Review of Washington Wines Blog
Walla Walla Winery News
Written by Rand Sealey   
Tuesday, 15 March 2011 20:01

The WSLCB Stings Walla Walla Winery Tasting Rooms

When we were in Walla Walla the past few weeks, there was a lot of talk about the Washington State Liquor Control Board inspectors' sting of several winery tasting rooms. Liquor Board inspectors have the authority to use under age decoys to check on how well licensees do in asking for proof of age before serving and or selling alcoholic beverages. This is a legitimate function of the Board's inspection system. But it seems the inspectors overstepped their authority is some respects.


One of the ruses used was to have a young woman come up to the tasting room table with a bag containing wine to make it appear that the person had already been i.d.'d, leading the tasting room server to think asking for proof of age wasn't necessary. Then comes the "sting" and citation. However, possession of liquor by a minor is a misdemeanor, so the "decoys" and their handlers were breaking the law. The Liquor Board enforcement office has admitted the inspectors had overstepped their authority and the citations were reduced to warnings. For more about this sting and comments, go to Sean Sullivan's Washington Wine Report (wawinereport.com) and Paul Gregutt's paulg's blog.com.


What is absurd about this episode is that underage drinkers do not ordinarily go to wine tasting rooms to procure alcohol. Generally they go after cheaper products, especially beer. As one commenter put it, "The problem they are trying to prevent is real, and should be monitored but I would like to see the high school or college party at which underage people are consuming alcohol, that the primary source of booze is $20-$80 bottles of wine." The Liquor Board's Enforcement division should be putting its focus on convenience stores and the like rather than small boutique wineries.


Charles Smith Wines to Open a Tasting Room Downtown


Charles Smith Wines (which includes K Vintners as well as Charles Smith Wines) is opening its long-awaited tasting room on South Spokane Street, off Main. The target date is for "Cayuse Weekend" - April 8 - 10. When I drove by a few weeks ago, it looked like a lot of work still needed to be done. But I have heard that the project is still on target. The design work is by Olson Kundig Architects of Seattle and the drawings for the facility look fabulous.


The Young Guns Wine Society Organizes


A group of young Walla Walla winemakers have organized the Young Guns Wine Society. In late 2010, Justin Basel, age 26 (Basel Cellars), Cameron Kontos, age 31 (Kontos Cellars), Josh McDaniels, age 22 (Sweet Valley Wines) and Greg Makito, age 25 (Skylite Cellars) banded together to form this organization. Their mission statement: "The Young Guns Wine Society is dedicated to Defining the next generation of winemakers." For more information, go to the Young Guns's website and Facebook page.


A Couple More Super Buys in Washington Wine from Esquin


Last week, I listed several wines at new, deep discounts that were exceptional buys. Here are two more that have not been previously reviewed. They are real steals.


2008 Fidelitas Semillon, Columbia Valley (Was $20 - Now $9.99)

This 100% varietal white displays a brilliant gold color and an attractive nose of pear, cantaloupe and peach with scents of lilac, orange peel and sandalwood. The white fruit flavors are rich and viscous, with tones of anise, basaltic minerals, and fig. On the back, mandarin orange juices give the wine a tangy component which is counterpointed by touches of vanilla oak (from barrel fermentation) and beeswax, all adding up to a sensuous, flavorful white. 18+/20 points.


2007 Ash Hollow Reserve Malbec, Walla Walla Valley (Was $42 - Now $17.99)

Deep ruby colored, this wine exhibits a deep ruby color and a rich, spicy nose of roasted blackberries and blueberries, with scents of dried roses, lavender and smoldering incense. The flavors are deep and well saturated, underlain with silty minerals, black licorice, bittersweet chocolate and coffee grounds. The flavors expand on the back, oozing with ripe, semi-macerated berry juices that pick up notes of mocha, spices, dried orange peel, roasted nuts and a grinding of black pepper on a savory ripe tannin finish. 18.5/20 points.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 March 2011 16:30
Great Buys in Washington Wines
Written by Rand Sealey   
Wednesday, 09 March 2011 00:29

Great Buys for Washington Wine Month at Esquin


March is Washington Wine Month and there are some great buys out there. From Esquin's current newsletter, I have found these wines which are on sale at substantial price reductions which make them extraordinary values. They are not to be missed.


2008 Waters Interlude Red, Columbia Valley ($30) - July 2010 issue - Now $26.99

This Merlot (55%) Cabernet Sauvignon (44%) blend is impressive. It offers a rich, sultry wild blackberry and cassis nose with scents of rubbed sage and mint. On the palate, the flavors are well fleshed and saturated, with admixtures of huckleberry juice, graphite, cocoa powder and spices (nutmeg and coriander). The ripe tannin finish shows admirable fruit-acid balance. 18.5/20 points.


2007 SYZYGY Red Wine, Columbia Valley ($24) - August 2010 issue - Now $21.99

Here, Zach Brettler has put together a savory, flavorful blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec. It exhibits a deep ruby color, a rich nose of blackberry, cherry, tobacco and lavender. The dark fruit flavors are deep and fleshy, abounding with roasted berries with tones of bittersweet chocolate and mocha. On the back, it is thick and saturated, well lashed with licorice, earth, roasted nuts, spices and integrated sweet-dry tannins. 18+/20 points.

2007 Januik Red Wine, Columbia Valley ($22) - August 2010 issue - Now $17.99

This Merlot dominated (62%) wine offers a rich raspberry, blackberry and cassis nose with scents of tobacco and sage. The flavors are full and direct, but with an appealingly savory character that continues through the back along with notes of licorice, cola, bittersweet chocolate and roasted coffee, followed by chewy tannins and moderate acids. 18/20 points.



2009 Maison Belue Jaja White Wine, Yakima Valley ($17) - September 2010 issue - Now $13.99

“Jaja” is a southern French expression for a great everyday wine. Composed of 67% Roussanne, 28% Chardonnay and 5% Marsanne, it offers engaging aromas of green apple, star fruit, lilac and orange blossoms. The flavors are crisp and lively on the palate, with notes of white peach, pear and melon. On the back, the wine picks up a hint of creaminess from partial malolactic fermentation and sur lie aging. On the finish, wet stone tones and a tang of pineapple juice add character. 18.5/20 points. This is the highest score I have given to a dry white for under $20

2008 Obelisco Estate Red Blend, Red Mountain ($30) - January 2011 issue - Now $19.99

Deep ruby colored, this blend of 70.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 4.5% Malbec, offers rich, smoky aromatics of blackberries, cherries and plums, crushed roses, tobacco, sandalwood and incense. The macerated berry flavors are deep and chewy, yet svelte, marked by Red Mountain scorched earth and silty minerals. On the back, there are tones of licorice, bittersweet chocolate, medium roast coffee, and touches of toffee, roasted nuts and savory spices on a sweet-dry tannin finish. 18.5/20 points.

2008 Nine Hats Red Wine, Columbia Valley ($25) - March 2011 issue - Now $19.99

A blend of 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 10% each of Cab Franc and Petit Verdot plus 2% Malbec, from Long Shadows, this wine displays a deep ruby color and smoky, sultry aromas of blackberries, cherries, cassis, cigar box, crushed roses, violets and rubbed sage. The dark fruits are mouth encompassing, redolent of licorice, bittersweet chocolate, mocha, roast coffee and graphite. On the back, the dark fruit flavors march on, intermixed with kirsch liqueur, orange peel, roasted fruits and nuts, and followed by a ripe chewy tannin finish. Hats off to Gilles Nicault for putting this together. 18.5/20 points.

Highly Recommended Wines from TL Cellars at Deep Price Reductions

As you may have read from postings in my Review of Washington Wines blog, Troy Ledwick has moved his TL Cellars out of Hence Cellars. As a result, he is selling his wines out of his home in Walla Walla. In order to stimulate more sales, he is offering his Releases No. Five and No. Six at deep price reductions. As you will see from the reviews below, these wines are outstanding. At $35 per bottle, they are real bargains, considering the quality levels they represent. To order, email Troy at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call him at 509 301-3896.

2008 TL Cellars “Release No. Five” Grenache, Walla Walla Valley ($65) - September 2010 issue - Now $35

Here, Troy Ledwick has turned out the best rendition of this up and coming variety that I’ve seen so far. Sourced from the Minnick Vineyard, it displays a deep brick red color and an intriguing nose of raspberry, Marion berry, wild cherry, crushed roses, orange peel, sandalwood and incense. The entry shows richly berried, medium bodied textures, followed by a tapestry of lavish fruits that are intermixed with loamy, silty earth, milk chocolate, gently macerated fruits, toasted nuts, licorice and mocha. The deep, finely wrought back palate shows impeccable fruit-acid balance (.62 total acidity) and is deftly dusted with clove, nutmeg and cinnamon bark laid on a sultry (15.2% alcohol) lingering smooth tannin finish. 19+/20 points.

2006 TL Cellars “Release No. Six” Petit Verdot, Columbia Valley ($65) - September 2010 issue - Now $35

Deep ruby-crimson colored, this wine, produced from the Boushey Vineyard, emits terrific aromatics: wild blackberries, mulberries, cassis, crushed blueberry, oriental perfumes, violets and incense. On the entry, the palate shows dark, macerated berry and cherry fruits, followed by sensations of kirsch liqueur, a distinctive basaltic minerality, dried berries, and touches of licorice, bittersweet chocolate and vanilla bean. All this is followed by fine, penetrating fruit acids that are composed of slightly tart squeezed berry juices, recurring kirsch, and a twist of orange peel. The finish culminates in a deft touch of French oak (one year old Vicard) and satiny sweet-dry tannins. In sum, this is the most alluring expression of Petit Verdot (seldom bottled as a varietal) that I’ve ever seen. 19.5/20 points.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 March 2011 16:17
Visits through the Wine Country
Written by Rand Sealey   
Tuesday, 01 March 2011 15:43

This blog is being written while on a ski vacation in Bend, Oregon, so this posting will be brief.


Marcus Whitman Tasting Rooms now Open


We missed the Grand Opening on February 11 of the Tero Estates/Flying Trout, Don Carlo Vineyards, and Locati Cellars tasting rooms in the Marcus Whitman Hotel. See the Tero Estates/Flying Trout Facebook Wall for great pictures of this event. I dropped by last week, and they are wonderful facilities and great additions to the Second Avenue winery scene. I sampled the Don Carlo wines with Tim Kennedy (of Tim's Cascade Style Potato Chips fame). There will be a report in the April issue of the Review of Washington Wines.


Visits from Prosser to the Columbia Gorge


On the way to Bend, we stopped in Prosser to meet Jon Martinez at Maison Bleue. His 2009 reds are sensational, his best to date. Look for reviews in April. Then we stopped at McKinley Springs on Alderdale Road in the Horse Heaven Hills to taste new releases with Sandy Rowell. In Hood River, we visited Phelps Creek Vineyards and sampled some tasty Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. On the way back, we will be visiting Domain Pouillon and Syncline Cellars on the north side of the Columbia Gorge. There will be a lot to report in the April issue.






More on Washington Bordeaux Style Blends
Written by Rand Sealey   
Tuesday, 22 February 2011 22:04


More Thoughts about "Bordeaux Style" Blends


Last week, after my blog, I received the following email from Jim Waite, co-owner (with wife Karen and son Joel) of CAVU Cellars.

"I agree with your take on Bordeaux-style. However, in our tasting room I often have customers refer to our Horizon Red (Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot blend) as a table wine which seems to set an expectation of a lower priced wine. How do we overcome this in Washington without getting on the Meritage bandwagon?"


I replied:

"That's a good question. "Table Wine" or "Red Wine" does have a connotation of lower price and quality. An analogous situation is Tuscany, where the "Super Tuscans" had to be labeled "Vino da Tavola" because they were not made only from the prescribed grapes, Sangiovese and Canaiolo. But as awareness of the high quality of some wines that included Cabernet Sauvignon such as Sassacaia grew, a designation called indicazione geographica tipica (IGT) has established placing such wines in a separate category from Vino da Tavola. For Washington State, this is a marketing issue. The approach seems to vary from winery to winery. Some try to do t he "Bordeaux-style" blend approach, or do a proprietary name approach. I think a lot depends on the quality and the reputation of the winery."


As for the "Meritage bandwagon" mentioned above by Jim Waite, there are some Washington Wineries (about 20) that opt for the Meritage approach. For some time, Ch. Ste. Michelle has produced an "Artist Series" Meritage and Shannon Jones' Hestia Cellars turns out a fine Meritage (see the May 2010 Review issue). But, to me, Meritage has a Californian connotation (it was started there in the late '80's) and the Meritage Alliance website calls their wines "Exceptional Wines Blended in the Bordeaux Tradition." I have to ask why Bordeaux? Is it because is the most prestigious wine producing region in the world?


This brings me back to my statement in last week's blog that "Washington wineries should stress the qualities that make our state's wines truly distinctive." Washington wines need not be continually related to European or other counterparts. In previous postings, I have compared Washington Cabernet Franc to its Loire Valley counterparts and our Malbecs to those of Cahors. But that doesn't mean they should be labeled or promoted as "French style."


This seems to be part of a growing movement to market Washington wines as "European" style ones. Just today, I read Paul Gregutt's blog about McCrea cellars putting out a Spanish-style Tempranillo wines and blends of the grape with Garnacha and Monastrell. I haven't tasted the wines called "Salida," but I know Doug McCrea makes great wines. But why present it as a "Spanish-style" wine? Isenhower Cellars, likewise puts out a fine "El Conquistador" wine and Brian Carter an also excellent "Corrida." But I like Kerloo Cellars (Ryan and Renee Crane) approach better in just calling its Tempranillo - "Tempranillo."


Washington State is emerging as one of the great wine producing areas of the world, but isn't it about time to make its wines more unique instead of presenting them as "_______- style" wines?





Last Updated on Monday, 28 February 2011 02:16
Washington "Bordeaux Style" Blends
Written by Rand Sealey   
Tuesday, 15 February 2011 15:22

Is Washington "Bordeaux Style" Being Overworked?


Last week, I sent an email to Erica Blue regarding copy about the 2008 Adams Bench "Reckoning" that is to be released in March. I wrote that I would call it Adams Bench's "flagship blend," adding, "If you want to call it a 'Bordeaux-style' blend, I can do that. But, frankly, I think calling wines 'Bordeaux-style' is being overworked. I think Washington wines can stand on their own without that kind of identification." Erica replied, "Rand, thank you. We appreciate your comments, and I share your views on the term 'Bordeaux style.'"


In the first place, while Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot are the classic Bordeaux varieties, they produce stylistically different wines there than in Washington State. The terroir (gravel, sandstone and clay) is distinct and the structural characteristics (more tannins, lower alcohols) are different. The main similarity is in the varietal blends. Incidentally, some Washington "Bordeaux" blends contain Malbec (usually 5 to 10%) which is practically extinct in Bordeaux and for the most part remains only in the Lot Valley of France (see my blog of 31 January).


The main reason, though, why I think "Bordeaux Style" is being overworked is that Washington wineries should stress the qualities that make our state's wines truly distinctive. They do not need to relate to a "Bordeaux" model or style. To be sure, there are some wines that clearly take their inspiration from Bordeaux such as DeLille Cellars' "D2" which takes its name from the road that goes through the Bordelais. Likewise, Brian Carter's "Le Coursier" takes its theme from the French, "The Steed." I really don't have a problem with such imagery for packaging purposes, but blends of Cabernets, Merlot and Petit Verdot are "Bordeaux style" in name only.


Finally, whether they are called "Bordeaux style" blends or not, there are a lot of estimable Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot (and sometimes Malbec) blends from Washington State. Here are some examples that have been reviewed recently or coming up.


2008 Obelisco Estate Red Blend, Red Mountain ($30)  (January, 2011)

Deep ruby colored, this blend of 70.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 4.5% Malbec, offers rich, smoky aromatics of blackberries, cherries and plums, crushed roses, tobacco, sandalwood and incense. The macerated berry flavors are deep and chewy, yet svelte, marked by Red Mountain scorched earth and silty minerals. On the back, there are tones of licorice, bittersweet chocolate, medium roast coffee, and touches of toffee, roasted nuts and savory spices on a sweet-dry tannin finish. 18.5/20 points.

2007 Cadaretta Springboard Red Blend, Columbia Valley ($50)  (January)

Composed of 34% Merlot, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Petit Verdot and4% Cabernet Franc, this is another head-turning Springboard (see the July 2010 issue for the 2006). Deep ruby-colored, it shows deep aromatics of blackberry, blueberry, currants, rose petals and lavender. On the entry, the dark fruits are tightly focused; yet reveal a svelte texture, marked by tones of licorice, bittersweet chocolate, mocha, French roast, minerals and graphite. On the back, sensations of macerated berries, kirsch liqueur and crème brulee emerge. The finish materializes into an infusion of the above components and dances into a striking blaze of intense fruit acids and silky sweet-dry tannins. 19/20 points.

2008 DeLille Cellars D2 Red Blend, Columbia Valley ($36)  (February)

A blend of 55% Merlot, 39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot, this wine takes its name from the D2 route through the Bordeaux region. It displays a deep ruby color and rich, smoky, seductive aromas of raspberry, cherry, cassis, rose petals, sandalwood and smoldering incense. The flavors are thick and supple, with tones of Swiss chocolate, black licorice, French roast and vanilla bean. The dense back is intermixed with notes of dried berries, cedar, silty earth and toasty oak on a sweet-dry tannin finish. 18.5+/20 points.

2007 Long Shadows Pirouette, Columbia Valley ($50)  (February)

This Bordeaux-style blend by Philippe Melka and Augustin Huneeus exhibits a deep ruby color and an intriguing nose of roasted raspberries, cherries, cassis, cigar box and incense. The flavors are an intricate tapestry of gently macerated berries (barrel aged with roll overs instead of punch downs or pump overs) with admixtures of silty earth, minerals, French roast, licorice and Swiss chocolate. On the back, sensations of kirsch liqueur and svelte cranberry and blueberry juices emerge, along with a dusting of spices (clove, nutmeg) on a sweet fine-grained tannin finish. 19/20 points.

2008 Sleight of Hand “The Archimage” Red, Columbia Valley (April release - $45)  (March)

This is another sensational blend, this one composed of 50% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Franc and 17% Cabernet Sauvignon. It displays a deep ruby color and a seductive nose of wild raspberries, cassis and mulberry with scents of crushed roses, oriental perfumes, cigar box and smoldering incense. The flavors are bathed in elegant dark fruits that are interwoven with licorice, bittersweet chocolate, graphite and minerals. On the back, tones of mocha, orange peel, crème brulee and roasted nuts emerge and are followed by a long fine-grained tannin finish with well-integrated oak (50% new French). 19+/20 points.

2008 Adams Bench “Reckoning” Red, Columbia Valley (March 26 release - $39) (March)

A blend of 51% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon and 11% Cabernet Franc, this exhibits a deep ruby color and rich aromas of blackberries, black currants, black cherries, roasted nuts, orange peel, crushed roses, sandalwood, violets and rubbed sage. The flavors are exceptionally thick and chewy, laced with roasted coffee, bittersweet chocolate, mocha, licorice and minerally earth. On the back, the dark fruit flavors deepen, marked by tones of orange peel, dried roasted berries, plum pudding, hazelnuts, cherry liqueur and coffee grounds, followed by a lingering sweet-dry tannin finish. 19.5/20 points.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 15 February 2011 16:05

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