Thursday, January 10, 2019

Review of Domaine Pouillon "Katydid" 2014 Rhone blend

This blend has about 32% Grenache and Mouvedre, versus just 20% Syrah, and the rest Counoise and Cinsault. The winery's near Lyle WA. All the fruit's from Horse Heaven Hills (WA), a great AVA.

In style this is more French than American, but has characteristics of each. The nose was good, with dark fruits, but was fleeting. The palate likewise had good balance and nice flavors, but the flavors fade fast in the glass. What hits in the finish, reveals the problem: I think my bottle was Bretty. Brettanomyces is a spoilage yeast which, in small concentrations, is valued for adding complexity to wine, but in larger amounts it's a flaw. It robs wines of their aroma and flavor, and I think that happened here. I had Brett issues in some of my Epona wines once, and learned how to minimize the risk. So far, I've avoided Brett since that learning time. Once this winery identifies the issue and learns how to avoid it, wines like this one will be very good.

Exotic Grapes, for winelovers who need a change

Check out this article.

Glad to say I know something about most of these grapes, but it's true they are not well-known generally. Blaufrankish is called "Lemberger" around here, and is fairly well known (I've sold it several times). Ditto for Menci, a neat Spanish native grape that grows on riparian hillsides so steep that the grape is tended and harvested by boat!


Friday, December 21, 2018

Pourt - a port-style wine made by Epona

I invented and claim a trademark in the word "Pourt." I invented that word in order to have a name for my sweet, high-alcohol wine that doesn't run afoul of the word "Port," because "Port" is reserved to ONLY port-style wines made in the Douro region of Portugal.

To me, "pourt" refers to "pouring" as well as to "port."

If another winery would like to use the word "Pourt" in the US, they should contact me for permission.  kenton.erwin@gmail.com

That said, my 2016 Raspberry Pourt is just now hitting the market! $10 for a 375ml bottle. Fantastic, pure raspberry flavor, with a rich, thick body and a hint of old toasted oak.


Thursday, December 13, 2018

Montague 2014 Columbia Valley WA Red Wine - Yuck!

I can't recall how I came by this bottle. My notes say it is about a $20 bottle. At four years old, it should have been pretty good tonight. But out of the bottle, it was instantly and irretrievably flawed! The most awful stink of (I'm guessing:) cork taint! It could have been some other volatile flaw. It really stank. I waited and waited, to see if it would blow off, and it finally did mitigate somewhat, but who wants to wait thirty minutes before they can drink a wine they just opened for dinner?

What a shame. This wine had some nice and fresh dark fruits. But every time I poured some more, it was full of that flaw again.

Maybe the winemaker didn't have a clue. Some problems develop in-bottle. But this is a horrible mark on that winery, whoever they are. You just can't sell wines like this. I hope I don't!

Cellar Tracker reviewers like this one, but the latest post was 1.5 years ago. Maybe it needed to be drunk in just 3 years, but that would be odd for this region and wine type.

 This winery doesn't have a website! This suggests the wine was made for a distributor, by a winemaker who usually works at a publicized winery. Maybe the distributor bought some bad wine cheap and hoped they could market it. Oh, well.

Another great reason to not use oak wine barrels:

Read this scary article!  Opus One sues a maker of wine barrels, alleging cork taint (TCA) in the barrels. Wow.

There are many reasons not to age wine in wooden barrels: They leak. They are expensive. They have a limited useful life. They are more work to maintain. Stacking them in barrel racks uses up more winery space than ceretain other forms of storage. And they can be infected.

There is a better alternative: Simply put the oak into the wine! Oak chips, oak cubes, oak staves. Easy.


Monday, December 3, 2018

Climate change and grapes

This article scares me: We're seeing, today, the changes in climate that were recently forecasted for 2050!

There are some big losers in Grapeworld, and, probably, a few winners. Poor Australia, hit with more drought and too much heat. When ripening happens too fast, the flavors don't always have time to mature, and yet the grape must be picked, or else the sugars will be so high it's akin to making vodka, not wine.

Even in the US and Europe, flavors are shifting from the red and purple fruits (which I love, as expressed in wine) to black fruits (which I don't like because they can also include flavors like licorice and tar). And higher summer rainfall caused more humidity, which causes more Powdery Mildew on the grapevines. And we are seeing earlier ripening, in our SW WA vineyard, for sure.


(photo credit: Google images)

Sunday, December 2, 2018

2018 Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais Nouveau!

Embaraassed to say that it's been a long, long time since I drank a Beaujolais Nouveau (made from the Gamay grape in Beaujolais, which sits south of Burgundy and north of the Rhone). The Nouveau is made quickly and sold in late November. It's meant to be drunk young, and slightly chilled.

Why I love this wine:

It's got great purple fruits, to go with its lively purple robe (color). Zesty attack. The fruit notes are much more forward than most European wines, and my New World palate loves that. The grape notes are "grapey," which is unusual in most fine wines ("grapeiness" is usually found in Vitis labrusca species of grape, and Concord (think Welch's grape jelly) is the best example of labrusca). But it works here. There is also a lot of acid (the wine is ridiculously young), but that works as well. Gamay is a great grape that not many winelovers take seriously, but they should. Even in the Willamette Valley, you see Pinot growers plant Syrah as the climate warms--but they skipped over Gamay!

We're going to have this wine tonight with a casserole of potatoes, onion, garlic, in cream and lots of pepper and allspice, and with sardines and anchovies. That is one of several types of preferred dishes with this wine. Can't wait!

My price to sell it was just $15; it has wonderful quality for that price.

It doesn't hurt that this Nouveau was made by Joseph Drouhin, a world-reknowned Burgundy family (Pinot Noir; Chardonnay). But what a great wine, and what a great wine style! I encourage you to buy them. They are only available in November, through pre-order in August or September.


Monday, November 12, 2018

I published a book on modern grapes for the Pacific Northwest!

After researching, collecting, and testing many different grape varieties over the past 23 years, I turned all those testing notes into what I hope is a useful book for anyone considering growing grapes in the Pac Northwest. It is also useful if you want to read about farming, winemaking, and general nature-based philosophy.

You can buy the book (printed paperback or Kindle version) here.



The photo is of my own Leon Millot grapes. Thank you for checking out the book!


Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Orin Swift 2016 "Fragile" Rose - Can't live up to its hype

It was with a sense of excitement that I opened this bottle, after several customers told me that "you can never go wrong with anything made under this label." It's about $17-$19 retail, though I found it on a great sale and was able to sell it for just $10.

It's a deeply-colored rose. I am NOT one who likes only faintly-tinged rose wines. Why penalize a wine for having pretty color? Why turn away from a bigger-bodied rose (which a deeper color suggests may be present)? My Epona rose wine looks much like this one. It's a pretty bottle and label, which present well.

Nose: Not much going on. Sad. Our noses can distinguish thousands of different sensations, whereas our tongues can manage only six. Why winemakers don't pay attention to extracting a great bouquet, is beyond me.

Palate: Huh. A little disappointing. This wine is fine--it's got fruit and good acid. Certainly not a revelation or anything like that. There is a fairly pronounced bitter orange peel note that is too strong for me. The wine's definitely drinkable, and it's fine, but not quite super-enjoyable. Give me the $10 Barnard Griffin Rose of Sangio (a repeat Double Platinum winner up here in the NW) anyday over this. Give me an Epona rose (also $10) over this.


Monday, October 29, 2018

Italy's winegrapes suffer from climate change

Check out this article about how climate change is harming winegrapes in Italy. European winegrape production is way down lately, due to harmful weather patterns.

I think grapebreeders need to be making new grapes that feature the red and purple fruit flavors. Any grape that tends to express black fruit flavors will, if exposed to more heat than is ideal, develop flavors of tar, licorice, etc., which I don't like. This has long been a problem in parts of Australia, and is becoming a problem in the hotter parts of California and, now, Europe.


Sunday, September 30, 2018

Making Noble Wolf Malbec!

403 lbs of gorgeous Malbec grapes from Adolfo's "Noble Wolf" vineyard near Dallesport WA (high in the mountains above the Columbia River--about 1000' I think). 23 Brix; pH 3.2. Fantastic boysenberry jam flavor. Well-tended vines (a really pretty site, actually). Lucky to have sourced this fruit.

"Mal bec" in French means "bad mouth," meaning the wine tastes green when young. Right now, the juice is pure and rich, with great body and deep flavor, with no greenness, but that may come soon. The secret to good Malbec appears to be aging the wine for a long time, which lets the wine soften and mature into its final richness. Will do.

THANK YOU to Andrew who helped me crush this fruit in very high heat (for so late in September).



Saturday, September 29, 2018

2015 Hors Categorie Syrah

Lucky to be on the mailing list for this one Each of us gets just two bottles. Another spectacular achievement by Christophe Baron:

100 points, The Wine Advocate The 2015 Syrah from Hors Catégorie is spectacular, bursting from the glass with a stunning bouquet of smoked charcuterie, blackberries, licorice, dried violets and rich forest floor. Structured around beautifully velvety tannins on the palate, the wine is full-bodied, layered and immensely concentrated, yet it manages to remain weightless. While there's plenty of fruit here, it's this Syrah's mouthwateringly savory qualities that define the protracted, penetrating finish and make the wine so exciting. Cropped at a mere 0.8 tons per acre from a steep hillside vineyard that's trained on stakes à la Condrieu and Côte-Rôtie, this was matured in neutral oak, with the exception of one second-fill puncheon that was eliminated after the first racking, demonstrating that when it comes to new oak and Syrah, less is emphatically more..."
-- William Kelley of The Wine Advocate


98 points, International Wine ReportChristophe Baron first discovered this site in 2004, as the Syrah was planted on extremely steep slopes (60% grade at some places) near where the north fork of the Walla Walla River meets with the Walla Walla River. The 2015 Hors Catégorie Syrah is an absolutely stunning effort that shows a wonderful stony character along with smoked meats, raw meat, blood orange zest and red cherry candy on the nose. On the palate the silky mouthfeel and percision is simply incredible. The range of flavors continues to entices the senses with red cherry preserves, blood orange, white truffle oil, black pepper and green olive tapenade. The mouth-watering acidity and wonderful lifted character makes this nearly impossible to resist. This is another untterly captivating effort by Christophe Baron in this vintage.



Friday, September 28, 2018

Alloro 2012 Pinot Noir

Enjoying this great Pinot with Andrew, who just helped crush 403 lbs of Malbec from Noble Wolf Vineyard in Dallesport.

This has wonderful boysenberry fruit nose, is super-smooth, ripe and ready.  What an atypical Oregon Pinot, in that the fruits are rich and forward, and there's no barnyard aroma at all. (The barnyard would be welcome if present; it's just not there, and that's fine, too.)

As it ages in-glass, the end-palate and the finish tend to tar and black fruits. Not my favorite part of the experience. But still a fascinating wine. Andrew says there is often a hint of eucalyptus in Alloro's wines, and we thought this one had a hint of that as well.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Epona 2017 Cayuga white wine with grilled no-preservative sausages and a cabbage saute:

Highly recommend butcher boys (butcher shop) in vancouver. Killer good, no-preservative sausages. Simmer, then grill. With this saute of cabbage, shallot, havasu hot pepper, garlic, and our apples, and vinegar and sugar. With mustard of course. And my Epona Cayuga wine. Yum!


Slab 3 finished and for sale!

Slab 3 finished and for sale! Sitting bench or low table. 30"L x 16"W x 16"H. Single slab of walnut. All the wackiness you see in the grain is natural, except for spots where I filled cracks and holes with epoxy. From a fallen dead tree. (It's in Woodland WA now, but I can bring to Vancouver WA.) Custom steel legs with felt floorpads, from a blacksmith I like in NY.

This took about 50 hours of work, starting with a rough chainsaw-cut slab. Sanded by hand through six grits, with five rounds of epoxy fill, and interim sanding. Tung oil finish. Stamped "KLE 3" on the underside. The top is mirror-smooth; the edge is live and semi-rough. 

Next up (slab 4) is a twin of this slab--same size, shape, and grain. If you want a pair, I can't guarantee the finish color of slab 4 will be an exact match.


Check it out! The market will tell me if this is good or not; 3 and 4 are my last slabs unless they sell to enthusiastic buyers, in which case I'll go hunt for slab 5. If interested, pls contact me at kenton.erwin@gmail.com . Thank you!





Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Review: Five Star Cellars 2012 Supernova

I have long loved the wines of Five Star. They're in one of the WW2 army air force pre-fab buildings at the Walla Walla airport. This wine has 60% Petit Verdot and 31% Cab Franc, both from Walla Walla Valley. It's a great wine. Dark purple fruits; smooth; rich. Recommended.


Friday, September 7, 2018

Phelps Creek 2013 Pinot Noir - Review

I usually write how much I like a wine, but lately there've been a string of bad wines. The latest disappointment is the Phelps Creek 2013 Pinot Noir. It's awful. My distributor gave me a bottle to taste, for which I was grateful.

Bouquet: There's no red fruit, no fruit of any kind. Just hot alcohol. Later, the nose picks up some adverse chemical smell. Yuck. I suspect, from the bouquet, that this vineyard was either too hot, or was overcropped (for which Pinot Noir suffers horribly--it loses all of its varietal character).

Palate: From bad to worse. No pleasure at all in this drink. There is not a single thing in the flavors to point to and be positive about.

Not sure what the price is on this one but please don't buy it. Pinot Noir is a great grape, but it is difficult to grow and difficult to make good wine from, and even then it can be frustratingly changeable in the bottle. So much so that we tend to eschew Pinot now. Why waste the money, when so many of them are so uninspiring?

It could be that it's difficult to make a good Pinot Noir in the Columbia Gorge. But I suspect this one was from the wrong vineyard and made in the wrong way. Stay away.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Finally. That's more like it: Burnt Bridge Cellars 2013 "Couve Cuvee" (Columbia Valley WA)

How funny, that a low-cost local wine (made from Columbia Valley fruit) would outscore, BY A HUGE MARGIN, such supposedly-great wines as one from K Vintners and one from Beresan and one from Cascade Cliffs. All of those other wineries are well-known, and K Vintners is one of the great ones. But this red from Burnt Bridge is far better. Sharp purple fruits; good acid backbone; nice finish. It is a pleasure to drink with a mushroomy-beef-onion-garlicky-cream sauce dish.  I'd score it a solid 90. The others scored far worse. You really have to be careful, when you pay up for wines. So many times it is a poor decision.

Way to go Burnt Bridge!


Thursday, August 23, 2018

Tasting note: Beresan 2012 Merlot

I've had a run of unsatisfying reds lately. Cursing the luck.

The oak persists, but the fruit is mostly gone; what remains is a undercurrent of black fruit; not my favorite. No finish and almost no bouquet. Maybe it was better a few years ago, as this is a good winery. Disappointing. We had it with a good vegan dinner at Elements (formerly Willems) on Main in downtown Vancouver.


Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Tasting notes: 2015 K Vintners "The Boy" Grenache

This is a difficult review to write. For years I've stated that K Vintners is one of the three best wineries in Washington state (the others being Cayuse, and Barnard Griffin's white and rose wines only).  I called those three the "First Growths" of Washington.

But something has happened to K Vintners. We went to their Spring release party, and 80% of the wines weren't good to me. Who am I you ask, and it's a fair question. I'm a wine retailer and a commercial winemaker, and I've made wine for 23 years and grown grapes for longer than that. I've collected fine wines and resold them on the international market for over 40 years now. So I'm entitled to have an opinion.

Which brings us to this wine by Charles Smith. 95 points by Robert Parker, and 94 by Wine Enthusiast. Etc, etc. No doubt, Charles has reliably high reviews by the pros. Parker said:

"The 100% Grenache 2014 The Boy is a ripe, wild, peppery, meaty, rose petal and olive scented effort that has full-bodied richness, with a sensational, layered and silky texture, as well as ripe, polished tannin and a great finish. It's difficult to find a better Grenache from the New World."

Friends, I am here to tell you that, even with perfect cellaring, at four years old this wine is nowhere close to being worth $50. It has a good cherry nose, and it's rich and silky, but it's fleeting. The palate is meh. The finish is meh.  My spouse is a very tough critic on wines; she wouldn't drink this one. Wow. I gave it two days in the fridge, but it was no better, so I didn't rob the cradle with it. There is very little to commend it at this price point. Just another example of "experts" being wrong. 

Here is what you need to know: Every fiber of our imperfect mind wants to believe that a more-expensive wine is a better mind. But you need to retrain your instincts to rebel against such mistaken thinking. Italy and southern France and northern Spain and Argentina give us GREAT wines that cost from $9-$13. So why would you overpay $50 for this one? It is not ethereal. Yes, some expensive wines CAN be ethereal, and the search for them is worthwhile. But in general, any fool can overpay for wine--it is the easiest thing to do. What is very difficult is to find great wines at lower prices. That is what I've spent my years trying to master, with much success I think.

Now, understand: Charles is still a wine god to me. He can do amazing things with grapes. But I can no longer expect all his wines to be great. His Kung Fu Girl Riesling is one of the best lower-cost wines in the world. His higher-end Syrahs can be mesmerizing. But do not assume that all his wines are great. They are not. My suspicion is that once a winemaker achieves fame and fortune, it becomes exponentially more likely that their quality will slip. Just my opinion.