Last Thursday, July 19th, Lynn and I drove from Walla Walla to the Columbia Gorge to visit wineries around Lyle, Washington. The Gorge is a transitional microclimate, between the cooler West Columbia River and the warmer, drier East. The climate is especially suited for growing wine grapes.
On the way to Lyle, on Highway 14, we noticed plumes of smoke arising from a canyon on the Oregon side, between Biggs and The Dalles. It was a brush fire scorching the hills and producing lots of smoke, but no flames. We hoped this was not the beginning of a smoky wildfire season like last year's.
Our first stop in Lyle was at Memaloose, just east of town. There, we tasted some 2015 and 2014 reds from the Idiot's Grace Vineyard above Lyle, including some nice Dolcetto and Barbara wines, a winery specialty. The wines will be reviewed in the September issue of the Review of Washington Wines.
After lunch at the Country Kitchen, we drove up the Lyle-Balch Road (Old Highway 8) top Syncline. From the nearby Lyle-Balch Cemetery, we could see a spectacular view of Mount Hood across the river. At Syncline, we tasted a bevy of 2017 whites and 2016 and 2015 reds with owner-winemaker James Mantone. Most of the wines are from Rhone varietals - Syrah, Grenache, Grenache Blanc, Mourvèdre, including the rare Cinsault - plus Pinot Noir, a Gorge specialty. All these to be reviewed in September.
Our next stop was at COR Cellars (Latin for heart) founded in 2004 by Luke Bradford. With Catherine - "Cat" - Kaczynski, we tasted a variety of wines, including the new AGO line from grapes sourced from the Columbia Gorge AVA, including a charming 2016 Chardonnay blended with 26% Tocai Friuliano, a rarity outside of Italy's Venezia. To be reviewed September.
We then swung around and back up to Alexis and Juliet Pouillon's Domaine Pouillon. With Juliet, we tasted a couple of fine Rosés (see below) and some tasty Rhone style white and reds, including an admirable 2015 Grenache. These will be reviewed in September.
After Domaine Poullion, we drove across the Columbia River on the Bridge of the Gods to Hood River where we stayed at the Best Western Hood River Inn. At the Riverside Restaurant we had a dinner of Columbia River salmon with a pleasing Sinneann Y'East Vineyard Pinot Noir.
The next morning, we drove back across the Columbia River to Tetrahedron in Lyle. Tetrahedron is the shape of a water molecule. We tasted a 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé (see below) and a fine 2016 Celilo Vineyard Chardonnay and an Oregon Mountain Pinot Noir (September).
We then drove East and then across the river to The Dalles where we had lunch at La Petite Provence where we had sandwiches with a local Pinot Gris. As we drove on east, we saw the site of the previous day's brush fire. It had burned out, leaving scorched earth, but no smoke. The Gorge got lucky this time. Let's hope there are no more fires like last year's.
While in the Columbia Gorge, we tasted some very nice Rosé wines. Here are our reviews.
2017 Memaloose "The Gorge" Estate Rosé Wine ($21) - Composed of 58% Grenache and 42% Syrah, this shows a light copper color and intriguing aromas of raspberry, Rainier cherry and rhubarb, cherry blossoms, lavender, tangerine peel and incense. The flavors are nice and juicy, lightly extracted, with notes of framboise, kirsch and toasted nuts prefacing a dry finish. 18+/20 points.
2017 Syncline Rosé Wine, Horse Heaven Hills ($24) - This blend of 40% Mourvèdre, 33% Grenache and 27% Counoise, crushed direct to press offers a light copper color and enticing aromas of strawberry, rhubarb, watermelon, blood orange peel, wildflowers and incense. The flavors are crisp and dry, Provence like, with notes of grape skin, melon rind and minerals. The back picks up touches of toffee, fraise liqueur and recurring orange peel on the dry finish. 18.5/20 points.
2017 Domaine Pouillon Pinot Noir Rosé, Columbia Gorge ($27) - Brilliant pink-copper colored, this emits intriguing aromas of fraises de bois, peach, Rainier cherry, orange peel, forest carpet, cherry and orange tree blossoms and white incense. The flavors are lightly extracted, with notes of grape skin, pêche and cerise liqueurs and recurring orange peel, followed by a light alcohol (11.7%) lip smacking dry finish. 18.5/20 points.
2017 Domaine Pouillon Estate Syrah Rosé, Columbia Gorge ($29) - With a three hour maceration, this is a more extracted than usual Rosé. It shows a copper hued color and an intense nose of wild raspberries, cranberries, watermelon and currants, with scents of pink lilac, lavender, orange peel and spiced incense. The flavors are pleasingly juicy and nicely extracted, with notes pf melon rind, recurring orange peel and crème de cassis, followed by a lingering, faintly honeyed herb and spice dusted finish. 18.5+/20 points.
2017 Tetrahedron Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé, Columbia Gorge, Graves Vineyard ($24) - This is made in a "bigger" style than most Rosés. It shows a copper color and intriguing aromas of strawberry, cherry, plum, vanillin (from oak aging) cherry tree blossoms, wildflowers and incense. The flavors mirror the aromatics with notes of grape skin, fraise and cerise liqueurs and toasted nuts prefacing a dry, structured finish. Will age well. 18.5/20 points.