Review of Washington Wines Blog
Cabernet Franc Moves into the Forefront
Written by Rand Sealey   
Wednesday, 18 February 2015 00:11

In wrapping up the March Review of Washington Wines (to go on line February 24), I noticed that there are six Cabernet Francs in that issue. This is a remarkably high number for a varietal that until recently played, for the most part, a supporting role as a blending grape with Cabernet Sauvignon and other "Bordeaux" varietals. Why this new interest in Cabernet Franc as a stand-alone or a predominat varietal?

Historically, Cabernet Franc has been regarded as a secondary "cousin" of Cabernet Sauvignon. It is grown in Bordeaux, especially on the Right Bank (St. Emilion and Pomerol), but is seldom more than 50% of the cepage. Only in the Loire Valley does it play a primary role as a varietal in the appellations of Anjou-Saumur, Chinon and Bourgeuil. It is a lighter bodied, earlier ripening (one or two weeks) variety than Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes are small and blue-black in color with fairly thin skins (hence less tannic). In the U.S., significant plantings of Cabernet Franc were made in California in the 'seventies, and in Washington in the 'eighties. The first varietal bottlings in Washington were by the Columbia Winery in 1991 and Chateau Ste. Michelle in 1992. Since then, more varietal bottlings have emerged, to the point where there are a siginificant number.

Part of the increased interest in Cabernet Franc may be its acessibility, compared to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Being less tannic, they are drinkable at an earlier age. Often, they also show a distinct earthiness and berry-like fruitiness that make them food-friendly. For instance, the Tero Estate winery in the Walla Walla Valley makes a Cabernet Franc from the Windrow Vineyard which sells out not long after release. Other significant players are Seven Hills (McClellan Estate), L'Ecole No. 41 (Seven Hills Vineyard) and Owen Roe (Union Gap Vineyard in the Yakima Valley). And there is a bevy of other producers.

Watch for the March issue of the Review of Washington Wines a week from now for reviews of six new Cabernet Francs. And next week's Blog, also to go on line Februay 24, will report on a tasting of Loire Valley Cabernet Francs.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 February 2015 01:12
The Whitehouse Crawford Chateauneuf du Pape Tasting
Written by Rand Sealey   
Tuesday, 10 February 2015 14:48

Last week, I reported on a tasting of Champagnes at the Whitehouse Crawford Restaurant in Walla Walla. This week, I am writing about another tasting, held the following week, featuring Chateauneuf du Papes. This South Rhone Appellation allows the use of about a dozen different varieties of grapes, Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, Counoise, Syrah and others. The wines, mostly from the 2012 vintage varied according to the combination of grapes and winemaking style. Again, Jenna Bicknell, the restaurant manager, prepared tasting sheets and poured the wines.

2013 Le Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc - A small amount of white wine, this one 50% Roussanne, 50% Clairette, and a tiny amount of Grenache Blanc from very old vines, is made in Chateauneuf du Pape. This one showed a medium gold color and a lovely floral nose of pear, peach, wisteria and white violets. The flavors were fresh and lively, somewhat lighter bodied yet with distinct minerality and zesty verve on the lingering finish. 19/20 points.

2010 Clos des Papes Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc - Composed of equal parts of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Bourboulenc, Clairette and Picpoul, this showed a light gold color and intriguing aromas of lilac, lemon peel, lemongrass and acacia flowers. The medium bodied flavors were well extracted, with notes of pear, peach an citrus, and a distinct saline character and flinty minerality, followed by a lingering juicy finish. 19+/20 points.

2012 Le Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf du Pape - This was 75% Grenache, 10% Mourvèdre, and 5% Cinsault, along with small amounts of other varieties, from vines 50-100 years old. All varieties except Mourvèdre were fermented together. It showed a medium ruby color and lovely, almost ethereal, nose of wild raspberries, cranberries and red currants, with scents of rose petals, orange peel, violets and white pepper. The flavors were rich and satiny, with notes of white chocolate, herbal tea and minerals. The back picked up framboise liqueur and orange peel, followed by a lingering, feminine finish. Superb elegance. 19.5/20 points.

2012 Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils Chateauneuf du Pape - Composed of 75% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 6% Mourvèdre, 5% Cinsault, 2% Counoise and 2% Muscardin,from 30 to 65 year old vines planted in sand and rock. It exhibited a medium ruby color and seductive aromas of wild raspberries, red currants, wild roses, lavender and violets, with whiffs of white incense. The flavors were equally enticing, with finely wrought fruits spreading out on the palate, imbued with cocoa powder, tea, and finely ground minerals. The back picked up framboise and cassis liqueurs, and orange peel, followed by satiny tannins on the finish. 19+/20 points.

2012 Bousquet des Papes "Cuvée Tradition" Chateauneuf du Pape - From a domaine, with cobblestone, sand and clay limestone soil, owned by the Boiron family for six generations, this is a combination of 75% Grenache, 12% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre and 3% Cinsault. This vintage showed a brilliant medium ruby color and rich, earthy aromas of raspberry, cranberry, red peach, crushed roses, bark, orange peel and violets. The flavors mirrored the aromatics with finely wrought red fruits and stony earth minerals. On the back, the wine turned chewy textured, leading into a long moderate tannin finish. 19+/20 points.

2012 Clos des Brusquières Chateauneuf du Pape - This one was composed of 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre. It displayed a brilliant medium ruby color and intriguing aromas of raspberry, red plum, cherry, ruhbarb, crushed roses, tobacco, dried orange peel and lavender. The flavors mirrored the aromatics with licorice, cocoa powder, cola, and "mas" gravel. The chewy textured back picked up pressed berries, and framboise and kirsch liqueurs, followed by a long, velvety finish. 19/20 points.

2012 Château Fortia "La Cuvée du Baron" Chateauneuf du Pape - A blend of 44% Grenache, 44% Syrah and 12% Mourvèdre, this showed a brilliant ruby color and intriguing aromas of raspberry, red plum, cherry, mulberry and currants, with scents of crushed roses, tobacco, orange peel and lavender. The thick, chewy texture reflected the higher percentage of Syrah, with notes of dark chocolate, black tea and earth. The back picked up squeezed berries, kirsch and creme de cassis, followed by a direct sweet-dry finish. 18.5+/20 points.

2011 Clos des Papes Chateauneuf du Pape - Composed of 65% Grenache, 20% Mourvèdre, 10% Syrah and 5% other varieties, all cofermented, this exhibited a medium brick red color and an exotic nose of wild raspberries, red currants, red wild flowers, orange peel, violets and spiced oriental incense. The red fruit flavors were open and lavish, yet focused, intermixed with licorice, and white chocolate, showing old vine (50+ years) character, all persisting on a liqueur infused precise finish. Can go another 10 years. 19.5/20 points.

2005 Domaine du Pegau "Cuvée Laurence" Chateauneuf du Pape - This was a superb example of maturing CdP. Composed of 80% Grenache, 12% Syrah, 4% Mourvèdre, and 4% miscellaneous varieties, this showed a deep, brilliant brick red color and a rich, smoky, sensuous nose of wild fruits - blackberry, raspberry, black currant, orange peel - and scents of attar of rose, sandalwood, lavender and smoldering oriental incense. The flavors were equally seductive, with a panopoly of chewy red fruits, intermixed with dark chocolate, black licorice, roasted nuts, turning into a sensuous "velours" texture on the incredibly long finish. Still young, this could go another 10-20 years. The Cuvée Laurence is made only in the best years. 20/20 points.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 February 2015 16:45
The Whitehouse Crawford Champagne Tasting
Written by Rand Sealey   
Monday, 02 February 2015 14:46

On Wednesday, January 28th, Lynn and I went to a Champagne tasting at the Whitehouse Crawford Restaurant in Walla Walla. The focus was on grower-produced Champagnes. In fact, only one major house, Bollinger, was represented in the line up. The tasting was conducted by Jenna Bicknell, the restaurant's general manager. White wine glasses were used, rather than the usual flutes. The larger bowls enabled more bouquet to come forth. All the wines were impressive and this tasting presented a great opportunity to discover a wide range of Champagne styles. Here are my tasting notes, together with notes provided by the restaurant. All were non-vintage except the Bollinger Grand Année.

Champagne Pierre Peters Brut Grand Cru, Blanc de Blanc, Les Mesnil-sur-Oger - A grower Champagne of 100% Chardonnay. Uses sustainable vineyard practices. Brilliant gold colored with fine bubbles, this showed seductive aromas of white flowers and toast. The flavors wre crisp and precises, with a touch of creaminess counterpointing the lemon zest on the slightly nutted dry finish. 19/20 points.

Champagne Agrapart & Fils Brut, "Les Sept Crus" - This seven crus blend was composed of 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir, 50% from the 2006 and 50% from the 2007 vintages, aged in neutral oak barrels. It combined 70% Grand Cru and 30% Premier Cru grapes. It showed a light gold color and fine bubbles, with almost ethereal aromas of white flowers and white incense. The flavors were elegant and precise, laser-like, with a touch of spice and distinct minerality (chalk, flint, granite) followed by an elegant dry (9 g/L dosage). 19/20 points.

Champagne Vilmart & Cie Brut "Grand Cellier" Premier Cru, Rilly La Montagne - This was 70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir from "Les Hautes Greves" and "Les Basses Greves." No malolactic fermentation, and the wine was aged in large oak casks. It showed a brilliant pale gold color and fine bubbles, and intriguing aromas of grapefruit peel, wisteria and light spice. The flavors were very crisp, zesty and appley (from the malic acids), with admixtures of lees and minerals, followedby a long, dry, zingy finish. 19/20 points.

Champagne Jean Vesselle, Extra Brut Cuvée, Bouzy - This was composed of 80% Pinot, Noir, 20% Chardonnay, with a minimum of 2-3 years aging, and no dosage. From organic vineyards, all Grand Cru. It displayed a brilliant pale gold color, a frothy mousse, and lovely aromatics of cherry blossoms, orange peel and star anise, and white incense. The flavors were vibrant, resonating with grape extracts, lees and stony minerals. The back picked up poire William liqueur and recurring orange peel, followed by a bone dry finish. 19+/20 points.

Champagne Boizel Brut Blanc de Noirs, Epernay - This was 100% Pinot Noir from Mareuil sur Ay, Cumierès, Mailly and les Riceys, 30% reserve wines and aging three years on the lees. This showed a orange-tinted gold color and frothy bubbles, with intoxicating aromas of wild strawberries, orange peel, bark, cardamom and oriental spices. The finely wrought mixed fruit flavors danced on the palate. On the back, notes of liqueurs and recurring orange peel emerged, along with a lingering dry slighly nutted finish. An exemplary rendition of 100% Pinot Noir. 19.5/20 points.

Champagne De Sousa, Brut Tradition, Avize - Composed of several vintages, 50% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 10% Pinot Meunier, this displayed a medium gold color, a frothy mousse, and a fresh, ethereal nose of white flowers, white toast, lavender and white incense. The flavors were bright and crisp, with a bit of richness from the Pinot Noir, and a touch of grape skin from the Pinot Meunier. This came on as a traditionally styled Champagne with a true Brut finish. 19/20 points.

Champagne Gaston Chiquet Brut Tradition, Dizy - This was a blend of 40% Pinot Meunier, 35% Chardonnay, and 25% Pinot Noir, from the 2010 vintage, with 8% each of 2009 and 2008, all Premier and Grand Cru grapes from Dizy, Hautviller and Mareuil-sur-Ay. It exhibited a medium gold color and fine bubbles, along with seductive aromas of pear, peach, strawberry, orange peel, pear blossoms and acacia flowers. The intermingling of red and white fruits were reflected in the medium full-bodied palate, along with notes of toasted nuts, cream (from full malolactic) and a lingering leesy (aged sur latte for 26 months) dry finish. Unoaked, the integrated components spoke for the wine. This was my - and Lynn's - favorite of the tasting. 19.5 points.

2002 Champagne Bollinger "Grande Année" Brut, Ay - This was the only major house Champagne in the tasting and the only vintage one. It was composed of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, 75% Grand Cru and 25% Premier Cru., fermented in old oak and aged on the lees for a minimum of five years. It showed a medium gold color and had fine bubbles and a distinctive nose of pain grilée, butternut, and musk-scented incense. The flavors showed a precise combination of crispness and creaminess, finishing with touches of lemon, herbs and toasty oak on the true Brut finish. 19.5/20 points.

A mystery sparkling wine was also poured, midway through the line up. It showed a gold color and fine bubbles, with a floral nose of apple, cherry and peach blossoms. The flavors were vigorous and showed more limestone than mineral, with a long, dry finish. It turned out to be Domaine Huet Vouvray Petilliant from the Loire Valley. The limestone is what set it apart from the Champagnes. 18.5+/20 points.

At $20 per person, this tasting was a bargain, offering as it did, an opportunity to sample a wide variety of fine Champages. Thanks to Jenna for putting this together. We'll be at the Chateauneuf du Pape tasting next week for sure.


Last Updated on Monday, 02 February 2015 16:29
When State Borders Matter With AVAs
Written by Rand Sealey   
Sunday, 25 January 2015 23:25

For the February issue of the Review of Washington Wines, I wrote up the 2012 Otis Kenyon Washington State Malbec. I received this comment from Muriel Kenyon, "This Malbec is 100% from the Phinny Hill Vineyard, but we cannot put Horse Heaven Hills on the label as we are an Oregon Winery and HHH is entirely in the state of Washington. It's the same issue that will pop up once The Rocks District of Milton Freewater is approved and Washington wineries won't be able to put it on their label." I replied "I'll just put in that it is sourced from Phinny Hill. Calling a wine 'sourced" is what I do when wine is from a single vineyard but it not on the label."

This is one of those instances where state borders do matter with putting on wine labels certain AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) which are approved by the Treasury Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau upon documentation that shows that a given area meets the criteria for a distinctive wine growing area.

When AVAs are approved, they can cover specified areas without consideration for state boundaries. There are two AVAs that straddle the Washington and Oregon borders: the Walla Walla Valley and the Columbia Gorge. Wineries within those areas can use their respective AVAs on their labels. Wineries can also put other AVAs on their labels so long as they are in the same state where the winery is located. For instance, the Barrister and Robert Karl wineries (both in the February issue) are located in Spokane, but since they are Washington wineries, they can put specific AVAs and vineyards on their labels.

However, if a winery is located in a state other than the one where the grapes come from, the wines can only specify the source state and not the AVA or vineyard, as in the case above of the Otis Kenyon Washington State Malbec. Simiilarly, the wines of Coeur d'Alene Cellars (also in the February issue) which is located in Idaho are are labeled as being from "Washington."

There also is some discretion allowed in how much grape source information is given on a wine label. A wine may be from the Yakima Valley, but can also be simply "Columbia Valley" or even "Washington State." Sometimes, how to label a wine can be simply a marketing decision. For a wine being marketed on the East Coast or in another country, Washington State may be more familiar than Columbia Valley or Yakima Valley.

Hopefully, all this will help clarify how American wines, especially Washington and Oregon ones, are labeled, and illustrate how state boundaries, at times, do matter.

Last Updated on Monday, 26 January 2015 22:11
Tasting 2007 Syrahs
Written by Rand Sealey   
Tuesday, 13 January 2015 16:21

Last night, I conducted a tasting of 2007 Washington Syrahs for Lynn's "Art Class" group. The first four wines were from the Helix by Reininger Phinny Hill Clonal Selection Collection which was purchased at the winery four years ago. I spotted it in its presentation wood box, and I decided it would be a good time to taste the wines. Here is what the accompanying sheet said:

The Helix Clonal Selection Collection (CSC) is the result of a desire to share and educate through experience and adventure. It is comprised of four unique Syrah wines sourced from the Phinny Hill Vineyards owned and mangaged by Dick and Cheryl Beightol. Three are 100% from each of separate clones and the fourth is an equal blend of the three clones. This presentation affords the knowledge and expreience of the "parts" and the "sum" of the Helix 2007 Phinny Hill CSC Syrah.

What is a clone? In viticultural terms, it's a population of vines which are theoretically geneticaly identical, having been propagated vegitatively (i.e. from cane cuttings, not by seeds) which are descendants of a single mother plant in an effort to isolate a specific trait(s).

Clone 174: Origin - Drôme, France. Low cluster weight and lower yield, medium sugar, good balance, cherry fruit flavors, often rated first in Hermitage tastings, overall A rating.

Clone 470: Origin - Tran et Garonne, France. Lower fertility, low cluster weight with loose architecture (open clusters, which discourages fungal disease), higher sugar, full bodied, higher acidity, can be floral, good color, later ripening, often rated first in Hermitage tastings, overall A rating.

Clone Noir: Origin - France, origins are more abiguous because several Syrah clones are referred to as Noir, but this one is believed to be from Hermitage. Dark color (Black Syrah as the name implies), earthy, rustic, spice, more tannic, higher sugar, concentrated.

This unique syrah offering is a wonderful adventure into the world of wine. Enjoy the experience with friends as you explore and evaluate the clonal traits of these wines and discover the symbiotic relationship in the Helix Phinny Hill CSC.

ph Titratable Acidity Cooperage

Clone 174 3.91             .58 g/100ml                 Neutral barrels

Clone 470 3.90             .62 g/100ml                 Neutral barrels

Clone Noir 3.98             .57 g/100ml                 Neutral barrels

CSC 3.92             .50 g/100ml                 Neutral barrels

Here are my notes on the clonal selections tasted and the final blended product.

Clone 174 - Ruby garnet colored, this had a rich, spicy, peppery nose, and notes of roasted berries and windblow earth. The back picked up toasted nuts and fine fruit acids, followed by a spiced, herbed lingering finish, with tannins that were smoothing out.  18.5/20 points.

Clone 470 - This showed a deep ruby colr and an intense, somewhat spiritous nose, with scents of attar of rose, garrigue and violets. The full bodied flavors came on vigorously, and the back showed notes of pressed fruits and well structured acids, all leading into a long finish. 18.5+/20 points.

Clone Noir - Deep brilliant ruby colored, this showed sultry, smoky aromas of roasted berries, garrigue and burnt brambles. The somewhat rustic flavors were deep and rich, with notes of roasted coffee and wind blown earth. The back revealed touches of leather and dried orange peel, followed by a lingering, spicy finish. 18.5/20 points.

CSC Blend - This blend of the three clones showed a deep, brilliant ruby color and a sultry nose of roasted berries, garrigue and smoldering oriental incense. The flavors were rich and deep, untermixed with savory fruits, coffee grounds, Phinny Hill gravel and earth, followed by a long finish, with fruits and tannins smoothing out and melding into an integrated whole, adding up to more than the sum of its parts. 19/20 points.

We also had two more 2007 Syrahs, both from the Walla Walla Valley.

2007 Spring Valley Vineyard "Nina Lee" Syrah, Walla Walla Valley - This displayed a deep medium ruby-garnet color and a smoky, earthy, spicy nose of semi-dried raspberries, cherries and cassis, dried roses and cigar wrapper. The medium full bodied flavors were deep and penetrating, with notes of chocolate, licorice and earth. On the back bright fruit acids emerged to give heft to the long, spicy finiah. 19/20 points.

2007 Kerloo Syrah, Walla Walla Valley - This was Ryan Crane's first vintage, released in 2010. Composed of 80% Va Piano and 20% Les Collines Syrah, it showed a deep ruby color and an intense, seemingly young nose of ripe fruits - blackberry, blueberry and cassis - with some maturing scents of dried roses, burnt brambles and incense. The flavors came on with a distinct vibrancy, with deep fruits, intermixed with chocolate and minerals. Bright fruit acids also added vigor to the lingering spiced finish. It could easily go another 5 or 10 years. 19+/20 points.

Also, a 2008 Syrah from one of Cayuse's vineyards in the "Rocks of Milton-Freewater," La Paciencia.

2008 No Girls Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, La Paciencia Vineyard - This showed a semi-opaque ruby color and intense aromas of roasted berries and semi-dried fruits, burnt brambles and smoldering incense. On the palate the flavors were robust and deeply earthy, with that indelible "Rocks" funk. The rich earthiness extended on through the back, along with roasted berries and nuts, all culminating in a lingering spiced and herbed finish. 19+/20 points.


No Review Blog Next Week

On Friday, January 16th, Lynn and I will be leaving Walla Walla for a winter getaway in Hawaii, on the island of Oahu. We will be returning January 24th, and the next Blog will be on 26th, along with the February issue of the Review of Washington Wines.





Last Updated on Tuesday, 13 January 2015 19:42

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