Eroica Riesling: A Retrospective

eroica riesling washington wine

Had the opportunity to take part in tasting a vertical of Eroica Riesling at Wild Ginger. This collaboration between Chateau Ste. Michelle and Ernst Loosen from Germany is a benchmark for Washington Riesling. What started as a handshake deal between two winemakers has become a great partnership showcasing the potential for great Riesling in Washington State. We tasted the 2005, 2007, and 2010. I preferred the 07 as it (to me) had the most acidity. And thought it’s kind of a duh to say that Riesling is great with Asian cuisines, the wines really shifted to another level with the food. Especially noteworthy was the green papaya salad; it was put on this Earth to be enjoyed with Riesling!

The real show-stopper, however, was getting to try two vintages of the Eroica Single Berry Select. A TBA-style dessert wine of miniscule production, it’s a treat to try one let alone two vintages. (BTW, TBA is German for delicious, rare, nectar-like Riesling that’s picked berry-by-berry.) The 2001 (seen on the right in the above photo) was poured first and I have to say I was astonished by the color. It had already taken on a much deeper, darker color than the 2007 poured next to it. It was the Wine of the Day for me.

This special event was part of a larger, summer-long celebration of Riesling. Whether it’s from Washington or anywhere else in the world, I cannot recommend Riesling highly enough as one of the finest, most age-worthy, food-friendly wines.

Full Disclosure: This tasting and lunch was provided by the winery.

A Twist on Washington Red Wine: Comparing Cork and Screwcap

Hogue Genesis Merlot 2003
The cork versus screwcap debate gets most contentious when talking about how red wine will age when sealed under one closure versus the other. So it was a rare treat to be invited to attend a seminar hosted by Hogue Cellars to taste five bottles of 2003 Hogue Genesis Merlot, each sealed under a different closure. How, at 8 years of age, would each red wine fare? (Read my previous post to see how Hogue’s screwcap-sealed Riesling performed starting with the 2004 vintage.)

After sampling the red wine in glasses A-E we found out what kind of closure was used to seal the bottle:

  • A: Saranex* screwcap (with nitrogen dosing)
  • B: Saranex screwap (no nitrogen dosing)
  • C: Synthetic cork (low oxygen ingress)
  • D: Natural cork
  • E: Synthetic cork (moderate oxygen ingress)

*Saranex is a barrier film that is more oxygen-permeable than a tin liner.

My favorite? The Merlot in D, sealed with a natural cork. As Co Dinn, Director of Winemaking for The Hogue Cellars, stated, it showed “how well cork can do when you get a good one.” Even though we were discussing Hogue’s shift to 100% screwcap closures with their 2009 vintage, this was not an exercise in cork-bashing and Co’s respectful attitude and thoughtful critique of a variety of closures was much appreciated.

My least favorite was the Merlot in Glass A.  It just tasted flat. Which seemed to confirm Hogue’s decision not put any nitrogen in the headspace (area between wine and closure). The red wine needs that extra oxygen for development of secondary characteristics over time. As far as B, C, and E, they all had qualities I enjoyed and good balance between tannin and fruit; D and A just happened to stand out for reasons good and not-so-good, respectively.

Rather than looking at this issue as a battle between cork and screwcap, I found myself most intrigued about the research that Hogue did into finding the right screwcap and accounting for variables (such as sulfur level, addition or omission of nitrogen, and measuring oxygen ingress) to fine-tune the process to enable a red wine to age properly. If you really want to nerd out, there is much more information about Hogue’s screwcap study. (Including spider graphs! Which just sound cool.)

So how do you feel about putting reds sealed with a screwcap in your cellar?

A Hogue Riesling Vertical

Hogue Riesling Vertical
When you get a chance to taste a vertical of wine, normally images of something very fancy-pants, precious, and expensive come to mind. But at Hogue’s presentation/tasting detailing the results of a new study about alternate closures (and switch to 100% screwcaps starting with the 2009 vintage), their humble Riesling shined. We sampled a vertical from 2004-2009, all sealed under screwcap. The 2004 was still lively-tasting, showing some secondary characteristics and a little bit of a funky, earthy finish; one to guzzle-up in the near future. (Maybe I’m splitting hairs a bit about the finish; keep in mind this is a sub-$10 Riesling. The 05 is still going strong; I don’t think it’s even plateaued yet.) All the Rieslings had good balance between sweetness and acidity; much more refreshing than cloying. This is the second time I’ve taken part in this tasting and I’ve walked away with the same thought: “Why am I not stashing away a case (or more) for a few years?”

Director of Winemaking Co Dinn gave us an interesting background in all the trials and tests to determine how wine ages when sealed under screwcap. This was especially daunting as, he explained, “People who make screwcaps are capmakers, not winemakers.” Co’s team at Hogue had to do a lot of research into how the wine in the bottle was affected by oxygen transfer. It was also great to have Gary Hogue in attendance. He spoke of his farming background, and how when his family went into the wine business he “couldn’t even pronounce Gewurztraminer.” Gary also talked about the reason the company started experimenting with alternate closures: “When you have your name on a product and there is a problem, you’re embarrassed.”

After the round of Rieslings we got into the reds. Five glasses of 2003 Genesis Merlot–each from a bottle sealed with a different closure–were set in front of us. We would find out after trying the lot which was which. Now this was really interesting. So interesting, in fact, that I think it deserves a separate  post. (Stay tuned.)

So what’s your take on wines sealed with a screwcap?

Long Shadows Riesling Forever

Poet's Leap
The red wines produced by Long Shadows, an innovative program started by Allen Shoup, brings together some of the heaviest-hitting names in winemaking from all over the world to produce wines made with Washington grapes. As Gilles Nicault, Director of Winemaking and Viticulture (who was our guest for a recent tasting of Long Shadow’s releases) explained, visiting winemakers “come to Washington and bring their savoir-faire.”

While the reds seem to get the lion’s share of the attention, I was truly impressed with the quality of the Rieslings. The Long Shadow’s “Poet’s Leap” is a collaboration with Armand Diel of Germany’s Schlossgut Diel. Its refreshing qualities and nice, zippy acidity on the finish were so pleasing. The 2009 is the best version of this Riesling I’ve tasted. A definite porch-pounder for those hot summer months. Grab some sushi or some spicy Asian fare. (Then call me; I’ll be right over.)

The real stunner, however, was the 2008 Botrytis Riesling, a dessert wine. Botrytis is often called “Noble Rot” as grapes affected by it make arguably the world’s most famous dessert wine, Sauternes. All other kinds of rot, however, just make a wine that is…rotten. Botrytis helps concentrate the juice and flavor of the grapes so that by the time you harvest it, you get a juice more akin to nectar. As Gilles commented, the sugar levels are so high for this wine that when it gets into the tank it “ferments like maple syrup.” In some logic-defying manner, while there is an insane amount of sugar crammed into every slender bottle, it’s not cloyingly sweet. (Like, for example, a Jolly Rancher.) There is enough acidity on the finish (the looooong finish) to provide a bit of refreshment. Add this to gorgeous aromatics and you have a dessert wine that is one to sip, savor, and repeat. Just get some blue cheese and some thin slices of apple. (And, seriously, get a hold of me via phone, fax, text, e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, Skype, carrier pigeon, whatevs. I will totes be there.)

Here’s my real-time reaction to the Botrytis Riesling on Twitter:

Apparently I wasn’t the only one impressed; Annie, a Washington wine enthusiast (to put it mildly) who was also attending our Long Shadows seminar, responded:

So enjoy those Long Shadows reds, but don’t sleep on the Rieslings!

Taste Washington: Pouring Wines Galore

1994 Hedges Three Vineyards
Shocking confession time: Sunday was my first ever Taste Washington. And I hit it with a vengeance. When the trade/press gates opened at 12:30, I was there. And I didn’t leave until they were shooing me out with push-brooms at 7. How did I manage to stay so long and be upright? The answer is below:

Hip to Spit Bucket
I did, however, drink the wine at the top of the post. Christophe Hedges poured some of the 1994 Three Vineyards into my glass from a nondescript plastic water pitcher. It was fantastic! Wine. Of. The. Day. I think you can get the current vintage (now called Red Mountain) for less than $25 a bottle; I’d buy a case of it and forget about it for a decade and see what happens. If you get a chance to meet Christophe, don’t pass it up. He’s hilarious, high-energy, and bit of a contrarian. I had loads of fun running around the event with him for a bit. Be sure and ask him about the 100 point wine-rating scale.

Naturally there were winemakers galore, like Brennon Leighton of Efeste:

Brennon of Efeste

And Mark McNeilly of Mark Ryan Winery, along with proof that he poured a bit of wine:

Mark McNeilly

The Gorman Winery crew (Chris on the right) was sporting a look I think was some kind of Top Gun tribute. And drinking beer. Plus they brought a barrel sample of a new wine coming in September, Behind the Black Curtain:

Gorman Winery Crew

Buty raided their cellar to bring out two whites from 2006. (The Chardonnay was poured from magnum.) The reds were special exclusive restaurant wines. I am still waiting for them to offer to make an Esquin wine. Ahem.

Buty

I ran into some of my favorite winos, Doug and Josh from WINO Magazine, at the Whidbey Island Winery table:

Wino and Whidbey

And what’s wine without some cheese? I had probably the strangest cheddar ever, hand-rubbed with coffee and lavender. Yes, lavender. And coffee. Together. You know what? I thought it was great. Behold the Barely Buzzed cheddar:

Barely Buzzed Cheese

And after all that wine, enjoyed the palate-saving refreshment of beer from Pike Brewing and a crazy good hard apple cider from Finnriver with a touch of blueberry juice added:

Beer-n-Cider

And when it was all over, my chauffeur drove me home in the Official Esquin Taxi, conveniently parked inside:

Maserati

So what were your highlights of Taste Washington?

Drinking Local: Whidbey Island Winery

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There is an unbridled enthusiasm here in Seattle and beyond for local eating and drinking. If you’re living in these parts and really want to drink local, look no further than the wines made from grapes grown right on Puget Sound at Whidbey Island Winery. Though the grapes may have unfamiliar names (Sigerrebe, Madeline Angevine, Madeline Sylvaner, anybody?) the wines are light, refreshing, and full of charm. A good place to start is with the Island White, a blend of Madeleine Sylvaner and Madeleine Angevine. The Siegerrebe offers a little more complexity and richness. And though both of these whites have a touch of residual sugar, they are thirst-quenching and not cloying. If you’re looking for something completely dry, check out the Madeline Angevine; it’s the liveliest of the bunch. This trio of whites would all go great with seafood and spicy fare. Try steaming up some local Penn Cove Mussels with Madeline Angevine.

I would be remiss if I did not point out that the winery makes a full compliment of reds from grapes brought in from Eastern Washington; stylistically they are light on oak influence and moderate in alcohol. The Italian varietals are especially promising; don’t miss out on the Dolcetto. And the unfortunately named Lemberger is a must for any Pinot Noir fan; serve it blind and you will win converts. I also got a tank sample of a rosé made from Lemberger and Sangiovese (!) that was dry and delicious.

Not only are the wines charming, but the location is idyllic and contemplative. Let’s take a tour!

Here’s the winery:

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The vineyards:

Whidbey Island Winery Vineyards

The entrance gate to the vineyards:

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Some pruning work:

Pruning

Winemaker Greg and Assistant Winemaker Leah posing for the camera:

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Future bottlings of Merlot and Roussanne:

Barrel and Tank

Winery Cat Sangiovese scares the hell out of poor Dioggi:

Winery Cat and Dog

Good use of leftover wine barrels:

whidbey 228

So have you had any Puget Sound whites before? Check out the information for a whole host of wineries courtesy of the Puget Sound Wine Growers Association.

Cochon 555 Seattle: Wine and Pork Galore

Buty and Bacon

What can I say about Cochon 555 in Seattle? A lot. But I’ll let the photos do most of the talking. Not only was there Buty and bacon, but also delicious wines from K Vintners, Domaine Serene, and Syncline:

Cochon 555 Wines

Charles Smith of K Vintners was on hand to pour the Phil Lane Syrah:

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The hacksaw came out for a butchering demo courtesy of Tracy Smaciarz from Heritage Meats:

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The menu of Spinasse and Chef Jason Stratton plating:

Spinasse at Cochon 555 Seattle

Here’s the skin and ear salad with cherry bomb chiles:

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The trio of offerings from Lark:

Lark Trio of Pork

And here’s what they looked like. Are you hungry yet?

Lark

There was palate-cleansing beer courtesy of Charles Finkel from Pike Brewing. (Where do I get one of those beer-dispensing backpacks?)

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Cafe Juanita had a menu both instructive and delicious:

Cafe Juanita

Of course there was dessert:

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How did Ethan Stowell color his ravioli dough? The secret was pig blood.

Ethan Stowell Ravioli

Joule had wonderful sauces to accompany their roasted pork. I had the one on the left with serrano chiles and fish sauce. (At least that’s what I thought it was. Regardless, it was fantastic.)

Array of Sauces by Joule/Revel

Thanks for being awesome, Cochon 555. See you next year?

Cuts of Pork

Full disclosure: Cochon 555 provided me with a ticket to this event.