Friday, November 8, 2013


                                                    The southern shore of Lake Chelan

 I attended the 2013 Wine Bloggers Convention in Pentictin British Columbia. The day prior to the start of the convention a group of about 40 visited the Lake Chelan wine region of Washington. It was a real eye opener with respect to landscape and observing the early growth of wine cultivation in Northern Washington.  As you can see from the picture above taken at the Campbell Resort Inn, there is beautiful Lake Chelan and the hillsides which are being groomed for vineyards.

                                                        WHAT HAS CHANGED?

Lake Chelan has been a recreation and farming area for many many years. In the past 20 years the idea of growing grapes and not the famous Chelan apples has taken over. The total acreage of Lake Chelan viticultural region is 247 acres! Also, much of the land near the border of the lake has been converted to housing. Imagine having a home on lake front property with vineyards in the neighborhood. From this visit it is obvious that white grapes, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Gruner Veltner, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier to name a few, are the highlights of Chelan. Each of these varietals shows bright clean fruit with solid acidity providing a mouth watering and refreshing drink. The production facilities in the region range from small producers of two to three barrels per varietal to larger ones which produce a few thousand cases.

                                            LACK OF RAIN AND LOTS OF WATER?

Eastern Washington has about 10 to 12 inches of rain a year. There is snow and a lot of recreational winter sports in the fall. The water source for vineyard and other agricultural ventures comes from the lake which is a 50 mile glacier-fed lake which is 1.5 miles at its widest and more than 1,400 feet at its deepest point. Vineyards can get measured amounts of water when most needed in the middle of their  hot summers. Another growth advantage is the diurnal shift of temperature from day to night. Highs in the 90's are followed by cool evenings in the 60's and lower. This combination of heat allows fruit to ripen and gain flavor and sugar. The cool evenings support the retention of acidity and keep the fruit in balance. This combination is also found in Argentina where the Andes provide a water source and altitude to what is essentially a desert, and the cool nights retain acidity.

                                                     CHELAN WINE MARKET

Due to the limited size of established vineyards (247 acres) the vast majority of wine produced is sold in the physical area of the lake. Quality is at a very high level and it appears that more land will be planted in the future as word of the wines spreads across the wine reading public. After our visit it makes good sense to incorporate a vacation and explore the wineries of Lake Chelan. Water sports, hiking and fresh air allow the visitor an opportunity to visit life at a slower pace and people who are intent on providing  the public with a fresh perspective of life in Eastern Washington.

                                                              WHO TO VISIT

KARMA VINEYARDS AND CAVE  making one of the few sparkling wines in the area.  They only make a few thousand cases but devote total attention to vineyard health and their desire to make high quality sparkling wine.  Wine Spectator has rated their sparkling wines:  '09 Estate Rose 89 pts, '09 Brut de Brut 88 pts.

NEFARIOUS CELLARS make a limited amount of very high quality wine.  They are an example of a group of people who have found their niche and are producing reds with a sense of place and white wines that sing true to their varietal. Wine Enthusiast has rated their '09 Rocky Mother Syrah 95pts, Defiance Syrah 92 pts and Stone's Throw Riesling top 100.

TSILLAN CELLARS  is one of the largest producers of wine in the lake area.  They have a range of red and whites which are crafted by a Shane Collins who has a wide range of experience in wine production.  The winery is home to one of the stellar restaurants at the lake side.  Their Estate Sangiovese, Syrah and Sempre Amore were all double gold winners at the Seattle wine awards in 2013.

HARD ROW TO HOE VINEYARDS  Judy Phelps crafts a wide array of wines which all show strong varietal character and clean aromatics.  My favorite red wine was their award winning Cabernet Franc and their Primitivo was also top class.  They make a rich Rose as well as a Sparkling Rose that has a berry rose aroma.  They also produce a very fine Riesling.  A fun winery and place to visit.

MELLISONI VINEYARDS  This is a must stop for anyone visiting the area. They produce a top quality line of both red and white wines. Their Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet sourced from other Washington AVA's  are well extracted and quite rich.  White wines may be the  top of their list for consistent quality and price. Their Riesling  and white blend are Double Gold winners in recent competitions. Pinot Grigio and Gewurtztraminer also crash the palate with fresh fruit and a clean finish. This is one of the top producers in Lake Chelan.


Should you visit or vacation in the Lake Chelan area the above wineries will provide you with ample opportunity to taste wines which will only mature and gain more complexity as the years go on.  Most of the wineries will ship to locals in the United States.  This is a trip well worth you time if you enjoy the outdoors and water recreation.  You might even find some of the famous Chelan Apples as part of your adventure.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Italian Family Wine Makers Tasting

                                 Italian Wine Institute Tasting San Francisco October 2013

                                              Jose Rallo of  DONNAFUGATA

I  attended the 2013 Institute of Wine and Italian Quality.  There were 19 producers from all regions of Italy producing wines of the highest quality with in their Domination of Quality Controlle which is located on all bottles of Italian wines as DCOG. This is the consumer guarantee of wines produced within the growing area.  This insignia is specific to each area of Italy that has been granted its own DCOG.

                                                    WHO WAS THERE?
The producers who were present are some of the top line families not only in Italy but Europe as well.  Some of those families are:  Antinori, Gaja, Donnafugata, Lungarotti, Mastrobernadino, Alois Ladeger, Umani Rochi, Michele Chiarlo, Pio Ceasare, Folonari, Biondi Santi and Masi to name those most well known in the American market.  A point was made that other than France the largest market of imported wine in the United States is Italy.

                              WHY DID THEY COME TO THE UNITED STATES?
The producers were very candid in the fact that they understand what France has done and why it is such a force in the world wine market.  This group has seen what the French do with respect to how they show their wines.  Every year the Bordeaux Syndicate of wines travels across the major cities of Europe, North America and Asia and presents the wines of classified Bordeaux to the world market.  This introduction not only gave the press and public a chance to evaluate the wines but also generates publicity that as individuals they could not have  access to.  This group of 19 producers have evolved over more than a decade. Their current rule of thumb is to keep membership limited and the only way a new member winery can be admitted is by a vote of 100%.  This was greeted with many laughs as it was suggested that getting total vote was very difficult.

                                                          THE WINES
We came to taste and understand the process of how these wines come to the market.  Each family member told stories of how their families dedicated themselves to vitculture and production. Here is a list of highlights of what was tasted and why they merit your time.

Ca' del Bosco Cuvee ANNAMARIA CLEMENTE 2005  Here they have produced a Pinot Noir which is vinified to make a Blanc de Noir. The Pinot Noir is aged seven years on its lees and the end result is a stunning pink colored lightly bubbly 12% alcohol wine of total finesse.  Light in flavors and quite complex in aroma. This wine demands all your attention and critical senses.  Retail $120

Sassicia Bolgheri DOC 2010  This wine is the king of Cabernet Sauvignon. I was amazed to find that total production was only a few thousand bottles per vintage.  This in my mind was one of the top wines presented. Aged for two years in French oak and held for another six to twelve months before release.  Sassicaia means Stony ground which is the basis of the name.  This is great Cabernet, your next choice is to determine if it meets your needs at about $225 a bottle.

Antinori Tignanello Toscana  2010  This Sangiovese based red is the flagship wine of the Antinori Estates.  Piero Antinori addressed the fact that this wine is what is best about Sangiovese and Italian wines overall. Since the first vintage in 1971 the wines have gone from strength to strength.  The vineyards are from 1200 to 1300 feet in altitude.  The wine undergoes full malolatic fermentation in small oak barrels.  Very high quality.  Retails price $85

Angelo Gaja Barbaresco 2010  Made from 100% nebbiolo grapes from fourteen parcels of land in the DCOG.  This wine is of a lighter color and has more finesse rather than power. The parcels are kept separate and tasted a year or so after harvest to determine which go into the final bottling.  Family members and the winemaker gather and taste to determine what the final wine will be.  This is a wine that provides ample flavors for those who are looking for complexity rather than power.  Retail $220

Pio Cesare  Barolo "Ornato" Serralunga  2009 100% Nebbiolo that has been aged for 36 months in mostly new oak.  This wine qualifies as a reserva and is very bold and forward. The years in barrel have not made this wine soft and it will require a few more years to open up and express the fruit that is at present not showing itself.  This is an old world type of wine that is meant to be cellared which is not part of the current trend in drink me now wines. That being said it is very good.  Retail $110

Folonari " La Fuga"  Brunello di Mantalcino 2008  This was one of the outstanding wines of thez day.  Full red color with high aromatics of berry, cherry and roses.  Tannins are integrated and make this wine easy to enjoy but with the backbone to age. They use Hungarian, Slovenian and French oak in the aging process. It is only a 7 hectare vineyard and produces just 30,000 bottles.  Three years in oak and one year in bottle before release.  This is fantastic Brunello!!!  Retail $66

Biondi Santi  Brunello di Montalcino 'Greppo" 2008 This estate is the King of Brunello. They have in their cellar wines up to 100 years in age.  They are the only estate with their own clone of Sangiovese Grosso.  The wine ages for three years in large barrels and then one year in bottle prior to release. This wine is elegant rather than powerful.  The most well known estate in Tuscany. This gem of a wine will retail for  $170

DONNAFUFATA Mille e Una Notte Rosso Contesse  2008  Jose Rallo (above) presented this great example of Sicilian wine. Mostly Nervo d'Avola that shows depth and great red color.  There are very heavy berry aromatics and solid tannins to keep the wine in balance.  Aged in new french oak for more than a year and then held in bottle for more than two years.  This is not a lighweight wine but it has layers of fruit and aroma that keep you coming back for more. It smells and tastes like more than the 13.% alcohol on the label but it carries itself well.  Retail $80

Masi Osar Rosso Del Veronses  2006  This wine is an experience in itself as the grape variety is rarely ever seen.  Oseleta is a vitis vinifera found by the Masi family. Its roots are from the period when Greeks were in Italy and grew grapes.  The Masi label tells you the grape variety, vintage, alcohol, vineyard and bottle production.  This wine comes from a small 8 hectare vineyard and produced under 5,000 bottles.  This is a great experience is tasting a clone of red wine I have never seen or heard of before.  Retail $70


This was an outstanding event and it provided an understanding of the different areas and their challenge to grow world class wines.  It also underscored the Italian ideal of wines which match with food and give pleasure on their own. The wines above are names and labels you may well see in retail or restaurant lists. They produce other bottlings which are also of the highest quality. Try one with friends over a nice dinner and experience some of the sun of Italy

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Ed Sbragia's Dry Creek Winery

          Ed Sbragia talking with Mike Beltran while viewing the Dry Creek Valley 

I recently visited Sbragia Winery in the Dry Creek Valley. The highlight of the day was a long 
discussion of wine history and wine philosophy with owner Ed Sbragia. He is in his mid 60's and has a great track record as the head of winemaking at Beringer Winery for more than 25 years. This by itself shows his desire for quality when you look at the wines he has crafted for Beringer. Their signature high end bottlings of Chardonnay and Cabernet rank consistently with the best of Napa Wineries.  Ed is currently an ambassador for the Beringer label and often speaks and travels on their behalf. He is a walking encyclopedia of information dating back to his early tenure with Myron Nightengale and Andre Tchelistcheff.  

                                         SBRAGIA WINERY

In 2002 Ed Sbragia started his own family winery and focused on fruit mostly from the Sonoma Appellation. The Beringer people were supportive of his effort and allowed him to work on his own label as well as work with the Napa producer.  He and his family own a small sector of vineyards. He looks for others that produce high quality fruit which express their site specific traits.  Many of these sites have stories behind them which makes them even more interesting.  Ed is committed to nurturing the land and keeping it as healthy as possible with natural ingredients. Sbragia has a current capacity of 11,000 cases annually subject to the whims of mother nature. 

The winery itself sits at the end of Dry Creek Valley high enough so that you get a perfect view of the entire valley and a back drop of the Dry Creek Dam which prevents the valley from flooding as it did in the early 1930's. Ed tells the story of his mother wanting to sell their low level vineyard for higher ground after a flood left standing water in their home at knee level not to mention the vineyards which were under water. There are some informative photos of the flood and other businesses that existed during that period at the winery. Ed is often in residence and loves talking wine and the history of his family and their start in wine growing and production. Once you meet him you will be exposed to the knowledge of a nice man and great wine maker. The following is a run down of the current wines available at the winery.

                                         THE WINES

'09 Gamble Ranch Napa Chardonnay. 92 pts. from Wine Advocate and a round, full palate of flavors. Pear and pineapple with a mid-core of French oak to draw out a beautiful glass of wine. 

'09 Home Ranch Dry Creek Chardonnay. 92 WA and 91 Spectator.  Less than  $30 a bottle and tastes so much more expensive.  Apricot, honeysuckle and pear make this wine a winner for all sorts of food. Extremely well made. 

'11 Gino's Zin comes home with 14.4% alcohol and tastes very smooth and balanced with typical Dry Creek intensity. Planted in 1957; you get the benefit of fruit from vines almost 60 years old.  Rich in berry fruit with mild tannins that will reward aging for 10 years plus.  

'11 La Promessa Zin Dry Creek. This wine checks in with 15.8% alcohol but does not show it in the nose or palate. My favorite of the Zins tasted. Rich and balanced with a bit of earth and stone to compliment the wide array of berries and tannins. Winery and wine club only.

'07 Monte Rosso Cabernet Sonoma Valley. Rated in the top 100 by S.F. Chronicle. Ed gets this fruit from a long term relationship with Mike Martini who also happens to play in their band Private Reserve. This is serious and complex Cabernet with mountain fruit and rich tannins that bring out a wine which is only grown at Monte Rosso. The winery is selling this vintage because they are sold out of the more current vintages. This goes to show the high quality of the vineyard and the wine making.

'09 Rancho Del Oso Howell Mountain Cabernet. 92 WS, 93 WA. This is a mix of power and grace from mountain fruit and carries 15.5% alcohol. Howell Mountain can bring out the wild side of Cabernet and this wine shows what comes from hill side grapes which strive to find water and produce a crop of high intensity wine. Not for the feint of heart but very rewarding. 

'09 Wall Vineyard Mr. Veeder Cabernet. 93 WA, 91 WS. This is another mountainside vineyard which required two years in new French oak to come together. While so good now it is still quite young and will reward a few more years in the cellar to round out all of its complex flavors.  

                                    LAST IMPRESSION

A visit to Sbragia winery should be on the list of any serious consumer of fine wine. More often than not you can meet the owner and share a glass of his top shelf wines. Ed said that wine is made to be consumed and he is proof positive that wine is part of the good life.