Monday, July 12, 2004

Brain Squeezings, 7-11-2004

Living Large, Loving Life

I have left Seattle, and am now in a small town in Yakima Valley called Prosser, Washington, safely ensconced in the Vintner's Inn Bed & Breakfast, which is part of the Hinzerling Winery. But more on this in a moment.

Yesterday was a whirlwind of booty-kicking wine-tasting activity. I visited and toured the Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Wineries, and while at the latter's tasting bar, received a tip that I should try a wine or two from an establishment down the street, the Silver Lake Winery. All told, I tasted approximately eighteen wines in the space of five hours. Thank God for the ability politely to dump the remainder of a glass in a container when you're done tasting! I would have been toasted beyond all redemption, and unsafe to drive until, say, Tuesday.

Winery Notes
Chateau Ste. Michelle has so far been my favorite winery, by a long shot. The tasting bar had all sorts of lovelies on display. Their Cold Creek Chardonnay (any year) has been a favorite of mine for a while now, and the 2003 was a welcome old friend. The 2002 Meritage was a fascinating blend of something like 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the remainder split between Merlot and Malbec, and was wonderfully understated, but smoky and fruity, without being boring at all. The 2002 Semillon, which I'd never tried before, was unbelievably sharp and nearly metallic, but interesting and a real challenge. I fell in love with the Cold Creek 2003 Riesling, and am in fact bringing a bottle of it back with me, as well as the partnership venture wine Eroica, another Riesling (see a trend?), which comes from the winemaking expertise of both the minds at the Chateau and a well-known German winemaker, Ernst Loosen.

Columbia Winery wound up having a better and more detailed tour of their winemaking facility, but I wound up being less impressed with the wines up for tasting at the tasting bar, though there were some good ones: the 2003 Cellarmaster's Riesling was every bit as good as advertised (as well as appropriately low in alcohol, unlike the Chateau Ste. Michelle examples), and was even very reasonably priced (it's following me home). The 2001 Syrah was very nice, if not as fruity as I've come to expect. The 2001 Chardonnay Otis, Block 6 was an unexpected surprise as well: spicier and with more non-oak interest than I've come to expect from an American Chardonnay. Their 1996 Peninsula, though, struck me as excessively low-key, and didn't make nearly the impression on me that, for example, their 2002 Red Willow Sangiovese did: I do love a good Sangiovese.

Silver Lake Winery was, as I mentioned above, recommended by a couple I met while tasting at the Columbia Winery. There was a Chenin Blanc on the Columbia list that was all right, but the couple let me know that Silver Lake (which was just down the road, of course) had a better one. As it turns out, they were right! The 2003 Chenin was outstanding. Considering I can only find Beringer's version around me, the bottle coming home with me will be a welcome change. I also happened across their Roza Riesling, which was sadly a bit too sweet and cloying, but their 2003 Syrah was a very young, very acidic whipcracker that I expect will age like a beast. I may well recommend that a certain brother of mine order a case of this stuff: right now it's not very kind to the drinker, but with 5, 10 or 15 years to mellow out it could be a real case to remember.

All this from one day! More tomorrow, sometime. I have sleep to get!


Saturday, July 10, 2004

Greetings from the Pacific Northwest

It's 7 AM, here in Seattle. I arrived in town last night after around seven hours spent in airplanes. I'm in a hotel very close to the SEA-TAC airport called the Clarion, which is inexpensive, but has so far been clean, efficient, roomy and proffering of free wireless Internet connectivity. 'Hog heaven' might be a trifle strong, but I am definitely enjoying myself. I will be heading downstairs to enjoy some breakfast in a little while, but I wanted to hop on and fill everyone in on my itinerary.

There are two wineries I plan to visit today, before heading toward the interior of the state: Chateau Ste. Michelle (which I have mentioned before) and the Columbia Winery. Both facilities are within 15 minutes of Seattle, and promise to be educational and a lot of fun.

On Sunday (tomorrow) I will be heading to a Bed & Breakfast in Prosser, Washington called the Vintner's Inn at the Hinzerling Winery. This will be my base of operations as I hop around the Columbia Crest and Blackwood Canyon wineries, as well as some of the vineyards (Cold Creek and Horse Heaven, so far) whose grapes go to the four wineries I've mentioned.

This morning I need to do a little shopping for things like film for the camera I brought along (borrowed from L [and thanks again!]), but this afternoon the winery fun begins.

Hinzerling may be a pleasant surprise. It's about 3 hours' drive from Seattle to the Yakima Valley region where I'll be doing most of my stomping around this week; the Hinzerling Winery is in just the right place, and their room rates are superb. They also tend to produce Riesling and Gewurztraminer wines, for which I've recently discovered a real love. Nothing like making an unexpected find... More notes to follow!