Archive for June 2010


June 14, 2010

Sticking with my monthly theme of Oregon and Washington wines, I wanted to use this feature to emphasize the quality of the 2008 vintage of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. For years I’ve believed that this region of the United States is far superior in terms of Pinot Noir production to any other appellation. To me, Russian River Valley comes the closest, but can still veer towards the jammy side at times. Carneros Pinot Noir is almost always too ripe and jammy with little backbone, and the stuff they are making now in Southern California in regions such as Santa Rita Hills, Santa Lucia Highlands and Santa Barbara County (of “Sideways” fame) taste great, but are often deeper and darker than this varietal should be and lack a certain elegance as a result. And don’t even get me started on the hot, overripe Pinots from Napa. Meanwhile, Willamette Valley consistently expresses its terroir, maintains a floral component to its fruit, and balances that fruit with earthy spice and chocolate notes that render jamminess impossible. The best news? The 2008 vintage is arguably the strongest of the decade, and while single vineyard wines will be well worth the extra money and cellar time, I was blown away by the quality of the affordable entry level wines from the top producers in the region. Argyle has long been a staple in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay production in Willamette Valley, so it should come as no surprise that their 2008 Pinot Noir knocks the ball out of the park…and for $25 (!!!) to boot.

Argyle Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2008, 92 Points, $25, 20,000 Cases Made– Nose is intensely perfumed, with floral rose and violet above wild berry fruit. Delicate, violety body of raspberry, blueberry and black cherry fruit above creamy white chocolate, toffee and a strong mushroom earth note. Wild and exotic berry fruit, with a soft, creamy texture, lingering long with a hint of cigar box. Intriguing combo of floral violet and earthy mushroom complexity.

Pacific Northwest Tasting Report

June 7, 2010

Last week, I spent some time in Portland and Seattle, so of course I made trips out to wine country, with specific focus on the highly acclaimed 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir vintage, as the well as sensational Cabernets of Washington state from both 2007 and 2008. Here is a quick recap of some of my favorite wines that I tasted from this region.


1. Argyle Pinot Noir Spirithouse Willamette Valley 2006, 93 Points, $75- Rich with its dark raspberry and mineral on the nose. Floral, perfumey body with an amazing texture of blueberry, raspberry and chocolate with a perfectly balanced backbone of tobacco and mineral spice. This is long, rich but still delicate, with a decisive cinnamon note running throughout.

2. Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Evenstad Reserve Willamette Valley 2006, 93 Points, $60- Lifted aromas of medicinal eucalyptus shade dark red berry fruit notes. Silky and elegant texture with a perfumed violet and lavender floral quality above black cherry and leading into layers of vanilla, mocha and exotic spice. Very focused and elegant through the long finish.

3. Argyle Pinot Noir Nuthouse Willamette Valley 2006, 92 Points, $60- Perfumey, floral red fruit nose, with bing cherry and dark raspberry aromas. Incredibly delicate mouthfeel, with focused flavors of raspberry and red cherry above layers of white pepper and tobacco spice. There is a lovely floral, mineral component that intertwines throughout, with hints of white chocolate lingering through the long, spicy finish.

4. Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Winery Hill Vineyard 2006, 92 Points, $75- Perfumey and concentrated black cherry and chocolate on the nose. Creamy, smooth texture of mouth-coating black cherry, anise, milk chocolate and mocha. Maintains elegance through the perfumey finish, lingering long with an element of floral spice.

5. Argyle Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2008, 92 Points, $25- Nose is intensely perfumed, with floral rose and violet above wild berry fruit. Delicate, violety body of blueberry and black cherry fruit above creamy white chocolate, toffee and a strong mushroom earth note. Wild and exotic berry fruit, with a soft, creamy texture, lingering long with a hint of cigar box. Intriguing combo of floral violet and earthy mushroom complexity.

6. Ponzi Pinot Noir Tavola Willamette Valley 2008, 91 Points, $25- Minerally red berry aromas, with undertones of floral rose and violet. Deep and richly textured, with black cherry, dark raspberry , blackberry fruit gliding above white chocolate, earthy cigar box, well-water mineral and peppery spice. Deep and complex through the long finish.

7. Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Mark Bradford Willamette Valley 2006, 91 Points, $90- Rich dark plum fruit, notes of cedar and mint on the nose. Very deep and ripe purple fruit flavors, with plum, licorice and violet coating the palate. A hint of dryness through the long, toasty finish.

8. Erath Pinot Noir Estate Willamette Valley 2008, 91 Points, $35- Vanilla bean and red cherry on the nose, with hints of cinnamon spice. Round palate of red cherry leads into layers of toffee, vanilla and tobacco spice. Silky, with a long finish of oak and exotic spice shading a distinct toffee and café vanilla note throughout. Full and supple, but still delicate.

9. Archery Summit Pinot Noir Premier Cuvee 2008, 91 Points, $50- Rich floral aromas of blueberry and tobacco spice aromas. Violet and lavender notes mingle above structured blueberry, black cherry and notes of dark chocolate. Mineral spice lingers with more exotic perfume notes. Long, delicate finish, rich and luscious.

10. Argyle Pinot Noir Cowhouse Willamette Valley 2006, 91 Points, $50- Sweet, sugary red fruit aromas with undertones of earth. Balanced, spicy body, with lots of cedar above cherry and raspberry fruit. Hints of toffee through the long finish, with a touch of tannic dryness still present here, but the fruit is explosive.


1. Januik Cabernet Sauvignon Champoux Vineyard Columbia Valley 2007, 92 Points, $50- Rich aromas of chocolate, mocha and black currant fruit. Silky, seamless mouthfeel with delicious black cherry and blackberry fruit leading into layers of coffee bean and cedar. Long, evolving finish with fine, soft tannins, all about texture.

2. Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon Ethos Columbia Valley 2006, 91 Points, $40- Intense nose of cedar and forest floor notes combine with cocoa powder and deep black currant fruits. Lush body is full of dense cedar and pine earth above bursting black cherry, blackberry and dark plum notes, finishing with a strong chocolate note and lingering long with cedary spice. Very delicate mouthfeel considering the depth of flavor.

3. Novelty Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2007, 91 Points, $25- Full aromas of cedar, olive and cocoa powder. Delicate texture explodes into forest floor and chocolate notes above layered dark raspberry and black cherry fruit, finishing with notes of cinnamon apple spice. Really love the softness of the texture, and the spicy red currant fruit finish.

4. Januik Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2007, 91 Points, $30- Deep black currant and cedar aromas above a hint of black cherry cola and vanilla bean. Soft mouthfeel, with blackberry, cherry and blueberry fruit above notes of cedar, mocha, chocolate and mineral. Incredibly silky mouthfeel, evolving and lingering long with soft chalk notes and fine tannins. Polished.

5. Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon Indian Wells 2008, 90 Points, $18- Deep, dark black currant aromas with shades of cocoa powder and black olive. Full-bodied with a rich, creamy texture of chocolate, cedar and black currant fruit notes above undertones of mineral. Blackberry notes linger with cocoa powder and tar notes, with a medium tannic grip and some chewiness catching up with it down the stretch.


1. Rockblock Syrah Reserve Walla Walla Valley 2006, 92 Points, $40- Deep and dark body, with aromas of blackberry, café vanilla and spice. Luscious and smooth palate with velvety and perfumey flavors of blackberry and red plum fruit leading into creamy layers of chocolate, vanilla bean and a burst of peppery spice, lingering long with a mocha hint. Very delicate and balanced considering its overall depth.

2. Januik Syrah Lewis Vineyard Columbia Valley 2007, 91 Points, $30- Rich, purple aromas of perfumey plum and black cherry, with vanilla and smoke notes. Velvety texture with lots of black currant and plum fruit running through above hints of white pepper spice, subtle chocolate and smoke notes. Elegant through the long finish, with spice lingering.

3. Chateau Ste. Michelle Boreal Columbia Valley 2006, 89 Points, $25- Aromas of toast, oak, cinnamon spice and mocha. Not a lot of fruit here initially as deep, bitter coffee notes and chocolate form on the palate above hints of plum and floral orange peel spice. Long finish with exotic, floral spices lingering. Unique, silky and smooth.

4. RiverAerie Syrah Columbia Valley 2006, 88 Points, $20- Sugary aromas of dark plum and wild berry fruit. Velvety body with rich purple fruit flavors of raisin, plum, licorice and fig above notes of mocha and cinnamon spice. Medium length.

5. Dusted Valley Syrah Boomtown Columbia Valley 2007, 88 Points, $25- Perfumey notes of black plum, fig and violet on the nose. Smooth mouthfeel of purple and black currant fruits above subtle chocolate and spice notes, very soft and creamy in the texture.


1. Argyle Chardonnay Spirithouse Dundee Hills 2006, 91 Points, $50- Floral, citrusy aromas of tropical fruit. Canteloupe, honey dew melon and peach flavors are layered above very subtle oak notes. This evolves into a creamier texture through the finish, with white pepper spice adding complexity. Very expressive fruit here through the long finish.

2. Argyle Chardonnay Nuthouse Willamette Valley 2007, 90 Points, $35- Strong aromas of oak, pear citrus and hints of nutmeg. Very light golden body with pear and green apple above layers of vanilla and cinnamon/ nutmeg spice. Creamy but delicate through the long finish.

3. Chateau Ste. Michelle Dr. Loosen Riesling Eroica Columbia Valley 2008, 89 Points, $24- Cloudy body with vibrant citrus aromas of pear and tropical fruit. Concentrated flavors of floral rose water, pear and sugary pineapple above very subtle petrol hints. Medium length with a just a hint of dryness.

4. Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay Ethos Columbia Valley 2006, 89 Points, $32- Very buttery and toasty on the nose, with green apple fruit aromas. Full and creamy, with lots of American oak, toffee and burnt toast notes evolving into green apple and pear citrus. Balanced and layered through the long finish.

5. Archery Summit Ab Ovo Pinot Gris Willamette Valley 2009, 89 Points, $42- Aromas of subtle oak, pear and mango fruit. Crisp and creamy on the palate, with vivid citrus flavors of orange, lemon, lime, pear and mango, vibrant acidity pumping. Hints of vanilla bean and coconut creep in late with ginger hints. Incredibly spicy finish.

6. Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2008, 88 Points, $13- Floral, citrusy aromas with a strong presence of vanilla and oak. Crisp and acidic on the palate, with green apple and pear notes above subtle hazelnut and vanilla bean notes. Clean finish, hint of spice lingers.

7. Erath Pinot Gris Knight’s Gambit Reserve Willamette Valley 2008, 88 Points, $22- Crisp aromas of pear and grapefruit citrus. Full-bodied and creamy, with spiced and poached pear citrus notes above delicious cinnamon golden apple notes. A hint of oak adds balance through the long, spicy finish.

8. Argyle Brut Willamette Valley 2006, 88 Points, $28- Lots of pear and almond on the nose. Clean and citrusy, with vibrant flavors of juicy pear and creamy almond above hints of lime through the long finish.

9. Domaine Serene Chardonnay Cot Sud Willamette Valley 2007, 88 Points, $45- Medium-bodied with oak, pear, golden apple and butterscotch aromas. Lots of citrus on the palate, with balanced layers of oak and tofee leading into a refined but somewhat tangy finish.

10. Waterbrook Sauvignon Blanc Columbia Valley 2007, 86 Points, $15- Lots of melon and honey dew and tropical fruit here, with undertones of vanilla and mineral spice. Vibrant acidity holds the flavors together with the slighest note of grass.

Belmont Picks

June 3, 2010

Despite the lack of a Triple Crown storyline, this year’s Belmont is still loaded with intrigue and in my opinion, it is a pretty strong field even without Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver and Preakness winner Lookin’ At Lucky in the mix. Only three runners from the Derby return for the Belmont, but several horses who fell out of that race for various reasons are here, and many are fresher and much improved since then. As always, pedigree figures into this marathon of a race (12f! Oh the humanity!), and an interesting stat that I ran across is that 17 of the last 20 Belmont winners have had either a sire or damsire that were victorious at 10 furlongs or longer. I’m going to bet against that trend this year for my own reasons, but have included that information, and put in caps those that meet that criteria (only four horses). Let’s take a look at this year’s field, in order of my preference:

1) First Dude (101 Beyer, 352 Tomlinson, Stephen Got Even/ Smart Strike) PP #11, 7-2- I normally don’t pick horses in this race that like to go right to the lead, but after his fantastic second place effort in the Preakness setting hot fractions, you have to like his chances in a race without much speed. He could very easily get loose on the lead with much softer fractions and have plenty in the tank coming home. His long strides and massive physique figure to benefit him through the track’s sweeping turns, and he appears to be a horse that is improving rapidly.

2) Ice Box (100 Beyer, 270 Tomlinson, Pulpit/ TABASCO CAT) PP#6, 3-1 Morning Line Favorite- Nobody closed faster in the Kentucky Derby than this horse, and after a nightmare trip to boot. His gallop out was monstrous after that second place finish, and there isn’t much doubt he would have won a 12f race that day. He isn’t likely to see the same type of pace set up here but he figures to be flying late regardless, especially coming in fresh after passing on the Preakness, and the extra two furlongs should do nothing but help his chances. His damsire Tabasco Cat won this very race, and trainer Nick Zito seems to be hot lately.

3) Fly Down (99 Beyer, 303 Tomlinson, MINESHAFT/ Fly So Free) PP#5, 9-2- This late bloomer demonstrated a magnificent turn of foot in winning the Dwyer over this very track. He is lightly raced, but a duplication of that effort will certainly factor here in a big way, and his pedigree suggests that the distance won’t be an issue. I always like to give horses a long look when they have shown success over the same race track, and he’s the only horse in the field with a win at Belmont.

4) Stately Victor (94 Beyer, 290 Tomlinson, GHOSTZAPPER/ Dynaformer) PP#9, 15-1- I loved his chances in the Derby, and he actually ran pretty well there to finish eighth after a somewhat crowded trip. There are still a lot of question marks surrounding him, and whether or not he is simply a synthetic specialist, but his turn of foot and pedigree could still make him a force to be reckoned with if he runs a big race. I won’t be using him on top but think he stands a good chance to hit the board.

5) Spangled Star (87 Beyer, 386 Tomlinson, Distorted Humor/ Kris S.) PP#2, 30-1- If you are looking for a sleeper at a big price, this could be the horse. So far in this year’s Triple Crown races, pedigree and distance figures have played a big role, so overlook the horse with the highest Tomlinson distance figure in the field at your own peril. Although his speed figures aren’t really competitive with the rest of these, he has posted three straight improving Beyers, and if he can improve again and benefit from the distance, who knows?

6) Interactif (94 Beyer, 330 Tomlinson, Broken Vow/ Broad Brush) PP#12, 12-1- He is another that has question marks, mainly as to whether or not he is better suited to turf, but he was certainly on my Derby short list and deserves a look if for no other reason than he should be able to run his race and make a late move from the back of the pack. He has been inconsistent but should be fresh. I like others more but wouldn’t be surprised to see him hit the board.

7) Make Music For Me (97 Beyer, 266 Tomlinson, Bernstein/ Carson City) PP#4, 10-1- Aside from Ice Box, he made up the most ground coming down the stretch in the Derby and was running pretty wide so he definitely has a big chance to make an impact here with a similar effort. Whether he benefited from the sloppy track like Paddy O’Prado did remains to be seen, and I have my questions as to whether he wants to go all the way to 12 furlongs based on his pedigree. Still, if you’re betting based on Kentucky Derby finishes, he’d be your place horse.

8- Drosselmeyer (92 Beyer, 346 Tomlinson, Distorted Humor/ Moscow Ballet) PP#7, 12-1- He was high on everyone’s list after he closed gamely to get up for the show spot in the Louisiana Derby, but then he was easily bested by Fly Down last time out over this same track. He’ll need to improve vastly to catch that one, and really, the more you look at the Louisiana Derby race the less sense it makes.

9) Game on Dude (95 Beyer, 312 Tomlinson, AWESOME AGAIN/ Devil His Due) PP#8, 10-1- He is intriguing based on his pedigree for sure, but not at these odds. He impressed in his last start against inferior competition but was beaten pretty easily in the Florida Derby without excuses. You can throw out his Derby Trial flop as he clearly didn’t enjoy the footing, but I like others better.

10) Stay Put (90 Beyer, 327 Tomlinson, Broken Vow/ Dixieland Band) PP#10, 20-1- Another horse that appears to be improving, but his last three Beyers have been pretty consistent and those figures are well below what it will take to win here. His most impressive win came over a sloppy track and he may be just a touch outclassed here.

11) Dave In Dixie (95 Beyer, 291 Tomlinson, Dixie Union/ Wavering Monarch), PP#1, 20-1- His last three Beyers have been decreasing, and it appears that he might have enjoyed synthetic surfaces more than dirt. He’ll be fresh coming in off eight weeks rest, but his pedigree doesn’t really stack up, and coming from the rail if he’s forced to chase First Dude early, he could be toast in a hurry.

12) Uptowncharleybrown (91 Beyer, 226 Tomlinson, Limehouse/ Langfuhr) PP#2, 10-1- A lot of people think this horse has a chance here but I am failing to see the logic. Nothing about this horse suggests that he wants to run a race of this distance, and his Tomlinson figure is the lowest in the field by a large margin, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise just eyeballing his immediate pedigree. Maybe he’ll prove me wrong but I can’t come up with a logical reason why he should be a factor.

Bets ($20 Unit):

I really the like the top three here and see a pretty big separation from the rest of the field (Amazingly, all three of my top choices are grandchildren of the great A.P. Indy, a winner of this race). Given that these are likely to be the top three betting favorites as well, there isn’t much value in straight wagers or in a three horse exacta box, so I’ll try to hit the trifecta with those three and throw my next two choices into the show spot….and throw a couple bucks on a high price to win for insanity insurance.

$1 Tri Key: First Dude, Ice Box, Fly Down/ First Dude, Ice Box, Fly Down/ First Dude, Ice Box, Fly Down, Stately Victor, Spangled Star

$2 Win (hedge) on Stately Victor or Spangled Star, game time decision based on the odds.

I Enjoy Pigs

June 2, 2010

I just returned from a ten day trip to the Pacific Northwest, and along with tasting a lot of fantastic wine during my time there (a full recap of which I will be posting in the near future), I ate a lot of pork. Yum!

Teddy bears are pretty cool dudes as well.