Category Washington

California meets Washington with Jameson Fink

Skype Drinking with Jameson Fink

In the midst of the Wine Bloggers’ Conference 2012 Jameson Fink and I became friends. In October 2013, we were able to do a joint wine trip through Dry Creek Valley. We have other joint trips planned for this upcoming year. It’s one of the gifts of wine blogging — you can develop genuine friendships with people you might not have met otherwise.

In the midst of our tour of Dry Creek in 2013, Jameson suggested we find a way to collaborate. Ultimately, we decided to begin by sharing quick visions of our respective states. He’d select two wines from Washington. I’d choose two from California. We’d send them to each other, then via Skype taste, drink, and talk through the four wines.

Following is Jameson’s write-up from the experience. Over on his site, Wine Without Worry, you’ll find mine later today. Here’s my write-up over on Jameson’s site:


Jameson Fink

Jameson Fink, Dry Creek Valley, October 2013

Hi there! I can’t believe I’m talking over/invading Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews for the day. You might remember me from such adventures with Elaine as “Touring Dry Creek Valley with Jameson Fink”.

The Washington Wines

So what wines from Washington State would I send Elaine’s way? Well, I knew I wanted to send her a couple weird bottles. And by weird I mean distinct and unusual in the most satisfying of ways. So I contacted the folks at Whidbey Island Winery and they were nice enough to send each of us a couple bottles for consideration.

Ferry to Whidbey Island Winery

ferry ride to Whidbey Island Winery, photo by Jameson Fink

I definitely wanted Elaine to try something from the Puget Sound AVA. While the vast majority of grapes for vino in Washington come from east of the Cascade Mountains (think Walla Walla, Yakima, the Tri-Cities, etc), there’s some cool stuff happening much closer to Seattle. Therefore, a bottle of 2012 Siegerrebe was dispatched to California.

This Puget Sound white wine is intensely aromatic. Elaine commented, “I’m drinking it through my nose.” (Not literally. I was watching her via Skype so I can confirm this was just a figure of speech.) It’s light and refreshing, clocking in at a summertime porch-pounding compatible 11% alcohol. If you like the intense aromatics of Gewurztraminer and Moscato but without the oiliness and/or sweetness, get a bottle in your fridge, posthaste! And when you’re hungry, pair that Siegerrebe with anything full of veggies and herbs. Like fresh rolls. (But skip the peanut sauce.)

Whidbey Island Vineyards

Whidbey Island Vineyards

The accompanying red wine from Whidbey Island Winery was their 2011 Lemberger. This bottle, unlike the Siegerrebe, is filled with grapes brought in from Eastern Washington’s Yakima Valley. Lemberger is a grape that, because of its unfortunate name, doesn’t get the love it deserves. WHERE IS THE LEMBERGER LOVE?!?

This wine reminds me of what would happen if a Pinot Noir and a Zinfandel swiped right on each other’s Tinder profiles. It’s fairly light on the palate but finishes with some brawny spiciness. This bottle would be really intriguing with less new oak as the Lemberger has enough going on to not need that flavor boost. I’d be curious to try it with neutral oak or perhaps nothing but steel. But if you find Zinfandel too monolithic, Lemberger awaits with a more gentle approach followed by an emptying out of the spice cabinet. Outstanding BBQ/outdoor grilling red.

The California Wines

So, what of the California wines sent my way? I was really excited to see (though not to type, jeez, what a long name, here goes) a bottle of 2011 Varner Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains Spring Ridge Vineyard Amphitheater Block. Phew! So thirsty. I’m a huge fan of the Santa Cruz Mountains, like Ridge Monte Bello (DUH!) and the wines of Mount Eden Vineyards, who make killer Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and one of my all-time favorite Cabernet Sauvignons from anywhere IN THE ENTIRE WORLD.

Anyway, back to the Varner. I love California Chardonnay and I ain’t afraid of oak on it, either. What makes the Varner notable is its exquisite balance between fruit, oak, and acid. How balanced is it? It’s more balanced than a seal with a beach ball on the tip of its nose being cheered by Rajat Parr and Jasmine Hirsch snacking on popcorn with a judicious amount of organic butter and native yeast.

Or, as Elaine more elegantly put it, this Chardonnay has “rich flavor with so much graceful movement.” Can I get avian on you? Let me paraphrase what Elaine went on to say. The Varner, which develops in a most intriguing manner in the glass, is like a great blue heron with a weirdly elongated form that moves in ways you don’t expect it to. You can’t compare it to other birds because they are the only ones who move like that.

This wine gets a Clive Coats-ian “very fine indeed”.

Next up? The 2012 Wind Gap Syrah Sonoma Coast Majik Vineyard, which also, like the Varner, proved to be magical in the glass. Like a conjurer. It has a very minty, menthol-y, eucalyptus-y, pine needle-y nose and was very earthy yet extremely light on first sip(s). Its a wine that really needs significant time to open up. I gave it a double-decant about a ½ hour before we began but give it hours to properly plump up or stash it in your cellar for a few years. It certainly gained steam throughout the course of the evening.

What makes this Syrah distinct among all of the offerings from Wind Gap? Elaine deems this bottling from the Majik Vineyard to be “the most aromatic and a little strange.” And strange in the way I described weird earlier. As in intriguing! And not intriguing in a way where you are choking down tiny eye-dropper sips while looking for the exit door. More of a “yum I want more” or “I’m sticking around for this rollercoaster…OF FLAVOR” kind of intrigue. Elaine channeled Alaska when describing this wine, likening it to “tundra berries grown in peat”. (Note: Whole Foods does not carry these. I asked.)

Thanks to Elaine for the fascinating and fantastic wines and letting me blather on all over her blog which, like the Varner, is very fine indeed!!! I look forward to our next adventure via Skype. It won’t be a California/Washington exchange, but rather a theme based on a style of wine we both hold near and dear. Elaine, would you care to make the announcement? Drumroll, please….

OH HOW WE LOVE ROSÉ! That’s what we’ll exchange next time — we’ll each select a favorite still rosé, and a favorite sparkling to send to the other, then Skype.



Thank you to Pax Mahle for providing the Wind Gap sample.
Thank you to Jameson Fink for being awesome.


Spring to Summer Wonki-Whoa-Whoas

Oh dear! This has been me this week.

I’d forgotten that Spring to Summer heat changes up here at high elevation (the thinner atmosphere, and lower oxygen levels come together to make a much drier climate and a higher impact on the human body when it comes to sun exposure and heat responses) can trigger migraines and overall health wonkiness for me. So, it turns out with the big heat increase up here at 7000 feet / 2134 meters hitting upper 70s, lower 80 F/ 25-26 C degree temperatures, after having snowed just at the end of the week, means migraine week for me. It’s been hard to concentrate. This evening I felt well enough to go get necessary groceries for the 12-year old’s school lunches but after arriving and grabbing her milk, I stood there for a long time trying to remember why else we were there. Bread! Thankfully she knew.

Anyway, hard to write blog posts when I can’t keep coherent thoughts together. Lots to write about though! Once my head-wheel is turning properly again there will be more on Kunin reds! Dominio IV reds! Perfect movie-and-wine pairings for Girl’s In Night. And others.

Everybody stay happy, be well, love each other lots. It’s a crazy world. Give hugs.

My heart is with Seattle tonight.

Let’s remember these loved ones in their vibrancy.

Shmootzi the Clod and Meshuguna Joe of God’s Favorite Beefcake performing “Isabella”

The Washington Wine Industry, and Wine Review: Stone Cap Columbia Valley, Washington, Syrah

With the international reputation of Syrah, to spend a week focusing on it demands investigating the qualities of this grape in various growing areas.

Incredibly, Washington State offers the second largest wine growing industry in the United States–second only to California. It is understood that wines were introduced to the Washington area early in the 1800s with a small focus on Italian grapes beginning the tradition. At that time, and for more than a century, production of the beverage was low with a focus on only local enjoyment. Further, in the 1900s prohibition hit what is now the state earlier than in many other parts of the country, nearly destroying the vineyards of the area.

It was not until the mid-1900s that commercial development of the Washington-state wine industry began to take hold, leading to National attention with a top-100 award from The Wine Spectator in the late 1980s. Still, today the Washington wine industry continues to juggle a challenging balance with some highly respected and award winning individual wines, and an overall reputation of being a younger wine industry.

Stone Cap 2009 Columbia Valley Washington Syrah

click on comic to enlarge

The Stone Cap Columbia Valley Syrah showcases the production potential of this varietal within the Washington industry. Though the vines of this estate have only been growing since 1999, the Monson Family’s wines have already won “Best Value” Estate Grown Wine awards for each of their several Stone Cap wine varietals, including this 2009 Syrah. To add to the charm of the brand, it is entirely family owned and farmed.

Red wines found only half of the Washington state wine industry, with more of the success being settled on the side of white wines. The Columbia Valley, however, where Stone Cap is located, stands as the flagship of wine production for the state, and this particular AVA (American Viticulture Area) is looked to for its red wines, with Syrah as one of its main mistresses. Still, the region is understood to be deep within the process of coming to understand its own micro-climates, and best developed wine growing practices.

The Washington wine industry is young, and as such many reviewers have criticized the wines of the area as lacking character. It is said that, because of the youth of this wine region, many producers are still finding their feet, so to speak, in generating wines with balanced flavors. With the newer history of the wine industry, growers have less knowledge to draw on for how to best respond to the particular growing conditions, and season-to-season changes of the region. As such, there is a degree of luck in what best practices will produce a top wine in any particular year. Further, some of the wine-making styles of the area have been questioned in the past by top critics, with the Eric Asimov of the New York Times stating back in 2005 that Washington Syrahs have far too much propensity for oak, and overall imbalance. The question, then, is how the syrahs of the region may have developed in these last 6 years.

In investigating the wines of any region it is necessary to strike a balance between discovering what is uniquely offered by that particular region–each wine growing area has its own character–and at the same time giving that region enough respect as to critique honestly what it does have to offer. That is, it is in being willing to see where a wine could develop further that we are generous enough to believe in its longer term potential. This balance becomes particularly important in considering the wines of less established growing traditions where we would want to bolster its efforts, and at the same time expect more from it in the long run.

The Washington wine region is at an important stage where it has garnered deserved respect for its wine making abilities, and yet is still young enough for us to expect a great deepening in its quality. As should be obvious, the heritage of other wine regions does not show in Washington reds. But, to expect wines of this area to compare directly to longer standing traditions would be unfair. There is certainly a sense of having to choose carefully from Washington wines with a consideration of your own taste preferences. That is, many of us dedicated to Old World styles are not going to enjoy the Washington offerings to the same degree. It is also necessary to investigate which wine-makers are able to bring a particular knowledge of the area’s growing conditions to their wine production. However, I do believe Washington is worth researching, and considering for a number of high quality wines from the region.

This particular varietal wine by Stone Cap showcases the dark fruit and spice characteristics of the syrah. Syrah is considered to be one of the three most tannic grape varieties (Nebbiolo, and Cabernet Sauvignon being the other two), celebrating, then, a textured mouth feel and good aging potential as well. This wine also shows the dryness of syrah, with a good full body that can hold up to rich flavored meats, and stronger cheeses.

Stone Cap Syrah is an approachable, versatile wine that definitely offers excellent value. Coming in at well-below the $20 mark, you are getting a wine here that does more than you’d expect for the price. The nose is lovely, and I enjoyed spending time just drinking in its scent. Admittedly, much of its complexity was found there. The flavors were less developed than the bouquet, but the wine was pleasant to drink, and will not work against your food choices. Again, you are getting a lot for the money.

The Stone Cap Syrah is a wine to be enjoyed with the woodland, slightly wild flavors of game birds. It will also hold up to stronger cheeses. Enjoy the nose of this wine, and approach drinking it with a playfulness that will do best to bring out its flavors for you.

I enjoyed the experience I had with this varietal. I’m curious to discover how a bottle will do with age, and hope to be able to taste it again in a few years. I’ll be keeping an eye on other wines from the Stone Cap Winery to see how they develop as well.


Post Edit:

Justin Michaud from Goose Ridge wines was kind enough to write in regards to this Stone Cap Syrah wine review. Thanks, Justin! I’m grateful to hear from you. This post edit is to share some important information he shared regarding aging of the Stone Cap as bottled, versus the wine in general.

Here’s his comment:

…Anyway I am glad you enjoyed the StoneCap Syrah, I would like to mention that we are using a composite cork on this [The Stone Cap wines] project that is only good for 3 years so this is not the wine to put in your cellar rather something to be enjoyed now. The vineyard I work with on these wines has lots of age ability potential it is just not where we are going with these wines, you can check out Goose Ridge wines to see what we are doing with these grapes to make a wine that has more cellar
Thanks for the write up and best of luck.

Thanks, Justin! I look forward to trying your other Goose Ridge wines as well!


Copyright 2011 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to