Review of Washington Wines Blog
Wine News and October Deals
Written by Rand Sealey   
Monday, 06 October 2014 13:26

Harvest 2014 Update

This year's harvest is quickly approaching completion, one of the earliest on record. Some Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec is still hanging on the vines (see Figgins and àMaurice below) but that, too, will be picked this week or next. Harvest will be pretty much done by the middle of the month. Harvesting conditions are near ideal, with temperatures in the 70's and 80's, mostly sunny, and expected to continue through the week. Quality is expected to be excellent, although high sugars will make vinification tricky.


Walla Walla Wineries on the Move

There are a couple of wineries that have relocated or will be. Waters (which vacated it's old location on J.B. George Road at the end of May) has moved to a new state of the art temperature conrolled winemaking facility on Peppers Bridge Road, just below Amavi Cellars. Waters has an improvised tasting table there, pouring Waters and Ashley Trout's Flying Trout. The downtown Tero/Flying Trout/Waters tasting room continues to be in operation. The other news is that Charles Smith will be moving his winemaking operation to Seattle, on South Albro Place in Georgetown. The winery, which includes Charles Smith, K Vintners, and its winemaker (Brennon Leighton and Andrew Matta) labels is shooting for a Spring 2015 opening. According to the winery, it "outgrew" the Walla Walla facility. The winery will keep its downtown Walla Walla tasting room on Spokane Street.


Fall Release at Figgins and àMaurice

On Saturday, October 4th, FIGGINS and àMaurice Cellars had their Fall Release events. The Figgins event was held at the Estate Vineyard overlooking Mill Creek Road, with a vista of the Blue Mountains, and rows of vines, with their ripening Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec grapes. The newly released 2013 Estate Riesling and 2011 FIGGINS Estate Red Wine (to be reviewed in the December Review of Washington Wines) were poured, paired with grilled prawns and Lostine Cattle Co. beef. After Figgins, we went over to àMaurice, where the new 2012 Conner Lee Chardonnay and 2011 Estate Reds were poured (to be reviewed in the November issue). There was live music, with winemaker Anna Schafer's new husband, Larry Cohen, playing the drums. Also present were Anna's parents, Tom and Kathleen Schafer, and her brother Nick. Tasty pizzas were provided by the Why Not Pizza mobile wagon. During the event, we also took time to look at the Estate Vineyard with its nearly ripe Malbec and Cabernet grapes.


October Wine Deals from L'Ecole

For the month of October, L'Ecole No. 41 is offering $10 flat rate shipping for up to one case. The winery has just released it's fine 2011 Estate Merlot (58% Seven Hills, 42% Ferguson Ridge) which will be reviewed in December. The winery also has a terrific 2012 Grenache, which is available only from the winery. Only about twenty cases are left, so here's the review:

2012 L'Ecole No. 41 Grenache, Wahluke Slope, Stone Tree Vineyard ($36) - Brilliant crimson colored, this wine emits seductive aromas of wild raspberry, huckleberry, cranberry and red currant, with scents of red roses, lavender, bayberry, orange peel and incense. The medium bodied flavors are delciously supple and generous, with copious amounts of red and blue fruits, intermixed with cocoa powder, black tea and Wahluke scorched earth. The wine turns thick and chewy on the back with sensations of pressed berries, framboise liqueur, dried fruits, and dustings of spice and herbs on the moderate tannin and acid finish. 19/20 points.


Off to France on Wednesday - Next Blog in Three Weeks

On Wednesday, October 8th, Lynn and I will be flying to France for visits south of Paris and in Burgundy and the North Rhone, returning on October 25th. There will be no Review of Washington Wines Blog postinsg during that time. The next posting will be on Monday, October 27th, in which I will report on our visits to wineries in Burgundy. On October 29th, the November issue of the Review of Washington Wines will go on line, along with a report on the North Rhone.


Last Updated on Monday, 06 October 2014 14:50
Does Wine Style Matter?
Written by Rand Sealey   
Friday, 26 September 2014 13:33

I'll start off by saying that qualitatively wines can be equal, yet taste differently. This is what constitutes style. Yet what is it? And how does it appear in wine writing?

Wine writing involves a lexicon of descriptors, such as those on Ann Noble's wine flavors wheel. Many of them are recurring, such as blackberry, cherry, plum, cassis, brambles, tobacco, cedar, roses, violets, lavender, incense, licorice, chocolate, coffee, minerals, leather, cream, caramel, sweet, dry, alcohol, and so one. Here are how the descriptors emerge.

The first is primary, the aromatics. That is, what is smelled, which is sensed by the olfactory nerves which are linked directly to the brain which holds a memory bank of experienced aromas, the fruits, the scents, the perfumes.

Then comes the secondary phase, the palate which senses the fruits, and the organic compounds that are described as licorice, chocolate, coffee and minerals and so on. This is mostly textural, what the tongue and mouth feels.

After that, is the tertiary, what comes on the back of the tongue, sensations of sweet, dry, saline, viscous, tannic, along with the aromas that come up through the cavity behind the tongue and back to the olfactory nerves.

All of this is what adds up to what the flavors of a wine are. Wines that are simple will be mostly primary flavors, with fewer secondary and tertiary aromas and flavors. More complex wines will have more descriptors. This is why the most complex wines I review generally will have more descriptors. A 19.5 or 20 points out of 20 will have more going on than wines scoring 18, 18.5 or 19 points.

Then, how are wines that are qualitatively equal different from each other? Some can be "bold," which is to say that the secondary components, the palate flavors are more dominant. Others can be more "aromatic," with dominant primary aromatics. Others may be more "elegant," that is, nuanced with tertiary elements such as texture, integrated oak and smooth tannins. All this is on a continuum, which is to say that a wine will have components that are primary, secondary and tertiary. In my wine writing, I endeavor to convey how this plays out in the overall impressions. This is how the U.C. Davis 20 point system is designed to evaluate wines qualitatively, by assigning points for the various elements of a wine. For a further discussion of the system, see my Blog posting of 25 January 2012 (to find it, scroll down to the bottom of the page and then back through previous pages).

The subjective evaluation of wines depends on personal stylistic preferences, whether one likes "bold" or "aromatic" or "elegant" wines more than others. So, read the descriptions to make your own determinations. Reviews are only guidlines, not simply numerical "ratings."

Last Updated on Friday, 26 September 2014 14:16
A Visit to Woodinville
Written by Rand Sealey   
Monday, 22 September 2014 14:03

After our four night stay in Mazama, Lynn and I drove over Highway 20 and I-5 to Seattle on Friday, September 12th. The next day, we drove over to Woodinville to visit a few wineries, to be reviewed in the November issue of the Review of Washington Wines.

Our first stop was at Betz Family Winery, where we tasted newly released Rhone-style wines with the new owners, Bridgit and Steve Griessel (Bob Betz is still the winemaker). A new regime of wine selection has taken place, starting with the 2012 vintage, whereby barrels are tasted one by one and 70% are picked for the winery's flagship bottlings, then the best of the rest goes into the Frangin ("little brother") blend and the balance gets sold off. This takes the whole lineup into a new, higher level. The reviews (all 19 to 20/20 points) will be in the November issue.

Next, we drove up Hollywood Hill to Adams Bench, where we saw owners, Tim and Erica Blue. There, we tasted four 2011 Cabernets - "the v," the Stillwater Creek Vineyard, the Mays Discovery, and the Red Willow vineyeards - all superb renditions of the elegant style of the best wines of the vintage.

After Adams Bench, we came back down the hill to Brian Carter Cellars to taste new releases with winemaker and co-owner, Brian Carter. His specialty is creating blends modeled after European ones, but with a "new world" character. We tasted the 2010 "Byzance," a Rhone-style red, the "Corrida," a Tempranillo-based Spanish-style blend, and the "Solesce" ("sun-essence"), a Bordeaux-style red, all to be reviewed in November, along with the 2012 "Oriana" ("golden lady"), a Rhone-style white, and the 2012 "Abracadabra" Red ("a magical red blend").

Then we walked next door to the DeLille Cellars Carriage House tasting room, where we tried two lovely new whites, the 2013 Doyenne Roussanne and 2013 Chaleur Estate Blance, and the stunning 2011 Grand Ciel Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon (19.5+/20 points).

Our last stop was at JM Cellars on "Bramble Bunp," a knoll overlooking the valley floor. There, we tried two tasty 2012 reds, the "Louisa" Merlot and the Columbia Valley Syrah, from the Boushey and Stillwater Creek vineyards. Then it was back down over the other side of the hill, and back to Seattle, then home to Walla Walla the next day.


Next Friday: On the 26th, the November issue of the Review of Washington Wines goes on line, along with the next Review Blog, "Does Wine Style Matter?"

Last Updated on Monday, 22 September 2014 14:48
A Visit to Lake Chelan
Written by Rand Sealey   
Monday, 15 September 2014 12:23

On Sunday, September 8th, Lynn and I drove up to Chelan on our way to our annual get together with friends in Mazama. There, we visited a few wineries in the Lake Chelan American Viticultural Area.

Our first stop was an Nefarious Cellars on the South Shore, where we saw co-owners and co-winemakers, Dean and Heather Neff. Harvest was just getting started, but the two found time to get us up to date. We asked about how the Stone's Throw and Rocky Mother vineyards near Pateros fared during the wildfires in the area. Luckily, the Neffs only lost about 50 vines, most of which can grow new shoots (we found out later in driving by the vineyard that nearby houses were not so lucky - they burned down to their foundations). We tasted through a dozen wines, all exceptional, so we will have to split the reviews between the October and November issues of the Review of Washington Wines. We also got a preview taste of the 2012 Rocky Mother Syrah, a dense, rich complex wine that is a potential 20/20 points wine, to be released in Spring 2015.

While at Nefarious, we learned that the Fielding Hills Winery had just opened its tasting room in its new winemaking facility. So we stopped by and saw Mike and Karen Wade there and tasted through theit 2010's which will be reviewed in the October and November issues. We're pleased to reconnect with the Wades and their wines, since the time (February, 2011) we reviewed their 2008's.

Next, we stopped at Tunnel Hill which is located in a charming stone house, built in 1937 out of rocks blasted out of a nearby hill for the nearby Knapps Hill Tunnel. There, we asted a nice 2012 Lake Chelan Pinot Noir and a rich 2012 Syrah with assistant winemaker, Michelle Fanton.

After checking in at the Midtowner Motel (a clean, comfortable, and easy to get in and out of place), we zipped up to Cairdeas ("car-dess") up six miles on Highway 150 towards Manson. There, with tasting room manager, Melissa, we tasted some nice 2013 Rhone-style whites and an elegant 2012 "Consonance" BDX-style red, which will be in the October issue of the Review of Washington Wines.

The next morning, we drove back up to Manson to Hard Row to Hoe, where we saw winemaker and co-owner Judy Phelps. There, we tasted several Lake Chelan AVA wines, including the 2013 Viognier, 2013 Chardonnay and 2012 Estate Cabernet Franc to be reviewed in October. We also got previews of the 2012 "Good in Bed" Sparkling Wines and the highly impressive 2012 Reserve Syrah and 2012 Estate Malbec, to be released in 2015. The winery also has a couple of interesting and impressive apple ciders. The "Other Cider," viewed through the bottle to the inside back, was a crisp, off-dry version, produced from Braeburn apples. There is also an "Ice Breaker" cider, make like an ice wine, with delicious, spicy, caramelized flavors. Then we headed north towards the Methow Valley.


Next Week: A Visit to Woodinville


Last Updated on Monday, 15 September 2014 14:44
Harvest 2014 Now Under Way
Written by Rand Sealey   
Friday, 05 September 2014 15:06

A couple of weeks ago (August 21) I wrote that Harvest 2014 was just around the corner. Well, now it's here.

Yesterday, I ran into Vicky McClellan (Seven Hills Winery) and she told me they had just received Merlot from the Clifton Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope, the earliest harvest for them in 27 years.

On Wednesday, September 3rd, Buty got in its Semillon from the Rosebud Vineyard. On Thursday, Woodward Canyon harvested its Estate Wente Clone Chardonnay. French Creek Chardonnay is also in. And so on.

The current weather conditions are nearly ideal. Daytime temperatures in the 80's, and in the 40's at night. At the vineyards I have seen the past few days, veraision (the ripening of the grapes) is continuing apace.

It looks to be a record harvest as well: 230,000 tons, up from 210,000 last year. And the quality is expected to he high. The Walla Walla Union Bulleting quoted Kent Waliser, vineyard manager for Sagemoor as saying, "The winemakers are happy with the flavor, and that's the most important component."

More later!


No Review of Washington Wines Blog posting next week. On Sunday, we are driving up to Chelan, and then to Mazama for our annual trek to the Methow Valley. The following Saturday, we will visit wineries in Woodinville, and return home to Walla Walla on the 14th. There will be limited internet connectivity, so the next Blog posting will be Monday, September 15 with a report on Chelan and Woodinville.

Last Updated on Friday, 05 September 2014 15:23

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