Review of Washington Wines Blog
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
Tasting Italian Wines and Chenin Blancs
Written by Rand Sealey   
Wednesday, 18 June 2014 12:41

Last week, I attended two interesting tasting, one of Italian red wines, and one of international Chenin Blancs. Both were very interesring and informative. Here are my reports on them.


The WSET Italian Wine Tasting

The Wine and Spriti Education Trust (WSET) is a London, U.K. based organization dedicated to educating wine and spirits professionals and serious amateurs. There are numerous chapters around the world, including the U.S. A group of Walla Walla Community College Center for Enology & Viticulture faculty members, led by Sabrina Lueck, are studying for the WSET Level 3 Certification. I was invited to participate in the group's tastings. On June 9, the group met for a tasting of Italian wines, comprising two Sicilian wines, three Tuscan ones, four Piedmont wines and two from Valpolicella. Here are the most noteworthy wines.

2009 Girolamo Russo "San Lorenzo" Etna Rosso - This Sicilian red displayed a medium ruby/garnet color and a rich, ripe, slightly raisiny nose with scents of dried roses, orange peel and tobacco. The the volcanic soil imbued dried fruit flavors were savory and picked up notes of sage, rosemary, cardamom and clove on the finish. 18+/20 points.

2007 La Lecciaia Brunello di Montalcino Riserva - Made from the Sangiovese Grosso clone (locally called Brunello), this showed a brilliant garnet color and rich aromas, redolent of cherry, plum, orange peel, truffles, dried roses, brine and oriental perfumes. The medium-full bodied flavors were elegant and well wrought, with a long, nutty finish with a hint of sweetness to counterpoint the classic dryness. 19+/20 points.

2005 Arigiano Brunello di Montalcino - This showed a deep garnet color with orangish edges. The aromas consisted of smoke, brine, tobacco, and dried fruits, and the flavors of slightly nutted semi-dried fruits, striking a balance between the traditional and modern styles. It turned dry on the finish, with touches of tar and leather. 19/20 points.

2001 Damilano Barolo - Garnet colored with orange edges, this wine emited sulty, smoky aroms of dried fruits, orange peel, dried roses, tar, and oriental perfumes. The flavors were classically styled, entering a maturing phase, with touches of caramel and roasted nuts and a burnt back palate and a leathery, peppery dry finish. 19/20 points.

2009 Ca'Nova Barbaresco, Montestefano - This displayed a deep medium garnet color and intriguing aromas of semi-dried fruits, tobacco, dried rose petals, sandalwood, orange peel, and whiffs of tarry smoke. The flavors were rich and generous, with an almost lush texture that belies the dry nose. The wine turned dry again on the back palate, followed by recurring orange peel and dried cherries and some remaining tannins. A fine modern/traditional syle. 19+/20 points.

In discussing the Barolo and Barbaresco, one WSET student asked about the unfamiliar aromas of those wines. I commented, "creosote, road tar." This, along with dried rose perfumes, is what makes Nebbiolos from those districts so distintive, and, for that matter, "noble" wines.

2010 Vietti "Tre Vigne" Barbera d'Alba - This was a fine, typical Barbera, showing a ruby/garnet color and a smoky nose of black cherries, crushed roses and spices. The flavors consisted of typical tart cherries, intermixed with licorice, chocolate and Alban hills minerals, and a well fruited mouth feel and a lively finish. 18.5/20 points.

A 2010 Vietti Barbera d'Asti was also poured, it was a bit more medium bodied and less complex. 17.5/20 points.

2008 Villa Mattielli Amarone della Valpolicella - This showed a ruby/garnet color and an exotic nose of dark roasted fuits, oriential perfumes and incense. On the palate, the flavors were thich and ripe, consisting of sweet-dry roasted fruits and nuts, burnt earth, minerals. The leathery finish picked up a recioto-like sweetness on the end. 19/20 points.

Thanks to Sabrina Lueck for organizing and hosting this tasting!


The SOB Chenin Blanc Tasting

Chenin Blanc is one of the world's most undervalued white grapes. The Sons of Bacchus (SOBs) tasting on June 11th proved that Chenin Blancs are wines that can be taken seriously. We tasted nine wines - seven dry and two sweet - and not one clunker among them. Here the most impressove ones.

2013 Waitsburg Cellars "Chevray" Old Vine Chenin Blanc, Columbia Valley - Paul Gregutt's own entry showed a deep gold color and intriguing aromas of pear, peach, honeysuckle and orental perfumes. The flavors showed moderate acidity and minerally earth, making for an attractive, easy drinking white. 18.5/20 points.

2011 Domaine Huet Vouvray Sec, Clos du Bourg - This was the best of the dry Chenins (provided by me). It offered a medium gold color and a rich, smoky nose with floral scents and rich, round, mouth-filling flavors that showed notes of nougat, bright citrus and cream, with a deep, minerally backbone, and a long, ripe, dry finish. Huet is one of the best and most reliable producers of Vouvray. 19/20 points.

2012 Marc Bredif "Classic" Vouvray - This is from another reliable producer. It showed a brilliant gold color and an attractive, floral nose, with full, round and satisfying flavors of pear, peach and apricot, marked by a broad streak of minerality. The back and finish showed weight and substance. 18.5/20 points.

2003 Nicolas Joly Coulée de Serrant - This was an unusual wine, from a Loire district known for its distinctive wines, which seem to show premature oxidation and stay that way for years. Erik McLaughlin, who brought it, called it a "zombie wine." It displayed a deep gold color and a spiced, candied nose of apricots and rasins. The palate showed a dense combination of minerals, dried fruits and roasted nuts, with a lanolin coated dry finish. 18.5/20 points. I would have given this 19 points if I could have gotten past the oxidative qualities.

These were followed by two fabulous sweet Chenins from the Loire Valley.

2009 Domaine Huet Vouvray Molleux, Le Mont - Huet makes sweet as well as dry Vouvrays. This one showed a brilliant lemon gold color with a rich, spicy nose of pear, peach, apricot and ethereal perfumes. The ripe fruit flavors were rich and opulent, yet showed precises fruit acids, like a laser beam. The back picked up notes of lemon peal and a bold streak of minerality, followed by an endless honeyed, semi sweet finish. 19.5/20 points.

1989 Domaine Baumard Coteaux du Layon, Clos Ste. Catherine - This was an amazing wine, nearly 25 years old. Deep lemon gold colored, it showed an intensely minerally nose of dried fruits - pear, apricot, lemon peel - all spicy and unctuous on the palate. The back was rich and sweet, but not at all cloying, with notes of peach stones, marzipan and creme brulée. The minerality was pervasive and astonishingly fresh for its age. 20/20 points.

Thanks to Billo Naravane for hosting!




Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 June 2014 17:25
More Rosés Plus Summertime Whites
Written by Rand Sealey   
Wednesday, 11 June 2014 13:39

Since last week's Review of Washington Wines Blog posting, I have tried some more rosé wines to add to last week's list. As I mentioned before, interest in rosés has risen dramatically in the past few years. They are fun to drink, yet are to be taken seriously, being versatile wines that are especially suitable with summer fare.

Here are three that I discovered on our visit to the Columbia Gorge on the way back home from Seattle to Walla Walla last Saturday.

2013 AniChe Cellars "Little Birds" Rosé Wine, Columbia Valley ($21) - This is a saigneée rosé, produced from one third each of Tempranillo, Zinfandel and Sangiovese, which were bled off from crushed grapes. It displays a salmon color and intriguing aromas of pear, Rainier cherry and watermelon and bursts with bright fruits that are accented by light herbs and spices. 18/20 points.

2013 Domaine Pouillon Rosé Wine, Horse Heaven Hills ($20) - Composed of 80% Grenache, 15% Syrah and 5% Mourvèdre, this rosé displays a brilliant copper color and seductive aromas of ruhbarb, blood orange, dried roses and lavender. The flavors are deep and extracted, redolent of steeped fruits, dried orange peel and Horse Heaven minerals. The back picks up notes of dried orange peel and melon rind on the lightly spiced dry finish. 18+/20 points.

2013 Syncline Rosé, Columbia Valley ($18) - Sourced from the McKinley Springs and Coyote Canyon vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills, and composed of 43% Cinsault, 32% Grenache and 25% Mourvèdre, this offers a pale pink-copper color and aromas of strawberries, watermelon, ruhbarb and white lavender. The flavors are ripe and direct, with notes of grape skin and melon rind, followed by a crisp, dry, lightly spiced finish. 18/20 points.

Here are a few more rosés that were tasted since last week, including a couple from Provence which are the inspirations for the drier style of rosés being made today.

2013 Tamarack Cellars Rosé of Mourvèdre, Wahluke Slope ($18) - Pale salmon colored, this wine emits intriguing aromas of raspberry, Rainier cherry, orange peel, and white incense. The flavors are dry and precise, with the dried fruits and Wahluke scorched earth and minerals mimicing the Cotes de Provence. The back picks up nores of dried orange peel and spices, followed by a persistent dry finish. 18/20 points. Sold out at the winery, but can be found elsewhere, including Metropolitan Market.

2013 Buty "Rosé of the Stones," Walla Walla Valley, Rockgarden Estate ($25) - This comes from the winery's vineyard in the "Rocks" of the South Valley. Composed of 92% Syrah and 8% Grenache, it displays a brilliant salmon color and captivating aromas of pear-apple musk melon and Provençal orange, anise and jasmine. The flavors are well extracted, yet graceful, imbued with notes of grape skin, melon rind and "Rocks" minerality. The back picks up sensations of dried orange peel and pear liqueur, followed by a lingering, spiced (nutmeg, clove) dry finish. 18.5/20 points.

2013 "AIX" Rosé Wine, Coteaux d'Aix en Provence ($15) - Pale salmon colored, this offers lovely aromas of hillside strawberries and raspberries and scents of Provençal wildflowers and herbs, with whiffs of white incense. The flavors are as enticing as the aromas, with notes of Mistral-blown earth and minerals, followed by dried orange peel and spices on the dry finish. 18/20 points. (Purchased at Esquin)

2013 La Bastide Blanche Bandol Rosé ($21) - Produced from the Mourvèdre grape, this shows a pale salmon color and seductive aromas of pear-apple, musk melon, orange peel, dried roses, white lavender and white incense. The flavors are well extracted, but without being particularly rindy, marked by Provençal minerals and seaside salinity. 18+/20 points. (Purchased at Esquin)

Last week's listing of rosés included one from K Vintners which was reviewed in the May issue of the Review of Washington Wines.. It is sold out at the winery, but last week I discovered that Esquin has a few cases of it left. The price there is $19.99 a bottle.

Now, here are a couple of white wines that are in too limited a supply to list in the July issue of the Review of Washington Wines.

2013 Syncline Grüner Veltliner, Columbia Gorge, Underwood Mountain Vineyard ($20) - This is sold out at the winery, but there are several cases left in Seattle. James Mantone poured it for me on my visit last Saturday. It offers a brilliant gold color and an exotic nose of Asian pear-apple, peach, star fruit, anise jasmine and white lavender. The white fruit flavors are equally intriguing, with notes of peach pit, oriental fruits, lime peel and Underwood Mountain volcanic minerals. The back is well extracted, yet equipoised, followed by a long juicy dry finish. 18.5/20 points.

2012 Domaine Pouillon "Deux" White Wine, Columbia Valley ($23) - This is a charming combination of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Viognier. It was a popular wine in previous vintages, but shifting demand has resulted in it being phased out. But it's a fine wine on its own merits. It offers a brilliant gold color and attractive aromas of pear, apple, peach, citrus, orange blossoms, acacia flowers and white lilac. The flavors are bright and nicely balanced, with notes of peach stones, grape skin and stony minerals. The back picks up touches of poire William liqueur and grapefruit peel on the way to a ripe, crisp finish. Lynn really likes this. 18.5/20 points.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 June 2014 15:12

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