Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sampling the Goods: Alexandria Nicole Cellars and Novelty Hill • Januik Winery

In our Sampling the Goods posts, we describe the vineyards, wineries and tasting rooms we visit and our experiences therein.

Plans were made to head up to Mt. Vernon to visit some friends and enjoy the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival on Saturday, April 9. Having caught the very tail end of it last year, we thought going early might be better. Well, with the cold spring we've had out here in the Puget Sound area, there weren't many tulips to be seen. Luckily, the Tulip Festival website has an excellent map showing which fields are blooming (not many on that day), so we skipped the flowers. But we couldn't just clean the house during the day - plans were made! So, we made a quick stop in Woodinville on our way up north. It's on the way. We swear.

Alexandria Nicole Cellars

We went to Alexandria Nicole because we hadn't been there and because we wanted to stay away from the Walla Walla wineries that we'll be visiting in a few weeks for Spring Release. In addition, they were recently named 2011 Washington Winery of the Year by Wine Press Northwest, so we thought we should see what the hype was about.

The Space

Alexandria Nicole's Woodinville tasting room is located in the basement of the old Hollywood Schoolhouse, which is right in a cluster with other tasting rooms. There is a section in the back reserved for wine club members, while the front hosts the rest of the winos (like us!). It should be noted that the wine club area is separated by way of a hidden door in a "rock" wall. While we were there, it was standing open, so we didn't get the effect, but it looks pretty neat in this video. The schoolhouse cellar has brick everywhere, giving the tasting room an old feel. Aside from the tasting bar staffed with two friendly pourers, there is some overflow space to back into when ruminating on what's in the glass and some tables outside to enjoy the, um, clouds. The distinctively cellar-y feel to the place is very appropriate and got us in the right mindset quickly.

The Experience

Our pourer was helping another group as we walked in, but greeted us right away. She explained that we had a choice of two flights to taste. We selected a flight of 2009 a2 Pinot Gris, 2009 Viognier, 2009 Quarry Butte Red Table Wine, 2008 Gravity Merlot and 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. The cost was $10, refundable with bottle purchase.

Our pourer took the time to talk about the wines and the winery, giving us a good connection to what was in the glass. And what was in the glass was great! The whites were bright and light, making us yearn for summer - or even spring, for that matter - on this dreary day. The Quarry Butte and Cabernet Sauvignon both packed a punch, delivering spice and fruit in balanced measures. The bottle of Quarry Butte that we bought didn't make it through the night. The Merlot took some time to build, but it delivered in fine waves and became a deliciously complex wine.

Our experience at Alexandria Nicole Cellars was a very good one and gave us a nice connection to those bottles sitting on the shelves in the store. The space is well-suited to what they do, and the staff did an excellent job of making us feel welcome!

Novelty Hill • Januik Winery

On the way north out of town, we stopped in at Novelty Hill • Januik Winery. People rave about their brick oven pizzas, and we were hungry. We've also seen a lot of their wines around and wanted to check them out.

The Space

Amazing. Designed by Mithun with the aim of creating a 21st century winery, it is a gorgeous piece of architecture. We are suckers for good modern design, and the design here had us wearing huge grins. The courtyard looks straight out of the concept sketch, with many places to mill about and sip a glass, a few tables to rest and have some food, a modern fire pit for night-time warmth... there's even a bocce court! Inside, a large open room featuring a central tasting bar staffed by four pourers provided views out to the courtyard and down into the barrel room. Novelty Hill • Januik may not be that old French Chateau that you think of when you think of wineries, but it is no doubt a beautiful space. 

The Experience

After taking in the space a bit, we set our sites on getting some pizza. We found the sign up front that directed to the tasting bar to order the pie, so we took the lay of the land and went for an open spot at the crowded bar. After a bit of a wait to order the pie, we poured over the somewhat daunting menu. Rather than set flights, we had our pick of four of 23 (!) wines. Not that there are rules that you can't buy more tastings past that, but this approach always makes us a bit nervous that we're going to pick the wrong ones.

We cobbled together a flight of Novelty Hill 2007 Stillwater Creek Vineyard Chardonnay, Januik 2009 Bacchus Vineyard Riesling, Januik 2007 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Novelty Hill 2006 Columbia Valley Syrah. The whites were quite pleasing, with the Chardonnay toeing the line of oakiness without crossing over and the Riesling giving a steely cold attack that became thick and syrupy as it went. The Cabernet Sauvignon was a fine example of fruit, earth and oak melding into a nice drinker. The Syrah was a disappointing end to our day of tasting - it had too much funk on the nose and fell flat on the tongue.

We had ordered a glass of the Cab to go with our pizza (which went well, of course... there was garlic and red wine!) and took it outside to enjoy the courtyard.

Sounds great, right? Well, while the space was great, and the pizza hit the spot, and the wine was (mostly) good, the service we received was lacking. In retrospect, we should have hung back and observed the pourers before diving into that open spot. We learned more from eavesdropping on the server pouring for the group next to us than from the one putting wine in our glasses. If you want our advice, definitely go, but make sure you seek out someone who is excited about the wine and not just pouring and running.

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