A few bargain whites for spring, from Walla Walla

Hello amateur winos (and maybe some pro winos out there?)!

It’s been a while since I did a post about wines that are truly bargains, so today I am focusing on some white wines I tasted recently during Taste Walla Walla, a tasting event in New York featuring producers from the Walla Walla Valley in Washington. While I was there, I found some bargain whites, and now that spring is upon us, it seems like the perfect time to share some of my notes with you all.

Today, I am focusing on highlighting a few wines from two producers: Waterbrook and L’Ecole No. 41. I liked the Waterbrook line of whites for their fresh, light style and low price (the wines here can be found for $10-13 generally). If you want clean and focused, the sauvignon blanc is a good choice; the Waterbrook chardonnay will please those who favor a light, less buttery style of chardonnay, and my highest rated white from the Waterbrook line; and the Melange blanc is good for those who want something a little fruitier and floral on the nose.

The L’Ecole No. 41 Luminesce was a nice choice for fans of white bordeaux, as it’s a blend of semillon and sauvignon blanc, which are the core components of most Bordeaux whites. It’s got a bit of clay and slate on the nose, for those who like that added earthy complexity in their whites; the Luminesce is also very affordable, and can generally be found for under $20.  I’m also a big fan of the L’Ecole No. 41 reds, which were wonderfully balanced without feeling over-the-top in power, but I will save those for another post, on another day, soon.

If you find that you like these wines from Walla Walla, you are in luck – you will probably be hearing a lot more about these wines soon, as the Wine Bloggers Conference 2010 is being held in Walla Walla this June. I’m sure there will be an onslaught of coverage from wine bloggers from all over.

My fuller tasting notes on the Waterbrook and L’Ecole no. 41 whites that I tasted are below.  Enjoy!  -Alan

A FEW BARGAIN WHITES FOR SPRING, FROM WASHINGTON – (2/2/2010)

First look: does 2009 Bordeaux live up to the hype?

This week I had the pleasure of attending the Bordeaux Barrel to Bottle tasting in New York, and one section of the tasting was devoted to tasting of barrel samples from members of Le Cercle Rive Droite, a consortium of producers from the Right Bank of Bordeaux (meaning that they are located on the Right Bank of the Gironde River; most of these wines are predominantly merlot). For any of you who still believe Miles from “Sideways” and think that merlot sucks, there were quite a few wines in this tasting that could change your mind in a hurry.

Evaluating barrel samples is tough- the wines are so young at this point, they can feel like something between juice and wine – they haven’t had time to settle and develop complexity yet, or else the complexity that is there is hidden behind the sometimes dominating fruit flavors.

The good news is, the fruit flavors in the 2009 vintage are very, very good. Most of the chateau owners present told me that the weather was perfect in 2009 – enough warmth to get excellent ripeness, without fear of rain that might dilute the grapes, enabling producers to pick exactly when their grapes reached optimum ripeness.

The scores below are just preliminary due to the early nature of barrel samples. The chateau included in the tasting are not quite the very highest tier of Bordeaux chateau in terms of price and prestige, but there are some heavy hitters in the lineup that can compete with just about anyone. Here are my most notable wines, followed by complete notes in the order the samples were tasted.

Top-scoring wines

2009 Ch. La Fleur de Gay – my top wine of the tasting, this showed roasted nut/earth, fine slate, and some herbal character on the nose; a bit more perfumey than the other samples, the style is not hugely powerful, but refined and classy, with varietal character. Not as much complexity shows on palate as it does on the nose at this point, but I believe the material is there – tasty fruit, good ripeness, with a hint of spice on nose that I think will develop into good complexity. 93-95 pts. Reminds me a bit of La Conseillante.

2009 Ch. Rol Valentin – my big-time sleeper of the tasting, this chateau may surprise many people with its quality in the 2009 vintage. It’s initially a little minty on the nose with sweet fruits; the palate has irresistible sweet fruit, Continue reading

A blind tasting for the ages!

I love blind tastings. I’m not particularly good at them- especially when they are done double blind (meaning you know have no idea what the bottles are at all – they could be any grape(s), from anywhere in the world). But they’re always fun to me, and a huge learning experience. I’m a member of two tasting groups that do blind tastings, so I do my fair share. But then, every now and then, you have a wine-drinking experience that completely resets your world, wine-wise. Last night was one of those nights for me.

A double blind tasting at Blue Streak Wines

In my last post, I wrote about a blind tasting that my friend Shaun and I did together. After
hearing about it, our mutual friend Chris in California surprised us with a gift/challenge: he was going to send us a box of wines that he wanted us to taste blind – the only condition was we had to make a guess at each wine and share our thoughts with him.

This immediately set Shaun and I into a frenzy of intrigue. Chris has got a dizzying amount of wine knowledge, so we knew the wines would be cleverly chosen, and a real challenge.

A date was set, and the players chosen: Shaun (a pro in the wine trade, also young like Chris with a similarly encyclopedic range of knowledge and impressively strong blind tasting skills, very much a mentor to me in my drive to learn more about wine every day), Val (another trade pro who used to work with the guys, with an excellent palate and WSET training), myself, my filmmaker friend and colleague Jen, Stephen and Rhoda (owners of the store that Shaun manages that hosted the tasting, Blue Streak Wines, located in a charming neighborhood of Long Island City), myself and my wife Plee, who’s not drinking tonight but is kind enough to film footage of the night, which I will post later when it’s edited. The offer to join is thrown out to a handful of other trade veterans and a community of wine geeks, but ultimately, no one else makes it to the tasting. Most importantly, Chris is in attendance, through videoconference on Skype.

Chris sent us 10 wines, blinded already, which are bagged and decanted by James, Shaun’s Continue reading