Punch Down

Thanks for visiting my blog. Here is where my life in wine will be documented. I am a level two certified sommelier through the International Sommelier Guild. I have worked in virtually all aspects of the wine industry and, believe it or not, I am still enthusiastic as ever. So, please join me as I muse about regions, give reviews, and sometimes rant about this little thing we call wine.

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Location: Boise, Idaho, United States

Saturday, May 23, 2009

An Obligation

Last night, while I conducted a tasting of French and Californian wines, I was fortunate enough to strike up a conversation with a person deeply embedded in the Idaho wine scene. The talk eventually turned to the competition I helped judge and to some of the wines. Here’s where it started to get interesting.

I maintain that Ste Chapelle Winery does not perform anywhere near their potential. You’d be hard-pressed to find person who says otherwise. Usually, this wouldn’t be a problem as I believe there are a few wineries in Idaho who under perform. But, with Ste Chapelle, it’s different.
Here’s why: they have the largest reach of any Idaho producer. Their Rieslings are on the shelf at the Burnside Fred Meyer in Portland and their Ice Wine is the only Gem State juice to grace the Portland City Grill menu. You open the World Atlas of Wine or the Oxford Companion to the Idaho section and you get a bio on Ste Chapelle and not much else.

I am not a professional judge, but I rated all of Ste Chapelle’s wines in 70’s or lower upon tasting blind. While I do not judge for a living, I know a bit about quality and these wines lack it – and it only hurts the rest of the industry.

This lack of quality wasn’t always the case. I remember in my early restaurant days finding a case of 1997 Reserve Syrah stashed at the back of the cellar. Perplexed, I asked the owner about it and he let me take it home to try it out. I came to it expecting nothing and found it extremely forward, open, and complex. I later learned the winemaker quit after being told he couldn’t make these kinds of wines again. The owner wanted to focus on large quantities of pedestrian wines that could blanket the market.

Most wineries make a low end line which supports their ambitious projects. Ste Chapelle makes a low end wine to support low end wine and to me, this drags down the potential good name of Idaho wines. Cinder, Fraiser, and Bitner will never be able to match Ste Chapelle’s sheer quantity produced, making it even more difficult to overcome the daunting task of crawling out from under the conglomerate’s shadow – but there are ways to do it.

Walla Walla has a bold, new project which radically ratcheted up the focus on the region. The Long Shadows Project brought in world renowned winemakers from all corners of the earth to make wines using Washington fruit. Randy Dunn from Napa, the Folonari Brothers from Italy, and the always controversial Michele Roland from Bordeaux have been doing wonderful things with the fruit and showing the world that it is, indeed, world class. Why can’t something like this happen in the Snake River Valley? Anna Matzinger, winemaker from Archery Summit, is a Boise High School Graduate and would be an excellent candidate to try her hand at Idaho juice. It would increase the focal point of the SRV and show the world that we can grow great grapes, as well.

We need to challenge our Walla Walla friends to a wine competition. Select the highest placing wines from the All Idaho Wine Competition and serve them blind against their Walla Walla counterparts. We have no Leonetti or Cayuse, so wines like that wouldn’t be in the mix, but Fraiser Cabernet vs. L’Ecole Cabernet? Koenig Syrah vs. Dusted Valley Stained Tooth Syrah? Bitner Riesling vs. Poet’s Leap? These would be great to judge! Even if the SRV loses, we can still find out how much farther we need to go to be considered with the great Northwest wines.
The training wheels need to come off. If we consider ourselves a serious wine region, we need to act like one and aggressively pursue the recognition these great vintners deserve.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Clone Wars

Clone Wars!

Normally when I hear that, I think about the 300 or so Pinot Noir clones that have been classified over the years and if anyone actually knows which Dijon Clone 828 is the real version (can you tell I’m not a Star Wars geek?).

Sure, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, but when does that start encroaching on the turf of the original? For the longest time, the New World wines would emulate their Old World cousins. Napa Cabernet would look to Bordeaux, Oregon Pinot would be compared to Burgundy, and Washington Syrah would be judged by their Rhone counterparts.

In these cases, though, each New World region established its own identity and terroir. All of the regions mentioned above has had an opportunity to work on their craft and, while it’s not uncommon to see some of these regions eclipsing their Old World brethren’s prices, wines are being introduced with no track record and circumventing the part where they pay their dues.

The most blatant example of this came in an e-mail I received yesterday which offered me two bottles of “port” wine from California for $500 per bottle.



Here is where the smart, savvy wine consumers say, “Um, excuse me, but I believe the 2003 Quinta de Roriz Vintage Port, which actually came from Portugal and received a 97 point score from the Speculator, can be had for about $45 retail. Pardon me while I make you a punch line.”

Upon doing some research, the winemaker is very proud of the fact that he makes his own brandy from Cabernet Sauvignon grown in a vineyard that should be reserved for making ultra expensive wine. The logic here is so amazingly backwards that one would have to speculate if he ever took an economics class.

If they can get the money, more power to them, but it will be interesting to see if these bottles end up in the cellars of serious collectors. In my opinion, this bottling should take its place among the ZD Abacus wines of the world – novel concept, but try again when you’re not completely full of yourself.

It used to be that people would flock to the clones to avoid the high price of the original. If this “port” is any indication, the original seems like an absolute bargain nowadays.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Idaho Wines

Some of you might know that this past weekend, I was asked to participate in the 2009 All Idaho Wine Competition put on by the Treasure Valley Wine Society. I acted as one of the eight judges who tasted through 102 wines of the Snake River Valley. With the results in, here are my thoughts (I am not going to disclose the names of wineries as to avoid singling out any one winery for good or ill):

Idaho's best reds, for my palate, were the Tempranillos and Malbecs.

The most surprising whites (in a good way) were the Roussanne and Roussanne/Viognier blend.

I was disappointed across the board in the Cabernets.

I thought the Syrahs were good, but not quite at potential.

One Pinot Gris stood out, while some others weren't far behind.

Winemakers here are using a lot more oak than I originally thought.

An idea I had was to take the top performers and conduct a blind tasting verses the Columbia Valley counterparts (ala 1976 France vs. California). The idea of High Desert against High Desert would be a great comparison. Keep the price ranges similar (no fair throwing in Leonetti or Cayuse) and see what happens. In any rate, it would be very enjoyable day of wine tasting.

To view the results, here's the link: http://tvws.blogspot.com/

A big thanks to Robin Young for such an interesting and unique opportunity.


Saturday, February 28, 2009

Open That Bottle!

Tonight, 28 February 2009, marks the ten year anniversary John and Dottie have tempted us to find that special bottle and crack it open. All sorts of bottles from Yellow Tail to Yquem will have their corks popped this evening to relish in the finer things life has to offer.

While enjoying the weekend up here in McCall, my parents, my wife, and I decided on two bottles that would be a fitting tribute to the ten years this event has been taking place. From our cellar, we offered up the 2002 Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon. Michelle and I acquired this wine when we spent the summer of 2005 working at the Bistro 45 and these bottles would come throught the shop on a frequent basis. We bought this bottle with a stern warning from Kit, the owner, that it needed LOTS of time in the cellar. We sampled one that summer and didn't really see what the big deal was, but that's when the money was rolling in, so we splurged.

About two months after we returned to Boise from Portland, I was showing my mom through the Co-Op wine shop in hopes of finding something she could call her own. Dad usually does the wine shopping - especially the high end wines - and mom wanted something which was all hers in the cellar. She loves Sauvignon Blanc and I suggested she pick up the 2002 Didier Daganeau Silex, as it is supposed to be one of the best Sauvignon Blancs ever made. She decided to take a chance and took the bottle home.

Tonight seems like as good a night as any to indulge in the pleasures these to bottles have to offer. We first opened the Silex and I had to pause in mid sentence to savor the beauty of this wine. Simply fantastic all the way through. Didier pushed for a more intense example of wine from the region of Pouilly Fume, and he nailed it with this vintage. Earth, stone, stone fruits, tropical, and round are all good descriptions that fall way short on this bottle. Wish there was another one around, but a fitting tribute to the late, great winemaker from the Loire.

The Leonetti is good. Damn good. In fact, this makes me believe in the power of aged Washington wines again. On the initial nose, it is huge - typical for Washington - but in the glass it gets softer and more harmonious; less bombastic and more elegant. Lots of meat flavors and black currants and blueberry are all fantastically balanced and even the oak is well used: present, but not overpowering. This is one of the finest Cabernets I have ever had from the Pacific Northwest, and I am historically not a huge Leonetti fan. Massive kudos to Chris Figgins for this.

If you're reading this and also participated in Open That Bottle Night, I'd love to read what you have to share. Please leave your comments and happy drinking!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Volume One - The Restaurant

In these troubled economic times, people are dinning at classy establishments less and less; choosing either a homecooked meal or (gasp!) fast food to cure their hunger. I've seen over a dozen fine restaurants close here in the Boise area within the last year and I feel for this side of the industry. However, while I wish people who can still afford it would frequent their favorite dinning establishment more often, restaurants are doing nothing to make themselves more enticing to those of us who enjoy wine with our meals.

Most restaurants I see gouge the customer by charging 2 1/2 to 3 times wholesale pricing on wines. This mistake is a result of the flawed thinking that wines are an inelastic good and that people will buy Clos St Jean at any price because they want Clos St Jean. What they don't realize is that there are tons of wines that are cheaper (and better) than any Clos St Jean wine (or any of the big names, for that matter), but the people who write the wine lists won't consider them because they have never heard the names before. In these times, people will buy what is good and affordable.

Think about this: a wine costs you $20 wholesale. You put it on the shelf for $60. People know that they can go down to their local wine merchant and pick it up for $28.95. Do the right thing! Wine savvy people know they are getting ripped off here and they will be reluctant to come back. You don't have to sell the wine for retail price, but show that you care about the customer and charge 75-100% of wholesale. First, you attract more of the wine crowd by offering your beverages at a more reasonable price than the competition and, this is key, YOU'LL SELL MORE WINE! Let's think about that $20 bottle, shall we? If you sell one bottle per week at $60, you made $40. Good for you. Now, let's say you drop your selling price down to $40 and you sell three bottles. Now, you've made $60. By doing this, you do two things right:

1) You make more money.

2) You make your customers happy.

It really is simple economics here, and I don't see what is so hard about this. Once you master this concept, you will have created your very own stimulus package - and at no cost to you or your country.