Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Coasters From The Foil That Caps Wine Bottles

It's been about three years since my last posting, which remains basically in force since I don't intend to resume reviewing individual bottles of wine.

But I have, in the interim, continued to be a wine enthusiast.

Like many of you, I save the corks from my bottles -- for no particular reason. For years I have simply thrown them in a large box and with them, the metal or plastic (ugh!) caps that one generally removes with a foil cutter or a blade. 

One day, an idea flew into my head: why not flatten out the foils, cut them into squares, glue them onto small boards and make coasters?

You can see a couple of the results below.

The top coaster on is made from foil caps removed from various bottles of red Bordeaux of the early 1980s.

The bottom coaster, also shown at the right with a bottle of 1981 Ducru-Beaucaillou sitting on it, is made of foil removed from Ducrus of the '81,'82 and '83 vintages.  The 1981, by the way, is drinking exceptionally well at the moment.

I tell winemakers that I meet from time to time that they should encourage their customers to make coasters. That's because one has to drink 16 bottles of wine to make a single coaster. If you want to make four coasters so that everyone at a small dinner party can have one, that's over five cases of wine!

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Wine Commentator to Cease Publication


The purpose of this posting is to notify readers that “The Wine Commentator” is ceasing publication and that all past entries will be deleted in the very near future.

I can’t say I’m going out of business because this blog has never been in business. As readers may have noticed, the blog is devoid of advertizing and always has been. In addition, as per the disclaimer above, there has never been any other source of revenue or compensation in any form associated with my activities.

I started this blog about six years ago when I developed a severe case of tendonitis and had to have a leg put in a cast for a month. One day, sitting at my computer, I clicked my mouse a few times, typed in a couple of words and discovered that I had a blog.

What to do next?

Some months earlier, I had been trying to explain to a friend the difference between Bordeaux reds and wines made from grapes associated with Bordeaux that were grown in the state of Washington.

“You should write about wine,” he said.

I dismissed the idea at the time, but with a blank blog in front of me, I thought “why not?”

I also decided to test an idea that is central to “Field of Dreams” – the film about baseball: “If you build it, they will come.”  Could that be true with respect to the Internet?

Initially, I  told no one other than my wife that I was writing a blog about wine and made no attempt whatsoever to publicize it or to optimize search engine results.

The outcome?  They did NOT come!

I continued that approach for about five months and during that time, I probably experienced on average three visitors per week.

Then a friend of mine sent me an article from a long-established San Francisco-based wine blog and during the course of reading it, I discovered that the blog invited other wine bloggers to submit their URLs. So I did and my blog joined a very long list. (This does seem to be a popular activity.)

Almost immediately, my traffic jumped to between five and ten visitors a day (as opposed to a week), but when I examined where they had come from, I discovered almost none came from the other blog. Rather, it seemed, Google’s search engine  had somehow decided to take my efforts more seriously as a result of the link.

Some months later, Google greatly improved its indexing system for blog posts and I took advantage of that change. Traffic then quickly climbed to about 20 visitors a day and increased slowly but steadily thereafter.

At present, traffic averages about 60 visits a day during most months and climbs to more than double that during the “high season” for wine – the months of November and December. Since the blog was started, there have been just short of 100,000 visits in total.

The number of “readers” is far smaller than the number of “visitors,” however.  Most people arrive at this blog as a result of a search for information on a particular wine or type of wine and in the vast majority of cases, what they see here isn’t what they were looking for and they quickly depart.

A small fraction of visitors remain and read some postings – mostly two, three or four, but in some cases a very large number. It’s had to know whether what I have written has been helpful or not: I rarely hear from anyone. (Unfortunately I had to make it more difficult to comment because I started getting spam when it was easy to do so.)

The main reason I have decided to end “The Wine Commentator” is that I have been having a difficult time trying to find anything new to say. In addition, it’s time to move on to other activities.

I’ve personally had a lot of fun writing the blog and as a result of doing so, have discovered and tried a LOT of wine that I probably never would have experienced. It has been fascinating.

Best wishes to all  -- including a few who have informed me I clearly don’t know what I’m talking about!

Fowler W  (“Skip”) Martin

(PS I would like to thank Google for hosting the blog and diligently indexing the postings even though the company has received no revenue as a result of my activities.)

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Cellar Report: High End 2001 Oregon Pinots


A duck breast for dinner seemed to call for something special in the way of pinot noir so I pulled from the cellar a:

Beaux Frères 2001 “The Beaux Frères Vineyard” Pinot Noir ($65) and a

Domaine Drouhin 2001 “Laurène” Pinot Noir ($55).

Here’s the quick bottom line: the Domaine Drouhin offering was considerably better than the Beaux Frères both right out of the bottle and after these two wines had been exposed to a fair amount of oxygen.

Sometimes, when a wine matures in the cellar, flavors that may have been individually detectable  when it was first released gradually come together into a coherent, blended whole. This is what happened with respect to the Drouhin offering. It tasted like a very pleasant, conventionally flavored Oregon pinot noir and despite having been in the bottle for about nine years, it held up extremely well over a three-day period, the partially consumed bottle having been resealed after the first dinner and reopened two nights later.

As one would expect, this wine was soft and velvety without being flabby. It still had sufficient structure and acidity to be very good with food and the finish was excellent. Nothing was amiss. This wine can cellared for some additional years if you wish, but it is just fine right now.

The more expensive and generally very highly regarded  Beaux Frères was frankly a disappointment. When it was first opened, both of us initially thought it was the more interesting of these two offerings, but unfortunately things started to go wrong in a hurry.

As it came into contact with more oxygen, the wine opened up to flavors that seemed to us a bit disjointed, but most troublesome, a sharp, slightly fizzy aspect appeared – as though there was some residual fermentation going on.

That was the end for my companion, who pushed the glass away.

I sipped it from time to time to see if that sliver of sharpness would disappear quickly, but it didn’t.

Meanwhile, we greatly enjoyed the  “Laurène,” which disappeared from the bottle disproportionately.

I was pretty sure that the sharp fizzy aspect of the Beaux Frères would disappear over time and sure enough, when the re-sealed bottle was re-opened two evenings later, this wine was a lot more drinkable. But it still wasn’t as good as what remained of the Domain Drouhin. We blind-tasted them again and both of us easily placed what turned out to be the Drouhin first.

Hopefully whatever ailed the Beaux Frères was limited to my particular bottle even though there was no evidence at all – by sight or by smell – that the cork had leaked. Since it is the only one that I had, I can’t try another bottle to find out, however.

These wines are both made from grapes grown in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and they are both a bit over medium in terms of body weight with the Beaux Frères slightly the heavier – and more alcoholic – of the two. It was listed as being 14.4% alcohol by volume while the Drouhin was said to be 14.1%.


Beaux Frères

Domaine Drouhin

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A to Z, Cloudline, Louis Latour 2008 Pinot Noir

This posting considers an:

A to Z 2008 “Oregon” Pinot Noir ($20),  a 

Cloudline 2008 “Oregon” Pinot Noir ($20) and a 

Louis Latour 2008 Pinot Noir (Vin de Bourgogne) ($15).

Here’s the quick bottom line: these three reasonably priced and widely available wines made from the pinot noir grape are all Worth Considering, but don’t expect anything particularly wonderful from any of them. The first two, as the designations indicate, are blended wines made from grapes grown in various vineyards in the state of Oregon, not all of which are necessarily located in the prime Willamette Valley region.  The third is a wine made from pinot noir grapes grown in France that is specifically intended for the U.S. market. (The same or a similar wine marketed in France would not have the words “Pinot Noir” displayed on its label.)

As usual, two of us (in this instance) blind tasted these pinots over a two-day period, resealing the partially consumed wines between the first and second dinner.  Here’s what my co-panelist, who did not know what they were or how much they cost, had to say after trying them the first time around:

“These are not the best wines that I’ve had. I don’t think that any of them are top rate.” But (the one that turned out to be the Louis Latour) was ‘more approachable’ and (the one that turned out to be the A to Z) was ‘more interesting, but not approachable.’” This individual went on to describe what was eventually revealed to be the Cloudline as “just kind of there.”

Both us agreed that the light, bright Louis Latour offering remained very consistent over the two-day period. It was red-fruit focused, a bit more acidic than the two Oregon pinots and its finish was just a touch sour, but not unpleasantly so. This is a very light-bodied pinot, hovering just above being so light as to be unpleasantly thin.

On the first night, I found the Cloudline to be nicely balanced, but not terribly interesting in terms of flavor. Like the Louis Latour, it leaned toward the red side of the pinot noir flavor spectrum, but it was noticeably heavier and a bit sweeter than the French wine. In contrast, the A to Z was a distinctly darker and less acidic wine than the Cloudline, but at the same time it also seemed a little dull.

On the second night, as mentioned above, the Louis Latour was basically unchanged. But the Cloudline, which I had liked best the first time around, had developed an unpleasant flavor almost to the point of being “off.”  This was a big disappointment.  The A to Z, on the other hand, had opened up, displaying more flavors and becoming more balanced in an overall sense. I was pleasantly surprised and happy to finish that bottle while disposing of what remained of the Cloudline.

My companion once again placed the Louis Latour, which was now very easy to identify, first.

All three of these wines, by the way, are listed as being 13% alcohol by volume.

If you purchase the Louis Latour pinot noir, drink it soon. Don’t let the fruit fade with time – there just isn’t enough there. This is an affordable pinot for informal consumption in circumstances where wine is not the main event. Serve it with relatively light fare, such as a dinner salad.

If you buy the A to Z, open it well before you intend to drink it and consider pouring it into a decanter and swirling it around before serving it. If it gets enough oxygen and is given time to open up, I think you’ll be pleased with this one  -- if you like darker pinots that aren’t particularly acidic. This one can go with a meat-based main course.

I really don’t know what to say about the Cloudline. In most instances, wines in this price range are purchased for immediate consumption on one particular evening. If that’s your plan, it may be just fine, but it’s nothing special – a disappointment considering the fact that Oregon’s 2008 vintage has been rated one of the state’s best.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Ken Wright, Merry Edwards 2006 Pinot Noir

Regular visitors to this blog may feel they are always reading that West Coast pinot noir is a medium-bodied wine or lighter. Are there are any full-bodied options out there? The answer is yes and here are two of them: a

Ken Wright 2006 “Shea Vineyard” 2006 Pinot Noir (about $50) and a

Merry Edwards 2006 “Tobias Glen” Pinot Noir ($54).

If you are a fan of big, intense pinot noir or if you are looking for a wine that would go well with particularly hearty fare (and if you have an ample budget for this sort of thing), both of these blockbuster-type pinots are Worth Considering.

Each year, Ken Wright releases several powerful, concentrated single-vineyard pinots made from grapes grown in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. As if to emphasize the hefty nature of these offerings (and perhaps to convince you they really are “something special”), the wines are contained in exceptionally heavy bottles. This is unnecessary and unfortunate because the wine is backbreaking to carry if you purchase a case, the thicker bottles tend not to fit easily in most wine racks and, most important, these bottles are far more damaging to the environment to produce than normal wine bottles.  Sea Smoke Cellars recently announced that for environmental reasons, it would henceforth release its most expensive pinot in a normal-weight bottle and it is high time Ken Wright and various other wineries did the same. Except for sparkling wine, heavy bottles are unnecessary and irresponsible.

The Shea Vineyard, an important source of grapes for a number of higher-end Oregon offerings, is located in the Yamhill-Carlton District of the Dundee Hills region of the Willamette Valley and the Ken Wright offering under consideration here is listed as containing 13.5% alcohol by volume.

In contrast, the Merry Edwards pinot (14.4% alcohol) comes from grapes grown in what is described as a shady glen in California’s Russian River Valley, a portion of Sonoma County. The winery says that the cool temperatures of that particular location make the grapes grown there among the last to be harvested, which gives the wine “the dense richness of late-ripening grapes.”  Like the Ken Wright pinot, the color of the Merry Edwards offering is deep and dark and the winemaker talks of flavors along the lines of blueberries, blackberries, cassis and licorice. I’m sure you get the picture: this is not one of those light, red-fruit focused pinots that are much in vogue.

Winemakers sometimes describe U.S. pinots as being either masculine or feminine in character. Both of these wines are firmly in the masculine camp with Merry Edwards suggesting the “Tobias Glen” pinot would best be served with dishes along the lines of beef stew with mushrooms or roast quail with a sauce of reduced blackberries.  Suffice to say, neither of these are salmon wines.

Two of us blind-tasted these two wines during the course of two dinners, resealing the partially consumed bottles in between. In total, this was done over a three-day period.

The Merry Edwards “Tobias Glen” offering was the clear winner on the first night. It had a more pronounced bouquet and it displayed a range of attractive flavors on the palate. In contrast, the Ken Wright “Shea Vineyard” was more narrowly and intensely focused on a single dark-fruit flavor. Both of these wines were big and powerful, but in neither case was the fruit so dense as to be described as “extracted.” Both finished very nicely.

Two evenings later, the story was a bit different. The Merry Edwards, while still pleasant, had lost its complexity. In contrast, the Ken Wright offering had gained a bit – some spice that wasn’t apparent on the first night (perhaps the wine was still closed up) had appeared. But spice didn’t last long. By the end of the second meal, it was much less apparent than when the bottle was initially re-opened.

If you have any of the Merry Edwards, it is easy to say what to do. Open it and drink it in one evening.  The Ken Wright is a little tougher. Maybe one should open it a bit early on the night you plan to consume it and let it breathe for quite awhile.

These wines could be cellared for a longer period of time, but I don’t think that is necessary.

If you like a big, dark pinot, both of these are at least worth trying.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Note Worthy: DeLille Chaleur Estate Blanc and others

I first wrote about DeLille Cellars’ Bordeaux-style white wine in July 2010 – when it was on sale at a substantial discount -- and you can find that report here.  The wine is called Chaleur Estate Blanc and I recently tried the 2009 vintage which unfortunately wasn’t on sale. Although it cost $35 a bottle, I have to admit this wine could become rather addictive. It’s delightful and when I served it at a recent small gathering without identifying what it was, I received several compliments on how nice the wine was.  I noted more than one person looking around to see if there was any more available. Unfortunately, on that particular occasion, there wasn’t.

DeLille, a high-end Washington State winery, says it decided to make this particular wine by “ascribing to the notion that the world is over blessed with chardonnays.”  That’s for sure.

The winery describes the Chaleur Estate Blanc as a classic Bordeaux style white, which is to say a blend of sauvignon blanc and semillion.  It’s made from grapes grown in some of Washington’s oldest vineyards and free-run (as opposed to pressed) juice is fermented on its lees  in 100% new French oak. Commendably, however, flavors attributable to oak don’t dominate or even much intrude on this very pleasant offering. Typical of wines made in Washington from grapes associated with Bordeaux, this is a somewhat bigger, creamier more mouth-filling wine than comparable wines made in France. Not surprisingly, given all that fruit, it is also more alcoholic than a typical French Bordeaux white, checking in at 14.1%

Back in July, I said this wine was Worth Considering. I’m now elevating my assessment to Recommended.


Also last July, I wrote a post entitled “The Benefit of Attending a Wine Dinner” which can be found here. Dinners were not really the main point. Rather, I was arguing that when it comes to purchasing expensive French wine from the somewhat volatile Burgundy region – white or red – it pays to try before you buy whenever possible. Fortunately, there are a reasonable number of tasting opportunities in the Seattle area, but I know that isn’t necessarily the case everywhere.

Last year, we had an opportunity to try a large number of 2007 wines made by Joseph Drouhin, one of the most prominent exporters of red and white Burgundies to the U.S., for a modest fee. Given the prices, most of the reds were not terribly attractive, but the whites fared better.  Two of the most interesting where a Puligny-Montrachet and a Chassagne-Montrachet priced at about $60 a bottle. It was illuminating to try them side by side. The Puligny-Montrachet was distinctly lighter and more minerally (a style I like) while the Chassagne-Montrachet was richer, rounder and more soft-fruit focused in terms of flavor – a style my most frequent fellow panelist enjoys. So I bought a couple of bottles and recently pulled the 2007 Chassagne-Montrachet out of the cellar. It was excellent, reinforcing the idea of “try before you buy.”

This wine, by the way, is listed as being 13% alcohol by volume.  Compare that to the level of the Washington State white mentioned above.


Gamay is not a grape one hears much about in the U.S. unless you’re a big fan of wines from the Beaujolais region of France and happen to know what they are made out of. Gamay is a robust, abundant producer and red wines made from that grape are often consumed at a very young age on highly informal occasions. It used to be considered a fun grape as opposed to a serious one, but a number of Beaujolais producers seem to be trying to change that image – unfortunately, in my humble opinion.  Given the state of the economy among other things, the world does not seem to need more higher-priced wines. Bring back the bargain “lets grab a few bottles and have a big picnic” Beaujolais. Where has it gone?

Here in the U.S., Evening Land Vineyards, a relatively new winery, but one that has received a lot of attention as a result of having a “French connection,” is now offering a wine called Celebration 2009 Gamay Noir.  It’s nicely balanced, pleasantly flavored and easy to drink. This wine is made from grapes grown in the  Eola-Amity Hills section of Oregon’s Willamette Valley and the 2009 vintage is priced at about $22. Not surprisingly, it is a slightly bigger wine than most but not all Beaujolais and it checks in at a fairly attractive 13.4%  alcohol level. My guess is that this wine is likely to be more reliably pleasant than a lot of similarly priced pinot noir from Oregon and it is certainly Worth Considering.

By the way, you can find a review of the 2007 Celebration Gamay Noir at Beyond the Bottle, another Seattle wine blog.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Jigsaw, Soter “North Valley” 2008 Pinot Noir


This posting considers a:

Jigsaw 2008 “Oregon” Pinot Noir ($18) and a

Soter 2008  “North Valley”  Pinot Noir ($25).

Let’s get straight to the bottom line. The Jigsaw is Not Recommended while the Soter is Recommended.

When it comes to a bit of fizz in red wines, I’m fairly tolerant even though this is generally considered a flaw in winemaking. For instance, I recently reviewed a Montinore Estate 2009 Pinot Noir (you can find that posting here) said it was worth considering “if you don’t mind a hint of sharp fizz when it is first opened.”

But I’m drawing the line when it comes to the Jigsaw. This one had far more than a hint of fizz. Rather, it was very noticeable and it lasted throughout an entire dinner.

As usual, two of us blind-tasted these two wines and my fellow panelist rejected the Jigsaw immediately, refusing to drink any more of it during the course of our first dinner.

“Fizzy turns me off,” my companion declared, pushing the glass away.

Since fizz in red wine often disappears fairly quickly, I kept sipping it as the dinner progressed, but had to agree that it was intolerable. That was too bad because the wine’s underlying flavors – red fruit focused – were good.

Fizz in red wine generally comes from one of two sources – sometimes carbon dioxide gets trapped in the wine during the bottling process, but in other instances, the wine wasn’t fully fermented before it was bottled. I suspect the latter was the case with respect to the Jigsaw.

For consumers, this should be simply unacceptable. It is a product of sloppy, inattentive, inexperienced or incompetent winemaking. If you purchase red wine that tastes fizzy at a restaurant, send it back.

Jigsaw, by the way, is the second label of Ransom Wine Co., of Sheridan, Oregon. It’s a relatively recent winery and in my humble opinion, it clearly has a ways to go.

Ok. Lets turn to the “North Valley.”  Tony Soter, the winemaker, is a very nice guy (I’ve run into him a couple of times), but to be frank, he’s been taking money out of the pockets of consumers for a number of years. His Oregon pinots have traditionally been very expensive for what one gets, I guess on the view that if you put a very high price on a product people will think it must be better than lower priced goods.

That, as we know, is a time-honored technique and one that most of us tend to fall for from time to time.

Well, in recent years, the economy has not been conducive to very expensive wines and Mr. Soter has evidently decided an adjustment is necessary. So, along comes the “North Valley,” a blend made from grapes grown in various vineyards in the Willamette Valley.

The 2008 “North Valley” pinot had a nice but not pronounced bouquet and featured an attractive mix of light and dark fruit flavors on the palate. Body weight was just on the light side of medium and acidity was mild but acceptable. The finish was very nice – we both noticed that a bit of spice kicked in right at the end. That both helped to prolong the experience of drinking it and it  kept the wine tasting fresh.

Over the course of the first dinner, the bouquet of the “North Valley” increased as this wine came into contact with more oxygen.

As usual, we resealed the partially consumed bottles after the first dinner and reopened them a day later.

By this point, the Jigsaw had finally lost its fizzy quality and it had gained a noticeable amount of weight. It was now smooth and mouth filling, but very simple in terms of flavor and it didn’t have enough acidity to be particularly good with food.

The Soter, on the other hand, had begun to develop some interesting non-fruit flavors, particularly in the bouquet. It also seemed to taste a little darker and it seemed to be exhibiting just a hint of tannin.  The finish was the same as on the first night.

This wine may well improve with a couple of years in the cellar.

For the record, the Jigsaw is listed as being 13.1% alcohol by volume, which is attractive, while the Soter “North Valley” checks in at 13.6%. 

Elk Cove Pinot Gris

Ever stared at a restaurant wine list, wondering just what bottle might please everyone at the table AND deliver excellent value for the price you are going to pay?

Pinot gris from Oregon often fits the bill and the following offering is particularly nice. It’s an:

Elk Cove “Willamette Valley” 2009 Pinot Gris ($19).

I haven’t written about Oregon pinot gris for awhile which is frankly an oversight. Unlike Oregon pinot noir, which can be a little problematic for offerings under $20 a bottle – and sometimes for the more expensive options as well – Oregon pinot gris is highly affordable and generally far more interesting than its close and familiar cousin, pinot grigio from Italy. While the names are slightly different, the grape is the same.

Oregon pinot gris typically exhibits two components or aspects: citric acidity that is often a bit grapefruit flavored and soft fruit flavors such as those that come from pears or stone fruit.  Some wines lean in one direction while others tilt the other way.

The Elk Cove is a fairly mouth filling, soft pinot gris with just enough citric flavoring to keep it fresh and interesting. This is a wine with a lot of flavor and in that respect, very different from the sometimes featureless and insipid Italian pinot griggios that restaurants unfortunately love to offer by the glass.

The Elk Cove is Recommended.

If you can’t find the Elk Cove – like most Willamette Valley wineries, it is a small producer – here are a few other wineries that typically produce good value pinot gris year in, year out. And some will be less expensive than the Elk Cove.


Bethel Heights (this one has been excellent over the years)

Cooper Mountain

King Estate


That’s just a small list of Oregon pinot gris offerings that we have tried and liked. There are others as well.

The Elk Cove pinot gris, by the way is fermented in stainless steel as are many others. It’s listed as being 13.5% alcohol by volume.