The Bordeaux region covers more territory than all of the vineyards in Germany combined, with over 15,000 growers, producing over 700 million bottles of wine each year. More than 80% of it is red, with the most important grapes being Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, nearly always blended together.  Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot round out the mix.

It was the Dutch who drained the marshy Médoc region in the middle of the 17th century, creating the land for vineyards that would soon produce the fine wines that would give Bordeaux its reputation. The Medoc, along with the Haut-Medoc and Graves (pronounced “Grahv”) regions, lie on the “Left Bank” of the Gironde river. The warmer climate here ripens Cabernet Sauvignon to an optimal point, so much of the Left Bank Bordeaux wines will have Cabernet Sauvignon as the primary varietal in the final blend.

A Map of Bordeaux

A (Simplified) Map of the Bordeaux Wine Region

On the “Right Bank” of the Dordogne river lies Pomerol and St. Emilion, where Merlot takes the driver’s seat due to soil composition and a climate more suited to Merlot’s growing habits.  Chateau Petrus is one of the most famous, most expensive, and one of the few 100% Merlot wines of the Right Bank.

The white grapes of Bordeaux include primarily Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (blended together). In the Sauternes region at the south of the Left Bank, some of the world’s finest dessert wines are created from these grapes (most notably, the famous and spectacularly expensive Chateau d’Yquem)

It was the Greeks who first brought grapes to France by establishing vineyards in Marseilles, but the infestation of the Phylloxera root louse destroyed any grape vines existing before 1866. American Labrusca species rootstocks (resistant to Phylloxera) saved the day … Vinifera species vines in Europe (and in the U.S.) are now commonly grafted to them, although there are still ungrafted vineyards left dotting the landscape around the world.

French culture dictates the qualities of Bordeaux, amid a confusing mass of classification systems born in 1855, emphasizing elegance and intensity of flavor rather than massive and powerful fruit or oak. The French start drinking wine in their youth, most often with meals. The resulting need for ample wine acids for food pairing and a subdued & elegant fruit balance of flavors is a tell-tale sign of a Bordeaux wine.

For more information

Chateau Margaux

Chateau Margaux

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The Salut! Wine Club

Mike Januik, winemaker at Novelty Hill, is a well-recognized talent in the Washington wine industry.  His namesake Januik label has long been a favorite of mine (his Chardonnay was placed in our wine club earlier).  Actually, his wines have been a favorite of many.  At least 12 wines from his hand have been included on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 lists. 

The value “Novelty Hill” label started just a few years ago and the releases have been an excellent and affordable way to enjoy Washington’s best on a daily basis.  Much of the fruit for this wine comes from the estate-owned Stillwater Creek Vineyards.  The 2006 red is a cacophony of varietals including 33% Syrah, 18% each of Cab Franc and Mourvedre, 13% Merlot, 11% Cabernet and 7% Petit Verdot. 

Generous and round offering delicious, ripe red plum, blueberry and currant aromas and flavors, with a lip-smacking, spicy finish.

What I most like about the Novelty Hill wines (and other Januik releases) is the restraint away from overextraction.  These wines aren’t fruit bombs, where blasts of fruit cover up the flaws found in many value and “second label” wines.  Instead, Novelty Hill wines give you the fruit you want while allowing the character of Washington to come forward.  Spice, wood, tea, tannin, herbs and other delicate notes can enhance the complexity and create a perfect match with any meal, whether dramatically flavored or elegantly sublime.

This wine is regularly sold for $14.99, but is available to wine club members for only $13.99!

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Wine Info Links

Great Food Pairings

Have you tasted this wine? When you’ve had a chance to enjoy this wine, please return to this blog and leave your comments! Others will appreciate your input, unique viewpoint, and recommendations.

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There’s a new tradition in my extended family clan.  For decades, my many divorced and remarried parents and brothers have created turmoil when holidays roll around and everyone vies for “who get’s Christmas” or Thanksgiving or Xmas eve.  Finally, my father and stepmother decided to declare Christmas Eve as their PrimeRibRoast3night, for the first time about 4 years ago.  They invited everyone, and when the night finally arrived I was the only of 4 sons and two other couples to arrive.  It was the three of us, set to enjoy a 10 lb. prime rib roast and the cherished set of three bottles of wines I had brought.

These were three bottles from Beresan Winery of Walla Walla, including the limited Carmenere, a benchmark Cabernet Sauvignon, and their pinnacle Stone River blend, all created from the care and expertise of winery owner Tom Walliser and winemaker Tom Glase, whom I had met in the preceding year.

BeresanI had been fully impressed by both the scores and flavors of these rich, full-bodied, massive-fruit-filled and very balanced age-worthy wines.  Of 4 releases available for retail sale, none had a score below 91, and for several years there were few wines that didn’t reach this benchmark.  But that holiday we established a tradition…I am now the sole guest for a Beresan & Prime Rib dinner each Christmas Eve at my father’s house. 

The match is perfect.  And this Stone River blend will not fail to impress.  Age it for many years if you wish, but it’s ready to go now, with impressive balance for such enormous body and fruit.  Why wait? 

This wine is regularly sold for $36.99, but is available to wine club members for only $32.99!

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Wine Info Links

Visit the Beresan Winery website
About Cabernet Franc at Wikipedia
Balboa Winery is Beresan’s Winemaker Tom Glase’s personal winery
Complete a short puzzle and match the cuts of beef to the cow!

Great Food Pairings

Perfect Prime Rib from TexasBarbeques.com
Stracotto (beef & red wine) from Salut! Wine Co.
Andouille Sausage & Chicken Stew from beansmeats.com

Have you tasted this wine? When you’ve had a chance to enjoy this wine, please return to this blog and leave your comments! Others will appreciate your input, unique viewpoint, and recommendations.

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Rick Small’s Walla Walla winery, Woodward Canyon, was one of the first to showcase Washington grapes and winemaking talent.  When we opened Salut! Wine Co. in 2002, we placed his 1999 Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon into a Washington vs. California Cabernet tasting event.   We were proud of our state when the 1999 Cab beat Grgich Hills and Ch. Ste. Jean’s Cing Cepages for the favorite wine of the night!

20081120110513_detailtnThe 1999 Artist Series was a hard wine to beat.  We tasted and waited as the 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003 couldn’t quite reach the heights of what had become a tasting classic for the shop.  In 2004, a devastating freeze added yet another twist and wrinkle.  2005 didn’t quite hit the spot yet, even though it received great scores.  What can I say — we’re very picky.  So with eager anticipation we awaited the 2006.  Alas, we have a winner! 

The 2006 has already garnered a 91 point score from Wine Enthusiast magazine, with this description:

“Predominately Sagemoor vineyard, along with some Champoux and estate grapes, inclucing some old vine fruit and 13% Syrah. Somehow, the Artist Series Cabernet has an open softness that seems more like Merlot; it’s lush and approachable, sleek and liquorous, dotted with malted milk/chocolate highlights around deep back cherry fruit. The aromas are lovely, though at first taste it sags a bit in the late going; the fruit falls off and chocolaty notes take over. The tannins have a little green tea flavor”

The characteristics are truly representative of the Northwest version of well-made Cabernet — great to drink younger than California versions, more representative of the terroir and vintage, and without the bullying power of tannins and fullness sought in production down south.   This is not a California Cab, nor is it trying to be.  It isn’t a fine Bordeaux and doesn’t need to be.  It’s a reflection of a budding new world-class wine producing region.

Drink up the structure and more relaxed lushness of this delicious release.  Follow along through the years with later releases of this wine as Rick Small continues to demonstrate how each vintage is different, how great vintages can bring truly wonderful wines, and the heights to which Washington can leap when talent, weather and terroir combine so well.

This wine is available at Salut! Wine Co. for $42.99, or available to wine club members for only $38.69!

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Wine Info Links

Visit the Woodward Canyon Website
Read all about the wines of this region at the Walla Walla Wine Alliance
See other art by painter Tyrell Collins
About Cabernet at Wikipedia
Check this blog for Walla Walla historical photos and great links
Read some Walla Walla history trivia at the County’s website

Great Food Pairings

Braised Beef & Mushrooms from Eating Well
Check out the new Chocolate grilling rubs from Diva Chocolates
Tandoori Chicken at Answers.com (an obscure pairing, but trust me)

Have you tasted this wine? When you’ve had a chance to enjoy this wine, please return to this blog and leave your comments! Others will appreciate your input, unique viewpoint, and recommendations.

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We’ve been one of the top sellers and biggest fans of the Sandhill Cabernet Sauvignons since we opened in 2002 and started selling the 1999 vintage of this Washington success story.  That 1999 won a Top 100 award from Wine Enthusiast in 2003, and winery owner John Dingethal finally surpassed the quality of that wine with the 2004…the last vintage completely under his control before selling the winery in 2008.

SandhillCabJohn believed no bottle of wine should cost over $25.  Even after winning a Top 100 award his wine sold for just $19.99!  His 2004 is now just $21.99, and boasts the full body, depth and structure of many $40 bottles.  Bold dark fruit, a smooth balance of fine tannins in the background, with age-worthy qualities that will make this wine age gracefully for several years.  Flavors of cola, cherry, coffee and hints of cocoa flood the palate.  25% Merlot in the blend adds to the complexity and depth.  Drink it now as your every-day Cabernet and you’ll derive the most pleasure, knowing that you can still obtain a few more bottles.

The wine is crafted from fruit grown on the original/first Red Mountain Vineyards to the east of Yakima, across the street from the very recognized Hedges Cellars.  Red Mountain is the state’s smallest winemaking AVA, (downright tiny at about 4000 acres!) argueably producing the best red grapes grown in the Northwest.  On the 2003 Top 100 list of Wine Enthusiast, 5 of the wines considered the best of the year (of the entire world’s wines) were created from Red Mountain grapes!  Robert Parker continues to be a growing fan of the wines produced here.

The Sandhill Cabernet is a relatively hidden find…it was only sold in a few states due to its limited production and the fact that John himself distributed most of the product by driving it around Washington himself!  Now the new owner has signed up with distributors, but the market hasn’t discovered this gem quite yet.   Don’t miss the opportunity to snap up cases of this wine now.

This wine is available at Salut! Wine Co. for $21.99, or available to wine club members for only $18.69!

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Wine Info Links

Visit the Washington Wine Commission for a compendium of info about the state’s industry
About Cabernet Sauvignon at Wikipedia
About Merlot at Wikipedia
Explore the Red Mountain AVA at WinesNW.com

Great Food Pairings

Saucy Beef Kabobs
Chili Rubbed Pork Tenderloin
Drunken Chicken (Pollo Borracho)

Have you tasted this wine? When you’ve had a chance to enjoy this wine, please return to this blog and leave your comments! Others will appreciate your input, unique viewpoint, and recommendations.

The Salut! Wine Club

It’s not easy to sort through the plethora of choices for wines sold at about $10 to find something of quality that can even be called “adequate”.  There’s just too many of the bad ones…just about every “value” wine can be said to fall near that mark.  So after tasting through hundreds of $10-ish Cabernets this year, which one came through loud and clear as the best?  McManis’ recent arrival.

The winery boasts “McManis CabernetMirroring flavors, aromas and a bouquet of Blueberry, Blackberry, Mocha, Milk Chocolate and Toffee, give this wine a wonderful impact on the pallet and nose. With the addition of a small amount of Petit Verdot and French Oak aging to further add complexity, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon is one of our best Cabernets to date.”

This cab just arrived.  We popped open a bottle for customers just a few days ago to rave reviews! If you’re searching the internet, you’ll find all sorts of blogs raving about the 2005, and the 2006 follow-up.  But here’s your chance to get at the 2007 before others tell you to. 

This 2007 vintage is now sold out.  The 2008 is available at Salut! Wine Co. for $10.99, or available to wine club members for only $9.34!

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Wine Info Links

McManis Family Vineyards – The winery’s website
The winery’s full wine description page
Cabernet Sauvignon at Wikipedia
Links to California’s Wineries & Wine Associations from California Wine Mall
About California Regions from the California Wine Institute’s website

Great Food Pairings

Wisconsin Beer & Cheese Soup
Pork Chops with Balsamic Reduction
Spicy Pork Rolls

Have you tasted this wine? When you’ve had a chance to enjoy this wine, please return to this blog and leave your comments! Others will appreciate your input, unique viewpoint, and recommendations.