Category Archives: Appellation

Flashback 2008! Pinot pleasures from Sonoma Coast’s Petaluma Gap

Given the recent news of Petaluma Gap finally being formally recognized as the 18th appellation of Sonoma County,  a little reminiscence seems appropriate.  Please enjoy my article previously published by The Tasting Panel in 2008, with the addition of some relevant and fun photos taken over the years and from the recent celebration.

Introducing: The Petaluma Gap

In the cool-climate regions of California, the delicate grape variety pinot noir continues to capture the hearts of passionate winemakers and producers committed to releasing their own signature styles of classy, elegant and sophisticated red wines on an annual basis. Recently, a blossoming area to lure such attention is a distinctive winegrowing region known as the Petaluma Gap.  Located at the lower end of the Sonoma Coast appellation in southern Sonoma County: A Blossoming area.

Grenache vines at McEvoy Ranch.
Grenache vines at McEvoy Ranch.

Distinguished by its close proximity to the Pacific Ocean, this unique area is influenced by misty fog in the mornings, warm afternoons and chilly maritime winds in the evenings. Together, this mixture of intriguing climatic conditions, diverse soils and unique geographic locations make this area near the historic city of Petaluma an ideal spot to grow delicious thin-skinned grapes.

In 2005 and 2006, the impact of this intriguing natural phenomenon allowed fruit to hang on the vines for an extended period of time. The end result is a magnificent stream of elegant new releases which feature sensational flavors of mixed berries, ripe plums, red currants, dark cherries, fresh ruby grapefruit, pomegranate, zesty spices, and lingering hints of smoke and earth.

As an extra bonus, not only do these beautiful wines coat the palate with complex flavors, balanced tannins and crisp acidity, but they are also quite ageworthy. In short, they are the kind of wines that you want to get your hands on before they are gone!

Keller Estate

One of the pioneers of this delicious new movement is Keller Estate, a state-of-the-art winery nestled in the rolling hills off Lakeville Highway, southeast of downtown Petaluma. Founded by automotive interior designer Arturo and Deborah Keller in the mid 1980s, the premiere blocks of the La Cruz and El Coro vineyards on this estate are now home to 42 acres of pinot noir clones and special varietal selections that are planted on diverse clay and volcanic-based soils.

Celebrating the new appellation on December 7th, 2017: Ana Keller, Doug Cover, Liz Thach and me!

To insure the quality of the fruit, winemaker Michael McNeill closely monitors how each block is maturing leading up to harvest. Once picked, he captures the flavors and personality of these vines by keeping the clones from each block separate until the final batch is blended.

“Realistically, there is no such thing as a magic silver bullet. There are no steroids that enhance the strength and no secret potions to add to the allure of a finished wine,” says McNeill.  Instead, the beauty of a fine pinot noir comes from the generosity of flavors, complexity and true elegance that you get from a mixture of the clones picked before they get overripe.”

“Overall, our goal is to master the art of embracing and magnifying the pure hedonistic flavors in each bottle we produce!”

Cult following

Although they produce 11,000 cases of pinot noir, syrah, chardonnay and pinot gris each year, Keller Estate also sells a portion of its estate fruit to a number of top producers. One of them is Testarossa, a Saratoga, Calif-based winery known for making hand-crafted vineyard designate pinots with fruit from legendary sites in the Central Coast. But according to Rob Jensen, the owner of the winery, getting their hands on high-quality grapes from the breezy Petaluma Gap region is just as exciting.

“Much like the Pisoni and Gary’s vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands or Bien Nacido in Santa Maria, I truly believe that the La Cruz Vineyard and other locations in the cool-climate Petaluma area will be on that same tier very soon,” said Jensen. “It’s definitely a region for winemakers, sommeliers, wine buyers and collectors to get to know as quickly as possible!”

Some choice selections from the celebration!

Another maverick vintner that sees great promise for this unique growing region is Adam Lee, winemaker and proprietor of Siduri Winery, which released two delicious wines from the Sonaterra and Terra de Promissio vineyards in Petaluma last year. Needless to say, the recent releases of both of these hand-crafted wines sold out immediately.

“With low yields and long hang time, working with pinot noir grapes from Petaluma can definitely test the patience of a winemaker,” said Lee. “But there is always enough sun to lift the fruit and support the tannins needed to make rich, powerful and elegant styles of wines that make it well worth the wait.”

Like Testarossa and Siduri, many other well-known wineries such as Cobb Wines, Kosta Browne, Ceja, Cline, Culler, CL Wines, De La Montanya, Flowers, Hart’s Desire, Landmark, Longfellow, Mayo Family, Pax, and Roessler, either own or work closely with growers in the Petaluma Gap district. Special vineyard designate names to look for on wine labels include: Gap’s Crown, Griffin’s Lair, Armagh Vineyard, Devil’s Gulch,  and Rockin’ H Ranch.

Boutique Wineries

In addition to Keller Estate and Adobe Road (a medium-sized winery owned by renowned sports car racer and entrepreneur Kevin Buckler and his wife Debra), there are a growing number of boutique Petaluma-based wineries that specialize in working with pinot noir.

Hanging on the porch with Hoot of Kastania Vineyards!

One of them is the Kastania Vineyard, which is located off Highway 101, south of Petaluma. After planting pinot noir grapes in 1998, Hoot and Linda Smith sold the fruit from the first few vintages to Landmark Winery. But after hiring talented winemaker Leslie Sisneros in 2005, the family introduced its dazzling new releases under the Kastania label last year.

Today, the winery produces 700 to 800 cases and is open for tasting on weekends. “We like to think of our location off Highway 101 as a tasty gateway to all the great Pinot Noirs of the Petaluma Gap region and the rest of Sonoma County!” said Smith.

Another outstanding brand is Ridgeway Family Vineyards from the Two Pisces Vineyard. Owned by Michael and Teela Ridgeway, this 10-acre vineyard features five clones, Pommard, 115, 667, 777 and 828, that are planted on the rounded ridges of southwest-facing hillsides. Crafted by long-time Sonoma County winemaker Dan Goldfield, the latest release from the 2005 vintage is generous, elegant and refined with flavors of fresh tobacco, vanilla, blueberry, ripe plum, and a burst of fresh acidity on the long, engaging finish. “It’s all about the vines,” said Michael Ridgeway, with a smile.

Paul Clary at the appellation celebration.

Other up-and-coming boutique producers from the Petaluma Gap region include: Azari, Bush-Field, Clary Ranch, Corda, Pey-Marin Vineyards, Stubbs, and Sutton Cellars.

In terms of food pairings, these elegant and expressive styles of pinot noir work extremely well with starter course featuring wild mushrooms or young, tangy cheeses, and with entrées featuring fresh Ahi tuna, salmon, pork or lamb. More importantly, whether they are served at a restaurant or in the comforts of your own home, don’t be surprised if these tasty wines stimulate conversation and leave a priceless impression on the palate for many years to come!

For more information about pinot noir and other cool-climate grape varieties grown in the Petaluma area, visit the Petaluma Gap Grape and Wine Alliance at, www.petalumagap.com.

from my seminar at Petaluma Gap's "Wind to Wine" event in 2016.
From my seminar at Petaluma Gap’s “Wind to Wine” event in 2016.

Exploring the Pacific Northwest: Red Wines from Washington State

As the glowing colors of summer change to the brilliant hues of autumn, it seems rather fitting that August 31 represented International Cabernet Sauvignon Day and the last official day of the extremely successful Washington State Wine Month. Twenty years ago, if you would have mentioned Washington State, my mind probably would have focused on vivid images of downtown Seattle, the Space Needle, Pike’s Market, Pugent Sound, loud grunge rock songs and SubPop records, roasted coffee beans, some hip micro-breweries on the rise, and a maybe a handful of popular Riesling and Merlot releases from big wine brands like Chateau St. Michelle and Hogue Cellars.

Washington State Wine image courtesy of Andréa Johnson (washingtonwine.org)

Today, the interest in the state has shifted dramatically. For beyond the well-known revenue-generating companies like Amazon, Starbucks, Microsoft and the Seattle Seahawks, Washington has earned a reputation for its wide range of fresh seafood coming from the coast; the hot new “farm to table” styles of fine cuisine born in the Seattle area; and the fact that the state has become the nation’s top producers of hops, apples, and other yummy agricultural products primarily grown in the warmer zones east of the Cascade Mountains.

Luckily, these risks-meet-rewards scenarios have paid off for the Washington wine industry too. This exciting new growth has been led by the expansion of vineyards planted in the Columbia Valley, Yakima Valley, Walla Walla Valley, Red Mountain and the other ten appellations located within the borders of the state over the past two decades. As a result, Washington now ranks #2 in the nation, behind only California, in terms of production of fine wines.

While it’s true that Merlot vineyards led the first wave of large-scale plantings in the 1980s and 1990s, the more recent focus on Cabernet Sauvignon and Rhone varieties like Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre has helped diversify the styles of wine being made by producers, both big and boutique, who now call Washington State home. Therefore, as the strength of the great sites began to shine, the real turning point came when the winemakers began to put more emphasis on crafting more elegant and refined styles.

A person who watched these transitions happen is veteran winemaker Charlie Hoppes, who started making wine for Chateau St. Michelle and young brands like Snoqualmie, Waterbrook and Canoe Ridge in the early 1990s. After joining forces with the Antinori family of Tuscany to help make some of the early vintages of the highly-touted Col Solare wines from 1995 to 1998, Hoppes went on to start started his own brand Fidelitas in 2000. Since then, he has gone on to make a wide range of Cabernet and Merlot-based wines with fruit from revered sites that include the Ciel Du Cheval Vineyard, Quintessence Vineyard, and vines planted on his own estate property in the Red Mountain appellation.

Washington State Wine image courtesy of Andréa Johnson Photography (washingtonwine.org)

This harvest will be Hoppes’s 30th vintage in Washington. From the soil to each bottle he produces, Hoppes says his goal has always been to produce world-class wines with unique flavors. For that reason, he sees great opportunities for red grapes to flourish even more in Red Mountain and the greater Columbia Valley.

“As the vines mature, we’ve started to grow more ultra-premium red grapes that have that true Washington character. For these reasons, it’s great to see other wineries using more artisan winemaking practices to let the flavors speak for themselves.”

With these thoughts in mind, below is a list of some of my favorite picks of Cabernets, Merlots, and Bordeaux-style or Proprietary blends that I’ve tasted over the past year. Stay tuned for my upcoming article on Rhone style wines from Washington State this fall too. In the meantime, for more information about these fantastic styles of wine, upcoming events and travel ideas; check out the Washington State Wine Commission Website, www.washingtonwine.org.

Bordeaux Varieties

Maryhill 2014 Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley $20 / 90 pts
Family-owned and operated since 1999, Maryhill was the Winery of the Year at the prestigious San Francisco International Wine Competition in 2014. While they are known for their silky smooth Merlot and many other specialty wines available in restaurants and retail shops across America; one of their small production gems is the 2014 Cabernet Franc, which was made with pristine fruit from the Tudor Hills Vineyard (89%) and Gunkel Vineyard (11%). Accented with fragrant notes of ripe berries, rose petals, cinnamon and clove, the profile is highlighted with vibrant notes of red currant, blueberry, licorice, chocolate, roasted nuts, and layers of spice at the end. Pleasurable on the palate and a compliment to with grilled veggies, pasta, and roasted meats. Great American version of Cabernet Franc, especially for the price! www.maryhillwinery.com.

L’Ecole No 41 2014 Merlot, Estate Grown, Walla Walla Valley $36 / 92 pts
From the time Marty and Megan Clubb produced their inaugural release of Merlot in 1983 to the present, L’Ecole No. 41 has earned a reputation for crafting wines with a brilliant balance of power, elegance and finesse. In keeping with the tradition of being one of Washington State’s top Merlot producers, this new release was made with world-class grapes grown on the hallowed estate grounds at Seven Hills Vineyard and Ferguson Vineyard. Once the cork is popped, the wine soothes the senses with alluring whiffs of dark fruits, allspice, dried lavender and earth tones. The flavors are equally generous with lavish tastes of ripe plum, black cherry, pomegranate, supple texture, and a burst of tangy acidity leading to a long, reward finish. www.lecole.com.

Amavi Cellars 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley $33 / 92 pts
As a special side project Pepper Bridge, one of the pioneer wineries of Washinton State and Walla Walla Valley, a selection of special sites and gifted Swiss Winemaker/Partner Jean-Francois Pellet; this scrumptious new release is made with Cabernet and smaller fractions of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec from a set of sustainably farmed estate vineyards: Pepper Bridge, Seven Hills, Summit View, Les Collines, Octave and Goff. With the use of only 24% new oak barrels, this wine is bursting at the seams with fresh aromas of red and black fruits, cocoa, baking spices, and toasted hazelnuts. On the palate, the dynamic flavors expand with vibrant notes of ripe blackberry, black raspberry, dark cherry, fresh plum and pepper, complimented with velvety tannins and a long, smooth finish. Charming, sophisticated and very food-friendly, it’s a great Cabernet to pair with fine cheeses, grilled veggies, fresh pasta with wild mushrooms, grilled meats and sausages, and savory stews. One of the finest 2014 releases I’ve tasted for under $35 per bottle. One again, proving that quality and price do matter!

Woodward Canyon 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Artist Series #22, Columbia Valley $59 / 94 pts
If you are looking for a sophisticated red wine to share with close friends, family or to simply age in the cellar, then I would suggest getting your hands on some bottles of the Woodward Canyon Artist Series. Located next to the historic L’Ecole No. 42 Schoolhouse and near the quaint town of Lowden in Walla Walla Valley; the proprietors of Woodward Canyon started making this special series of red wines in the 1990s. When I visited the winery at the conclusion of the 2016 harvest, I got to taste the 2013 Artist Series #22, which is made with the high-quality fruit from the estate and other distinguished sites that include Champoux Vineyard, Sagemoor Vineyard, Charbonneau, Discovery, Spring Creek and Summit View. Ensconced with a stylish label featuring a provocative modern painting by local artist Diana Wooley; this gorgeous bottle contains a blend of 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petit Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc. Past the lofty aromas of dark fruits, black olive, licorice and a hint of smoke; the concentrated flavors of ripe blackberries, dark plums, currants and fresh cranberries are integrated masterfully with notes of fresh herbs and spicy oak, fine tannins, rich texture, and a graceful finish. The end result is an expansive wine that becomes even more complex and elegant as it opens up in the glass. A true collectable gem from Washington State.  www.woodwardcanyon.com

Col Solare 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain $75 / 93 pts
Let’s face it: When a big name Italian wine family wants in, you know you’re doing something right. In Washington State, such was the case when the well-respected Antinori family of Tuscany formed a partnership with Chateau Ste. Michelle to make the the first vintage of Col Solare wine with fruit from the Red Mountains region in the 1994. To mark the 20-year anniversary of the brand, the new release is comprised of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlot and 2% Syrah. The end result is a powerful, elegant and refined wine highlighted with deep flavors of dark cherry, ripe currents, cassis, cocoa, vanilla and roasted walnuts. To add more complexity, the profile is enhanced with a supple, creamy texture and lingering notes of fresh sage, dried berries and allspice. While this wine is definitely worth cellaring; it’s also admirable it tastes when young, especially when its paired with grilled steaks, rack of lamb, hard cheeses, and flourless chocolate cake with fresh berries.  www.colsolare.com

Betz 2013 Pere de Famille Cabernet Sauvignon $80 / 95 pts
In hindsight, 2013 was an early vintage which meant the pure varietal flavors were balanced with plenty of natural acidity and pH to help create fine tannins and the structural integrity the winemaking team at Betz Family Winery is always gunning for when they start crafting their annual release of the Pere de Famille Cabernet Sauvignon. Stylish, heady and opulent; the profile of this new release is highlighted with floral aromas and deep flavors of ripe blackberry, red currents, blueberry, cassis, crushed peppercorns, lavender and fresh violets. Add in a silky texture, firm tannins and a long, dry finish lifted with subtle nuances of tobacco, leather and fine French oak, and you have a pristine wine that is graceful, seamless and ageworthy. Hands down, one of my favorite Cabs of this past year. www.betzfamilywinery.com

Bordeaux Blend/Proprietary Blends

Bookwalter 2014 Suspense Red Wine, Conner Lee Vineyard, Columbia Valley $60 / 94 pts
Looking for a sexy wine? Then try the Suspense Red Wine from by J. Bookwalter . Crafted by gifted winemaker Caleb Foster, this brilliant blend of Merlot 65% and Cabernet Franc 35% immediately seduces the palate with fragrant scents of wild berries, fresh herbs and spicy cedar. In the glass, the flavors are equally stimulating with deep notes of ripe raspberry, black cherry, huckleberry, black tea, cardamom and dark chocolate. Sexy and debonair from start to finish. In addition to pairing nicely with red meats, rich sauces and blue cheese, this wine is also fun to taste side-by-side with its mate, the J. Bookwalter 2014 Protagonist Red Wine ($60), a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and smaller portions of Syrah and Malbec. www.bookwalterwines.com

Hedges Family Estate 2012 Red Mountain Estate Red Wine, Estate Grown, Red Mountain $35 / 92 pts
As in the years past, the core of this flagship wine from Hedges Family Estate is based around Cabernet Sauvignon (60%) and Merlot (26%), with smaller amounts of Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Interlaced with spicy notes generated by the use of French, American and Hungarian barrels; this stunning wine has a dark purple hue and generous helpings of dark berries, cherry, licorice, savory spices, bright acidity, chewy tannins, and yet still preserves that true sense of place. better yet, the earth tones on the smooth finish also make this a great wine to pair with everything from fine cheeses and risotto with wild mushroom to seared duck breast with a wild berry reduction sauce or slow roasted meats garnered with fresh herbs and savory spices. www.hedgesfamilyestate.com

Fidelitas 2014 Optu Red Wine, Red Mountain $50 / 92 pts
As the signature red wine from Fidelitas Winery, a boutique brand started by longtime winemaker Charlie Hoppes in 2000; this new release is made with 73% Cabernet and smaller lots of Merlot (15%), Petit Verdot (8%) and Cabernet Franc (4%). In the glass, fragrant aromas of ripe red fruits, cocoa, sage and cedar lead to plush layers of black raspberry, dark cherry, blueberry, fresh currants and a kiss of bittersweet chocolate on the finish. To compliment these deep, rich flavors, the tannins are also nicely balanced and the firm structure makes it a great wine to drink young or cellar for more than a decade. www.fidelitaswines.com

Novelty Hill 2014 Cascadia Red Wine, Columbia Valley $50 / 91 pts
This spirited proprietary blend is comprised of 52% Cabernet Sauvignon from Quintessence Vineyard, 45% Merlot and 2% Malbec from the Stillwater Creek Vineyard, and aged in 50% new oak. With a dark purple-blue hue, the wine opens up with a nice mixture of expressive aromas and deep flavors of ripe blackberry, cassis, fresh blueberry, baking spices, roasted espresso, and lovely notes of dark chocolate truffle and fresh sage which gracefully appear on the finish. With a brilliant combination of vibrant acidity, velvety texture and firm structure, this wine is tasting great young and worthy of aging for 10-15 years. www.noveltyhilljnuik.com

Exploring the Pacific Northwest: White Wines from Washington State

With Washington State Wine Month now in full swing, there’s no better time than the present to check out the refreshing styles of white wines from the Pacific Northwest. With these thoughts in mind, below is a special list of some of my favorite wines I’ve tasted since end of harvest in 2016 to the present. As a primer, here’s a quick overview of what’s happening with white grapes in the state…

As in the years past, Washington’s most popular white grape variety is Riesling, which is used to make dry, off-dry and dessert-style wines. Grown in the cool-climate conditions of the Puget Sound near Seattle and the greater Columbia Valley in the southeastern part of the state, the fruit is known for its expressive aromas and lively flavors of apricot, peach and ripe apple. For these reasons, Riesling continues to be the most widely planted grape in the state and represented 22.2% or 50,500 tons of grapes crushed in 2014.

Although Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah are very important varieties in Washington, the second most popular grape is still Chardonnay, which represented 19.3% or 43,800 tons crushed in 2014. Not surprising, the vast majority of the vines are planted in the Columbia Valley, which shares similar latitude with the famous Chardonnay vineyards in the Burgundy region of France. Therefore, instead of being rich, buttery and oaky, the Chardonnays tend to be more crisp and delicate with lively flavors of apple, citrus, and tropical notes.

While Pinot Gris (4%), Sauvignon Blanc (3%) and Gewurztraminer (1.6%) round out the Top 5 grape varieties planted in the state; it’s also exciting to note that the remaining 2.4% of the white grapes includes a diverse mixture of Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, Chenin Blanc, Madeleine Angevine, Siegerebbe, Muller Thurgau, Orange Muscat, Muscat Canelli, Muscat Ottonel and Aligote. Once again proof that the vintners and growers of Washington are willing to go off the beaten path to experiment with a wide range of grapes that can perform well in the specialty soils and climate conditions that set the state apart from other winegrowing regions in America and beyond.

In keeping with popular styles of Washington cuisine, here are some of my favorite food picks to pair with flavorful white wines produced in the state: fresh oysters; steamed artichokes served with citrus-based aioli sauce; seasonal soups; specialty salads made with kale or arugala; fresh scallop with fruit salsa; pan-seared white fish with a squeeze of lemon; herb roasted chicken with parsnip puree; Indian and Pan-Asian cuisine.

SawyerSomm: Flavorful White Wine Picks
from Washington State 2017

Bookwalter 2015 Riesling, Bacchus Vineyard, Columbia Valley ($18) / 93 Pts

Made with the specialty Neustadt clone of Riesling, here’s a classic example of the Washington State style from J. Bookwalter Winery. With fresh floral aromas, the lively flavors of ripe pear, green apple and citrus are complimented with notes of grapefruit, honey and cinnamon as the wine opens up in the glass. Couple this with silky texture, vibrant acidity and a long elegant finish; the end result is a well-crafted wine that is ripe, sexy and refreshing. As a side note: I’d also recommend trying the J. Bookwalter Chenin Blanc ($26), which I truly believe is one of the finest offerings made with this aromatic grape variety outside France’s Loire Valley. Located at winery in Richland, their delightful on-site restaurant, Fiction at Bookwalter, rocks too! www.bookwalterwines.com

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2015 Eroica Riesling, Columbia Valley ($22) / 92 Pts

Despite being the hottest year on record in Washington State, the 2015 vintage will be remembered for producing a dazzling range of white wines that made an immediate impact in the marketplace. An excellent example is the Eroica Riesling, a special collaboration by talented winemakers Bob Bertheau of Chateau St. Michelle and Ernst Loosen of Mosel in Germany. Layered primarily with pristine fruit from the Evergreen Vineyard in Yakima Valley; this spirited young wine features lifted aromas and vibrant flavors of ripe peach, exotic melon, raw coconut, orange blossom, fresh lime, mineral and white truffle; bright acidity; and a clean, crisp finish. As concluded at our special seminar at Sunset Magazine earlier this year, this wine can go head to head with the finest Rieslings in the world. A true signature wine of Washington State. www.ste-michelle.com

CMS 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, Washington State $15 / 89 pts

Crafted by gifted winemaker Sarah Hedges Goedhat and the team at Hedges Winery in Benton City, the fruit for this unique white wine was mainly grown on the famed Wahluke Slope and specialty sites in Yakima Valley. To compliment the fresh, acid-driven flavors of Sauvignon Blanc, smaller percentages of Chardonnay and Marsanne were added to create more complexity, mouthfeel and texture. As a result, this energetic wine stimulates the senses with notes of crisp green apple, tart lemon, pineapple upside down cake, roasted almonds, racy acidity, and a long, dry finish. Elegant and refreshing from start to finish. www.hedgesfamilyestate.com

L’Ecole No. 41 2015 Estate Luminescence, Seven Hills Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley ($22) / 92 Pts

As one of the premiere white wine producers in the US, L’Ecole has been making this fascinating blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc since 2007. Therefore, from the moment the cork is popped, this new release immediately draws attention with fresh aromas of ripe tropical fruits, honeysuckle, mineral and spring flowers. Same is true on the palate, which is filled with delicious notes of fresh quince, exotic melon, poached pear, guava and rich texture leading to a long elegant finish. Captivating, complex and a real steal for the price. www.lecole.com

Lauren Ashton 2014 Roussanne, Columbia Valley ($25) / 91 Pts

Following his passion to make his own signature style of world-class, Seattle-based dentist Kit Singh founded Lauren Ashton Cellars in Woodinville in 2009. Through the years, the winery has gained a reputation for producing a brilliant range of high-quality red and white wines which pair extremely well with fine cuisine. As tasted with Kit and his wife at Riinu at RN74 in Seattle, one of the new gems is the 2014 Roussanne. With a light golden hue and fragrant aromas, this lovely wine features lively notes of fresh stone fruits, peach and citrus interlaced with hints of chamomile and mineral; a burst of perky acidity; and a tangy finish that refreshes the palate after each sip. Overall, a fantastic example of the aromatic, energetic and thought-provoking Rhone-style whites coming out of Washington State! www.laurenashtoncellars.com

Game faces! With Corey Braunel and Chad Johnson, the proprietors of Dusted Valley Winery, getting ready to taste the 2015 Chardonnay and other tasty wines from their portfolio at the Dusted Valley Tasting Room in Walla Walla Valley.

Dusted Valley 2015 Chardonnay, Olsen Vineyard, Yakima Valley ($34) / 92 Pts

With so many buttery Chardonnays in the marketplace, it’s great when you find one that draws your attention with a bounty of fresh aromas and fruit-driven flavors. From the high-elevation Olsen Vineyard in Yakima Valley, this new release from Dusted Valley is an excellent example of this style. To capture the purity of the flavors, the wine was aged primarily in neutral barrels, stainless steel and concrete eggs. In the glass, this attention to detail shows with delicate notes of fresh Anjou pear, white peach, grapefruit, zippy acidity, and subtle nuances of wet stones and spice. Fabulous by itself or with fresh fish, herb-roasted chicken or grilled pork chops with a squeeze of lemon. www.dustedvalley.com

Woodward 2015 Chardonnay, Washington State ($44) / 94 Pts

Meticulously crafted with premium grapes planted at the Woodward Canyon Estate in Walla Walla Valley and the Celilo Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge appellation, here’s a sophisticated wine for Chardonnay lovers. Led by tantalizing aromas of stone fruits, caramel, mineral and roasted hazelnuts, the wine opens up with rich flavors of Asian pear, baked apple, ginger spice, lemon rind, vanilla and nutmeg. Well-balanced with a silky, suede-like texture, vibrant acidity and a lingering finish, not only is this a sexy wine right out of the gate, but its one those gems that will reveal more of its natural personality and style when decanted or aged in the cellar for 5-10 years. Exquisite! www.woodwardcanyon.com

Owen Roe 2015 Chardonnay, DuBrul Vineyard, Yakima Valley ($48) / 93 Pts

Located on a sloping hillside along the western edge of Yakima Valley, the DuBrul Vineyard is known for growing world-class Chardonnay grapes bursting at the seams with a complex flavors, natural acidity and distinct characteristics based on where the vines are planted on the property. To capture this profile in the bottle, the team at Owen Roe takes a hand-off approach to let the vineyard speak for itself. The latest case in point is the stylish offering from the 2015 vintage. Anchored around the lively notes of fresh white peach, fresh pineapple, lemon and exotic melons, generated by the vines planted at the lower elevation; the flavors are further enhanced with subtle nuances of wild herbs, ginger, citrus, mineral and vibrant acidity from the higher blocks; and rounded out with creamy texture and a subtle kiss of oak that makes every sip count. www.owenroe.com

Novelty Hill 2014 Late Harvest Semillon, Stillwater Creek Vineyard, Columbia Valley ($25) / 92 Pts

If you’re looking for dessert wine with personality and style, check out this limited-release Late Harvest Semillon from Novelty Hill. After gaining a reputation for crafting an expansive series of award-winning red, white and dessert wines during his tenure as head winemaker at Chateau Ste. Michelle in the 1990s, Mike Januik began developing his Januik and Novelty Hill labels in 1999. And although he has make two sweet wines under his Januik label, the Bacchus Vineyard Riesling and the Champoux Vineyard Muscat Canelli; the 2014 Late Harvest Semillon is only the third release made with precious fruit from his family’s Stillwater Creek Vineyard (2007 and 2011 were the others). Aged in French barrels, the wine immediately dazzles the senses with aromas of fresh flowers, ripe tree fruits and beeswax. In the glass, the flavors are ripe, deep and explosive, with layers of pear, peaches, mango, citrus, ripe fig, and a lengthy finish that is rich and vivacious instead of being too sweet or cloying. Graceful and satisfying in every sip, it’s a great wine to enjoy by the fire or serve with tangy cheeses, Key Lime Pie and a myriad of other fruit-based desserts. www.noveltyhilljanuik.com

Washington State Wine Month: Let the celebration begin!

Go north my friends! Each August, members of the Washington State Wine Commission celebrate the countdown to harvest with Washington State Wine Month, an interactive set of wine events and promotions designed to showcase the unique characteristics of the wide range of flavorful offerings made with premium grapes grown throughout the state.

In keeping with the theme, SawyerSomm decided there was no better time than the present to do a series of wine education posts focused on lessons learned from my visits to Seattle, Woodinville, Walla Walla Valley and the greater Columbia Valley appellation over the past year.

To get you started, below is a quick summary of the winegrowing areas of Washington State. Stay tuned for The Sommelier Files reviews on some of their hip new white wines, red wines and dessert wines; reports on the progression of the up-and-coming appellations; introductions to the people behind the brands; food and lodging tips for your next trip to the state of Washington; and much more!

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(Left to Right) A view from the fountain at Hedges Winery; Map of the Red Mountain Appellation; Paired wine dinner with Januik & Novelty Hill; Vineyard expanse at Hedges Winery

Exploring the Pacific Northwest: Compelling info on Washington State Wines

Atop the Pacific Northwest, Washington State has a rich history of growing wine grapes dating back to 1825. Many of the original grapes were American native varieties or hybrids planted along the Puget Sound between Seattle and Olympia and the more isolated Walla Walla Valley in the southeast part of the state. Consequently, it wasn’t until the 1960s that the first wave of the modern-day winemaking pioneers began putting more emphasis on planting popular varieties like Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.

The largest appellation is the Columbia Valley, which covers 11-million acres east of the Cascade Mountains. Within these borders are the sub-appellations of Yakima Valley, Walla Walla Valley, Horse Heaven Hills, Wahluke Slope, Red Mountain, Columbia Gorge, Rattlesnake Hills, Snipes Mountain, Lake Chelan, Naches Heights, and Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley. Together, the region represents 99% of the premium vineyards planted in Washington.

A very special Syrah block in the Rocks AVA of Walla Walla Valley.

With dry, high desert conditions, the region averages less than ten inches of rainfall per year. So instead, the critical water supply for the vineyards is generated by the melting snow caps from the mountains. The combination of an icy winter and a high concentration of sandy and rocky soils also make the conditions ideal for naturally defending against phylloxera, a lethal vine louse, which commonly requires the use of special root stocks in California and Oregon. Therefore, a large percentage of the vines in Washington are own-rooted and many of the vineyards are farmed with state-of-the-art machine harvesters.

On the western side of the state near Seattle, the Puget Sound appellation is a much cooler and wetter area which specializes in more unique grape varieties like Madeleine Angevine, Siegerebbe and Muller Thurgau, as well as promising newer plantings of Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.

With over 50,000 acres of vineyards planted, Washington now ranks second in the United States for premium wine production. It’s a huge step forward over the past two decades—especially when you consider that there were only 17,100 acres planted in 1997. As a result, the state now features over 900 wineries and 350 vineyards that are home to world-class grapes.

But make no mistake, Washington cannot be defined by a single grape or even a group of grapes. Therefore, while it’s true Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Riesling and Chardonnay account for over 75 percent of the vineyards and wine production in the state; there are currently more than 30 varieties planted and experimentation continues.

“Diversity is what it’s all about here in Washington State,” says winemaker Scott Moeller, who works with Pacific Northwest wine legend Mike Januik and his son Andrew at Novelty Hill-Januik and the winery’s cutting-edge tasting room and production facility in Woodinville, which is just 25-minutes northeast of Seattle.

…Stay tuned for more SawyerSomm details about what is hot in Washington State in 2017 and beyond!

Enjoy More Zin at the Simply Summer Celebration, August 13th!

Follow up the Zin Zin Din Din with a cool (air-conditioned) weekend outing! Head to Trentadue Winery in Geyserville for the Simply Summer Celebration to continue celebrating Zinfadel of Northern Sonoma County, pairing the widest range of foods, while showcasing the unlimited expressions of taste.  Mark your calendar for this coming Sunday, August 13th, from 12:30-3:30.

There you will find. . .
~More than 60 wineries from all over California
~A chance to meet celebrity winemakers
~BBQ meal selections available for purchase by Cochon Volant
~Free dessert samples by Sonoma Cake Creations
~Ticket includes admittance, wine tasting, and ZAP logo wine glass

See you there! Christopher

Oregon Pinot Noir with a French Twist

Based at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon, the International Pinot Noir Celebration has brought joy to wine fans who love drinking world-class wines made with variations of this noble grape grown in Oregon, California, Burgundy and other special regions around the globe. This year’s festivities in late July marked a chance to learn about where Pinot Noir has come over the past three decades and how the special combination of French soul and Oregon soil helped make the Willamette Valley one of the top wine growing regions of the world.

It is a journey that began four years before “Papa Pinot,” the young American adventurer David Lett of The Eyrie Vineyards, planted young samplings of the first Pinot Noir grapes near Corvallis, Oregon in 1965; another early pioneer to see the potential to plant world-class vines in the region was Frenchman Joseph Drouhin, who came to the region to sell his family’s wine from Burgundy in 1961. But it wasn’t until 25 years later that Drouhin’s daughter Veronique laid the foundation to accomplish this dream when she visited the region and interned with upcoming wineries Adelsheim Vineyards, Bethel Heights and Eyrie in 1986.

The following year, Veronique and her family established Domaine Drouhin Oregon. Today, the majestic winery in the Dundee Hills represents a signature French accent that helped put Willamette Valley and other segments of Oregon on the world wine map to stay.

To celebrate the 30-year anniversary of these accomplishments, the Grand Seminar at this year’s festival, moderated by wine critic Eric Asimov of the New York Times, was aptly titled The French Adventurers: Burgundians Making Pinot Noir in Oregon. Here is the SawyerSomm synopsis of the seminar and the a few Domaine Drouhin wine reviews.

Veronique Boss-Drouhin, Domaine Drouhin Oregon, Dundee

Like her father Joseph, who originally visited the Willamette Valley in 1961, Veronique Boss-Drouhin immediately saw the promise of the region primarily located west of Highway 101 and the Pacific mountains between Portland and Eugene, when she first visited the area in 1986. Although the region did not have the limestone soils of Burgundy, Drouhin loved the cool climate and the various forms of basalt and volcanic soils that make it a prime region to grow the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris grapes she studied while attending the University of Dijon in the mid-1980s. However, it wasn’t until 1986 that the family’s dreams of planting vines in the region started to become a reality.

When the first 96 barrels of DDO wines were made the following year, the family didn’t own a winery or had to source the grapes they worked with. But after the original Pommard and Wadenswil clones of Pinot Noir were planted and the winery was finished a few years later near Dundee, the winery has become one of the most celebrated Pinot Noir producers in the United States.

In the words of John Paul, proprietor of Dundee-based Cameron Winery, who spoke briefly at the IPNC seminar, “Veronique and her family brought the legitimacy that the Oregon wine industry really needed.”

Domaine Drouhin 2014 Roserock Zephirine, Eola-Amity Hills / $60 – 97 pts
Although it’s a relatively new planting on the southern edge of the exciting Eola-Amity Hills appellation, winemaker Veronique Drouhin-Boss loves the possibility of this new DDO estate vineyard. The quality of the fruit shows in this new release, which is from the warm vintage of 2014. Rich, supple and concentrated, the wine starts with attractive aromas of dark fruits, potpourri, fresh tea leafs, blood orange peel and licorice. The flavors are equally deep, with deep notes of black plum, raspberry, wild strawberry, red cherry, mineral, chewy tannins, structure and layers of savory spice on the finish.

Domaine Drouhin 2012 Cuvée Laurene, Dundee Hills / $70 – 96 pts
Soft, subtle and graceful. Lovely aromas of ripe red fruits, cola, earth tones and baking spice. Lively flavors of dark cherry, wild berries, plum, cocoa, fresh sage and forest floor. Overall, elegance and finesse from start to finish, with the structure and natural verve showing with more time in the glass. A classic signature of the DDO style.

Taste of Mt Veeder: August 5th at Hess in Napa

Join me for this rare opportunity to TASTE and ORDER Mount Veeder wines…many of which are not open to the public and are difficult to acquire (See the full list below).

18th Annual Mt. Veeder Appellation Tasting
Saturday, August 5, 2017
1:00 – 4:00 p.m.
The Hess Collection Winery
4411 Redwood Road, Napa

Walk Around Wine Tasting, Gourmet Food Pairings from Hess Executive Chef, Chad Hendrickson, Silent Auction, Prizes and Live, High-Energy Blues from The Hummingbirdz!

Single Vineyard night in Sonoma County June 30th

Join Russian River Valley Winegrowers for an amazing tasting experience of Russian River Valley single vineyard wines. More than 40 wineries will be pouring small-lot, single vineyard wines from the Russian River Valley, including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc. Guests will dine on delicious appetizers, including a grill station with sausages, hanger steak and sliders.

Friday, June 30, 2017
VIP Tasting: 5:30 – 6:30 PM
MAIN EVENT: 6:30 – 8:30 PM
Vintner’s Inn, 4350 Barnes Road, Santa Rosa
TICKETS!

Take a trek Behind The Cellar Door: March 4-5

Seriously!  This is an opportunity to go taste some of those foothill wines I keep telling you about.  In fact, I have 2 FREE DAY PASSES to this one, Behind the Cellar Door, for the first person to write a note to wine@sawyersomm.com with their mailing address.  What you get in return is a weekend of touring the lovely Amador County wineries, towns and landscape. The caveat?   I just ask you to report back here for all of SawyerSomm with your favorite wines from the tour.  Believe me, you will thank me for this!

For those that aren’t quick enough on the draw, you can still
purchase tickets HERE until Feb 28th.  Have fun everyone!

Wine Education: In depth with Napa Valley!

Flavor! Napa Valley is just six weeks away, March 22 through 26!  Make sure to get your tickets for my seminars now.  Many are already SOLD OUT, so get them while you can!  To get both your palate and cerebellum ready, enjoy this article I wrote about Napa Valley below for BuyWine.com.  

Napa Valley, California

Mention Napa Valley, and most people have a story to tell about a memorable wine they’ve had from the region. It’s an interesting point when you consider that the valley is only 30 miles long, a few miles wide, and represents roughly 4% of the amount of grapes picked in California. But despite being a relatively small area, the big reputation is built on making world-class wines with fruit grown on family-owned vineyards.

Squeezed between the Mayacamas and Vaca Mountain ranges, 45 minutes north of San Francisco, Napa Valley was the first American Viticultural Area or AVA to be designated in California in 1981. Back then, there was only a handful of wineries in the region. But today, there are 500-plus wineries and a shared dedication to growing premiere vineyards in diverse soils and warm, arid climate conditions that are similar to those found in the famous winegrowing regions along the Mediterranean. The end result is an elaborate matrix of vineyards varying in elevation from sea-level to 2,600 feet that produce low yields and high-quality fruit used to make some of the most prolific wines enjoyed in America and around the globe.

Grape Expectations

Whites: Sauvignon Blanc is the dominant white grape planted in the gravelly soils on the valley floor, particularly in the warmer segments in the northern part of the valley. Whereas, ….In the more clay and sandy-based soils stretching from Yountville to San Pablo Bay at the southern end of the valley, Chardonnay is the most widely planted white grape at the southern end of the valley. Smaller offerings to look for include: Semillon, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Riesling.

Reds: For red grapes, Napa Valley is best known for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Bordeaux-style blends made with smaller portions of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. Other specialty plantings in the region include: Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Grenache, and Pinot Noir.

Tasty Sensations

White Wines: The diverse styles of Sauvignon Blanc vary in style from racy and tangy to elegant and complex. Some are aged entirely in stainless steel tanks to preserve the purity of the grape; some have a portion of the blend aged in egg-shaped concrete fermenters; and others have a touch of neutral or new oak. The Chardonnays tend to be riper and more full-bodied than those from the more coastal regions of California. And in addition to being blended with Sauvignon Blanc to make a more complex, Bordeaux-style white wine; Semillon is also used to make aromatic sweet wines with flavors of ripe tropical fruits.

Red Wines: There’s no denying that Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of Napa Valley. The styles of the region range from earthy, tangy and spicy with emphasis on red fruits; to bolder styles with notes of dark berries, cherry, chocolate and varying levels of oak; to the more full-bodied opulent flavors, and the potential to age for decades in the cellar. Most of the Merlots are medium to full-bodied with emphasis on ripe red fruits, milk chocolate, and spice. The Zinfandels and Petite Sirahs are mainly from old vines—many of which are still farmed by the families who planted these vineyards before the focus of the valley shifted towards Bordeaux varietals. For that reason, many of the wines made with these grapes have distinctive fruit flavors and layers of spice.

Food Pairings

As a rule, many of the Sauvignon Blancs from Napa Valley match perfectly with a wide range of cuisine, including oysters on the half-shell, goat cheese, gourmet salads, sushi and lighter meats on the grill, to spicier dishes that fall under the categories of Mexican, Vietnamese and Thai cuisine. For Chardonnay, the lighter styles pair nicely with appetizers and starting courses; while the more full-bodied offerings are fantastic to pair with seafood, poultry, pork, pasta, and white sauces.

In the red wine category, the more elegant styles of Cabernet Sauvignon are very compatible with daintier dishes like grilled vegetables, seared Ahi tuna, roasted chicken and Asian cuisine with plum sauce. For the bolder and more complex styles, rib-eye steak, lamb and blue cheese are great choices. For Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Bordeaux-style blends; think wild mushrooms, quinoa, salmon, quail, and meats seasoned with herb-based rubs. While Zinfandels and Petite Sirahs are sassy, savory, and ideal for pairing with grilled red meats, veggies, and elaborate pizza.