Review of Washington Wines Blog
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
Walla Walla Winery News Update
Written by Rand Sealey   
Tuesday, 08 February 2011 15:30

Since my blog of January 17, "Walla Walla Wine News," there have been more developments in the Valley. Among them are:


New Tasting Rooms at the Marcus Whitman

As reported on January, 17, new tasting rooms are opening at the Marcus Whitman Hotel. Tero Estates and Flying Trout are on the southeast corner. Next door, to the west, is Don Carlo, owned by Tim Kennedy (of Tim's Potato Chips fame), and to the north on Second Avenue is Locati Cellars. We visited all three rooms yesterday (Monday, February 8) and found then to be attractive, compact venues where fine wines will be the primary focus. All three will be having a Grand Opening Celebration on Friday, February 11. As for Locati's existing location in the Depot Building, the winery plans to open a combination wine bar/brew pub. While we were visiting Tero Estates, Doug Roskelley poured us a tasty 2008 "S.T." ("Super Tuscan) Red which will be in the March issue of my Review of Washington Wines.


Whitman Cellars Closing

Whitman Cellars closed its doors in January as an Oregon-based bank seized the winery's assets. The winery had accumulated 2.6 million dollars in debt, necessitating the foreclosure. Steve Lessard, the winemaker, is now working full time at Corvus Cellars in the Incubators at the Airport, which he co-owns with Randall Hopkins.


Rotie Cellars Moving to the Airport

On January 17, I reported that Sean Boyd was leaving Waters Winery to devote full time to his Rotie Cellars which specializes in Rhone-style wines. He will be sharing space with Don Redman's Mannina Cellars, near the Airport. There will be a report on Rotie Cellars' spring releases in the March issue of the Review of Washington Wines.


Trio Vintners Reopening

In my January 17 blog, I reported that Trio Vintners had been sold to Karen La Bonte, former co-owner of Patit Creek Cellars. The tasting room on Second, south of Main Street, is being remodeled. (I visited on Saturday and found Karen and her crew busy getting the place ready.) Watch for the 2007 Reserve Mourvedre to be reviewed in March. The tasting room will be reopened February 17 and the "Grand Opening" will be April 8 ("Cayuse Weekend").


Fjellene Cellars Opening on Braden Road

Matthew Erlandson has opened his new winery on Merlot Drive, off Braden Road, south of Walla Walla. His 2007, 2008 and 2009 vintages were made at Beresan Cellars, and the last harvest at his new facility, formerly occupied by Trust Cellars. There will be a report on Fjellene ("Fyel-lay-nuh") in March.


Sleight of Hand Moving to J.B. George Road

Trey Busch is moving his winemaking operation (formerly at Saviah) and tasting room to J.B. George Road, south of Walla Walla, between Saviah and Waters. The opening will be April 8, followed by a Grand Opening Spring Release Weekend (May 1-3). Some sensational reds are to be released which will be previewed in the March issue of my Review.







Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 February 2011 17:27
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

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