Review of Washington Wines Blog
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
Comparing the 2012 and 2011 Vintages
Written by Rand Sealey   
Monday, 10 February 2014 15:41

Last Wednesday, in my Review of Washington Wines Blog, I wrote that I would be reporting on "Walla Walla Breaking Wine News." The biggest news in that projected posting was going to be about the Tero Estates, Flying Trout Wines and Waters Winery ground breaking event at a new faciity to be constructed just below the Amavi Winery on Peppers Bridge Road. That event was canceled due to permit issues yet to be resolved. So this report will have to be left for later. Also, the Downtown Walla Walla winery tasting rooms are still in flux, and in some cases, nebulous. So more on that later. This leaves my report comparing the 2011 and 2012 Washington State red wines. So here's this week's article.


The 2012 and 2011 Red Wines Compared

After the protracted harvest of 2011 which went well into November, 2012 was a return to a more normal season. Harvesting began in early September and was mostly completed by the end of October. This resulted in wines with differing characteristics.

The 2011 reds have frequently been called "old world" in style. That is, wines with pronounced aromatics, resulting from the phenols that were developed during the extended "hang time" of the harvest, and with drier tannins on the finish. So far, with more 2012 reds being released, the wines seem to be more fruit forward, with the aromatics being more berrly like and less floral, and the tannins riper.

Qualitatively, the two vintages may turn out to be nearly equal, but stylistically different, which becomes more a matter of personal preference. If you like tasty, fruit forward wines, go for the 2012's. If you prefer more aromatic and structured "old world" like wines, go for the 2011's. Here are some fine examples of each vintage.

2012 Seven Hills Reserve Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, McClellan Vineyard 19+ points - January - To be released in March.

2012 Reynvaan Family Vineyards Syrahs - These scored 19+ to 20/20 points in the January issue

2012 Sparkman Cellars "Wonderland" Grenache, Yakima Valley - This deliciouly ripe wine is to be reviewed in the March issue. 19 points

2012 Savage Grace Syrah-Grenache, Columbia Valley 18.5+ points - At $27 a bottle, this is a super value from an up and coming new winery in Woodinville. This and other 2012 reds will be in the March issue.

2011 Cadaretta "Windthrow" Red Wine - 19+ points - January

2011 Rasa Vineyards Living in the Limelight" Petit Verdot, Columbia Valley, Dionysus Vineyard - A classic Petit Verdot with teriffic aromatics. - 19.5 points - July

2011 Seven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, Seven Hills Vineyard - 19.5 points - To be reviewed in March.

2011 Waters Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Loess Vineyard  - Even better than the excellent 2010. 19.5 points - To be reviewed in March.





Last Updated on Sunday, 02 March 2014 18:11
Walla Walla Breaking Wine News Soon
Written by Rand Sealey   
Wednesday, 05 February 2014 13:22

As of this writing, the Walla Walla wine scene is in a state of flux. Things are changing. A couple of new wineries are emerging. And the downtown tasting rooms are playing musical chairs, with some wineries moving from one place to another. On Saturday, Tero Estates, Flying Trout and Waters will be having a "Ground Breaking" event, for just what remains to be seen. There has been a lot of speculation about that.

The next Review of Washington Wines Blog will be posted on Monday, February 10 with more news and details. There will also be a report on intial impressions of the 2012 vintage.

As an advance tip, Woodward Canyon is having 20% off on its 2012 Nelms Road Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon at $20 a bottle, down from $25, until the end of the month. Both are tasty fruit-forward wines, a trait of many of the 2012's I have tasted so far. These two wines will be reviewed in the March issue.


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