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Review of Washington Wines Blog
A Report from Taste Washington
Written by Rand Sealey   
Tuesday, 01 April 2014 13:24

The Review of Washington Wines to Use the 100 Points System

As of this date, April 1, 2014, the Review of Washington Wines will no longer use the University of California, Davis 20 Point System for scoring wines and will use the 100 Point System instead. After all, 100 points encourages winemakers to seek the Holy Grail of getting 90 or more points. It's all about the numbers. Never mind color, clarity, bouquet, etc. - 90 points is a lot more than 18 points. The higher the number, the better, so let's make it 100 points instead of 20. After all, the U.C. Davis faculty was just a bunch of old fogeys making weird wines like Zinfandel, Petit Sirah and what was called Pinot Chardonnay. Time to modernize!

 

Highlights of Taste Washington

Now, kidding aside, here's a report on Washington wine's biggest event, Taste Washington Seattle. Lynn and I attended as media representatives of the Review of Washington Wines. Over 260 wineries were represented and many hundreds of wines were poured. Here are some of the highlights.

In the morning, we attended a seminar, "Playing Matchmaker - Pairing Food & Wine to Your Palate," moderated by Jamie Peha of TableTalk Northwest (tabletalknorthwest.com). The panelists were Jameson Fink (Grape Collective), Lenny Rede (Esquin Wine & Spirits), Reggie Daigneault (South Seattle Community College), Sean Hails (Columbia Winery) and Harry Mills (Purple Cafe & Wine Bar). It was a stimulating and educational session. A full report will be in an upcoming Review Blog posting.

At the VIP Tasting in the afternoon, we sampled stellar releases from Avennia, Cadence, Betz Family, Kevin White, Upchurch Vineyard and Owen Roe, all scoring 19/20 points or more. These will be reviewed in the May issue of the Review of Washington Wines. We also tasted wines from up and coming wineries such as Alleromb, Lagana Cellars, W.T. Vintners, Kitzke, J.B. Neufeld, Market Vineyards, For a Song, Chatter Creek, Waitsburg Cellars and Cinq Cellars. These will be reviewed in upcoming issues. More later!

 

Coming Up on the Review of Washington Wines Blog

April 8 - Highlights of Cayuse Weekend (April 4-5)

April 15 - The Playing Matchmaker - Pariing Food & Wine to Your Palate Seminar

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 April 2014 14:07
 
The Walla Walla Valley AVA Celebrates its 30th Anniversary
Written by Rand Sealey   
Monday, 24 March 2014 17:26

This year marks the 30th Anniversary of the Walla Walla Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA). On March 20th, to celebrate this milestone, the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance hosted a panel discussion by the pioneers of the Valley, Gary Figgins (Leonetti), Rick Small (Woodward Canyon), Marty Clubb (L'Ecole No. 41), Eric Rindal & John Freeman (Waterbrook), Casey McClellan (Seven Hills Winery), and Norm McKibben (Pepper Bridge Winery). The discussion, held in a packed Gesa Powerhouse Theater, was preceeded by a private tasting for industry leaders (including myself). Doug Charles of Compass Wines in Anacortes gave a lively introduction and Andy Perdue of Great Northwest Wines led the roundtable discussion. The winery founders had lively reminisences of the early days to releate. The discussion was then followed by wines and hors d'oeuvres. A number of library wines were poured as well. It was an awesome event and practically everyone in the wine industry came to salute the Walla Walla Valley AVA founders.

 

The 2014 Washington Syrah Spectacular

The next night, a Friday, Christopher Chan, who organizes the Seattle Wine Awards, hosted a tasting of 34 Washington Syrahs at his parents' house at the Yellow Bird Vineyard located above Walla Walla Vintners off Mill Creek Road. About twenty tasters methodically went through all the bottles, numbered from 1 to 34. It was a fun and educational excercise, which helped all of us learn more about wine tasting. Here are some wines that I found to be the most impressive.

2006 Long Shadows "Sequel" Syrah, Columbia Valley - This showed a deep purplish color and wonderful varietal purity, It emitted classic aromas of blackberry, blueberry, crushed roses and violets, with thick, grainy minerally flavors. 19/20 points.

2007 Matthews Winery Syrah, Columbia Valley - Deep crimson colored, this showed an unmistakable Syrah nose and varietal character from beginning to end, with lots of saturated fruit. 19/20 points.

2008 Taptel Syrah, Yakima Valley, Spilya Vineyard - From a vinyeard on the slope to the west off Red Mountain, this showed a semi opaque color and black fruits and sweet perfumes on the nose, and ripe, velvety, well-structured flavors. 19/20 points.

2003 Columbia Crest Reserve Syrah, Columbia Valley - This showed a medium garnet color and perfumed aromas of roses, violets and tobacco, and lots of rich, savory flavors and a ripe finish. 19/20 points.

2007 Olsen Estate Syrah, Yakima Valley - Deep purplish colored, this showed a deep purplish color and a classic nose of blackberry, blueberry and cassis, with scents of roses and violets, along with mouth-encompassing flavors. 19/20 points.

 

The Marcus Whitman Tasting Rooms Celebrate their Fourth Anniversary

Another anniversary was celebrated Monday, March 24th when the tasting rooms at the Marcus Whitman Hotel in downtown Walla Walla stayed open after hours. A large crowd of friends came to Trio Vintners, Locati Cellars, Tero Eststes / Flying Trout / Waters, and Lodmell Cellars for this event. "Mama" Julia Russell also had her Grand Opening of the new Mansion Creek Cellars tasting room.

 

Walla Walla Tasting Room Musical Chairs

There have been tasting rooms coming and going downtown in addition to Mansion Creek which took the place of Don Carlo Cellars which moved to Milton-Freewater. Tanya Woodley and Elain Jomewe have opened SuLei Cellars on Second, next to Wild Wine Woman. Henry Earl Estates will be opening next door to Otis Kenyon on Main Street. The Chocoate Shop on the plaza is being taken over by Browne Family Vineyards. Further east, at 202 E Main Street, Brandon Kubrock's Ardor Cellars will be opening in late April. In addition, Aryn Morell's portfolio (Alleromb, Matthews, Tenor, GARD, Mullan Road) will be poured. The facility will also include an art gallery featuring local artists, including Penny Michel, Anne Hysell and Helene Wilder.

 

Coming Up: Taste Washington Seattle

This weekend (Saturday March 29 and Sunday, the 30th) Taste Washington will be held at the Century Link Field Event Center. It is the country's biggest single wine region tasting event and is not to be missed. Over 200 wineries and 68 restaurants will be participating. For a list of wineries and restaurants, go to tastewashington.com. For my recommendations of wines and wineries, see the April and other recent issues of the Review of Washington Wines.

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 25 March 2014 15:08
 
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
 
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