Lummi Island Wine Tasting December 1 ’12
Artisan Wine Club
Back in 2004, when we started planning this venture, we had just returned from a road trip to Napa Valley with a car full of wine (12 cases, as I recall), and quite deeply enamored of the delightful experience of tasting wine poured by the person who made it, often in a garage-like setting, and learning about how it was made, where it was made, and what the winemaker was trying to accomplish. This set of connections among place (aka terroir), winemaker, varietal, and vintage is for us the endlessly fascinating kaleidoscope of small production, hand-made, artisan wines, and our goal has always been to give our visitors, literally, a taste of that artisan experience– taste the wine, learn a little bit about where it came from, and get a feeling for the relationship between the wine and the person who made it.
By the way, also back in aught-four is when Pat designed our logo, which I have always thought captured some essential je ne sais quoi of our vision. In all these years, I don’t recall anyone’s ever having commented on it one way or the other, but for what it’s worth, I really like its vaguely art-deco style.
Not-so-fast forward to today, and we are still committed to the same “artisan wine” goal, even though, I must admit, it is only in retrospect that we can detect an actual, you know, “goal” in all of this. At times we have carried large production wines; for example, the Garnacha de Fuego mentioned below, and which we are pouring this weekend, produces something like 10,000 cases a year. Is that too much for an “artisan wine? Hard to say, when you consider that Yellowtail (we recently carried their “Reserve” for awhile) makes something like eight million cases a year! Anyway, periodically it is good practice to take time to review one’s goals and recommit to those that still resonate.
So…back in aught-four, when we were first contemplating this venture, “artisan wine club” was the name on our initial application for a State Liquor License. However, it turned out that the folks at the WSLCB (Washington State Liquor Control Board) were not happy with the word “club,” because it sounded way too much like, you know, a “Night Club,” where people get roaring drunk, dance on tables, and regularly need visits from the police. So to oil the wheels of our progress we changed our name to “Artisan Wine Gallery,” though we had already purchased the domain name “artisanwineclub.com.”
Over the last seven years we have built a wonderful community of people who met us and each other right here in our shop. That is deeply satisfying, and we are continually surprised and enriched by it. Over the next few weeks we will be making a renewed effort to get back to our “artisan” roots with the (finally!) formation of a more formally structured “Artisan Wine Club” which we hope will bring more good wines– and the relationships that go with them–to more people. Stay tuned!
Wine Deal of the Year?
Over the past several years we have carried a lot of Spanish wines from an importer named Jorge Ordonez, who has put together a remarkable stable of delicious Spanish wines at remarkably affordable prices. One of those wines, that many of you have enjoyed over the last several years, is an old-vines garnacha called Garnacha de Fuego. The wine has typically earned scores of 88-89 points from critic Robert Parker, and we have typically priced it at $10. Well, this year two things have happened: first, the wine earned an astonishing 92-point score (think of it as an A-plus!), and second, they lowered the price, so for the moment it’s only $8. We have a limited stock, not sure if we can get more. Come in this weekend and check it out!
By the way, over the years we have unsuccessfully tried to pin down a relationship between suitability for the label “artisan wine” and “quantity produced,” with mixed results. Our rule of thumb is that an “artisan wine” probably makes fewer than about 2000 cases oer year. On the other hand, we have run into numerous winemakers who consider their wines to be “artisan wines” even if they make, say, 30,000 or 50,000 cases. We still aim for under 5000 cases for an “artisan wine,” but it is definitely not an exact science.
Last week “with the Italians”
Over the years we have learned to lower our expectations for numbers of visitors as the holidays approach. It may be the busy season elsewhere, but people go away and things usually slow down here on The Rock. So it was a bit of a surprise to have boisterous crowds on both Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving. Lots of Islanders and weekenders were in attendance, and it made for an ongoing festive atmosphere…! All of the wines we poured were Italian, most having just arrived in our semiannual shipment from importer Small Vineyards. They are a little like Lake Wobegon, in that, especially for the price, “all the wines are Above Average!” One of them as it turns out, was a lot more above average than the others, because we sold out of it despite its $36 price tag. That was the Lonardi Privelegia, an elegant blend of corvina and cab franc, possibly the only such blend in the world, and delicious. If you were lucky enough to taste it, you know what I mean. We’ll keep an eye out for more, but it all came in from Italy on special order, so chances are slim.
This week’s wines
This week we are featuring wines from France, Italy, California, and Spain. As it turns out, we have visited the French and Italian wineries, and had great experiences at both. Bertrand Stehelin is a charming young French winemaker just outside the famous village of Gigondas, and shares a winery with his father there. Sablet is a small wine region just south of Gigondas. His wines have a delightful, unassuming richness; this particular wine we played a role in convincing the importer to bring in, and I think you will see why.
Similarly, the second wine, from Ciacci Piccolomini in the southeast corner of Montelcino, not only makes great rosso and brunello, but also makes blends of French varietals like cab and merlot, like this one, which has a very satisfying weight and texture as well as very pleasing, lingering flavors.
Bertrand Stehelin Sablet Blanc ’10 89pts France $23
Blend of grenache blanc, roussanne and marsanne; Aromas of smoky pear and citrus with hints of iodine and lees. Deeply pitched orchard fruit flavors braced by tangy minerality and show good energy and focus.
Ciacci Piccolomini Ateo ’09 Italy 88pts $16
Juicy cab-merlot blend that shows excellent up-front intensity, with notes of freshly cut flowers and mint that give the dark berry fruit an attractive sense of lift.
Peirano Estates Petite Sirah ’10 California $12
Tempts the senses with an array of blueberry, blackberry, cocoa, and black pepper.. The palate is filled with blueberry, blackberry, plum, sweet black cherry, and chewy tannins, with a hint of dark chocolate.
Bodegas Breca Garnacha de Fuego ’10 Spain 92pts $9
This amazing value wine boasts a dark ruby/purple color along with a sweet kiss of jammy black cherries intertwined with an undeniable crushed rock minerality, hitting the palate with a full-bodied, voluptuous texture and flavors of ripe raspberries and black currants with hints of camphor and forest floor.
Lummi Island Wine Tasting November 24 ’12
We are home after a lovely dinner in town with family. It is amazing how, like wine vintages, every year the same meal can be so different while still conforming to the tradition of turkey and trimmings. This year was no exception: delicious turkey and stuffing, but this year sweet potatoes cooked with grapefruit, spicy cranberry sauce with a bit of a kick, lovely salads, and a surprisingly tasty yet simple stir fry of very fresh snow peas hot out of the pan.
For wines we brought two from our recommended list: the OS riesling and the rosé prosecco. Unfortunately the riesling disappeared long before dinner, but we did just fine with the Rosecco and a lovely bottle of Cougar Crest viognier that our hostess provided.
All in all, in the larger context of the great human struggle to survive its ongoing Darwinian competition, we can be grateful to live in this time, in this place, blessed with an economic situation most of those who have gone before us would surely see as unimaginable luxury.
The “big” wine we are pouring this weekend, like the other three (see below), just arrived with our semi-annual shipment of Italian wines from Small Vineyards, an importer of mostly Italian, but lately some French and Spanish wines. The Lonardi Privelegia is an unusual blend of corvina and cab franc, and corvina is the primary grape is several lovely Italian wines: valpolicella, ripasso, and amarone.
In making amarone, the grapes are allowed to dry toward raisins before pressing, yielding a wine that is deep, rich, and full. Ripasso is made by adding the once-squeezed grapes already used to make amarone to valpolicella blends to add depth, body, and flavor. We have featured several ripassos in the past year or two, and they have been very popular with their seductive flavors and soft texture.
This wine knocked us out when we tasted it in August, so we couldn’t resist bringing in a few bottles for you to taste.
Okay, friends, it is after all Thanksgiving evening, so this is a short post. Hope to see many of you this weekend!
This week’s wines
Altarocca Arcosesto Orvieto ’11 Italy $14
A crisp, clean, fragrant white wine (grechetto, procanico, malvasia), bright and sunny with minerally notes of flowers, citrus, and dried fruits that pair well with savory dishes.
Bibbiani Treggiaia 09 Italy $10
A smooth and satisfying blend of sangiovese, canniolo & cab, serious but friendly, delightful with anything from pizza to lamb chops.
Palama Negroamaro 08 (Italy) $10
Elegantly expansive, rich and robust. Although it is 100% “rustic” Negroamaro, it is amazingly balanced; silky mouthfeel, aromas of violets, plums, fresh ground pepper and blackberry jam with accents of cinnamon, leather, tobacco and smoke.
Lonardi Privelegia ’08 Italy $36
A blend of Corvina (the primary grape in Amarone)and Cabernet Franc; intense, medium to full-bodied, and loaded with ripe dark fruit, spices, sweet herbs and earthiness, with lingering notes of sweetness from the dried Corvina that linger on the finish. Recently recognized by the Italian Sommelier Association as the top wine in Italy.
The Thanksgiving Holiday is special not just for its historic significance or iconic symbolism or even the Ultra-Commercialism that kicks off the day after. Most especially for many people it means a rare and coveted opportunity for a four-day weekend, which is definitely something to be thankful for!
Curiously, as iconic as the Thanksgiving holiday is in our American culture, you will find, if you Google Thanksgiving images, a puzzling and vaguely unsatisfying array of banal pictures of turkeys, cornucopias, and other kitsch. At some level, I suppose we all have some nostalgia for the Thanksgivings of our childhood, some sort of annual anchor for the idea that we were part of some larger family, and it is hard to capture in a photo. Still, in our hearts we want it to be a real occasion for gratitude and feasting.
So this Thanksgiving, we wish you all a rich sense of community, a rooted sense of place, a warm sense of tribal belonging, and the luxury of leisure and community.
For our part, this post is to let you know that we will be open for your last-minute wine needs, Wednesday 4-6, Thursday 11-1, and the usual hours Friday (4-7) and Saturday (2-6). We have the wines we recommended last week for your holiday meal, plus the recent arrival of our semiannual shipment of Italian wines (including a lovely rose prosecco) and more.
Cheers, friends, and bon appetit!
Lummi Island Wine Tasting Nov 17 ’12
Thanksgiving wine pairings
Choosing wines for a smorgasbordy feast like Thanksgiving or Christmas is tricky because of all the traditional rich fare that gets piled up on the same plate. It’s a lot to ask that one wine will work with that many flavors, spices, and fats. In a way, because of the variety, almost any wines will do, but some will definitely work better than others. I think the primary criterion is for the wine to have a nice, mouthwatering acidity. Beyond that, I personally like some fruity complexity that will complement the richness of the meal while maintaining an accompanying role.
A chilled glass of Italian Prosecco, Spanish Cava, or your favorite champagne is always a good choice with big, rich meals because of its light flavors, festive bubbles, and crisp acidity. And of course it’s always a celebration to start any meal with savory appetizers, a cheery toast, and a flute of fizz..!
Similarly, although we usually think of rosé as a summer wine, its light flavors and bright acidity make it a good match for rich holiday fare as well. And although we have dismantled our summer Rosé Shrine, we still have a wide variety of dry rosés to chose from, from France, Italy, Spain, and right here in Washington. A minute ago I just poured some from a nearly empty bottle that has been sitting around for a week or two, and am surprised and happy to report that it tastes really good!
Another delicious direction for a holiday dinner wine is a dry or slightly off-dry riesling. Good rieslings are not, as many fear, “sweet wines.” One of the lovely things about riesling is that whether it is bone-dry (i.e., no residual sugar at all), or has a little or even a lot of residual sugar, it is usually beautifully fragrant and fruity, and balanced with bright acidity that effectively cleans the palate of any lingering sweetness. Because of its combination of complex white fruit flavors (like pear, apple, peach, and pinepple), riesling pairs well with almost everything. For the same reasons, other German or Alsatian varietals to consider for Thanksgiving include an Austrian gruner veltliner, an Alsation pinot bianco, or a Washington gewurztraminer– all of which we have in stock! Read more about riesling
Roussanne and Grenache Blanc
Roussanne and Grenache Blanc are two of my current favorite white varietals; we tasted and enjoyed several during recent visits in southern France and also in Spain. To our delight, we have also found a number of delicious roussannes right here in Washington, and I only recently discovered that some vineyards in Washington are also trying out grenache blanc. That was pretty exciting since I had enjoyed the varietal so much last year, and felt that it was likely to become the Next Big Thing in white wine in America (we’ll see about that). Right now we have delicious Washington roussannes from Mt. Baker Vineyards and from Syncline, which also happens to make– wait for it– a grenache blanc with fruit from one of Washington’s premier vineyards, Boushey. These tend to be full-bodied white wines, soft and fruity, rich on the palate, yet still with enough crisp acidity to stand up to a full-flavored holiday dinner.
Another versatile favorite for the holidays is pinot noir, the grape made famous in America a few years ago in the movie “Sideways.” Pinot has many different faces, but all of them should work well (in different ways) with a big holiday dinner. California pinot tends to be big, ripe, rich, and fruity, with notes of both red and white fruits and berries. It should stand up well to turkey, gravy, and cranberry sauce. Oregon pinot can be big like California, but usually tends to be less fruit forward, more acidic, and more balanced, making it more food-friendly in general, while French burgundy is often the most acidic, but can vary wildly according to vintage and vineyard location.
This week’s wines
Calcu Rosé ’11 Chile $11
Unusual blend of malbec, syrah, and petite verdot; beautiful pale pink-arange color, crisp acidity, and nice minerality with notes of citrus and green apple. Not to mention, a really great label!
OS Riesling ’11 Washington $14
Here’s a nice video of winemaker Bill Owen talking about this riesling. A few years ago we had an earlier vintage with Thanksgiving dinner, and it was, if I may say so myself, a brilliant pairing!
Syncline Grenache Blanc ’11 Washington $22
A lovely wine that manages to combine a sense of rich earthiness with fine acidity, with fruit flavors of nectarine and green papaya.
W. H. Smith Maritime Pinot Noir ’09 California $35
While in Napa two weeks ago we got a great deal on one of our favorite California pinots, and had a case shipped up. It’s here, it’s delicious, and it’s $20 less than usual. Come check it out!