Review of Washington Wines Blog
A Visit to The Walls Vineyards
Written by Rand Sealey   
Tuesday, 24 May 2016 13:35

Back in April, in preparation for my feature writeup on The Walls Vineyards, Lynn and I met with Ali Mayfield at Artifex, the state of the art winemaking facility on Dell Avenue in Walla Walla. There, we learned that the winery was started in 2013 with Michael Martin, a software attorney, as partner. The wines were being made at Artifex, but the winemaking was going to be moved to the former Whitman Cellars facility on 13th and Pine Street. We also learned that Ali took an interest in food and wine at the age of 19, growing up in southern Indiana. She also credited the late Stan Clark at the Walla Walla Community College for mentoring her. We then barrel tasted over a dozen wines which indicate a highly promising future for The Walls Vineyards. Here are my notes on some of them.

2015 - Chardonnay, Yakima Valley, French Creek Vineyard - Fermented and aged in concrete, this showed nice bright fruit and crispness. Ali noted that the 2015 vintage was tricky for white wines due to the rapidly rising sugars and dropping acids during harvest. But this wine was spot on.

2015 "McAndrew" Chardonnay, Columbia Gorge, White Salmon Vineyard - From cuttings originally from the Celilo Vineyard, this wine showed bright, almost spritzy, acidity and lovely, vivacious fruit.

2015 Grenache Blanc, Yakima Valley, French Creek Vineyard - Ali called this "the lipstinger" for its bright fruit and and acidity. Blended wih Roussanne, Marsanne and Picpoul, it had wonderful aromatics and lively flavors.

2015 Syrah, Red Mountain, Red Heaven Vineyard - Ali called this the "Concrete Momma." It showed vivid Red Mountain Syrah flavors. She prefers to keep racking to a minimum, leaving the wine on the lees as long as possible.

2015 Touriga Nacional, Red Mountain - From a Portuguese variety, this showed an opaque color and smoldering aromas of roasted berries and nuts, and full-bodied, structured flavors.

2015 Tempranillo, Walla Walla Valley, Stoney Vine Vineyard - Fermented in concrete and then put in barrels, this showed a deep color and firm, yet fleshy flavors and distinctive aromatics.

2015 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Stoney Vine Vineyard - Also fermented in concrete and aged in barrels, this had loads of flavor and distinct Rocks minerality. Powerful and deep, yet fleshy.

Afterwards, we went over to the future winemaking facility. We met Ali's brother, Jake, who is helping out in getting ready for thie winery's transitioning. There are plans for a tasting room in downtown Walla Walla on West Poplar, next door to the Jim German's Passatempo (formerly Pastime) restaurant. It is an ambitious and exciting project. Architect Alex deMambro is designing both the restaurant and tasting room.

Later, on May 7th, during Spring Release Weekend, we went to the inaugural event at the future winery. Mike Martin was on hand to help pour the wines , including a tasty new "Cruel Summer" Rosé of Pinot Noir. Reviews of the wines are in the June issue of the Review of Washington Wines. Jim German and his culinary crew served up pulled pork and pasta, a wonderful preview of the Passatempo Restaurant. There is a lot to look forward to.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 May 2016 14:34
A Visit to the Elevation Vineyard
Written by Rand Sealey   
Wednesday, 18 May 2016 13:36

On Saturday, May 7, during Spring Release Weekend in the Walla Walla Valley, we visited Tertulia Cellars' Elevation Vineyard. It is located almost in the southeastern corner of the AVA at an elevation of 1500 to 1700 feet (hence the vineyard name) in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, along the North Fork of the Walla Walla River. Lynn and I and  about 20 other guests were guides by Tertulia winemker Ryan Raber, vineyard manager Ryan Driver, and consulting geologist Kevin Pogue who is also a Whitman College professor.

After leaving Tertulia Cellars on Whitely Road in the South Valley, we caravaned along a winding route to the vineyard. There, we convened at the base of the steeply sloped and terraced vineyard. We walked along a steep rock strewn slope. Ryan Driver said they had to use jackhammers to dig holes for the vines and posts. Kevin Pogue explained that the terrain comprises fractured basalt topped with varying layers of loess silt. The silt was deposited by wind from layers of silt left from intermittent glacial floods between 25,000 and 18,000 years ago. The loess deposits came from as far away as Idaho and Montana, blown by wind.

We went up further in elevation to plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. This site is ideal in elevation, exposure and drainage for classic varieties. On a terroir covered by loess over deep basalt, the vines grow deep roots for water and nutrients. We then reached the top of the slope, saw a nursery where cuttings were being propagated for planting around the vineyard. There, we could see extensive plantings, almost all terraced, and on distant slopes. We walked back down the other side of the slope past Merlot anf Cabernet Franc vines.

After the vineyard tour, we assembled in a large shed for a tasting of barrel samples of the first release from the Elevation Vineyard, produced by Tertulia under the label, Tierra Labrada - "carved earth." From the 2015 vintage, the future releases are a Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and a Petit Verdot. They are available for purchase as futures to be released in 2018. Here are my tasting notes. The pluses indicate potential for advancement in these young wines., most lilely 19.5/20 points.

2015 Tierra Labrada, Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, Elevation Vineyard ($85 - futures) - Deep young crimson colored this showed a perfumed nose of wild fruits - raspberries, cherries and currants - with scents of rose petals, lavender, tobacco and incense. The flavors were deep and penetrating, with classic minerality, along with notes of bittersweet chocolate, French roast and basalt. The back picked up fraise and cassis liqueurs, mocha and toffee, followed by a long sweet-dry tannin finish. 19+/20 points.

2015 Tierra Labrada Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, Elevation Vineyard ($95 - futures) - This showed a semi opaque crimson-ruby color and an intense nose of blackberry, cherry, cassis, crushed roses, pipe tobacco, sandalwood, violets and smoldering incense. The flavors were deep and penetrating, with great varietal purity, marked by licorice, cocoa, French roast and basaltic minerals. The back revealed sensations of macerated berries, roasted nuts, creme de cassis, lanolin ("legs"), toffee and graphite, followed by a lingering fine-grained tannin finish. 19+/20 points.

2015 Tierra Labrada Petit Verdot, Walla Walla Valley, Elevation Vineyard ($95 - futures) - This is the best Petit Verdot I have ever tasted. It exhibited a deep crimson olor and a lovely, perfumed nose of cherries, plums and cassis with scents of lavender, violets and oriental incense and pepper. The flavors were deep and laser-like in focus, with the lavish dark fruits marked by Belgian chocolate, French roast and silt-basalt minerals. The powerful back revealed sensations of roasted berries and walnuts, creme de cassis, creme fraiche, nougat and pencil lead, followed by a long, long, extremely focused ripe tannin finish. 19.5+/20 points.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 May 2016 14:47
Spring Release Weekend in the Walla Walla Valley
Written by Rand Sealey   
Tuesday, 10 May 2016 13:51

This year, the Walla Walla Valley Spring Release Weekend was May 6-8. Here's what we did that weekend.

On Friday afternoon, I went to Abeja on Mill Creek Road for the winery's annual release event. There, the new winemakers Daniel Wampfler and Amy Alvarez-Wampfler were on hand to pour the new releases (made by the previous winemaker, John Abbott), including the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, to be reviewed in the June issue of the Review of Washington Wines. Then I went over to the Leonetti Cellar on Berney Drive for the winery's new releases, also to be reviewed in June. That evening, Lynn and I went to the Fat Duck Inn for Maison Bleue's Winemaker Dinner. The food pairings with the winery's new releases (reviewed in the May issue) were superb. Kudos to winemaker Jon Meuret, chef Rich Koby and hostess Cynthia Koby for this fabulous dinner.

The next morning, at ten, we went to Tertulia Cellars to join winemaker Ryan Raber, vineyard manager Ryan Driver, and consulting geologist Kevin Pogue, and other guests for a tour of the Elevation 1500 Vineyard. We caravaned over to the southwest corner of the AVA to a steep sloped site 1500 to 1700 feet in elevation, planted with various varieties. As we walked around, Kevin explained the geology of the terroir. Afterwards, we tasted barrel samples of the 2015 Terra Labrada reds, being offered as futures. A fuller report and reviews of the wines will be in next week's Review Blog.

In the afternoon, we drove over to Tero Estates for Jan and Doug Roskelley's the Swing Notes event, with music and dancing along with roast and pulled pork from the Bank and Grill, and the Tero/Waters/Flying Trout new releases. It was also lots of fun. Aftrwards, we went to Result of a Crush - Mike, Gale and Matt - were on hand to pour the sisters', Angela and Amanda's wines (to be reviewed in July). Then Figgins and Doubleback (to be reviewed in June). We wound up the day at The Walls for a tasting at the former Whitman Cellars winery, along with delicious food prepared by Jim German as a preview of the Passatempo restaurant (formerly Pastime) which will be opened next to The Walls new tasting room on West Poplar. A fuller report and blog will go on line May 24. More later!

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 May 2016 14:27
The Lewis-Clark Valley the Newest AVA
Written by Rand Sealey   
Tuesday, 03 May 2016 14:32

On April 20, the Lewis-Clark Valley was approved by the Department of Treasury's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) as the newest AVA (American Viticultural Area). The AVA comprises 306,658 acres within the historic grape-growing region surrounding Lewiston, Idaho and Clarkston, Washington. The AVA approval goes into effect May 20. This did not come about easily. The TTB dragged its feet for months until Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) sent a letter urging the TTB to act on the petition as soon as possible.

The new AVA straddles the Washington and Idaho borders (in the same way as the Walla Walla Valley and the Columbia Gorge straddle Washington and Oregon). Dr. Alan Busacca, the geologist, worked on the petition which created the AVA, situated in Clearwater, Latah, Lewis and Nez Perce counties in Idaho and Asotin, Garfield and Whitman counties in Washington.

This AVA approval was great news to Coco and Karl Umiker of Clearwater Canyon Cellars in Lewiston. This is something they have been working on for seven years. Reviews of Clearwater Canyon Cellars' wines will be in the June and July issues of the Review of Washington Wines. Watch for it!


Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 May 2016 14:50
How Does an Awards Judge Taste a Hundred Wines?
Written by Rand Sealey   
Tuesday, 26 April 2016 14:23

It is a commonplace comment that "tasting wines is hard work, but somebody's got to do it." Well that is true, it is hard work. My experience at two wine judgings explains why.

Weekend before last (April 16-17) I participated in the Seattle Wine Awards, conducted by Christopher Chan (see my blog of April 19 for a report) where each fouresome tasted 150 wines on Saturday and 100 on Sunday. On March 7, I tasted about 100 wines at the Seattle Magazine Washington Wine Awards judging, conducted by Yashar Shayan.

The biggest challenge in tasting a hundred or more wines is that 70 to 80 percent of these wines will be tannic young reds. After tasting a couple of flights of ten to fifteen wines, tannin fatigue sets in, with the palate getting coated with mouth puckering dryness. The traditional method of combatting this is spipping water and eating saltine crackers. But it takes more than that when going through a hundred or more wines. At the Washington Wine Awards, cheese and salami (prepared by the South Seattle Community College's culinary students) were served. The fat of the cheese and charcuterie helps cut the tannins in the mouth. At the Seattle Wine Awards, I found beef jerky to be particularly helpful as the sweet-salty and savory qualities served as an antidote. A lunch break in between also helps give the palate a rest.

There are other challenges as well. Wine tasting requires a lot of concentration, to evaluate wines fairly. Checking arithmetic (usually on a modified 20 point system) is a necessity. Also one has to move along quickly. Wine judging is not a task for slowpokes.

But, in the end, there is much satisfaction in wine judging. It is fun and rewarding.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 April 2016 15:04

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