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Mr Whirly in Washington state

Washington wine tour, June 3rd-7th 2013

On the first day, on Monday this week we took a bus from the peaceful and quiet city of Seattle on Route 90 heading east to the largest producer of Reisling in the world, Chateau St Michelle in Woodinville. I was actually shocked and surprised by the quality of the wines on a tasting of five of their Reisling’s which were:

2012 Dry Riesling Columbia Valley

2012 Eroica Riesling, Columbia Valley

2012 Riesling, Columbia Valley

2012 Dry Creek Riesling, Columbia Valley

2006 Eroica Ice wine Riesling, Columbia Valley

Different price points and yet the same wonderful quality shone through, so for me this showed me that larger wine companies can still produce great wines, albeit I must add, occasionally.

We then drove up and over the Cascade Mountains and the dramatic change in temperature, landscape, tree coverage and colour was very apparent. The eastern side of Washington state is practically a desert with 8-10 inches of rainfall in a year. All the vines over here are irrigated otherwise they would not survive. Over three hours later we arrive near the Wahluke slopes at Prosser and Milbrandt Vineyards.

We had a tasting here of some amazing single vineyard Syrah from this Slope:

2012 Clifton Vineyard, 2012 Clifton Hill Vineyard, 2012 Katherine Leone Vineyard and 2012 Northridge.

All were different from each other, full of fruit and yet had some lovely complexities too. That evening, on our way to our hotel we visited Canyon Ranch Vineyard and tasted wines from their Waterbrook, Canoe Ridge, Pendulum, Browne Family and Willow Crest range.

Tuesday 4th June

Riesling comparative tasting in the morning

Kung Fu girl Riesling 2012, Charles Smith, Columbia Valley ( loved this wine, potentially my favourite white wine all week)

Poets Leap Riesling 2011, Columbia Valley

Pacific rim Riesling, “ Wallula Vineyard- Biodynamic” 2010, Columbia Valley

Blind tasting

No 4  Trimbach, Alsace,  2010 ( I thought it was from Washington)

No 5  Jim Barry, Clare Valley, 2012. Wrong again

No 6  JJ Prum, 2011, Mosel. Yes I guessed right at last!

Another interesting tasting which showed that Washington can make very good Riesling but they lack the depth of Mosel and Alsace at the moment, probably due to the age of the vines and maybe the climate ( I thinks its a very hot climate that does not have much variation)

Wednesday June 5th

This was one of the days I was really looking forward to. We headed toward Walla Walla, home of great big reds and by that I mean powerful big reds. They are not shy at all.

We had a comparative tasting of Cabernets Sauvignon’s:

2009 Tamarack Cellars, Columbia Valley

2010 Dunham Cellars, Columbia Valley

2010 Seven Hills Vineyard, Columbia Valley

Then a blind tasting on three wines, which were:

N0 4 : Chappelet Signature, Napa Cab (I thought it was from Washington)

N0 5: Chateau  Haut-Bages Liberal, Pauillac ( bombed)

N0 6: Gramercy Cellar Pepperidge Vineyard Cabernet 2010 from Walla Walla ( I thought it was a Bordeaux!)

For lunch we headed to Charles Smith’s very trendy restaurant and bar and on the way I met Anna from “Amaurice”, a lovely little vineyard in Walla Walla, who was again another contact from my last trip here in 2006, who make some great Viognier as well as Syrah and Grenache blended and Malbec too.

In the afternoon we spent a few hours at Spring Valley winery, which I found of interest more because the drive to it, through fields and fields of dry land wheat and pea shoots. This vineyard is due west of Walla Walla in the flowing hills heading back towards the mountains, but even this small distance made a big difference in rainfall with another 6-8 inches falling here, allowing for crops to survive without irrigation. At the vineyard we did meet the families oldest member Dean Derby (they have sold up to Chateau St  Michelle recently) but he still very much works the land at 78 and the lasting memory will be watching him blissfully collect the hay in his old John Deere tractor, as  he waves to us as we drove off. A man more happy in his presence and where he was, I could not hope to witness.

Later on that day at a tasting of wines from the area at Woodward Canyon on the outskirts of Walla Walla in Lowden, the wines from Dunham Cellars shone through for me as well as Gramercy.

We tasted the following wines:

2011 Lewis Vineyard Riesling

2011 Shirley Mays Chardonnay

2010 Trutina Red Blend

2010 Syrah

2008 Lewis Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

Also good were wines from Gramercy cellars, (who I  also met in 2006 when I took a road trip to Walla Walla from Oregon and had the most amazing drive along the Columbia river from just north of the Oregon border) and later at dinner at L’ecole 41 we tasted a 2005 Seven Hills vineyard Estate “Perigee” that was by far the best red tasted so far. Why? Simple. It had some bottle age for a wine area that makes big reds, it’s pretty evident to me that’s an essential part of tasting these big fruit bomb wines (as long as they are from the cooler climate regions of this area like Red Mountain and the Rattlesnake Hills, great name!).

Thursday 6th June

The last day in our wine tour of Eastern Washington state. I missed the bus and was given a lift to Desert wind winery by Steve Werner who turns out to be a past employee of the special forces over there. Any honest

“ positive criticism “ of the tour and the focus on the commercial wines of Chateau St Michelle was quickly shelved in favour of divine pleasure of the week’s events! What followed was also a wee bit of a shock to the senses: a Syrah Seminar and comparative tasting at 9.15am!

We tasted the following wines:

2010 Willow Crest Syrah, Yakima valley

2009 Gordon Brothers Winery Syrah, Columbia Valley

2010 Milbrandt Vineyards “ The Estates” Syrah, Clifton Vineyard

Blind tasting:

No 4 : “ The Bishop” 2010, Glaetzer, Barossa Valley. I bombed on this one!

No 5 :  Terra Blanca Arch Terrace Syrah, Red Mountain, WA. Bombed again, thought this was from the Rhone.

No 6 E. Guigal, Rhone 2009 Crozes Hermitage. Bombed again!

No 7  Ramey Syrah, Sanoma, California. I thought this was from Washington so bombed!

I was surprised in a good way to see that the wine from Red Mountain, a lovely little hill perched on the side of route 82 heading west was something that I had mixed up with a Rhone Shiraz. Yes, I agree this is not very impressive of me but to be honest I was not the only one to make this mistake and this is a good mark to put down for the future: this region although hot and dry and sunburnt can make mineral and acidic Syrah that has those typical Rhone like herbal , thyme and sage overtones. Head for the hills of the Red and Rattlesnakes! On way back from Gordon’s vineyard after a lovely dinner outside overlooking the Snake River, we pass once again the circular fields of vegetables that are irrigated with a long arm on wheels that pivots in the middle of the field. All around is brown. The next morning, I boarded our twin-prop plane back to Seattle and the circles of green make such a picture as they spread out below me across this desert like country. Its certainly country that excites and enthrals here.

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J Vineyards, Sanoma County

Sanoma reaches from the Roche vineyard in the south of Sanoma Valley all the way up to the Dry Creek valley just south of Cloverdale on route 101. That’s a journey time of around 2 hours along small country roads and generally low valley floors, with the emphasis on heat. I’ve had some wonderful drives long these lovely little roads in my old Saab 900 Turbo Convertible, that I keep in San Francisco but the roof is always down and I wish one could go a little faster to keep the oppressive heat from draining all your energy. This is premier wine country; expensive wines. Names like De Loach, Flowers, Marcassin all spring to mind with their funky and ambitious winemaking skills. The Sanoma Mountain wine area offer some of the best wines available in the whole of California with an emphasis on Cabernet and Zinfandel. Further north in the famous Russian river region, even though the  vineyards are lower down on the valley floor, this is one of the coolest regions of Sanoma due to the fog and cloud cover that results from the closeness of this valley to the entrance of the river at Peaked Hill on the Pacific coast.

J vineyards is located here in the Russian river valley and its emphasis is on Pinot noir that ages consistently well over a 4-8 years.

Please look at the link below for me more detailed information on this vineyards location, topography and varietal focus.

SOLD OUT: I am hoping to re-visit Sanoma in the Spring of 2014 and look at some more of J Vineyards wines. I shall keep you updated as to my success with this.

Alc 15.0% vol

Mr Whirly says:

“ Now almost 6 years old this wine is holding up well. Some lovely Autumnal fruit of blackberries and Damson show through a tobacco and smoky haze.”

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Graziano Petite Sirah 2004

Mr whirly says:

“ I waited three years before I started to sell this wine since I thought it was too young and bold when I first imported it. It is now ready to go: still big but not as bold and the fruit has had time to relax a little. Give it a whirl, make sure you whirl hard and long!”

Greg says

“Mendocino is the largest producer of Petite Sirah on the north coast of California. Our Petite Sirah comes from several old vine vineyards and some new high tech vineyards scattered throughout the bench lands and hillsides of Mendocino County. The wine was aged in a combination of Eastern European and American oak barrels for twenty months that soften the tannins and add complexity to the wine. This wine offers deep aromas and delicious flavours of ripe blackberries, chocolate and spice. Typical of Petite Sirah, this wine displays rich, round tannins that lead to long, lingering finish.”

Alcohol: 15.5%

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Graziano Zinfandel 2006

Mr Whirly says:

“ From the furthest northern wine region in California high up amongst the Redwood’s, Greg Graziano has been making outstanding and affordable wines here for over thirty years. Soft and with a Bakewell tart middle palate, this wine defies its 15 % alcohol level since it is so well balanced and elegant. Mendocino is an up and coming wine region. Similar to the 2005 vintage with textured layers of Almond and sweet black cherry fruit, soft tannins and a generous mouth feel. Cool climate Zinfandel means that the wine is in no way “hot but cool and approachable.”

Greg says:

“ Our Zinfandel comes from eighteen different Zinfandel vineyards scattered throughout the bench lands and hillsides of Mendocino County. Many of these vineyards are still farmed by third and  fourth generation Italian-Americans. This vintage displays a rich dark purple garnet colour and deep aromas of black cherry, boysenberry, plum, spicy sandalwood with hints of toasty oak. Uplifting flavours of plum and earth combine to give this full-bodied Zinfandel a generous mouth-feel. Rich full tannins and balanced acidity lead into a long, lingering finish. “

Past vintages of this wine have been incredibly popular and I can assure you this 2006 vintage is the best yet.

Alcohol: 14.5%

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Graziano Chenin Blanc 2011

New 2011 vintage arrives end Of 2013: 2006 vintage now sold out

Mr Whirly says:

“ Whirly wines first venture with this varietal, famous in the Loire regions of Saumur, Savannieres  and Vouvray. Vibrant rich pear and apples with touches of Vanilla on the nose and palate. Aged Sur lie for 5 months in neutral French Oak Burgundy Barrels. “

Price: sold out

Alcohol: 13.0%

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Graziano, “Enotria”, Barbera 2006

A Barbera from Northern California! The glory of wine!

New vintage of this wine has just arrived, February 2014 and I shall be posting some tasting notes on it soon. Its Greg’s 2010 vintage of the wonderful grape

WInemakers notes:

“ Enotria, part of the Graziano family of wines, is what the ancients called Italy. We produce wines from Italian grape varieties that are native to the Piemonte region of Northwest Italy. We utilise the best methods, both modern and ancient, to create wines that are distinctly Californian yet evocative. This grape is the most widely planted and the workhorse grape of the Piemonte, Barbera is known for its lively acidity. Our version, which is grown in the foothills and bench lands of Mendocino County, has been aged in a combination of French Burgundy and American Oak barrels for over 24 months. This long ageing helps to bring a harmonious balance of sweet fruit flavours, rich earthy complexity and softer tannins and acidity. “

Mr Whirly says:

“Barbera from Northern California and in particular Mendocino arrived here in the 19th Century with immigrant Italians and took well to the coastal Volcanic soils of this Northern part of this wonderful state. This is Graziano’s 15th vintage of this grape. Once again not young, this wine shows well now and for time to come with soft textured tannins and black cherries on the palate, almost Cherry Clafoutis in its makeup, which we love!

It has a little hint of coconut and toasty oak too. I am really proud of this wine:  I hope you find the point of difference with some Italian wines you might know, really exciting. This is what wine is all about: tasting the same grapes made in different regions of the world and seeing how indeed they have their own identity. “

Alcohol: 15.0%

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Montevolpe, Primo Rosso 2007

Primo Rosso: “ First red “

This is the second vintage of the wine for my wine business and the first was a fabulous success so I expect this to be too.

A blend of six grapes but don’t be put off if you are, like me, a fan of single varietals on their tod! This is a wonderful example of how grapes can be blended really attractively and shows off Greg Graziano’s winemaking skills very well indeed. It also fit’s really well into that very large void, of wines being available from the United States that have some quality and panache but are not too expensive. 65% Zinfandel, 15% Carignane, 10% Petite Sirah, 5% Sangiovese, 3% Negroamaro, 2% Nebbiolo. Some lovely bottle age means this wine is soft with tannins of maturity and grace: medium to dark purple-garnet in colour with some flavours of plums and blackberries in a pie with the addition of a little Marzipan, Almonds and Moraschino Cherries. This wine does not fade away but remains strong and even when opened will taste well after 3 days of opening, so has the potential to be an interesting pourer in 2011 and in the years ahead.

Alcohol: 14.5%

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Montevolpe, Primo Bianco 2009

Primo Bianco: “ First white”

New Vintage just arrived, February 2014: tasting notes for the 2011 vintage will follow shortly

Following the undoubted  success of the Primo Rosso in 2010 I decided it would be a good idea  to import it’s sister. So here  it is!

Primo Bianco means “ First white”. This is Greg Graziano’s complex blend of six different grapes! Six! Wow, I said to myself before I tried it for the first time, that must me a difficult job blending six grapes! He’s done a very good job which means he’s a very clever winemaker!

Mr Whirly says

“It’s a very complex wine, quite herbaceous with a touch of fennel and dill on the nose.  Great concentraion. I recently tasted this with Tom and Lisa Lewis at the lovely Monachyle Mhor with a vegetarian risotto with fennel and other strong flavours and it was quite a special match.”

Winemakers notes:

Winemaking: We hand-harvested the grapes at an average 23.5 degrees brix through the months of September and October, 2009. The grapes were crushed, pressed, cold settled and then racked into neutral French Burgundy oak barrels.  All of the lots were 100% barrel-fermented and “sur-lie” aged for 5 months with no malolactic fermentation.

Winemaker Comments: This is a blend of 6 different varietals: Tocai Friulano, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Arneis, Pinot Grigio and Cortese. The grapes are from hillside vineyards in the Redwood and Ukiah Valleys. The wine is rich and intensely fruity with appealing aromas and flavours of spicy melon, ruby red grapefruit, anise, and mineral. The wine is nicely balanced by crisp acidity and a long, lingering finish.

Alcohol: 14.0%

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Mendocino County & Greg Graziano family of wines….

Mendocino County

Whenever I think about driving through Mendocino county in my Saab, (which I adore even though its battered and bruised) I think of two things now.

That lovely song by Willie Nelson and Lee Ann Womack called “Mendocino County Line”, full of tranquility and which evokes thoughts and feelings of wanting to be behind the wheel and driving through the quiet and peaceful roads up here. Secondly, my thoughts go back to a little journey in my Saab when I first came up to this wine area in November 2004 to source wines and I drove along the Anderson valley to visit Husch and Navarro and Handley and other delectable wineries, then cut across to Jepson in the Ukiah valley.  In the summer of 2005 I returned and I was asked the question on more than one occasion

“ Heh Buddy, have you seen Sideways?”

What is Sideways!!” I said to my bewildered self as I left each tasting room.

It was only a few months later that I was so intrigued by this film that I watched it and realised why they were asking me this question, since the star of the film, a lover of Pinot Noir, Paul Giamatti also drives around in a beaten up old Saab convertible.

Greg Graziano, Redwood Valley, Mendocino

Greg Graziano, as one can tell from his name, is a man of Italian heritage who has been making wine here, high up in the Redwood forests of Northern California for over 30 years. His vineyard is as far north as one can go in the Mendocino wine region on route 101 that heads north from Ukiah to the Oregon border. It took me about 3 years to track him down after first tasting his wines in November 2004 but after much persistence I eventually managed to get hold of his home number and phoned him there. We met, tasted a number of wines and it kicked off from there.

Greg offers great wines, a stunning array of varietals over four different branded labels, with a strong influence from Italian grapes ( Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Montepluciano and Peppolino to name  five) and they are cleverly priced too. Please click on the wines below to see tasting notes:

Please click on the link below to see the vineyard website as well as individual tasting notes and bottle shots for each wine:

Monetvolpe Label:

Primo Bianco 2009

Primo Rosso 2007

Enotria label

Barbera 2006

Graziano label

Chenin Blanc 2011

Zinfandel 2006

Petite Sirah 2004

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Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2008

“ Willamette Valley”, Pinot Noir 2008

Mr Whirly says:

“ I tasted this wine when it was in its very early stages of development in September 2009, when I was in the vineyard. I was very impressed then by it. Its a very classical Pinot in terms of its makeup. But its still very much a Pinot Noir from Oregon and the new world though, which is important. It has its own identity. A real delight and proved to be a big seller. This wine is now made by Ben, the son of Marilyn Webb and Terry Casteel and he’s doing a pretty good job of following in his father’s footsteps. One to lay down for while, which is a positive sign.”

Alcohol: 13.5%