Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pine Ridge Vertical Tasting

“I like how wine continues to evolve, like if I opened a bottle of wine today it would taste different than if I'd opened it on any other day, because a bottle of wine is actually alive.”
- Maya in the movie Sideways

The core of the Alaska Grape Nuts assembled the other weekend to conduct our first official vertical tasting. One of our members is a big Pine Ridge Winery ( fan and became a member of their library club, which delivers some of their older vintages. He assembled for us a collection of their Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon from 1996 through 2000.

As someone relatively new to wine, but totally consumed, I am intrigued and desirous of trying older wines. But, alas, my collection is young and don’t really have the means to pay for wines that have been aged. This for me represented some of the oldest wines I’ve tasted… and I was quite excited about it.

We decided to start with the old and move to the new, reasoning that the younger wines would be more tannic, less refined, and could overwhelm the older ones. I’m not sure what the correct protocol is on this, though. We had separate glasses for each one, though, and so we had the opportunity to revisit them all after going through the line up once.

1996: I think this was the crowd favorite… WOW… especially on the second visit, after it had breathed just a little more. It had an incredibly soft mouth feel. You could start to see some color variation on the rim. The fruit was sturdy and solid, but still somehow subtle. There was still structure with the wine but the tannins were just incredible soft. The finish persisted and it was just a beautiful wine to drink… absolutely my favorite of the night.
Blend: 80% Cab, 15% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Cab Franc

1997: This wine was brighter in color and fruit; it wasn’t quite as garnet colored as the 1996 and definitely had more bright, but short lived fruit. On the second visit to this wine I noted a bit of raisiny notes. The ultra fine tannins really stood out to me on this one. The group consensus on this was 3rd or 4th.
Blend: 76% Cab, 11% Merlot, 5% Cab Franc, 4% Petit Verdot, 4% Malbec

1998: This vintage came in last place for crowd consensus and interestingly, this vintage in Napa is usually rated low overall. However, many of the Nuts in attendance thought this would be an excellent wine with a steak and had strong preferences… so, don’t read too much into vintage charts. The mouth feel was consistent and nice, there was acidity and tannins on the backend. But, for me the fruit really wasn’t present and what little was there seemed to disappear really easily. This had a wide variation of reviews.
Blend: 77% Cab, 17% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 3% Cab Franc

1999: I would describe this wine in one word… complete. At this point I could tell between this and the ‘96 that we were drinking a bit of a newer wine; or, at least wine that could age a bit more. This had a slight syrupyness and viscosity to the mouth feel, very nice fruit but not deep or rich, but it persisted in the finish… and I liked that. The group rated this as the second highest of the night.
Blend: 76% Cab, 18% Merlot, 4% Cab Franc, 2% Petit Verdot

2000: This one was rated 3rd overall and the tannins and acidity were present. There wasn’t the fruit present like in the ‘96 or event the ‘99, but it wasn’t completely lacking like the ‘98. I’d really like to see how this wine is in 3 years… would it be more like the ‘96… well integrated and smooth?  Or, would it be like the ‘98… all tannins?
Blend: 75% Cab, 20% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, 2% Malbec, 1% Cab Franc

It was a memorable night for all of us. As always, we really enjoyed each others company and being able to talk about life, wine, and the new experience. I loved the extreme differences between the vintages and I’d like to read a report of those years. Were they hot, rainy, early, late, etc.? We also found it interesting to see the different proportions used in blending (something they aren’t required by law to include on the label). Finally, I am grateful to try a wine like the ‘96, a wine that to me was obviously an older wine, and to experience the richness, depth, and personality of a bottle of wine that was born 13 years ago. I look forward to more of these, especially as our young cellars gain maturity.

Until next time… Drink and Discover

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Willamette Valley Day Trip Report

Mrs. AGN and I took our girls on a visit to Portland and spent a day down in the wine country of Willamette Valley, an AVA that spreads from Portland down to Eugene. There are many sub-AVA’s in this area (and even talk of sub-sub AVA’s) and we visited two – Dundee Hills and McMinnville. The AVA system is somewhat designed to help consumers understand how terroir affects the wine. If a wine lists Willamette Valley on the label, then the grapes came from several different sub-AVA’s; if it lists just Dundee Hills, then you know all the grapes came from that AVA. These AVA’s are designated based on soil type, mainly, I believe. The WV region is primarily Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris and differences between the sub-AVA’s isn’t quite as pronounced, for me, as in other areas, such as Yakima Valley. However, it is still fun and interesting to know about these differences and look for what the location of the vineyard imparts into the wines.

One other general observation – the Oregon tasting rooms, at least the few we visited, seem to have higher tasting room fees than their Washington counterparts. I attributed some of this to Pinot Noir – it is generally a more expensive varietal. But, tasting fees were high and in some cases, took a large purchase to get them waived.

Argyle Winery ( – this is a relatively large-production winery. Nice wines, but nothing super distinctive about the tasting room staff or their wines. It always takes a stop or two to get warmed up, though.

Next was Daedalus Cellars ( which we really enjoyed. The wines are organic and quite good. They make an easy-drinking Pinot, called Jezebel, which I thought was terrific and instantly turned my mind to grilled Salmon. Their higher-end Pinots provided more structure and complexity, but the Jezebel took the prize for value of the day. The tasting room staff was the owner’s yoga instructor and had an energetic personality that filled the small, nondescript tasting room.

Next we headed up the hills a bit to Domaine Serene, known for their top-rated Pinots. On the way, we found Red Ridge Farms and were lured in by the sign for Olive Oil tastings. They have a gorgeous setting overlooking the hills, an excellent picnic area, wonderful planted herbs, and lots of olive and truffle oil tastings. Wine country isn’t just for wine tastings – there are many flavors and sensations to appreciate along the way.

Arriving at Domaine Serene (, we knew we were out of our element. The facility exudes formality and pretense; the cashier at the entrance collects your tasting fee and then you move through the different stations. They have a top rated Pinot and while it was very well balanced and elegant, the value wasn’t there compared to even the first two wineries we had hit. We ended up purchasing a bottle of their Syrah, sourced from Washington grapes, though.

And then something completely different, and more up our alley… Vista Hills ( They call this the treehouse tasting room because there is a porch overlooking the vineyard, nestled among trees providing a hideout feel to it. The tasting room staff is primarily young people who are very friendly and warm. The tasting fee is a nominal $5 and is waived with a purchase (only decent of them). They have some wonderful wines and, having found a nice place to sit on the deck, we ordered a cheese plate and decided to park it for a while. The cheese plate wasn’t a small sample tray – it provided a nice little light lunch for us and the girls. 4 different cheeses, grapes, dried fruit, crackers… all while sipping Pinot in the shade watching a coyote in the vines. This was the highlight of our day.

Right across the road from Vista Hills was Domaine Drouhin ( If you shop at Costco you may have seen their 2006 Pinot. A word to the wise – Costco sells it much cheaper than they do at the winery. And, the 2006 was an excellent vintage; the 2007 is ok, but doesn’t have the weight and fullness of 2006. At this point we were a little burned out on the formality of higher end tasting rooms and anything was a let-down after the treehouse. So, we tried a few of their wines and hit the road for McMinnville.

McMinnville had a sleepy, informal feel to it and I wish we could have spent a little more time there. We drove in, saw a sign pointing to a wine tasting, and decided to follow; we were on to the ad-hoc part of our day. The sign led us to Anthony Dell Cellars (, This tasting room was in a large warehouse featuring a simple bar, a nice sitting area, and an enjoyable ambiance for tasting honest wines. Walking across the street, we ended up in Panther Creek Cellars ( Similar to Anthony Dell, this was a tasting room located in their warehouse, but also was their wine making facility. The smells, sounds, and visual treat of walking in and enjoying the wine while looking at the living wine aging in barrels stacked to the ceiling is a multi-sensory experience that fills my memory of the place. I commented on this to the staff guy pouring our wine (who doubles as the cellar rat) and he didn’t share my sense of wonder. Apparently, making wine in a facility not designed for winemaking adds significant hardship. Regardless, the wines were good – polished and complete.

Our last stop was at Evergreen (, world famous home of the Spruce Goose. Not only do they have a great aviation museum, they own a vineyard and make some good Oregon wines. Their tasting room is located in the museum so you get to taste wine while admiring the hugeness of the Goose… boy, is it big. We unfortunately did not have enough time to go through the museum, but did taste the wines. They have a great marketing angle, with multiple labels for their Pinots as well as a nice light, dry rose. While stereotypically I’d expect these wines to be awkward, cheap, and looking solely to capitalize on the museum/wine country theme, these weren’t. They were enjoyable wines representing Oregon winemaking nicely. The museum is slated to get the next decommissioned space shuttles; it’ll definitely be on our list to visit again.

For a one day trip, we were able to pack a bit in and it was a great introduction to that part of the Willamette Valley. We have a few more Oregon Pinots to add to our cellar, and to enjoy with our next meal. For me, I used to not really care for or appreciate Pinot; I tried and I tried, but didn’t. However, over the last couple of years I have gained much more of an appreciation for it, especially its food-friendliness.

So, what do you like, or dislike, about Pinot? Any recommendations of some you really like?

Until next time… Drink and Discover.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Alaska and wine

They say that good Pinot Noir under $20 is hard to find. Who are “they”? I just finished a glass of an $18 McKinlay Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley and it was perfect. It was light, easy to see through and not necessarily promising much at first. But the first sniff dispels that, there is an elegance and refinement that says it was treated properly, even though it was common juice. Upon tasting, you know you just scored a bargain. It has the light mouthfeel I associate to Pinot; a mid-palette that threatens to get bitter, but the fruit finish balances that out and your mouth is left with a solid presence of the wine.

Now, on to “they.” If you’re here, in Alaska, you must know… our wine store selection is lacking. We only recently got a WineStyles, and LaBodega is making moves to become more of a boutique wine and beer store. But, it still is lacking, in my opinion. And, as we Alaskans know, we’re a bit different. We can’t easily just buy wine from the great online distributors (like K&L) without paying 70, 80, or 90 dollars for shipping, which I’ve done many times.

So, I propose a conglomeration, a contingent, a force to reckon with on the wine scene… we want information! We are intelligent consumers, interested in what’s out there, and wanting information about what is available locally. Who’s with me??? I know, I know… there are about 5 other readers of this blog. Ah well, the Pinot is tasting good.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Pont d'Avignon 2004 from Cote de Rhone

Part of Wine Styles March tastings. Excellent wine!!! Will buy more of this.
Very smooth. Not as dry as alot of French wines with a hint of fruit.

If some of the AGN doesn't goe to Wash this weekend I will buy some and we will taste this Saturday.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Speaking of Forgotten Wines - Forgot the Italian Wine

My bad. Last blog I forgot to mention the good Italian wine we came across.
Colosi Vineyards: Sicilia Roso - this is an inexpensive Italian red table wine.
It's not heavy, semi-dry with a touch of fruit.

Is there such a thing as California Italian?!? Seghesio Family Vineyards had some wines at the Symphony of Wines that were what I would classify as Cal/Italian wines. The Seghesio Sangiovese the AGN tasted at Orso's and liked alot was there last night. Yea, it's still great. Seghesio had an '06 Omaggio that was the best!! . We both loved it. The Omaggio is alot more expensive, retailing for $60.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Forgotten Wine and a New Italian Taste

Our trips out to dinner have been few and far between the last several months but last Saturday we ventured out to Ste 100. While waiting for our table we sat in the bar area and I ordered a Norman's Syrah.
I had forgotten how good Norman's wines are. We have had their Zin which is excellent but I don't recall having had their Syrah. What a great wine! Soft on the pallet, a hint of some sort of berry or cherry up front but not real strong. Very good wine! I had forgotten about Norman's Vineyard for months. Next time to the store I will look for the Normans Syrah and hopefully share it with my fellow grape nuts.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Wine Moments

Have you had a wine moment? You know, a memory of wine shared at a time; or, a point when you understood something about wine; an experience that changed your views, even slightly.

At one of our AGN Lite events a woman had a wine moment. She knew that her palate liked certain characteristics and she had certain wines she really liked; but, she didn’t know how to identify it or discuss it. By the end of the evening through discussion and the results of a blind tasting, she could pin it down – she liked a strong oak influence in her red wine. Now, when shopping, she can ask and seek out new wines but still find appeal.

For me, I’ve had a couple wine moments I remember well. One, when our fellow AGN’ers Sartan and the Ms. returned from France with a prized bottle from the Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape region. We had a yummy French-cuisine dinner; but the wine… oh boy, the finish just kept going and going. It literally made me sit back in my chair, demanding to be honored and appreciated. It was restrained power unleashed (how’s that for adjectives?).

The second was after a visit to the Yakima, WA wine area. We went and visited Two Mountain Winery and enjoyed some nice, somewhat elegant (yet at the same time rugged) wines from this young winery. Later, after being home for a while, we opened a bottle of their Syrah. As I drank it took me right back to Washington, to the site of their winery. I fully understood the idea of wine having a “sense of place” and I loved experiencing the authenticity of the wine.

Who knows when my next moving wine moment will be… I anxiously await it, though, as I continue exploring the wine world and the wine life. Care to share your latest wine moment??? Email me at or leave a comment.

Until next time… Drink and Discover.

Wine Styles Part Duex

Just a quick update on my thoughts on wine clubs and particularly the local Wine Styles one here in Anchorage.

When I first joined I thought I’d keep it for a few month, get to know the store and the wines, and then move on. Not because I didn’t like the wines or didn’t think it was a fair price – it is. But, I tend to like reading about wines and trying to find wines on my own, when I have the time and capital.

But, I’ve really enjoyed the wine club. I get 2 reds each month and so far Wine Styles has done a great job and providing interesting diversity both in region and variety. We’ve had Grenache, Italian and Spanish wines, and this month is two from the Rhone, which I’m excited to try side by side.

So, if you’re looking to have a little diversity injected into your wine life, and don’t want to take on the task yourself, I’d suggest enrolling in a wine club for a few months and see how you like it. 

AGN Lite: Red and White

This evening was a combo event – German Riesling and American Cabernet Sauvignon. We invited many of our friends from the kids school and had a house full of kids and adults.

The German Rieslings proved hard to find for many (or they weren’t interested in them) and so we ended up only having one true German white. True to Alaska wine selection, there are only a few shops that carry them. So, a couple Rieslings from Washington appeared. It was interesting to compare the stylistic differences – the German was light, crisp and refreshing. The Washington ones had more of a syrupy mouth feel, definitely more sweet, and people generally didn’t want more than a glass of it.

The American Cabs faired much better – we had a wide variety from a very raisin-y Marietta to the cheapest (and crowd favorite) Columbia Crest Two Vines ($8). Some of the wines had a longer finish, some were more tannic, some were more fruit-forward… a good diversity was represented.

There were about 4 or so wines that appeared at the top of most peoples lists, but in different order. These wines definitely were all good, but stylistically had some distinct differences. It was fun to talk to everyone about why they rated some at the top versus others and what they liked about it or didn’t like about it. Talking about wine and comparing notes helps you learn about your palate – what you like, what you don’t, and why.

The other benefit of this evening is that several people went to Wine Styles for the first time to get their wine. I think they found a store that encourages them to try more wine and explore a bit. Others went to local wine shops and just asked, opening up a new experience for them, also.

Drink and discover.

Stay tuned for more… I’m catching up.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ciao! Bella!

HELLO BEAUTIFUL! The AGN Valentines Day Delight! is what our Italian night turned out to be. As a group of Grape Nuts I must say we hit a Grand Slam at our Valentines dinner with our wine/food pairings.
Since our plan was to have an Italian night we decided to do "CHIANTI". However, Randy called a couple hours before dinner with a good point, "Should we do chianti with every course?" He decided to pick up a Italian White to go with the salad course. He got me thinking so I decided to throw a curve ball as well, Pinot Noir.
Our four course valentines dinner started off Fantastic. Amanda made a fabulous Italian soup called "Ribollita". This Tuscan style soup is supposed to pair nicely with Chianti, but I must say (I think the whole AGN group would agree) the 2006 Canaletto Pinot Noir was made for Ribollita. This 2006 Pinot Noir comes from way up North in the Lombardy region of Italy. Its Cherryish (is that a word) bouquet hits your palate with bursting ripe summer berries and is light bodied. It was outstanding as a first course accompaniement.
Randy and Sandy's second course was amazing. It started with Sandy's incredible real Cesar Salad and was paired with the White that Randy called about. The wine was a 2006 Argiolas, Costamolino (Vermentino Di Sardegna). This pairing was amazing, the wine color was a yellowish color (Not your typical Chardonnay buttery color), and the bouquet very subtle. It was a fresh, dry, well-defined with pleasant delicacy and crispness. It was fabulous with the Cesar. GRAND SLAM! An interesting note about this wine is the varietal, Vermentino. Described by Wikipedia, Vermentino is a late-ripening white grape originating in Spain or Madiera, or perhaps Portugal, and now widely planted in Corsica, Sardinia, and the coastal arc running from Tuscany through Liguria and into southern France, around Nice (where it is known as Rolle). It is thought to be related to the Malvasia variety and to have been brought to Italy in the fifteenth century during the period of Spanish domination. The leaves are dark green and pentagonal. The grapes are amber-yellow and hang in pyramidal bunches. The vines are often grown on slopes facing the sea where they can benefit from the additional reflected light. Sounds like a place I would like to be.

Our dinner moved onto the main course. This was a Grilled Cornish Game Hen with Sun-Dried-Tomato Pesto and grilled veggies. The main course was paired with (are you sittng down) FIVE different Chianti's!
They were all great in their own ways but I think the hits of the night were the 2006 Peppoli Chianti Classico that the Emsleys brought. Everyone thought this was a hit with the dinner and alone. Another hit was the 2005 Montegrossoli Podere Ciona "SUPERTUSCAN". The other 3 Chianti's, all very good were as follows: 2004 DaVinci Riserva, 2006 Felsina Chianti Classico and a 2006 Tenuta Mormoaia Chianti Colli Senesi. While all of these were great wines I have to say the first two really stood out to everyone based on the discussions.
I know I am running on and on but there is one more course that was an absolute perfect end to the evening. It was a beautiful raspberry tart that was too pretty to eat. But we did! It was incredible. We paired that up with (Ok it wasn't Italian but it has been in our cellar for 3 years and looked good) a Mission Hills 2004 Ice Wine Riesling.
What a night! All I can say is, CIAO! BELLA!

A Recap of all of the wines above:
Canaletto 2006 Pinot Noir Pavia
Argiolas 2006 Costamolino Vermentino Di Sardegna
Peppoli 2006 Chianti Classico
Montegrossoli 2005 Podere Ciona Super Tuscan
Mormoraia 2006 Chianti Colli Senesi
Felsina 2006 Chianti Classico
DaVinci 2004 Chianti Riserva
Mission Hills Family Estate 2004 Ice Wine Riesling

Next Stop: South America! with our new AGN'ers Eric & Nelly.

Monday, February 16, 2009

AGN Lite: Merlot

Whew! A month late and finally getting to the Merlot night. This was a fun evening with a mixed crowd. We did blind tastings of Merlot for under $20. A lot of casual wine drinkers really enjoyed the format and opportunity to disect and analyze what they like about the wine they were tasting.
We had one Shiraz show up in the group. And, we had 2 of the same bottle show up. Interestingly enough, some people rated those two bottles differently in their tasting notes.
Hence, my assertion that for novice tasters (like we all are) there are many many factors that go into our impression of a wine - where we're at, who we're with, our expectations, the music we're listening to, the food we're eating, etc., etc. Obviously good wine is enjoyable in its own right; but, the fruits of a wine life are family, friends, and fun.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


As Brian mentioned in his earlier post New Years eve was AWESOME! Great friends, excellent wine and really good food. As Brian mentioned we all shared a thought about 2009. I have to share that I made a new years resolution to lose 30 pounds this year and I publicly made a pact (with myself) to not drink wine until I lose 10 pounds. Well, I have to say I started Weight Watchers 5 days ago and had my last drink of Alcohol on that same day. To date I have lost 5 pounds (a pound a day). Tonight, I must admit I fell off the wagon and embided in a great glass of wine. It was even a white wine (Not my favorite).
So I figured since I have broken my pact and did not complete my promise (to myself, however I am still moving forward with the weight watchers thing to lose my 30 pounds) I figured I would write a review of this pretty decent Chardonnay.

Tonights wine was a Chardonnay from Argentina. Produced in the "Maipu" region the Mendoza Valley. It was a St. Lucas 2006. Very nice with our dinner which was pork chops seasoned with sage and black pepper with sauted apples with Cinnamon and brown sugar (a 6 point dinner). It went very well with this. The veggies were a little too seasoned so they made the wine very bitter.
By itself though this wine had nice butter overtones with a hint of melon and a really fruity finish. Not a bad wine that we got with our Vinesse wine club shipment sometime ago.



Friday, January 2, 2009

Welcome 2009

The AGN crew rang in 2009 with a somewhat muted but very enjoyable evening of great food, high end wine, and lots of laughter. Our traditional crab meal was on deck but to supplement the fare we also had Filet Mignon done in a new recipe discovered by one of the leading Grape chef's of the group. They were absolutely superb! The evening’s wine selections included some solid, well known selections as well as a few individualized picks.

2006 Brown Zinfandel magnum - a seriously smooth, fruit-driven zin that actually tasted best at the end of the meal, in my opinion. A couple of the Nuts are on the Brown mailing list and are huge fans of this Napa-based winery.

2004 Cyrus - this is a blend and actually came off as the transition between the cabs and the Brown... it has nice fruit presence but a bit more structure and weight than the zin. This is available in Anchorage.

2002 Silver Oak Alexander Valley and 2003 Silver Oak Napa Valley - a pre-dinner visit to Oaken Keg scored 2 bottles of Silver Oak at 40% savings. This wine is a high end recognizable wine and as one Nut put it, "they've perfected their Cabernet." The wines are smooth and very well balanced. Approachable and drinkable now, they went well before dinner and with dinner. The Napa Valley was definitely the stand out with stronger tannins and a bit more presence; but, the AV was no slouch, either.

2005 Woodward Canyon Cabernet Artist Series - this was a dark horse I pulled out of the cellar for the occasion. It was good, but I think another 5-10 years in the cellar is needed on the rest of my bottles. By itself it was a little too strong, maybe too young. At dinner though it really stood out and complemented the steak beautifully. The tannins in this wine rip through the palate and present a long enjoyable finish. This is a wine that definitely needs meat. I’m not sure this is available in Alaska – it was a mail order selection.

The dinner represented what I love about the wine life... each bite was savored while we sat around the table together, enjoying the wine, the flavors, and each other’s company.

We finished out the night with a little touch of port and some Frank Family sparkling wine. We had a visitor and she held up well for her inaugural AGN event; the true test will be if she ever comes back to an AGN adventure, though! To conclude the evening we were each able to go around and share a thought, hope, or goal for 2009.

Our collective AGN goal for 2009 is to go around the world... next stop, Italy and Chianti. Care to join us?