Tag Archive | Merlot

California Marathon Road Trip: Gundlach Bundschu

Our second winery stop was at Gundlach Bundschu – good luck trying to pronounce that name!  It is the oldest continuously family-owned winery in California.  It was founded by Jacob Gundlach in 1858 as Rhinefarm, with Charles Bundschu joining the company in 1868 – originally the farm in Sonoma was about 400 acres.  It was renamed Gundlach Bundschu in 1894 and at the turn of the 20th century the company was producing about 250,000 cases of wine each year.

Up until that point the winery facility was located in San Francisco, but the production facilities and about a million gallons of wine were destroyed by the earthquake in 1906.  They moved the production facility to Sonoma after the quake and then Prohibition hit.

During prohibition the winery closed its doors, and all but 130 acres of the farm were sold – the family managed to make a living selling grapes for juice and raising cattle.  After prohibition, the farm began selling grapes to Inglenook, Almaden and then Louis Martini wineries, but didn’t reopen the winery until the 1970s.

The winery now produces about 25,000 cases total – I believe all their wines are estate grown.  They have a huge tasting room with a gorgeous outdoor patio area; seems that they do a lot of events.  Too bad it was too cold to sit outside and enjoy the view!

Gundlach Bundschu Patio

Gundlach Bundschu Patio

Gundlach Bundschu was a fun winery; our server was Columbian and he was super friendly.  We tried Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.  We both loved the Zin!  It was fruit forward and balanced, without losing structure.  There was a lot of pepper and spice on the Merlot, and the Chardonnay was a nice acidic wine with a light balanced oak on the back of the palate.  The only wine I didn’t really like was the Gewürztraminer.  I liked it at first taste – it was semi-sweet with citrus, but there was a floral finish on the back of the palate that didn’t appeal to me.

Gundlach Bundschu Tasting Room

Gundlach Bundschu Tasting Room

While we were there several other groups came in, and you can tell they have a loyal following.  Which isn’t surprising, given the quality of the wine.  What a fantastic visit!

Merry Christmas!

I hope that everybody had a Merry Christmas and stuffed their faces silly with lots of high calorie foods and fantastic wine.  I know I did!  Over two days, we had prime rib, ham, mashed potatoes, au gratin potatoes, kale salad, squash salad, roasted beets, rolls, trifle, and red velvet cake (I know I’m leaving some things out…).  I also enjoyed sparkling Riesling, Picpoul Blanc, Merlot, apple cider, more apple cider and a taste of Zinfandel.  Not to mention fun with family, the glow of Christmas trees all lit up with sparkling ornaments, warm babies and warm cats snuggled on my lap (even at the same time!), and some lovely thoughtful gifts received and shared.  To top it all off, it wasn’t raining on the Pacific Northwest, and Jon and I enjoyed a nice hike at one of Washington’s National Historic Sites with his dad, brother and sister.  The views of the ocean and the farmlands of Island County at Ebey’s Landing National Historic Site were amazing, and unobscured by the clouds that are all too typical this time of year.

My thoughts go out to everybody who is struggling with illness or loss, or is experiencing the full force of mother nature, like my family in Michigan who are without power during an ice storm.  I am thinking of you all.  Even though I’m a day late, I want to wish a heartfelt Merry Christmas to all.  I am truly blessed.

Boise Road Trip: Snake River Winery

During our Boise road trip, we had an opportunity to taste at a couple of wineries.  We were already going to be in the downtown area, and since I knew nothing about any of Idaho’s wineries, location seemed as good a criteria as anywhere to select a few to visit (you have to start somewhere right?).  We visited Snake River Winery’s downtown tasting room on a super-hot Saturday in the later afternoon.

Snake River is an estate winery, meaning that they grow all their own grapes in their own vineyards – they have 75 acres planted.  They strive for sustainable and organic winery practices, including making their own compost from pomace (which is the solid remains of the grapes after the juice has been pressed off),  eliminating pesticides and using organic fungicides.  At this point, they don’t have a biodynamic certification, but are working towards it.

When we walked into the downtown tasting room, it surprised me a bit that we were the only ones there.  It was a great little shop with a tasting bar, and lots of cool gift items as well.  Wine glasses and associated wine goodies, Snake River t-shirts, and greeting cards.  Jon appreciated having some gift items to look at, as he always wanders away from the bar during a tasting.

I don’t remember all of the wines we tasted that day, but I was pleased with several.  The 2010 Rosé is a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Touriga Nacional.  It had a light sweetness and strawberry flavor, wonderfully refreshing for a hot, summer day.  Snake River Winery also makes a single varietal wine from its Touriga Nacional grapes, a bold red with strong tannins and black fruit.  The grape varietal is originally from Portugal, and not often seen in the United States, at least on the West Coast.  I really enjoyed this wine, and we brought home a bottle.

The wine list at Snake River is extensive, with offerings that include Chardonnay, Riesling, Barbera, Grenache, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Cab Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Syrah, as well as some blends.  And I was surprised to learn that they had another varietal that I had never tasted before, but unfortunately it wasn’t open that day.  Blauer Zweigelt, a varietal developed in 1922 in Austria, is more widely planted in Europe, but is beginning to be planted in British Columbia as well.  I’ll have to wait until another day to taste it!

Perhaps the best thing about Snake River though, is the wine pairing chocolates that they offer with the heavier reds, and sell packages of!  They are made from 85% Cocoa, and have a bitter dark chocolate taste that goes so well with the red wine.  These chocolates, made by a company called Dream Chocolate, are fantastic, and they are even better with wine!  I couldn’t resist bringing home a package of these as well!

I thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Snake River, and I hope to find their wines closer to home.  If you have a chance, stop in.

A Happy Ending at L’Ecole

Our last tasting of the day on our Walla Walla wine tour weekend was at L’Ecole No. 41 in the historic Frenchtown School just outside of Walla Walla in Lowden.  The building was built in 1915,  to replace the first Frenchtown School, a log cabin from 1870.  L’Ecole was founded in 1983, and is the third oldest winery in the Walla Walla area.

We arrived towards the end of the day, but our server was more than gracious about guiding us through a tasting and answering our questions.  The tasting room retains many of the original historic features, including the hardwood floors, and has been decorated with period Barrister Bookcases collected by the winery’s original owner. The ambiance of the tasting room just adds to the charm.

L 'Ecole No. 41 Tasting Room in the Historic Frenchtown School

L ‘Ecole No. 41 Tasting Room in the Historic Frenchtown School

We began with the 2011 Estate Luminesce, a blend of 67% Semillon and 33% Sauvignon Blanc, from Seven Hills Vineyard.  It showed tart citrus and floral flavors.  Then we had the 2011 Columbia Valley Chardonnay, a very well balanced wine with apple and minerality on light oak.  It is a Chardonnay that both Jon and I can enjoy because it is a great balance between the unoaked Chards that I love and the big, buttery Chards that are Jon’s favorites.

Moving on to the red wines, we started with the 2009 Estate Merlot, with grapes from the Seven Hills Vineyard.  It was a nicely balanced wine with medium tannins and black cherry flavors. The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon is a bold wine aged in 40% new oak, with flavors of tobacco and heavier tannins.

Next we tried the 2009 Estate Perigee, a blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Malbec, and 4% Petit Verdot.  This is a very elegant Bordeaux blend that was aged for 22 months – a very nice wine.

The last wine that we tasted was the Candy Mountain Vineyard Red Wine.  It hasn’t been released yet; it will come out in April 2013.  It is a blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon and 43% Merlot.  This is a fantastic wine with flavors of blackberry and chocolate.  There are only 350 cases, and I’m sure it will sell quickly.  I was pretty disappointed that I couldn’t buy it that day!

It was a great end to a wonderful day of wine tasting – L ‘Ecole was a real treat.

Otis Kenyon – A History in Flames…

After leaving Va Piano, and getting some recommendations from the server there, we headed back into downtown Walla Walla to check out some of the wineries in the City Center.  After parking the car, we headed down the street and were intrigued by a logo of a man in a bowler hat.  We stopped inside.  Otis Kenyon is located in a long and narrow space in one of Walla Walla’s historic buildings on Main Street.  The space has hardwood floors and beautiful high ceilings.  I’m not sure if they have just recently relocated to the space, but it seemed like the space isn’t finished yet; their tasting bar seemed to be a 6 foot folding table with a tablecloth.

Our server guided us through one of the fastest tastings I’ve ever been through!  Sadly, she didn’t tell us anything about the wines, or the history of the winery, or even talk to us at all.  So, what I can tell you has been gleaned from other sources.  We tasted three wines – their 2008 Matchless Red, the 2009 Merlot and the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Matchless Red was balanced and approachable with medium tannins and lots of fruit.  It is a blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon and 47% Merlot.  The Merlot and the Cabernet Sauvignon weren’t my style though – they both had very heavy tannins and strong smoke flavors.

After leaving Otis Kenyon, I looked up a bit more about them.  I was curious about the man in the bowler hat and the interesting name of the red blend wine.  As it turns out, there is a story there.  In the early 1900s, James Otis Kenyon was working as a dentist in nearby Milton-Freewater.  He had a wife and kids, and was struggling to make ends meet.  And then another dentist set up shop – Competition!  For some reason, James got the idea to burn down his competitor’s office and he got caught.  While he was serving time in jail, his wife left him with the kids and moved to Walla Walla, and planted the idea that he was dead.

Almost 50 years later, James Otis Kenyon’s grandson Stephen discovered that his grandfather was still alive and living on the Oregon Coast – and happily the two met and formed a relationship that lasted until James’ death at the age of 101.  Stephen owns Otis Kenyon Wine and wanted to pay tribute to his grandfather – the man in the bowler hat is a silhouette of James Otis Kenyon, and Matchless Red is a nod to his criminal past.

Being the history nerd that I am, I wish our server would have shared that story with us!

Northstar Winery – the Tour Begins…

After our lunch at Olive, Jon and I decided to begin our day tasting at Northstar.  Northstar came with the recommendation of a friend of mine from childhood, and since we didn’t really know much about any of the Walla Walla wineries, that seemed good enough for us. Northstar was founded in the early 1990s, with their first vintage in 1994.  David Merfeld has been their winemaker since 2005.

Our server was a friendly gentleman who had spent years in the ski industry, and then started working part time at Northstar after he retired.  We were the only ones there, which seemed a little unusual, as it was about 2 in the afternoon on a Saturday, but we chalked that up to the mountain passes being bad (two other couples were heading in as we were heading out).

Northstar Winery

Northstar Winery

If you know anything about Northstar, you know that they specialize in Merlot.  Their lineup has 3 Merlots, but it also had 5 other wines – you get to taste 7 of the 8 wines.  4 of the wines are only available at the winery.  Here’s what we tasted:

  • 2011 Stella Blanca Semillon – a blend of 93% Semillon and 7% Muscadelle – which was interesting because Muscadelle is not typically seen in Washington.  The Stella Blanca was crisp and bright, with flavors of honey and citrus – it was very appealing.  The tasting notes say there are flavors of coconut, but I didn’t taste any.  Since this was one of the wines only available at the winery, I made sure to buy a bottle.
  • 2009 Stella Maris Red Blend – another blend of 65% Merlot, 12% Syrah, 11% Petit Verdot, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 6% Cabernet Franc.  This blend was a pretty bold spicy blend with flavors of vanilla interspersed.
  • 2009 Northstar Petit Verdot – I’m always intrigued when a winery does Petit Verdot as a varietal wine, and this one is very good.  It is dark and rich with fruit, and would be excellent paired with dark chocolate.  Also available only at the winery, so I left with a bottle of this one too.
  • 2009 Northstar Malbec – Interestingly, this wine is the only wine sourced from Northstar fruit, plus Spring Valley vineyard grapes.  Considering their specialty is Merlot, I would have thought their estate would be planted with Merlot.  This Malbec is fruit forward and smooth, with white pepper flavors adding a bit of spice.
  • 2009 Northstar Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – This wine had flavors of blackberry, raspberry and vanilla, and was lightly oaked.  I often don’t favor Washington cabs, as they are too bold and oaked, but this one was approachable and pleasant.
  • 2009 Northstar Columbia Valley Merlot – Our server did a side by side tasting of this wine and the Walla Walla Merlot (below), so you could compare the two wines and the differences imparted by the vineyard and the climate.  This wine had flavors of of vanilla and blackberry, and was very smooth.  After tasting both wines several times, this one was my favorite by a nose.
  • 2009 Northstar Walla Walla Merlot – this wine has flavors of raspberry and blackberry and excellent, but it was still a bit tart.  I think this would have been my winner if it had a few more years on it.  Jon declared this wine his favorite.

All in all, Northstar has some very good wines, and there certainly wasn’t a bad wine in the bunch.  I have to disagree with the Merlots being their best wines though – I thought their standouts were the Stella Blanca, the Petit Verdot and the Malbec.  The tasting fee is $7, but is refundable with purchase – and the spacious tasting room would certainly be able to accommodate busy days without making the place seem crowded.  If I get the chance to visit in the summer, the patio would be a great place to relax and enjoy a tasting or a glass of wine.

After we purchased our Stella Blanca and Petit Verdot, I asked the server which other places he would recommend, particularly any wineries that had some white wines.  One of his recommendations was Va Piano, which I had never heard of before we started getting ready for our trip.  And that’s where we headed next!

Chelan Saturday (cont.) – More Wine and More Smoke

To get back on the wagon (or continue falling off, depending on your perspective) after our less than stellar experience at Atam Winery, we headed on over to Benson Vineyards Estate Winery.  Benson is probably the Chelan area’s most well known winery and the one of the only wineries in the area that is a 100% Estate Winery.  To qualify as an Estate Winery, that means the winery and vineyards have to be in the same AVA, all of the vineyards have to be controlled or owned by the winery, and the wine has to be made from start to finish at the winery.  Most of the Chelan area wineries source some of their fruit from the Yakima and Columbia Valley, so Benson is unique in that respect.

The tasting room is another in the grand Tuscan Villa style, with the building cut into the hill so you walk into the tasting room on the same level as the parking lot, but on the back side you can head down a flight of stairs to a gorgeous patio with chairs and tables, and a spectacular view of the lake.  Well, the view… the weekend that we were there… not so much.  You haven’t forgotten about the smoke, have you?  My lungs hadn’t!

Benson Vineyards – Can you see the really faint line across the picture near the center? That’s where the lake ends and the land begins. Normally, you can easily see the lake.

We enjoyed tasting several of their wines, starting with their 2011 Chardonnay.  This wine was aged in French oak for 6 months, but honestly it didn’t taste like an oaked Chardonnay.  It was very crisp, with flavors of tart apple – a very nice Chardonnay.  I tried the Rosé next, a Syrah Rosé that is dry with a light sweetness and flavors of cherries.  It would be an excellent accompaniment to BBQ on a hot day.  But I wasn’t so impressed with their 2009 Pinot Noir – it tasted too earthy for my taste, with lots of bitter coffee flavor.

The 2009 Nebbiolo was a big smooth wine, with flavors of strong tobacco and peppermint.  It was decent, but at a $45 sticker price, it needed to be amazing for me to buy it.  At $28, I liked the 2008 Rhythm much better, with a nice balance of berry and smoke.  The 2009 Cabernet Franc was another big tannic wine, with flavors of coffee and heavy smoke.  Not really my taste.  I liked the Cabernet Sauvignon much better, although it was also a big wine, its flavors of leather and chocolate were very smooth.

Benson Vineyards and Estate Winery Patio Seating

After our tasting, Jon and I sat out on the patio for awhile and enjoyed the warm air, but we couldn’t really linger for long because of the heavy smoke in the air.  So, we headed to our next destination.  At that point, we didn’t really know where we wanted to visit next, so he headed out and turned when we saw a winery sign that piqued our interest.  That sign said Chelan Ridge  Winery.  We had no idea what we were in for…

The tasting room was staffed by Henry, and a tasting room server (I didn’t catch her name).  Henry explained that he and his wife Lynn own the winery, and she is the winemaker.  He spent his career as a commercial airline pilot, and they decided to start a winery as a retirement project (that sounds like an awesome retirement!).  Henry and the server were both really friendly, and Henry enjoyed talking about the wines.  When he saw that I was taking notes during the tasting, he offered to make a copy of the tasting notes for me.  They had 4 reds when we were there, and here’s what I thought.

2008 Merlot – Estate Vineyard

The Winemaker’s Notes – This Merlot opens with rich, bright aromas of ripe dark cherries, blackberry jam, and dark chocolate. It’s bright acidity and supple tannins round out a long firm finish with flavors of black cherries, black currant, mocha, and toasty French oak.

My Notes – Very tannic, Toasty – aged in French oak.  A lot of great structure and balance – needs some age.

2008 Syrah – Estate Vineyard

The Winemaker’s Notes – This Syrah opens with lush aromas of ripe dark fruit, white pepper, and violets, followed by rich jammy flavors of blackberries and plums, along with spicy oak. Bold tannins show on the entry and in the finish. This is a no sissy wine! Pairs wonderfully with grilled ribeye!

My Notes – White pepper.  Very good structure – big tannins.

2008 Rouge de Moraine (Bordeaux-Style Blend) – Estate Vineyard

The Winemaker’s Notes – Our Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (55%), Cab Franc (27%), and Merlot (18%) is a real fruit bomb layered with dark cherries, rich plums, and toasted oak forming the base of the aromas, with cherries, pomegranates and blackberries on the palate. The dense tannin profile is complemented by dark chocolate notes and good acidity making it a great food wine.

My Notes – very smooth – excellent blend.  We bought two of these.

2008 Cabernet Franc – Estate Vineyard

The Winemaker’s Notes – Spicy aromas including red currants, raspberries, vanilla and light oak give way to black cherry flavors, black raspberries, and baker’s chocolate. Bright acidity and moderate tannins provide good structure and balance. Superb with alder plank salmon or grilled meats!

My Notes – Raspberry on nose.  Dark bitter chocolate.  We bought one of these.

Chelan Ridge Winery – And Lake Chelan on the Left Side Down the Hill, Only You Can’t See It!

I may not have written much in my notes, but this is no way means the wines were duds.  In fact, these wines were the stars of the weekend.  If Jon and I weren’t trying to save money, I would have gladly bought multiple bottles of each of these wines.  I contained myself with just the three bottles, but it was really hard.  If you have an opportunity to visit this winery, don’t pass it up.  It is truly a gem with standout wines!