Friday, February 19, 2010

Columbia Crest Winery: A Chardonnay Retrospective

Columbia Crest Winery, located in scenic Paterson, Washington, has become a household word. If you were to ask about it, most wine lovers would say that they are familiar with the brand or have tried many of the wines. But what makes this winery so special? The winery was founded in 1984 and has produced more 90+ point scoring wines than any other winery in the world. The wines are consistent, value-oriented and consumer-friendly. In part, Columbia Crest could be considered a staple in the wine industry. Since 1993, their winemaking has been under the watchful eye of Ray Einberger. Ray's illustrious career has included stints at Napa Valley's Opus One and Silverado Vineyards and Bordeaux's Chateau Mouton-Rothschild. In 2002, he became head winemaker and his talent shines!

I recently decided to do a tasting of my own and obtained four bottles of Ray's Chardonnay--all at different tier levels, from the simplest and least pricey to the most complex. I wanted to see how they differed. All were very enjoyable wines and I would highly recommend them.

The first one I sampled was the 2007 Two Vines Columbia Valley Chardonnay. It was a very simple, very tasty wine with gobs of apples, melon and citrus. The mid-palate was lush and for $7 a bottle (the average price), it is worth keeping a few of these around the house.

The 2008 Grand Estates Chardonnay is the one I was most familiar with. I've been consistently drinking this wine since the late 90s and have found it to be a joy! This wine scores highly with critics on a yearly basis. It drinks like it costs a lot more money. It's balanced with apple, pear and caramel and a kiss of butter on the smooth, lingering finish. And on average, it's about $12 a bottle! I never get tired of drinking this one!

Last night whilst shopping at my local grocery store, I spied a bottle of the 2008 H3 Chardonnay--H3 standing for Horse Heaven Hills. As you may know, I recently did a blog on the H3 Cabernet Sauvignon, which was a wonderful find, so I expected greatness from this one as well. The grapes hail from Horse Heaven Hills, which adds a dusty, flinty quality to the wine. Greatness? I got it! This wine was very different than any Chardonnay I'd encountered in the past. It was like biting into a Fuji apple--so spicy with lingering apple flavor, flinty minerals and a round finish with vanilla-butter. Terrific wine. At $15 a bottle, who can afford not to have some of this wine around?

Last, but certainly not least, is a bottle I received as a gift from a friend recently and I am happy to say it was a great gift! It was the 2008 Reserve Chardonnay. With grapes sourced from their Estate Vineyard Block 95 in Horse Heaven Hills, this wine is racy, very fruit-forward. With pears, creamy toasted oak and a nutty coconut vanilla finish. Very rich mid-palate. Just lovely and only about $20 a bottle.

So as you can see, all of the above are awesome values from a great Washington state producer everyone should get to know better! These wines are available in most markets, grocery stores, wine shops or on the winery website at Cheers and happy shopping!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Cellarmistress Tastes Live From The Russian River!

Awhile back, I had an eye-opening experience when I accepted an opportunity to taste some world-class Chardonnay and Pinot Noir hailing from the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County. The event was TasteLive on Twitter and the host winery was DeLoach Vineyards. As a participant, I received a box of six sample bottles---all 2007 single vineyard wines. As the event began earlier that day than anticipated, I was only able to participate in tasting four of the six wines but the experience left me longing for more and wanting to learn more about this exquisite area of wine country!

DeLoach Vineyards, located in Santa Rosa, CA, received a push into the limelight in 2003 when Jean-Charles Boisset (of Burgundy's famed Boisset Family) visited the area and really fell in love with it, realizing it was perfect for growing and producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. He purchased the winery and since then, the focus has been on biodynamic, organic and sustainable farming practices. The current young winemaking team of Julia Vasquez and Brian Maloney have a fresh, new approach. They worked closely with famed consulting winemaker Greg LaFollette, formerly of Flowers and currently with Tandem Winery (I had the pleasure of meeting Greg and sampling some of his Tandem wines last Summer). With their common goal, they are achieving many accolades for their wines. This past September, DeLoach Vineyards was named a Top 100 Winery Of The Year by Wine & Spirits Magazine. While Greg is no longer consulting with DeLoach, his legacy lives on and judging from the wines I was able to sample, I can foresee many great things for DeLoach Vineyards in the future!

I have to say I was impressed with the wines. They're representative of some of the great wines coming from this area and are definitely worth seeking out!

2007 Hawk Hill Vineyard Chardonnay: This wine was huge! An intense burst of grapefruit and pears, with a wonderful minerality and herbaceousness that lasted right into the velvety, butter-like finish. I asked one of the winemakers about the high alcohol content of this wine, 15.5%. I had not encountered this level in a Chardonnay before. They said that in 2007, they pushed the envelope as far as seeing how far they could take this wine. It is intense and powerful and worth every bit of its $50.00 price tag. Wow!

2007 Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay: A little more oaked but a lot more tropical with tangerine, lemon and some stone fruit, this wine had a slight flinty flavor and a nice nutty finish. It wasn't as round as the Hawk Hill but would be easy to pair up with a variety of seafood and poultry dishes and reminded me of a cooler climate chardonnay. $45.00.

2007 Green Valley Pinot Noir: What can I say? The Russian River Valley produces some exquisite Pinot Noir and this one was a fine example of it! Red fruit (raspberry, rhubarb) and roses-this is cool climate Pinot Noir at its finest!! $45.00

2007 Masut Vineyard Pinot Noir: For those of you who like your Pinot Noir with more depth, this one is for you! I was astounded at the color of this wine. Deep and dark. Redolent of boysenberries, blackberries, dark cinnamon and spice. An absolutely amazing wine that could stand up to the best steaks and rival those Cabernets out there! $45.00.

So, where can you run out to get some of these fantastic finds? Well, if you don't live in the area, the best thing to do would be to check out their website, or call your local wine shop to see if they can order it for you. If you do live in the area, please stop by and visit their tasting room in Santa Rosa. They have so many more wines and surprises waiting for you there!

'Til the next Taste Live! Here's to you! Cheers!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Let's Get Naked...

Every June in Des Moines, Iowa, there is a one weekend event we call "Wine Fest Des Moines." I try to attend every year because the ticket prices are nominal (in comparison to similar events in bigger cities) and there are some outstanding and interesting wines that are showcased. Of all the years I have attended, 2008 stood out for me. It was the year that I was introduced to so many new wineries. I remember walking up to one particular winery booth and noticing some very interesting titles on their wine bottles.

The word "innuendo" came to mind as I read the names of these wines, "Escort Pinot Gris," "Foreplay Chardonnay," "Missionary Cabernet Sauvignon" and the killer "Penetration Cabernet Sauvignon." It was enough to make even a budding "Cellarmistress" blush!

Seeing that it's Valentine's Day soon, I thought a little naughtiness would be in order so I'd like to introduce you to this sexy winery I encountered...

Naked Winery is a small, family-owned winery located in Hood River, Oregon, which is east of Portland where the Columbia River divides Oregon and Washington. They specialize in wines from both states. Their wines run the gamut when it comes to the various varietals they use and their fun, infectious banter and slogans keep fans coming (pardon the pun) for more! They even joke that their grapes are "orgasmically" grown, their wines are made by naked nymphs and will not disclose the name of their winemaker. Cute. In a nutshell, they call themselves the "World's Sexiest Winery." I decided I need to delve further into this phenomenon and find out more for myself. Short of visiting Oregon, I didn't have good access to many of their wines at the retail level here, so I contacted the winery and they were gracious enough to send me a box of samples and a cute t-shirt with their slogan on it. I also received a note stating they would be attending the Wine Bloggers' Conference in Walla Walla this Summer so I am really looking forward to meeting them!

Can a winery, in spite of all this sexiness and joking around, come up with a winning formula--great wines at a great price? Is it just a gimmick to entice wine drinkers? I believe the answer is yes to the winning formula and no to the gimmick. I would like to share some notes because I truly enjoyed every single wine I sampled and each wine could sell itself without any added "tricks." But who's to say we can't have some fun with the "tricks!"

2008 "Tease" Riesling-Hails from Oregon and a nice, dry Riesling to boot. I really enjoyed the stone fruit of honey-rich apricots followed by a citrus kick and really nice acidity. Perfect with my sushi. (You'll hear me talk about sushi a lot. It's my new favorite food...) Thumbs up! $18.00.

2007 "Naked" Pinot Gris--This one originates in Rogue Valley of Oregon. It was absolutely wonderful. Just an easy drinking, fruit-forward, crisp Pinot Gris. You don't have to put much thought into it. Just enjoy it. Pears. It's all about pears...

2005 Columbia Valley Merlot--This one doesn't really have a sexy nickname, though it should...I'm thinking they should re-name it "The Seductress" because that is exactly what she is...Luscious dark berries, a ton of spice, smooth and velvety...I could go on and on...Yow-za... You will be enticed, seduced and satisfied with this beautiful Merlot. She is voluptuous and "Va-Va-Va-Voom!" $22.00.

2004 Columbia Valley "Penetration" Cabernet Sauvignon--Yes, folks you're hearing it from my "Virgin" (heh!) lips, the name of this wine had me blushing all over the festival...It is HUGE! The "Big Daddy" of their Cabernet Sauvignons. It is FULL of dark berries, meaty and earth-shaking! Bring it on!! $30.00.

With these and so many more enticing wines,who wouldn't want to further explore the possibilities? They're on to something so if you happen to be in the Hood River, Oregon area, please visit their tasting room and experience it for yourselves! And if not, please visit their website, for more enticing wines and sexy fun! Who needs to sing about "Bringing Sexy Back"? As far as the Naked Winery is concerned, it has been in Oregon this entire time! Happy early Valentine's Day! Be good to your loved ones and MAKE IT "NAKED"!!!