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Inclined to Syncline

As well as recline at Syncline’s estate winery (see photo and caption below). A recent visit of Syncline Cellars, near Lyle, Washington, left me giddy to write this post, as well as buy Syncline wines again and again. James and Poppie Mantone have crafted distinctive, memorable wines, while also creating an idyllic destination winery.

Inclined to recline while drinking Syncline wine

Located along the eastern edge of the Columbia Gorge AVA, Syncline focuses on Rhone varietals. In the winery, James Mantone treats his wines with minimal to no oak, opting for concrete fermenters, and concrete or neutral oak for aging. Syncline uses native yeast fermentations whenever possible. When you combine the winemaking style, excellently sourced fruit, and Rhone varietals–both unique (Picpoul) and well-lauded (Syrah)–expect wine that will delight and intrigue, pure expressions of the land.

Cement fermenter at Syncline Wine Cellars

  • 2014 Gruner Veltliner ($20): From Underwood Mountain and Celilo Vineyard, this 100% Gruner Veltliner balances focused acidity with complex aromas of citrus, savory nuts, and grass. 550 cases. Delightful.
  • 2013 Subduction Red ($20): Syncline’s flagship wine, with 2,500 of the winery’s 6,000 cases set aside for this gateway bottling. A blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan, Counoise, Grenache, and Cinsault. Opens with floral aromas alongside juicy, red fruits including cherry and watermelon. Medium body with mild tannins–a smooth drink. Enjoy young. Excellent.
  • 2013 Cinsault McKinley Springs Vineyard ($35): Rarely found as a single varietal wine, this Cinsault has a captivating nose of sweet prunes and luscious red fruits. A silky, smooth entrance leads to distinctive savory, spicy notes alongside the ripe fruit characteristics. Well balanced. 200 cases. Delightful.
  • 2012 Syrah McKinley Springs Vineyard ($30): Crimson in color, a swirl releases aromas of blueberry and blackberry, as well as cocoa and a hint of smoke. At 14.4%, the wine fills your mouth with a delightful density. Medium-plus tannins. Dark and brazenly seductive. 350 cases. Excellent.

Next time you swing through the Columbia Gorge, do not miss your opportunity to visit Syncline Wine Cellars. Syncline exemplifies the best of what the Columbia Gorge AVA can offer–wines unlike any other in the Pacific Northwest.

Wine Literature Must Haves

In my previous post, Buying Wine, I mentioned the anxiety many feel when purchasing wine. The plethora of options at most wine retailers leads people to often reach for the comfortable–old trusty–or pick a varietal, price point, and label that aligns with their mood, and then speed out of that daunting environment. The following list of wine literature essentials will help move you from uncomfortable, to curious, to confident.

Wagon Wine’s must haves

Wine: A Tasting Course by Marnie Old

Marie Old, a sommelier based out of Philadelphia, has written the wine primer–the ideal introduction to wine. Covering varietals, winemaking, tasting, purchasing, and wine regions, this book is all encompassing without overwhelming. In fact, it can lead a wine newbie into the mysterious depths of the wine world, while still keeping the reader engaged, intrigued, and light on the toes. Tasteful graphics benefit and deepen the reader’s understanding. I recommend this book for anybody interested in learning more–anyone tugged by curiosity thanks to the experience with a delightful bottle, a first winery tour, or a life long enjoyment of wine without the accompanying awareness.

The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil

Does the original tug now have you bound infinitely to the glowing light, the mystery that is wine? Karen MacNeil has written my preferred reference book. I, however, fully encourage the passionate wine drinker to dive head first into this book and climb out at the last page. Many would recommend other books for this purpose and level of knowledge (Zraly comes to mind, and I do recommend Window’s on the World Complete Wine Course); however, I find MacNeil’s style and tone inviting, smile inducing, and profoundly insightful. I especially appreciate her writing in first segment, which covers varietals, winemaking, pairing, tasting, storage, vintage variation, serving…it is thorough. This is all covered in the first 110 pages before exploring the world of wine, the countries and regions any wine lover should explore. At 860 pages, this deserves the daunting title, though when you start reading your shoulders will relax, and your glass will swirl and tip back effortlessly.

Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide by Paul Gregutt

Does Washington have your attention? Do you wonder what all the hype over Washington wine is about–the high scores? Are you part of the industry, but need to deepen your knowledge of Washington wine specifically? Paul Gregutt, wine writer and now winemaker, wrote this thorough book which covers the history of wine in Washington, the AVAs, varietals, noteworthy vineyards, reputable and up-and-coming wineries. The second edition was released in 2010, and I would imagine a 3rd edition isn’t too far off (though I have no knowledge of this). Some of the up-and-comers of 2010 have arrived! The world of Washington wine is evolving rapidly. This book fills an important niche in the world of wine literature.

The Science of Wine: From Vine to Glass by Jamie Goode

This book explores the science behind most aspects of wine, including the vineyards (soil, pests, pruning, trellis systems, etc.), winemaking (oxygen, barrels, alcohol reduction techniques, sulfur dioxide, brett, closures, etc.), and our interaction with wine (tasting, psychology, saliva, flavor chemistry, etc.). While not written for the novice, Goode writes accessibly for those readers passionate about the content. A scientific background will benefit your understanding, but wade in to the depths even if you lack this expertise. This book deepened my understanding of the manifold factors influencing my experience with the wines I uncork.

Concluding Remarks

Remember, an excellent wine steward at a trusted shop will always prove invaluable, even to most wine fanatics. Wine stewards at any reputable store understand their inventory well, and familiarize themselves with the wines both academically and through tastings. No wine expert can taste every wine, and so wine stewards who passionately know and appreciate their bottles serve a needed niche. Take advantage of their knowledge.

Increasing your knowledge can reduce your stress and deepen your pleasure when both buying and enjoying wine. Cheers to the seductive allure of wine! 

Gorgeous Barbera

Barbera, the lesser known grape of Piedmont, Italy, often goes unnoticed by the broader wine community outside of Piedmont. However, show up at a restaurant in Barolo, Italy and you will see bottles of Barbera d’Alba and Barbera d’Asti* gracing the tables around you. This is significant as Barolo, a wine named after this restaurant’s commune and made with the Nebbiolo grape, has wine critics shooting fireworks out of their pens. While worthy of the praise, Barolo sits in the castles of the elite, largely untouchable due to its weighty fee–yes, get out your gold. Barbera, however, is the people’s wine.

It also pairs impeccably with your Thanksgiving feast. For those looking to support local wineries this holiday season, the Columbia Gorge AVA of Wagon** country provides. Barbera is grown in few vineyards outside of Italy, but has found a home within the Columbia Gorge. On a recent trip to the Gorge, I tasted multiple bottles of Barbera. All delighted and impressed on this two-day venture. Why Barbera this season? If your host uses as much butter and cream in the gravy and potatoes as mine, Barbera provides an outstanding balance of round, smile-inducing fruit–dark cherry and plum–and zesty acidic zip to cleanse your palate between savory bites. Recommendation: Marchesi Vineyards 2012 Estate Barbera.

For those without access to the boutique Barberas of the Columbia Gorge, Barbera d’Alba and Barbera d’Asti will not disappoint. As always, talk with your local wine shop friends (they should be friends) for recommendations. These are not wines of greatness, but they are wines that delight–without breaking the bank ($9-$18 for many noteworthy bottles).

Be thankful!

*Those new to Italian wine, Asti and Alba are the mentioned locales well known for growing Barbera, and you will find them labeled as Barbera d’Alba and Barbera d’Asti
**Wa-gon = Washington and Oregon

Non-Vintage Wines: Broadening the Palate

Non-vintage (NV) wine does not resonate widely in our brave, New World wines. This old world technique allows winemakers to blend multiple vintages for added nuance and character, but usually remains a tool of the bubbly and fortified wine makers only–Port and Champagne particularly. Thankfully, J. Bookwalter Winery of Washington has deftly translated this technique to create a dry red blend, Notebook 4NV (their 4th non-vintage Notebook Red). Bookwalter Winery creates this blend to use up their excess juice after crafting their premier wines. However, Bookwalter’s excess is another vigneron’s treasure.

At $15 msrp, and frequently found at $9-$12, Bookwalter has set the bar high at this reasonable price point. Dusty raspberry and blueberry fills the mouth, and a fine layer of tannins rounds together the finish nicely. Upon drinking, you quickly realize something sets this wine apart. Fresh fruit aromatics and dusty gravel road, vibrant youth and raisined age. J. Bookwalter Winery makes the case emphatically for the accessibility and layered complexity of NV blends. This has instantly become a go to wine for me, and I look forward to tasting Notebook 5NV and beyond. Hopefully more wineries will explore NV winemaking, especially boutique wineries tempted to sell off excess juice to the mass-crush facilities for the sake of convenience. Perhaps they are intimidated by this deft execution. I would be.