- Written by Rand Sealey
In last week's Review Blog (see below), I noted that there were four new Cabernet Francs in the November issue of the Review of Washington Wines. While Cabenet Sauvignon still remains the premier grape variety, Cabernet Franc is getting more attention. Here's more about that grape.
Cabernet Franc is the parent of Cabernet Sauvignon which came from a crossing of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. It originated in the Loire Valley of France and was introduced to the Libourne region in the 17th Century. However, in the 18th Century, Cabernet Sauvignon became more popular in the Medoc region of Bordeaux. Today, Cabernet Franc plays a secondary role to Merlot in the Right Bank of the Gironde (Saint Emilion, Pomerol) and a tertiary role in the Left Bank (Medoc, Graves) behind Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It is only in the Loire Valley where the grape originated that Cabernet Franc plays a primary role as a varietal, and is the source for Saumur Rouge, Chinon, Bourgeuil and St. Nicolas de Bourgeuil.
Cabernet Franc cuttings were imported to California in the 19th Century, but Cabernet Sauvignon became more favored. There, Cabernet Franc veered toward vegetal characteristics (especially bell pepper). But in Washington, the vegetal character is toned down, with riper aromatics and suggestions of tobacco, coffee and herbs. One explanation for this is the longer daylight hours and cooler nights make Cabernet Franc more suitable in Washington than in California.
Much of Cabernet Franc's appeal is in the fruit forward flavors (raspberry, blueberry) and softer tannins, with the herbal characteristics not too overt, all of which make the wines food friendly (perfect Thanksgiving wine). Cabernet Franc will never replace Cabernet Sauvignon or even Merlot, but will play a supplementary role.
In addition to the four Cabernet Francs in the November issue, here are other noteworthy ones reviewed recently.
2017 Dusted Valley, Walla Walla Valley, Southwind Vineyard ($45) 19/20 points - October
2018 Watermill "Hallowed Stones" Walla Walla Valley ($40) 19/20 points -October
2017 Avennia, Horse Heaven Hills, Champoux Vineyard ($50) 19+/20 points - September
2017 Tinte Cellars, Yakima Valley, Dineen Vineyard ($36) 19/20 points - September
2016 William Church, Columbia Valley ($36) 18.5/20 points - September
2018 Seven Hills, Walla Walla Valley ($40) 19/20 points - September
2018 Nefarious Cellars, Wahluke Slope, Weinbau Vineyard ($38) 18.5+/20 points - August
2017 Dillon Cellars, Yakima Valley, Dineen Vineyard ($45) 19/20 points - August
2017 Barrister, Columbia Valley, Sagemoor Vineyard ($33) 18.5/20 points - August
2018 Savage Grace, Rattlesnake Hills, Copeland Vineyard ($32) 18.5/20 points - July
2018 Savage Grace, Yakima Valley, Pollard Vineyard ($32) 18.5/20 points - July
2018 COR Cellars, Horse Heaven Hills, Alder Ridge Vineyard ($28) - July
2017 Walla Walla Vintners, Columbia Valley ($28) 18.5/20 points - July
2017 Walla Walla Vintners, Walla Walla Valley, Waliser Vineyard ($45) 19/20 points - July
- Written by Rand Sealey
A week from today, Friday, October 23, the November issue of the Review of Washington Wines goes on line. Here are some highlights:
Reports on Fall releases from the Walla Walla Valley, including Abeja, Tero Estates, L'Ecole No 41, Gramercy Cellars, Woodward Canyon, Isenhower Cellars, College Cellars, Helix, Reininger, Three Rivers and Headhunter (a new brand).
Reviews of new wines from Tapteil and Frichette on Red Mountain.
New wines from Clearwater Canyon Cellars in Lewiston, Idaho, from the Lewis-Clark Valley AVA and Washington State.
There are seven wines scoring 19.5/20 points: 2019 Abeja Chardonnay, 2018 Heather Hill Cabernet Franc, 2017 Heather Hill Cabernet Sauvignon; 2017 L'Ecole No 41 Apogee and Perigee; 2017 Gramercy Cellars Lagniappe Syrah; N.V. Reininger CPR Sixth Edition Red Blend.
Also, It is interesting to note that there will be four Cabernet Francs, from Tero Estates, Isenhower Cellars, Tapteil and Abeja which show that this "BDX" grape is emerging as an exceptional variety in Washington. This will be the topic of next week's Review Blog.
- Written by Rand Sealey
In my blog of last week, I wrote about the wineries' worries about smoke taint as a result of the wildfires in Oregon and California (scroll down below to see it). But after posting the article, I came to the realization that there needed to be more elaboration. Some of you may be wondering what smoke-tainted wine tastes like.
Smoke taint in wine occurs when smoke dust accumulates on the skins of the grapes. The degree of taint can depend on the intensity and duration of exposure. In mid-September, a thick blanket of smoke blew from Northern California through Western Oregon and on across Eastern Washington. The effects have been devastating in California and Oregon, but, so far, the effects have not been particularly noticeable (see the article below for Ashley Trout's experience).
So what does smoke taint in wine taste like? Well, it has been described as smelling like an ashtray, or sometimes like campfire embers. On the palate, the sensations can be akin to burnt cardboard. But not all smoke sensations are due to smoke taint. Sometimes wines are described as being smoky or having scents of incense, which is the result of phenolic compounds in the wine. Certain varieties such as Cabernet Franc or Petite Sirah are frequently described as being smoky. Also, smokiness can come from the toasted oak barrels in which the wine is aged.
I have not tasted a lot of wines that have been affected by smoke taint. Most wines that have been significantly affected never make it into the market. Sometimes affected wines may be sold off and blended with enough untainted wine to dilute the taint. Or sometimes the taint is only slight and gets sold as such. An example is the Nefarious Cellars Mother Rock Estate Syrah which was affected by the Carlton wildfire of 2014 which was sold as the "Firestorm" Syrah. In the August issue, of the Review of Washington Wines, I described it as having an aroma of "wood smoke (but not obtrusively so)." The wine scored 19/20 points and it would have been 19.5/20 if it were not for the slight smoke taint. The wine was sold for $25 a bottle instead of the regular $45, which made it a bargain (the wine is now sold out).
So, in conclusion, there can be varying degrees of wildfire smoke taint from negligible to pronounced.
A Super Rhone Red Wine Buy from Esquin
Back on April 30, I posted a blog article on European wines from Esquin Wine & Spirits. One of the wines was the 2017 Domaine de la Pelaquie Lirac which comes comes from across the Rhone River from Tavel, A 70% Grenache, 30% Mourvèdre combination, it offered rich aromas of dark fruits and direct, generous flavors. It scored 81+/20 points, making it a great buy at $15.99 a bottle. Esquin has it back in stock and I recommend it highly at this price.
- Written by Rand Sealey
This Saturday (October 3) here in Walla Walla we are seeing a slightly hazy sky, but the Blue Mountains are clearly visible. Weather-wise, the nights and mornings are cool and the afternoons warm, nearly ideal conditions for a successful grape harvest. The ten day weather forecast is for continued highs in the 70's and low 80's, with a cooling trend from October 10 on. Much of the harvest should be completed by then with Cabernet Sauvignon needing more hang time.
The biggest worry for wineries has been the effects of the wildfires to the south in California and Oregon. On September 11, smoke began coming in, building up the following week to thick, extremely unhealthy smoke. The extent of smoke damage to the grapes was at yet unknown. Ashley Trout (Vital and Brook & Bull) wrote, "Thinking back to that smokey seek earlier in September, a sight of which had never been seen before in Washington, no one could advise me on what to do. Each fire and smoke incident is unique and many grapes and sites react differently." "We're through it now. Thankfully," she added. She made wine in buckets to see how the smoke affected the wine. And then, "Lab results are rolling in from those bucket micro-ferments and now I see we are through the woods. All is not lost and, in fact, this may turn out to be the most memorable harvests of them all. Onward we go."
Another big worry, though, for wineries is how Covid-19 is going to affect their businesses this fall. Presently, most wine tasting has been outdoors, but what happens when weather gets cooler and people spend more time indoors? Tasting rooms are limited to 50% capacity indoors and, already, fewer people are visiting wineries. This year, Fall Release Weekend in Walla Walla will be November 6-8 but it will be like none other before. Some wineries have already canceled their Fall Release events and most others have been scaled back. The usual winemaker dinners will not happen this year. Who knows what will happen? We shall see.
- Written by Rand Sealey
One of the most elusive grape varieties to find good values in wine is Pinot Noir. It is a fickle grape and grows well only in certain areas. The quality can be variable and it is not easy find the best wines for the price. Recently, we tasted through 21 Pinots from around the world. We rejected four of them for this article because they came up short qualitatively for their respective price points.
2019 Willamette Valley Vineyards "Whole Cluster" Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley ($25) - This is a delightful young Pinot Noir. The fermentation of uncrushed fruit results in a brilliant red colored wine with bright aromas and flavors of strawberry, cranberry and currant, along with scents of spring flowers and lavender. The charm continues on the back with raspberry and cassis liqueurs, light tannins and vivid fruit acids on the finish. "Delicious," says Lynn. Purchased for $18.99 at Safeway. 18.5/20 points.
2018 Willamette Valley Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley ($40) - This displays a deep brick red color and an enticing nose of wild strawberries, cherries, red currants, crushed red roses, mulberry, orange peel, rubbed sage and incense. The flavors, as well, are seductive, with lavish red fruits that are intermixed with licorice, cocoa powder, black tea and volcanic minerals. The back reveals pressed fruits, kirsch and cassis liqueurs and recurring orange peel, followed by a smooth tannin and balanced acid finish. Purchased for $28.99 at Safeway. 18.5+/20 points.
2018 Erath Pinot Noir, Oregon ($25) - This is an amiable Pinot Noir. It shows a medium brick red color and attractive aromas of raspberry, cherry, currant, red roses, sweet tobacco, fennel and whiffs of incense. The flavors are medium bodied and approachable, with red licorice, pekoe tea and dusty earth. The accessibility continues on the back with pressed berries, toasted nuts, and framboise and cerise liqueurs, followed by a pleasing soft tannin finish. Purchased at Super 1 for $19.99. 18/20 points.
2018 The Four Graces Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley ($30) - This wine possesses a brick red color and attractive aromas of raspberry, cherry, currant, red roses, mulberry, anise and whiffs of sweet incense. The medium bodied flavors are bright and vivid, with red fruits that are imbued with licorice, cola, medium roast coffee and earth. On the back, the wine turns chewy textured yet supple, with pressed berries, toasted nuts, cherry and cassis liqueurs and a bit of orange peel, followed by a juicy moderate tannin finish. Purchased for $22.99 at Safeway. 18.5/20 points.
2018 Argyle Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley ($30) - Brick red colored, this wine emits rich, slightly smoky aromas of strawberries, red cherries, red currants, red roses, tobacco leaf and stick incense. The flavors are medium bodied but substantial, with notes of red licorice, cocoa powder, herbal tea and a bit of dusty earth. The smooth textured back picks up pressed berries, roasted nuts and mocha on the way to a slightly grainy yet smooth tannin finish. Purchased for $23.99 at Safeway. 18.5/20 points.
2018 Meiomi Pinot Noir Monterey-Santa Barbara-Sonoma ($25) - This three county blend shows a deep ruby-crimson color and aromas of black cherries, black currants, black plums, black roses, mulberry, tobacco, lavender and whiffs of incense. The flavors mirror the aromatics withdraw fruits that are ample and forward yet focused, intermixed with licorice, bittersweet chocolate, coffee beans and minerals. The saturation continues on the back with macerated berries, roasted nuts, kirsch and creme de cassis liqueurs and pencil shavings, followed by a sweet-dry tannin finish. 18.5/20 points.
2016 La Crema Pinot Noir, Monterey ($24) - This shows a medium brick red color and aromas of raspberry, currant, plum, rosebuds, tobacco, bay leaf and whiffs of orange incense. The flavors are amiable and medium bodies, with red fruits that are intermixed with red licorice, cola and dusty earth. The back picks up gently pressed fruits and touches of orange peel and toast on the way to a soft yet fruit acid lifted finish. Not weighty, but as Lynn says, "Very pleasant." A super buy when purchased for $13.99. 18/20 points.
2016 Rodney Strong Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley ($25) - This displays medium brick red color and expressive aromas of strawberry, cherry, currant, rose petals, mulberry, vanillin, sage and stick incense. The flavors, as well, are amiable, with medium bodied red fruits that are imbued with red licorice, cocoa, black tea and gravelly earth. On the back, the wine turns chewy yet smooth textured, with sensations of pressed berries and toasty oak, followed by a soft moderate tannin finish. Purchased for $16.99 at Safeway. 18+/20 points.
While Pinot Noir is not a "signature" grape as it is in Oregon, there are some noteworthy Pinots from the Lake Chelan and Columbia Gorge (which straddles Washington and Oregon).
2018 AGO Pinot Noir, Columbia Gorge ($40) - Sourced from the Phelps Creek Vineyard across the River, this displays a brick red color and smoky aromas of fraises de bois, cherries, brambly currants, dried rose petals, tobacco leaf, wildflowers and incense. The flavors are supple yet well delineated, with notes of licorice, Swiss chocolate and mountainside minerals. The back picks up fraise and creme de cassis liqueurs and dried cherries on the soft tannin finish. Reviewed July. 18.5+/20 points.
2017 Hard Row to Hoe Pinot Noir, Lake Chelan ($40) - Whole cluster fermented, this shows a medium brick red color and aromas of fraises de bois, red currants, pomegranates, dried rose petals, forest carpet and incense. The medium bodied flavors are true to variety, with red fruits that are imbued with licorice, baker's chocolate, black tea and glacial minerals. The back reveals pressed fruits, creme de cassis and light oak followed by a smooth tannin finish. Reviewed August. 18.5+/20 points.
2017 Duck Hunter Pinot Noir, Marlborough ($30) - I picked this up at Safeway. Ruby-garnet colored, it emits rich, smoky aromas of raspberry, cherry, plum, rosebuds, tobacco, orange peel and incense. The medium bodied flavors mirror the aromatics with fleshy red fruits that are intermixed with licorice, cocoa, Earl Grey tea and gravelly earth. On the back, the wine firms up a bit with pressed fruits, toasted nuts, orange peel and pencil shavings, followed by a moderate tannin finish. Purchased for $19.99. 18/20 points.
Burgundy is the birthplace of Pinot Noir. But it is hard to find outstanding ones for under $40 a bottle. This is due to the limited supply and high demand. But here are five that offer excellent price-quality ratios.
2018 Domaine du Prieuré Bourgogne Pinot Noir ($21.99 - Esquin) - From a vineyard in Savigny, this wine offers a brick red color and attractive aromas of strawberry, red cherry, red currant, rose petals, spring flowers and whiffs of white incense. The medium bodied flavors are charming yet substantial, with notes of red licorice, baker's chocolate and hillside minerals. The back picks up pressed berries, creme de cassis and toast, followed by a soft tannin finish. 18/20 points.
2018 Domaine du Prieuré Bourgogne Hautes Côte be Beaune ($21.99 - Esquin) - The Hautes Côte de Beaune are the slopes above the Côte Beaune. Brick red colored, it possesses attractive aromas of strawberry, cherry, currant, rosebuds, pine needles and wood smoke. The flavors are medium bodied and direct but solid, with notes of red licorice, black tea and high elevation earth and minerals. The back picks up fraise and cassis liqueurs and a touch of pencil lead on the way to a nicely juiced soft tannin finish. 18/20 points.
2018 Jean-Marc Pillot Bourgogne Rouge, "Les Grands Terres" ($39 - The Thief, Walla Walla) - This comes from 60+ year-old vines in Remilly, 2 km south of Chassage-Montrachet. Deep ruby-crimson colored, it emits enticing aromas of cherry, black currant, plum, black roses, fennel, violets and incense. The flavors are varietally definitive, with notes of licorice, bittersweet chocolate, black tea and earth. The solidity continues on the back with sensations of pressed fruits, roasted nuts, mocha and soft graphite, followed by a moderate tannin finish that is lifted by bright fruit acids. 18.5+/20 points.
2017 Regis Bouvier Bourgogne Pinot Noir ($23.99 - Esquin) - From a grower in Marsannay at the north end of the Côte d'Or, this wine shows a brick red color and a typical varietal nose of wild strawberries, red cherries, red currants, red roses, tobacco leaf, fennel and whiffs of incense. The flavors are engaging as well, with supple red fruits that are imbued with red licorice, milk chocolate, medium roast coffee and earth. The back picks up gently pressed berries, mocha, fraise and cassis liqueurs and toast, followed by a slightly grainy moderate tannin finish. 18.5/20 points.
2016 Joseph Drouhin Côte de Beaune Villages ($38.99 - Esquin) - From a respected Beaune negotiant, this offers a brick red color and a typical varietal nose of wild strawberries, red cherries, red currants, red roses, tobacco leaf fennel and whiffs of incense. The medium bodied flavors are rich and velvety, yet substantial, with definite Burgundian Pinot Noir character, accompanied by notes of red licorice, coca, medium roast coffee and a touch of dusty earth. On the back, the wine fleshens out with sensations of fraise and creme de cassis liqueurs and toasted nuts, and then drifts into a satiny moderate tannin finish. 18.5+/20 points.
Finally, here is a more upscale Burgundy, to show what you can get if you reach deeper into your pocket.
2016 Domaine Bouchard Pere & Fils Savigny-lès-Beaune Premier Cru, Les Lavieres ($59.99 - Esquin) - This exhibits a deep brick red color and intoxicating aromas of wild fruits - raspberries, black cherries, black currants - with scents of crushed black roses, pipe tobacco, sandalwood and sultry incense. On the palate, the flavors are thick and generous yet focused, with layers of black and blue fruits that are infused with licorice, cocoa, French roast and granitic minerals. On the back, the wine turns simultaneously chewy and velvety, with sensations of macerated fruits, toasted nuts, framboise, creme de cassis and kirsch liqueurs, followed by a lingering sweet-dry Burgundian finish. 19+/20 points.