A Smooth Tale of Two California Cabernets

Posted on: June 26th, 2014 by

smooth stonesAre you looking for a duo of California Cabernets, though from different producers, parts, and vineyards, united by one thing? And is that thing you desire…SMOOTHNESS?

Well you’ve come to the right blog.

Now, don’t take smooth like these wines are devoid of edge or interest. They just aren’t going to clobber you over the head with pumped-up brawn and muscle-flexing.

So what are the wines? I’m glad you asked. And BTW, both were sent to me as samples.

2010 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon

The first is the 2010 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon ($53). Perhaps you remember Jordan from my epic podcast, vineyard tour, and cheese eating extravaganza? Check it out! AGAIN!

Anyway, there is many a thing to love about this Cabernet from Sonoma’s Alexander Valley. The Jordan is elegant right out of the gate; no need to sit on it for a decade. BUT IF YOU DO, it will be awesome, like the 2003 I had at the winery. Just make sure you give the 2010 plenty of time in the decanter and it will awaken in your glass.

Ok, would I want to hold onto it for ten years and then give you a full report? Sure! But that would mean sending Jordan an e-mail where I tell them this: “Good news! I have scheduled a post regarding the 2010 Cabernet to be published…IN 2024!”

Trust me, it’s a wine with a pedigree and a track record. Buy a case and drink one every year. If you do that and tell me, you can write a guest post on the development of it from 2015-2026. Or I’ll just call you on the phone and we can record a segment for my podcast. Seriously.

2011 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Artemis Napa Valley Cabernet SauvignonAnd if we’re talking about longevity, how can we not mention Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars? This Napa icon was established in 1970 and is still going strong. Case in point being the 2011 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Artemis ($55). This Napa Valley Cabernet, like the Jordan, can please the impatient as well as reward those with long-term impulse control. And it’s very expressive for such a youthful wine. (Translation: Smells real good right away.)

Also, Artemis is the Greek Goddess of the Hunt, which is cool. (Also of the Forest, Hills, Moon, and Archery. What a show-off.)

So when it comes to California Cabernet, do not be swayed by preconceived notions. Let your taste be like that of a Greek God or Goddess: inquisitive, with a healthy skepticism, and BEHOLDEN TO NO ONE! (This is how I imaging Greek mythological figures act.)

Note: Both prices taken from the winery website.

Stacked stones by a.pitch from Flickr.

The Versatility of Sherry With Master Sommelier Christopher Tanghe

Posted on: June 23rd, 2014 by

aragona seattleEver say something dumb in front of a Master Sommelier and have the good fortune to do so during an interview you are recording?

Funny you should ask, as that happened to me. You see, I was speaking with Christopher Tanghe, who is not only a Master Sommelier but also the Wine and Service Director at Seattle’s Aragona. The restaurant provided the setting for the latest episode of my Wine Without Worry podcast.

We were talking about Sherry, specifically the diversity of this storied fortified wine of Spain, when I asked about what was the difference between certain types, like Manzanita.

Turns out I was quite confused.

You see, Manzanita is a charming town on the Oregon coast. It looks like this:

Manzanita Oregon

Ah, this sunset moment calls for a glass of Manzanita, the famed Sherry of Coastal Oregon.

The Sherry, however, is called Manzanilla.

manzanilla sherryLuckily, Chris is one of the most laid-back dudes I know. He is totally in favor of not being afraid to sound dumb, make mistakes, or ask questions when it come to wine. In fact, if you didn’t stick your neck out every now and then, how would you learn?

Our Sherry discussion touches on:

          • Chris’ recent trip to Jerez, where it’s made
          • Lower alcohol cocktails
          • Embracing the challenge of selling it by the bottle
          • Great food pairings at Aragona

So besides Sherry, which Chris believes is one of the most versatile wines in the world, giving my beloved Champagne a run for its money, we also chat about many other wines of Spain, including a variety of grapes, regions, and wines.

chris tanghe

Master Somms: Just Like Us! They smile, laugh, and enjoy life!

And did you know Chris is a hell of a cook? He explains how his culinary prowess informs his work as a sommelier.

Also, is he getting the itch to make wine, like so many other sommeliers? (Spoiler Alert: YES!)

And how could we not talk about Washington wine? Chris clues me in a few producers you need to know.

Finally, does becoming a Master Sommelier mean you get to kick back and put your feet up? (Spoiler Alert II: NO!)

Listen to the show and you’ll hear that Chris is a fantastic educator and a gifted teacher:

Wine Without Worry: The Versatility of Sherry With Master Sommelier Chris Tanghe

Get Wine Without Worry on iTunes.

Manzanilla photo via Seth Anderson.


Vintage Pour: Walla Walla Valley Wines

Posted on: June 21st, 2014 by

Walla Walla

I’ve been in Walla Walla for five days. So what Washington wines have impressed me? I’m glad you asked.

A few came from a tasting that took place in the Mill Creek Vineyards (pictured above). Not only was I mightily charmed by this verdant corner of the Walla Walla Valley, but also by a refreshing pale and elegant 2013 aMaurice Cellars rosé, made from Syrah, enjoyed under a shady tree. Also notable from aMaurice? A 2013 Viognier, rich and aromatic without getting oily and perfume-y, the latter duo pointing to tendencies of sub-par examples of this white wine.

I also really dug the 2011 Figgins Estate Red. It took a while to open up, but once it did a very elegant Bordeaux blend emerged. Hide in the cellar for years or give it many hours of chill (but not chilly) time in the decanter.

Walla Walla Valley vineyards

Are these all the wines I have something to say about? Hardly! This first round wrapped up just a small portion of a day on this journey, a media trip sponsored by the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance. Heck, we hadn’t even had lunch yet! Speaking of….

Brasserie 4 was the spot for a lunch giving love to lesser-known grapes. (Sidebar: shout-out to the refreshing and palate-cleansing salad with fresh herbs, peas, walnuts, and strawberries that was very lightly dressed.) I’m not much of a red wine drinker when it comes to hot, sunny days, but was really charmed by the 2012 Morrison Lane Cinsault. If sitting in the shade or outside after the sun went down, this wine would fit the bill. Stick in the fridge for about a half hour and serve it cool.

For white wines, Paul Gregutt was there with a duo of his Waitsburg Cellars 2013s. The Cheninieres is a steely, dry Chenin Blanc while the Chevray has a more richness from time hanging out in a barrel, along with just the slightest touch of sweetness. Though nothing that stands in the way of refreshment.

Finally, after a brief respite and a pit stop for Claritin and a 12-pack of Tecate, it was time for the day’s main event: Vintage Pour. This was a really cool event, as all the wines were from 2007 or earlier. Hey, remember that 2012 Cinsault? Well, Morrison Lane had the 2005, which was still alive and lively.

Buty Winery had a one-two punch of 2006 red and white: the Rediviva and a Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc. The latter was one of the best examples of how this White Bordeaux-esque wine is capable of aging.

It was also really cool to meet Drew Bledsoe, who was pouring his 2007 Doubleback Cabernet. I have to say seeing Drew was really cool, because over ten years ago I met him when working at Randolph Wine Cellars in Chicago. A sommelier sent him to the shop because we had quite a collection of cult Aussie Shiraz. I got to help him (along with a big assist from one of the owners, Brenda) pick out a bunch to add to his cellar. I retold this encounter to Drew and was stoked that he remembered, especially since at the time I had crazy dyed hair. (This was pre-Facebook so, sorry, no photos of said out-there hair.) Also, I am reminded how awesome Brenda is, and how she got me hooked on Soave.

Anyway, back to W2. So I can’t believe I never had anything from Bunchgrass Winery. Paul over at Full Pull calls them “insider gems“, and now I’m no longer on the outside, looking in. The 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon was a treat.

Walla Walla Les Collines Vineyard

Are you there, Trey? It’s me, Jameson. Oh, crap, you’re over in row 23.

Perhaps you’d like something with a bit more age on it? OK, Seven Hills Winery went into the vault like the Grateful Dead and brought on something with plenty of life: the 1999 Syrah. It need no help on the way from glass to my palate, and was a fully mature but far from tired red wine.

Finally, I finished with the 2007 Sleight of Hand Cellars Levitation Syrah. Winemaker Trey Busch pointed out that this vintage was the first version of Levitation including fruit from Les Collines Vineyard. And since that vineyard was right outside the door from where we were tasting, I thought, “Geez, I could drink it right in that very vineyard block.” So I asked for the number of one of the blocks.

Like a dummy, I thought Trey told me Block 32, but I got my numbers transposed and it was actually 23. Anyway, Trey, I meant well. And BTW, 32 is not so shabby-looking. So I’m going to lobby Trey to come up with blend in honor of my blunder: The Transposer.

But all blunders aside, a great visit to Walla Walla, with some eye-opening wines. It’s made even this Cubs fan have some optimism about…anything.

Chillin'. #wallawalla #wawine

I have been made aware that I am sorely lacking in the glass of wine department in this image.

Nominated for a 2014 Wine Blog Award for Best Writing

Posted on: June 17th, 2014 by

wine blog awardsHey there! It’s Wine Blog Awards time, and possibly the third is the charm? As I’m up for the “Best Writing” prize for the second year in a row. And two years ago I got a “Best Overall” nod. If you’d like to vote for me (Note: polls close at the end of Thursday) and peruse the other nominees, here’s a link:


Now you might be thinking, “Jeez Jameson, that’s some mighty fine horn-tooting there, but how about some wine picks from you?”

Ok, cool.

“But I want them to be special.”

Got it.

“And from California.”

DONE AND DONE. I have a white and a red for you. 2012 matthiason napa valley white wine

The first is the 2012 Matthiasson Napa Valley White Wine ($40). Uh, it’s awesome and so’s the label. An unusual, and unusually good, blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Ribolla Gialla, Semillon, and Tocai Fruilano, it has a lovely richness to it comes naturally, unforced. But really refreshing, too. It is so yin and yang-y. Vin and yang! Vang?

How about this: HARMONIOUS!

Ribolla Gialla and Tocai Fruilano are grapes that you’d usually find in Northern Italy and thereabouts, but there’s a bit of it in California that producers like Matthiasson are geeked about. I enjoyed it will pizza but this would really be something with richer seafood dishes, or even pork chops with applesauce.

For the red I turn to a selection provided by none other than my Mom.

2005 Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill

Diamonds. So good.

Righteous! I had not had a Cab from Diamond Creek in forever and it’s one of my all-time favorites. An old-school producer founded back in 1968, the 2005 Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill ($110+ on WineSearcher) was smokin’ good. Just starting to turn the corner from youth to a life fraught with complexity and mystery. In a good way. A very, very good way.

Be sure to decant it and don’t forget to save a bit to enjoy on day two, at least at this point in its life.

In travel news, I am off to Walla Walla for five days. There is going to be a lot of geology and I even get to visit a creamery.

Bring on the rocks and cheese! And, oh yes, some wine.

Bellwether Wine Cellars: The Fascinating Finger Lakes

Posted on: June 16th, 2014 by

bellwether wines cellarsLet’s get to know the Finger Lakes, and the wines of this New York region! Since I was fascinated by sample bottles from Bellwether Wine Cellars I got to test-drive with Madeline Puckette of Wine Folly, I contacted the winemaker, Kris Matthewson, to ask him to be on my Wine Without Worry podcast. And he agreed to be a guest. Cool!

We talk about how Kris got into winemaking. He admits, “I had, like, no direction as a young adult, basically.” (Right there with you, Kris.) But he got a job in the tasting room at Bully Hill Vineyards, and within a few days was moving barrels, and the rest was history.

Also discussed? Something near and dear to my heart as a recovering retail wine pro: choosing wine bottles and labels. Perhaps you read my post where I enlisted 5 graphic designers to critique a wine label? Turns out Kris was a psychology major and delved deep into how taste and perception of quality are influenced by what you see.

Find out why Riesling is Kris’ “mother’s milk” and, when it comes to working in the vineyard, how he’s a glutton for punishment. Though not a glutton at the table, especially during harvest, as he loses 15-20 pounds each year during those hectic times. To combat that seasonal stress, I’d prescribe a half-hour dose of Wine Without Worry:

Wine Without Worry: Bellwether Wine Cellars: The Fascinating Finger Lakes

Get Wine Without Worry on iTunes.

seneca lake finger lakes

Seneca Lake vineyards. Kris gets some Riesling from the vineyards along this lake.

Vineyard photo courtesy Finger Lakes Wine Country and Stu Gallagher Photography.

Drinking Vinho Verde With Sarah Rudinoff

Posted on: June 13th, 2014 by

vinho verde vineyards

Are you looking for the ultimate in summer wine refreshment with a crazy-low price? Sure you are! And so am I. So allow me to beat the drum for Vinho Verde*. It’s a light, slightly fizzy, fresh, lower-alcohol delight to sip all summer long.

Would I call it a porch-pounder? Absolutely. And I do so during my interview with Actress/Writer/Singer Sarah Rudinoff. As part of the Ambassador Project at On The Boards, she is one of the many performers in NW New Works I have talked to, and plied with wine, for my Side Show: New Works New Wines series. (View previous interviews with a trio of performers AND get five more summertime wine selections.)

Sarah and I discuss her singing the National Anthem at a Seahawks game, technology at the Toronto airport, and drinking porch-pounders on a porch in Portugal.

*Note: Vinho Verde is actually a wine region where you’ll encounter more than just light and fizzy white wines. But the vast majority will be exactly as I describe above. If you want to explore the region, ask your friendly wine shop person to find some unique bottles.

Vineyard photo courtesy Comissão de Viticultura da Região dos Vinhos Verdes.

Dabble in Dry Muscat from Joie Farm in the Okanagan Valley

Posted on: June 11th, 2014 by

The last time I was in British Columbia I came back across the border with some Canadian wine that I was very curious to sample. None more so than a bottle from Joie Farm, located on the Okanagan Valley’s picturesque Naramata Bench. And I was not disappointed. Joie’s 2012 Muscat was, well, a joy to drink. Quite dry and so very pretty. (Note: the 2013 is now available.)

I have more to say about it in Dabble Magazine. Peruse the table of contents for my “There’s An App for That” appetizer pairing column and just click on the description. Or follow this link to go straight to it.

Previous BC adventures:

The Best Sandwich, Ever

Six Hours of Dim Sum. Plus Pork. And a Bakery Run

Thanks to the Northwest Wine Anthem for putting Joie Farm on my radar.

Suggested food pairing? Bruscetta. This lovely photo is courtesy Angela Auclair Photography.


Top 5 Songs That Mention Wine

Posted on: June 10th, 2014 by


table talk nw

Over on Table Talk NW, my pal Jamie Peha asked me to share my five favorite songs that mention wine. You see, Wine Rocks is coming up on July 10th, and it’s all about music and fermented grape juice. The dictionary even has something to say:

Wine Rocks (\ˈwīn ˈräks\, etymology: modern, Seattle – circa 2007): annual, not-for-profit, gathering of local winemakers, craft brewers, and musicians showcasing exceptional wine, unique distillates, outstanding beer, groovy tunes, savory fare, and one helluva of a backdrop.

OK, there’s also beer and sprits, too. They rock as well.

So what five songs did I select? Well, here’s one of them:

 ”Thank you for your wine, California. Thank you for your sweet and bitter fruit.”

Want to find out the other four? Head over to Table Talk NW:

Jameson Fink: Five Favorite Songs That Mention Wine

All Your Summer Sippers With Elaine Chukan Brown

Posted on: June 9th, 2014 by

elaine chukan brownIt’s not enough to just sample wines via Skype with Elaine Chukan Brown of Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews, so I asked her to be a guest on my Wine Without Worry podcast while we talked and tasted. And this show’s topic is summer wines. As we did before, Elaine sent me some bottles from California, and I reciprocated with a duo from Washington State. So what arrived in the mail for me from the Golden State?

First up was the 2013 J. Brix Cobolorum, from Santa Barbara County. It’s a pet-nat, meaning a fizzy, cloudy, yeasty, fresh delight. And only 17 cases made! Wowzers, thanks Elaine! We use this j. brix wine as a launching pad to chat about Santa Barbara County, where the terrain and climate is so varied, as Elaine explains, it’s ”actually possible to grow almost anything there.”

J. Brix Cobolorum

I have to mention the charming note I got from Emily and Jody at the winery, which came packed in with the bottle:

j. brix


vesper vineyardsAw! How sweet. I’m a sucker for x’s and an o’s. Elaine and I then moved on the the 2012 Vesper Vineyards McCormick Ranch Grenache Rosé, from San Diego County. Can’t say I’ve ever had a wine from this neck of the woods. As Elaine noted, the Vesper had a ”lightly oxidated style” but was ”still so juicy that it really shoots through the mouth.” A couple of tank samples (!) of 2013 sent along showed a little more classic classic pink wine style. But the 2012 highlighted what Elaine pointed out (and I’ll paraphrase her thoughts) is an interesting change in attention to rosé right now. With increasing sales that come along with increasing consumer interest, winemakers can devote more time to crafting different and unique styles of rosé. Of which the Vesper is a fine example.

And what of the Washington wines I sent Elaine? Two rosés arrived at her doorstep, both 2013s: Tranche Cellar Pink Pape and Gilbert Cellars Mourvèdre.

So what did Elaine think of ‘em? Well, you’ll just have to listen to the show.

Wine Without Worry: All Your Summer Wines With Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews

Wine Without Worry on iTunes.

Want to see what I look like while podcasting? Kinda looks  like a UFO just came into my field of vision and I crane my neck skyward with a stupefied look on my face. That and more in Elaine’s post about being a guest.

Special thanks to Aaron Epstein of Le Metro Wine for his great assistance in getting these extremely limited production California wines into my hands. Cheers, wine dad and wine dude!




Side Show: My New Works New Wine Video Interviews

Posted on: June 8th, 2014 by

on the boardsIf you didn’t know, I am part of the Ambassador Project for On the Boards here in Seattle. First, what is On the Boards?

Founded by artists in 1978, the mission of On the Boards is to introduce audiences to international innovators in contemporary dance, theater and music while developing and presenting new work by Northwest performing artists.

OK, and about the Ambassador Project?

Ambassadors take an active role in shaping dialogue about the art presented at OtB and around trends, concepts, ideas and opportunities arising in the creative community.

So where do I fit in? Excellent question. On of the things dreamed up with my fellow ambassadors Sierra Stinson and Mary Ann Peters was for me to interview artists performing in the Northwest New Works Festival. I’d bring some wine and questions.

NOTE: You can still catch the end of the first weekend’s performances TONIGHT. And clear off all next weekend, June 13-15th, for the second round of the festival.

Here are the wines I brought for various video interviews:

Raisins Gaulois: A light and fresh Gamay from Beaujolais.

Domaine Lafage Miraflors Rosé: Lovely bottle, lovely wine.

Domaine des Cassagnoles Gros Manseng: Unusual grape, unusually refreshing.

Viu Manent Sauvignon Blanc: My house white wine, from Chile.

German Gilabert Cava Brut Nature: Great Spanish sparkling.

Famega Vinho Verde: Fresh and fizzy.

All these wines are under$20, and two are under $10 (Viu Manent and Famega). What else does each wine have in common? They are all perfect summer wines. What a sweet six pack of summertime sipping!

Peruse these videos! I did some deep Googling of each artist, and checked out their websites and press clippings so I wouldn’t show up with nothing to ask of them beyond, “So, you like art and stuff, huh?

First I talk about what it means to be “delightfully odd” as a person and a wine with Erin Pike. Also, we get into the “swirl and whiff”. And what does a Segway mating dance look like?

Here I am with Ilvs Strauss. We speak of sea cucumbers. Also, she does not like the Gamay (at all), but I redeem myself with the Cava. My biggest fear comes true when I jinx myself by stating out loud that I hope when I open the bottle of sparkling, wine does not come spewing out. Guess what happens shortly after that?

With David Schmader I go into more detail about the first four wines. “Everything you said is true,” says David to me. (About the red wine.) Later: “Is this a chugging wine?”

See all the videos.