Review of Washington Wines Blog
The Friends of James Beard Food & Wine Weekend
Written by Rand Sealey   
Tuesday, 22 July 2014 14:31

On the weekend of July 18th and 19th, the Friends of James Beard hosted a series of three events in Walla Walla honoring the "Dean of American cookery." The author of several seminal cookbooks, from the 1940's through 1980's, James Beard changed America's way of thinking about food, inspiring creativity and wholesome American ingredients. These events were also inspired by the dinner at the James Beard House in New York City on December 12, 2012, which brought over Walla Walla chefs Antonio Campolio of the Marc Restaurant at the Marcus Whitman Hotel and Dan Thiessen of the Walla Community College's Wine Country Culinary Institute. These chefs, with a team of local chefs, recreated the same theme right in Walla Walla. People came from all over the country for these events.

The first event was on Friday, July 19th with a Lunch and Wine Tasting at the Walla Walla Community College. Before the lunch, Dan Thiessen talked about the Culinary Institute Program and how it became self sustaining through its catering and food service program which educates students in the process, and Tim Donahue talked about the Enology and Viticulture Program which has launched numerous graduates into the wine industry. The tour was followed by a lunch prepared by Culinary Institute students and paired with wines from College Cellars.

In the evening, an Hors d'oeuvre and Wine Reception was held at the Marcus Whitman Hotel where numerous wines from local wineries were poured. This was followed by a six course dinner prepared by Antonio Campolio, Dan Thiessen, and Michael Kline of the Walla Walla Bread Company. Highlights were a crisp, lively 2013 Three Rivers Steel Chardonnay with grilled quail, an elegant 2011 L'Ecole No. 41 Seven Hills Vineyard Estate Perigee with King Salmon. The rich, complex 2011 Waters Loess Vineyard Syrah accompanied the Heirloom beet ravoli, and the 2011 Woodward Canyon Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon was paired with coffee spiced lamb loin. The 28 Day Dry Aged Snake River Farms Zabaton was paired with the rich, tasty 2012 Leonetti Merlot, and the fine 2006 Walla Walla Vintners Vineyard Select Cabernet Sauvignon was served with S'Mores Bombs.

The next day, a Wine Tasting, Tour and Lunch was held at the Three Rivers Winery. There, several more wineries poured their wines, followed by a tour of the winery's garden which grows vegetables for the Marcus Whitman Hotel. Assistant Winemaker and Grounds Manager, Andy Slusarenko, husband of winemaker Holly Turner, talked about the garden and how it was created to produce local, organically grown vegetables for the hotel's restaurant and catering programs. The tour and tasting was followed by lunch with wines from Three Rivers and other participating wineries.

The Friends of James Beard Wine & Food Weekend turned out to be a highly successful event. "Made in Walla Walla," was a real showcase for local cusine and wines.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 22 July 2014 15:15
Walla Walla Valley Wine News
Written by Rand Sealey   
Wednesday, 16 July 2014 13:55

Heat Wave in the Walla Walla Valley

As of this writing, there have been eleven conssecutive days with temperature highs of 90 degrees or more. The past few days have been around 100, with a high of 107 on Sunday, July 13th. More triple digit days are forecast for the rest of the week. Relative humidity has been around a desert-like 8 percent.

This is not good news for the grape vines which were just starting to catch up after a cool spring. Skin protection has not built up to the point that grapes can easily survive sunburn. Sunburnt grapes result in wines with bitterness, raisiny character and other off flavors. As Jeff Popick stated in his weekly "the weathervine" column in the Union-Bulletin, "Hydration and protection were the twin orders of the week for all living things." Stay tuned.


L'Ecole No. 41 Receives Decanter Magazine Award

Recently, L'Ecole No. 41 received the U.K. based Decanter Magazine World Wine Award for the "Best Red Bordeaux Blend over 15 Pounds." fior its 2011 Ferguson Vineyard Estate Red. Congratulations to Marty Clubb and the L'Ecole team for this honour, which helps put Washington and Walla Walla Valley wines on the map. This wine was reviewed in the May issue of the Review of Washington Wines (19+/20 points) and a report on the Ferguson Vineyard was posted in the May 28 Review Blog.


Charles Smith Buys Wines of Substance

When Tero Estates purchased the Waters Winery last year, the new owners passed on aquiring Wines of Substance, which was a value product developed by Jamie Brown of Waters and Greg Harrington of Gramercy, leaving the brand in limbo. It was announced this week that Substance has been purchased by Charles Smith.

Wines of Substance has been a cleverly packaged product with periodic table of elements-like abreviations, such as Mb for Malbec and Ch for Chardonnay. They were well made wines, mostly retailing for less than $20 a bottle. Some received "Best Buy" ratings in the Review of Washington Wines. Hopefully, the revival of the Substance brand will add more Best Buys to the wine market. The white on black labeling should complement the black on white labeling of the Charles Smith line.


Changes at the Rudin/Trout Household

Two big news items comes from Brian Rudin and Ashley Trout. At the begining of June, Brian started work for Duckhorn Vineyards of the Napa Valley as winemaker for that winery's Red Mountain project, which is a major out of state investment in Washington State. He departs from Cadaretta, where he saw the 2011 vintage from start to finish (see the January and August issues for reviews). Ashley has returned to work at Tero Estates/Flying Trout, after a year-long hiatus. This will ensure continuity for the winery's Flying Trout line (see the April issue for reviews of the 2011's). Somehow, Ashley and Brian will find time to raise daughter, Alice and son, Raleigh.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 July 2014 16:44
The Grand Cru White Burgundy Tasting
Written by Rand Sealey   
Thursday, 10 July 2014 14:38

Last night, July 9th, the Sons of Bacchus and two Daughters of Dionysus assembed for a memorable tasting of Grand Cru White Burgundies, Lynn and I were the hosts. And this time, we deviated from the usual format, by inviting spouses/significant others, and following the tasting with an informal supper of grilled sausages and sockeye salmon.

Grand Cru White Burgundies from the Cote d'Or only come from the communes of Corton, Chassagne and Puligny in the Cote de Beaune (with the exception of the rare Musigny Blanc). Little is produced and they are expensive, upwards of $150 a bottle for Corton-Charlemagne, and $250 for Batard Montrachet. So this was a really special tasting. Here are the most outstanding ones, with my scores.

2012 Domaine Fontaine-Gagnard Batard Montrachet - This was the clear winner of the evening. It displayed a brilliant medium gold color and a seductive floral nose of pear, peach and apricot, with scents of apple blossoms, white lilac and white incense. The flavors showed terrific varietal purity and exquisite balance and finesse, with a long, toasty, steely finish. A classic that is still a very young wine. 20/20 points.

1995 Louis Latour Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet - This was a superb example of a beautifully aged white Burgundy. It showed a deep golden color with rich aromas of pear, peach, apricot, vanilla and white incense. On the palate, the flavors were rich, sweetish and nutty, with notes of creme brulee, counterpointed by lemony acidity, followed by a toasty, minerally, penetrating finish. 20/20 points.

2005 Louis Jadot Corton-Charlemagne - It has been my experience over four decades that Grand Crus of Corton can be quite variable in quality. This was one of the best ones. It showed a brilliant gold color and a classic nose of pear, peach, apricot, apple blossoms, acacia flowers and white lilac. The flavors were steely, muscular and authoritative, with notes of butternut and flintstone. 19.5/20 points.

There was a bevy of other Corton Charlemagnes of various vintages. The 2010 Olivier Leflaive was a pretty wine with nice perfumes and a silky, yet well structured, texture (19+/20) points. The final flight consisted of three Charlemagnes of the 2009, 2007 and 2005 vintages all of which were disappointing for Grand Crus, lacking the purity and precison of the top wines.

There was a "ringer" in the tasting, the 2011 Rasa Vineyards (Billo Naravane) "Dream Deferred" Chardonnay from the Yakima Valley, which showed surprisingly well in this company. It had a lighter gold color than the others, but showed exquiste, balanced Burgundy-like flavors. (19+/20 points)

With supper, there were some bonus wines. Elizabeth Bourcier (Assistant Vigneronne at Cayuse) brought a rich, tasty fleshy 2009 Cayuse Vineyards "Flying Pig" blend of 60% Cabernet Franc and 40% Merlot. Erik McLaughlin brought a 1994 Ramos Pinot Vintage Port (from a great year widely declared) which made a delicious accompaniment to chocolate decadence.

A Couple of Limited Production Wines from College Cellars

College Cellars is the teaching winery of the Walla Walla Community College's Center for Enology and Viticulture. The proceeds of the sales of its wines goes to the Center's programs. The following two wines are in limited supply and will likely be sold out before the August issue of the Review of Washington Wines, so they are listed here.

2013 College Cellars of Walla Walla Viognier, Walla Walla Valley ($15) - This is a very nice white for the price. It offers a brilliant medium gold color and attractive aromas of Asian pear-apple, peach, papaya, Crenshaw melon, honeysuckle and jasmine. The fruit compote flavors are lively and well delineated, with notes of peach stones, melon rind and minerals, and a bit of passion fruit imparts a touch of tropicality to the wine. 18+/20 points.

2013 College Cellars of Walla Walla Carmenère, Walla Walla Valley, Clarke Vineyard ($20) - Crimson colored (a trait of Carmenère), this young red shows enticing aromas of strawberries, blueberries, cherries, rosebuds and violets. The medium bodied red and blue fruit flavors are bright and juicy, intermixed with anise, cocoa and silty minerals. The youthful exuberance continues on the back with squeezed berries and fraise and kirsch liqueurs, followed by a ripe soft tannin finish, and moderate alcohol (12.5%) keeps the wine balanced. 18+/20 points.


Last Updated on Thursday, 10 July 2014 18:56
Liquor Privatization Two Years Later
Written by Rand Sealey   
Thursday, 03 July 2014 14:05

On July 1st, 2012, the sales of spirits in Washington State owned liquor stores came to an end, and was replaced by retail sales in stores with 10,000 or more square feet, mostly supermarkets and "big box" stores such as Costco, Total Wine and BevMo. Recently, the Seattle Times ran a few articles about the effects of the changes in the wine and spirits market. Prices for spirits generally are higher than they were, but other negative effects such as reduced shelf space for wines and alcohol abuse and DUI have turned out to be not as much as originally feared.

So, here's my take on privatization after two years:

Privatization and Initiative 1183 was simply about getting the state out of the liquor business. After nearly 80 years of a state monopoly on spirits sales, it had become evident that the system was antiquated and needed to be changed. The Washington State Liquor Control Board and the Legislature abdicated their responsibilities in ignoring the need for change. That is why 59 percent of the voters passed the initiative. And that is why I favored passage of I-1183.

I, for one, never believed liquor prices would be lowered. Not with all the layers of "fees" (actually taxes) and excise and sales taxes. One of the purposes of Initiative 1183 was to ensure that revenue to the state would be sustained. But the effects have been mitigated somewhat by direct buying and volume discounts. The main beneficiaries are the supermarket chains and big box stores that have the purchasing power to take advantage of the maximum volume discounts.

The impact on wine sales has not been significant. It was feared by some that shelf space in stores for wine would be diminished to make room for spirits. This has not turned to be case to much an an extent. Small distillers, on the other hand, are still struggling, but they should not have depended on the state to make a market for their products.

Initiative 1183 was far from perfect. It was called the "Costco Initiative" for good reason. The big stores have been the main beneficiaries of privatization. But I would propose a few remedies to improve the situation:

Allow specialty wine shops to sell spirits. The purpose of the 10,000 square feet requirement for licensing was to keep liquor out of convenience stores, but it should not prevent stores specializing in wine sales from selling spirits.

Eliminate the 20.5 percent sales tax on spirits and replace it with the application of the general sales tax to the sale of spirits as well as wine and beer. This would help reduce the disparity of spirits prices in Washington State versus other states.

Give the craft distillers a tax break. This could be done by waiving or reducing the distributor fee or some other method. This would help the small distillers become more competitive.

Overall, despite the undesired effects, privatization has been beneficial. Purchasing liquor has become easier and more convenient. There has not been any noticeable increase in alcohol abuse or DUI driving. And free enterprise is far better and more efficient than state run monopolies. It was high time for change, even if the outcome was not the best possible.

The Celebrate Walla Walla Valley Wine Syrah Panel
Written by Rand Sealey   
Friday, 27 June 2014 13:43

From June 19 to 21, the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance hosted three days of events with Syrah wines as the theme. On Friday, a tasting and winemakers panel discussion was held, moderated by Rajat Parr, wine director for Mina Group's Restaurants and Sudhi and Domaine de la Cote wineries. The Walla Walla winemakers on the panel were Greg Harrington of Gramercy Cellars, Matt Reynvaan of Reynvaan Family Vineyards, and Anna Schafer of àMaurice Cellars. The other winemakers were Pax Mahle of Wind Gap Wines in Sonoma, California, Gary Mills of Jamsheed Wines in Yarra Valley, Australia, and Kevin Sass of Halter Ranch Vineyard in Paso Robles, California. Here are the wines tasted and my evaluations of them.

2012 Wind Gap Syrah, Sonoma Coast, Armagh Vineyard ($45) - From a coastal cool climate site, this showed a deep ruby color and perfumed aromas of raspberry, blackberry, cassis, orange peel, lavender, violets and spiced incense. The medium full-bodied flavors were focused, with notes of licorice, cocoa and coastal rock minerals. The back picked up squeezed berries, creme de cassis and recurring orange peel, followed by a long, savory dryish tannin finish. 19/20 points.

2010 Gramercy Cellars Syrah, Walla Walla Valley ($50) - Mostly from the Les Collines Vineyard (80%, with 20% from the "Rocks"), this displayed a purplish ruby color and smoky aromas of wild blackberries, blueberries and cassis, with scents of crushed roses, tobacco, orange peel and garrigue. The bold dark fruit flavors came on as being true to variety, along with licorice, cola and silty minerals. The back picked up squeezed berries, roasted nuts and creme de cassis, followed by bright fruit acids prefacing the lingering sweet-dry tannin finish. 19+/20 points.

2012 Halter Ranch Vineyard Block 22 Reserve Syrah, Paso Robles ($55) - Deep purplish ruby colored, this offered a ripe, peppery, spicy nose of blackberries, blueberries, dried roses, tobacco and spiced incense. On the palate, the ripe fruits were lush and mouth filling, with notes of licorice, chocolate and mocha. The fruit forward character continued on the back, with touches of berry preserves and nougat, followed by a spiced moderate tannin and acid finish. A wine for near term drinking. 18.5+/20 points.

2010 àMaurice Cellars "The Fred" Syrah, Walla Walla Valley ($42) - Deep ruby colored, this possessed a lovely, perfumed nose of wild blueberries, pomegranates and cassis, with scents of rose petals, mulberry, lavender and violets. On the palate, the dark fruits were ripe and sweet, yet focused, intermixed with licorice, bittersweet chocolate, roast coffee and minerals. The back revealed squeezed berries, creme de cassis and dried orange peel. Bright fruit acids enlivened the delicious, lingering sweet-dry tannin finish. Overall, it showed exquisite balance. 19.5/20 points.

2010 Jamsheed Wines Healesville Shiraz, Yarra Valley, Victoria ($50) - Gary Mills said he likes to produce highly aromatic wines through extended maceration, as this wine showed. It had a deep ruby color and seductive aromas of wild berries, attar of rose, burnt brambles, tobacco and garrigue. On the palate, the wine was deep, penetrating, and focused, with dark fruit extracts intermixed with licorice, cocoa and limestone minerals. The back picked up macerated berries, dried orange peel and mocha, followed by savory (cardamom, clove) notes, then trailed off into a lingering, elegantly fruited finish. 19+/20 points.

2011 Reynvaan Family Vineyards "The Contender" Syrah, Walla Walla Valley ($75) - From the "Rocks" in the South Valley, this showed a deep ruby color and seductive aromas of wild blackberries and blueberries, orange peel, rose petals, tobacco, farrigue and wafts of smoldering spiced incense. The multilayered palate was composed of dark fruits, Swiss chocolate, roasted coffee beans and cobblestone earth. The back revealed a meaty bacon fat texture, yet with refined, ripe, round juices that picked up notes of dried orange peel and roasted nuts on the lingering, elegant ripe tannin finish. 20/20 points.

Qualitatively, there was not a big difference among the six wines, yet, to my mind, te Walla Walla wines had a definite edge over the others. In conclusion, I can say that Walla Walla clearly produces World Class Syrahs.


Last Updated on Friday, 27 June 2014 14:47

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