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2013 A Year Of Wine Experiences

William Pollard Jr.

“The way you speak, people want to believe what you say.”
- A comment about me by Ryan Opaz, Catavino, European Wine Bloggers

This is the first time in seven years of blogging about wine that I've attempted to re-cap my year of wine. 2013 was a wonderful year, packed full of wine experiences and deserving of reflection.

What do you want to know?

What were my favorite wines of 2013? There were many. What new insights do I have about wine? I confronted some prejudices and realized I can be wrong. Which wine events and wine country destinations do I recommend? Ah, I do have several on my list. Did anything else change in my world of wine? I will get to that too, let's get started.

Favorite Wines of 2013

It seems that the traditional end of year post is about the top wines of the year. In keeping with tradition, I'll start with the most memorable wines of 2013. These are wines which left an indelible impression on me.

1. Pomum Cellars 2009 Syrah $32.
“Sex in a glass of wine.”
This was the sexiest wine I experienced in 2013. I met Pomum Cellars winemaker Javier Alfonso and his wife Shyla in Seattle at the Washington State Wine Awards ceremony. He and his wines made a strong first impression. Javier is originally from the Ribera del Duero region in Spain and is making fantastic wine in Woodinville, Washington. I had the distinct pleasure of enjoying his 2009 Syrah in May. Wow! Check out my review and then go find his wines.

Lake Breeze Winemaker Garron Elmes.

2. Lake Breeze 2012 Gewurztraminer $19.
It's a shame we can't buy Canadian wines. So little is exported, you have to go to the source if you wish to buy this lovely wine. I was in British Columbia Wine country this summer and was stunned at the loveliness of the Lake Breeze Gewurztraminer. Garron Elmes has been the winemaker at Lake Breeze since the very first days of the winery.  Now a Canadian citizen, Garron was born in Capetown, South Africa. Go to the source and sample his wonderful wines.

2 Mountain Winery.

3. Two Mountain Winery.
There were several standout wines made by this Zillah, Washington Winery. Loved their 2009 Cabernet Franc Reserve – a beautiful example of an amazing Washington Cabernet Franc. And their 2009 Syrah was lush. They are producing some kick-ass, affordable wines at this winery. I also give them top scores for their customer service. A fun and friendly tasting room.

Winemaker Scott Southard.

4. Southard 2010 Sugarloaf Vineyard Red Wine $20.
You don't know Scott Southard and his wines? It is time you did. I'd call this a lovely wine. It continued to be lip smacking good until the bottle was emptied. Bravo Scott. At a suggested retail price of $20 this wine is an amazing value. Go find some now or order this wine direct from the winery. Highly recommended.

Knight Hill Syrah-Sirah.

5. Knight Hill 2009 Sirah-Syrah $25.
Truly a wonderful wine and an amazing value at only $25 direct from the winery. A tasty blend of Syrah and Petite-Sirah, inky dark, and very satisfying. I checked the winery website and they seem to be sold out of the 2009 vintage. They have the 2010 listed, I suggest buying now before it is sold out too.

2012 Band of Sisters Wysling.

6. Parejas 2012 Band of Sisters 2012 Wysling $16.
This was my favorite wine of the summer. I strongly recommend this wine. Truly one of my favorite white wines of the year, especially at the price of $16. Outstanding!

Columbia Crest Unoaked Chardonnay.

7. Columbia Crest Grand Estates 2012 Unoaked Chardonnay $10.
This Chardonnay is eminently drinkable. At the price I paid it is the wine you will want on your dinner table. If you are looking for dry, crisp, unoaked Chardonnay for under $10 this is it. If you enjoy Sauvignon Blanc this is it too. If you are an "ABC" person, then you must give this wine a go. Recommended.

2011 Riesling Grand Klasse.

8. Gård Vintners 2011 Riesling Grand Klasse Columbia Valley $22.
This is a serious Washington Riesling that delivered. Beautifully balanced with an intriguing nose, lovely on the palate but not over the top, with a dry, not too crisp, mineral finish. One of my favorite Rieslings of the year. The folks at Gård Vintners have outdone themselves with their 2011 Grand Klasse. Discover, how good Washington Riesling can be. Strongly Recommended.

2009 Cabernet Sauvignon.

9. Hightower Cellars 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon $36.
For me, three hours seems to be the magic window. At that point it was all violets, fresh tobacco, cherry, vanilla, tar, pepper and cola sultriness. Kelly and Tim Hightower have developed a style of wine I certainly appreciate. They retain more of the flavor of the fruit in their wine by minimizing the filtering before bottling.

Lauren Ashton Cellars 2011 Cuveee Meline.

10. Lauren Ashton Cellars 2011 Cuvée Méline $28.
Lovely blend of my two favorite white varieties, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. This is a dry white wine with serious qualities. The Cuvée Méline is a classy white wine, perfect for pairing with raw oysters, sashimi, lobster and fried battered halibut. Respect the look of the label as it correctly denotes the quality of the wine in the bottle. Strongly recommended.

Whew, that was tough. There were so many wonderful wines this year it was difficult to narrow down the list to ten - and you may have noticed it's actually a list of eleven. I must confess that I don't review every wine I drink.

Shout Outs! You Over Delivered on Quality and Service. Bravo.

Kestrel Vintners
There were some standout wines from Kestrel Vintners I drank socially at their September party in the vineyards – 2010 Tribute Red, 2012 Viognier and 2012 Pinot Gris. And several wines I sampled at the winery in October during harvest – barrel samples of their Mourvedre (don't tell) and their 2011 Wild Yeast Chardonnay. My wife and I enjoyed a lively summer lunch at the winery and also made it to a wine and beer dinner at the Prosser winery too. I was continually impressed by their lovely wines and the quality of service from their professional staff. Thank you so much Kestrel.

Keith Pilgrim during 'Bud Break' class.

Terra Blanca Winery and Estate Vineyard
And my friends at Terra Blanca Winery and Estate Vineyard invited me to several of their Wine Tasting and Vineyard Classes. Bud Break class photos posted to Facebook - afterwards we enjoyed a Malbec Vertical tasting, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010. My favorite was the 2003 Terra Blanca Malbec. The 2010 had wonderful aromatics. Keith and Renae Pilgrim are wonderful giving people and have a beautiful winery. A must visit.

Magnum 2004 Kiona Cabernet Sauvignon.

Kiona Vineyards and Winery
While I'm giving shout outs! Props to Kiona Vineyards and Winery. I attended their first Red Mountain Estate release party in June. Not only did I sample their new releases, but they were sharing samples of their vintage Red Mountain wines too. Fantastic hospitality by JJ  and Molly Williams. I also want to mention Kiona Winery for reminding me about their Lemberger red wine. Kiona Vineyards was the first winery in the United States to produce Lemberger back in 1980. Lemberger is a relatively obscure Eastern European grape that is sometimes known as Blaufränkisch. The vine grows exceedingly well on Red Mountain. Thirty years of working with the variety is proven by the quality of the 2010 Kiona Lemberger.

I'll continue to expand on my wine experiences and point out some more wonderful wines I enjoyed in 2013 as I focus on how some of my wine prejudices were confronted. First I'm talking about Riesling.

Prejudiced Against Riesling

Many long time wine drinkers may tell you that over time a change in palate occurs. Mine has. A progression from light to sweet white wines, to robust red wines. Then the dabbling in diverse white varieties and on to the realization that many different red varieties exist. In my case there was a casualty. A wine I had mostly given up on in preference to tastier realms. Riesling in general and Washington Riesling specifically. No to Riesling, thank you.

Finger Lakes, NY rocks the Riesling!

The last couple of years It's been my pleasure to participate in multiple Finger Lakes Riesling wine tastings. My palate has come to enjoy the fresh, mineral qualities I associate with Finger Lakes Riesling. I've become a big fan of New York Riesling. Yes to Finger Lakes Riesling.

Sheldrake Point 2012 Reserve Dry Riesling, Finger Lakes, NY $50.
This is a serious Riesling. Nothing is over the top, but it drank so well and was worth savoring sip after sip. I found this wine worth contemplating and would enjoy savoring it slowly with a good book and a lazy afternoon. If you appreciate classy Riesling and conversations with good chums, this is the wine for you my friends. I would pair this wine with Halibut, Sea Bass, Tilapia, egg rolls, crab stuffed wontons and slow roasted chicken. Strongly Recommended. Can you hear that? That's the sound of hitting it out of the park!

Washington Riesling?

Occasionally, a Washington Riesling comes my way which forces me to recognize the fallacy of my prejudice against Riesling. The Gård Vintners 2011 Riesling Grand Klasse Columbia Valley was such a wine. You can now consider me a fan.

Gård Vintners 2011 Riesling Grand Klasse Columbia Valley $22.
This is a serious Washington Riesling that delivered. Beautifully balanced with an intriguing nose, lovely on the palate but not over the top, with a dry, not too crisp, mineral finish. One of my favorite Rieslings of the year. The folks at Gård Vintners have outdone themselves with their 2011 Grand Klasse. Discover, how good Washington Riesling can be. Strongly Recommended.

Prejudiced Against Synthetic Cork

In March I was invited to Raleigh, NC to attend the Spring Media Day at the Nomacorc production facility in nearby Zebulon, North Carolina. We were a group of 12, mostly wine writers, hailing from the U.S., Canada and Portugal. Nomacorc invited us to learn more about the merits of their internal closure system for wine. Nomacorc is the name of the company and of their flagship synthetic cork, "Nomacorc."
Ryan Opaz touring the Nomacorc facility.
Let me be direct with you – when I arrived in North Carolina I had my doubts about Nomacorc convincing me that they had a good alternative to natural cork (I have mentioned in previous posts that I am a cork snob). Speaking with my fellow wine writers on the morning of day one, they shared similar beliefs.

Did Nomacorc change my bias?

Nomacorc is a synthetic cork. Except, synthetic cork is actually a fairly broad descriptor for corks with synthetic ingredients. While Nomacorc is a synthetic cork, so too are the injection molded corks I still detest, and while agglomerate and 1+1 corks are composed of crushed and compressed natural cork (see photo below), the binder used is synthetic (laytex and other glues). Also, as cool and accessible as screw caps are, they can still introduce wine faults like oxidation and reduction.

The issues of sustainability, carbon footprint and recycling are far too broad to pin solely on the closure system used on a bottle of wine. If you accuse synthetic cork, then you accuse screw caps and personal behavior. The weight of the glass bottle, transportation costs and the efficiency of the production process are likely more relevant topics.

So yes, Nomacorc did change my biased view of their product. The next time I encounter a Nomacorc, I will look at it to figure out which model it is. I will also have the confidence that the wine was properly protected. For age-worthy wines, I will know that the wine is suitable for the cellar too. You are encouraged to read the full article on my visit to Nomacorc - Alternative Wine Closure - Nomacorc Oxygen Management System. I learned a great deal about what they are doing.

Wine Country Destinations

Of course I encourage you to visit my neighborhood of the Columbia Valley – The Heart of Washington Wine Country – the source, the place where the grapes are grown. But I did venture to other places and had some wonderful wine experiences away from home.

Steve Warner CEO Washington State Wine Commission.
1. Washington State Wine Awards.
Originally known as the Washington Wine Restaurant Awards, since 2003, this Seattle award program, is now known as the Washington State Wine Awards. All of the award winners were acknowledged for how well they promote Washington Wine. I was pleased at how well Washington wine was represented at this ceremony. I am continually impressed by the people who have the passion for making wine in Washington. It's not only the wonderful, delicious juice in the bottle that maintains my excitement for Washington wine, it's the people pouring that lovely juice and the stories they share. I am not asking to be entertained, I do look for passion, sincerity and fellowship. Which I found many times over.

Kyle and Amy Johnson Purple Star Wines..

This wine event was significant for me because I was surprised at the number of new to me wineries - and very pleased at the quality too. And I met Amy and Kyle Johnson of Purple Star wines for the first of many times. They continue to impress me with their Purple Star wines and I hope to do a proper review of their premium “Native Sun” red wines in 2014. Wonderful wines, wonderful people, I encourage you to seek out their wines.
Javier Alfonso Pomum Cellars.

This is also where I met Javier Alfonso of Pomum Cellars. Yes, he's the winemaker who made the most memorable wine of the year, the Pomum Cellars 2009 Syrah, “Sex in a glass of wine.” He's a fun winemaker to visit with. A trip to his Woodinville winery is overdue. Maybe in 2014 I will finally go wine tasting in Woodinville. I feel I should mention that my sister-in-law sent a bottle of his Syrah to some of her friends in Spain. They loved it.

Reception Vancouver International Wine Festival.

2. Vancouver International Wine Festival.
This was my first time attending this week long venue. Wow! It was a week replete with wine, walking, food, conversations and new friendships. The 360 mile drive to Vancouver, British Columbia was worth the time and the gas. I was impressed. Please, put me on the list for 2014.

It was a packed week – I manged to write about some of my experiences and adventures in Vancouver. But I found out I can only write so much before hitting the wall. I hope to make up the difference in 2014 and mention more of those truly interesting people I met in Vancouver. You are on my mind.

Here's what I wrote about my week in Vancouver in the links below. If you are going to visit Vancouver, B.C. there is useful information included in each post. Vancouver, British Columbia is one of my favorite cities in the world. Go visit when you can and thank me later.

Posts on Vancouver International Wine Festival: 

I arrived in Canada on a drizzly Monday afternoon and left Vancouver on Sunday, the sunniest day of the week. Vancouver looked glorious in the sunlight. As I crossed the border from Canada back into Washington, I must have driven about two miles when I felt something irritating my eye, as I touched my left eyelid a large tear dropped and rolled down my cheek. I did not want to leave. Thank you Vancouver for a wonderful week. I will return.
Culinary Art School in Vancouver.

In June I returned to Canada for the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference. While I've visited Vancouver, BC many times over the last forty years, I had never been to British Columbia Wine Country. A visit to Penticton, British Columbia was an enlightening experience. A marvelous, wonderful experience.

View of Penticton, BC.
3. Penticton, British Columbia Canada
There's something happening in the Okanagan Valley. Something exciting. From 18 wineries not long ago, the Okanagan Valley now has 200 wineries. And yes, quality is strong. From serious delicious Gewurztraminer, to complex, robust, chocolaty Cabernet Franc. What a stunningly beautiful place. This is a region to put on your must visit list. With a population of 35,000 Penticton is a small rural town, however it does not feel rustic or small town, it has the feel of being in the suburbs outside of a big city. There's something happening here. I should note that little B.C. wine is exported - because Canadians drink 90% of the wine produced! Yes, I will be back.

Frichette Winery - the new winery on Red Mountain.
4. Revelry on Red Mountain and the Red Mountain AVA Alliance Block Party.
These were the two parties I attended on Red Mountain this year. I've been to Revelry on Red Mountain three times, but this was my first time to The Red Mountain AVA Alliance Block Party! This was the second annual Red Mountain AVA Block Party on Saturday, September 28. This all day wine event was held on Red Mountain, located in SE Washington, just minutes from the city of Richland. There was an impressive array of premium Red Mountain wineries participating this year see the complete list here. I also posted photos of the Red Mountain AVA Alliance Block Party to Facebook.

Something New

It seems I'm becoming a regular feature on Minstrel and Muse Audio Art Magazine. I love talking about wine culture and lose track of time during these conversations. It will be interesting to see what I'm invited to share in 2014.

These streaming audio casts can also be found on the TuneIn Radio app.

Wine Bloggers in Lake Chelan, Washington.
Personalities? We're All Personalities.

Who are some of the cool and exciting people I met this year? I'm not telling. There were so many, there is not enough room to properly share on this post. For 2014 I hope to do a better job at mentioning more of the interesting wine personalities I meet and consider friends.

Special Thank You to:
Finger Lakes Wine Alliance
Juli Crompe
Kestrel Vintners
Lake Chelan AVA
Linda Reznicek, Minstrel and Muse
Red Mountain AVA Alliance
Sean Sullivan, Washington Wine Report
Steve Warner, CEO Washington State Wine Commission
Terra Blanca Winery and Estate Vineyard
Trellis Growth Partners
Zephyr Adventures

Happy New Year!


- William

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