I recently took a trip over to eastern Washington, the heart of Washington wine country with my lady friend Susie, who has never walked in a vineyard or visited a winery. It was refreshing to spend time with someone who was eager to learn about something that means so much to me. Here are a few bits & bobs about our trip.

Ziggy Stardust in the Blues.

Ziggy Stardust in the Blues.

We stopped by Sleight Of Hands Cellars in Walla Walla and Trey Busch graciously gave us a tour of one of his new projects in the Blue Mountains, a vineyard he calls Ziggy Stardust. When we got there, I understood his exuding excitement. This vineyard sits on a 35% slope facing south/southwest. He’s planted Marsanne, Grenache and Syrah in an area that reminded me a lot of the Douro in Portugal. He is going to get grapes out of it this year, so keep your eyes peeled, this s@^t is going to rock it, especially with the wine making skills of Mr. Busch at the helm.

After admiring Ziggy Stardust, we trekked over to the “Rocks” district and met up with Rich Funk from Saviah Cellars to visit with him and tour Funk Vineyard. Bud break is about 3 weeks ahead of schedule in 2016 so Rich is looking at an August harvest which might be the earliest ever if Mother Nature continues in the same direction.

Rich and Trey talked a bit about the rocky soil in the area and how it affects the fruit. Because of the heat that is retained in the rocks after a hot day, the grapes literally ripen in the night as the heat radiates from the stones. Rich allowed a ground cover this year between the rows to stave off some of the heat spikes that the vineyard had to deal with last year.By doing this, he will be able to have more control on the ripening process. If the grapes get too warm, they will shut down into survival mode…Something that can delay the ripening process.

We had a chance to meet the Funk family at Saviah Cellars as they were deeply immersed in bottling some of their 2015 wines. We were impressed with their kindness and hospitality. Rich makes some amazing wines at Saviah Cellars and I would suggest you get in their wine club if you want some of the wines that are not available in stores. As an example, the 2013 Saviah Tempranillo. This juice is stunning, and it is flying out of the tasting room. They only made 151 cases of this wine, and at $38 bucks, it’s a steal.

After Walla Walla, we made or way to Prosser and stayed at Dessert Wind Winery. They have a few rooms that you can stay at and Susie and I were deeply impressed with the facility and the wonderful service there. A big shout-out to Bree who was about as friendly and accommodating as a person can be. I am a fan of Desert Wind Wines and their Merlot is something you have to experience (get off that hate Merlot train please).

We made a quick trip to Red Mountain so Susie could see one of my favorite appellations in the state. We stopped in at the Fidelitas tasting room, a very cool modern feel. Charlie Hoppes has always impressed me with his wines. I scored a bottle of the Ciel Du Cheval Merlot and as you might have guessed, it was stunning.

Our next stop was in Mattawa to visit Wahluke Wine Co. and Milbrandt’s wine makers Josh Maloney & his assistant Emily. We did some barrel tasting of some of their vineyard designate Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a new project for Milbrandt so stay tuned, you are all in for some amazing cabs. They are also embarking on a new white wine portfolio that is still in its infancy. We had a chance to taste a couple of the wines for this project which is headed up by Emily. I am very excited to see what they come up with because the whites are exceptional.

One new little fun fact I learned on the trip… Walla Walla has less vineyard acres planted than Red Mountain…Something I never really thought about. For as long as the appellation has been around, Walla Walla has a little less than 3,000 acres planted, whereas Red Mountain (a younger appellation) has just over 4,000.

Stan The Wine Man

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This is a new segment I am putting on my blog, and it is dedicated to a very special British woman friend of mine. In the U.S., we say random things or miscellaneous items. In Britain however, they use an endearing phrase that I think sounds much nicer… Bits & Bobs.

This segment will include random, quick thoughts on the wine world and related (or not) subjects. I hope you find it both informative and entertaining. So, here is my very first collection of random thoughts under the “Bits & Bobs” section of my blog….

One of the new fads in the wine world is wine in a can. It’s a great idea for hikers or boaters, but as my son astutely pointed out…”Why do they put it in a can that looks like a beer?” He makes a good point here and I have to say that wineries would do themselves a favor by putting their wine in a unique can that makes the consumer look at and think about what they are buying.

Matt Kramer is a columnist for the Wine Spectator who seems to have a knack for writing some of the most inane thinks I have ever read in a wine journal. One of his latest was an article where he claimed that titles such as Sommelier or Master of Wine or you get the picture are completely unnecessary in the wine world. I don’t know about any of you, but I have the greatest respect for those who have the passion for wine required to obtain Master Sommelier or Master of Wine status. Having studied wine myself for many years, I understand what they had to do to get there. Fortunately for all of us, Somms are not pompous like said columnist, they are simply faithful stewards of the wine industry, and in a majority of cases humble.

Is it Monastrell or Mourvedre? According to famous British wine critic Jancis Robinson, Monastrell is the correct name for the grape that hails from Spain. The French named the grape Mourvedre most likely after the town Murviedro near Valencia where it originated according to most sources. It was brought to Provence in the middle ages where it still thrives. It is also grown extensively in southern Rhone where it is used to ramp up the reds particularly in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Also known as Mataro in Spain, France and Australia. It has a few synonyms, but Mourvedre, Monastrell and Mataro are the top three. Take your pick, they’re all correct, depending on where you live of course.

Why do we still have to endure the scientist that pops on the scene to argue that “Terroir” is not real. Most of us do not care if it can be proved. The facts lie in the wines. Many, if not screwed up by wine making methods WILL show characteristics from whence they came. I don’t need a scientist to try to pry me from the obvious.

I am still amazed that wineries are allowed to blow-up their prices only to reduce them drastically at the store level. I can’t tell you how many customers will buy a wine simply because they can save $10 off the original price. Words to the wise, they were never going to sell that wine at the higher price in the first place.

Stan The Wine Man

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Spring has definitely sprung here in the beautiful San Juan Islands, and while we may be thinking more about drinking some whites and rose`, I couldn’t help but pick a cab for this month. The reason? It is absolutely stellar for ten bucks and I want as many as possible to get their hands on this juice. What are we talking about?

2014 Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon

2014 Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon

2014 Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Grown (Colchagua, Chile)… $10.

This winery is owned by a very famous French producer whom you may recognize…Domaines Baron De Rothschild (Lafite). These folks have been making wine in Bordeaux for what seems like forever and have reaped much praise and recognition from both critics and consumers. In 1988 after extensive research and touring of many areas in Chile, they purchased Los Vascos which means The Basques in honor of its Basque origins. The rich soils, extensive daylight and proximity to the Pacific Ocean makes this site ideal for grape growing. Many of the Cabernet vines were planted in 1990 and now are benefiting from the maturity of the vines. I have given mixed reviews on the wines from this producer over the years, but most recently I have noticed a dramatic change in the quality of these wines on a more consistent basis. This 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon is a classic example of the efforts the Rothschild family have been putting into this Chilean property.

Aromas of currants, black plums, licorice and worn leather. Silky, yet structured tannins support notes of currants, black plums and licorice front to back. There is good acidity that is well-integrated with the fruit, making it a nice companion for grilled meats and stews. The balance is amazing for the price and it definitely falls heavily into the delicious category. Notes of leather and chocolate sneak in on the medium to long finish. This wine has enough going on to keep you interested and the price is stupid for what you get. I would consume it now and over the next 3-4 years. A crazy good cab for only ten bones just cannot be ignored. (B+)

Distributed by Unique Wines (Renton, WA)

Stan The Wine Man

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A boatload of wine

A boatload of wine

In a weeks time, I taste a boatload of wine (seriously). I lot of my friends think that I’m lucky. Well, they’re right, and I wouldn’t give this job up for the world. The only thing that makes my job hard, is my feeling of responsibility to taste the samples given to me as quickly as possible and to put my reviews either in my Moleskine, on my Youtube channel (Stan The Wine Man TV), or right here on Here for your reading pleasure, are thirteen wines that I have reviewed in my Moleskine (good or bad), this past week.

2013 25th Anniversary Conundrum Red (California)…. $29.

The aromas of fairly intense with interesting notes of chocolate, mint chip, eucalyptus, black licorice and currants. Deep, rich chocolate and currant notes on the palate with licorice notes brooding underneath leading into a fresh finish. Chocolate and licorice notes hang on the finish. This baby wants to go into the goopy category but stays in check with good acidity that is well-integrated with the fruit. (B/B+)

2013 Root:1 Pinot Noir (Casablanca Valley, Chile)… $9.

Bark, cherries, Root Beer and tobacco on the nose. Good cherry fruit front to back on the palate with some Root Beer notes coming into the picture on the mid-palate into the finish. This Pinot is mostly about cherries. Somewhat one-dimensional but a “10” in the delicious category. (C+)

2013 Renacer Ena More (Mendoza, Argentina)… $27.

This wine is produced just like an Amarone, with the grapes being dried for months before press. An expensive way to make wine since they don’t get nearly as much juice. The idea is to give it more concentrated flavors. So it’s not surprising to get raisins, dried currants and cherries on the nose with an interesting peanut butter component coming through and hits of Filberts. Jammy on the palate with good structure. Notes of raisins, cherries and ripe plums front to back. A little tight on the finish with the acidity rearing its head. Loads of fruit attack the palate with slight minerality underneath. This wine is a little young and very interesting. A blend of Malbec, Cab, Bonarda & Cab Franc. (B/B+)

2013 Woodinville Wine Cellars Sauvignon Blanc (Columbia Valley, WA)… $16.

Aromas of melon, apple, wet stones and a hint of lemon. Loads of honey and melon on the palate, balanced by notes of crushed rock underneath. Cut grass notes join the party on the finish. I’m picky about Sauvignon Blanc, and I thought this one has some interesting things going on. (B-/B)

2013 Airfield Estates “Runway” Cabernet Sauvignon (Yakima Valley, WA)… $15.

Interesting nose of violets, tobacco and currants with a little vegetation lingering underneath joined by hints of cinnamon. Grainy tannins and good structure support notes of currants, violets and tobacco front to back. There is an interesting cinnamon-nutmeg element that lies underneath and on the long finish. For the money, this is a steal. One of the best I’ve tasted in this price range from Washington State. (B+)

Non-vintage Dew Chanceny Cremant de Loire Brut (Loire Valley, France)… $15.

White peaches and apples on the nose with a hint of pears. Bone dry on the palate. Notes of green apple and lemon front to back with just a touch of sweet fruit on the mid-palate. Lemon and almond notes linger on the finish. You have to love these great values in sparkling wine from regions other than the big guns from Champagne. A blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc. (B)

Non-Vintage De Chanceny Cremant de Loire Rose` Brut (Loire Valley, France)… $15.

Aromas of strawberries and earth with a touch of mushroom, rose petal and cherries. Nice strawberry and cherry fruit on the palate with a backbone of citrus. Nice balance, on the dry side but just a touch light on the finish. 100% Cabernet Franc (C+/B-)

2014 Elk Cove Pinot Blanc (Willamette Valley, Oregon)… $19.

Smells like stainless steel joined by notes of banana skin, Meyers lemon and hits of cut grass. Flat and uninteresting. This baby has no verve on the palate. Notes of Asian pear, and red apple comes through. Hollow on the mid-palate with trace notes of grass and gravel coming through into a short finish with just a touch of banana skin and fig coming through. This might open up a bit with some decanting, but I wouldn’t count on it. (D+/C-)

2013 Moutard-Diligent Chardonnay (Burgundy, France)… $15.

Aromas of vinyl counter top, white flowers, nuts, mushrooms and melon. Polished stone, chalk, melon and citrus on the front of the palate. Starts off a little flat, then it fires off on the mid-palate leading into a citrus and stone driven finish. Chalk notes lie underneath front to finish. (B-/B)

2013 Moutard-Diligent Pinot Noir (Bourgogne, France)… $15.

Strawberries all day on the nose with a dose of black tea, orange peel and a hit of dirt. Citrus notes dominate the palate joined by notes of cranberries and orange peel. Very earthy front to back and somewhat astringent due to the acidity. This is very mouth-puckering but has enough interesting things going on to keep you interested. Some will love it, others not so much. (C)

2014 Les Pouches Saumur (Loire Valley, France)… $10.

Raspberry and bark on the nose with notes of wilted violets and a touch of licorice thrown in. Very tight and tart on the palate with notes of violets, dusty rocks, under-ripe raspberries and cherry pit leading into a very green finish. This is what you might expect from a Cabernet Franc out of the Loire Valley at this price. Once again this is for a particular palate, some will love it and some won’t. (C/C+)

2011 Grgich Hills Estate Zinfandel (Napa Valley, CA)… $41.

A little restrained on the nose with notes of dusty currants and ripe cherries. Sweet tannins support notes of bark, cherries and currants with a subtle hit of white pepper and wilted rose petal. This is a very tight, tannic, structured wine which is typical Grgich style. tuck this one away for a few years and watch it blossom. (B/B+)

2013 Livio Felluga Pinot Grigio (Collio, Italy)… $28.

Aromas of pear, white flowers and wet stone. Pears with a backdrop of apples and crushed rock on the palate. A melon element comes through on the mineral driven finish. Great balance and nice and clean. It’s serious money for Pinot Grigio, but I think it kicks Santa Margharitas’ ass. (B+/A-)

Stan The Wine Man

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