Early this week, I received an email from Marie-Eve Gilla, winemaker at Valdemar Estates: "I am researching the 2018 and 2019 vintages. I am wondering if you have any comments on these two very different vintages, at least they were mostly smoke free."I

I thought this would make a great topic for one of my Review blogs and replied that I would be doing so.

As Marie-Eve stated, 2018 and 2019 are very different vintages. Here's how the growing seasons turned out, according to the Washington Wine Commission Overviews.

In 2018, a cool spring delayed bud break slightly then a warm May advanced bloom. July and August temperatures were warm, but followed by a cool September, followed by moderate days and cool nights in October, with harvest ending by early November. Brix levels were slightly above average and acid levels higher than expected for a warm vintage. It was a particularly successful vintage, especially for Rhone varieties.

The 2019 growing season in Washington was unique. Late winter weather continued into March, delaying pruning and producing increased soil moisture and delayed budding. Summer temperatures were cooler and more even than usual. During harvest, phenolic maturity came earlier than sugar ripeness and a cool September delayed picking. Frosts in early to mid October led to feverish picking. Cooler temperatures contributed to lower sugars and higher acidities. Merlot and Syrah were particularly successful.

In looking back at my reviews of wines from those two vintages, here's what I came up with.

Coming from a warmer year, the 2018's seem riper than usual. Descriptors include "loads of up front fruit," "bold, yet supple," "warm and expansive." The tannins generally seem sweeter than usual: "ripe" or "sweet-dry." Many of them are quite approachable, especially those from Rhone varieties: Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah. Even the Cabernet Sauvignons seem less austere.

Not many 2019 reds have been tasted yet. The Cabernet Sauvignons and other Bordeaux varietals are just now being released. Of the other varieties tasted, the wines seem a bit sturdier and more focused than their 2018 counterparts. Descriptors include "focused," "moderate tannins and balanced acids," and "lifted by bright fruit acids." So far, 2019 looks to be turning out wines that will age well. 

As illustrations of the characteristics of the 2018 and 2019 vintages, I thought it would be interesting to revisit wines from Valdemar Estates. Marie-Eve wrote, "It is hard to compare the Valdemar wines because '19 was made onsite and '18 at a custom place. I also added some of my favorite vineyards and as a result I feel the '19 I made are more precise and show better depth." Here are my notes on two Valdemar wines that were retasted recently.

2018 Valdemar Estates Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Stoney Vine Vineyard ($75) - This shows a deep ruby-crimson color and an intoxicating nose of blackberry, mountain blueberry, black currant, crushed black roses, dark tobacco, lavender and incense. The flavors are mouth filling, with layers of up front black and blue fruits that are infused with licorice, dark cocoa, French roast and Rocks silt and cobblestone minerals. The saturation continues on the back with macerated fruits, roasted nuts, mocha and creme de cassis, followed by a lingering spiced (nutmeg, clove) marked by sweetish yet firm tannins. 19.5/20 points. Reviewed August 2020, same score.

2019 Valdemar Estates "Component Trial" Grenache, Red Mountain, Tapteil Vineyard ($60) - Ruby-crimson colored, this emits perfumed aromas of raspberries, cranberries and red currants, with scents of rosebuds, sweet tobacco, wild lavender and incense. The flavors are mouth filling, with layers of red fruits that are intermixed with red licorice, cocoa, medium roast coffee and Red Mountain calcareous earth. The back reveals pressed fruits, framboise and creme de cassis liqueurs and charcoal, followed by a lingering, savory moderate tannin finish, lifted by vigorous yet balanced acids. This wine seems to have benefited from Tapteil's high elevation, sun-exposed site in this vintage. 19+/20 points. Reviewed June 2021, same score.  

Conclusion: For ripe, accessible, yet serious wines, go for the 2018's. For more focused, age worthy wines, go for the 2019's. This is just a generalization.