Washington wines are pretty hot right now with just over 700 boutique wineries in the state. Back in 1983 when Jerry Bookwalter started making wine there were less than 170 wineries statewide. Today his son John heads the wine making duties with fruit sourced from long-term relationships from some of the state’s most renowned vineyards. This is a true pioneering family of Washington wine. John works hand in hand with his grower friends to make sure the fruit for his Cabernet and Merlot are ultra-ripe and über-gorgeous. One thing is for sure: by no means are these quietly shy little wines, but rather big, bold, and buxom beauties that command your attention. Want something that jumps out of the glass with gobs of black fruits and heaps of spice? Bookwalter is what you seek. This is American terroir with an American voice. Brash and boastful with intriguing backbone to support the hype.
2009 J. Bookwalter Protagonist…expansive in flavor, offering rose petal-accented black cherry, licorice and black pepper notes that come together harmoniously on the deliciously transparent finish….
2009 J. Bookwalter ConflictFresh and vibrant, this is juicy with expressive cherry, cranberry and cocoa flavors, hinting at espresso and chai tea spices as the finish lingers transparently against refined tannins….
How high can Catena take cab and malbec from Argentina? At the top of their game and near the top of the Andes, Catena has elevated the wines of Argentina to world-class heights. I don’t think it’s just New World with an odd grape for a signature either, not Catena’s top level Zapata Malbecs. These are exquisite and powerful displays of the varietal. Adrianna is pure high altitude, big purple and berry flavors wrapped in exotic spices. Argentino is also full of dark berries, richer and silkier. Tanzer calls it a knockout. All are remarkably seamless with very long finishes; they will evolve for the next five years and age happily in your cellar for another ten or 20. In short, amazing! Every connoisseur will want them all.
2007 Catena Zapata Cabernet…aromatic array of pain grille, pencil lead, mineral, espresso, mocha, incense, lavender, black currant, black cherry, and blackberry. …full-bodied, powerful yet elegant effort with great depth and volume…
2007 Catena Adrianna Malbec…expressive bouquet of sandalwood, Asian spices, incense, mineral, black cherry, and black raspberry. Opulent on the palate with serious extraction, great depth of flavor, complexity, and impeccable balance…
2007 Catena Argentino Malbec…this has generally been my preference because it seems to have an extra dimension of complexity…. The Argentino offers a similar aromatic and flavor profile, but with just a bit of extra nuance…
Quinta Sardonia is made by Peter Sisseck, the guy behind the brilliant Pingus and Hacienda Monasterio who many in the Duero might call “Peter The Great.” This is his newest project, on the outskirts of Ribera del Duero in the Sardon. Sisseck’s love of Bordeaux encouraged him to use the fruit of the area, tinto fino, the very particular type of tempranillo, along with cabernet sauvignon and the other Bordeaux varietals. This is a dark smoking blend that layers blue and black fruits with meaty flavors and herbs into a sleek and complex beauty. And that’s straight out of the chute, this baby will last 15 or 20 years. As much as I love old vines and great traditions I love tasting something new of such high quality. Sisseck started project outside official Ribera del Duero near Valladolid l on perfect soil for vines, calcareous, chalky and rocky. Call it Duero with edge. The blending with tempranillo is his plan, too. This project is only 10 years old and I can’t wait to see it grow. You’re gonna want to be there.
One of the dark secrets of American wine: I find some of the most classic Bordeaux-styled reds and best values come from Washington state, not Napa or Sonoma. Cabernet and merlot from Cold Creek are serious, deep in color, tightly packed, very sturdy of tannin, built for the ages, decades at least. Big but not overripe, with cherry-blackberry fruit, the Cold Creekers from Chateau Ste. Michelle are laced with exotic hints of coffee, tobacco and spice of the Orient. These are cru vineyards in Washington, old-vines planted nearly 40 years ago. That was when we looked to the Northwest for cool whites. But the Washington guys said they were on the same latitude as Bordeaux and would make great reds. Maybe it is the latitude (my bet is the poor soils and the dry summers), but the end result is that Cold Creek wines are the real deal, elegant and firm hardballers. They could easily stand on the left or right bank. You can sock away a case for the cellar and show up those French and California chauvinists for years to come.
…You might have figured that out judging by the way Penley’s Phoenix flies out of here. Cases just disappear as soon as they arrive. It’s grown-up cabernet, plummy rich and smooth, subtly surprising, elegant. Quite a switch from all that shiraz ’round the barbie… not that there’s anything wrong with that. This cabernet is worthy of a good petit chateau. Two good reasons for that. First, it’s from the red-soil terra rossa in Coonawarra, flat out the best cabernet terroir from Down Under. The other is owner Kym Tolley, descendant of the good doctor Penfold himself, and famed winemaker Douglas Tolley, as well as a student of Max Schubert and a first class vigneron in his own right. Tolley has made this cab with medium body and firm tannins that guarantee at least a decade of good cellaring. Always a smart buy, and at our B-21 price I know you’ll want more than one.
Isosceles is about perfect balance. That’s a lesson in Bordeaux as well as geometry, only played out in Paso Robles. Its juicy black fruits stop just at the brink of over the top. It’s still in harmony, sweet, silky and lightly spiced. Justin Baldwin started out to make a first growth Margaux in a very young appellation 30 years ago. Today, he has many fans. He’s kept to a left bankblend, mostly cabernet sauvignon, cab franc, merlot and a touch of petite verdot. Of course, the formula changes every vintage, but you always go wild for it and I continually run out. Now I have the 2008, his best in years, which is sold out at the winery. Justin Isosceles ’08 for $49.99? It’s a beautiful thing.
Maybe not. Wine and fast-food pairing is not so easy for some of the national chains that have tried it, the New York Times reports. Problem isn’t blue nosed prohibitionists so much as personnel and logistics issues, like needing older servers and occasionally bouncers. Still, you can more than caffeine, and fizzy sodas at a few Starbucks in Seattle, at Sonic Drive-In in Homestead, and a few of Burger King’s upscale Whopper Bars, like Vegas, New York City and South Beach. Don’t look for beer or wine in Orlando at Florida’s other Whopper Bar Universal’s City Walk, though they do have bourbon burgers.
I won’t argue whether that unoaked chardonnay or an ’09 CdR is best with Double Whopper or Sonic’s Bacon & Blue hot dog (crisp rose?). I do think that prudery and snobbery combine to opposes the idea of wine with everyday food. Beer has it easier. Beer goes with brats at the ballgame and burgers on the grill, but most of us like a cheap red with pizza. And why not? Saying “Europe does it better” is tiresome but sometimes true. In long road trips from Spain to Germany last year I avoided fast food but stopped in plenty of gas stations. Almost all served drink as well as food. Beer, wine, brandy as well as espresso. Nothing fancier than the cellophane sandwiches. Hard to call that wining and dining “sophisticated,” but it does seem …mature.
This luscious blend of malbec and cabernet is a marriage made in the Veneto. The grapes are Argentinian of course (with a dash of bonarda too), but the method is straight from Valpolicella. It’s made with dried grapes in the fashion of Ripasso and Amarone. The ingredients and partners are a perfect match: the top notch Renacer winery from Argentina and the Allegrini family we know and love from Italy. We know they make fabulous Amarone in the Veneto but this is big, complex and jam-sweet for less than half the price. Italy and Argentina have always been simpatico but never so handsomely and irresistibly.
Yep. Parker’s buddy Antonio Galloni was blown away by Foxglove’s wines. I’m offering these gems from brothers Bob and Jim Varner way below big-box prices, great buys in high-quality cab, zin and chardonnay from the Central Coast. The Varners are Edna Valley heroes everywhere, from Parker to Decanter to Food & Wine for their estate wines (the Varner and Neely labels), and the new Foxglove line sourced from the best winegrowers they know. “The Varners clearly have the magic touch. These are among the finest values readers will find anywhere in the world.” You bet, Antonio. These guys have always done great with chard and I think the Paso Robles reds are as good. A lush cab and a very earthy zin are here too. You don’t have to pay that much at B-21. Load up on Foxglove today!
Let me tell you about the place, Faugères is about 50 miles west of Montpellier and maybe 30 from the sea, sort of near St. Chinian and Minervois. High altitude vineyards up in hills with so much schist that some people say the grapes ripen at night from the heat of the stones. Faugères has grown grapes for centuries. Barral is one big reason Faugères is now on the wine route. Some of the wood and slate buildings have been there for ages and some it hand-built yesterday. Small and old-fashioned, certainly. Barral and his wines are famous across France and a beacon around the world for the biodynamic winemaking of the future.
On my visit a Japanese activist was spending a year with Barral to see how he does it. The answer? With cattle, pigs and sheep in the vineyards, ladybugs and earthworms in the soil and natural yeast and an antique wine press. I tasted the luscious 2009s and feasted on Didier’s food in their ancient barn. He then set out two boudins he had made, a roast haunch of pork and a two foot wheel of Franche-Comte.
A unique experience, wines like few others can make from syrah, carignan and mourvedre. Each wine is marvelous; even the “basic” cuvee from 40 year old vines is a huge helping of Faugères‘ rich, wild terroir. I know you’ll want more, and at B-21′s prices, you can have them all. This is the best of the very old way of France.
2009 Domaine de la Chanteleuserie, Bourgueil Vieilles Vignes
1989 Domaine de la Chanteleuserie, Bourgueil Cuvee Beauvais
Erasmus would be proud to have such an impeccable sibling, sleek and strong as anything born on the steep, rocky slate of Priorat. The 2009 Laurel may be the most exciting wine to come out of the D.O. Think of it as garnacha (65%) meeting cabernet sauvignon (30%), and flirting with syrah (5%) on the side. It’s as big, long and packed with black fruit and minerals as the big guts, yet very approachable. For a price that’s a fraction of the $200 trophy wines! Priorat has been the rock star of Spain for many connoisseurs and one of my favorite regions for expressive terroir, so I love this. Laurel comes with the special breeding of our friend Daphne Glorian, one of the pioneers of the Priorat revival. Hope you got to meet her last year when she was here when we opened a container load of wines from her husband, the importer Eric Solomon. Laurel is a brilliant new idea from an ancient region. Sadly, there’s still not much of it, but you can get you some at B-21. A terrific opportunity to meet Priorat and drink it sooner and more often.
This is classic Napa at its finest. Blew me over one Wednesday night when the Wine Lab had tasted through dozens of wannabes. I’d say the Lail jumped out at me, but it’s not at all flamboyant. In these overripe times Lail stands out with its elegance and grace (more Grace Kelly than Gaga), and it should; Lail‘s breeding is complete Napa aristocracy.
The vineyards trace back to the old Inglenook started by Gustav Niebaum, the great grand uncle of owner Robin Daniel Lail. She doubled down on that heritage working with Robert Mondavi, and afterwards, she became one of the founders at Merryvale and Dominus. Wow! Now she has the historic Inglenook Totem vineyards and a winery in the heart of Rutherford bearing her name, and a cult wine named J. Daniel (the other Inglenook pioneers in her family). Her Blueprint displays that great Rutherford tradition at its most approachable.
I believe 2009 Napa cabs are going to be exceptional, and the Lail is one of the first true unearthed jewels.
Las Gravas is my new favorite Spanish red, and I’ve touted Casa Castillo since tasting their entry level red (still a bang of a bargain). I was stunned when they kicked it up a notch with Las Gravas, from their most prized vineyards at the foot of the mountains. You can taste the big fruit of monastrell bolstered by cab and syrah, and something else too: my kind of classy minerality from the heavy gravel and chalky soil of a world class terroir. The winery itself is much older than you might think. It started out 100 years ago when French winemakers discovered how good the area was for the grape they loved in the southern Rhone. That’s clear with the juicy purity of 2007 Las Gravas. Hard to believe you can drink like this at my price. If you haven’t explored Spain yet, now’s the time to do just that. It’s never been easier.