Sometime around 2004, a road trip took us to Los Olivos, California, near Santa Barbara, where we found the tasting room for Andrew Murray Vineyards. The winery itself is a few miles away on Foxen Canyon Road– by my reckoning one of the most beautiful spots on Planet Earth. I liked the wines so much I joined their wine club, and every few months ever since I have been shipped four wines that I can always turn to when I need something soft, smooth, and satisfying. So yes, folks, even though I have the wines of the world at my fingertips, these wines from Andrew Murray, mostly Rhone blends, have been my go-to “comfort wines” for nearly a decade. All I’m saying is this young man consistently makes really nice wines.
Therefore it should be no surprise that I have been trying for a long time to get some of these wines into the shop so you can all enjoy them! Unfortunately, Andrew does not export his wines to Washington. Last April on our road trip we finally got a chance to visit the winery, meet Andrew, and talk about wine, and explore ways to get his wines here. That conversation has evolved into the recent arrival of three of Andrew’s new wines, under a new label called “Elleven,” which he explains in some detail here. We are very excited to offer you these wines to taste this weekend. Btw, Andrew saved us the last case of this year’s vintage (the very first from this vineyard) of the Elleven pinot noir. Young vines being what they are, almost certainly next year’s vintage will be even better…but this one is pretty tasty already!
Flying South? You call this flying south?
On today’s walk this group of Mallards (click image for larger version) caught my eye. Some weeks ago there was one pair, then two, then several. At the moment their paddling range is severely limited by ice to a tiny area of open water. So today I imagined the conversation they might be having as they foraged…
–You promised, George. You promised that this year we would migrate to some place warm for the winter! But just look at this ice! You call this warm??!!
–Well dear, the good news is that what I actually promised was that we would head south for the winter, as we always do.
–Well, thank goodness, because this place is freezing! When are we heading south?
–Umm…well, dear, I’m sorry to tell you that this IS south…!
Usually our semi-annual shipment of special order Italian wines arrives in late October, but this year it just arrived. So over the next few weeks we will be offering selections for our weekly tastings. This week’s wine is from one of our favorite wineries in Orvieto, best known for its lovely white wines. This wine is an unoaked red blend of 60% cab franc and 40% canniolo. It really got our attention when we tasted it back in August, and we are hoping you will like it as much as we did!
This week’s wines
Andrew Murray Elleven “Unplugged” White ’12 California $16
Unoaked, crisp, dry harmony of chenin blanc (smooth and haunting) and sauvignon blanc (bracing and racy).
Andrew Murray Elleven Pinot Noir ’12 California $16
A first picking of five pinot noir clones planted in 2009, already showing medium body, soft texture, and Central Coast pedigree. Already a hit, we managed to get the last case for this vintage.
Altarocca Librato Rosso ’11 Italy $16
Unoaked, from volcanic soil; zesty, spicy, dark, and smooth, with a hint of eucalyptus on the finish. Terrific!
Altavins Tinto Joven ’11 Spain $11
Mouth and sense-filling blend of garnacha, syrah, and carinena, full of ripe dark fruit and berry flavors from Terra Alta’s hot days and cool nights close to Tarragona and the Mediterranean.
Andrew Murray Elleven Big Bottom Cabernet California $16
From south-facing hillside vines, mostly dark and concentrated cab sauv mellowed with a bit cab franc and syrah to yield complex notes of graphite, forest floor, flowers, and bright cherry.
It’s always gratifying to find a photo either online or in our files to post with each blog topic. And it is amazing to find that you can search for images of any topic your imagination can invent, and Google will come up with a whole page of photos for your consideration. Tonight I wanted a post-Thanksgiving image, and I found lots, but they all seemed a bit overstated. (For example, see this, or this. ) But I also found this one (left), which seemed a nice low-key counterpoint to the increasingly disturbing Black Friday Christmas Shopping Launch. It also provides a nice segue into letting you know we will NOT BE OPEN FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 28!
We WILL be open as usual on Saturday, November 29 during our regular hours, 2-6pm for your small business shopping pleasure and convenience. In addition, of course, as usual we invite you to call us any time you encounter one of those nasty wine emergencies-- if we are around we will do our best to help you through it!
We had something of a blowout pre-holiday tasting last weekend, pouring eight wines, including five sparklers: a prosecco, a cava, an Oregon sparkler, and two French champagnes. Maybe due to the time of year it was an unusually quiet weekend, and the few of us on hand at the end of the day on Saturday joined forces to finish a few remaining open bottles. As I recall, that worked out fairly well for those present, no complaints! Bubbly being what it is, the consensus was that they were all good, with some better than others, especially (no surprise here) les champagnes françaises! Don’t worry, we still have a few in stock if you missed out!
Dick Taylor Chocolate
As mentioned last week, back in September we attended the Seattle Chocolate Festivel and were impressed with a small artisan chocolate company called Dick Taylor, located in Arcata, California. It turns out there is no “Dick Taylor”, but there are two guys named Adam Dick & Dustin Taylor, who have also made music and wooden boats, and who now make some really great chocolate bars. Delicious, concentrated, intense, and beautifully packaged, these single-source confections are something special. At $7 per bar, they are particularly appropriate for gifts and special occasions. Or, as with nice wines, when you have one it makes it a special occasion! In any case we have some samples to share with you this weekend so you can preorder for the holidays.
This week’s tasting
Scarborough Riesling ’09 Washington $12
Bright & dry, with German-style notes of crisp apples and petrol, with good acidity and minerality.
Evolucio Furmint Tokaj ’11 Hungary $11
100% Furmint, unoaked. Aromatic and bursting with citrus, fresh market apples, cantaloupe, and apricots, with floral and mineral notes. Slightly off-dry, with a hint of tangerine.
Campo Viejo Tempranillo ’11 Spain $10
Supple and fresh, this light red offers cherry, berry, and herbal flavors over modest tannins. Crisp and refreshing, a perennial “best buy.”
Townshend Red Table Washington $12
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah blend; aromas of black cherry, blackberry, strawberry, cedar and a hint of orange zest fill your senses with lingering pepper & tobacco notes.
Crios de Susana Balbo Malbec ’11 Argentina 89pts $14
Crushed blackberry, licorice and violet on the lively nose. Quite ripe and sweet in the mouth, showing impressive volume and breadth for the price range. Finishes with serious ripe tannins and noteworthy persistence.
We don’t usually do much to promote sparkling wines here at the shop, though we do try to keep a little bubbly on hand, generally more affordable Italian prosecco or Spanish cava. However, recent circumstances have unfolded such that at the moment we just happen to have an interesting array of bubbles on hand, just in time for the Thanksgiving Holiday. See tasting notes below. Supply is very limited on the French imports, but we can take orders if you find something you like. Or, if there is a special bottle out there you would like us to order for you, let us know and we will do our best to track it down for you!
Women in Politics
Sure, elections around the country a few weeks ago were for the most part pretty small potatoes. But one regional winner that really got our attention is Occupy activist and economics professor Kshama Sawant, who was recently elected to the Seattle City Council. Of particular interest is the fact that she ran — and won– as a Socialist candidate! And since the term “socialism” is rarely discussed seriously in the media, except when broadly applied by the Far Right as a generic put-down of any course heading even a single degree to port of Hard Starboard, it is a noteworthy accomplishment. In recent years mainstream corporate interests have taken control of both major political parties, neither of which is willing to address the major issues facing our planet: social and economic justice, climate change, sustainability, and peace. For more on this new political face in our region, watch a short video and read this excellent interview.
Along similar lines, check out Bill Moyers’ recent interview with Jill Stein (2012 Green Party candidate for President– yes, I did vote for her) and Margaret Flowers, full-time advocate for a single payer health care system at both the state and national levels. Both women are MD’s who spent many years in private practice before becoming convinced that they could do more good for more people by shifting their focus to politics. They are both members of the Green Shadow Cabinet, an organization of nearly 100 prominent scientists, community and labor leaders, physicians, cultural workers, veterans, and more, that provides an ongoing opposition and alternative voice to the dysfunctional government in Washington D.C.
Finally, there is a lot of ongoing chatter about Elizabeth Warren as a Presidential candidate in 2016. Warren, a freshman senator from Massachusetts, is a well-known progressive with a national following. She, too, is committed to social and economic justice, and has become a champion of the people against Wall Street power.
In summary, there is something encouraging going on with the traction progressive women have been getting in American politics recently, at all levels of government. Stay tuned, this could get even more interesting…!
Who is Dick Taylor and why should you care?
In late September we spent the day at the Northwest Chocolate Festival at the Seattle Convention Center. Here were two floors devoted to chocolate makers and their wares (I’m not making this up!) As many of you know, we have carried an array of Theo’s chocolate products for many years. Theo’s was well represented at the Festival, and we also discovered a number of other chocolatiers that made a favorable impression. Chief among those was a small artisan chocolate company called Dick Taylor, located in Arcata, California. It turns out there is no “Dick Taylor”, but there are two guys named Adam Dick & Dustin Taylor, who have also made music and wooden boats, and who now make some really great chocolate bars. Delicious and beautifully packaged, these single-source confections made an excellent impression. We have ordered some samples to share with you this weekend so you can preorder for the holidays.
This week’s tasting
Argyle Brut sparkling wine Oregon WA90pts $23
Not only does this little Oregon winery make great pinot noir, it also has earned a reputation for producing terrific Old World style sparkling wine. This blend of chardonnay and pinot noir displays a bouquet of brioche, pear, apple, and white peach. Crisp, balanced, and lengthy, it’s an outstanding value.
Deutz classic $36
Light yellow. Toasty lees, poached pear and lemon rind on the pungent nose. Offers an array of sappy citrus and orchard fruit flavors and becomes spicier with air. The lemon and lees notes come back on the broad, clear finish
Pierre Moncuit Hugues de Coulmet Blanc de Blancs Brut $38.
Light gold. Spicy, floral-accented aromas of lemon and green apple, with a hint of toasty lees in the background. Juicy and precise, offering focused orchard fruit flavors and a jolt of bitter citrus pith. Finishes tangy and long, with lingering spiciness and a suggestion of ginger.
San Martino Prosecco Italy $11
Pale straw yellow in colour, aromatic and elegant nose (unusual in prosecco), with notes of apple and banana; pleasantly full and harmonious on the palate.
Vilarnau Cava Brut Spain $14
Well-balanced and light-bodied, this cava features lively acidity and an appealing mix of pear, star fruit, Meyer lemon and smoke flavors, ending with a creamy finish.
Tarima monastrell ’12 Spain $10
100% Monastrell sourced from 25-35 year old vines and raised in stainless steel with lees stirring. Medium crimson-colored, the nose reveals fragrant blueberries and underbrush. Firm on the palate with plenty of savory fruit.
Buglioni Valpolicella Classico ’10 Italy $12
Refined, feminine personality. Sweet red berries, flowers and spices linger on the high-toned, refreshing finish.
Familongue “Le Carignan” ’08 France $12
From 75 year old vines in gravelly soil, this carignan has brambly dark fruit, a soft palate, and great depth of flavor.
Annual Fall Regatta
Typically the second weekend of November brings not only the Winter manifestation of the Lummi Island Artists’ Studio Tour; it also brings the annual Round the County (San Juan County, that is) sailing race. Each year about eighty boats gather in West Sound near the Orcas Island Yacht Club and begin the race on Saturday morning, rounding Orcas, Clark, Sucia, and Patos before stopping for the night at Roche Harbor. On Sunday they set out on the completion leg down the west side of San Juan Island, east of Lopez, Decatur, and Blakely Islands to finish again at Lydia Shoal near Obstruction Island, a total of some 76 miles.
What all this means to us on Lummi is an unexpected bright spot in the deepening autumn gloom. More often than not the weather is bright and sometimes very breezy when sometime in late morning the second Saturday of November a long line of sailboats, colorful spinnakers flying, threads up Haro Strait between us and Clark Island. Because of the light wind this year, the boats appeared in a long, continual string rather than the usual widely spaced clumps, providing the delightful view above…!
(click image for larger view)
Not your mother’s Retsina!
It’s one of those things we all go through: the first taste of retsina, usually in a Greek restaurant, and usually when we are quite young. It is actually made by putting some measure of pine resin (“Pinus Halepensis”) in with the grape must (skins, seeds, etc.) during fermentation, yielding a white wine with a decidedly piney character. It has been around so long that it has been declared a Traditional Appellation, and can only be produced in Greece. Back in the day, we all knew retsina as the weird wine we always had in Greek restaurants, and which often gave us nasty headaches the next day.
So it is with surprise and pleasure that we offer for your tasting experience this weekend a “new wave” retsina, more judiciously made with an eye to quality, and yielding a surprisingly tasty white wine. The pine resin is definitely there, but not so much that it smothers the white wine behind it. I think you’re gonna like it!
A taste of Portugal
Although we have occasional visitors specifically seeking Portuguese wines, we don’t often encounter the wines in tastings and generally don’t have much of a selection. That changed recently when Ryan needed a couple of Portuguese wines (and a couple of Greek wines!) for his fall tasting class in town. One of our reps brought in several of each for us to taste, and the four we are tasting this weekend are the ones we liked best. It is fair to say we were both surprised by each of them. As you can see from the map at left, there are eight main wine regions in Portugal. The delicious white we are pouring is from the Dão region, and the red is from Alentejo, further south. Alentejo, we have learned, is also the world’s most important area for the growing of cork-oak, known in Portugal as “sobreiro.” It has been grown commercially in the region for the past 300 years, where it is integrally co-planted with vineyards, pastures, and citrus groves. Who Knew??
This week’s tasting
Ritinitis Nobilis Retsina Greece $16
A “new wave” style Retsina, using modern winemaking technology and carefully managed co-fermentation with fresh pine resin, results in a surprisingly elegant and refreshing wine.
Albaro Castro Dão Branco ’12 Portugal $15
A lovely combination of fragrant crisp fruit and intense mineral notes. A blend of lemony and fragrant Encruzado, crisp and apricot-y Bical, and smoky-edge Cercial.
Agricultura Vinho Tinto ’11 Portugal $11
From Alentejo, on Portugal’s south-eastern border with Spain, comes this eminently quaffable red wine with surprising depth and complexity.
Perazzeta Erio Supertuscan ’10 Italy $16
An established favorite around here, this sangiovese-cab-syrah blend from Tuscany (we also carry their olive oil!) is rich, balanced, and delicious–a great food wine.
Gaia Agiorgitiko ’08 Greece $23
A well-structured and surprisingly delicious Greek red wine with intense ripe fruit aromas, well-integrated oak, and a velvety, seductive texture.