Around the Edges — Chateau St. Michelle Syrah 2011, Columbia Valley

Chateau St. Michelle 2011 Syrah, Columbia Valley

Chateau St. Michelle 2011 Syrah, Columbia Valley

Where was it grown?  In most technical sheets published by wineries, where the grapes came from is omitted.  When you think of a wine being an expression of place, this is surprising.

Cabbage does not express its terroir.  Grapes can and do.  They keep that expression, if kindly treated, through the process of fermentation and élevage.  They lose it if they are man-handled and altered by winemaking interventions that go beyond astute and artistic adjustments.  This one shows aspects of place that are known to Washington Syrah.

We like to see the differences that Syrah, for example, shows when grown in gravel (Hermitage) or in soils that are richer, lighter, and more fertile (Barossa) .  Columbia Valley soils range from light loam to stoney, gravely terroir.  This Syrah, from Chateau Ste. Michelle, displays an acid lift on the edges of its flavors — a noticeable facet of some Washington Syrahs.  Main flavors of dark ripe fruits (just a splash of fresh raspberry) and judiciously added oak flavors (dominantly vanilla and spice) round out the core of the wine.

As it breathes more oxygen, notes of clove and toast emerge and the darker side deepens.  But as the wine finishes on the palate, the edges become more apparent.  It finishes with an acid lift that causes the mouth to salivate assertively and very pleasantly, and it does not lose this over several days.

It is not a sign that the wine is out of balance but a sign that the wine has kept something in reserve to show you.  Do you prefer a wine that is consistent from sniff to swallow, or one that develops and reveals different faces?  The lift around the edges is not dominant in the wine but an encore, with a flourish as the curtains descend on its performance that gives this wine character.  Without it, the wine is just another Syrah, albeit a good one.  Syrah from Washington State in certain soil types can exhibit this quality.  This is terroir speaking.

We could even call this lift a hint of citrus — to my taste, lime.  The beneficial factor is the cleansing the wine offers at the end of its journey and I’m ready for the next taste or bite of food before returning for another interesting journey.  Not all Syrah is the same, as Australia has proved, and not all are the same within one region, either.  Please explore as you experience wine.

Get yourself a bottle and see for yourself.  Ask yourself which representation of this classic grape you prefer — a Hermitage, a Shiraz, or a Syrah from another place: Washington?

P.S. The comments above are not a snapshot of the wine but an examination over a period of four days.

Rating: 90

Emotional rating:  High, where rich foods need a relief and yet the main element of dark fruit and oak are needed to complement.

Available almost anywhere.

Rich Pinot Noir Found in Wairau Valley, NZ

Dog Point Vineyard 2012 Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand

Dog Point Pinot Noir 2012, Wairau Valley, New Zealand

Dog Point Pinot Noir 2012, Wairau Valley, New Zealand

I have tasted one other rich Pinot Noir from the Wairau Valley that was so rich and velvety that it drew my mind to the Grand Crus of Burgundy.  Not that it was the equal of a Grand Cru, but it came so very, very close.

This one is another stellar example: Dog Point, from a vineyard on the Southern side of the Wairau Valley in Marlborough, close to the site of the Marlborough Wine Festival where New Zealand wines are celebrated in February annually.  Lighter soils here give way to more clay and a blend of wine growing techniques (both traditional and modern are used).  The other Pinot I mentioned also came from soils with a heavier clay content.  It could be true in Marlborough that the heavier the soil, the fuller the wine.

This wine offers an explosion of flavors.  Cedar, raspberry, and licorice dominate in this very deep ruby wine.  Find the many other fringe flavors as you contemplate and  evaluate its complex gifts.  The mouthfeel is positively velvety, which is what I want in an excellent Pinot Noir.  It floods the mouth with fruit — instant and lasting — and progresses to an abundant finish.  You’ll continue to taste the flavors for a long, long time.

Pinot Noir offers wines from lighter versions (which can satisfy and call for food to round out their offering) to the likes of this one.  It is a wine that asks for drinking with deep meditation and a wine that gives even “pleasure” a nuance to its meaning that enriches not only the word but our experiences.

If you want a Pinot Noir with power and finesse, try this one.

Rating: 94

Emotional rating:  I’m still experiencing.  Don’t disturb me!

Available from

Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc — It’s Summer Time!


Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Kevin Judd was instrumental in fashioning the first 25 vintages of Cloudy Bay, which catapulted Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc onto the world wine scene and created a wine of recognized fame.  His wines show the beneficial effect of restricted yields and for New Zealand, where canopy growth can quickly get out of hand, the practice of intense canopy management.  He has a connection with Dog Point (which I have written about) and his latest project, Greywacke, began in 2009.

Although sourced from different sites, this wine maintains the typical character of Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough with its trademark zing.  Different soils across the valley do not seem to rob the wine of its snappy acids and characteristic citrus flavors, although they do emphasize different aspects.

The thing to note is the practice of harvesting during the cold night hours and then cold soaking before fermentation.  The fermentation for this Sauvignon Blanc was slow and also cool.  Both cultured and wild yeasts were used on separate lots and the blended result is fascinating since yeasts impart flavor and more.  These innovative techniques and others are ones he is applying to his winemaking.

Marlborough seems to be toning some of the acids down and producing a softer but still vibrant Sauvignon Blanc.  In this case, the methods have imparted a slight creaminess to the mouthfeel as well.

Lemon, grapefruit, and pineapple flavors are rounded by a touch of melon and guava.  The mouth feel is perfect — smooth, with a nice weight and the expected vibrant juiciness that this wine is known for.  It seems to not want to finish as it carries through with delicate flavors of lemon and pineapple fighting for the final bow.  If you love this summertime grape, then don’t miss Kevin’s representation that furthers the story of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Rating:  92

Emotional rating:  On a hot day on the porch I would say, 100!

Available?  Try

Why Do Our Tastes Change?

Happy boy celebrates his first birthdayMatt Kramer, whose articles I find stimulating and often very helpful, writes in his column in Wine Spectator, May 2015 issue, about how a palate transforms over time.  As he correctly states, our palates change and sometimes become strikingly different from what they were at the beginning.  The beginning for me was Blue Nunn, Black Tower, and then on to Hearty Burgundy and some of Paul Masson’s jug wines.  Yes, my palate has dramatically changed since then to become more complex, selective, and sophisticated — no doubt just like yours.Thinking senior man with birthday cake

Matt also suggests that the underlying values that we hold important in our tastes also change.  I agree, and that is part of the ongoing process of growth and development driven by curiosity, passion, and experimentation.  So, keep tasting those wines!

New experiences are essential to a developing palate but are not what causes our tastes to change.  A fascinating mental journey is responsible.  The taste buds transmit signals that become electrical in nature as they enter the brain and travel via a complicated electro-chemical pathway to our limbic system where they are evaluated.  There, the memory banks are searched for the identification of those taste signals.  A match is found and we say, “Oh yes, that is ripe, juicy blackberry.”  If we have not tasted this flavor before, new memories are formed.  When we taste that flavor again, we are able to recall it and experience it again.  Taste is in our memory!

We need to improve our memory and increase our memory banks to advance our tasting ability.  Two factors emerge to make a “memorable memory:”  first, the amount of emotional pleasure or displeasure the wine’s flavors evoke and second, the frequency in which we encounter them.  So, keep enjoying your wine.  Don’t just kick it back.  Wine is emotion in a glass!  Enjoy the emotions you experience for a more effective palate.

Our memory is logging more and more tastes in the form of memories every day — some loaded with more emotive value than others — and we find our palate recalling more readily those with more emotional value.  This is wonderful and it’s how we are made.  We don’t lose our emotionally important experiences.  Our palate will keep exciting us and keep building as long as we journey with awareness, passion, and new experiences.

All of us are developing creatures or if not developing, we are on the slide, losing a little more each day.  The path up is where life is to be lived with pleasure.

Check your journey.

Go back and try again a wine you loved long ago and parallel taste it with a wine you love now?  Think through your present evaluations and ask what has changed and what might still change in the future?  Analyze your palate.

Part 5: Columbia Crest Reserve Syrah, 2010

(Part 5 of a 5-part series)

Columbia Crest Reserve Syrah, 2010

Coyote Canyon Vineyard, Horse Heaven Hills, Block 99

Columbia Crest Reserve Coyote Canyon Vineyard Syrah from the Horse Heaven Hills

Columbia Crest Reserve Coyote Canyon Vineyard Syrah from the Horse Heaven Hills

From Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, and the Rhone Valley, we trace the way Syrah expresses itself in other regions.  The Columbia Valley in Washington State features some impressive sites in which very promising vineyards are yielding some interesting wines.  Coyote Canyon in the Horse Heaven Hills is a steep slope with rocky soil, the site of block 99, the source for these grapes.

The wine is produced by Columbia Crest and on first impression fills the senses with aromas of butter or buttered popcorn.  Chocolate is not far from the senses, enlivened with subtle waves of lavender and cedar.  It is better balanced than the Thomas Goss Shiraz.  Plums, black cherry, vanilla, and old leather fill out the complex nature of the wine.  This is a wine of rich breed, full and weighty on the palate.  Masterly blending of oak and fruit add to its appeal.

Your palate experiences the weight with the contrasting velvety softness of the wine.  It is 14.8% alcohol but is perfectly balanced on the finish.  At 3 years older than the Goss Shiraz, it has a little age. Where will this wine go as it ages further?  Will it improve and unfold to even greater depth of oak and fruit or will it reveal delicate aromas?  It may die a premature death, but I don’t think so.  I think its future has promise, but we don’t know at this point in its development what will happen.  A wine lover is attracted by the mystery of a wines future.

That’s the excitement of wine.  It is what it is and yet, we wonder how this living organism will develop and reward or disappoint us as it ages.  Wine cannot be totally controlled by even the greatest winemaker.

This wine was also tasted with the same Gruyere cheese as was tasted with the Thomas Goss Shiraz and proves to be a perfect match, each blending into each other with perfection.  Sometimes you want a perfect blend and, at other times, the effect we got with the Goss Shiraz and Gruyere.

Rating:  91

Emotional rating?  Lovely and impressive now.  A rich, stimulating taste of flavors that so many of us favor.

Available: 175 cases crafted by Columbia Crest