New Tasting Series: Grape Varietals A-Z

A-Z_logo_Jan 2014
Kicking off a new year, we thought it would be fun to do a comprehensive tasting series featuring as many single grape varietals as we carry in the shop. We counted them up. (There are 60+!) We put them in alphabetical order. And we’re ready to go! Here’s the schedule.  If you make a good chunk of these tastings, you will have tasted the vast majority of single grape varietals grown around the world today. We’ll offer a little educational overview on each grape including tasting notes & where it’s grown. The rest is up to you. Ready, set, go:

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Tastings run every Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday from bar open (4pm) to 8pm:
Tue, 14-Jan – Albariño ~ pictured above in the Outon vineyards in Rias Baixas, Spain
Wed, 15-Jan – Aligoté
Thu, 16-Jan – Arneis
Tue, 21-Jan – Barbera
Wed, 22-Jan – Blaufraenkisch
Thu, 23-Jan – Brachetto
Tue, 28-Jan – Cabernet Franc
Wed, 29-Jan – Cabernet Sauvignon
Thu, 30-Jan – Cannonau
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Tue, 4-Feb – Carmenère
Wed, 5-Feb – Chardonnay (France) ~ pictured above in Claude Nouveau’s vineyards
Thu, 6-Feb – Chardonnay (California)
Tue, 11-Feb – Chenin Blanc
Wed, 12-Feb – Cortese
Thu, 13-Feb – Dolcetto
Tue, 18-Feb – Garganega
Wed, 19-Feb – Garnacha Grenache
Thu, 20-Feb – Grauvernatsch (Schiava Grigio)
Tue, 25-Feb – Grüner Veltliner
Wed, 26-Feb – Inzolia
Thu, 27-Feb – Kerner
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Tue, 4-Mar – Lagrein
Wed, 5-Mar – Malbec
Thu, 6-Mar – Melon de Bourgogne
Tue, 11-Mar – Merlot
Wed, 12-Mar – Montepulciano
Thu, 13-Mar – Moscato
Tue, 18-Mar – Muscat
Wed, 19-Mar – Nebbiolo ~ pictured above in the Pelassa vineyards of Piedmont, Italy
Thu, 20-Mar – Nerelo Mascalese
Tue, 25-Mar – Nero d’Avola
Wed, 26-Mar – Pedro Ximenez
Thu, 27-Mar – Petit Verdot
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Tue, 1-Apr – Petite Syrah
Wed, 2-Apr – Pineau d’Aunis
Thu, 3-Apr – Pinot Bianco
Tue, 8-Apr – Pinot Blanc
Wed, 9-Apr – Pinot Grigio
Thu, 10-Apr – Pinot Grigio
Tue, 15-Apr – Pinot Noir (France)
Wed, 16-Apr – Pinot Noir (Oregon)
Thu, 17-Apr – Pinotage
Tue, 22-Apr – Primitivo
Wed, 23-Apr – Prosecco
Thu, 24-Apr – Riesling
Tue, 29-Apr – Sangiovese
Wed, 30-Apr – Sauvignon Blanc (France)
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Thu, 1-May – Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand)
Tue, 6-May – Semillon
Wed, 7-May – Shiraz ~ pictured above from Jens’ trip to Victoria, Australia
Thu, 8-May – Syrah (Old World)
Tue, 13-May – Syrah (New World)
Wed, 14-May – Tempranillo
Thu, 15-May – Torrontes
Tue, 20-May – Verdejo
Wed, 21-May – Vernaccia
Thu, 22-May – Viognier
Tue, 27-May – Welschriesling
Wed, 28-May – Zinfandel
Thu, 29-May – Zweigelt

This should be a lot of fun! Look forward to seeing you there!
Julie, Jens & the Portalis team

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An Interview with Peter Devison, Winemaker at Efeste

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Peter Devison pictured with Theresa Slechta, Vinum Imports

Peter Devison is the current winemaker at the acclaimed WA winery Efeste, following the big personality (& winemaking prowess) tenure of Brennan Leighton. The two are friends and Brennan actually hand-picked Peter to take over at Efeste when he left a year ago. Peter said that when the two first met, they had a little ego scuffling, but soon they realized that they shared something important in common: philosophy. Both winemakers believe less is more, age in the bottle not in oak, let the vineyard and the vintage shine through.

So, how did this young man end up at the helm of this highly decorated WA winery? From my visit with him, it sounds like a combination of two things: he got the wine bug bad, and he worked his tail off. Originally from Nova Scotia, Peter moved to Vancouver just out of high school and started as a bus boy in a local restaurant. By 22, he was acting sommelier at some restaurants, serving at others. In 2001 he moved to Christchurch in New Zealand to learn how to make wine, earning his Bachelors of Applied Science in Viticulture & Enology at Lincoln University. He travelled around the country, hitting every harvest he could and made 6 vintages in the 4 years he was there, including Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Cabernet, Merlot, Cab Franc and more.

In 2004, he had the option of working in Portugal or WA State, and selected the latter with a position in Chelan at Vin du Lac. Soon, though, he moved on to the more up-and-coming area of Walla Walla where he could be at the epicenter of WA State’s wine movement, and that’s where things really started happening. He took a winemaking position at Waterbrook, which was then shortly purchased by Precept, and he spent the 2007-2008 vintages in Walla Walla then the 2009-2011 vintages in Prosser making wine for Precept for a range of labels including Apex Cellars, Browne Family, Alder Ridge & more. He loved the people & learned a lot, but when Brennan came calling with the opportunity to move away from the more corporate structure of Precept into the land of high-end WA wines no-holds-barred, he jumped.

The 2012 vintage on at Efeste is his, and the opportunity he is presented with is mind-blowing for him: he has the flexibility to do something great. About 40% of Efeste’s production is their red blend Final Final, which is priced to be a glass pour at local restaurants, creating a following for their brand and ultimately their high end wines, Ceidleigh Syrah, Jolie Bouche, Big Papa and more. 20-25% of the overall production is white wines: Feral Sauvignon Blanc, Evergreen Riesling, Lola Chardonnay. Having made a lot of white wine in New Zealand, Peter said he loves making white wine. It’s more precise and straightforward, and he has a satisfying relationship with the wines from early on. With red wines, he says it’s more emotional; you can make or break your day depending on a wine’s progress. But clearly in visiting with him about winemaking, red is the more challenging wine to make and the more satisfying for him in the end.

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His thoughts on the Efeste wines we tasted at our Anniversary Tasting in August?

● Evergreen Riesling 2011: Focused. Elegantly balanced. Build to age. Old World style (Austria).

● Feral Sauvignon Blanc 2012: It’s got verve. It’s edgy. All about crushed stone, oyster shells, lime leaf, apricot skins.

● Final Final Cab/Syrah 2010: All YUM factor. Best of both worlds. Fleshy, velvety Syrah with structured, focused Cab. The Cab is the frame around the velvety Syrah. It’s complete, whole.

● Ceidliegh (“Kay-lee”) Syrah 2010: Cornas inspired. Grilled herbs, licorice, dark fruit. Red Mountain tannins. It’s a sexy wine.

● Big Papa Cab 2010: BIG, chewy, full, rich, intense, full. It’s a monster. Everything you want in a WA Cab.

All of these wines are available at Portalis. If we don’t have them in stock, we’d be happy to order them for you.

Cheers,
Julie

A Conversation with Lobo Hills

I had the opportunity to sit down with local winemaker (and motorcycle aficionado) Tony Dollar and ask him a few questions about his winery, Lobo Hills. Prior to winemaking, Tony had worked in the hospitality/restaurant industry at such places as Canlis. His opening venture into wine was in the winter of 2010 with three wines totaling 234 cases; 2009 Riesling, 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, and a non-vintage Cabernet Sauvignon. Today, Lobo Hills aims to produce almost 1,200 cases thanks to the created fan-base in and around Seattle for their wines.

The aim of Lobo Hills wine is to produce ‘wine for food’, in other words balanced and acidic wines that are drinkable throughout a meal. The winery itself is based out of the Dollars’ home in the Wedgewood neighborhood in North Seattle, and uses minimal intervention in its production techniques. Tony sources his grapes from throughout Eastern Washington: white varietals from around the town of Sunnyside, red varietals from near Benton City, the Red Mountain AVA region, and Wahluke Slope.

Since Lobo Hills wine is made with food in mind, I asked Tony what his favorite food pairings were for the vintages carried here at Portalis:

Right Bank Red Blend: Beef stew, or roasted Portobello mushrooms

Cabernet Sauvignon: Beef Tenderloin

Riesling: Grilled Pork medallions or Lemon roasted chicken

Look for new vintages to arrive in April (among them being a new to the market white blend!)

Cheers!

Kyle

Presenting Ernst Loosen of Weingut Dr. Loosen

 
The photos of Ernst (Ernie) Loosen say it all: humor, charisma, passion, knowledge & opinion.  This guy was entertainment pure, poured on top of a mountain of knowledge and a deep love of his land & his wine.  When asked where the spit bucket was, he answered that he prefers to spit in reverse!  Or when questioned about the impact of global warming in the Mosel, he said “Yes, we have it, but it will still be 250 years before we’re growing Syrah.”

With 4 world tours a year (always fly west he said), Ernie Loosen has become the face of German Reisling, its ambassador.  He said he has had to take on this role as German Riesling is one of the great world wines, but increasingly only Germans were drinking it.  Clearly, he has taken it upon himself to change that … and this guy might just do it! 

After bumming around (not in so many words, but basically his description) at university for the normal extended period in Germany (“as you know it’s free & at that time it wasn’t very demanding” … said like a very smart guy), his mother gave her kids an ultimatum.  They had 4 weeks to decide who, if any of the kids, was going to take over the family estate (which had been in the family for approaching 200 years) or she was going to sell it and she had a buyer waiting in the wings.  Long-(very funny)-story-short, Ernie Loosen took over in1988 and immediately made some very important decisions. 

Realizing that he had 60 year old vines in some of Germany’s top vineyards, he had the ingredients for world-class wines.  To reach this goal, Ernie immediately did 3 things: 1) changed vineyard practices to reduce crop size, 2) moved to organic fertilizers (if at all) & 3) strictly selected fruit at harvest.  This, in combination with the gift of his land and highly skilled winemaking, has produced a stunning result.  Accolades>  Here are wine notes on the wines we tasted:

Dr. Loosen 2008 Villa Wolf Gewürztraminer
$13.99 | mixed case $11.19
7.5-8% alcohol.  Alsacian Riesling is higher in alcohol and has a richer oilier texture.  According to Ernie Loosen, German Gewürztraminer is elegant, with traces of rose petal & it’s good with food.  Delicate, not overpowering.  The general comment from the tasters was that this tasted nothing like what they think of as Gewürztraminer.  It was not spicy or oily.  It was light, with very faint essence of rose petal, refreshing, and we can imagine that it would be delicious with food!  By the way, it sold out at the tasting.

Dr. Loosen 2008 Blue Slate Kabinett Riesling
$22.99 | mixed case $18.39
The Blue Slate vineyards have super steep slopes that drain well, filling the wines with mineral flavors, yet this wine was still light & refreshing. “There’s a spicy, tangy quality to this white, along with quince and anise. It’s all underscored by a mineral element and a vibrant structure, with a fine, lingering aftertaste of stone and anise..” 90 — Wine Spectator, Nov. 15, 2008

Dr. Loosen 2007 Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett
$28.99 | mixed case $23.19

Ernie understood that German wine labels can be intimidating for American wine buyers, so he made an effort to explain each label of the line-up to our group.  In this case, Erden is the village and Treppchen is the diminutive of Treppe which means stairs, so this is the little staircase of Erden. He also explained Germany’s system of naming the ripeness of the grape, and like the Blue Slate above, Kabinett is the least ripe (and subsequently has the least residual sugar) of German wines.  This wine had a lovely, refreshing effervescence, with flavors of pears & slate; slightly sweeter than the Blue Slate Kabinett. 
 
Dr. Loosen 2007 Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spätlese
$32.99 | mixed case $26.39

Ernie gave a great history lesson with this wine, explaining that 60-70% of the Mosel vineyards were accumulated through the years by the Catholic church.  It was secularized by Napoleon after he conquered the area in 1804-1806.  Graach is a village in between Bernkastel & Wehlen and these vineyards once belonged to the monastery there; thus the name Himmelreich, which means Kingdom of Heaven.  Spätlese is the next step up in the sweetness classification.  These grapes were harvested 2 weeks later than the Kabinett.  They are not overripe, but they have more aroma structure, are more delicate and can age better.  Flavors of ripe pears, pineapple, apricots & white peach. Beautiful minerality & fantastic acidity. This wine will age for decades.
 
Dr. Loosen 2007 Ürziger Würzgarten Auslese
$44.99 | mixed case $ 35.99

Ürziger Würzgarten means the spice garden of (the town of) Ürzig and that’s what this wine offers, lovely flavors of spekulatius cookies (spicy Christmas cookie flavors) within a white wine. Very unusual and delicious.  Auslese is the latest harvested grapes when they are at their ripest state.  This wine is sweet, but has beautiful acidity.  A terrific complement to spicy Asian cuisine. Very complex, well-balanced, elegant & delicious. Very intense nose of ripe peaches, apricots followed by flavors of mainly yellow plums, peaches, hints of dried apricots, peaches & notes of honey. Wonderful long, lingering finish. This is built for the ages.

Dr. Loosen 2006 Riesling Beerenauslese
$22.99 | mixed case $18.39
Ernie described this as “berry selected, shriveled raisins” explaining that vintages can have from 5%-50% botrytis-affected grapes (where the grapes have shriveled down to about half their normal size & are exceptionally sweet). 2006 had picture book fruit., with the wine containing 50% botrytis grapes. This rich, decadent dessert wine has intense flavors of peaches & nectarines.  In Germany, you would sit around the table after a meal with family & friends and sip this wine and visit and enjoy yourself immensely. 

Really, it was such a pleasure having Ernie Loosen at our shop for a tasting.  We hope he stops by on his next jaunt around the world.

We have the Dr. Loosen 2007 Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett in stock.  The other wines are available via special order, so give us a call 206-783-2007 or email info@portaliswines.com for more information.
 
Cheers!
Julie

Riesling, an overview

Riesling is a wine lover’s white wine.  Maybe that’s because you have to have some level of wine sophistication to know what you’re getting:  It’s difficult to grow Riesling and so the wines have greater vintage variations due to the varietal’s finicky nature … challenge #1.  But the product … wow, a complex combination of flavors & terroir:  apple, peach, apricot, rose petal, violet, minerals, flint.  Riesling also has an incredible range of styles depending on the ripeness of the grape, from crisp, dry sippers, to complex, off-dry food wines (Spätlese & Kabinett) to beautiful, rich, sweet nectars of dessert wines (Trockenbeerenauslese) … challenge #2.  And then there’s the German label … challenge #3.  I am fluent in German and I still can’t figure out what the heck they’re saying.  Of course Riesling is grown in France (Alsace), Austria (still German language labels, but not so confusing), Oregon, California, Washington State, Australia & New Zealand, but the Germans have been doing it since the 1400’s and Germany has the largest production & variety and it’s undoubtedly the home to the greatest Riesling wines.

For a down-and-dirty overview … German Riesling is known for its minerality (from the German soils), for its peach/apricot flavors, for its lightness, elegance & complexity, its excellent acidity and its low alcohol content.  Some German Riesling has a petrol nose, but it’s not as common as with Austrian Riesling, where a petrol nose is a common trait.  Austrian Riesling is tarter and tangier than German Riesling, but still has some peach/apricot flavors and good acidity.  Washington Riesling tends to be off-dry, with flavors of apricot, peach & orange zest.  Acidity is what Washington is working on.

Some interesting Riesling to try:
Efeste 2008 Evergreen Riesling (Columbia Valley, WA) $18.50  This is a dry Riesling which is unusual.  It’s tangy with more lemon, lime, citrus flavors.  Last year it won the Riesling category of Seattle Magazine’s Washington wine competition. We currently serve this wine by the glass at the bar.

Hans Lang 2007 Sabrina Riesling (Rheingau, Germany) $19.50 Off-dry, light- to medium-bodied, some minerality, flavors of peach, apricot, orange zest, grapefruit, pleasant mouthfeel.  Would pair well with Thai or Vietnamese cuisines.

Dr. Pauly Bergweiler 2007 Bernkasteler Badstube Am Doctorberg Riesling Kabinett  (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany) $31 A very terroir driven Riesling.  Not as sweet as the Hans Lang. Lots of minerals, complex, beautiful acidity. This is the big leagues.  “Pale yellow color. Aromas of wet stone mixed with peaches and apricot. Very good complexity and concentration. Beautiful acidity integrated in the fruit. Main flavors are peach pie, apricots, pink grapefruit with some honey notes. Excellent, long finish.” (Jens, Tasting Circle, 93 points)

In August, the Tasting Circle (a group of local wine professionals who meet monthly to blind taste, rank and write tasting notes on wines currently available in the Seattle marketplace) reviewed German & Austrian Riesling.  To see the wine reviews in their entirety, go to: http://thetastingcircle.wordpress.com/2009/08/

Contributor: Julie Howe

Saskia Prüm visits from the Mosel Valley (Germany)

Saskia Prüm, winemaker at S.A. Prüm, with Jens Strecker, owner of Portalis Wines in Seattle
Saskia Prüm, winemaker at S.A. Prüm, with Jens Strecker, owner of Portalis Wines in Seattle

Saskia Prüm holds an honored position for us at Portalis.  She is the first German winemaker to do a tasting at our shop since we opened in 2003, and it was well worth the wait.  She was lovely.  She told me a little about the history of the winery … Located in the village of Wehlen (southwest Germany) near the one of the most famous vineyards in the Mosel Valley, the Wehlener Sonnenuhr, the estate has been in her family since her great grandfather began in 1911.  The estate flourished under father, who began running the estate in 1971, and as of 2005, it has been in Saskia’s hands.  She said that she knew from an early age that this was her calling.  With a smile, she said she had probably participated in her first wine tasting at age 9. She received a Diploma of Engineering in Winemaking from the Technical University in Geisenheim.  After that she completed a series of internships in Pfalz/Reingau, Baden & Alto Adige.  Her time in Alto Adige must have been particularly interesting, 1) because it was a huge 200 hector co-op compared with the 16.5 hectars of the S.A. Prüm estate and 2) she got to go hang out in Northern Italy, after all.

Americans so often have a block against white wine that’s not dry, but I can’t encourage you enough to open your experience to these wines as German Riesling is considered some of the finest white wine in the world (and S.A. Prüm is an excellent example of this style of wine).  It’s a thinker’s white wine … beautiful fruit flavors with an amazing acidity that off-sets the slight ending sweetness of the wine.  It’s refreshing as a stand alone sipper, but Riesling also rates as the most versatile white wine to pair with food.  The acidity as well as the fact that it’s not dry allows it to pair beautifully with appetizers, fish, shellfish, chicken, pork and especially cheeses.  It can also handle sweeter & spicier flavors (perfect for Asian cuisines) and the tanginess and heat of Middle Eastern & Mexican dishes.

Here’s what we tasted with Saskia, as well as her commentary on the wines:

S.A. Prüm 2007 Essence Riesling
$12.50/case $10
This wine has a spiciness to the fruit which is lovely, off-set by beautiful acidity.  Lighter than the next wine, it is a beautiful sipping wine.

S.A. Prüm 2003 Bernkasteler Lay $39/case $31.50
This wine has a little more body and a little more yellow in the color.  It has lovely grapefruity flavors and surprisingly, Saskia suggested pairing this wine with a red meat such as lamb.

S.A. Prüm 2007 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett $24/case $19.20
This Riesling comes from the most famous vineyard in the Mosel, the Wehlener Sonnenuhr. As a Kabinett, this wine is sweeter than the first two, but pleasantly so with the tingling acidity off-setting the sweetness beautifully.

S.A. Prüm 2003 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese $39/case $31.50
Auslese, from a selection of highly ripened grapes, is sweeter still than the Kabinett, and moves into the dessert wine category.  Try this with your favorite artisan blue cheese, for an amazing salty sweet combo.  You can enjoy this wine now, but Saskia said that you can lay it down for up to 20 years.

Contributor:  Julie Howe

O’Shea Scarborough Winery (Seattle)

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A cool label goes a long way in my book and these guys have some of the best labels in town. They range from edgy to mystical to beautiful with sort of a historic depth. (They also use the big, sturdy bottles that make the wine feel important in your hands. Nothing says big, worthy (gift) wine like this type of bottle.) But the label isn’t what’s important … it’s the wine, and these guys are producing some notably outstanding local wines.

O’Shea Scarborough Winery is a partnership between Travis Scarborough and Darryn O’Shea. Travis and Darryn both called on us at Portalis in their former lives as wine reps for local Seattle distributors. I remember when Travis stopped by with one of his first vintages – no label, no approvals, just a bottle of Washington Syrah for Jens and Gina to try. Jens said it was good, but I’m not sure at the time that I realized they were going to make a go of it.

Their winery started in a garage (for real), and for more on their garagiste roots, check out this interview from 2006. They have upped the ante since then, moving to a grown-up facility in Tukwila. As well, they are past just having a bottle of red, producing an impressive array of varietals, including reds, whites and a dessert wine.  I can tell Jens likes these wines and so I asked what makes them different.  He said that for their first vintage, they are “pretty darn impressive wines”.  He said that most of the time when he tastes first vintage Washington wines they are fine, but they all sort of taste the same.  These, though, “have good acidity, balance and are pretty complex, with well-integrated oak.  It’s a promising beginning.”  Here’s Jens’ take on their lineup:

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O’Shea Scarborough 2007 Semillon
Red Mountain, WA; $22
We currently serve this wine by the glass at the wine bar & people love it.  Wonderful pear and melon flavors with some citrus. Great acidity. A good sipper.

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O’Shea Scarborough 2007 Proprietors Chardonnay
Horse Heaven Hills, WA; $34
Vibrant citrus fruit combined with toast and vanilla flavors. Excellent Chardonnay.

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O’Shea 2007 Riesling “Cease & Desist”
Dineen Vineyard, Yakima Valley, WA
Bright & dry, German-style, good sipping acidity, good minerality.  Good future.  Store up to 2 years.

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O’Shea Scarborough 2005 “The Immortal” Syrah
Columbia Valley, WA; Reg $38/Sale $34.50
Dark fruit, with espresso and coffee notes. Medium- to full-bodied, well-balanced and elegant.

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O’Shea Scarborough 2006 Proprietors Cabernet Sauvignon
Yakima Valley, WA; $40
Black currant, cassis, dark fruit. Complex, elegant, with fine tannins on the finish.

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O’Shea Scarborough 2007 Eiswein
Yakima Valley, WA; $34
One of the best WA “Eisweine” we have tasted. If you are interested in tasting this sweet dessert wine, grab it as we only have 1 bottle left.

Try these out if you get a chance.  They are excellent examples of what can come out of Washington State.

Contributor:  Julie Howe