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The Washington Wine Awards Judging
Written by Rand Sealey   
Tuesday, 18 March 2014 12:01

On Monday, March 4th, I joined about two dozen other wine experts: merchants, winemakers, sommeliers, wine writers for the annual Seattle Magazine's Washington Wine Awards. This year, the judging was coordinated by Yashar Shayan, a former sommelier (Palisade, Willows Inn) who now runs ImpulseWine.Com, an on line wine retailer that makes periodic offerings of distinctive wines, mostly from Washington State. This is the second year in a row that I have participated in this judging. About a hundred wines were tasted, grouped by category, Merlot under $20, Merlot over $20. Cabernet under $25, Cabernet $65 and over, and so on. They were tasted double blind, that is tasters did not know what wines were being tasted other than their categories. The wines were selected from a survey conducted a couple of months before. The wines were scored on a scale of 10 points, similar to the University of California, Davis 20 point system. It seemed to work well at this event. A few weeks later, I received by email my scores and tasting notes, together with a key to the wines tasted. The actual winners will be announced in the August issue of Seattle Magazine, at which time I will comment on the awards. Below are some wines I found to be particularly impressive.

2012 Efesté "Sauvage" Sauvignon Blanc, Yakima Valley, Boushey-Golden View Vineyard ($23) - I found this to be an expecially exceptional Sauvignon, exotically perfumed, classically chalky, yet with a rich mouthfeeel. I will retaste this wine and write a full review in a future issue of the Review of Washington Wines. 9.5/10 points.

2011 Long Shadows "Pedestal" Merlot, Columbia Valley ($55) - This was my top pick in the Merlot over $20 category. I found it to be rich, mouthfilling and seductive. To be reviewed in the May issue. 9.5/10 points.

2011 Array "Dijon Clone" Chardonnay, Yakima Valley ($32) - This was the most outstanding wine in the Chardonnay over $15 and under $40 category. It showed classis pear and peach aromas and flavors, with fine fruit acid balance. (Reviewed in the March 2013 issue 19/20 points). 9.5/10 points.

2012 Kevin White "La Fraternité" Red Blend ($20) - Ths Rhone-style blend offered intriguing aromas and lush flavors. The 2011 vintage scored 19/20 points in the September 2013 issue. I will review the 2012 soon. 9/10 points.

2011 Kevin White "En Hommage" Red Blend ($25) - This is an incredible buy in the Red Blend over $20 category. It showed a deep crimson color and lovely red fruits and scents of lavender and violets. It scored 19/20 points in the September issue. 9.5/10 points.

2012 For a Song Syrah, Columbia Valley ($15) - This is an incredible value in the Syrah under $20 category. It was redolent of raspberry, lavender and violets. I will check this out for a future review. 9/10 points.

2011 Avennia "Arnaut" Syrah, Yakima Valley, Boushey Vineyard ($48) - This was a standout among the Syrahs over $20. It showed lovely aromas of lavender and violets, with rich, savory flavors. Reviewed in the October 2013 issue, 19+/20 points. 9.5/10 points.

2010 Gramercy Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley ($48) - This was the top wine in the Cabernet over $25 and under $65 category. It showed sultry, lavish flavors and an incredibly long finish. Reviewed in November, 2013 (19+/20 points). 9.5/10 points.

2009 Den Hoed "Andreas" Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, Wallula Vineyard ($80) - This was one of two wines scoring 10 points. It was rich and smoky, with mouth permeating flavors and a long, long finish. To be reviewed later. 10/10 points.

2009 Woodward Canyon "Old Vines Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington State ($90) - This wine was redolent of blackberry, cassis, licorice, smoke and sweet oak. Reviewed January, 2014 (19.5/20 points). At the Washington Wine Awards tasting, 10/10 points.

 

The April Issue of the Review of Washington Wines to Go On Line Early

During the last week of this month, I will be in Seattle for Taste Washington and for some winery visits. I will have limited time and internet connectivity, so the April issue of the Review of Washington Wines will go on line early, Tuesday, March 25th, a week from today. Along with it will be a blog posting previewing Taste Washington, to be followed by a report on April 1st.

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 18 March 2014 14:36
 
The Malbec Tasting
Written by Rand Sealey   
Wednesday, 12 March 2014 14:55

Last night (March 11), the Sons of Bacchus (SOB's) assembled along with two Daughters of Dionysus to taste 14 Malbecs from France, Argentina, California and Washington. Here are the top wines from each of four flights, with my scores.

2010 Trapiche "Terroir Series" Malbec, Fausto Orriland de Escobar, Mendoza, Argentina - There was near unanimity for this wine. It came on deep purple colored with a rich, smoky nose of blueberry, cassis and violets, with mouth-filling almost decadent yet brawny flavors. 19+/20 points.

2009 Durigutti Malbec Reserva, Mendoza, Argentina - Again this was the favorite of most tasters. Deep ruby colored, it offered a highly aromatic nose of crushed roses, violets, cedar and tobacco with elegant, nutty, fruity dark fruit flavors. 19/20 points.

2009 Skylite Cellars Malbec, Yakima Valley, Verhey Vineyard - There were more differences of opinon on this flight than the others, so this was the consensus favorite. It comes from a small vineyard in the western corner of the Yakima Valley. It showed a deep ruby color and aromas of dried fruits and rose petals, with ripe sweet-dry flavors. 18.5/20 points.

2009 àMaurice Cellars "Amparo" Estate Malbec, Walla Walla Valley - This come's from the vineyard adjacent to the winery, off Mill Creek Road in the East Valley. It exhibited a dense, almost murky, color and a smoldering nose of dark fruits, black pepper, spices and violets. Thick and brawny, it was loaded with dark, earthy fruit flavors and a deliciously chewy texture and a long, full finish. This was my favorite of the entire group. It is one of the best Malbecs I've ever tasted. Kudos to Anna Schafer. 19.5/20 points.

Three other noteworthy Malbecs:

2010 Clos la Coutale Cahors - This comes from France's Lot Valley where Malbec originated. It showed an intriguing aromas of dried roses, cherries, mulberry and smoke, but it was one of those wines that promised more on the nose than it delivered on the palate, with somewhat rustic, dryish flavors. 18.5/20 points.

2011 Lagier-Meredith Malbec, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley - This had a slightly corked nose, otherwise it would have been one of the top wines of the tasting. Opaque purplish colored, it emited a smoky nose of black currants, blueberries, pepper and violets with deep, well structured flavors. 19/20 points (would have been 19+ if it were without TCA taint).

2007 Flying Trout, "#205 Barrel Select" Malbec, Rattlesnake Hills, Konnowak Vineyard - This is from a lot held back by Ashley Trout. In a different flight, it could well been the top wine. Deep garnet coloed, it showed a strong dark fruit nose with dried rose petal and smoke, and a thick, chewy well developed texture and a savory finsih. 19/20 points.

The bonus wine of the evening was provided by our host, Elizabeth Bourcier (assistant vigneronne at Cayuse), a 2012 Cayuse "Edith" Grenache Rosé. It had an ethereal swee-dry fruit nose and imbued with "Rocks" minerality. A real treat. Thanks, Elizabeth, for hosting.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 March 2014 16:05
 
When is Alcohol Content too High?
Written by Rand Sealey   
Friday, 07 March 2014 14:57

A few days ago, in regard to my February reviews of Angel Vine Washington Zinfandels (some of which were over 15% alcohol) a subscriber emailed me writing, "I'm always concerned when I see alcohol approaching over 15%. Maybe I was ok with it when I was younger, but I can taste the heat and frankly don't care for it - it's tiring - and that's true of any high alcohol California Zinfandels. My in laws love when it's almost 16% and I can't take  more than a glass....but they love it. You mention in your notes they are not 'hot' but I'm not sure how that can be. Any insight?"

I replied that "High alcohol is often a trait of Zinfandel, a variety that can stand up to higher alcohol. Petite Sirah and to some extent Syrah can also stand up to higher alcohol. When high alcohol puts a wine out of balance is when the fruit acid levels are lower, or if it's a lighter bodied varietal. Hotness is relative, some wines can have high alcohol and not seem hot, others do. So structure and acidity are the keys to whether a high alcohol wine is balanced or not. I don't ordinarily report alcohol content unless it's relevant. And I don't recommend wines if they are out of balance. I have noted lower alcohol levels, especially in regard to the cooler vintage 2011's."

What happens when a high alcohol wine gets out of balance is when, during harvesting, the sugar (Brix) levels in the grapes starts rising while at the same time, acid levels drop. The result is a "flabby" high alcohol wine. The fruit may still be there, but the wine comes out as a ripe, high alcohol, low acid "fruit bomb." I've run across of lot of these and they're not really pleasant to drink. Generally, when a wine gets over 15% alcohol, it has to have pretty good structure (body and acidity) to stand up to the "heat." Some time ago, I ran across a Carmenère that was 16.2% alcohol and the heat was evident even though it was full-bodied. There is a limit to how high alcohol can go before it gets overpowering.

It is no secret that Washington reds are fairly high in alcohol. In order to maximize the phenols that give wines aromas and complexity, the grapes need extended "hang time." Last year, for example, was a more "normal" harvest, yet many growrers held on into mid October to pick grapes. If you check the labels of Washington wines, you will usually see alcohol contents between 14 and 15 percent. It is with the cooler 2011 vintage, that you will see more wines coming in under 14%, which, along with drier tannins, gives the wines more of an "old world" character, something I have noted in reviews of wines from that vintage.

The subscriber who emailed me also asked about Washington Zinfandel, "Is it trending as a varietal. Is it an experiment or something serious in Washington." My reply was that there are a few areas in Washington that are suited for Zinfandel. One is the Wahluke Slope (Stone Tree Vineyard) and the Horse Heaven Hills (Alder Ridge). Both are warm areas. Besides Angel Vine (actually located in Carlton, Oregon, but making wines from Washington grapes), a few other wineries make Zinfandel (and Primitivo, a closely related clone), including Forgeron and Trio Vintners. But Washington Zinfandel is more of a novelty than a mainstream varietal.

Last Updated on Friday, 07 March 2014 16:02
 
How to Find Wines Reviewed
Written by Rand Sealey   
Thursday, 27 February 2014 16:31

A few days ago, a new subscriber emailed me asking, "Have you ever thought about developing a searchable database of reviews?" I replied that "I would love to have a database of reviews, but I did determine it would be too costly." I did, however, add that there are listings that subscribers can access that would be helpful in locating wines from specific wineries and highly rated ones. Here's how.

There is an alphabetical listing of wines reviewed from January to June 2013 and July through December 2013, with the months in which they were reviewed. These listings can be found on the Subscription Page (after login) under "Email Messages." Click on the links (in blue) and the listings will come up. These listings show the scores as well as the months in which the wines were reviewed.

Also, in the Review of Washington Wines blog (on the upper right corner of each issue) there is a listing of "Top Wines of 2013," wines scoring 20/20 and 19.5/20 points, posted on 11 December, 2013 (to find it, scroll down to the bottom, and then back to that posting). In the posting of 26 December, there is a listing of "Best Buys of 2012," with wines scoring 19 or more points for $40 or less and ones with 18.5 points for $25 or less.

While these may not the most ideal databases, these listings should help.

 

The Walla Walla Valley AVA Celebrates its 30th Anniversary

In February, the Walla Walla Valley American Viticultrural Area, approved in 1984, reached its 30th Anniversary. To celebrate this milestone, the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance is hosting a 30th Anniversary Celebration to be held at the Gesa Power House Theater. The program from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. will feature a video presentation and a roundtable discussion by Walla Walla Valley wine pioneers, Gary Figgins (Leonetti), Rick Small (Woodward Canyon), Marty Clubb (L'Ecole No. 41), Casey McClellan (Seven Hills Winery) and Norm McKibben (Pepper Bridge), followed by Wine & hors d'ouevres with special pours from twelve wineries. Tickets are $50. Go to www.wallawallawine.com.

 

Taste Washington! Seattle is on March 29th and 30th

This is the biggest wine event of the year, featuring over 230 Washington Wineries to be held at the Century Link Field Event Center. It is a must attend event for anyone serious about Washington wines. For information and tickets, go to www.tastewashington.org.

 

March is Washington Wine Month

During March, many wineries and retailers are featuring Washington Wines at special pricing. So this is a good time to stock up on favorites. For suggestions for top values, check out the "Best Buys" sections of recent issues of the Review of Washington Wines.

Last Updated on Friday, 28 February 2014 13:39
 
The Rioja Gran Reserva Tasting
Written by Rand Sealey   
Wednesday, 19 February 2014 15:58

Last night (February 18th) the Sons of Bacchus and a Daughter of Dionysus met at the home of Jerry Solomon (Sleight of Hand) for a tasting of Gran Reservas. To be labeled Gran Reserva (principally Termpranillo, with a bit of Garnacha or Graciano) the wine must be aged two or more years in cask and three in bottle. All the wines tasted were 2001 or older, so it was a remarkable opportuntiy to tasted aged Riojas. Except for one corked wine, all the wines had held up remarkably well. There were three flights, and there was broad consensus among the tasters as to which wines were the best of each grouping. Here they are, with my notes and scores.

2001 Vina Olabari Gran Reserva - This was a tasty, tautly-structured classic Tempranillo, deep ruby colored, with sultry, smoky aromas of tobacco and cedar with deep, penetrating flavors. 19+/20 points.

1999 Puelles Gran Reserva - This showed a medium garnet color with aromas of roasted berries and nuts, tobacco, dried orange peel, and really classy medium-bodied flavors. This is a fine representation of the elegant style of Rioja. 19+/20 points.

1994 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva "904" - Medium garnet colored, this showed a mature bouquet of dried roses, berries and nuts, elegantly styled, medium=bodied. Drying out a bit, so this is a bit past its peak, but still showing remarkably well. 19+/20 points.

Other noteworthy wines:

2001 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva "904" - Nearing its peak, this showed a nose of crushed roses, orange peel and tobacco, with medium-bodied flavors, a bit more dry than sweet, with a long, elegant finish. 19/20 points.

1987 Marques de Caceres Gran Reserva - This was the oldest wine tasted and it showed remarkably well for its age. The mature nose showed roasted nuts, dried roses, tobacco and cedar. The flavors were dry and austere, yet still quite drinkable. 19/20 points.

1996 Vina Tondonia Rioja Blanco Reserva- This white was poured during an interlude. Composed of 90% Viura and 10% Malvasia, it was remarkable for its age. Brilliant gold colored, it showed a smoky nose of apricot and toasted nuts, dry, yet fleshy, just slightly oxidized. 19/20 points. (Provided by Steven Maxood).

2005 Chateeau Suduiraut, Sauternes - After the tasting, Trey Busch provided a this. Deep golden colored, it was thick nutty and apricoty, but never cloying, with superb fruit acid balance. 19+/20 points.

 

A Couple of Noteworthy Wines

These two are out of the range for inclusion in the monthly Review of Washington Wines, but are worthy of mention. Both are worth having on hand for spring and summer drinking.

2013 Seven Hills Dry Rosé, Columbia Valley ($17) - This is too limited in supply to appear in a future issue of the Review. A shipment has gone out to Seattle and is already being snapped up. It is now being offered to the wine club, then to the public in a couple of weeks. It will go fast, so buy now. Composed of 70% Cabernet Franc and 15% each of Petit Verdot and 15% Malbec, it displays a pale copper color and enticing aromas of strawberry, pink peach, pink grapefruit and papaya, with scents of white lilac and white violets. The flavors are fresh and vibrant, with notes of grape skin and peach stone. The juiciness continues on the back with sensations of squeezed berries and tangerine peel, followed by a light dusting of spices (cardamom, coriander) on the nearly bone dry finish. 18.5/20 points.

2012 Flying Trout Torrontes, Mendoza, Argentina ($19) - This was made at Bodegas Don Bosco by Ashley Trout and Doug Roskelley, along with the winery crew, during their stint in Argentina last spring. Torrontes is a crossing of Muscat of Alexandria and other unknown varieties. This version is a bright, refreshing white. It offers a brilliant gold color and attractive aromas of pear, peach, melon, apple blossoms, jasmine and stone. The flavors are crisp and lively, with notes of grape skin, peach pit, melon rind and Andean mountain minerals. The richness continues on the back with touches of creme fraiche and nougat, counterpointed by bracing fruit acids on the vibrant, dry finish. 18.5/20 points.

 

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 19 February 2014 23:47
 
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