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.