- Written by Rand Sealey
A few days ago, I ran across an interesting article in Tom Lee's Zinfandel Chronicles (zinfandelchronicles.com) about Washington Whites. In it, he noted that the Cayuse, Leonetti, Quilceda Creek and Betz wineries had one thing in comon: they do not make white wines. A reader would suppose that iconic wineries don't do whites. Lee goes on to classify the makers of the Great Whites of Washington:
old guard: Woodward Canyon (Chardonnay), Ch. Ste. Michelle (Erioica Riesling) DeLille (Chaleur Estate White).
new guard: Efeste (Lola Chardonnay) Sleight of Hand and Maison Bleue (French Creek Chardonnay) Guardian (Angel Sauvignon Blanc) and others.
Along these lines, here are some noteworthy Great Whites of Washington, all more in the new guard style rather than the old.
Array Wines: this winery makes only Chardonnay and the 2011 Washington State, Dijon Clone and Conner Lee bottlings are excellent (reviewed in the March issue of the Review of Washington Wines). New guard.
Buty: Caleb Foster makes two remarkable whites: a Semillon-Sauvignon-Muscadelle and a Conner-Lee Chardonnay. He uses a combination of barrel fermentation and aging in concrete tanks, a new guard approach.
Tenor Wines: Aryn Morell makes a striking Sauvignon Blanc, barrel fermented and very intense. See the February issue for a review of the 2011.
Waters: The 2012 "Prelude" Roussanne-Viognier is a delicious white. I was going to review it in May, but was told it would get even better, so I will wait until the June issue.
Dowsett: No one, I think, makes Gewurztraminer better than Chris Dowsett. The 2011 Celilo Vineyard is excellent (August 2012) and will be reviewing the 2012 in the next few months.
Waitsburg Cellars: Paul Gregutt has turned out a quartet of "The Aromatics" from the Pinot Gris, Chenin Blanc and Riesling grapes. They are amazingly good for their price points ($15 and $17). They have qualities that seem to embrace both old and new world styles. Watch for the May issue (on line on April 29) for reviews of these wines.
Sleight of Hand and Maison Bleue: Both make intense Chardonnays from the French Creek vineyard (see above). Jon Meuret also makes superb Rhone-style whites at Maison Bleue.
Finally, in this connection, I should mention that Brennon Leighton, maker of Efesté's "Lola" Chardonnay, is now working for Charles Smith Wines in Walla Walla, making Chardonnays. Starting with the 2012 vintage, we should be seeing additions to the Great Whites of Washington.
- Written by Rand Sealey
The weekend of April 5 and 6 is known as "Cayuse Weekend" because Christophe Baron and Trevor Dorland hold their annual Release Party at the winery on Skyline Road in the "Rocks" of the South Valley, on the Oregon side. Other wineries in the Walla Walla Valley receive many visitors as well. Here's my recounting of that weekend.
On Friday morning, Lynn and I went to the Cayuse party. There, we met up with Jim Kunz, a former part owner of Esquin during a few of the years when I owned that Seattle wine shop. We tasted through eight wines, three 2010's and five 2011's. For academic purposes (there is a winery waiting list and the wines are virtually unavailable elsewhere), here are my notes:
2010 "God Only Knows" Grenache - Medium ruby colored, this wine offers an exotic, almost ethereal nose of wild raspberries, orange peel and oriental perfumes. The medium-bodied flavors are seductive and well-wrought, incorporating minerally stones into notes of wild fruits, cocoa powder and tea, followed by a lingering finish with silky tannins and dusty spices. 19.5/20 points.
2011 "Widowmaker" Cabernet Sauvignon - Brilliant ruby colored, this shows a classic Cabernet nose of blackberry, cherry, tobacco and eucalyptus. The medium full bodied flavors are elegantly styled, with ample dark fruits, licorice, chocolate and earthy minerals, followed by a lingering, seductive finish. 19+/20 points.
2010 "The Lovers" Red Blend - Composed of 84% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Syrah, this wine emits an intense nose of blackberries, cherries, cedar, olive and crushed roses. The dried berry flavors show an "old world" BDX style character with notes of macerated berries, roasted nuts, graphite and pulverized minerals. 19+/20 points.
2011 Syrah, Cailloux Vineyard - This wine exhibits a deep ruby color and a seductive nose of wild berries, crushed roses and smoldering incense. The flavors are intensely minerally, with fleshy red and blue fruits and touches of roasted nuts and suede leather, followed by a lengthy finish. 19+/20 points.
2011 Syrah, En Chamberlin Vineyard - This wine displays teriffic aromas of attar of rose, orange peel, rosebuds and violets. The medium bodied flavors are immediately seductive, with notes of Belgian chocolate, French roast and earthy minerals intermixed with touches of leather and roasted berries and nuts, followed by a long finish. 19+/20 points.
2011 Syrah, En Cerise Vineyard - Brilliant ruby colored, this shows lovely aromas of raspberries, cherries, crushed roses and violets. The medium full bodied flavors are lavish and enticing, deep cored, and throwing a broad, yet focused, beam of red and blue fruits, imbued by cocoa powder and stony minerals. 19.5/20 points.
2011 "Bionic Frog" Syrah - Deep ruby colored, with a bit of haze (from a barrel sample), this wine emits an intoxicating nose of wid strawberries, blackberries, cherries, lavender and violets. The finely wrought flavors spread out on the palate, with notes of dried orange, roasted nuts and stony minerals. The flavors persist on the back and push into a lingering finish. 19.5/20 points.
2010 Syrah, Armada Vineyard - This wine displays a brilliant garnet color and an intriguing nose of toasted berries, cherry, earth, tobacco and lavender. The thick, sweetish fruits are intermixed with stony, loamy earth, Swiss chocolate, roasted coffee beans and mocha. The back picks up notes of scorched nuts, kirsch liqueur and satiny fruits on a long, long finish. 20/20 points.
After Cayuse, Jim, Lynn and I drove on down Skyline Road and stopped at Otis Kenyon which was open especially for the weekend and tasted the superb newly-released 2010 Carmenere which will be reviewed in the May issue of the Review of Washington Wines. After Otis Kenyon, we went to the Tero Estates/Flying Trout winery and tasted Ashley Trout's 2010 Brook Blend and 2010 Old Vines Malbec (to be reviewed in May). Afterwards, Jim split off to make a few stops on his own while we returned home. He later stopped at our new home before heading back to Seattle.
In the late afternoon, we went to Glencorrie's "Industry Appreciation NIght" at the new tasting room downtown. Owner-winemaker Ronn Coldiron and tasting room manager Melanie Leathers were on hand to greet guests and pour their wines. See the February issue for reviews of the current Glencorrie releases.
The next morning, we drove up to the end of Cottonwood Road to Reynvaan Family Vineyards. Mike Reynvaan, son Matt, and a number of other family members were on hand to present three new limited production whites from the 2011 vintage: a Viognier, the "Queen's Road White," and a Grenache Blanc. Washington has plenty of good whites, but few great ones, including these three.
After Reynvaan, we went over to Rasa Vineyards and Mackey Vineyards where we tasted some of Billo new 2009 BDX and Cabernet wines, which will be reviewed in the June issue, along with the Mackey brothers' 2009 "RAC" Cabernet-Merlot blend and 2009 Red Mountain 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, also to be reviewed in June. Then, we stopped at Waters on JB George Road where we sampled a delightful 2012 Rose and 2012 Prelude white, and the 2010 Loess Vineyard Syrah, all to be reviewed in May. For lunch, we stopped at Dusted Valley for a burger from AK's Kitchen, along with some new releases - a 2011 Mourvedre and 2011 Squirel Tale Red, to be reviewed in June.
In the afternoon, we drove up to Dayton to the Dumas Station winery and had a behind the scenes visit of the historic railroad depot from which apples were shipped out of a storage facility. Then, we tasted some 2010 reds which will be reviewed in June. On the way back, we stopped in Waitsburg where Virginie Bourgue was pouring her Lullaby wines. See the December 2012 issue for reviews of these wines. Then on back to Walla Walla.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Established as an AVA in 2001, Red Mountain is one of Washington's most unique American Viticultural Areas in more ways than one. It is known for its distinctive gravelly, calcareous Missoul Flood soil (the mountain's name comes from the reddish "cheatgrass" that grows in the spring) and wind-blown and scorched sun climate, produciung many outstanding wines. But it is not a destination, like Lake Chelan, which is also a recreation area, and Walla Walla, which is a wine lover's Mecca.
The most noticeable feature of Red Mountain is the sparsity of land development, aside from the vineyards, plantings of which keep growing. There are few working wineries. The largest are Hedges Estate and Col Solare (the Chateau Ste. Michelle and Marchese Antinori collaboration). Terra Blanca is mid sized, and Tapteil, Hightower and Cooper are small family-run operations. Fidelitas has a tasting room mid-way up Sunset Road, but the wines are made elsewhere. Some wine growers live on the mountain, including Larry and Jane Pearson (Tapteil Winery and Vineyard), Ed and Eve Shaw (Shaw Vineyard) and Fred and Jorga Artz (Artz Vineyard). Other vineyards have absentee owners such as Grand Ciel (DeLille Cellars in Woodinville) and Corliss (the same named winery located in Walla Walla). The nearest town is Benton City, hardly a city (the main drag is a mile long).
So the reputation of Red Mountain lies largely in its wines, many of which get high ratings, including those in the Review of Washington Wines. This is testimony to the vision of those who were among the first to plant vines on Red Mountain (which previously had been planted to wheat and alfalfa, now mostly replaced with vines) such as the Gelles family's Klipsun Vineyard and Tom Hedges who started the first winery on the mountain.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Taste Washington Seattle is the Washington Wine Commission's biggest event of the the year. On March 23rd and 24th, over two hundred wineries participated. Lynn and I attended the Saturday session as Media representatives.
My strategy was to hit the high profile wineries first to sample their new releases before the big crowds hit. I tasted stellar wines from Andrew Will, Betz Family Winery, Boiudreaux, and Cadence which will be reviewed in the May issue (Taste Washington was too late in the month to go into the April issue which has already been wrapped up). I also looked for new and up-and-coming wineries that I was not yet familiar with. In future issues, I will be reporting on Eight Bells, Silverback Vineyards, ded reckoning, Kevin White, Cairdeas and Ginkgo Forest.
Taste Washington was also an opportunity to see friends, old and new. I ran into Meriann Roberts who was my right hand when I owned Esquin up until 1997. She is now with Vinum Importing, which distributes For a Song wines which she was representing. The irrepressible Charlie Finkel was going around with a container of Pike Brewing ale strapped to his back. Muriel Kenyon was pouring solo for Otis Kenyon, so Lynn got her some oysters while Karma Cellars provided a glass of bubbly. Taste Washington is always a great event with the camaraderie of the wine industry and the enthusiasm of consumers.
Next Week: On April 1, the April issue of the Review of Washington Wines will go on line with a report on Red Mountain (including a blog on that AVA) along with new releases from around the state. Watch for it!
- Written by Rand Sealey
On Tuesday, March 12th, the Sons of Bacchus (SOB's for short) convened for its monthly blind tasting. The theme was Zinfandel. The line up comprised of younger and older wines: the oldest was a 1993 Ridge Paso Robles and the youngest a 2009 Robert Biale from the Napa Valley. The consensus favorite was the 2006 Rosenblum Dry Creek Valley, Rockpile Vineyard.
My personal preferences were for the younger Zins. My favorites were the 2009 Robert Bialer, R.W. Moore Vineyard and the 2008 Grand Vineyard, both from Napa. The 2008 Garrison Creek from the Walla Walla Valley (Les Collines) also showed well. The 2006 Rosenblum Rockpile was at its peak, confirming my belief that Zinfandels are at their best when about seven or eight years old. A surprising exception was the 1993 Ridge York Creek, Paso Robles, which still showed fruit even though slightly caramelized. The 1997 Turley and was tired, and the 1999 Marinelli on the edge of overmaturity.
At the conclusion of the tasting, I commented that I used to love Zinfandels, especially the Ridge Lytton Springs and Geyserville bottlings, but liked that variety less well now. Kevin Pogue (Whitman geology prof. and Vinterra consultant) asked if this was because my tastes had changed or that the wines had changed. I replied that it was a good question. I concluded that it was my personal preferences. "I'll take a Washington Syrah over a Zin any day," I answered. The tasting was an interesting and revealing exercise, but that's what I came away thinking.