- Written by Rand Sealey
Yesterday, Saturday, June 16, I attended the Wine Panel Presentation and Tasting of Merlot wines as part of the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance Celebrate Walla Walla Valley Wine: The World of Merlot event which was held June 14 - 16. This annual event was going into its third cycle, with the Syrah grape as the featured varietal last year and with Cabernet Sauvignon to be highlighted in 2019. Each event presents a premier Walla Walla Valley varietal with counterparts from California and France.
This year's panel of winemakers and vineyard managers consisted of Jean-François Pellet, winemaker of Pepper Bridge and Amavi Cellars in Walla Walla, Jason Magnaghi, Leonetti Cellar vineyard manager, Sadie Drury, vineyard manager of Seven Hills Vineyard, Emmanuelle d'aligns-Fulchi of Chateau Bellevue and Chateau Angeleus in Saint Emilion, Sally Johnson, winemaker of Pride Mountain Vineyards in the Napa Valley, and Jeff Bundschu of Gundlach Bundschu in the Sonoma Valley. The panel moderator was Ashley Trout, owner-winemaker of Brook & Bull Cellars and Vital Wines of Walla Walla.
While the participants tasted the wines being presented - one from each of the panel wineries - the panelists discussed the wines and their approaches to winemaking and vineyard management. Ashey Trout did a great job as moderator, asking pertinent questions and leading all participants into a better understanding of Merlot.
One of the topics discussed was the "Sideways Effect" of the movie, Sideways, which caused Merlot wines to decline in popularity. This decline is not entirely the fault of the movie. There was a lot of mediocre Merlot being produced during the grape's boom period at the century's turn. But the effect is still there even though Merlot is making a comeback. The panelists were cautiously optimistic about the future for Merlot. As Ashley put it, Merlot is still the "underdog" variety, behind Cabernet Sauvignon.
As the discussion proceeded, the following wines were tasted, with my notes and scores, in order of tasting.
2015 Pepper Bridge Merlot, Walla Walla Valley ($60) - Sourced from the Seven Hills, Pepper Bridge and Octave vineyards and composed of 78% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 7% Malbec, this showed a purplish-crimson color and enticing aromas of blackberry, cherry, plum, tobacco, cedar and incense. The flavors were lavish, yer well structured, with notes of dark fruits, chocolate and loess minerals. The hight toned back picked up pressed berries, roasted nuts and graphite, followed by a long ripe tannin finish. 19+/20 points.
2014 L'Ecole No. 41 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley ($38) - From the Ferguson and Seven Hills vineyards, this 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc showed a ruby-crimson color and a perfumed nose of raspberry, cherry and plum, with scents of crushed roast, purple lilac and incense. The flavors were fleshy yet well focused, with notes of licorice, bittersweet chocolate, roasted coffee beans and basaltic minerals. The penetration continued on the back with pressed berries, roasted walnuts, kirsch, plum preserves and graphite, followed by a lingering sweet-dry tannin finish. 19/20 points.
2014 Leonetti Cellar Merlot, Walla Walla Valley ($75) - From the Loess and Mill Creek Upland vineyards, and composed of 94% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc, this displayed an inky purple color and intense aromas of blackberries, cherries, plums, black currants, rose petals, tobacco, vanillin, violets and incense. The flavors were simultaneously fleshy and taut, with dark fruits that were infused with licorice, dark cocoa, French roast and minerals. The penetration continued on the back with sensations of pressed fruits, roasted nuts, mocha and graphite followed by a long, long ripe tannin finish. Highly impressive. 19.5/20 points.
2014 Château Bellevue, Saint Emilion Premier Cru Classe ($50) - This 100% Merlot from the Bordeaux district of France showed a deep ruby color and a rich, earthy nose of wild berries, old tree cherries, plums, figs, dried rose petals, tobacco, cedar and incense. The flavors showed modern and old styles. with notes of licorice, dark chocolate, French roast and earth. The back picked up roasted berries and nuts, mocha and charcoal, and then marches on into a rich, yet classic dryish tannin finish. 19/20 points.
2014 Pride Mountain Vineyards Vintner Select Merlot, Sonoma County, Lower Mountain Top Vineyard ($80) - This is a highly impressive Merlot. It displayed a deep ruby color and a sexy perfumed nose of raspberries, cherries, plums, crushed roses, sweet tobacco, sandalwood, violets and oriental incense. The varietally pure flavors were intense and mouth caressing, yet impeccably structured, infused with licorice, Swiss chocolate, French roast and Sonoma Mountain minerals. The depth stretched out on the back with sensations of pressed fruits, roasted nuts, integrated oak and graphite on the endless finish. 19.5/20 points.
2014 Gundlach Bundschu Merlot, Sonoma Valley ($38) - This showed a deep ruby color and a rich nose of cherries, plums, currants, crushed roses, tobacco, cedar and incense. The flavors were varietally direct, yet fleshy and bold, with notes of licorice root, chocolate, roasted coffee beans and damp earth. The opulence continued on the back with sensations of roasted berries and nuts, mocha, toffee, toasty oak and charcoal, followed by a lingering, deftly spiced hedonistically ripe tannin finish. 19/20 points.
All of these were stellar expressions of the Merlot grape, each with its own style. They showed that the Walla Walla Valley is deservedly famous for its Merlots and the two Sonoma ones prove that, despite the Sideways Effect, California is capable of producing great Merlots. The Château Bellevue showed what Bordeaux Merlot is all about. All this goes to show that Merlot is a grape to be taken seriously.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Here, is our annual Rosé wine roundup, listing wines reviewed in the Review of Washington Wines plus some new ones. They are grouped by variety and or type.
Rosé of Cabernet Franc
This is a popular style of Rosé. It can be made in the style of a Loire Valley Cabernet Franc or a BDX. They are typically fresh and lively, best drunk young.
2017 Seven Hills Rosé, Columbia Valley ($18) 18.5/20 points - April
2017 Sleight of Hand Cellars "Magician's Assistant" Cabernet Franc Rosé, Yakima Valley ($19) 18.5/20 points - May
2017 Isenhower Cellars Rosé, Yakima Valley ($17) 18.5/20 points - May
2017 Amavi Cellars Cabernet Franc Rosé, ($24) - Light pink-orange colored, this shows attractive aromas of strawberry, cherry, ruhbarb orange blossoms, rose petals and white lily. The flavors are vibrant and minerally with notes of orange peel and ripe fruit juices. 18/5/20 points. Full review to be in the July issue of the Review of Washington Wines.,
2017 Trust Cellars Rosé of Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley ($18) - This is a pleasant Rosé in a light, fresh style, with aromas of strawberry, cherry and rhubarb and white incense, with flavors of lightly pressed fruits, orange peel and stony minerals, all leading into a crisp finish. 18+/20 points. - New review.
2017 Va Piano Rosé, Yakima Valley, Chelle den Millie Vineyard ($22) - This Rosé presents a light pink color and a fresh nose of strawberry, Rainier cherry, rhubarb, watermelon, cherry blossoms, pink lilac and white incense. The flavors are fresh and vibrant, nicely juiced with a dry finish. 18.5/20 points - New review.
Rhone Style Rosés
These Rosés are predominately Syrah and/or Grenache, modeled after those of the North and South Rhone Valley, especially those of Tavel, near Avignon. They generally are dry.
2017 Waters Patina Vineyard Syrah Rosé, Walla Walla Valley ($22) 18.5/20 points - May
2017 Tertulia Cellars Estate Rosé, Walla Walla Valley ($20) -18.5/20 points May
2017 Foundry Vineyards Syrah Rosé, Walla Walla Valley ($20) - 18.5/20 points- June
2017 Vital Wines Rose, Columbia Valley ($19) - 18.5/20 points - June
Provence Style Rosés
From the number of wines produced from Mourvèdre and/or Grenache (and sometimes other varieties) released this year, this is the most popular style of Rosé. Modeled after the Rosés of the Côtes de Provence and Bandol (Mourvèdre), they generally are pale colored (from pink to salmon) and light bodied, finishing dry.
2017 Brook & Bull Rosé, Columbia Valley ($19) 18.5/20 points - April
2017 Balboa Rosé of Grenache, Columbia Valley ($20) 19/20 points - May
2017 Chateau Ste. Michelle Rosé, Columbia Valley ($10) 18/20 points - May
2017 Tranche "Pink Pape" Rosé, Yakima Valley, Blackrock Vineyard ($20) 18.5/20 points - May
2017 Renegade Rosé, Columbia Valley ($12) 18/20 points - May
2017 Gramercy Cellars Olsen Vineyard Rosé, Columbia Valley ($25) 18.5/20 points - June
2017 The Walls "Cruel Summer" Rosé, Columbia Valley ($22) 18.5/20 points - June
2017 Gilbert Cellars Rosé, Wahluke Slope ($18) 18.5/20 points - June
2017 Time & Direction Rosé of Grenache ($20) 18.5/20 points - June
2017 Kerloo Cellars Grenache Rosé, Columbia Valley, Painted Hills Vineyard ($22) - Light copper colored, this possesses aromas of strawberry, nectarine, cantaloupe and tangerine with scents of spring flowers and lavender and distinct lightly extracted fruits and a dry finish. 18.5/20 points. Full Review to be in the July issue.
2017 L'Ecole No. 41 Grenache Rosé, Horse Heaven Hills, Alder Ridge Vineyard ($22) - Iridescent pink colored, this has enticing aromas of strawberry, Rainier cherry and pomegranate, cherry blossoms and lavender. The flavors are appealing and Provencal like with a lightly spiced dry finish. 18.5/20 points. Full review not be in the July issue.
2017 Gard Vintners "Grand Klasse" Reserve Rosé, Columbia Valley, Lawrence Vineyard ($20) - Produced from 100% Grenache, this displays a light copper-pink color and aromas of strawberry, red cherry, red currant, tangerine, cherry blossoms and lightly spiced white incense. The flavors are fresh and vivacious, accented by tangerine peel, grape skin and Royal Slope minerals. The liveliness continues on the back with bright fruit acids lifting the dry finish. 18.5/20 points. - New review.
2017 Rotie Cellars Rosé Wine, Washington State ($25) - Composed of 85% Mourvèdre and 15% Syrah, this Rosé offers a light salmon color and enticing aromas of Rainier cherry, cantaloupe, tangerine, wild flowers and whiffs of spiced white incense. The flavors, as well, are distinctive, comprised of gently extracted fruits that are imbued with grape skin, melon rind and stony minerals. On the back, the wine turns simultaneously crisp and viscous, with sensations of lightly squeezed fruits, kirsch and recurring tangerine peel, followed by a herb and spice dusted dry finish. 19/20 points - New review.
Rosé of Sangiovese
The Sangiovese grape, originating in Tuscany lends itself well to making Rosés, being a soft, medium bodied variety.
2017 Aluvé Sangiovese Rose, Walla Walla Valley ($22) 18.5+/20 points - May
2017 Mr Pink Rosé, Columbia Valley ($13) 18/20 points - May
2017 Barnard Griffin Rosé of Sangiovese, Columbia Valley (Purchased for $9.99) - Rob Griffin was one of the first to make Sangiovese Rosé over a decade ago. This vintage shows a copper-pink color and attractive aromas of strawberry, cherry, watermelon, cherry blossoms and pink lilac. The flavors are nicely extracted, with notes of grape skin, melon rind and light minerals. The back pickup fraise and kirsch liqueurs, followed by a crisp, nicely fruited finish. 18/20 points - New review.
Pinot Noir Rosé
The Pinot Noir grape also makes attractive Rosés, akin to those of Burgundy, especially ones from Marsannay. They generally are light bodied and dry.
2017 Lagana Cellars Rosé of Pinot Noir, Walla Walla Valley, Breezy Slope Vineyard ($20) 18.5/20 points - April
2017 Morell-Peña Rosé, Columbia Valley ($30) - Made by Aryn Morell and Edith Peña, this shows pink hued copper color and intriguing aromas of strawberry, Rainier cherry, red currant, cherry blossoms, tangerine peel, litchi nuts, pink lilac and white incense. The flavors, as well, are distinctive, with lightly pressed red fruits that are accented by grape skin, tangerine peel and saline minerals. The back picks up fraise and cerise liqueurs and recurring litchi nuts, followed by a lingering, dry, resonant finish. 19/20 points - New review.
These are Rosés that are made from varieties other than the ones above, or from other combinations.
2017 Three Rivers Rosé Wine, Columbia Valley ($16) - 70% Syrah, 23% Sangiovese, 3% Riesling 18/20 points - April
2017 Saviah Cellars Rosé, Walla Walla Valley ($18) - 57% Sangiovese, 43% Barbera - 18.5/20 points - May
Roses can be made as sparkling wines by bottle fermentation in the traditional method.
2017 College Cellars Grenache Rosé, Columbia Valley ($20) - Slightly effervescent - 18.5/20 points - June
N/V Treveri Cellars Sparkling Rosé, Columbia Valley - Made from Chardonnay with a bit of Syrah, this shows a pink color and plenty of bubbles and enticing aromas of strawberry, cherry and rhubarb, cherry blossoms and white incense. The flavors are bright and juicy, with an off-dry finish. 18+/20 points. - Full review to be in July.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Over the past couple of months, we have been shuttling back and forth between Walla Walla and Seattle. Along the way, we have been visiting winery tasting rooms in Woodinville and the Yakima Valley as well as the Walla Walla Valley. Here's what will be coming up in future issues of the Review of Washington Wines. Some wineries are ones that are new to us and some ones we haven't seen in a while.
Tempus Cellars - Joe Forest's winery has moved to 760 C Street near the airport. Current releases will be reviewed in the July issue.
Truth Teller - This jester themed Woodinville winery has opened a tasting room on Main Street in Walla Walla. Wines will be in the July issue.
William Church - We haven't been to this winery for some time. A superb 2017 Viognier and some impressive 2015 reds will be in the July issue.
Darby Winery - This another Woodinville winery we haven't seen for a couple of years. We tasted the current line up with tasting room manager Denise Alevari. A report will be in July.
Patterson Cellars - I stopped at the Woodinville tasting room and was impressed with the quality/price rations of the wines. Reviews in August.
Gorman Winery - The current releases were tasted at the Hollywood School district, including a superb 2016 Chardonnay and outstanding 2014 reds, to be reviewed in the August issue.
Treveri - We stopped at this sparkling wine producer in Wapato on the way home. The Griebs' bubblies continue to amaze for their value. The Rosé is delightful and the Blanc de Blancs and Geworztraminer also impressive. Best Buys in the July issue.
Bunnell Family Cellar - We stopped at Wine O'Clock in Prosser for lunch and tasted the newly released 2015 Sangiovese, 2014 Mourvèdre, 2013 Lia GSM and the Newhouse Family 2011 Vestige Red. To be in the July issue.
Walter Clore Center - In Prosser, we also visited the Center to do some tasting and picked up some wines from wineries that are new to us and which will be reviewed in August.
Next Week: The Annual Rosé Wine Roundup, Monday, June 11
- Written by Rand Sealey
Over the past few weeks, we have been drinking French and Italian wines from time to time for some variety and a change of pace from Washington wines.
2015 Jean-Paul Brun "Terres Dorées" Cotes de Brouilly ($21.99 - wine.com) - This Cru Beaujolais comes from the sun-drenched slopes above the town of Brouilly. It shows a purplish ruby color and enticing aromas of strawberry, cherry and currant, with scents of red roses, mulberry and white incense. The flavors are engaging, with notes of red licorice, cocoa powder and silicate minerals. The back picks up macerated berries, fraise liqueur and creme de cassis, followed by a supple yet vigorous moderate tannin finish. 18.5/20 points.
2015 Domaine du Clos de Fief "Tradition" Juliénas ($25 - The Thief) - Here, Michel and Sylvain Tete have turned out a vivacious Cru Beaujolais. Deep purplish colored, it possesses enticing aromas of wild raspberries, black cherries, black currants, crushed roses, violets and sweet incense. The flavors, as well, are appealing, with vivid dark fruits that are intermixed with licorice, cocoa, French roast and minerals. The back reveals sensations of pressed fruits, framboise liqueur and creme de cassis, followed by a slightly grainy ripe tannin finish. The wine's vivacity gives it a plus. 18.5+/20 points.
See last week's Review Blog below for more about The Thief Fine Wine & Beer shop in Walla Walla.
2015 Domaine du Prieuré Savigny les Beaune, 1er Cru, Les Lavierès ($38.99 - Esquin) - Brick red colored, this wine possesses a rich, smoky nose of fraises de bois, cherry and red currant with scents of rose petals, tobacco, violets and spiced incense. The medium bodied flavors show definite Pinot Noir character, underlain with chocolate, French roast and earth. The back picks up kirsch and cassis liqueurs and light graphite on the way ro a slightly grainy moderate tannin finish. The distinct Burgundian character gives it 19/20 points.
2015 Catherine & Pierre Breton "Trinche" Bourgeuil ($25 - The Thief) - Produced from the Cabernet Franc grape, this Loire Valley red shows a deep ruby color and a rich smoky nose of black cherry, plum and black currant, with scents of black roses, pipe tobacco and spiced incense. The flavors are robust yet supple, with black fruits that are accompanied by notes of licorice, cocoa, French roast and limestone minerals. The back pickup pressed berries, roasted nuts and toffee, followed by a sweet-dry moderate tannin finish. 18.5/20 points.
2015 Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage ($36 - The Thief) - Inky purple-ruby colored, this wine emits unmistakable Syrah aromas of black fruits - blackberries, black plums and black currants - with scents of crushed roses, pipe tobacco, lavender, violets and spiced incense. The flavors, as well, are varietally pure, with dark fruits that are intermixed with licorice, dark cocoa, roasted coffee beans and earth. The penetration continues on the back with macerated berries, roasted hazelnuts, creme de cassis and pulverized charcoal, followed by a lengthy sweet-dry moderate tannin finish. 19/20 points.
N/V Champagne Jacques Copinet Brut Rosé ($45.99 - Esquin) - This was a hit at a recent birthday celebration. It shows a light pink color and fine streaming bubbles, with lovely aromas of wild strawberries and red currants, with scents of wildflowers, jasmine and wisteria. The flavors, as well are alluring, with vivid, delicate yet beautifully delineated red fruits that are imbued with grape skins and stony minerals. On the back, a simultaneously tingly and creamy texture emerges, leading into a complex true Brut finish. 19/20 points.
2016 Pieropan Soave Classico ($16.99 - Full Pull) - When I owned the store, Esquin was the first to bring the Pieropan Soave into the Seattle market. We sold over a hundred cases a year of it in the 1980's. This is Leonildo Pierpan's 50th vintage. It shows a lemon straw color and attractive aromas of pear and white peach, with scents of pear blossoms and meadow flowers. The flavors are exquisitely textured, with notes of grape and pear skins and sandy minerals. The back reveals sensations of gently pressed fruits, liqueurs and toasted hazelnuts, followed by a dry finish. 18.5/20 points.
2015 La Gerla Rosso di Montalcino ($25 - The Thief) - Rosso di Montalcino is a younger version of Brunello di Montalcino, usually from younger vines. This one shows a ruby-garnet color and smoky aromas of raspberry, cherry, plum, roses, mulberry, tobacco, oregano and incense. The flavors mirror the aromatics with medium bodied red fruits that are intermixed with licorice, cocoa, Italian roast and minerals. The back picks up macerated berries, roasted nuts and dried cherries, followed by a dryish moderate tannin finish. 18.5/20 points.
2012 Argiano Brunello di Montalcino ($58.99 - Esquin) - Argiano is a highly respected producer in Montalcino. Produced from the Sangiovese Grosso ("Brunello") grape, this exhibits a deep ruby-garnet color and intoxicating aromas of black cherry, plum, cassis, attar of rose, pipe tobacco, cedar, lavender and smoldering incense. The flavors are deep and powerful, yet velvety, with intermixtures of licorice, chocolate, Italian roast and stony minerals. The intensity continues on the back with sensations of roasted berries, nougat, dried cherries and almond liqueur, followed by a lingering, herb dusted classic Tuscan dryish finish. 19+/20 points.
- Written by Rand Sealey
In the past two months, a couple of wineries in the Walla Wallta Valley have moved to new locations and a new wine shop has opened in downtown Walla Walla.
Tempus Cellars has moved to 760 C Street in the Airport District in the building where Corvus Cellars was located. When the owners of Corvus decided to concentrate on grape growing on their Red Mountain vineyard and cease producing wine, that presented owner-winemaker Joe Forest an opportunity to move to a more spacious location. I visited the new location a few days ago and got up to date. The current releases will be reviewed in the July issue of the Review of Washington Wines.
Revelry Vinters has built a new state of the art production and tasting room facility at 3978 Peppers Bridge Road south of Walla Walla (just past Amavi Cellars and Waters/Flying Trout). The old location on C Street near the Airport was bursting at the seams, and owner-winemaker Jared Burns decided to build a new facility. The Grand Opening was held on May 5th (during Spring Release Weekend). I visited a few days ago and found the new facility to be spacious and very nicely designed. The new 2015 reds will be in the July issue.
The Thief Fine Wine & Beer opened its store on 102 E Main Street on May 4th. This is something Walla Walla has been needing for a long time, a shop where one could find fine imported as well as domestic wines. There are many locals, in the wine industry and in the wine loving community, who appreciate wines from outside the Walla Walla Valley, especially European ones. So The Thief meets this need admirably.
I visited the store two days ago. It is named for the pipette used to draw wine or beer from a cask, called a "thief." There is a selection of over 300 wines, about 150 beers, plus aperitifs, Vermouths, and even a few Sakes. Most of the wines are imported, but there is a selection of local wines, priced in line with those of wineries. Emily Riley, one of the partners, along with Bryan Brammer and Kyle Pottroff, took good care of me. I purchased four bottles, three French and one Italian. I will be reviewing them in an upcoming posting on the Review Blog. I will come back for more wines to try. The shop also has a tasting bar where one can sample wines by the glass.