Review of Washington Wines Blog
Liquor Privatization - A Progress Report
Written by Rand Sealey   
Thursday, 01 March 2012 14:29

Today is March 1st, the day liquor wholesalers may commence distributing spirits directly to restaurant licensees. Restaurants no longer have to purchase and pick up their orders at state stores or warehouses. And chain restaurants can have their supplies delivered to a central warehouse. This is the first phase in the Washington State liquor privatization process. Several wine and beer wholesalers have obtained spirits distribution licenses. Odom (now largely owned by Southern Wine and Spirits) and Young's Market are the biggest players. Several smaller distributors have come in to supply the specialty market, especially for craft distillers which is a growing industry segment.


The next phase is the shift from state store sales to privately owned liquor retailers, which is to go into effect June 1st. The Washington State Liquor Control Board has negotiated Buy Back agreements which allow the Board to sell back inventories to its suppliers. In the meantime, applications for new spirits retailers are being processed. As of June 1st, state liquor stores will cease business and will be auctioned off to investors. Contract stores (ones, mostly in small communities, that sell on commission) will be on their own as retailers who will have to buy their own inventories.


Initiative 1183 limits the sale of spirits to stores with a space or 10,000 or more square feet, which consists mainly of supermarkets and big box stores. Costco, of course, will be a major player. Liquor store chains are gearing up to move into Washington State. Total Beverage and Beverages & More ("BevMo") have plans to open stores in major state markets. Two large Seattle wine retailers, Wine World Warehouse (owned by David LeClaire) and Esquin Wine Merchants (owned by Chuck LeFevre) plan to expand into spirits. The latter had less than 10,000 square feet of space, but plans to expand into an adjacent vacant space. Chuck LeFevre stated to me:

"We are expanding the store to meet the minimum size requirements necessary to get into the liquor business. We will carry a broader and much more interesting selection than the state liquor stores carry. We will carry a much greater selection of Single Malt Scotches and Tequilas than they carry as well as spirits from several local distillers. We are still finalizing plans but are targeting June 1st as the date we begin selling spirits."


Some wineries worry that privatization may have some negative impacts on them. As I have written before (see my postings of 16 November and 30 December), I think that although Initiative 1183 is a game changer, the changes have more to do with mass market wines than with boutique wineries. The new environment will call for more creative marketing, but wineries that are dedicated to making quality wines will continue to do well.



Last Updated on Thursday, 01 March 2012 15:25
Wine Tasting and Events in Walla Walla
Written by Rand Sealey   
Wednesday, 22 February 2012 15:32

During our stay in Walla Walla from January 27th to February 23rd, we did a fair amount of wine tasting and dining. Here are some highlights.


Balboa Winery - I met Tom Glase at his winery adjacent to Beresan where he is also winemaker and tasted a line-up of well-made, well priced wines which will be reviewed in the March issue of the Review of Washington Wines.

Sleight of Hand Cellars - Owner-winemaker Trey Busch and I tasted through several 2011's and 2010's. The 2011 Upland Vineyard (Snipes Mountain) was wonderfully aromatic (violets, oriental perfumes) amd displayed lovely sweet-dry fruits. Two barrels of Block 23 Les Collines Syrah were bold and aromatic, one still a bit green from malolactic. Block 50 had gorgeous fruit that jumped out of the glass. The 2011 Funk vineyard Syrah revealed an opaque color and smoky aromas and a massive yet sweetish inner core. These show lots of promise for the 2011 Syrahs. From Red Mountain, the 2011 Merlot emited intense minerally aromas and flavors and the Cabernet Franc, smoky blackberry and cherry aromas and flavors.

We also sampled some 2010's which were about to be bottled. The 2010 Archimage (release spring 2013) was sultry and smoky, with an expansive palate and fleshy back. The Illusionist (92% Red Mountain Cabernet) was dense, with roasted berries and cherries, fleshy yet wrapped around a firm core. One vineyard you may never have heard of is Scooteny Flats on Red Mountain (Damon Lalonde is the vineyard manager). The 2010 Cabernet was dark, almost black with a sultry, mysterious nose and thick, yet penetrable flavors. Then there was the 2010 Blue Mountain (Walla Walla Valley) Petit Verdot which was gorgeous, with exotic aromas and a tapestry of interwoven flavors. It will be bottled into 25 cases of magnums.

The La Porte Brune Dinner - Andrae Bopp (Andrae's Kitchen, a.k.a. AK's) served a five course dinner at Kerloo Cellars' tasting room, all paired with Ryan Crane's fine wines. A highlight was a barrel sample of the 2010 Kerloo Syrah from the Va Piano Vineyard, Block 6 which was dark colored and massive, with loads od wild blackberries and huckleberries, lavender and violets. The dark fruits were deep and brooding, but not impenetrable.

The Graham's Vintage Port Tasting - The now famous vertical tasting of Graham's Ports from 1963 to 2007 was held on February 13th at the Marcus Whitman Hotel. See my previous blog posting below for my report about this event. For another report by Paul Gregutt, one of the participants, go to www.paulgregutt.com.

The Marcus Whitman Tasting Rooms First Anniversary - February 15th was the first anniversary of the Tero Estates/Flying Trout, Don Carlo Vineyards, and Locati Cellars tasting rooms in the historic hotel. Tero Estates released its superb 2008 Petit Verdot which will be reviewed in the March issue of the Review. Locati Cellars also released an exotic 2010 Dry Orange Muscat which will be reviewed in April. Lodmell Cellars (Andrew Lodmell) also had its ribbon-cutting Grand Opening.

The Celilo Vineyard Tasting - Later in the evening of the 15th, Erik McLaughlin hosted a tasting of older Chardonnays (1993-2000) from the Celilo Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge. The 1994 Christom was surprisingly good, without as much oxidation as others. The 2000 Woodward Canyon (winemaker Rick Small was a particpant) also showed well. Some later vintages (2004, 2005 and 2008) from Tranche Cellars (also from Celilo) were tasted afterwards. The 2008 Tranche showed beautifully. Watch for the March issue of the Review for a full review.

Other Winery Visits - During the four weeks, I also visited L'Ecole No. 41, Seven Hills Winery, El Corazon, Zerba Cellars, Otis Kenyon, Bergevin Lane, Sinclair Estate, Kontos Cellars, Basel Cellars and others. The wines will be reviewed in the March and April issues.

The California Pinot Noir Tasting - Last night (February 22nd) our tasting group joined for a blind tasting of California Pinot Noirs. None of the wines could really be called "Burgundian," but there were some pretty tasty wines. The 2009 Sequana from the Santa Lucia Highlands was etheral and medium-bodied, plush and round. The 2010 Vivier (Stephane Vivier from Burgundy) from the Sonoma Coast was a tasty young Pinot, abounding in lively fruit - $29 direct from the winery. A "ringer" from New Zealand was a 2008 Pyramid Valley "Riverbrook" from Marlborough, which was earthy and opulent. The star, though, was poured by Steve Maxood afterwards: a 2007 DuMol "finn" from the Russian River Valley. It was deep colored, redolent of earth, roasted berries, cassis, licorice and chocolate.


Last Updated on Thursday, 23 February 2012 15:12
A Graham's Port Vertical Tasting
Written by Rand Sealey   
Tuesday, 14 February 2012 22:47

This week's blog is a bit off topic from Washington wines, but because it was such a great event and since some other partiipants asked me to post my tasting notes, I am reporting on last night's tasting of Graham Vintage Ports from 1963 to 2007 at the Marcus Whitman Hotel in Walla Walla. This event came about when Paul Gregutt emailed me and other participants in a Walla Walla wine tasting group. He found a 14 bottle collection of Graham Ports being offered on-line and asked if anyone wanted to buy into a tasting of them. Enough subscribers signed up quickly and a matchup for an agreeable date was worked out by Ashley Trout. So we all assembled on February 13th for a monumental tasting. The wines were tasted from oldest to youngest since Ports get drier with age, hence we went from dry to sweet. Here are my notes.


Graham's Port 1963 - 2007

Graham's is one of the leading first tier Oporto Houses, owning extensive properties ("Quintas") in the Douro, including Quinta dos Malvedos, Quinta do Tua, Quinta das Lages, and others. Owned by the Symington family which is connected to 13 generations in the Port trade, Graham's has an illustrous history and tradition in Oporto.


1963 - This is one of the great vintages of the 20th century. Graham's shows a copper color with considerable sediment. The nose is still spiritous, with notes of caramel and roasted berries, still a bit sugary. But the flavor and structure is fading from its earlier glory, although it still shows much elegance. 19/20 points.

1966 - This shows a copper color with brownish edges. The nose is somewhat volatile, with sensations of burnt sugar. Turns to roasted nuts on the back, with a somewhat hot finish. 19/20 points.

1970 - From a classic vintage, this showed a dark color with some crimson. The nose reveals scents of burnt sugar, orange peel and a bit of dried roses. On the back, the sugars have dried up a bit on the back, showing a muscular structure, with notes of roast coffee and mocha. Now at its peak, this was my second favorite wine. 19.5/20 points.

1975 - Graham's generally shows well even in lesser vintages such as this one. Lightish color, old Tawny Port like . Perfumed nose of dried orange peels. The flavors are almost feminine and fall off a bit on the back, although a bit of chocolate emerges, followed by a sweet-dry finish. 18.5/20 points.

1977 - This was a tannic, slow evolving vintage, one just now coming into its own. It shows a deep ruby color and a powerful, spiritous nose with scents of cigar box and dried roses. The thick flavors reveal loads of chocolate, roast coffee and earth, with superb balance and a long sweet-dry finish that goes on and on. For me, this was the top wine of the tasting. 20/20 points.

1980 - From anther lighter vintage, this showed a deep, almost opaque color. The spiritous aromas show notes of roast coffee and caramel. The flavors are full, cherry-like and chocolately, without great complexity, followed by a sweetish, nutted finish. 18.5/20 points.

1983 - Medium ruby colored, with a rose edge, this showed a floral nose of chocolate and orange peel. The palate shows lots of fruit at a stage of turning from sweet to dry, showing considerable elegance and charm, with notes of chocolate and toasted nuts on the lingering finish. My third favorite. 19.5/20 points.

1985 - This vintage has a reputation for classic elegance. Graham's shows a medium ruby color with a floral orange peel and caramel nose, with scents of crushed roses. The coffee and mocha accentee flavors are charming, but without quite as much complexity as the 1983. 19+/20 points.

1991 - This bottle showed a floral cherry nose, but with an odd, possibly volatile, odor of naptha. The flavors, however, did reveal fine fruit, with dried orange peel and nuts. 18/20 points.

1994 - This vintage shows a dark ruby color and a strong spiritous nose. But the flavors seem middleweight in this company, though with fine, elegant fruits. It may develop into a charming, elegant Port. 18.5-19 points.

1997 - Dark ruby colored, it shows loads of fruit and spice on the nose. At this point, it is dark and brooding, not particularly sweet for a releatively young Port. 19/20 points.

2000 - This displays an opaque ruby color with a spiritous nose of wild berries, orange peel and roast coffee. The sweet-dry flavors are classically styled and spread out on the back with chocolate and toasted nuts. A possible 20/20 points.

2003 - Opaque purplish colored, this shows a spiced blackberry and plum nose, with exquisite fruits that spread out on the back, alcoholic, but not hot. It shows much potential. Possible 19.5/20 points.

2007 - Still a baby, this Port shows a dark purplish young color. The alcoholic nose revals notions of wild berries, orange peel and attar of roses. Super ripe, it shows thick, macerated dark fruits, with a thick, though not super sweet finish. Time will tell with this wine. 19-19.5 points.


There was considerable discussion afterwards about the vintages of the 21st century (2000, 2003, 2007) which seem super ripe and super saturated. Some wonderd if Port styles are changing. Another decade or two of aging will tell.









Petit Verdot: the Next Emerging Varietal?
Written by Rand Sealey   
Wednesday, 08 February 2012 16:27

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from the Seattle Magazine Washington Wine Awards asking me to participate in a survey of top Washington wines and wineries and emerging trends. One of the questions was to pick the top "Emerging Varietal - a wine grape making an impact as a single bottling or in blends, whether new on the scene or a classic varietal that's creating buzz again." Previous winners were Tempranillo, Grenache, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. On the list for 2012 were Barbera, Viognier, Gewurztraminer, Mourvedre, Syrah and others, including Petit Verdot. I consider Syrah, Merlot and Riesling to be varieties making a comeback, but not quite there yet. So I picked Petit Verdot, a variety widely used (usually in small amounts, under ten percent) in "Bordeaux-style" blends, and, occasionally as varietal bottlings.,


While Petit Verdot is used mostly as a blending varietal, increased bottlings of varietal Petit Verdot is an indication of the grape's trendiness. Today's wine scene seems to revolve more around "newer" bottlings, rather than resurgent varietals. In the past year, winemakers have asked me to taste their Petit Verdots and tell them if they should bottle it as a varietal. On this basis, Brad and Ruth Riordan bottled their 2008 Petit Verdot from Red Mountain and Tero Estates will be releasing a 2008 Petit Verdot this year. Yesterday, I was barrel tasting with Trey Busch at Sleight of Hand Cellars, and he showed me a 2010 Petit Verdot from the Blue Mountain Vineyard that was stunning: exotic aromas with a tapestry of deep, complex fruits and flavors, with superb balance. It is to be bottled into 25 cases of magnums. When released, it should score at least 19 points, possibly 19.5.


What is it that makes Petit Verdot so interesting? First of all, it is not an easy grape to grow. The name means "little green" which comes from its notorious tendency to ripen slowly. Sometimes, in cool years, the grape stays green while other grapes have been harvested. The variety has fallen out of favor in Bordeaux for that reason. In Washington State, with more frequent warm harvesting seasons, Petit Verdot can ripen more successfully, with the green color turning to crimson in the late autumn. It is typically an aromatic wine, emiting smoky, exotic perfumes, and a beefy one, adding color, power and muscle to the so-called Bordeaux blends. Here are my tasting notes on a few examples.


2008 Seven Hills Winery Petit Verdot, Walla Walla Valley ($32)

I tasted this at the winery a few days ago. It is nearly sold out, so it will not appear in an upcoming issue of the Review of Washington Wines. Brilliant ruby colored, it emits sultry aromas of wild berries, currants, mulberries, orange peel, sandalwood and oriental perfumes. The dark fruits are thick and chewy but elegantly wrought, interwoven into a tapestry of flavors: red fruits, licorice, orange peel, graphite, and mountainside minerals (from the Minnick Hills vineyard in the northern edge of the AVA). The back picks up notes of dried orange peel, roasted nuts, and squeezed pomegranate juice, and moderate oak (40% new French) followed by ripe moderate tannin and acid finish. 18.5/20 points.


2008 Robison Ranch Cellars Petit Verdot, Red Mountain ($36) - September 2011 issue

This vintage turned out to be so striking that Brad and Ruth Riordan decided to bottle a portion of it as a varietal. It exhibits a deep garnet color and intense aromatics (a trait of Petit Verdot) of roasted raspberries, cherries and currants with scents of dried roses, rubbed sage and smoldering incense. The flavors are permeated with semi-dried macerated berries and nuts, coffee grounds and bittter orange peel on a chewy tannin finish. Blended with 10% Grenache. 18.5/20 points.


2007 Gilbert Cellars Petit Verdot, Wahluke Slope ($36) - February 2011 issue

This wine exhibits a deep purplish color and an intoxicating nose of blackberries, cassis and black cherries with scents of crushed roses, violets and oriental incense. On the palate, the dark fruits are deep and well saturated, imbued with notes of licorice, bittersweet chocolate, minerals and scorched earth. The flavor intensity continues on the back with sensations of macerated currants and berries, kirsch liqueur, twisted orange peel, dried cherries and cinnamon bark, followed by an intense sweet-dry tannin finish. Kudos to winemaker Justin Neufeld for this 19/20 points.


Other noteworthy Petit Verdots:


2007 Forgeron Cellars Petit Verdot, Columbia Valley ($30) - 18.5/20 points - January 2012

2008 Saviah Cellars Petit Verdot, Walla Walla Valley ($30) - 18.5/20 points - December 2011

2008 Januik Petit Verdot, Red Mountain, Ciel du Cheval Vineyard ($35) - 18.5/20 points - October 2011

2008 Cor Cellars Petit Verdot, Horse Heaven Hills, McKinley Springs Vineyard ($22) - 18.5/20 points - April 2011




Last Updated on Friday, 25 May 2012 14:47
February Wine and Food Pairings
Written by Rand Sealey   
Tuesday, 31 January 2012 19:30

Wines to go with Winter Stews


During the winter months, what better way to eat than with a hearty stew? There are all kinds of recipes for stews, so choose your favorites and pair them with these suggestions from the February and recent issues of the Review of Washington Wine.


Beef Stews - For these, I prefer a hearty red such as a Syrah, a "Rhone style" red or a Malbec.

2008 Buried Cane "Heartwood" Red, Columbia Valley (Feb.)

2009 Amavi Cellars Syrah, Walla Walla Valley (Feb.)

2008 Cuillin Hills "The Dungeon" Red, Washington (Feb.)

2009 Cave B Syrah, Columbia Valley (Feb._

2009 Five Star Cellars Malbec, Walla Walla Valley (Feb.)


Lamb Stews - Merlot or "Bordeaux style" blends work well here.

2008 Northstar "Stella Maris" Red, Columbia Valley (Feb.)

2008 Matthews Claret, Columbia Valley (Feb.)

2008 Northstar Merlot, Columbia Valley (Feb.)

2009 Convergence Zone "Storm Front" Red, Red Mountain (Feb.)

2008 Forgeron Cellars Merlot, Columbia Valley (Jan.)

2008 Kontos Cellars "Alatus" Red, Walla Walla Valley (Dec.)


Veal Stews - These call for a medium-bodied red such as a Sangiovese, Tempranillo or Grenache.

2009 Hollywood Hills Grenache, Horse Heaven Hills (Jan.)

2009 Castillo de Feliciana Tempranillo, Wahluke Slope (Jan.)

2009 Robison Ranch Cellars "Combine" Red, Walla Walla Valley (Dec.)

2009 Nefarious Cellars Grenache, Snipes Mountain, Upland Vineyard (Nov.)


Vegetarian Stews - If there are a lot of legumes and root vegetables, an earthy Cabernet Franc is suitable, if the dish is spicy, try a Mourvedre or Syrah.

2009 Spring Valley "Katherine" Cabernet Franc, Walla Walla Valley (Feb.)

2009 Hollywood Hills Mourvedre, Horse Heaven Hills (Jan.)

2009 Don Carlos Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Walla Walla Valley (Jan.)

2009 Tertulia Cellars Cabernet Franc, Walla Walla Valley (Jan.)

2008 Saviah Cellars Cabenet Franc, Walla Walla Valley (Dec.)

2008 Coeur d'Alene Cellars "MO" Mourvedre, Washington (Dec.)


Steelhead - A Winter Salmon Alternative


During the winter months, most salmon is frozen from previous months' catch. But there is a wonderful alternative in steelhead trout. Steelhead is very similar to salmon, essentialy a salmonid species that spends its life cycle in fresh water instead of going out to sea. Today, wild steelhead is caught only by sports fishermen. But farm raised steelhead from the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest provide plenty of flavor. They are high in beta omega fats (the good kind) and are easily pan broiled. I use my mixture of 1 tablespoon olive oil, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 1 teaspoon coriander, 1/2 teaspoon cumin, marinating about 1/2 hour ahead.

With pan broiled steelhead, any of the wines for veal stew, above, will work nicely. Cabernet Franc can also do well.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 31 January 2012 21:31

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