Review of Washington Wines Blog
Washington, French & Argentinan Malbecs
Written by Rand Sealey   
Monday, 31 January 2011 17:15

Is Malbec Washington's Cahors?


The Malbec grape is largely identified with Argentina, where the variety was transplanted from the Bordeaux region of France. But Washington Malbec, I believe, has a closer identity with another French wine district, Cahors which is situated in the Lot Valley southeast of Bordeaux.


There were significant plantings of Malbec in Bordeaux until 1956 when a deep frost killed many vines. Afterwards little Malbec was replanted there, and the variety dwindled into near extinction. But the variety persisted around Cahors where it was locally known as "Cot" or "Auxerrois" and sometimes blended with Merlot. It was known as the "black wine" of Cahors for its dark color and intensity.


Cuttings of Malbec were exported to Argentina in the mid 19th century, but subsequently were replaced by cheaper more productive varieties until the late 20th century when Malbec became replanted. Today, Argentina is identified with the Malbec grape. Much of it is exported to the U.S. as a popular wine that usually sells for under $10 a bottle. Here is an example:


2008 Bodega Belgrano "Conoisseur Select" Malbec, Mendoza ($10)

Deep purplish colored, this wine offers smoky aromas of raspberry, cherry, blueberry and anise. The flavors are dense and darkly fruited, fairly direct, and laced with bittersweet chocolate, coffee grounds and licorice. The back shows notes of bitter almonds and dried cherries on a moderate tannin and acid finish. 17/20 points.


There are, to be sure, more serious examples of Argentinian Malbecs such as those from Lujan de Cuyo which is considered the best district in Mendoza for that varietal. But the bulk of Malbec exported from Argentina is commercial.

In the Cahors A.O.C., the terroir consists of alluvial deposits along the Lot River, with limestone substrate. The wines are typically full-bodied and darkly fruited, with notes of spice a nd coffee. The www.cahorsmalbec.com website for "The French Malbec" describes Cahors as having three distinct styles: "tender and fruity;" "feisty and powerful;" and "intense and complex."

Washington State Malbec began to be planted in the 1990's, notably in the original Seven Hills Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley. I would identify most Washington Malbecs as being from the latter two of the above styles of Cahors. They are robust and full flavored and the better ones, complex and nuanced, as in the last style. Here are my reviews of six Washington Malbecs from recent issues of the Review of Washington Wines.


2008 Cave B Malbec, Columbia Valley ($32)

This is a fine rendition of Washington Malbec. It displays a deep purplish color and an intense nose of blackberry, blueberry and black currant with scents of lavender and sage. The black fruits come on strong up front, spreading out like preserves. The back shows admixtures of licorice, chocolate, alluvial minerals, coffee grounds and graphite, followed by a squeeze of blackberry and blueberry juices on the ripe tannin finish. It resembles a French Cahors more than an Argentinean Malbec. 18.5/20 points.

2009 El Corazon “Supernova” Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills ($23)

From the Phinny Hill Vineyars, this wine has a dark purple color (indicative of a young red) and an intense blackberry and blueberry nose with scents of violets and whiffs of black pepper. The flavors are supersaturated, and spread out like blueberry preserves, intermixed with chocolate, licorice, and Horse Heaven scorched earth laid on a savory texture. The spicy, peppery finish is ripe and juicy, with sweet young tannins. Mighty tasty now, but will benefit from at least another years’ aging. 18.5/20 points.

2008 Flying Trout Malbec, Columbia Valley ($36)

Ashley Trout states, “This is one of the most floral malbecs I’ve made to date.” I agree. It exhibits a deep ruby color. The nose emits an intermixture of wild berries (cranberry, mulberry and raspberry) and scents of oriental perfumes (jasmine, hyacinth, attar of rose) and incense with hints of herbs and mint, and whiffs of black pepper. The dark fruit flavors are mouth encompassing, interwoven with licorice, minerals, graphite, mocha and coffee grounds. On the back, there are sensations of lightly roasted macerated berries, mixed with notions of toffee and squeezed berry juices. Unlike many Malbecs, which tend to be strong and direct, this is seamless and elegant, showing touches of roasted nuts, pain grille, coriander, and a final burst of exquisite fruit-acid juices on the lingering sweet-dry tannin finish. 19/20 points.

2008 William Church Malbec, Yakima Valley, Gamache Vineyard ($30)

Deep ruby colored, this wine offers rich, sultry aromas of wild blackberries, currants, Damson plums, lavender, sage and oriental spices. The dark fruits are well saturated and chewy, imbued with tones of graphite, licorice, baker’s chocolate and roast coffee. On the back, squeezed blueberry and raspberry juices emerge, accented by touches of orange peel, toffee and spices, then glide into a ripe tannin finish. 18.5/20 points.

2008 Reasons “Black Magic” Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills ($35)

Reasons is a new winery located in the Artifex facility, and is co-owned, with others, by Susie and Ned Morris (he is also winemaker at Canoe Ridge), This Malbec is impressive. It exhibits a dark ruby color and intense aromas of cherries, wild blackberries, blueberries, fennel, tobacco and dried rose petals. The intensity continues on the palate and is underlain with Horse Heaven scorched earth, roasted coffee beans, bittersweet chocolate and mocha. The back recalls the vigorous traditional-styled “black wine” of Cahors with its spicy (cinnamon, clove) earthy, dried fruit and chewy tannin character. 18.5+/20 points.

2007 Brian Carter Cellars “One” Malbec, Wahluke Slope, Stone Tree Vineyard ($48)

This is a stunning expression of terroir-driven Malbec. It displays a dark ruby color and an intoxicating nose of wild raspberries, cranberries, cherries, lavender, rubbed sage and violets. On the front, the dark fruit flavors are deep, savory and mouth encompassing. The penetration continues on the back, with sensations of licorice, bittersweet chocolate, scorched earth, cinnamon bark and spices (nutmeg, clove and pepper), all bathed in thick juicy roasted berries and kirsch liqueur. The fruit acids show superb equipoise with the sweet fine-grained tannins. Almost a 19.5-point wine. 19+/20 points.


Like Cabernet Franc in last week's blog (Loire Valley and Washington), our state's  Malbecs come on as being closer to its provincial France origins than those of the "New World." While Malbec continues to be identified with Argentina, Washington Malbecs, I think, are closer in character to the "black wine" of Cahors.



Malbec and Food Pairings - Washington Malbec, being a robust wine, goes best with hearty fare. Steak and Cahors wine is the classic combination in France's Lot Valley, and for Washington Malbec as well. Other good pairings are with a savory lamb stew or leg. I have found Malbec to go well with full flavored cheeses such as cheddar and Ossau-Iraty (from southwest France).












Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 February 2011 20:46
Washington and Loire Cabernet Franc
Written by Rand Sealey   
Tuesday, 25 January 2011 00:41

Cabernet Franc: Washington's Chinon?


Cabernet Franc is widely thought of as being a "Bordeaux" varietal, usually for blending with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, both here in Washington and in the Bordelais. But, as a varietal wine, the flavor profile, to me (and some winemakers have agreed) seems to be more like a Loire Valley Cabernet Franc.


Chinon, located on the bank of the Loire tributary, the Vienne River, southeast of Saumur, produces medium-bodied, yet robust, earthy and chewy wines. Rabelais was from Chinon and called them "taffeta wines," meaning that they possessed well-woven textures. Also known as Cabernet Breton, the wines show a distinct minerality from the scree and gravel soil as well. These characteristics recur in many of the Washington Cabernet Francs that I have tasted. Here are some examples, with my tasting notes.

2008 Laurelhurst Cellars Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley ($28) - October 2010 issue

Sourced from the Kiona, Boushey and Burgess vineyards, this wine exhibits a deep ruby color and a rich raspberry, cherry and currant nose with scents of dried rose, tobacco and burning incense. The palate reveals roasted berry flavors that are intermixed with licorice, bittersweet chocolate, scorched earth, minerals, coffee grounds and cinnamon bark. The chewy “taffeta” texture recalls a Chinon from France’s Loire Valley. Moderate tannins and acids make it approachable now; yet will merit aging another year or two. 18.5/20 points.

2007 Hard Row to Hoe Cabernet Franc, Wahluke Slope ($28) - November 2010 issue

Our second stop [in September] on Lake Chelan’s North Shore was with Don and Judy Phelps. Their Cab Franc displays a brilliant ruby color and aromas of raspberries, cherries, smoke and forest carpet. The medium-full bodied flavors are deliciously ripe and juicy, accompanied by distinct components of licorice and cocoa, underlain with notes of basalt, graham cracker, dried berries, Italian roast and ripe tannins. The chewy, taffeta-like texture on the back recalls a Chinon from the Loire Valley. 18.5/20 points.

2008 Nefarious Cellars Cabernet Franc, Wahluke Slope, Riverbend Vineyard ($28) - November 2010 issue

This comes from the Wade family vineyard. It exhibits a ruby-crimson color with smoky aromas of blackberries, black cherries and black currants with scents of oriental perfumes. The dark fruits are well saturated and juiced, like macerated berries, underlain with licorice, minerals and graphite, and infused with kirsch liqueur. Tangy cherry and currant juices that are matched by a chewy ripe tannin finish enliven the back. 18.5/20 points.

2008 Cave B Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley ($28)  - To be in the February 2011 issue

Blended with 8% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, this wine shows a deep ruby color and sultry, smoky aromas of raspberry, blackberry, cherry, dried roses, lavender and rubbed sage. On the palate, the flavors are thick and chewy, intermixed with notes of licorice, cocoa powder, minerals and earth. On the back, the flavors turn ripe and juicy, with touches of dried orange peel, pomegranate juice and ripe, chewy tannins. 18.5/20 points.

2009 Substance “Cf” Cabernet Franc, Wash. ($20) - To be in the February issue

This wine resembles a young Chinon from France’s Loire Valley, with its deep ruby color and rich, smoky raspberry and cherry nose and crushed rose scents. The bright flavors are well saturated up front, underlain with a taffeta-like texture and intermixed with notes of cocoa, licorice, earth and coffee grounds. The roasted berries persist on the back and lead into a lingering moderate tannin finish. 18+/20 points.

2008 Fjellene Cellars Cabernet Franc, Walla Walla Valley ($28) - To be in the March issue

Sourced from the Waliser Vineyard (Beresan), this is an exemplary Cab Franc. It offers a rich raspberry and black cherry nose with aromas of tobacco, dried roses, smoldering incense and rubbed sage. The medium-bodied flavors are ample, yet well-structured, showing an earthy, tafetta-like texture that recalls a Chinon from the Loire Valley. The background is interwoven with notes of licorice, bittersweet chocolate and French roast. A finely fruited, nutty character persists on the lingering finish. 18.5/20 points.

Here, I think, is a situation were a Washington wine relates more closely to its French origins than most New World wines. I have found California Cabernet Francs to be highly aromatic, smoky and spicy, with notes of green pepper, characteristics that are more restrained in our state's counterparts. As such, Washington Cabernet Francs I find more interesting, and sometimes seductive, wines.

Cabernet Franc and Food Pairings - Washington Cabernet Franc being a savory red lends itself well to many dishes, particularly chicken (roasted, grilled or sauteed), pork (particularly tenderloin) and lamb (especially when braised in Cabernet Franc wine). Note: this is an addendum to the original posting of 25 January.

Next Week - Washington, French and Argentina Malbecs


Last Updated on Saturday, 29 January 2011 21:11
Walla Walla Wine News
Written by Rand Sealey   
Monday, 17 January 2011 17:56

Hello subscribers, I'm back in Walla Walla for a few weeks, and below are some news items about the wine scene here.


Nicholas Cole Cellars Closing

In October, Mike Neuffer, owner of Nicholas Cole, announced that he was taking an indefinite hiatus from winemaking and moving to Seattle to be closer to his daughters who lost their mother to cancer. Mike has been a major presence in the Valley's winemaking scene and he will be missed. We wish him all the best. The tasting room on E Main street is closed for January, but will reopen in February to sell through existing inventory.


Sleight of Hand Cellars Moving

Trey Busch is moving his winery and tasting room to J.B. George Road, south of Walla Walla. The facility will be located between Waters and Saviah (where Trey has been making his wines). The Grand Opening will be on Spring Release Weekend, May 1 - 3. Watch for an awesome 2008 Illusionist Red to be released.


Rotie Cellars Moving

Sean Boyd is another winemaker on the move. This spring, Rotie Cellars will move to the airport, taking over the building formerly occupied by Mannina Cellars. Watch for a new "petit g" Grenache to be released.


Trio Vintners Sold

Trio Vintners became a duo as Steve Michener and Denise Slattery took control. Now, they have sold the winery to Karen LaBonte, former co-owner of Patit Creek Cellars. The tasting room on S Second is undergoing remodeling and will be reopened later.


More Tasting Room Musical Chairs

Tero Estates, Flying Trout, Locati Cellars and Don Carlo will be opening tasting facilities in the Marcus Whitman Hotel. As things develop, I'll keep you posted. Gramercy Cellars will be opening a new tasting room in Amavi Cellars' old digs on N 13th. It will be interesting to see what happens when Sleight of Hand moves south and Nicolas Cole Cellars closes down.





Last Updated on Monday, 17 January 2011 20:47
Best Buys to Kick Off the New Year
Written by Rand Sealey   
Saturday, 08 January 2011 18:36

Is $15 the New "Best Buy" Price Point?


January is traditionally the month when new discounts come up on all kinds of products. After the holiday "sales," merchandisers need to come up with new deals to entice consumers. This holds true for wine as well. As I stated in my last blog (see below) consumers continue to expect "deals" on their wines.


During the past week, I have seen wines on sale at Esquin and in supermarkets for $15 or less that were previously priced at two to five dollars higher. I have picked up several, and after tasting them, have come to the conclusion that $15 or less is the price point at which many consumers are motivated to buy "premium" on sale.


The first four examples come from Columbia Crest and Chateau Ste. Michelle which shows clear evidence of how economies of scale at wineries of their size result in high quality/price ratios.


2009 Columbia Crest H3 Pinot Gris, Horse Heaven Hills (on sale for $11.88 at Thriftway - Regular: $18)

This wine displays a brilliant grayish gold color and a fresh pear, melon and lilac-scented nose and lively, well textured flavors that glide across the palate, picking up notes of grape skin, orange peel, lanolin, minerals and almonds on the way to a lively finish that is accented by touches of grapefruit and passion fruit. 18/20 points.


2008 Columbia Crest H3 "Les Chevaux" Red, Horse Heaven Hills (on sale for $11.88 at Thriftway - Regular: $20)

This wine tastes more expensive than it is. It displays a deep ruby color and a smoky, sultry raspberry and cassis nose with scents of dried roses and rubbed sage. The semi-roasted berry flavors convey a sense of Horse Heaven terroir and the back reveals notes of cocoa powder, licorice and orange peel, followed by a supple ripe tannin finish. 18+/20 points.


2008 Ch. Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Merlot, Columbia Valley (on sale for $13.99 at Esquin - Regular: $20)

This wine offers an intriguing nose of wild raspberries, cherries, plums, sandalwood and dried roses. The dark fruit flavors are thickly textured and underlain with notes of bittersweet chocolate, licorice, coffee grounds and earth. On the back, the chewy texture continues and leads into a supple moderate tannin finish. 18+/20 points.


2007 Ch. Ste. Michelle Merlot, Horse Heaven Hills, Canoe Ridge Estate (on sale for $16.99 at Esquin - Regular: $25)

This comes in at $2 higher than $15, but offers extraordinary value. It exhibits a deep ruby color and intense aromatics of blackberry, mulberry, cassis, lavender, rose petals and smoldering incense. The flavors are well saturated and loaded with bittersweet chocolate, licorice, scorched earth and French roast. The flavors thicken further on the back, with sensations of macerated berries, finely ground spices, coffee grounds, orange peel and cinnamon bark laid on a supple ripe tannin finish. 18.5/20 points.


The following are more examples of aggressive price point marketing.


2009 L'Ecole No. 41 Semillon, Columbia Valley (on sale for $10.99 at Esquin and Thriftway - Regular: $18)

Last year, the "special" pricing on this was $13.99, so this is a significant price drop. It offers an attractive nose of pear, peach and cantaloupe with apple blossom scents. The fruit compote flavors are fresh and vibrant, with touches of beeswax, toasted almonds and minerals. A touch of citrus (from 17% Sauvignon Blanc) adds crispness. 18/20 points.


N/V Bookwalter "Subplot No. 24" Red, Columbia Valley (on sale for $12.99 at Esquin - Regular: $20)

This blend of 30% Merlot, 29% Syrah, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon and others shows a deep ruby color and a rich nose of blackberry, cherry, cassis, spice and lavender. The flavors are well packed and direct, redolent of macerated berries mixed with bittersweet chocolate, licorice, loamy earth and black tea, and lead into a ripe supple, lightly spiced finish. 18/20 points.


2008 Tamarack Cellars "Firehouse" Red, Columbia Valley (on sale for $12.99 at Metropolitan Market - Regular: $18)

No doubt the increased supply of quality bulk wine has made this possible at this price. A blend of Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot and other grapes, this has an attractive nose of raspberry, cherry, plum, lavender and sage with generous well saturated flavors that show undertones of bittersweet chocolate, licorice, mocha and graphite. The intensity holds up on the back, with gently macerated, spice infused berries on a moderate tannin finish. 18/20 points.


2007 Goose Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley (on sale for $14.99 at Esquin - Regular: $30)

From the vineyards surrounding the winery, just southwest of Richland, this wine packs a lot for the price. It offers a deep garnet color and rich aromas of blackberry, cherry, cassis, cedar, tobacco and dried rose petals. The flavors are thick and supple, with undertones of bittersweet chocolate, licorice, mocha, graphite and espresso. On the back, the chewy texture thickens further with sensations of macerated berries, coffee grounds, earth, nutmeg, clove and cinnamon, followed by a sweet-dry tannin finish. 18+/20 points.


2006 Goose Ridge Estate Syrah, Columbia Valley (on sale for $14.99 at Esquin - Regular: $26)

Deep purplish colored, this wine emits rich aromas of blackberry, raspberry, lavender and rubbed sage. The dark fruit flavors are ripe, juicy and well saturated, with a supple texture that is mixed with tones of Swiss chocolate, licorice and minerals. On the back, the dark fruits continue, along with notes of cinnamon bark, pomegranate juice, and coffee on a chewy tannin finish that has been smoothed out with some age. 18/20 points.







Last Updated on Monday, 10 January 2011 15:16
Predictions for 2011
Written by Rand Sealey   
Saturday, 01 January 2011 20:52

Forecasts from the Crystal Ball


Washington Wines' Emerging Greatness - In my blog of 20 December, I observed that great strides are being made in the overall quality and in the peaks of Washington winemaking and that there is even more greatness to come. This will become evident over the coming year.


Washington Wines will Gain Momentum - The profile of Washington wines keeps growing nationwide. The Today Show segment and the accompanying website commentary gave awareness of Washington wines a boost. So did the Wine Spectator cover on Washington wines as well as the Wine Advocate and Wine Enthusiast's coverage.  I expect more such "boosts" this year as Washington wines pique the media's attention to the rising star in the wine world.


Wine Discounting to Continue - Last year, I predicted that dumping of wine at deep discounts would continue well into the year, which it has. I expect it to continue this year. The world wine market is just recovering (rising Champagne sales in 2010 is an indicator) and consumers continue to expect "deals" on their wines. As the economy recovers, this may taper off.


Wine Tasting becomes a Big Business - During the past year, we have seen a growing number of wineries opening tasting rooms, especially in Woodinville and Walla Walla. The opportunity to sample wines and take in the "wine country" ambience is an irresistible lure to tourists and wine aficionados alike. Multiple winery tasting venues such as Urban Enoteca in Seattle's SODO district (see my 1 December blog). And more are expected to open elsewhere.


Direct Marketing will become an Expanding Sales Tool - More and more wineries are turning to direct marketing. Isenhower Cellars has gone entirely to direct sales to consumers. Others are increasing their focus on consumer interfacing, through winery websites and social media such as Facebook. Many wineries now offer extra discounts or free shipping through websites and/or wine clubs.


Wineries to Watch in 2011


Adams Bench - Expect more outstanding wines from Tim and Erica Blue whose 2007 Red Willow Cabernet Sauvignon was one of two 20/20 points wines for 2010. The 2008 Reckoning will be a wine to truly reckon with.

Brian Carter Cellars - Brian has turned out some highly impressive single vineyard, single varietal wines (see the January Review issue) with more to come.

Fielding Hills - Mike Wade has turned out some very fine wines from the family's Riverbend Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope. As they develop, these wines are sure to help put this AVA on the map.

Kerloo Cellars - Ryan and Renee Crane released their second vintage, the 2008 Syrahs and Tempranillo, in October. They have some highly promising 2009's in the barrel, including a Grenache and Malbec to be added to the line-up.

Obelisco Estate - See the January issue of the Review of Washington Wines for a Focus write-up on this Red Mountain winery with a tasting room in Woodinville.

Rasa Vineyards - Pinto and Billo' Naravane's '07 Principia Reserve Syrah was the other 20/20 points wine for 2010. Look for a sensational '08 DuBrul Vineyard Cabernet-Merlot Blend to be released this year.

Reasons - See the January issue of the Review for Ned and Susie Morris' wines.

Reininger Cellars - Chuck Reininger has turned out a stellar '07 Carmenere and a superlative '05 Cima "Tuscan-style" blend. Watch for more this year.

Reynvaan Family Vineyards - Mike, Gale and Matt have some fantastic 2009 Syrahs that will be released in fall. The "Stonessence" is a potential 20/20 points wine.  See my 12 December blog for a barrel tasting report. The futures are "must buy."

Saviah Cellars - Owner-winemaker Rich Funk is turning out some impressive 2008's and has some highly promising 2009's in the barrel, especially from estate vineyards.

Sleight of Hand Cellars - Trey Busch has some highly promising 2009's in the barrel. Look for the 2009 Levitation Syrah next fall - thick, super ripe black fruits, minerals and earth.

Tero Estates / Flying Trout - Doug and Jan Roskelley's 2008's were highly promising from the barrel, including a seductive "Super Tuscan" red. They are not to be missed. Ashley Trout will turn out more impressive reds from the Malbec and other grapes. Both wineries will be opening a tasting room at the Marcus Whitman Hotel in the near future.

TL Cellars - Watch for Troy Ledwick's Release No. Four, a 2006 Alder Ridge Horse Heaven Cabernet Sauvignon, and No. Seven, a 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Pepper Bridge Vineyard.









Last Updated on Monday, 03 January 2011 23:44

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