Wednesday, February 17, 2021


We make no bones about it - Zinfandel is just not our thing.  It has neither the breeding of Cabernet nor the potential to soar like Pinot when that grape is at its best.  It's just ordinary.

Before we dismiss ordinary though, we should acknowledge ordinary as California's historic claim to fame.  When we first got into this business California's three liter jugs were the key to success.  They were what the overwhelming majority of wine lovers bought.  Whatever came later was built on the success of the industry's ordinary jug wine.

But were such wines actually good?  Nah.  They were flabby, muddy, off-dry plonk.  Nasty stuff.  On that scale of production though, they were fine. And better than what a lot of other countries were doing.

Those three liter red jugs were largely Zinfandel-based but, of course, weren't sourced from the better regions of northern Cal.  This was Central Valley stuff we're talking about.  A qualitatively better ordinary was coming out of Amador, Mendocino, Sonoma and other northern appellations.  There the early zin-based field blends effused a charm that us ordinary wine lovers, self-conscious lot that we are, could really get into If you could imagine your briars and brambles blended with your dark berries, replete with your violets and tar, then you have an idea of what us ordinary wine lovers consider the epitome of our craft.  Rough.  Crude.  Red wine suitable for watching football.  That's what I'm talkin' 'bout.

Zinfandel has always been California's pet grape even now that we know its origins lie elsewhere.  Always the mercenary, the wine industry took full advantage of this prolific vine's potential and promoted it as a noble variety worthy of being priced with the great types.  Which largely hasn't worked.  But its utilitarian value has not gone unnoticed.  Zinfandel is now the foundation of pricy ever-so-cutely named manipulated blends with outlandish labels that the public adores.  Guess right on your packaging and promotion and proceed to the counter to collect your winnings!

So where are we going with this diatribe?  In our own way we're trying to keep it real.  Zinfandel may be the workhorse grape of the California wine industry and deserves the respect any workhorse is due.  Speaking of workhorses, lest we forget, if it wasn't for intrepid 1850's Italian immigrants carrying their vines on their backs we wouldn't be having this discussion today.

By the way - We just got in four new zins.  Say you read this here blogpost and we'll discount them down for you!

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

L'Ecole #41 Merlot

L'Ecole 41 is a large Columbia Valley Washington State winery established in 1983.  We would like to call your attention to them now because, while we have known their wines for their quality and stocked them for at least twenty years, we think we may have been underselling them.  

Late last year our vendor sold us a half dozen Washington State reds including esteemed examples from Matthews and Januik.  His casual comment in passing was that L'Ecole was the best of the lot.  If you go to, unsurprisingly, they think the Merlot is pretty good too but the winemaker goes on to talk about the 2017 vintage in glowing terms.  Conditions were apparently optimal at harvest time.

If you compare critics' vintage notes on Columbia Valley in 2017, you get mixed reviews.  Robert Parker's Wine Advocate is the only reputable magazine that scores the vintage highly.  However James Suckling gives the L'Ecole Merlot individually a 94 point score.

Suckling says the wine is medium to full bodied with silky tannins and flavors of chocolate, hazelnut and fresh blackberries.  The Wine Enthusiast (91 points) says it has aromas of black tea,dark raspberries, cedar and barrel spice and a similar palate with an accent on the full fruit.

The Merlot grape itself has had a rollercoaster history in the last forty years.  L'Ecole planted the grape opportunely back in 1983 as Merlot was about to become the most popular red wine grape of the '80s and retaining much of that sway through the '90s.  Then the movie Sideways derailed things even as the quality of Merlot was greatly rising because of viticultural improvements.

The truth is - Merlot has always been one of the best grapes of Washington State and the 2017 vintage L'Ecole demonstrates why that is.  From their website - "Structure" is what sets this wine apart from others.  The 2017 vintage is special because the opulent fresh Merlot fruit is balanced perfectly with the acidity of this wine.  It doesn't hurt either that half of the juice for this wine comes from L'Ecole's Ferguson Reserve vineyards.

Reading this post means you are invited to taste here at the store on Saturday afternoons.  We can't promise the L'Ecole will be open but whatever we have to taste here will be exemplary.  Social distancing is still a factor so please work with us.  Calling 770-287-WINE(9463) in advance is recommended.  Please join us.