Review of Washington Wines Blog
The 1980's: a Pivotal Decade for Washington Wines
Written by Rand Sealey   
Wednesday, 07 August 2013 17:45

Recently, Washington wine events of the early 1980's have been noted, particularly the 30th anniversary of the Yakima Valley American Viticultural Area, established in 1983. Looking back, I see that decade as a pivotal one for Washington wines, one in which the state emerged as a significant wine producing region. Here's my year by year retrospective of highlights of the period, from one who has been in the wine business during that decade.

1980 - This was the year of the Mount Saint Helens volcanic eruption. It also marked the tenth anniversary of Esquin Wine Merchants which I owned from 1970 to 1997. Back then, I sold mostly French and German wines and only a handful of ones from Washington.

1981 - In that year, there were 20 wineries, including Woodward Canyon which was founded by Rick Small. Statewide, two million gallons of wine was produced.

1982 - Riesling is still king, but Merlot becomes the premier red grape, largely due to the success of Leonetti Cellar in pioneering that variety.

1983 - The Yakima Valley becomes Washington state's first American Viticultral Area, designated by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (BATF). That year, Baker and Jean Ferguson founded L'Ecole No. 41 in the Walla Walla Valley. This year, the present owners Megan and Marty Clubb celebrated the winery's 30th anniversary. Doctors McClellan and Hendricks began planting the Seven Hills Vineyard.

1984 - The Walla Walla Valley and Columbia Valley AVA's were established, meaning Washington wines no longer had to be marketed as "Washington State" wines.

1985 - Esquin begins carrying a wider selection of Washington Wines, including Leonetti and Woodward Canyon, but the selection is still dwarfed by European wines.

1986 - Syrah rises as an important red varietal, especially since Mike Sauer's plantings at the Red Willow vineyard, at the behest of Columbia Winery's David Lake.

1987 - The Washington Wine Commission is formed to raise awareness of Washington wines through targeted marketing and promotions.

1988 - The First Annual Auction of Washington Wines is held, raising money for Children's Hospital. The Seven Hills Winery is founded by fourth generation Walla Walla Valley farmer, Casey McClellan.

1989 - This year marked the twentieth anniversary of the "California Wine Law" which allowed private retailers to sell out of state wines, besides Washington state ones. This milestone was commemorated by Saluté, a wine industry seminar and dinner that I helped organize.

This decade marked the expansion of the Washington wine industry. The following decade, the number of wines grew to 150, and then grew exponetially to over 750 today. The growth of Washington wine has been built on the developments of the 1980's. I witnessed those times and know how momentous they were.




Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 August 2013 18:26
Walla Walla Wine News
Written by Rand Sealey   
Wednesday, 31 July 2013 13:45

Here are a few items of news in the Walla Walla Valley, where just about anything to do with wine is news.


A Broken Chair Cellars Opens a Tasting Room Downtown

A few weeks ago, Noé and Cassey Martinez opened a tasting room for their new winery. It is located on North Second Avenue across from Spring Valley Vineyard and Kerloo Cellars. Noé is a graduate of the Walla Walla Community College's Enology and Viticulture program, and Cassey is an artist whose work is displayed in the tasting room. She also designed the winery's label. The wines will be reviewed in the September issue of the Review of Washington Wines. Other recently opened tasting rooms on North Second are Maison Bleue (Jon Meuret) and Trust Cellars (Steve Brooks)

Canoe Ridge Rosé on Tap

Last Friday, I was at a tasting of Malbec wines (see below). Preceding the tasting, a bevy of Rosé wines were served. The most popular was Maison Bleue's 2012 Rosé of Mourvèdre (reviewed in the August issue), but the most interesting one was a 2012 Rosé from Canoe Ridge Vineyards whose tasting room is on 13th Avenue in Walla Walla. I stopped by there last weekend, and learned that it is produced from the Sanigiovese grape and one barrel was made. It is dispensed from a wall mounted tap. Behind the tap is deflatable container holding the wine. One can purchase the Rosé for $20 for a one liter flip-up stopper bottle. Refills are $17. Here is my review.

2012 Canoe Ridge Sangiovese Rosé ($20 per one liter bottle)

This wine displays a brilliant pink color and an attractive nose of strawberry, cherry, mulberry, orange peel and orange blossoms. The flavors are vibrant and juicy, with notes of grape skin, watermelon rind and stony minerals. The back picks up touches of rhuhbarb and orange peel on the way to a persistently bright fruit acid finish. 18/20 points.


A Malbec Tasting

Last Friday, a group got together at the home ofTed and Joyce Cox for a tasting of Malbec wines. It was more for fun than serious. The wines were brown bagged and tasted blind. Tasters scored the wines on a scale of one to ten, and Philippe Michel compiled the scores. The group favorite was a 2011 Los Alamos from Mendoza, Argentina. It was not my favorite (I scored it 7.5/10 points), but it was a pleasant, uncomplicated crowd-pleasing sort of wine. The least favorite was a 2007 Cahors from France which has a rustic, barnyard character. The 2007 Corliss and 2010 Zerba came in second and third. Here are my notes on my favorites.

2011 Isenhower A Bloc Malbec Yakima Valley - Deep purplish color. Intense nose of blackberry, blueberry, cherry, violets with loads of fruit and a dash of pepper. 9/10 points.

2008 Boudreaux Cellars Malbec, Columbia Valley, Gamache Vineyard - Garnet/ruby color. Smoky, exotic nose with thick savory flavors, balanced with ripe fruit acids. 9/10 points.

2007 Corliss Malbec, Columbia Valley - Deep garnet color. Exotic nose with scenes of orange peel and oriental spices. Expansive and mouth encompassing, with a long, complex finish. 9/10 points.

This tasting confirmed by belief that Washington State produced world-class Malbecs.


The Balboa Barn Dance

On Saturday, July 27th, Balboa Cellars and the adjacent Beresan Winery held a barn dance. The food was catered by the Bank and Grill, with Paul Freeman searing away and Jeanine Gordon serving the barbecued beef and pork loin with the famous slaw. Plenty of Balboa and Beresan wine (by winemaker Tom Glase) was poured, and guests danced their way through the evening. This fun event was the brainchild of Michael Mettler of Acheiva Marketing. Kudos to Michael for this. Pictures can be seen on Beresan's Facebook page.


Veraison Beginning: An Early Harvest?

Veraison, the stage where the wine grapes start to color, has already begun in many areas of the Columbia Valley, including the Walla Walla Valley. Harvest may start as early as mid August, a month earlier than last year. Wine growers are excited about the prospects for this year's harvest and have been putting pictures of their grapes on Facebook. Stay tuned! More later!



Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 July 2013 15:47
Tasting Rosés and Older Seven Hills Wines
Written by Rand Sealey   
Wednesday, 24 July 2013 14:44

This week, I have a couple of recent tastings to report on.


The Sons of Bacchus Rosé Tasting

Last night, July 23rd, the Sons of Bacchus (SOBs for short) convened, along with a Daughter of Dionysus, for a tasting of rosé wines. Wines from all over the world were tasted, including ones from Washington, Oregon, California, Provence, Corsica, and Nothern Italy. Twelve wines were tasted in three flights of four, and then the top wines in each flight in a final four flight. The top wines, with my notes, were:

Fourth Place - 2012 Skylark "Pink Belly' Rosé, Mendocino County - Light salmon color, with scents of Rainier cherry, orange peel, wisteria and delicate flavors with grapeskin extracts. 18.5/20 points.

Third Place - 2012 Seven Hills Winery Rosé - This was an experimental blend of 50% Malbec and 50% Petit Verdot. It showed a pale pink/salmon color and a seductive nose of wild cherry, peach, orange peel and oriental perfumes. The flavors were finely wrought and elegant. This was my second favorite. 19/20 points.

Second Place - 2011 Dom. Comte Abbatucci "Faustine" Ajaccio Rosé, Corsica - This showed a light hued copper color and an ethereal nose of oriental perfumes and jasmine, with delicate pear, peach and cherry flavors. This was my first choice. 19/20 points.

First Place -2012 Renegade Rosé, Columbia Valley - Trey Busch's Rosé of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault came out on top on the overall scoring. Copper hued, it had a floral nose of raspberry, Rainer cherry, orange peel and spices, with well extracted flavors. I ranked this third and scored it 18.5+ points. At $10 a bottle, this was clearly the Best Buy, a steal of a deal.

It was interesting in going through the three flights to see the various hues of rose that were seen ranging from pale copper to nearly crimson, with a range of delicate, complex flavors to deep, uncomplicated flavors. Some Rosés were well extracted (from longer skin contact), but straightforward. An interesting example was a 2010 Alois Lageder Lagrein Rosato from the Italian Alto Adige which had a almost tawny color and highly extracted but uncomplex flavors. It seems that today's Rosé winemaking trend veers toward the pale colored, perfumed, delicately complex style.

Congratulations to Trey Busch for his winning Best Buy Renegade Rosé!


Tasting Library Wines from the 1990's at the Seven Hills Winery

A week ago, I was at the Seven Hills tasting room with Casey and Vicky McClellan and Erik McLaughlin to assess the recently released 2011 reds which will be reviewed in the September issue of the Review of Washington Wines. After tasting these, I was treated to a tasting of older vintages from the 1990's. The wines came through remarkably well, showing maturity, but without being "over the hill." Here are my notes, tasted from youngest to oldest.

1999 Seven Hills Merlot Reserve, Columbia Valley - Medium garnet colored, this showed a sultry, smoky nose of wild berries, crushed roses, orange peel, dried herbs and violets. The flavors were deep and round, showing only a hint of drying on the long finish. Holding well, and could go two or three more years. Who says Washington Merlot doesn't age well? 19+/20 points.

1998 Seven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, Seven Hills Vineyard - Deep garnet colored, this offered an intriguing nose of dried berries, tobacco, dried roses and incense. The flavors were mature and dryish, yet holding, with a grainy, cedary texture and considerable elegance, some tannin still remaining. 19/20 points.

1995 Seven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley - This displayed a maturing garnet color and smoldering aromas of dried berries, aged cigar, crushed roses and dried herbs. The wine showed rermarkable fruit for an 18 year old. The strength was also reflected in the residual fruit extracts and long finish. 19+/20 points.

1993 Seven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, Oregon (100% Seven Hills Vineyard) - This showed a maturing garnet color and a deep, smoky nose of dried berries and tobacco. The primary fruits were fading out, entering an oxidative phase. There was some complexity still evident, though, which would satisfy those who like well aged wines. 18.5/20 points.

1992 Seven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, Seven Hills Vineyard - The color showed a medium garnet with slight cloudiness. The mature nose offered dried fruits and orange peel, and dried herbs, with a  bit of bell pepper. Some fruit and acid was still present, though mature. Still holding, but in a fading stage. 18.5/20 points.

1990 Seven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, Seven Hills Vineyard - Medium garnet colored, this had a spiritous nose, indicative of aging, where fruit fades, leaving alcohol behind. The other aromas were complex, consisting of cedar, orange peel, pipe tobacco and clove. The flavors were dried, although some acid was present. For the aromatics, it gets 19 points, for flavors, 18, averaging out to 18.5/20 points.

Overall, this was a remarkable tasting that shows how well Walla Walla Valley wines can age. While some obviously were past their peaks, none were clearly "gone." Thanks, Casey, Vicky and Erik for this wonderful opportunity.


Next Week: The August Issue of the Review of Washington Wines will be on line, July 31st. It will include a vsiit to Prosser, recent releases, 2012 whites and four Highly Recommended 19.5 points wines. The Review Blog will report on recent winery news.





Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 July 2013 16:44
Seattle Magazine's Washington Wine Awards
Written by Rand Sealey   
Wednesday, 17 July 2013 13:02

Back in March, I was on the judging panel for Seattle Magazine's 2013 Washington Wine Awards. The winners were announced in the August issue of that Magazine. Here are my comments on these awards.

The panel consisted of 20 wine industry professionals, including sommeliers, wine merchants, winemakers and wine writers. The wines were tasted double blind (wines poured from brown bags and unknown to any of the tasters) and scored on a ten point system (similar to the UC Davis 20 point system). Points were scored 1 point for Appearance, 3 for Aroma, 4 for Palate and 2 for "Judges choice, a subjective score component. Scores were tabulated and the winners are as follows, together with my scores from the Review of Washington Wines.

Red Wine of the Year: 2010 Avennia "Arnaut" Syrah, Yakima Valley, Boushey Vineyard ($45) - Avennia owner Marty Taucher and winemaker Chris Peterson were right out of gate with their inaugural vintage. I reviewed it in the February 2013 issue (tasted in January only a couple of months after bottling) and gave it 19+/20 points. In the Awards tasting, I gave it 10/10 points, tied with the 2009 FIGGINS Red Blend, which I gave 19.5 points in the August 2012 issue.

White Wine of the Year: 2010 Lullaby Viognier, Walla Walla Valley ($35) - I reviewed Virginie Bourgue's Viognier in the December 2012 issue and scored it 19 points. In the Awards tasting, I gave it 9 points, tied with Efeste's 2011 Evergreen Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc. The striking thing about the Lullaby is that most Washington Viogniers need to be drunk young, but Virginie's was bright and vivid.

Other Categories - This years Awards included the top wines of Washington State's American Viticultrual Areas. Here's a rundown of those winners which have been reviewed in the Review of Washington Wines.

Columbia Valley Red Blend $20 or More: 2008 Col Solare Red Wine, Columbia Valley ($75) - Scored 19.5/20 points in the April 2013 issue.

Horse Heaven Hills Mourvedre: 2010 Robert Ramsay Cellars Mourvedre, McKinley Springs Vineyard ($35) - Reviewed February, 18.5 points.

Lake Chelan Syrah: 2010 Nefarious Syrah, Lake Chelan, Defiance Vineyard ($30) - 19 points, October, 2012.

Red Mountain Merlot: 2010 Fidelitas Merlot, Red Mountain ($45) - To be reviewed in the August, 2013 issue, 19 points.

Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon: 2009 Rasa Vineyards Plus One Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, Kiona Vineyards ($75) - 19.5/20 points, January.

Wahluke Slope Merlot: 2010 Bergevin Lane Wild Child Merlot, Wahluke Slope ($28) - 18.5 points, December 2012.

Walla Walla Valley Syrah: 2010 Abeja Syrah, Walla Walla Valley ($38) - 19 points, August 2012.

Walla Walla Valley Merlot: 2009 Northstar Merlot, Walla Walla Valley ($40) - 19+ points, May

Walla Walla Vallet Red Blend: 2009 Spring Valley Vineyards Fredrick, Walla Walla Valley ($50) - 19+ points, August, 2012.

Yakima Valley Syrah: 2010 Betz Family La Serenne Syrah, Yakima Valley ($55) - 19+ points, January

Yakima Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: 2010 Manu Propria Ex Animo Cabernet Sauvignon, Yakima Valley, Red Willow Vineyard ($35) - 19 points, February.

Yakima Valley Grenache: 2010 Maison Bleue Le Midi Grenache, Yakima Valley, Boushey Vineyard ($35) - 19.5 points, October 2012.

Columbia Gorge Aromatic White: 2011 Dowsett Family Gewurztraminer, Columbia Gorge, Celilo Vineyard ($22) - Now sold out, the 2011 vintage scored 19.5 points in the August 2012 issue. The 2012, another stellar vintage for Chris Dowsett, will be reviewed in the August issue, 19.5 points.

Emerging Varietal, Mourvedre (Open submission tasting): 2009 Watermill Estate Mourvedre, Walla Walla Valley ($28) - 18.5 points, January 2013, 2012 Maison Bleue Rosé of Mourvedre, Yakima Valley, Olsen Vineyard ($20) - To be reviewed in the August issue, 19 points.

There were also special Awards given for the most votes from the Survey, as follows, with my comments.

Winemaker of the Year: Charlie Hoppes of Fidelitas - A lot of the credit for putting Red Mountain on the map goes to Charlie with his wines. His 2010 reds will be reviewed in the August issue.

Emerging Winery: Kerloo Cellars - I have been following Ryan Crane's wines from his inaugrual 2007's on and he has gone one from strength to strength. His wines sell out quickly and his 2011's will be reviewed in September.

Vineyard of the Year: Red Willow - Mike Sauer pioneered the planting of Syrah, Tempranillo and Nebbiolo. His grapes go into top notch bottlings.

Winemaker to Watch: Chris Peterson - After a stint at DeLille Cellars for seven years, Chris partnered with Marty Taucher (see Red Wine of the Year above) to turn out highly impressive wines on the winery's debut.

Sommelier of the Year: Thomas Price of The Metropolitan Grill - The Metropolitan is renowned for its cuisine and its extensive wine list, many of which are from Washington State.

Coolest Wine Label: Sleight of Hand - The name comes from a Pearl Jam (Trey Busch's favorite band) song and depicts masters of legerdemain.

Emerging Varietal: Petit Verdot - Last year, I voted for this variety, but Mourvedre got the most votes. This year, I was with the majority. Petit Verdot has been a favorite of mine. Tero Estates, Forgeron, Seven Hills Winery make noteworthy varietal bottlings.

Finally, I would like to congratulate Seattle Magazine and the Wine Awards coordinator, Ann Nisbet for organizing the well run 2013 Washington Wine Awards.






Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 July 2013 17:05
Wine News Miscellany
Written by Rand Sealey   
Wednesday, 10 July 2013 20:47

For this week, I have a few Washington wine news items to report.

Two New Tasting Rooms in Downtown Walla Walla - A month ago, Trust Cellars (Steve Brooks) moved its tasting room from the Airport to Second Avenue South, next to Spring Valley Vineyards. A few weeks later, Maison Bleue (Jon Meuret) opened its tasting room two doors away.

Auction of Washington Wines Winemaker Dinners - This year's Auction of Washington Wines events are being held August 15-18. On Friday, the 15th, a number of winemaker dinners are being held. Lynn and I will be attending the one at JM Cellars (John and Peggy Bigelow) on "Bramble Bump" in Woodinville, in conjunction with Tero Estates (Doug and Jan Roskelley). For more information on this dinner and others being held that night, go to the Auction of Washington Wines website.

Watch for the August Seattle Magazine Wine Issue - The August issue will feature Washington Wines, including the winners of the Washington Wine Awards. I was on the wine judging panel in April for these Awards. I will be interesting to learn what the winners are.

The Yakima Valley AVA Celebrates its 30th Anniversary - In 1983, the Yakima Valley received recognition as an American Viticultural Area within the Columbia Valley. This AVA is distinguished by not only the Missoula Flood terroir of much of the area, but also by its many old-vine vineyards, some aged 30 to 50 years old. This is truly the "birthplace" of Washington wine, with its pioneers such as Dr. Walter Clore, Mike Sauer and Dick Boushey.


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