- Written by Rand Sealey
Lately, there has been an increasing popularity of Bordeaux-style red wine blends, composed of varying proportions of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carménère. The term "BDX" comes from the ticketing code for the Bordeaux airport which has flights to Paris, London and other cities. (My strongest memory of BDX is that of a mediocre dinner and a dirty room at a nearby hotel, and a delayed flight resulting in a missed connection from London to Seattle.)
The question here is why there are up to six grape varieties in BDX blends when there are, for all practical purposes, only three in Bordeaux. Here are the percentages of grapes grown in that region: Merlot, 62%; Cabernet Sauvignon, 25%; and Cabernet Franc, 12%. This adds up to 99%, leaving only 1% for all of the Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carménère grown in Bordeaux.
The latter three varietals have Bordeaux origins, but are practically non-existent today. Here's what happened to them.
Petit Verdot - The name means "little green." It is a variety that produces small grapes and ripens slowly, which is why it has fallen out of favor in Bordeaux, a relatively cool climate area. In some years, the grapes do not ripen fully and don't have the beautiful crimson color and perfumed fruit that comes in warmer years. After the phyloxera devestation of the 1870's and '80's, there was little incentive to replant Petit Verdot.
Malbec - At one time, a fair amount of Malbec was grown in Bordeaux, especially in Graves, but the phyloxera devastation led to it's demise. Today, in France, Malbec is grown almost exclusively in the Lot River Valley around the town of Cahors, from which the appellation takes its name. It is also known as "the black wine." Much Malbec is now grown in Argentina which is the world's largest producer of that varietal.
Carménère - This is now known as "the lost grape of Bordeaux." Again, the phyloxera infestation led to its near-extinction. Its resurection has occured in the New World by way of Chile. In the late 19th century, cuttings of what were purported to be Merlot were shipped to Chile, but later, after closer examination, were found to be Carménère. It has more recently developed into something of a cult varietal in the U.S., especially in Washington State.
All this is not to say that there is any problem with calling wines including Petit Verdot, Malbec or Carménère "BDX" blends. But that is more in a historical rather than a contemporary sense. But, at least, those varietals do grow well in Washington State, due to the warmer, more consistent climates than those of Bordeaux, which gives a reason to include them in "BDX" blends.
Here are some noteworthy recently revewed "BDX" blends.
2013 Bartholomew 5th Quarter Blend, Columbia Valley ($32) 19/20 points. (April issue)
55% Carmenénère, 20% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petit Verdot, 7% Cabernet Franc.
2014 NumbSkull "BDX" Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley ($38) - 19/20 points. (April issue)
73% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Merlot
2013 L'Ecole No. 41 "Perigee" Estate Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley ($54) - 19.5/20 points. (April issue)
50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 15% Cabefnet Franc, 9% Malbec, 6% Petit Verdot.
2013 Long Shadows "Pirouette" Red Wine, Columbia Valley ($55) 19.5/20 points (December issue)
63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 12% Petit Verdot, 9% Cabernet Franc.
Also, there are some fine examples of stand-alone varietals from the Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carménère grapes.
2013 Seven Hills Reserve Petit Verdot, Walla Walla Valley ($45) - 19.5/20 points (to be in the May issue)
2013 Kerloo Cellars Malbec, Wahluke Slope, Stone Tree Vineyard ($40) - 19/20 points (January)
2013 àMaurice Cellars "Amparo" Estate Malbec, Walla Walla Valley ($47) 19.5 points (November)
2014 Seven Hills Carménère, Walla Walla Valley ($30) - 19 points (to be reviewed in May)
2012 Tertulia Cellars Carménère, Horse Heaven Hills, Phinny Hill Vineyard ($40) - 19 points (April)
- Written by Rand Sealey
On Tuesday, March 15th, the Sons of Bachus (SOBs) and two Daughters of Dionysus assembled for a tasting of Saint Joseph Wines. The appellation is situated south of Condrieu in the North Rhone Valley. The principal grape is Syrah and up to 10% white grapes may be added (Marsanne and Roussanne) and the wines are similar to those of Cote Rotie. Ten wines were tasted in three flights and there was a taste off of the top wines in each flight.
The top three in order of ranking, with my notes and scores
2006 Domaine de Miguettes - This was my second choice, but by a small margin. It showed a deep ruby color with a garnet edge (an indication of a maturing wine) and a sultry, smoky nose of grilled berries and meats, and garrigue (lavender, Provencal herbs). The flavors were thick and pure Syrah. 19+/20 points.
2010 Domaine Courbis, "Les Reyes" - This was my first choice. It showed a purplish color and an intense, spicy blackberry and cassis nose and well-structured Syrah flavors. It really opened up on aeration, showing classic depth and a long finish with notes of spices and toffeee. 19.5/20 points.
2011 Qupé Syrah, Edna Valley, California, Lundquist Vineyard - This was the "ringer" of the tasting. I picked it out as such for its lighter color and body, indicative of a warmer climate Syrah. It offered attractive aromas of wild berries, tobacco and spice, with chewy, medium bodied flavors that showed fine depth and length. 19/20 points.
Other noteworthy wines
2006 E. Guigal "Lieu Dit" - This is a bottling from Guigal's estate vineyards. This one showed a purplish color and a spicy nose of blackberries, currants and spices. In between the traditional and modern styles, it had fine depth, Syrah purity and a lasting finish. 19/20 points. There was also a 2011 Lieu Dit which showed a bit less complexity and depth. 18.5+/20 points.
2012 Stephane Robert "Domaine du Tunnel" - This showed an inky purplish color and a perfumed nose - lavender, violets and incense - and mouth encompassing flavors, followed by notes of orange peel and burnt charcoal and a dryish tannin finish. 19/20 points.
2010 Guy Farge "passion de terrasses" - Deep ruby colored, this showed a deep ruby color and aromas of tobacco, cedar and roasted berries. The flavors were thick and meaty, with notes of dried friit, roast coffee, earth, leather and ripe, grainy tannins. This was my first choice in its flight. 19+/20 points.
Thanks to Jamie Kennedy for hosting this fine tasting.
- Written by Rand Sealey
On Monday, March 7, I flew to Seattle to participate in the judging for Seattle Magazine's Washington Wine Awards and some winery visits. Here's a recap of my day.
I took the 6 a.m. Horizon Airlines flight out of Walla Walla, arriving in Seattle at 7. I picked up a rental car and drove to the South Seattle Community College where the Washington Wine Awards judging was being held at the Northwest Wine Academy, the college's winemaking program. There, the Program Coordinator, Regina - "Reggie"- Daignault showed us around the program's facilities. Then the wine judging commenced at nine. We went through about one hundred wines, scoring them on a 20 point scale. We finished at about 11:30. We then had lunch, grilled ham and cheese croissants prepared by the College culinary program, while the scores were being compiled. After lunch, we judged the top wines in each category for the Red Wine and White Wine of the Year. The winners will be revealed in the August issue of Seattle Magazine.
After the judging, I tasted the Northwest Wine Academy's current releases. including an impressive Chardonnay for under $20 and a tasty Reserve Red Wine. The wines were made from donated grapes from vineyards such as the Wycoff Farm and Doc Stewart. The reviews will be in the April issue of the Review of Washington Wines.
I then drove to Esquin Wine & Spirits on Fourth Avenue South and placed an order for some wines to be shipped to me. I also tasted three Bartholomew reds, including a new "5th Quarter" blend of Carmenere, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Cab Franc (19/20 points). The wines will be reviewed in the April issue.
After Esquin, I drove to Structure Cellars on First Avenue South where I met the owners, Brian Grasso and Brandee Slosar. The wines lived up to their name with structure as well as accessibility. These included "Newel," an interesing combination of 51% Syrah and 49% Cabernet Franc. The "Foundation" Syrah was particularly impressive (19/20 points). The wines will be in the April issue.
After Structure Cellars, I drove back to SeaTac, turned in the car, had supper at Anthony's in the airport, took the 8:20 flight back to Walla Walla and got back home at 9:25, ending my day.
- Written by Rand Sealey
In the April issue of the Review of Washington Wines, there will be eight reds from the 2014 vintage. So this is a good time to compare the 2012, 2013 and 2014 vintages.
2012 - This is probably the most "normal" of recent harvests, resulting in wines with fine fruit and balance. Andy Perdue (Great Northwest Wine) has written, "Stock up! The 2012 vintage provided almost perfect grapes in Washington, and produced wines that are great now and could be even better in a decade or two." I agree about the 2012's being great, but I'm not so sure about aging them for a decade. They seem to be fruit-forward wines that are tasty now, but many don't seem to have the tannins and acidity for prolonged aging.
2013 - This was another early harvest, mostly completed by mid-October. I have found many 2013's to be even better than their 2012 counterparts, with distinct varietal typicity. For example, the Upchurch Vineyard 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon (reviewed in the March issue) scored 20/20 points, while the 2012 scored 19.5/20 points. The same goes for the 2013 Mark Ryan "Lonely Heart" Cabernet Sauvignon (to be in the April issue) as compared to the 2012.
2014 - Again, this was an early harvest, mostly completed by mid-October, with some Cabernet and Malbec coming later. The weather was mostly sunny and in the '70's, resulting in wines that combine ripe fruits with phenols for armoatis and acidty and tannins for structure. The the 2014's I have tasted so far, including the superb Reynvaan Syrahs, are deep, distinctive wines that should age well. I will be tasting more 2014's during Cayuse Weekend, April 1-2, and Spring Release Weekend, May 6-8. More later!
So, if you are thinking of following Andy Perdue's advice, "Depending on how much space you have, load up on 2012 Washington reds," my advice is to save room for the 2013's and 2014's. They may turn out to be more ageworthy wines.
- Written by Rand Sealey
A couple of weeks ago, I saw an article in KEPRtv.com, "Rise in Walla Walla tourism brings new benefits for residents." The Tri-Cities tv station found that "Tourists are flooding to the wine and food in the city of Walla Walla, and not without their wallet. KEPR found out how a recent rise in tourism is benefiting local residents and what you can expect in the near future."
The article finds evidence of a transformation in Walla Walla wih 80 independently owned restautants in the town of 30,000, 120 million dollars in direct spending by tourists in 2014, and a doubling in lodging and sales tax revenues in the past ten years.
The Fat Duck Inn's Cynthia Koby is quoted as saying, "With the rise in tourism here we feel like we are almost grouind floor here: there's so much opportunity it's limitless." It's something she and Rich Koby never imagined when they opened in 2013.
There is further evidence of a surge in tourism in Alaska Airlines' increase in its flights to Seattle from two to three daily starting in March. "Then we can actually get back to Walla Walla the same day we leave California or something, that's pretty cool," stated one interviewee. So the historical town of Walla Walla is widening its appeal to tourists. And the town's wine industry will be a big beneficiary.