Thursday, July 29, 2010

Moment of Zen

Best laid plans are to always have at least 2-3 posts shot out onto this what-have-you each week. Usually, I'll put a couple in my back pocket on the weekend to fill in the blanks when thing get busy.

Between the kid and work, things got a little too busy this week. A couple days to catch a breath, and then some posts on a crazy dinner, a wine "review" or two (if you can believe it), and some obscure wrestling references and how they pertain to the fermented grape.

But for now, your moment of Zen:

Monday, July 26, 2010

The High Price of Low Living

"Work is the curse of the drinking class."
-Oscar Wilde

Ah, beer. We talk endlessly about wine around these parts, but how can suds be neglected? The drink of the people, so often associated and intertwined with the working class throughout history; an affordable comfort; a perfect diversion to help forget the toils of the day when one has some folding money is his back pocket.

But is drinking with the everyman still economical? It can be, but I've happened upon a scam. A scam that has hopelessly victimized me..., not Ronco product infomercials this time...

...not that stupid carnival game where you have to futilely toss a ring around one of the hundreds of bottles...

...Caribbean Stud Poker...

...Atlanta Dream season tickets...

...Okay, so I've succumbed to a lot of scams. But this one's really not bad. Yeah, when's the last time you paid $26 for a 12-pack of beer? That's a lotta dimp for a dozen brewskies. Being said, I really do love places that offer the "mix n' match" six packs, especially if the offering is expansive and interesting.

Oddly enough, as much as I don't really like Total Wine for wine, it's a great place to buy beer. Six-packs, kegs, pony kegs, torpedo kegs, and individuals. Particularly the latter; where about six walls from top-to-bottom are stacked with singles.

Basically, the store charges about $1.50 - $4 per bottle, and they provide empty six-pack sleeves to load up (okay, Miller Hi-Life is $0.79...and that's the biggest bamboozling of them all). When you get into the 22 0z. microbrews and weird German and British selections, it's easy to see how the pricetag can skyrocket. However, I look at this way: would I only be paying $1.99 for a bottle of Kölsch at a bar? Can I even find a bottle of Kölsch at said bar? Probably not.

So, this being my justification, I went a little hog-wild the last time out there:

(from left to right): Jever Pilsener, Murphy's Red Beer, Old Speckled Hen English Ale, Gaffel Kölsch, Dogfish Head Raison D'être, Highland Brewing Oatmeal Porter, Rogue Dead Guy Ale, McSorley's Irish Pale Ale, Anchor Steam Beer, Guinness Foreign Export, Lagunitas Censored Rich Copper Ale, and Fuller's London Pride.

And while I could've drank all of these myself (with painful consequence), I opted to taste with my two brothers-in-law and my wife- eager to get back into tasting beers and wines post-pregnancy. It's a recommended exercise: you only drink about 3 beers total, get a nice 3-0z. pour of each, and really experience the myriad styles of beer. Not the mention that food pairings are not exclusive to wine; one can conjur some amazing matches with brew.

Lots of places seem to offer beers this way, so seek out a local shop and get drinkin'!

Best of all, splitting the $26 four ways assures that you can still have your beer the way it's meant to be enjoyed: on the cheap.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Like a stare-down from the reigning undefeated World Champ. Like being called out for a résumé of gimme bouts at your own statue dedication by the Southside Slugger. Like stepping into the ring with Mr. T himself. And I'm not talking about the street-smart, big-hearted, rapping role model-Bruise Brubaker- in films like The Toughest Man in the World. I'm talking about Rocky III's mohawked bad-ass, Clubber Lang. Such is wine...sometimes. See this [slightly] unaltered excerpt from the film:

"[Wine], what is your prediction for the [dinner]?"


"Yes, prediction."


The pain of insecurity. The pain of ignorance. The pain of indecision. The pain of inferiority. A packed-arena of pain, cultivated by a haughty culture of cryptic scoring systems, foreign lexicon, and ridiculously obscure descriptors. While not a conspiracy theorist, I've often felt that wine has been held hostage by the stalwart old-guard, with good reason. Ignorance breeds dependence. Much like contracts being written in a language so convoluted that they require the guiding hand of litigators and arbitrators to decipher, wine journalism can influence the decisions of the unsuspecting public with generalizations made about a completely subjective entity.

Point being made to emphasize the unfortunate intimidation factor often surround the fermented grape-

-(on wine "snobs"- if I may use a horribly overused term- my feelings are torn. People can benefit from a frame of entirely different, and perhaps rambling, post)-

I often wonder why novices drink the same thing, or avoid wine altogether. Wine is awesome. But, it makes perfect sense: folks seem to flock to their comfort zones. Why would I want to stray from my bottle of Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay, when possible disappointment and embarrassment are on the line? Or lost money, for that matter? What if I buy something made of a grape or from a region that is unfamiliar, and my guests ask questions? Or worse, what if I buy a wine where I cannot even decipher the label? Wine is about enjoyment, as undue stress doesn't fit the bill.

Truly, it's a shame that people stick with the what they know, missing out on so much great stuff, but I GET IT. In fact, the genesis of this post idea came out of the fact that wine intimidation is not relegated to newbies. I recently got to taste along with some local heavy-hitters with serious wine chops. Folks who have tasted- and have access to- just about anything out there. I was very excited, until I read the part of the email that said, "feel free to bring a bottle to share." A casual statement...intensifying...intensifying...until an almost paranoia to not humiliate myself set in. How could I not disappoint with an offering from my ragtag smattering of bottles, when I knew we'd be drinking stuff like this?

(photo courtesy of

...not to mention the bottles of aged Grand Cru Burgundy I didn't picture. How could my affordable contribution not fall flat (or at least not elicit whispers from the other folks who may had been duped into thinking I had some level of wine acumen)?

Yes, it's all ridiculous, I know. Let me flip the perspective for a second. I have generous friends who often like to bring a bottle when they come to visit, especially in celebration of the new addition to the family. However, I've had too many people say, "Joe, I hate buying wine for you. I know you know a lot about it, and I just don't want to get something that sucks."

Hopefully, the folks who know me understand that I'm very thankful for the thought, whether it's a '47 Cheval Blanc or a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20. Secondly, anything that is gifted to me is something I intend to share with the crowd, and especially with the person who provided the bottle. So, with all this in mind, I think the best way to handle a bout of wine-intimidation is to simply bring a bottle that you like. You're probably going to be drinking it, so don't try to impress me with something that won't be pleasurable to you (and, for the record, if someone actually showed up with some Mad Dog, that would be very impressive).

Getting back to my point: I think this sense of unbiased appreciation and conviviality was (and is) the modus operandi of the group I drank with the other night. The personalities present didn't allow for an aura of intimidation. Folks simply had tasted amazing wines, and they wanted to share what they discovered with others. Think about it: when you have really good news, it's impossible not to spread it. And, sure, some of the wines brought by folks weren't great (to some palates), but that doesn't diminish the fact that everyone was selflessly sharing the experience of wine. Even if unappealing to personal tastes, benefit prevailed: a better knowledge of personal preference. Even more optimistically, such a tasting provided exposure to new gems. I know I'll be seeking out this bottle of Barbera ASAP.

So, I learned more about wine. I got to hang out with some great folks. I drank a lot of good stuff...and I left happy. Where's the intimidation? Perhaps an occurrence only becomes intimidating if your mind makes it so; and that's a notion much more rational in the case of a wine dinner (as opposed to-say- a boxing match with a big, mean dude with a mohawk). Just remember (and I'll remember too) to trust your palate above anyone else's, be generous, and approach the situation with an open mind. If your compatriots don't do the same, or at least share some of your sensibilities, it's time to find a new wine crowd...

...I wonder if Mr. T is a wino?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Another weekend in the neighborhood...

...okay, so this was back on July 4th weekend. We don't do this every Saturday and Sunday. In fact, I think I'm having a crust of bread and some old water for dinner tonight. But (especially when I'm wrestling with a touch of writers' block), it's always nice to harken back to a pictorial history of absurd feasting.

While I should plan a specific day to not write, I gotta strike when the iron's hot. The iron is cold. Cold like the old water I'll be drinking with my crusts of bread tonight. Well, actually, the old water's been sitting out, so it's not cold. Lukewarm, perhaps. Such is not the iron. The iron is cold...really whiffed on that simile there.

Anyway, bon appétit, my friends!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

P-Day +3

The #PinotNoir twitter tasting is behind us. It took me 3 days to recover and gather my thoughts, purge my fingers of excessive hashtag residue, and wring out my liver.

First off: congratulations to the Willamette Valley, the 2010 Grand Champion. No question that the wines coming out of Oregon are spectacular, and the support garnered was no shock to this guy. To this end, all Oregon bloggers, wineries, supporters, etc. have earned the right to place this decidedly tacky, yet impressive medal of achievement on their sites. Link to it and download HERE, at the risk of your winery, your blog, or your wine-centric website losing all credibility from the "serious" wine aficionados. If this shows up on Matt Kramer's facebook page, then I know wine- as a whole- has jumped the shark.

In the wake of the whole event, after soaking in the experience of our live Atlanta event, watching the hyperactive Twitter feed like a scrolling marquee, and digesting Ed Thrall's analysis of the worldwide tasting, I've come to a few conclusions:

1) The whole "live event + tweeting" thing is cool, unless you're working at the event. Okay, I still had a lot of fun, but it was very difficult to interact with everyone to the level I wanted to on the Twitters while pouring wine for 80+ ravenous Pinotphiles. As one of the "hosts" of this worldwide Twitter tasting, I feel I should have engaged more people. Maybe I'm not good enough at multitasking. Homo sapiens has a large brain and 2 arms. The common octopus has a small brain and 8 arms. The ironing is delicious.

2) People love Pinot Noir and Social the tune of more than 300 unique participants and over 2000 tweets- in the span of two hours. These numbers exclude the probable hundreds of folks who participated in live events and did not tweet. I'm not much of an egghead, but Ed Thralls did a great job breaking everything down on his site.

3) The Kiwis are awesome. Despite the live event running from noon to 2 PM- on a workday- in New Zealand (some may call that "business time"), those krazy kiwis made a hard push and ended up 2nd in the standings, only behind Willamette Valley. Not bad for a country where sheep outnumber people. Oh, and they make some mighty fine Pinot as well. I really hope folks go out and seek the efforts from Marlborough, Martinborough, Nelson, Waipara/Canterbury, and especially Central Otago.

4) Price tag simply has to affect perception. By far, the top pick from paper votes at our live event was the 2008 Belle Glos Las Alturas SLH Pinot Noir. Coincidentally, it was also one of the most expensive. I know I'm probably as guilty as anyone to see the price and think, "well, this MUST be good," but I wonder if it would've been the "hands down" favorite if retail prices had not been on display. Personally, I thought there were better wines there for nearly half the price. Hmm. "Suburban Psychologist" blog pending...

5) There are still some diamonds in the rough. While Willamette, Los Carneros, Russian River, Burgundy, etc. dominated the volume of hashtags, I saw tweets for #RV (Rogue Valley, OR), #SA (South Africa), and #BC (British Columbia). I can't say what the "next big region" for Pinot Noir will be, but I look forward to digging into examples from non-traditional (at least from the American perspective) vineyard areas around the world.

6) Oregon bands together. I feel like Sonoma County could've taken this thing; there are great examples coming from the Sonoma Coast AVA and Russian River, among others. However, I suppose a fierce defense of terroir caused splintering of the clans. In fact, Green Valley- a sub-AVA of the Russian River AVA- supporters requested a separate hashtag. Willamette, on the other hand, stuck to one hashtag. Although individual ones were set up for McMinnville, Yamhill-Carlton, Dundee Hills, Ribbon Ridge, Eola-Amity Hills, and the Chehelam Mountains, the wily nor'westers stuck with a unified vote, and they ran away with it. Maybe there's a sense of unity that can only be fostered by those who made it through certain dysentery-related death on the Oregon Trail.

7) I'm giving Pinot Noir another shot. I'm a notorious skeptic of Pinot. I think Elizabeth from Wine for Normal People mirrors my thoughts better than me being repetitive. But after tasting some great juice in Willamette recently, along with several fine examples at the Atlanta tasting, I'll quit being such a curmudgeon and tuck in.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

#PinotNoir is Today!!!

How else can I metaphorically represent this epic event?

Monday, July 12, 2010

#PinotNoir Hashtag Decoder Ring free in Every Box!

Ah, it seemed so simple at first. Let's get everyone on Twitter and drink some Pinot Noir. Ed Thralls suggested California's Russian River Valley vs. Oregon's Willamette Valley...a nice little border war, if you will. Me, being one to overcomplicate things, said, "well, don't forget about Carneros. Their wines can be pretty solid. And I just got back from Santa Barbara. I wasn't pissed off with their efforts, either..."

Such is the pleasant madness that is having a conversation via Twitter. Not a moment after I whispered "Carneros" did Jenn of Thomson Vineyards come barreling into the discussion, primed for fisticuffs. The rest, as they say, is history (in fact, the origins of Thursday's event have become the stuff of legends, sort of like grandpa's fish story. The 8 oz. bass has become a 1200 lb. marlin). So, with Ed (our Doug Flutie) at the helm, we created the #PinotNoir Twitter Tasting Smackdown.

Ed and I (along with the help of West Coast organizer Tamara of Sip With Me!), settled on eight, relatively general Pinot-producing regions of some notoriety: Willamette Valley, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast, Mendocino County, Los Carneros, Santa Barbara County, Burgundy, and New Zealand. As the word spread, I was bowled over by the response and the passion for everyone's favorite growing areas. Or, more accurately, the fierce defense of terroir, of which Pinot is particularly adept at expressing in the final wine.

So, as folks (with good reason) insisted that their regions be included in the vote, the list of potential hashtags grew (for a crash course in how to vote during this tasting, see Ed's blog, Wine Tonite!). In an effort to maintain consistency during the 2-hour voting period, I've compiled a list of all the regions I can muster. This should be pretty comprehensive, and any of these hashtags will count.

While the list may appear daunting, please remember that this is all for fun, and if the process seems complicated, there is- at the end of the night- still delicous wine in your glass.

Now where's that Michael Buffer character? I need a "let's get ready to rumble", stat!

All eligible tweets for the voting should include the #PinotNoir hashtag, plus one of the following. The list is indented if the region is within a larger region. I've also included some countries and states that make #PinotNoir, but are lesser known by most folks. They are more general, but at least they've been recognized. Please don't hesitate to comment if I've made any glaring mistakes:

#CA (California)
>#NC (North Coast)
>>#MN (Mendocino County)
>>>#AV (Anderson Valley)
>>#SO (Sonoma County)
>>>#RR (Russian River Valley)
>>>>#GV (Green Valley of Russian River)
>>>#SN (Sonoma Coast)
>>#NV (Napa Valley)
>>>#CN (Los Carneros...yes, I know it's Sonoma AND Napa. Work with me here!)
>#CC (Central Coast)
>>#SC (Santa Cruz Mountains)
>>#MO (Monterey)
>>>#SLH (Santa Lucia Highlands)
>>#SLO (San Luis Obispo County)
>>#SB (Santa Barbara County)
>>>#SM (Santa Maria Valley)
>>>#SY (Santa Ynez Valley)
>>>>#SRH (Sta. Rita Hills)
#OR (Oregon)
>#RV (Rogue Valley)
>#UV (Umpqua Valley)
>#WV (Willamette- rhymes with "dammit"- Valley)
>>#CM (Chehelam Mountains)
>>#DH (Dundee Hills)
>>#EA (Eola-Amity Hills)
>>#MC (McMinnville)
>>#RB (Ribbon Ridge)
>>#YC (Yamhill-Carlton)
#WA (Washington State)
#NY (New York)
>#FLX (Finger Lakes)
#VA (Virginia)
#FR (France)
>#BU (Burgundy)
>>#CDN (Côtes de Nuits)
>>#CDB (Côtes de Beaune...not to be confused with the "Charlie Daniels Band")
>>#CCH (Côtes Chalonnaise)
#NZ (New Zealand)
>#CO (Central Otago)
>#MT (Martinborough)
>#ML (Marlborough)
>#NL (Nelson)
>#WP (Waipara/Canterbury)
#BC (British Columbia)
#ARG (Argentina)
#CL (Chile)
#SA (South Africa)
#GM (Germany)
#IT (Italy)

Got it! Good. If not, just have fun and don't worry about it. Enjoying wine should never be work!

Far Away in America

As I sorted through the cornucopia* of footage from a recent trip to the Pacific Northwest, I arrived at carelessly throwing bits and pieces into a video retrospective, or retrospecticus, if you will. Okay, care was taken, but it will probably come off as careless.

*"cornucopia" is too-demure a term. There was a ton of damn footage. These digital devices and their endless storage can be a blessing like having scissors for hands, or a cabbage for a head.

So, as a person who has long defended the under-one-minute video, I present my longest opus yet (set to incredibly awesome Blaxploitation music, of course). If this is too much for you to handle, please don't hesitate to let me know in the ol' comment field. Honestly, the scenery was so stunning in the furthest corner of the lower-48 that I couldn't scale it down. Hope this mess does Oregon and Washington a bit of justice.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Walla Walla's Greatest Export (or, "Movin' On", or "For Shame")

As one peruses, pokes, prods, and probes the wine-centric liver of the blogosphere, a reoccurring adipose is being seen everywhere lately: discussion on Washington wine. Conversation about Yakima Valley Riesling. The myriad varieties grown in the vast Columbia Valley AVA. Disgust at the lack of discussion from bloggers about the spectacular Rattlesnake Hills AVA. Bloviation, adoration, dissertation, and exaltation for Walla Walla Syrah...

...all of it the fallout of the Wine Bloggers' Conference, held in aforementioned Walla Walla, WA. 'Twas a great time; rare wines of both exceptional stock and unsettling providence were consumed, fantastic people were made acquaintance, and dance moves were busted (or folks were served, if you will). Yet, among all this talk; within this plenitude of noise about Walla Walla, there exists a glaring, INFURIATING omission. Everyone's discussing the wine coming out of "the city so nice, they named it twice," but the greatest export of the county seat of Walla Walla county has been left behind to twist in the wind:

Adam West, born William West Anderson...attended Walla Walla High School during his freshman and sophomore years...he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Literature and a minor in Psychology from Whitman College in Walla Walla where he was a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity and participated on the speech and debate team (source:

Nice work. We got all caught up in the purple juice and forgot about Batman. And not the Christian Bale-machismo Batman; the "attended-the-Armand-Assante-school-of-smoldering-intensity" Batman of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. We're talking about the campy, flaccidly-built, flamboyant, and golden-tongued amorous rogue of 60's television fame. And the "enlightened" wine bloggers, charged with chirping the praises of all-things Walla Walla, denied its favorite son. Bollocks.

For this reason, I can't stand to look Walla Walla in the eye, and I'm moving on. It's time to put the WBC behind and focus on the future (okay, I need to cobble one video together, but that's it). Besides, there are great new things on the horizon! The much-ballyhooed #PinotNoir Twitter tasting is a week away. There's a live event in Atlanta (among other places) that I'll be attending. The wife will be given temporary shore leave from the poop-stained diaper and spit-up milk-laden hermetic capsule that has become our home. So, thank you, Walla Walla, for all you've given us, wine and otherwise. I need to shamefully ease on down the road...

...I just hope Mister West can forgive the neglect.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Natural Wine, explained

It's easy to get hung up on the myriad ways wine grapes are grown and the final product in the bottle- on your shelf next to the hulk hands- is made...

...wait, maybe that's just my shelf. Do you keep your "hulk hands" in the kitchen too?

Anyway, the terms natural wine, organic wine, organically grown grapes, biodynamic, and sustainable can leave consumers' heads spinning. I was planning on delving into all of these, but then I stumbled across this video on a fine blog called Saignée, and was pleased to find former Atlantan Hardy Wallace of Dirty South Wine FINALLY giving a clear, concise, and informative explanation of natural wine. At this point, I figured any dissertation given by me would be redundant...

...grab your Tecate and prepared to be delightfully confused. I promise to break this all down in a more boring and thorough post later. For now, I figured a laugh would suffice. Cheers!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Real American

As Rick Derringer's "Real American" blares through my speakers for the 5th time in a row, I'm hopped up with pride. Yes, I recall vividly from my history classes how the U.S. finally gained its independence ... [dream sequence] ... it was March 29, 1987, in Detroit, Michigan. Against all odds, Terry "Hulk" Hogan bodyslammed the enormous André the Giant, finishing him off with a signature Atomic Leg Drop. As the Frenchman's massive body hit the canvas, so too did 500 years of ruthless French dominion over the States. My only question is: if this was in March, then why we celebrate on July 4th?

On an unrelated note, did you know that Georgia public schools rank 41st in the nation??! But I'm am much more smarterer than that. It's unpossible to think me did school in places that bad.

So, back to real Americans. Terry "Hulk" Hogan certainly is one. But what about wine? Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc...all these names And with good reason. These vitis vinifera (wine grapes) have thrived across the pond, and the French were really the ones who made them famous in the bottle, long before California was even on the map (literally).

However, there's a lot of talk about drinking zinfandel on Independence Day. Yes, it's pretty much only grown in the States. Yeah, it's often regarded as the official grape of California. Sure, it can be incredible with barbecued pork ribs ("Classic Pairings 202" coming soon). But zinfandel has a dirty secret. You may think you're being all-American, but you might as well be drinking straight from Nikolai Volkoff's hammer-and-sickle emblazoned, bear-skinned wine flagon.

Why? Because genetic testing of Zinfandel has shown that it not only doesn't produce red, white, and blue juice, but it's actually a mutation of Croatia's crljenak (pronounced ZURL-uh-nak) grape, along with Italy's Primativo, found in red blends from the south of Italy, and often- falsely- identified as another name for zinfandel. Oh, and conveniently, Volkoff was not a Soviet. He actually hailed from...Croatia.

Croatia??! Is Croatia in America?? It doesn't take a Georgia education to answer that question.

But there's more to the story than zinfandel's double-agent past. In fact, no vinifera grapes are native to the U.S., and virtually none would exist here naturally, due to a pesky little inconvenience known as phylloxera, a root-eating louse that can bring entire vineyards to their knees (if vines had knees). To combat this, viticulturists have discovered that grafting the vines to the resistant rootstock of native varieties (there are around 60 known species of the vitis genus) can allow phylloxera to be parried (but that's another post).

So, what's local? Well, there's vitis labrusca (think Welch's Grape Juice) and vitis riparia (most commonly used as the rootstock for wine grapes), among others.

If you live in the South, and you really want to be patriotic, go with vitis rotundifolia- otherwise known as the "muscadine" grape. This species is generally known for making sweet, musky tasting wines in the Southeastern United States. Are they good? Not to me. But being a Real American is not always about that. Sometimes, you just need to sacrifice taste for the greater good...

Have a safe and happy Independence Day, folks!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Oh, the Places You'll Go

I'm wondering if the use of a Dr. Seuss reference as a post title for summarizing several days of very adult consumption is sacrilege of sorts. Perhaps, but I took 10 minutes drawing that crappy cigar and glass of wine with my mouse, so we're gonna go with it.

The past week, I've poked around some of the most fascinating, if not still somewhat unknown, wine regions in North America. A pilgrimage was made from Atlanta, through Denver, into Portland, southwest to the Willamette Valley, north towards the Yakima Valley, through Prosser, east over to Walla Walla, then west to the most remote corner of the lower 48- Seattle- to sit on a tarmac for two hours, pores exuding perhaps pure wine at that point. Into Atlanta, straight to work, dreaming of my next trip west.

To be a "wine enthusiast" and say you've been to Napa Valley is akin to a "movie enthusiast" claiming he liked The Godfather. Yet, as my vine-centric adventures amass, I feel very privileged to have visited regions that not only are as impressive, but are perhaps unknown to the general public as wine Meccas.

Willamette Valley:

As you can see to the right, this area is known for its rain...

The Willamette (rhymes with "dammit") Valley's north end lies just west of Portland, and it runs down from the Columbia River to just south of of Eugene, OR. Framed on the west and the east by the Coastal Range and the Cascades, respectively, this area is known for cool, rainy winters and warm, dry summers (though the region rarely sees temperatures above 90˚, relatively cool by grape-growing standards). For this reason, the area is known for Pinot Noir, a cluster notorious for difficult growing. It's sort of like the Lindsey Lohan of grapes: don't supply it with constant attention and monitoring, and you've got a hot mess on your hands. Fortunately, the relatively mild and consistent temperatures of the Valley (particularly the Yamhill-Carlton AVA in the north end) acts as a controlled, low-dose narcotic to Pinot's Lohan, thus keeping the grapes happy and thriving, resulting in some of the finest examples of Pinot Noir wine in the world.

Yakima Valley:

Head up north from Portland, then east over the Cascades, and you see the real effects of a "rain barrier". With Mount Rainier forming the highest point at over 14,000 feet, most moisture that tries to get past the mountains is forced so high into the air, it freezes and precipitates out of the atmosphere atop the mountains. What's left to the east is a virtual desert, as the Yakima Valley receives about 6-9" rain a YEAR, compared to Seattle's 37". Fortunately, dry and hot can be a pretty damn good thing for growing grapes, among other things. Cherries, hops, apples, peaches, etc., etc., etc. all thrive in the Yakima Valley. As for wine grapes, I saw Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec...well, there's not much I didn't see. Most of the wines tasted of the heat (though the typical climate is more temperate, allowing cool-natured grapes like Riesling to flourish here as well), with high alcohol, lots of tannin, and big fruit flavors. From my limited experience, I consider Yakima the South Australia of U.S. viticulture, sans marsupials, crocodile boots, and a low-tannin approach famous in quaffin' Aussie wines.

Walla Walla Valley:

Another valley carved out by the massive, prehistoric Missoula flood, W-squared lies southeast of the Yakima Valley, and the AVA actually crosses into Oregon, which has always made for an awkward situation for WW's allegiance when the WNBA's Seattle Storm and now-defunct Portland Fire used to lock horns. Oh, Portland Fire...we hardly knew ye.

Anyway, upon hearing that Walla Walla had both a proud winemaking tradition AND a large state pen, I stocked up on canned fruit cocktail, oranges, ketchup, loaves of bread, and Zip-Loc bags, eager to learn the secrets and subtleties of expressing the Walla Walla terroir in a fine Pruno. Instead, I found much of the same as in Yakima: a focus on reds, especially Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, many of which were blended in what some call the "Aussie Meritage", or a "CSM". Also found a good bit of Grenache and Mourvèdre, but mostly for the sake of blending with the Syrah to create Rhône-style blends. Also big in fruit, extraction, and alcohol, I did find the Walla Walla reds I tried to be a bit more restrained than the tooth-stainers from Yakima.

So, that's where I've been. I think many knew what Willamette has been bringing to the table, but Washington isn't on the rise for nothing. I'll delve into some of my favorite wines- and favorite people- down the road a bit. For now, find a bottle, crack it open, and pour a little out for the Portland Fire...and Dr. Seuss.