminds me of a Mersault with a little age, showing lots of minerality and depth. The Cabernet is soft and round, with plenty of supporting acidity. If you are feeling like something off the beaten path, try their Barbera.