Review of Washington Wines Blog
A Guide to Walla Walla Fall Release Weekend
Written by Rand Sealey   
Monday, 29 October 2012 13:44

The following are recommendations of wineries to visit during Walla Walla's Fall Release Weekend, November 2nd through 4th. Before going, also check out the October and November issues of the Review of Washington Wines for recommended new releases.


Long Shadows - There is a $20 tasting fee, but is applicable toward purchase of some mighty fine wines. Open Friday and Saturday.

Tero Estates and Flying Trout - This winery near Milton-Freewater is having a "Fall Release Argentine Style BBQ in the Vineyard" Friday through Sunday.

Trio Vintners has moved to the Marcus Whitman Hotel. See the November issue for Karen La Bonte's fine values.

Ellanelle, a promising new winery (see the November issue) is pouring its 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon at Petit Noirs in Milton Freewater.

Sinclair Estate Vineyards is having live music at it tasting room on Main Street from 3 to 4 on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Proper Wines is pouring its debut 2010 Walla Walla Valley Syrah (to be reviewed in the December issue - 19/20 points) at Olive Restaurant downtown on Saturday from 11 to 3.

Mark Ryan Winery opened a new tasting room on downtown Main Street in August. See the October issue for reviews of the 2010's Two more 2010's, Long Haul and Dead Horse will be released (to be reviewed in December).

Sleight of Hand - Trey Busch always has interesting wines for tasting, along with his favorite rock music in the background.

Rotie Cellars - Sean Boyd will be pouring his new "Homage" Grenache-based Rhone-style blend (reviewed November) along with other current releases.

Morrison Lane - See the November issue for a write-up on Sean and Kate Morrison's wines. The winery is located on Lyday Road off Braden Road in the South Valley.

Gramercy Cellars (now on North 13th) is especially recommended for Greg Harringron's fine wines.

Rasa Vineyards (Pinto and Billo Naravane) will be open for the weekend at the winery on Powerline Road.

Seven Hills Winery - Be sure to check out Casey McClellan's excellent 2009 reds (reviewed September).

Other downtown wineries worth visiting: Kerloo, Mackey, Otis KenyonForgeron, Don Carlo, Locati Cellars, Cadaretta, El Corazon, Walla Faces and Charles Smith. Tero Estates and Flying Trout also has a tasting room in the Marcus Whitman.

South of Walla Walla: In addition to Sleight of Hand, above, Saviah, Waters, Va Piano, Waters, Fjellene, Tertulia and Gifford Hirlinger are recommended.

East of Walla Walla. At the Airport, visit Kontos Cellars, Corvus, and CAVU in the incubators, and Buty, Tempus and Patit Creek. Further east, on Mill Creek Road, go to K Vintners, àMaurice and Walla Walla Vintners. To the north, Robison Ranch Cellars will be open for the weekend.

West of Walla Walla, Reininger, Glencorrie, L'Ecole No. 41 and Woodward Canyon are recommended.


Last Updated on Friday, 12 April 2013 20:22
Autumn Best Buys
Written by Rand Sealey   
Tuesday, 23 October 2012 14:55

With the increased number of exceptional wines being reviewed recently, there has been less space for "Best Buys." So, here, I am listing some wines recently tasted that offer exceptional value.


2011 Ch. Ste Michelle Riesling, Columbia Valley, Cold Creek Vineyard ($13.99 at Esquin)

Riesling continues to offer some of the best values in Washington wine. This one offers a brilliant gold color and a fresh nose of pear, peach and grapefruit, with scents of honeysuckle, jasmine and clover. The fruit compote flavors are fresh and lively, underlain with peach stone, old vine character, and stony minerals. The back picks up notes of melon rind, Poire William liqueur and a squeeze of grapefruit juice on the lingering medium-dry finish. 18.5/20 points.

2009 Gamache Cellars Boulder Red, Columbia Valley ($15.99 at Esquin)

A blend of 40% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Syrah, 16% Malbec and 8% Merlot, this wine exhibits a deep purplish color and attractive aromas of blackberries, cherries, plums, mulberry and incense. The flavors are deliciously ripe and chewy, with admixtures of chocolate, cola and roast coffee. The richness continues on the back with notes of macerated berries, mocha, dried cherries and a dash of spice on the moderate acid and tannin finish. 18/20 points.

2011 Tempus Cellars Riesling, Columbia Valley, Evergreen Vineyard ($15.99 at Esquin)

This comes from Washington's newest AVA, Ancient Lakes, near Quincy. It displays a brilliant gold color and an intriguing nose of Bosc pear, white peach, apricot, jasmine and clover. The white fruit flavors are crisp and lively, accented by notes of wet stone, peach pit and old vine penetration. The vibrance continues on the back with a squeeze of lime juice and persistent minerality. 18.5/20 points.

2011 Lost River Pinot Gris, Columbia Valley ($13.99 at Total Wine)

This Winthrop winery has turned out a fine rendition of this variety. Fermented in stainless steel, it shows a brilliant gold color and an intriguing nose of pear, white peach, melon, grapefruit and a hint of anise. The white fruit flavors are crisp and vibrant, imbued with stony minerals, peach pit and melon rind, followed by tones of grapefruit peel and wet stone on a faintly honeyed finish. 18/20 points.

2011 Ch. Ste. Michelle-Dr. Loosen "Eroica" Riesling, Columbia Valley ($15.99 at Total Wine)

Iridescent gold colored, this wine offers a perfumed nose of pear, white peach, Crenshaw melon, honeysuckle, jasmine and clover. The white fruit compote flavors are fresh and vibrant, imbued with stony minerals, peach stone and melon rind. The back picks up notes of squeezed ruby grapefruit juice and lemon zest on the lingering, lightly spiced off-dry low alcohol (11%) finish, all making for a lovely Mosel-like Riesling. 18.5+/20 points.

2009 Ch. Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Merlot, Columbia Valley ($12.97 net at Total Wine)

Sourced mostly from the Wahluke Slope, this Merlot offers a deep ruby color and true to variety aromas of black cherries, cassis, black roses, tobacco and sandalwood. The flavors are plush and accessible, yet deep, marked by notes of chocolate, mocha, roast coffee and minerally earth, along with a toasty, chewy back. Moderate tannins give this wine easy drinkability, yet it possesses enough acid to give it structure. 18/20 points.

2011 Barnard-Griffin Fume Blanc, Columbia Valley ($9.99 at Thriftway)

This is my go-to wine when I have lunch at Anthony's Home Port at the Sea-Tac airport before my afternoon Horizon Air flight to Walla Walla. This vintage shows a brilliant straw color and fresh aromas of melon, citrus, lilac, lemongrass and a hint of fig. The white fruit flavors are crisp and lively, yet well textured, with notes of melon rind, grapefruit peel and grapeskin on a lingering, zesty finish. 18/20 points.

2010 Blacksmith Syrah, Columbia Valley ($14.99 at Thriftway)

Blacksmith is a second label for Forgeron Cellars. This Syrah displays a brilliant purplish ruby color and a ripe nose of raspberry, blueberry, pomegranate, black roses and anise. The flavors are well focused, with the dark fruits intermixed with licorice, cocoa and earthy minerals. The penetration continues on the back with notes of roasted berries and nuts, blueberry juice and dried orange peel on a chewy moderate tannin and acid finish. 18/20 points.


The November Issue Goes Online October 29th

Since the November Review of Washington Wines includes a Walla Walla Fall Release preview, that issue will go online a few days early. This will help readers who will be making the trip to Walla Walla plan ahead. Next week's Review Blog also will include recommendations of wineries to visit.






Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 October 2012 19:53
More on the Syrah Conundrum
Written by Rand Sealey   
Tuesday, 16 October 2012 14:10

Two weeks ago, on October 1, I posted a blog entitled "The Syrah Conundrum" on why it's "The Grape that Doesn't Sell." Last week, Greg Harrington, who was quoted as saying that Syrah is Washington's best grape, posted my article on Gramercy Cellars' Facebook page. Here are some comments:

"Rand nailed it..." - Kevin Pogue, Geology Professor at Whitman and terroir expert (Vinterra Consulting)

"Well said Rand. And I will add my voice to the chorus that it is Washington's best grape. Whenever anyone else asks I always say Syrah without hesitation." - Sean Sullivan, Washington Wine Report (www.wawinereport.com)

"Ahaha...Go SJR!!" - Brooke Robertson, co-owner of the SJR Vineyard (Delmas Cellars) in the "Rocks" of the South Walla Walla Valley

"Yes...explains a lot about why 1) there are so many Syrahs coming out of WA and 2) the great variety between them all. Excellent categories...very helpful." - Brian Hope

"Go FUNKADELIC!" - Trey Busch, owner-winemaker at Sleight of Hand Cellars, in refrence to his Syrah from the Funk Vineyard in the Rocks.


Then, a few days later I saw an article from Wines & Vines (a wine industry publication) entitled "Wine's Biggest Winners and Losers" about a survey of wine sales by varietal by the Symphony IRI Group. In it, Curtis Mann, director of the Chicago based market research firm, noted that Red blends/Meritage and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc were the big winners and Syrah the biggest loser. The latter shrank 16% overall, with sales droping to $58 million. The Wine & Vines articlce commented:

One common criticism of Syrah is that wines styles vary so widely that consumers don't know what to expect when they buy a bottle. Another is that the U.S. hasn't developed a marquee winery to wave the flag for the varietal. "There's no Opus One of Syrah," Mann observed, "so I think it's more of a marketing problem than anything." This proliferation of Syrah styles is an issue that my Blog article, "The Syrah Conundrum" addresses.

The Wines & Vines article added, "One bright spot, however, was that California and Washington Syrah in SIG's highest proce segment, $20 plus did grow well." This is pretty much in line with the my observation that the Cultist, Purist and Terroirist categories have distinctive styles that serious consumers can appreciate, bearing out the premise that Syrah is, indeed, Washington's best grape.


To see the article, "The Syrah Conundrum," scroll down this page, to the 1 October posting.



Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 October 2012 14:55
Harvest 2012 Update
Written by Rand Sealey   
Tuesday, 09 October 2012 13:51

This past week, winegrowers have been on watch for freezing weather. In the Walla Walla Valley and elsewhere, early morning temperatures have gotten down into the low 30's, which is when they turn on the fans which bring temperatures up a few degrees, enough to keep the vines from freezing. Preventing freezing is essential because, once vines freeze, the leaves fall off and the plants shut down, thereby ending the grapes' mauration, at which point, there is nothing to do but harvest the grapes and crush them. This happened on October 10, 2009 when a freeze forced wineries to crush tons and tons of grapes in a matter of days.

What winegrowers and winemakers are hoping for is that the mild afternoons (in the '70's) will continue so they can coax some more phenols (which add aromas and flavors) out of the grapes. The brix numers are in the 22.5 - 24 range, but the grapes could use a bit more complexity. Most whites and Merlot have been harvested and Syrah and Cab Franc are about half picked. Growers expect to start picking Cabernet Sauvignon at the end of the week and hopefully continue until the beginning of November.

The harvest outlook continues to look promising with temperatures from the low 'forties to low 'seventies forcasted. Let's just hope the weather keeps holding.


Walla Walla Wine Events

Here are a few noteworthy events Lynn and I attended in Walla Walls during the past couple of weeks.

On Saturday afternoon, September 29th, Tero Estates (Jan and Doug Roskelley) and Flying Trout (Ashley Trout) held their "Wine and Swine" Release event at the winery near Milton-Freewater. A roasted pig was served, and the new releases were poured. The Tero wines are in the October issue of the Review of Washington Wines and Flying Trout's will be in the November issue.

The following Saturday, October 6th, FIGGINS had its Release Event at the Estate Vineyard, overlooking Mill Creek Road, east of Walla Walla. There was a big turnout and the 2009 Estate Red (reviewed in the August issue) was poured along with the Figgins' own Lostine Cattle beef.

That evening, we attended the La Porte Brune dinner at Long Shadows, seated in the Chihuly room. There, winemaker Gilles Nicault poured the winery's range of 2005's, including a vibrant Poet's Leap Riesling and superb reds. As usual, chef Andrae Bopp served superg dishes, perfectly paired with the wines.

The next afternoon, Sunday, the 7th, we drove down to Milton-Freewater to the home of Leonard and Leslie Brown, where we tasted their new Ellanelle ("L and L") 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, which was quite impressive. The wine will be reviewed in the November issue. The Browns do not have a tasting room, but the wine will be poured at Petits Noirs in Milton-Freewater on November 2nd and 3rd (Fall Release Weekend).


Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 October 2012 14:54
The Syrah Conundrum
Written by Rand Sealey   
Monday, 01 October 2012 12:53


"The Grape that Doesn't Sell"

About a month ago, I received Gramercy Cellars' Fall Relase newsletter. In it, Greg Harrington wrote that "I am convinced that Syrah is Washington's best grape," comparing it to the best of the Northern Rhone Valley. He concluded by saying, "Thank you all for devouring the grape that doesn't sell." (Note: the Gramercy 2010 Syrah will be reviewed in the November issue of the Review of Washington Wines.)

Why is Syrah such a popular grape that grows well in Washington and yet "doesn't sell?" I think part of it has to do with the diversity of styles. I remember back in the 1980's that Syrah acquired a cult-like status from the "granddaddies" Mike Sauer (Red Willow) and Dick Boushey who were the first to plant the variety. Since then, there has been such a proliferation of Syrahs around the state to the point where many consumers have trouble differentiating them. I can categorize them into four main groups.

The Generics - This is what the bulk of Washington's Syrah production goes into: wines costing $20 or less. These can offer solid, well-fruited wines with some varietal character, but without much complexity or site-specific terroir.

The Cultists - These are the high-end Syrah producers, highly sought-after and often unavailable outside of winery mailing lists, such as those of Cayuse and Charles Smith's Royal City bottlings. They are highly distinctive wines, earth and mineral laden, and sometimes meaty and leathery. They have a loyal following.

The Purists - These are the wineries that strive for varietal purity, modeled after the wines of the North Rhone such as Hermitage (100% Syrah) and Cote Rotie (co-fermented with 2 to 8% Viognier). The wines are noted for their bold, distinct Syrah character. Noteworthy practicioners of this style are Gramercy Cellars (see above), Kerloo Cellars (Ryan Crane), Rotie Cellars (Sean Boyd), and Long Shadows' Sequel (John Duval).

The Terroirists - These are the producers that focus on the distinctive soils in which their Syrahs are grown. There are those from "the Rocks" in the Walla Walla River's cobblestone laden riverbed left after the river changed to it's present course, such as the Cayuse, SJR and Funk vineyards and other newer plantings. The Les Collines Vineyard in the foothills of the Blue Mountains has a distinctive loess soil terroir. Dick Boushey's vineyards and Mike Sauer's Red Willow (both with Missoula Flood alluvial soils) also have distinctive terroirs. Some wineries make site specific Syrahs from single vineyard blocks such as Rasa's "Occam's Razor" from Block 10 of the Seven Hills Vineyard.

These are just generalizations. There are overlappings. Cayuse is both a cult winery and terroir-driven. Reynvaan, whose wines I greatly admire, is a terroir-focused emerging cult winery (there is now a waiting list) whose wines come from the "Rocks" and the estate vineyard in the foothills of the Blue Mountains.

All this is just to say that there is Syrah, and then there is Syrah with distinctive characteristics. When people ask me what my favorite varietal is, I say Syrah (but I also add that I like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc). I agree with Greg Harrington that Syrah is Washington's best grape.



Last Updated on Monday, 01 October 2012 14:07

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