Appellation Trail wrap-up

We decided to do the Appellation Trail for a few reasons. We love wine, it was an excuse for us to go to places we’d never been, and we figured it would be inexpensive and give us an opportunity to see lots of our friends. So how’d that work out for us?

Loving Wine

I can’t speak for Mike, but I love wine more than ever. I feel like my palate has become much more educated than it was when I began this journey. I also am much more aware now of how much I have to learn than I was when I began this project.

Sadly, my adjectives did not grow nearly as much as my palate did, and I feel that my wine assessments in this blog suffered as a result. I found myself using the same words over and over again and was frustrated by my limited ability to describe what I was tasting.

I’d like to get the wine aroma wheel sometime this year and see if it helps me develop the nuance and range of adjectives that would make me better at describing what I smell and taste.

When we began this journey, we thought nothing of visiting six or more wineries in a day. Over the course of the year, we learned to identify exactly when we hit palate fatigue, and we learned we were hitting it faster than we’d originally thought. If we’d taken the same number of trips but hadn’t taken notes during the tastings, I’m not sure we would have realized how fast our taste buds became numb.

[Okay, I'll speak for myself: What she said. -Mike]

Visiting New Places

I can safely say that we would very likely never have gone to Lompoc or Placerville had it not been for this project. Now that we’ve been, we absolutely want to go back. We were also scared of Napa, but our experience there also made us wish to return. Heck, we wouldn’t have discovered that San Benito had great wine if it wasn’t for this project!

This project got us out of our Monterey wine cocoon to see a wider world of wine. I can tell you flat out that Monterey wine is awesome, but seeing what else lay out there really gave us new appreciation for what we have right here.

[Couldn't have said it better myself. -Mike]

Inexpensive? No, but it could have been cheaper.

One of the things we got a new appreciation for is just how budget-friendly the wine-tasting experience in Monterey is. Here, a tasting that costs more than $5 is surprising, and more than $10 is flat-out shocking. As we learned, much of the rest of the wine-tasting world is in the $10 to $25 range.

Add on to that the cost of eating out and staying overnight, not to mention the cost of buying just a fraction of all the fabulous wines tasted, and this wound up being a significantly pricier experience than we’d originally estimated. Upon reflection, however, I’ve realized we could have done it more cheaply.

Tactical wine tasting = cheaper project

Our personal goal was to explore appellations in as many different areas as possible. When we could, we’d also tack wine tasting on to trips we were already taking. In the end, we hoped to rack up AVAs from all over the United States.

Unfortunately, some changes in our lives affected these plans. I took on many more responsibilities at work. In this relationship, I’m the trip planner; the added work responsibilities left me far less time to plan and made it more difficult for me to get away on weekends. I also traveled a lot more for work, and some of those trips left me traveling back home on weekends.

Due to limited time and limited budget, the majority of our tastings were in California. We’d planned to hit Texas, Long Island, Oregon and North Carolina, but for a variety of reasons either the trips or the wine tasting portion of the trips never happened. While those would all have been great experiences, Oregon is the only location on that list with enough AVA density to make an efficient Appellation Trail trip.

The Efficient Appellation Trail

If we’d done this project the efficient way, rather than the exploratory way, we could have done it in only four trips.

  • Napa (17 AVAs as of December, plus adjacent to and serving wine from Yolo County)
  • Sonoma (13 AVAs)
  • Southeast Washington (8 AVAs)
  • Lodi (7 AVAs, plus adjacent to and serving wine from El Dorado and Amador)

By strategically selecting our wineries in each location for the broadest range of AVAs, we could have easily racked up 40 AVAs with these four trips. If we had not excluded Monterey County (9 AVAs) from the project, we could have done it with only three trips.

[But efficiency wasn't really the point, getting to many different places was. So we win! -Mike]

Friends? Not as often as we would have liked.

As I mentioned above, our trips became less thoroughly planned as the year went on. Our next-to-last wine tasting trip, to Placerville, was planned about 24 hours ahead of time. Unfortunately, it’s tough to invite friends along to a last-minute trip like that. In addition,  because I was so focused on other things, I didn’t have it in me to plan the logistics for other people as well as ourselves.

And here again I have to give a shout-out to Shawn for having planned out the Woodinville wine trip. [Edit: And to Mary and Luke, who really led us on our Sonoma trip!] The opportunity to go on a wine trip that someone else had planned was absolutely the best holiday gift I could have gotten.

[Yay Shawn! -Mike]

Are you guys doing the Appellation Trail again in 2012?

We’re not visiting 40 more wine appellations in 2012 – but that doesn’t mean the Appellation Trail is over!

We aren’t going to set a number of AVAs to visit, but we are going to write about our future wine tasting experiences in this blog and continue to track the new AVAs that we experience. There’s over 100 AVAs in California alone, so we’ve got many more to go just in this state! With so many new AVAs cropping up all the time (too many? Well, that’s another post), we’ll never run out.

[I'll make sure to keep a wine tote in my car. -Mike]

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V Sattui Winery: Napa Valley – In Search of Snobs

If I had to pick just one winery to have on a desert island, I’d be hard-pressed to think of a better one than V Sattui. It’s not just because the wine is good (which it is). But at V Sattui they also have an Italian deli and market (including wood-fired pizzas), picnic grounds and other amenities. In fact, if I had V Sattui on my desert island, I’m sure I wouldn’t be alone for long.

We somehow failed to take any pictures of the exterior and picnic grounds, so please enjoy this picture of a deer instead:

standing_deer

Wha?

We made it to V Sattui on our second day in Napa. We drove into the parking lot on our first day, and it was packed. We were at the end of our tasting day and didn’t feel like dealing with a crowd. We tried again the next day, and although the lot was packed again, we found rock-star parking which we took as a good omen.

Nikki adds: V. Sattui landed on our list because of Twitter recommendations from Jamie Hoover and Veronica Belmont. Then we arrived in Napa, and at our first meal our server called V. Sattui “the WalMart of wineries.” That made us hesitant. In the end, we decided that we had to go for two reasons: we’d gotten recommendations from two great people, and we hadn’t yet visited a tasting room that was so large or had so many customers per day flooding in and out. The scale of the tasting room means that tasters must pay upfront before the tastings rather than paying when they’re done. Frankly, it would be unmanageable any other way. They didn’t do the tasting-coupon thing that is so prevalent in Livermore, however.

The place was hopping. But even though there were lots of people everywhere, having picnics, enjoying the scenery, going in and out of the tasting room, we managed to get a spot at the tasting bar right away. It never felt crowded; rather, it was like being at a big party. After our tasting we picked up some tasty noshes from the deli and enjoyed a picnic as the sun dipped toward the horizon. I’m glad we made a second effort to visit.

V. Sattui Winery

The Marketplace...

 

V. Sattui Winery

... and the tasting room. This was one of the three or four tasting bars in the facility.

It was the final stop on our Napa trip, so it was our last chance to spot any of the legendary snobbiness we’d heard about. And we failed utterly. Maybe we just didn’t go to the right places, but the concept of the Napa snob now seems like a bit of an urban legend – perhaps it has some roots in a long-past reality, but now it’s just a story used to scare children around the campfire.

Brittany, our Tasting Room Associate, was a much better representative of  the attitudes we experienced on our trip. She was gregarious, informative, and she took very good care of us. Nikki adds: I described her in my notes as “charmingly punk rock.” She was absolutely delightful.

V. Sattui Winery

And she's willing to get a little goofy.

I must confess that my palate was getting a little fatigued by this point (plus, V Sattui has a very deep wine list we tasted about 400,000 wines here Nikki adds: it was wine tasting as endurance sport), so my tasting notes may lack detail. This is not a reflection on the wine, which was of uniformly high-quality.

The Wines

2009 Vittoro’s Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc (Napa Valley): An appealing aroma greets you with the promise of tropical fruits and grapefruit. The flavor fulfills that promise; it’s well-balanced, producing a very drinkable wine.

2007 Sattui Family Chardonnay (Santa Lucia Highlands): The aroma was mellow but not buttery. The flavor had a bit more edge to it, fruity with just enough acid and a hint of bubblegum. It also hinted at other classic elements one expects in a Chardonnay. Nikki adds: No surprise there; these grapes were grown practically in our backyard! Santa Lucia Highlands is a Monterey County appellations, and we do great Chardonnay here.

2010 Estate Grown Riesling (Alexander Valley): I got raisin and pineapple in the aroma. It smelled rather like a dessert wine! The flavor was delicious with a nice sweetness to it, with tropical fruit and stone fruit – a touch of peach and apricot. Nikki adds: This was a little too sweet for me, but it would be the perfect steppingstone for the person who has begun their wine explorations with White Zinfandel.

2010 Dry Riesling (Carneros): This had a richer aroma than the previous whites, with less brightness. On the tongue it was almost effervescent and had a nice melange of pear, melon and lemon. Both of these Rieslings would be delightful to sip with friends on a summer afternoon. Nikki adds: This wine would be great with something spicy like szechuan or the hotter Indian dishes.

2010 Gamay Rouge (California): Sweet, delicious, easy-drinking. Nikki adds: This was also very reminiscent of a White Zinfandel, with a little more complexity.

2007 Monastero di Coriano Sangiovese (Tuscany): Brittany called this wine “Butch-tastic!” and I’d have to agree. Definite notes of leather, tar and tobacco, although with just enough restraint. I found it to have a good body, with a flavor that was not too sweet nor too tannic. I noted that this would be excellent with bold, spicy or meaty foods. Nikki adds: This 100% Sangiovese wine is from grapes that are imported from Tuscany rather than grown in California.

2008 Mount’s Vineyard Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley AVA): The aroma displayed both fruit and tannins. On the tongue it was very smooth with a hard-candy quality to the fruit, framed by tannins at the end.

2009 35th Anniversary Zinfandel (California): Nikki notes: Though Vittorio Sattui began making wine back in the 1800s, the original winery was shut down by Prohibition. The current winery was founded by his great-grandson Dario in the 1970s, and this wine commemorates the 35th anniversary of the re-establishment of the winery. Less fruity, but nice. Nikki adds: The smell made me think of cherries sauteed over a birchwood and pine fire. When I tasted it, I got a lot of raspberries and an acidic hit.

2007 Merlot (Napa Valley): Smooth, mellow, nice tannins. Nikki adds: My notes say: “Spicy like a Thomas Dolby song.” This one, in fact.

2009 Syrah (Napa Valley): Juicy! Lots of fruit. Big tannins fit nicely. Hint of vanilla or caramel. Bold, chewy, serve with bold foods, steak.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignion (Mt. Veeder AVA): Great color, vanilla and cedar notes in aroma and on palate.

2007 Preston Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Rutherford AVA): Pleasant, mellow fruit, with nicely balanced tannins.

2009 Muscat (California): Gorgeous aroma with melon and tropical fruits. The flavor reveals melon, star fruit, lemon and key lime. A little on the dryer side of the Muscat sweetness spectrum.

2010 Moscato (California): The aroma here is quite similar to the ’09 Muscat. The flavor is also similar, but a bit richer at first. There’s also a bit of an effervescent feel, although it’s not a sparkling wine.

Madeira (California): I got a nice warm sugar aroma here, a little spicy, plus plum. The flavor is warm and beautiful, with notes of caramel corn and mixed nuts. Nikki adds: This is the oldest Madeira produced in Napa.

1998 Port (no AVA): Rich, sweet and delicious with the flavor of chocolate and just a hint of bell pepper. Nikki adds: Smells like a pipe-smoke-filled library (leather chairs and all) and has a somewhat syrupy quality.

Thanks, greater Napa area, for a wonderful experience! We’ll definitely visit again.

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Jessup Cellars: Napa Valley – In Search of Snobs

Once again, we’d gone into our trip without very much pre-planning. After all, with over 400 wineries in Napa, we figured we were sure to stumble onto something good even if we just went door to door until someone let us in and poured for us out of their liquor cabinet.

But I’m a hardcore planner at heart, and I couldn’t bear to go to Napa without a few sure things in my back pocket. I posted to Twitter asking for winery recommendations. To my surprise, my Twitter stream instantly filled (and my Klout score went up by eight points in 24 hours). Patricia_eddy, who had previously effused about Charbay on Twitter (read more about our Charbay visit here), recommended we visit Jessup Cellars.

Might I just say — Patricia bats 1000 when it comes to winery recommendations.

Yountville is a cozy, compact little town, and the Jessup Cellars tasting room fits right in. Because of its small size (well, for Napa, at any rate), visitors are advised to call for an appointment. We did, and managed to get two spaces at the bar. Which had purse hooks! Thanks, Jessup!

Jessup Cellars

The tasting room was cozy and warm with tons of natural light. And did we mention the wine?

The tasting room supervisor, Erin, clearly had her hands full with the number of people at the tasting room, but she quickly made us feel right at home. So did the Steelers fans next to us who were getting in a spot of wine tasting before the Monday night game against the 49ers. (Sorry about that game, guys.)

The couple next to us weren’t wine drinkers, but Erin evangelized to them, giving them ideas of what their entry point to wine could be. By the end of the tasting, it was clear they had each found something in the wine to enjoy. But with wines like this, who wouldn’t?

Jessup Cellars

We've got Erin surrounded and we won't leave unless she gives us some more Table for Four!

The Wines

2010 Sauvignon Blanc (Napa Valley): It was love at first sniff. It had that sparkly, grapefruity crisp scent that I like so much, and the sense memory brought me back to a wine tasting trip I once took in the Hawkes Bay region of New Zealand. The flavor was great, with bright sweet pineapple and kiwi notes balanced by a hint of pink grapefruit.

2009 Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley AVA): The nose on this one was full of sultry wood, as well as that tiny bit of strangely pleasant skunk note I’ve mentioned repeatedly in this blog. The oak was prominent in the flavor, but it wasn’t like sucking on wood chips; it was soft and flavorful and really added to my enjoyment. There were also hints of fruit and rosemary.

2008 Merlot (Napa Valley AVA): I was immediately lured in by this estate wine’s juicy, deep jam scent. I expected it to be a rich, chewy fruit bomb and was surprised when it delivered some mighty tannins with the fruit.

2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley AVA): There was a basil-tomato spiciness to the scent that immediately made me think “Italian.” The wine delivered, with delicate savory layers of fruit that piled on top of one another until they became a flavorlanche. (Flavor + avalanche. Get it? Ha ha, I slay me.) Next time I go to Napa, I’m buying a bottle of this and then going to Clemente’s at Val’s to grab some malfaltti – the two would go great together.

2008 Table for Four Estate Red (Napa Valley AVA): The smell reminded me of an Indian goat curry, stewed and spicy. The flavor was incredibly enjoyable, with cherry, blackberry and plum strengthened by just a hint of warm oak. It was complex, intriguing and yet easy-drinking enough to drink all day.

2008 Juel (Napa Valley AVA): This blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc had a spicy scent that said “Hey, there’s alcohol here.” The flavor, however, was full of soft fruits with just enough gentle tannins on the finish to warm the tongue.

2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Lot 3 (Napa Valley AVA): The scent was warm and comforting, and the taste…well, let me just transcribe my notes here: “Perfect, delicate fruit doing the Nutcracker dance on my palate.” (Specifically, Act 2 Tableau III: Part III – Divertissement: Tea.)

2008 Petite Syrah (Yolo County AVA): The tasting room, as we discovered via MapQuest, is within 50 miles of Yolo County, so much to our surprise this was yet another AVA we accrued on our visit. The smell reminded me of great chicken Marsala in Boston’s North End (I may be a vegetarian, but I still remember the marsala sauce fondly). My palate, however, was unable to pick out individual flavors beyond “This tastes like yummy wine that I’d love to have again.”

Zinfandel Port (Napa Valley): Yes, please! Sweet, rich and complex, with hints of spicy plums. We sampled some chocolate with it, which seemed to make the port sweeter but not more complex.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Port (Napa Valley): Love! It had a dark chocolate coated cherry scent and a candied cherry flavor. Delicious and enjoyable.

[Mike here - this is a rare occasion where Nikki's tasting notes and mine match to the point where I don't really have anything to add, apart from agreeing with what Nikki's just about to tell you below. Back to you, Nikki!]

Jessup Cellars was absolutely one of the highlights of my visit to Napa Valley, and I will make sure to stop there when I’m next in town.

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Artesa Vineyards & Winery: Napa – In Search of Snobs

In an area with something like 400 wineries, sometimes you choose by careful planning, research and recommendations. Other times, it’s “Look at this ad. Cool building! Hey, it’s nearby. Let’s go there!”

And thus we decided to visit Artesa. The ad we saw showed a starkly geometric window protruding from under a grass-covered hill, with an abstract sculpture out front. It looked interesting and different. Nikki adds: It looked like a spaceport from the best cerebral ’70s science fiction film that was never made.

Dude, I am SO THERE! Are you kidding?

What the photo failed to impart was the sense of grandeur and elegance we experienced when we arrived. The facility is on a high hill protruding from the valley floor, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding area. The approach to the building is modern and austere.

Backing up a bit... these lead up to the area in the first picture...

Stairs lead straight to a pavilion before the front entrance, passing by reflecting pools that extend the sky. Fountain elements and the abstract sculpture add dynamism, and the whole approach feels almost ceremonial.

Ladies and gentlemen, if you look to your left you'll see fountains...

 

... and to your right is the abstract sculpture.

We later learned that this was no accident. The winery even has monks come and sing to the wine in the barrels, in honor of the unique role wine has played in ritual and ceremony for millennia.

But back to the building: Upon entering, you see an elegant reception desk adjacent to a wall of windows looking into an inner courtyard with a reflecting pool.

Piazza my heart.

The foyer has tall columns, and it feels like entering a high-end luxury hotel. Or possible an elegant spaceport.

Off-world shuttle to Phobos, now departing at gate 16.

Moving through the art-adorned foyer and the gift shop, you go through glass doors to the expansive tasting room. The large exterior windows offer stunning views of the valley below.

Artesa Vineyards and Winery

Yes, the foreground is the roof of a lower floor.

 

Artesa Vineyards and Winery

Fun fact: "Vast" in an anagram of "vats", which are used in winemaking!

While thoroughly modern, the architecture is reminiscent of Mediterranean villas with details that evoke classic shapes of champagne flutes and wine glasses. It was all designed to reflect the centuries-old winemaking heritage Artesa is part of, while honoring the benefits that modernity has brought to the art of making and sharing wine. Nikki notes: Sadly, that modernity did not include purse hooks at the tasting bar.

Artesa Vineyards and Winery

Rorschach test! What shape that could conceivably hold sparkling wine do you see in the metal support on this chair?

David was the associate who poured for us at our visit. He was congenial and engaging, and his knowledge of wine (both in general, and of Artesa’s wines, practices and heritage in particular) was vast. Nikki adds: Also, dude does Crossfit and it shows. David did manage to disappoint us by not exhibiting any snobby tendencies whatsoever. I’m starting to think the snob thing is just a myth.

Artesa Vineyards and Winery

Thanks David!

The Wines

2010 Pinot Blanc (Carneros): This has a welcoming aroma with citrus and star fruit. Nikki adds: The smell specifically reminded me of the scent when you peel grapefruit. The flavor reveals a hint of peach and apple, accented with oak. The acidity is gentle, imparting a nice balance of tart and mellow.

2010 Chardonnay (Carneros): I got marshamllow, oak and a hint of fruit on the nose. Nikki adds: The smell made me think of Christmas in New Zealand. The flavor has enough acid to add some brightness without becoming tart. The flavor mellows and has a hint of butter at the end. Nikki adds: I found it more oily than buttery, but in a pleasant way. Quite delicious, another very well-balanced wine.

2009 Reserve Chardonnay: I wrote “A bit more of everything.” It was reminiscent of the 2010 Chardonnay above, but a bit more assertive with elements of toast and bublegum. Nikki adds: It also seemed a little more oily, but a lighter oil.

2009 Pinot Noir (Carneros): The aroma gave me images of buttered grapes and grass. Nikki says: I got pepper and peppertree wood. This is why we keep separate notes. There’s also a floral quality in the aroma and flavor. The body is fairly light, but the wine also has a rich quality that adds substance. A perfect example of that specific space Pinot Noir occupies, revealing how it has distinctive character but could play well across a range of food types. Nikki adds: This is one of the first vintages winemaker Mark Beringer did completely on his own for the winery.

2009 Pinot Noir Estate Reserve: The fruit and oak are a bit more defined in this Pinot than the one above. I noted that the flavor has higher peaks. Nikki notes: I got a strong aroma of carnation and a little hint of band-aid aroma on this (if you look back, you’ll see I mention the band-aid aroma a lot). This was definitely more assertive than the previous one, also delicious.

2009 Tempranillo (Alexander Valley): This wine has a gorgeous deep ruby color. The aroma is spicy and smoky with cherry and cocoa. These elements continue on the tongue. Given the exuberant aroma, I didn’t expect the flavor to be as velvety smooth as it was. There’s a nice hint of wood followed by molasses at the end. The wine is deep, but not at all heavy.

2006 Limited Release Merlot (Napa Valley): Fruit, vanilla and spice are prominent in the aroma here. Nikki notes: I got hints of pepper and barbecue. The flavor is ripe fruit with a nice swell of oak underneath. Tannins are mild. Again, the body is not heavy even though the wine has a certain richness to it. Nikki adds: For me, it was fruity while on the tongue, and I got a peppery bite when I swallowed.

2009 Artisan Cabernet Franc (Alexander Valley): The aroma offers wood, then fruit, predominantly cherry and black cherry, with vanilla. Nikki notes: I got pepper, cardamom and a little cedar. Nice oak up front on the palate, but not too tannic. The fruit evident on the nose then emerges. It’s much more accessible than many of the Cab Francs I’ve tasted.

2007 Limited Release Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley): I found cherry and oak on the nose here. The flavor starts with mild fruit, followed by a spicy crescendo. The tannins gently remind you of their presence, without dominating. The overall sense is of a very smooth experience, a very friendly Cabernet Sauvignon. Nikki says: This tasted like a Christmas dessert party in my mouth!

2007 Limited Release Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa): By contrast, this Napa Valley Cab gives a warmer impression in the aroma, with more sugar and vanilla notes and just a hint of wood. The flavor is a little more formal and structured, with distinctive oak notes that stop well short of tannic domination.

2008 Artisan Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley): There’s a toasty scent, followed by blackberry and cherry aromas. The berry and cherry continue on the tongue with a nice rounded flavor framed in at the end by tannins. The fruit is on the jammy side, and the tannins are appropriately matched.

2007 Butala Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley): I got a bit of sulfur in the aroma, plus wood. Nikki notes: I got hints of ruby port. The flavor starts with a parade of fruit – blackberry and cherry. The sulfur is not apparent in the flavor, but there is a nice meaty quality here at the end. The tannins are muscular but restrained, without revealing much wood flavor.

Cava Cordorniu Napa Grand Reserve (Carneros): The scent had toast and a whiff of styrene. Nikki says: I got warm nougat and nutmeg. The flavor avoided being tangy or too-sweet, it found a nice elegant balance with a hint of almond. The effervescence was perfect, not too intense. Nikki says: This is the champagne-lover’s sparkling wine.

2004 Gewurtztraminer (San Benito County): The aroma gave me warmth, paper, raisins and star fruit. The flavor was sweet and rich, but with a certain almost savory inflection. I noted the finish as “crunchy sugar” with a slightly smoky quality. There are lots of layers in this wine.

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Napa Valley Toffee Company: Napa Valley – The Search for Snobs

Once upon a time we would have visited five wineries in a day, but after two we felt like our palates couldn’t fairly judge any more until they’d rested for a long time. We headed back to our hotel for a while, then decided to poke around downtown Napa in search of Clementine’s, a rumored-to-be fantastic Italian takeout joint in the back of Val’s liquor store. (Spoilers: delicious AND cheap! Best meal of the weekend! Don’t miss the malfatti!)

During our Napa explorations we saw a sign for Napa Valley Toffee Company. I love toffee, so when we saw the lights were still on despite the late hour (7pm) we were sure as heck going in there. To our surprise, they didn’t just do toffee; they also poured boutique wines! This is one of the great things about Napa; there seem to be a million friendly little places offering wines from multiple wineries. Needless to say, we immediately sat down for a taste.

Oh, yeah, the toffee was great, too. (Beer aficionados, they also have suds on tap!)

The Wines

2009 Tallulah Sauvignon Blanc (Napa Valley AVA): This wine is made by the former winemaker for Luna. I was immediately surprised by the sweetness; it seemed to be edging toward riesling. There was a bitter grapefruit-peel hit at the back that balanced out the sweetness.

2009 Tallulah Farina Chardonnay (Sonoma Mountain AVA): This had a sweet aroma with a hint of vanilla oak. It was smooth, sweet and easy drinking, with a hint of a buttery texture and a touch of oak at the end.

2009 Vino d’Angelo Rescue Red (California AVA): This winery is owned by a firefighter, hence the name. The lively, peppy peppery scent was amazing. The flavor was smooth and fruity with a nice oaky hint at the end. It was enjoyable and easy drinking.

2006 Lion’s Run Winery Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley AVA): The vineyard is located in the Mt. George area of Napa Valley, south of the Stag’s Leap district. The velvety tobacco scent was a perfect lead-in to the flavor, which merged stonefruit and oak.

2004 Dusinbiere Muscat (Napa Valley AVA): I love me some dessert wine, and this was a fantastic example. The smell made me think of saffron coated in toffee (how appropriate!), which perfectly matched the saffron-syrup flavor.

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Charbay Winery & Distillery: Napa Valley – In Search of Snobs

The trip up to Charbay took us on a lovely sunlit drive through St. Helena and up into the hills. The road got a bit twisty, but the occasional views through the trees were stunning. Since the penalty for missing a turn would have been severe (100-foot drop or more), Nikki got to enjoy the views more than I did.

Charbay offers tastings by appointment only. No, it isn’t a manifestation of the elusive snobbery we’d heard about in the area – it’s just that they’re off the beaten path and it’s not practical to have regular tasting room hours. It’s well worth the very small effort it takes to make a reservation. One tip: give yourself 10 minutes more than you think you’ll need to get there. While the drive is lovely, you’ll get to a fairly narrow winding road where caution compels a safer (lower) speed.

The gate magically opens and you are almost there!

As we headed toward the building from the parking lot, a cute, friendly little dog named Snifter (Sniffy to friends) waddled out and greeted us (we later met Sniffy’s adorable companion, Sunny). We then walked past a couple of alembic stills next to a patio and went inside.

Nikki adds: The still was the legendary “Still on the Hill.” It was beautiful, imposing…and currently nonfunctional. As John told us, a significant fiscal investment to build a brick housing, as well as one heck of a lot of paperwork, new sewage and possibly some changes in local laws, would be required for that specific still to begin operating on the Charbay property. The active still operation, using identical (but functional) equipment, is about a hundred miles north in Ukiah.

I excused myself to use the restroom, and when I came out John, who was manning the tasting room that day, was taking pictures with Nikki’s phone, having her pose next to the large exotic-looking stills outside. It was immediately apparent that we were in the presence of a fun-loving, gregarious individual.

Charbay Winery and Distillery

L-R: Sniffy, Mike, Nikki, a shrub

Charbay Winery and Distillery

Still Life

Charbay is a distiller and a winemaker, but licensing restrictions prevent them from offering tastings of spirits in the tasting room. While we’d love to give their distilled spirits a try, we were there for wine, so it worked out just fine for us.

Charbay Winery and Distillery

Now, who will we call when we need bail?

Inside the rustic tasting room, John told us about some of the finer points of distilling spirits, gave us a little background on the Charbay family, and then we got down to tasting some wine. Nikki adds: While you’re there, don’t miss the water! We’re not joking. It comes from a well on the property and is delicious.

It didn’t feel like a typical tasting room experience. It was much more like visiting an eclectic old friend with a great wine collection. Although we had just met John, we felt like old friends (in fact, if John and I had known each other when when we were kids I’m pretty sure we would have gotten into plenty of trouble, the kind where you might lose some fingers…).

Nikki adds: While we were there, a bus tour rolled in. John warned us they were coming and we braced ourselves for 30 people to flood in. Instead, eight charming people walked in, John gave them the tour, and the bus driver came over to chat with us. He told us he was from Platypus Tours, and he immediately charmed the heck out of us. Platypus only does small group tours (usually 8-10 people), and visits a lot of small wineries. The bus driver is also the tourmaster, personally giving tours of the wineries and giving the history of the area. This was no drunk limo; he knew his wines and the area and was clearly dedicated to educating his guests and ensuring they loved wine as much as he did. If we ever do a wine tour, we’re going with Platypus.

We were surprised when we realized we’d spent a solid two hours there. It sure didn’t feel like we were there that long. We’ll definitely be back. Chalk up another total failure to find even the slightest hint of snobbery in Napa!

The Wines:

2010 Chardonnay (St. Helena): Happy sunny aroma, with a very slight astringency that adds a little extra brightness! Flavor was mellow and estery, leaning toward buttery but stopping short of that. Bright but not tangy, with just a hint of oak. Nikki adds: We got to taste one that was freshly opened as well as one that had been open for a day or so. I found that the one that had breathed had a deep apple cider scent while the new one had hints of nougat, and the flavor changed too; the one that had breathed was VERY acidic, while the freshly opened bottle had more lemon and pink grapefruit to it.

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville): Very complex aroma and flavor. On the nose I detected caramel, raisins, chocolate… I almost thought I was smelling a port! The flavor was equally layered, adding cocoa, mushrooms, wood, with a slightly meaty quality. Nikki adds: I got unsweetened chocolate and cacao nibs in the flavor. My notes also say “Tiny spice.”

I found this very complex and different than more middle-of-the-road Cabs. It was delightful. That pour was from a bottle that had been open for a while. John also opened a new bottle and gave us a taste – it was tighter and the fruit and tannins were a little more prominent. I would have been impressed with the newly-opened one, but the one that had oxidized a bit had greater separation in the flavor elements and provided a deeper, more laid-back taste.

Nikki adds: Mike said “The problem with most cabs is that they think my tongue is a vampire and are trying to drive a stake through it. This one doesn’t do that.”

2006 Cabernet Franc (Napa Valley): The aroma shared some elements with the Cabernet Sauvignon, but with more caramel and a little smoke. On the tongue, there was a pop of tannins up front that then mellowed into sugared wood. On my second sip the tannins were mellower and I got more fruit. The finish was clean with a hint of grape peel. Many of the Cabernet Sauvignons and Francs I’ve tasted in my life have been pretty gosh-darned tannic and rather monolithic of flavor. The ones I tasted here showed me how much depth and complexity they can possess, especially when the tannins are so nicely balanced. Nikki adds: This made me think of what a port whiskey would be like. There was fruit in the front and oak in the back, with chocolate-covered hints.

Green Tea Aperitif: This tasted delightfully like someone had tried to replicate the flavor of Chartreuse using only traditional Chinese herbs and ingredients. The aroma and flavor were reminiscent of an herbal apothecary. It was slightly herbal, slightly sweet, and a mellow green tea flavor held the whole thing together. It was imaginative and delicious. Nikki adds: This reminded me of Black Qi from Hangar One, a liqueur that I love.

Pomegranate Dessert Wine: If I hadn’t seen the label my brain would have been chasing itself around going “It’s raspberry. No! It’s cherry! But there’s something else familiar… but it’s raspberry! No! It’s cherry!” It was very tasty with concentrated fruit, and of course much more convenient than eating a pomegranate and dealing with all the seeds. Nikki adds: My notes just say “Sheer perfection.”

1997 Distillers’ Port: Super-chocolaty aroma! The flavor had plenty of chocolate with elements of wood and hazelnut. It was like Christmas in a glass. Nikki adds: This port, made of cabernet sauvignon fortified with Charbay eight-year-old aged brandy, was in the barrel for 13 years. John told us, “This is a ‘Moorish’ port…because when you taste it you want more.” Mike said, “It’s like Santa Claus just climbed down my nose and left an bunch of presents on my tongue.”

1983 Sauternes: This was insane. Another example of the adventurous spirit of the winemakers at Charbay. The story goes that some years back the winemaker opened all the Sauternes, poured it in a vat, added yeast to run a secondary fermentation. When they re-bottled it they had to put pallets of wine on top of it to keep the corks from popping out. The result is an amazing dessert wine with an aroma of candied pecans and sweet raisins. The flavor is beautifully clingy, with amazing grape and raisin flavors all beglittered by the perfect effervescence provided by the secondary fermentation.

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Silenus Vintners: Napa Valley – In Search of Snobs

As part of our aforementioned fabulous LivingSocial deal (this is not a product placement! I swear! It was genuinely fabulous!), we received a free tasting at Silenus Vintners. We made an appointment for the earliest time we could, 10am. We got there about 15 minutes early, which gave us some time to poke around the grounds.

Silenus Vintners

The clear skies and bright leaves made me feel like I was experiencing a New England autumn.

 

The nice thing about a scale that weighs in meaures of thousands of pounds is that I barely budged the needle.

We peeked in a window only to see a gentleman waving us in. (From the looks of it, he’d been waving for some time. What can we say? We’d only had one cup of coffee at Ritual, and our caffeine levels were low.) The gentleman was Jim, and he would be our tasting associate for the morning.

Silenus Vintners

We just couldn't say no to this man. (And note: purse hooks! How thoughtful!)

Silenus Vintners, Jim explained to us as he set up to pour, is a collection of artisan wineries, all of which produce around 200 to 300 cases of wine per year. The facility has crush equipment and all the necessary tools for boutique vintners to create their wines, and the tasting room allows them to pour for interested visitors. Interestingly, the website notes that Silenus has also started an American-Chinese venture to produce wines in China as well.

Silenus Vintners

The tasting room space was just gorgeous.

We were each allotted six tastings. Jim allowed us to split each tasting so we could try everything on the menu. Looking over the list below, I think he slipped a couple of extras in there. That’s only one of the many reasons he’s awesome. Other reasons include: He clearly loves wine, enjoys sharing it with people, has a depth of knowledge about the wines he pours, and knows a lot about wine in general. Also, Jim completely failed to be a snob in any way.

One of the dangers we encountered on our Napa trip was that it’s really easy to lose track of time because the tasting experiences are all so fun! If you visit Napa, build some flexibility into your tasting schedule.

The Wines

2009 Mario Bazan Sauvignon Blanc (Oakville AVA): I loved this wine! It had soft floral qualities like a viognier and lacked the strong acidity I’m used to tasting in most sauvignon blancs. Mike said, “This smells like a summer vacation for my nose.” He elaborated by noting the star fruit aroma and a hint of grapefruit pith on the tongue.

2010 Matthiasson White Wine (Napa Valley AVA): This is a blend that is predominantly sauvignon blanc, with old vine semillon, ribolla giallla and tocai friuliano making up the balance. It couldn’t have been more different from the previous wine; it had a mouth-puckering citrus-fruit tart tanginess, like lemon with a hint of grapefruit. Mike obtusely noted it tasted sleek and modern. Thanks Mike.

2010 Due Vigne “Bianco” Vioblanc (California AVA): It’s called “Vioblanc” because it’s a blend of viognier and chenin blanc. It was buttery on the tongue but still light, with flavors of citrus blossoms and a hint of orange pith. Very enjoyable. It reminded Mike of the candy necklaces he and his friends liked as kids.

NV Woodstock “Honey Pie” (Napa Valley AVA): This blend of sauvingon blanc and chardonnay is easy drinking. It was fruity with just enough acid to back it up and would be perfect for a summer day on the patio. The name is totally appropriate.

2008 Ideology Cellars “Blondie Gone Wild” Chardonnay (Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley AVA): This had a nice warm oak smell. The taste was oaky and buttery, like a wood grilled English muffin dripping in butter, and gave me delightful flashbacks to my breakfast at the Model Bakery. Mike got a baked-goods vibe on the nose as well, but for him it was the scent of a cake in the oven.

2010 Silenus Rosé (Napa Valley AVA): This rosé, made from Cabernet grapes, was sweeter than I expected, smooth and very easy drinking. If your entry point for wine was white zinfandel, this wine would be a great way to experience something that hit those nostalgic flavor elements but with more complexity and depth. It is at once exuberant and elegant.

2009 Coleman Nicole “Morris Ranch” Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast AVA): The scent had hints of cinnamon bark and pepper, reminding me of – don’t mock me – Trader Joe’s “Wintry Blend” coffee. The flavor was also peppery, but had nice fruit to back it up. Mike enjoyed aromatic elements of cedar, minerals toasted sugar and even “secret sauce.” The flavor matched, with the addition of pink peppercorns. Very well-balanced, with perfect body.

2007 Due Vigne Nebbiolo (El Dorado AVA):  Mike’s a sucker for Italian wines, and this was no exception. It was a blend of 92% Nebbiolo and 8% Barbera. The smell made me think of chocolate, rum and plum pudding. I expected it to be fruity, but it wasn’t at all; instead it was complex, dry and velvety, with warm floral hints and a touch of nougat. Mike found a little more fruit on the palate, specifically grape, blackberry and cherry. It wasn’t as tart as he expected, and he though the tannins were perfectly balanced.

2008 Modus Operandi Vicarious (Napa Valley AVA): This blend of cabernet, syrah, petit syrah and merlot made me wish I wasn’t an vegetarian, because it smelled like it would match perfectly with short ribs. As soon as I tasted it and got that hit of caramelized plums, I wanted to take it home and drink it by the fire. (Of course, that would involve cleaning out the flue and figuring out how to start it.) Mike said he got a flavor of jam without a quality of jamminess. Cedar and mesquite tinted the tannins, and the finish was quite warm.

2009 Woodstock “Purple Haze” (California AVA): This smelled like peppered roasted stonefruit; the flavor had an intriguing hint of browned butter. Mike commented that it had a meaty quality in addition to the butter flavor, and while it had that flavor it did not have a particularly buttery mouthfeel. He also noted it was yet another example of just-right tannins. Here again the name of the wine is right on the money.

2006 Highlands Winery Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley AVA): I’ll just transcribe my notes: “This dances on my tongue. It’s so light and gentle, delicate yet full of flavor. At the same time, it feels like it leaves room on the palate to share with other things.” Mike got creme brulee on the nose and palate, with some minerality. He felt the tannins did not overwhelm, but the wine wasn’t as silky as he’d have liked.

2006 Matthiasson Napa Valley Red (Napa Valley AVA): This smelled like an oaky grilled steak. I enjoyed it, but I’m going to leave it to Mike to pin down the specific flavors. Mike sez: The aroma was mellow with a sugary quality. I also got just a hint of sulfur, imparting a meaty quality. The flavor had nice wood and mild fruit.

2007 Ideology “Reserve Block” Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley AVA): I could have just inhaled the scent from the glass all day; it was full of rich fruit and dark flowers. The flavor was peppery, with rich fruit and hints of cola. Mike said it jumped right into his nose with hugely inviting aromas of cherry, grape and caramel. “Dive right in!” it exclaimed. The flavor matched. The tannins came on a little strong at the end, but stopped short of dominating.

2007 Due Vigne Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley AVA): I really noticed the alcohol smell, intertwined with plums and cacao nibs. This carried through in the flavor, which was like sugar frosted unripe plums with a hit of acid on the back. Mike felt the aroma was a little restrained, but mellow and inviting. He found the flavor a little spicy at first, flowing into mellow fruit and then finishing with nice woody tannins.

And just like that, we were done with our quest. With the Oakville, Napa Valley and Oak Knoll District AVAs, we’d hit 40. Silenus was a great place to hit number 40, and Jim gave us a great experience.

Silenus Vintners

Thanks, Jim, for such a great finale!

We could have stopped tasting at this point, but we were in Napa and we hadn’t yet seen any snobs. Clearly, we weren’t looking hard enough. It was time to try harder. Perhaps the by-appointment-only winery we were visiting next would have the snobs we were looking for.

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Napa Valley: In Search of Snobs

It’s been an entire year of tasting wine, and we didn’t go up to Napa until late December. Why? We’d been avoiding it.

Neither Mike nor I had ever been to Napa. But we’d heard all the stories. Napa people are snobby, the wine tasting rooms are snotty and mean, the food is way overpriced, the tastings are overpriced, and on and on. Everything we heard made us feel like Napa would be a place that was Not Us, and so we visited every other wine tasting region we could. Mike sez: Nikki and I are inherently “root for the underdog” types, and Napa is anything but when it comes to wine destinations.

At some point, however, we finally decided we had to see it for ourselves and find out how snobby it really was. Maybe it was the raves we heard about this winery or that one. Maybe it was the friendly Napa bloggers and Tweeters who asked us, “So when are you going to come up here?” Maybe it was because we wanted to see just how pretentious a wine area really could be.

Or maybe it was just because I found a killer deal for the Chablis Inn on LivingSocial.

At any rate, we determined that our final trip of the Appellation Trail would be Napa. And so, one chilly December Friday, we leapt into Mike’s car and took the long drive up to Napa. (Mike notes that we were also in danger of failing to meet our goal, and with 16 or so appellations, Napa was the only really viable option for a two-minute drill.)

Surprise #1: the drive wasn’t that far. It was 45 minutes longer than going to San Francisco, but for some reason it didn’t feel any longer. We hit the same bottleneck we always hit on the 680 near Sunol, but we’ve come to expect it so it wasn’t a big deal. It’s not a factor in the return trip.

We arrived at our hotel and were welcomed by the handsome desk clerk, who greeted us warmly and offered us plenty of tips on the area. The room reminded us of a slightly smaller version of the Adelaide Inn in Paso Robles. Mike’s tip for travelers: check the lobby of the hotel for wine tasting discount coupons. And don’t be shy – ask the desk attendant for recommendations and info on special offers.

Then we went out for pizza, where the staff was not only friendly but gave us tons of winery recommendations.

Surprise #2: hey, people are friendly!

And the meal was not only some of the best pizza I’ve had in my life, but it was actually priced reasonably, and the food was fantastic. Mike wanted a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon because he’d heard of the legendary Cabs of Napa. Our server recommended one of the two he’d picked. It was fantastic, a Stackhouse, and it turned out to be Mike’s favorite Cab of the trip.

Surprise #3: you don’t have to break the bank to eat here!

We were in shock when we got home. Could it possibly be that our preconceptions were…gasp…wrong? Could it be that Napa attracts millions of visitors every year by being a fun place to visit?

We weren’t sure, but over the next two days, we were going to do our darndest to find out.

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Woodinville Wine Party, Part 3

Writing about a big multi-winery event is tough, and not just because the crowds jostle your elbow and make it difficult to take notes. Most wineries are pouring only a couple of wines, and they’re usually not the winery’s best. The format is designed so that wine tasters will move through the tasting quickly rather than linger; after all, there’s thousands of customers flowing through during the day! Rather than giving a detailed write-up of each winery, here’s our quick hits on what we saw.

Brian Carter Cellars

Brian Carter Cellars is one of Shawn and Matt’s favorites. Carter focuses on making blends that highlight specific flavors he’s trying to draw out of the wines, with a focus on Iberian-style grapes. The view from the back porch, over lines of pastures that go straight out to the mountains, was very pretty and would be even more beautiful on a day where the sky was not so ominous.

Admiring the view from Brian Carter Cellars

Though the sky threatened all day, it didn't rain while we were out.

The moment we walked in, we were hit with the delicious aroma of truffled popcorn, which permeated the tasting room (and explains why we don’t have any scent notes on the wines; everything smelled like popcorn!) Sadly, the winery wasn’t pouring any of Shawn and Matt’s favorites that day, but we did get to try two tasty wines.

Brian Carter Cellars

Shawn, Matt and Mike enjoying the popcorn.

2008 Corrida (Columbia Valley): This had a nice, savory flavor loaded with plums, prunes and tannins.

2007 Le Corsier (Columbia Valley): Fabulously fruity start with a nice oaky finish.

The Warehouse District

From Brian Carter, we took a shuttle to an area in Woodinville called “The Warehouse District.” This cluster was like the Lompoc Wine Ghetto on steroids. While the Lompoc Wine Ghetto has 16 tasting rooms, the Woodinville Warehouse District has 40. There was no way we would hit anywhere close to a majority of these wineries.

Many of the tasting rooms were very small, and all were very busy, making it impossible to take notes. We do have some basic impressions, and clearly we want to go back here the next time we’re in Woodinville!

Not all 40 Warehouse wineries were participating in St. Nicks, but several were drafting off their proximity to participating wineries, holding events of their own.

Convergence Zone

Convergence Zone is named after a weather phenomenon in the Puget Sound area. The winery references the phenomenon by creating a “convergence zone” in wine with their grape blends. The wines are all named after weather events (“Drizzle,” “Squall Line” and “Storm Front”), and were all very enjoyable.

Michael Florentino

In order to maximize space, Convergence Zone and Michael Florentino were both pouring out of the same room. I did not get to taste these wines, but the rest of the crew did, and I heard a lot of “yum.” That may also have been from the great food that the two wineries rolled out for the event.

Des Voigne Cellars

Des Voigne channeled a whole lot of elegance into the tasting experience; despite the crowds it felt very relaxed and enjoyable. We tasted several wines, but the one that stood out for me is the Solea, which had nice chewy fruit wrapped around a strong tannic core.

Eye of the Needle

Eye of the Needle isn’t listed on the Warehouse site and they weren’t part of the event. However, their window dressing looked gothy and the tastings were free, so how could we pass it up?

Unlike most other wineries, Eye of the Needle doesn’t grow their own grapes. They find surplus juice from other wineries and then blend it into low-cost, extremely drinkable wines. And drinkable they were! These were the wine equivalent of comfort food, and well worth our time.

There’s no question why these wines regularly make the “Pour Fool” wine column in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The wines are readily available in stores throughout the Pacific Northwest; I just wish we could get some of them here.

Page Cellars

This was the last stop of our trip, and despite the fact that it was the end of the day the party was still in full swing, with a great band playing, fun activities and tons of wine being poured. Page is known for their “Lick My Lips” Syrah, and were looking for a new lip model for this year’s label. Tasters could put on some lipstick and kiss a piece of paper; the best lips will be on the next vintage.

Woodinville: We’ll Be Back

Woodinville has an overwhelming number of wine tasting rooms, and its proximity to Seattle makes it a great way to experience Eastern Washington wines without the four-hour drive. We had a great time, and we know we’ll have an even better time when we’re not chained to our self-imposed “if we’re not within 50 miles of the AVA it doesn’t count” rule. Keep the light on for us, Woodinville; we’ll be back next year.

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Hollywood Hills: Woodinville Wine Party

On Shawn’s 20-winery shortlist (yes, Woodinville has so many amazing tasting rooms that 20 constitutes a “shortlist”) was a winery called Hollywood Hills. Mike and I met in Hollywood, so clearly there was no way we could pass up a winery with that name. Shawn and Matt cheerfully tromped with us through the misty, cloudy cold to the little cottage by the side of the road.

Amazingly, we managed to hit Hollywood Hills during a lull. As we came in, a group of people were exiting, and we had the place almost to ourselves for a few minutes, an amazing feat at an event of this size.

Hollywood Hills

This is what post-lull looked like.

Hollywood Hills seemed like a family-run operation. Everyone staffing the facility were cheerful and friendly, making us feel welcome despite the crowds. In addition, they had created several different tasty noshes designed to pair perfectly with the wines on hand. The meat-eaters in out party declared Hollywood Hills the undisputed winner in the food category for the amazing sausage bites they had, and the vegetarian overindulged in the yummy cheese.

Hollywood Hills

After his snack, Matt decided I was ready for my close-up.

The staff told us that they were the only winery in the region that created wine from locally grown grapes; unfortunately, they weren’t pouring their Woodinville wine for the event. Mike and I were traumatized. Doom! DOOOOOOOM! Our entire tasting experience would be for nothing!

Fortunately, the Hollywood Hills staff rescued us from our despairing state. They smuggled one bottle of their wine produced from locally sourced grapes out of the back room, tucked it into a corner, and slyly served us a unique Woodinville flavor. Thanks, Hollywood Hills — you made our day!

The Wines

2010 Rattlesnake Hills Viognier: I love viognier. It’s frequently floral, to my palate. This viognier, however, was unique in my experience. It was simultaneously floral and fruity, as if the viognier had hooked up with a chardonnay for one delectable late-night tango. It was like tasting nectarine flowers with a hint of the juicy fruit backing it up. Yum!

2009 Puget Sound Regent: OMG, a local wine — and a grape we’d never tasted before! This fruit originated in Germany, making it perfect for a cool climate like the Woodinville area. The fruit is grown with no pesticides or spray, but one heck of a lot of flavor. It reminded me a lot of Pinot Noir and a little of Grenache, full of fruit with a nice solid oak backbone.

2009 Horse Heaven Hills Grenache:  A 100% Grenache? It’s a rarity, but Hollywood Hills makes it work. The smell was spicy and deep, with a taste of deep red fruit and stewed tomatoes. Mike found the tannins to be quite prominent, but expertly handled. He also got some esters and a note of oil paint.

2009 Aperture F-Stop: Aperture is a side label of Hollywood Hills (Aperture — cameras — get it?). This wine blends two different Hollywood Hills Syrahs. I smelled a lot of alcohol; the acid edge of the fruit erupted on my tongue, solidified by the deep tannins. Mike liked it. He thought the tannins framed the flavor and provided some focus, and he commented that the f-stop might open up more with exposure to air (see what he did there?).

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