- Written by Rand Sealey
Walla Walla Valley Spring Release Weekend Preview
Next weekend, May 2-4 is Spring Release Weekend, the Walla Walla Valley's biggest wine event of the year. Many wineries will be pouring new releases. For suggested wineries to visit, check the March, April and May issues of the Review of Washington Wines. In addition, I recommend three other wineries that will be reviewed in June: Gramercy Cellars (new whites, a rosé and two reds), El Corazon (some knockout reds) and Rotie Cellars (Northern and Southern Red and the new 2013 Southern White).
There are some new tasting rooms in Downtown Walla Walla to visit: Tre Nova (Gino Cuneo, whose wines have been reviewed in the March issue), Precept Brands, representing Browne Family, Cavatappi, Ross Andrew and Waitsburg Cellars (Paul Gregutt's wines which are made at Precept), Mansion Creek (Julia Russell), Su Lei Cellars (Tanya Woodley and Elaine Jomwe), and Gallery Two Zero Two (202 East Main) representing Ardor Cellars (Brandon Kubrock) and Aryn Morell's wine portfolio (Alleromb, Tenor, Matthews Cellars and others). This year's Spring Release Weekend witll be bigger and better than ever.
Our First 20/20 Points White Wines
The May issue of the Review of Washington Wines has two firsts - the first two white wines scoring 20 out of 20 points. Hitherto, all 20 points wines have been reds. They are the 2013 àMaurice Cellars "Sparrow" Estate Viognier and the 2012 Reynvaan Family Vineyards "Queen's Road" White from the In the Rocks Vineyard. Both are compelling wines that meet the U.C. Davis 20 Point System criteria for 20 points, flawless and balanced wines, including 4 points for "Wines of 'noble' quality, with distinct and distinguishing character."
Does this signal a new direction toward higher quality Washington whites? Well, yes and no. There are outstanding white wines already being made in Washington State, so this is not something really new. There are already a goodly number of exceptional 19 points Chardonnays from the Conner Lee (Guardian Cellars, Bookwalter, Buty), French Creek (Maison Bleue, Sleight of Hand) and Celilo (Tranche) vineyards. The Dowsett Family Cellars' 2012 Gewurztraminer from the Celilo Vineyard scored a highly impressive 19.5/20 points (August, 2013). Abeja and Mark Ryan have excelled with Viognier, and Chateau Ste. Michelle's Eroica and Long Shadows Poet's Leap are outstanding old vine Rieslings. Maison Bleue and Rotie Cellars have been making extraordinary Rhone-style whites from Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne. Stellar Sauvignon Blancs have been made by Efesté and Tenor. On the other hand, there seems to be more serious interest in white wines from the winemaker and consumer standpoints. Two wineries, Array and Ashan are dedicated to making outstanding Chadonnays. See the March 2013 issue for reviews of Array's Charodnnays. I have samples on order of the Ashan Chardonnays (made by Chris Gorman), and the wines will be reviewed in a future issue. Another winery which has stirred considerable anticipation is Charles Smith in Walla Walla which hired Brennon Leighton from Efesté to make white wines at the former Whitman Cellars facility. Given Brennon's talents, the wines are expected to be stunning. Jason Fox's Lagana Cellars is also focusing on whites and his 2013 Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc (to be reviewed in June) mark an auspicious debut for a young winemaker. All this suggests that there is, indeed, a new direction for Washington whites, one that is more focused and dedicated to high quality. More later!
- Written by Rand Sealey
On Saturday March 29th, before Taste Washington, Lynn and I attended a seminar called "Playing Matchmaker - Pairing Food and Wine to Your Palate." It was moderated by Jamie Peha who has a blog, "Table Talk Northwest," a forum for Northwest wine and food (tabletalknorthwest.com). The panelists were Jameson Fink, contributing editor od the Grape Collective, Lenny Rede, Esquin Wine & Spirits, Reggie Daigneault, Wine Technology Coordinator at South Seattle Community College, Sean Hails, Winemaker at Columbia Winery, and Harry Mills, Executive Chef of Purple Cafe and Wine Bar.
The seminar was stimulating and informative. Six wines were served along with innovative food pairings. The first wine was the 2012 Treveri Cellars Blanc de Blancs Brut Sparkling wine along with pasta in a gruyere cheese and truffle butter. The crispness of the sparkler counterpointed the richness of the pasta. Jameson Fink commented that he likes to experiment with sparkling wines for stimulating combinations. Next, an Airfield 2012 Unoaked Chardonnay was served with a meatball in tomato and mushroom sauce. The natural (unoaked, moderate alcohol) richness of the Chardonnay complemented the acidity of the meatball sauce. Lanny Rede pointed out that high alcohol makes foods seem hotter and rich wines moderate acidity. The third wine was a 2013 W.T. Cellars Gruner Veltliner from Underwood Mountain in the Columbia Gorge. This offbeat varietal paired nicely with chicken and rice in a Thai peanut sauce. Columbia winemaker Sean Hails commented that when making wines, he also thinks about what dishes they would go with. The fourth wine was a 2008 Cavatappi Cellars Sangiovese with beef in a sweet-sour reduction sauce, which brought out the savory, dry character of the wine. The 2011 Patterson Cellars Cabernet Franc also went well with the braised beef which had an apple component to the sauce. Reggie Daigneault said she likes Cabernet Franc which is a great food wine, earthy, sweetish and complex. The final wine was the 2012 Columbia Winery Merlot. The direct, minerally character of Merlot which does well in Washington, makes a fine food wine, accrding to Sean Hails. Purple Cafe chef, Harry Mills concluded by saying that he constantly thinks about wine when creating new dishes. This seminar showed how well Washington wines play well with food.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Last weekend, April 4th and 6th, was what is known as "Cayuse Weekend." This year, it was an event filled one with lots of wine and fun.
On Friday morning, we drove down to Sunnyside Road on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley in "The Rocks" (soon to be an AVA) to Cayuse Vineyards" annual Private Release Party in "The Box." There we tasted the 2012's which will be released next year. Here are my notes:
2012 Cayuse Camaspelo, Walla Walla Valley - This 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot blend shows a deep ruby color and aromas of raspberry, cherry, cassis with scents of crushed roses, tobacco and incense. The medium-full bodied flavors are thck and chewy, muscular, yet refined with a long, moderate tannin finish. 19+/20 points.
2012 Cayuse Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Walla Walla Valley, Cailloux Vineyard - Deep crimson colored, this wine shows the feminine side of Syrah, with lovely aromas of raspberry, blueberry, crushed roses, lavender and violets laid on a savory, lushly textured palate and finish. 19.5/20 points.
2012 Cayuse Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, En Cerise Vineyard - Opaque purplish colored, this offers a rich nose of roasted fruits - blackberry, blueberry and cassis - with scents of attar of rose and violets, with earthy, gamy dark fruits and a thick texture, yet refined on the back and the finish. 19.5/20 points.
2012 Cayuse Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, En Chamberlin Vineyard - Again, this shows a deep crimson color and seductive aromas of blueberry, pomegranate, cassis, lavender and violets, with lavish stony earth flavors, and considerable length and staying power. 20/20 points.
2012 Cayuse "Bionic Frog" Syrah, Walla Walla Valley - Deep purplish colored, this exhibits seductive aromas of blackberry, blueberry and cassis, with scents of lavender, violets and spiced incense. On the palate, the flavors are thick and richly textured, yet possess much finesse and a long, long savory finish. 20/20 points.
2012 Cayuse "Impulsivo" Tempranillo - Crimson colored, this shows a gorgeous perfumed nose along with aromas of tobacco and earth and deep, chocolaty flavors and a lingering bittersweet finish that typifies a great Tempranillo. 19.5/20 points.
It is interesting to compare the 2012's to the 2011's. The 2012's seem to be lavish, delicious wines that will deliver a lot of drinking pleasure over the next decade, but the 2011's, I think, are built more for the long term, with structure to last. I have found this comparison, to largely hold true for other wines of the respective vintages as well.
That afternoon, we went up to the end of Cottonwood Road to Reyvaan Family Vineyards in the foothills of the Blue Mouintains. There, we tasted the winery's 2012 whites, very limited releases.
2012 Reynvaan Viognier, Walla Walla Valley - Brilliant gold colored, this offers an attractive nose of pear, peach and vanilla, with scents of orange blossoms and jasmine. The white fruit flavors are rich and minerally, like marzipan that is infused with Rocks minerals, followed by a long, elegant finish. 19.5/20 points.
2012 Reynvaan Grenache Blanc, Walla Walla Valley - This is an intriguing wine. It shows a pale gold color and aromas of pear-apple, peach, white lilac, jasmine and lemongrass. The white fruits, indeed, taste like a white Grenache, rich and silty, yet minerally, with fine fruit acid delineations and a long finish. 19.5/20 points.
2012 Reynvaan "Queen's Road" White Wine, Walla Walla Valley - This blend exhibits a greenish gold color and an intriguing nose of Bosc pear, white peach, Crenshaw melon, lilac, anise, honeysuckle and wisteria. On the palate, the flavors are well extracted and imbued with notes of peach stone, melon rind and minerals, followed by sensations of poire William liqueur and dried fruits on the long finish. 19.5/20 points.
Friday evening was Grenache Night at Trey Busch and Jerry Solomon's Sleight of Hand Cellars. The price of admission to the event was to bring a bottle of Grenache. There was a marvellous array of Grenache and Grenache-dominated wines from Washington, California, Spain, and France (including many wondrful Chateauneuf du Papes).
On Saturday morning, we stopped by Maison Bleue to taste the newly released 2012 Metis Blanc, 2011 Le Midi Grenache and 2011 Liberte Syrah which will be reviewed in the May issue. Then we went over to the Figgins Wine Studio on Melrose where we saw Chris Figgins and sampled his Oregon Pinot Noir and the 2010 Estate Red Blend.
2012 Toil Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley - This wine displays a deep cherry red color and lovely aromas of blackberry, cherry, dried roses, forest carpet and tobacco, with deep, supple well structured flavors that last and last through the chewy, yet satiny finish. 19/20 points.
2010 Figgins Estate Red, Walla Walla Valley - This was reviewed in the November 2013 issue, scoring 19.5 points. In retasting, it was every bit as impressive. Opaque ruby colored, it emits intense aromas of blackberry, black cherry and black currants, with scents of black roses, juniper berries, cigar box and violets. The dark fruit flavors are thick and massive, intermixed with dark chocolate, Sumatra roast, and stony minerals. The back reveals roasted berries and nuts, leading into a lingering, integrated oak, precise fruit acid and satiny tannin finish. Can go ten years or more. 19.5/20 points.
The big event of Saturday evening was Dr. Steven Maxood's birthday bash. There, the price of admission was a bottle of outstanding wine. Dozens of spectacular wines were poured, including magnums and double magnums from Steven's collection. Everything on the counter, from Washington, California, Oregon, Spain (including a 1964 Rioja), France (including First Growth Bordeaux) was sensational. An unforgettable event. Thanks, Steve!
- Written by Rand Sealey
The Review of Washington Wines to Use the 100 Points System
As of this date, April 1, 2014, the Review of Washington Wines will no longer use the University of California, Davis 20 Point System for scoring wines and will use the 100 Point System instead. After all, 100 points encourages winemakers to seek the Holy Grail of getting 90 or more points. It's all about the numbers. Never mind color, clarity, bouquet, etc. - 90 points is a lot more than 18 points. The higher the number, the better, so let's make it 100 points instead of 20. After all, the U.C. Davis faculty was just a bunch of old fogeys making weird wines like Zinfandel, Petit Sirah and what was called Pinot Chardonnay. Time to modernize!
Highlights of Taste Washington
Now, kidding aside, here's a report on Washington wine's biggest event, Taste Washington Seattle. Lynn and I attended as media representatives of the Review of Washington Wines. Over 260 wineries were represented and many hundreds of wines were poured. Here are some of the highlights.
In the morning, we attended a seminar, "Playing Matchmaker - Pairing Food & Wine to Your Palate," moderated by Jamie Peha of TableTalk Northwest (tabletalknorthwest.com). The panelists were Jameson Fink (Grape Collective), Lenny Rede (Esquin Wine & Spirits), Reggie Daigneault (South Seattle Community College), Sean Hails (Columbia Winery) and Harry Mills (Purple Cafe & Wine Bar). It was a stimulating and educational session. A full report will be in an upcoming Review Blog posting.
At the VIP Tasting in the afternoon, we sampled stellar releases from Avennia, Cadence, Betz Family, Kevin White, Upchurch Vineyard and Owen Roe, all scoring 19/20 points or more. These will be reviewed in the May issue of the Review of Washington Wines. We also tasted wines from up and coming wineries such as Alleromb, Lagana Cellars, W.T. Vintners, Kitzke, J.B. Neufeld, Market Vineyards, For a Song, Chatter Creek, Waitsburg Cellars and Cinq Cellars. These will be reviewed in upcoming issues. More later!
Coming Up on the Review of Washington Wines Blog
April 8 - Highlights of Cayuse Weekend (April 4-5)
April 15 - The Playing Matchmaker - Pariing Food & Wine to Your Palate Seminar
- Written by Rand Sealey
This year marks the 30th Anniversary of the Walla Walla Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA). On March 20th, to celebrate this milestone, the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance hosted a panel discussion by the pioneers of the Valley, Gary Figgins (Leonetti), Rick Small (Woodward Canyon), Marty Clubb (L'Ecole No. 41), Eric Rindal & John Freeman (Waterbrook), Casey McClellan (Seven Hills Winery), and Norm McKibben (Pepper Bridge Winery). The discussion, held in a packed Gesa Powerhouse Theater, was preceeded by a private tasting for industry leaders (including myself). Doug Charles of Compass Wines in Anacortes gave a lively introduction and Andy Perdue of Great Northwest Wines led the roundtable discussion. The winery founders had lively reminisences of the early days to releate. The discussion was then followed by wines and hors d'oeuvres. A number of library wines were poured as well. It was an awesome event and practically everyone in the wine industry came to salute the Walla Walla Valley AVA founders.
The 2014 Washington Syrah Spectacular
The next night, a Friday, Christopher Chan, who organizes the Seattle Wine Awards, hosted a tasting of 34 Washington Syrahs at his parents' house at the Yellow Bird Vineyard located above Walla Walla Vintners off Mill Creek Road. About twenty tasters methodically went through all the bottles, numbered from 1 to 34. It was a fun and educational excercise, which helped all of us learn more about wine tasting. Here are some wines that I found to be the most impressive.
2006 Long Shadows "Sequel" Syrah, Columbia Valley - This showed a deep purplish color and wonderful varietal purity, It emitted classic aromas of blackberry, blueberry, crushed roses and violets, with thick, grainy minerally flavors. 19/20 points.
2007 Matthews Winery Syrah, Columbia Valley - Deep crimson colored, this showed an unmistakable Syrah nose and varietal character from beginning to end, with lots of saturated fruit. 19/20 points.
2008 Taptel Syrah, Yakima Valley, Spilya Vineyard - From a vinyeard on the slope to the west off Red Mountain, this showed a semi opaque color and black fruits and sweet perfumes on the nose, and ripe, velvety, well-structured flavors. 19/20 points.
2003 Columbia Crest Reserve Syrah, Columbia Valley - This showed a medium garnet color and perfumed aromas of roses, violets and tobacco, and lots of rich, savory flavors and a ripe finish. 19/20 points.
2007 Olsen Estate Syrah, Yakima Valley - Deep purplish colored, this showed a deep purplish color and a classic nose of blackberry, blueberry and cassis, with scents of roses and violets, along with mouth-encompassing flavors. 19/20 points.
The Marcus Whitman Tasting Rooms Celebrate their Fourth Anniversary
Another anniversary was celebrated Monday, March 24th when the tasting rooms at the Marcus Whitman Hotel in downtown Walla Walla stayed open after hours. A large crowd of friends came to Trio Vintners, Locati Cellars, Tero Eststes / Flying Trout / Waters, and Lodmell Cellars for this event. "Mama" Julia Russell also had her Grand Opening of the new Mansion Creek Cellars tasting room.
Walla Walla Tasting Room Musical Chairs
There have been tasting rooms coming and going downtown in addition to Mansion Creek which took the place of Don Carlo Cellars which moved to Milton-Freewater. Tanya Woodley and Elain Jomewe have opened SuLei Cellars on Second, next to Wild Wine Woman. Henry Earl Estates will be opening next door to Otis Kenyon on Main Street. The Chocoate Shop on the plaza is being taken over by Browne Family Vineyards. Further east, at 202 E Main Street, Brandon Kubrock's Ardor Cellars will be opening in late April. In addition, Aryn Morell's portfolio (Alleromb, Matthews, Tenor, GARD, Mullan Road) will be poured. The facility will also include an art gallery featuring local artists, including Penny Michel, Anne Hysell and Helene Wilder.
Coming Up: Taste Washington Seattle
This weekend (Saturday March 29 and Sunday, the 30th) Taste Washington will be held at the Century Link Field Event Center. It is the country's biggest single wine region tasting event and is not to be missed. Over 200 wineries and 68 restaurants will be participating. For a list of wineries and restaurants, go to tastewashington.com. For my recommendations of wines and wineries, see the April and other recent issues of the Review of Washington Wines.