Review of Washington Wines Blog
The Whitehouse Crawford Champagne Tasting
Written by Rand Sealey   
Monday, 02 February 2015 14:46

On Wednesday, January 28th, Lynn and I went to a Champagne tasting at the Whitehouse Crawford Restaurant in Walla Walla. The focus was on grower-produced Champagnes. In fact, only one major house, Bollinger, was represented in the line up. The tasting was conducted by Jenna Bicknell, the restaurant's general manager. White wine glasses were used, rather than the usual flutes. The larger bowls enabled more bouquet to come forth. All the wines were impressive and this tasting presented a great opportunity to discover a wide range of Champagne styles. Here are my tasting notes, together with notes provided by the restaurant. All were non-vintage except the Bollinger Grand Année.

Champagne Pierre Peters Brut Grand Cru, Blanc de Blanc, Les Mesnil-sur-Oger - A grower Champagne of 100% Chardonnay. Uses sustainable vineyard practices. Brilliant gold colored with fine bubbles, this showed seductive aromas of white flowers and toast. The flavors wre crisp and precises, with a touch of creaminess counterpointing the lemon zest on the slightly nutted dry finish. 19/20 points.

Champagne Agrapart & Fils Brut, "Les Sept Crus" - This seven crus blend was composed of 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir, 50% from the 2006 and 50% from the 2007 vintages, aged in neutral oak barrels. It combined 70% Grand Cru and 30% Premier Cru grapes. It showed a light gold color and fine bubbles, with almost ethereal aromas of white flowers and white incense. The flavors were elegant and precise, laser-like, with a touch of spice and distinct minerality (chalk, flint, granite) followed by an elegant dry (9 g/L dosage). 19/20 points.

Champagne Vilmart & Cie Brut "Grand Cellier" Premier Cru, Rilly La Montagne - This was 70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir from "Les Hautes Greves" and "Les Basses Greves." No malolactic fermentation, and the wine was aged in large oak casks. It showed a brilliant pale gold color and fine bubbles, and intriguing aromas of grapefruit peel, wisteria and light spice. The flavors were very crisp, zesty and appley (from the malic acids), with admixtures of lees and minerals, followedby a long, dry, zingy finish. 19/20 points.

Champagne Jean Vesselle, Extra Brut Cuvée, Bouzy - This was composed of 80% Pinot, Noir, 20% Chardonnay, with a minimum of 2-3 years aging, and no dosage. From organic vineyards, all Grand Cru. It displayed a brilliant pale gold color, a frothy mousse, and lovely aromatics of cherry blossoms, orange peel and star anise, and white incense. The flavors were vibrant, resonating with grape extracts, lees and stony minerals. The back picked up poire William liqueur and recurring orange peel, followed by a bone dry finish. 19+/20 points.

Champagne Boizel Brut Blanc de Noirs, Epernay - This was 100% Pinot Noir from Mareuil sur Ay, Cumierès, Mailly and les Riceys, 30% reserve wines and aging three years on the lees. This showed a orange-tinted gold color and frothy bubbles, with intoxicating aromas of wild strawberries, orange peel, bark, cardamom and oriental spices. The finely wrought mixed fruit flavors danced on the palate. On the back, notes of liqueurs and recurring orange peel emerged, along with a lingering dry slighly nutted finish. An exemplary rendition of 100% Pinot Noir. 19.5/20 points.

Champagne De Sousa, Brut Tradition, Avize - Composed of several vintages, 50% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 10% Pinot Meunier, this displayed a medium gold color, a frothy mousse, and a fresh, ethereal nose of white flowers, white toast, lavender and white incense. The flavors were bright and crisp, with a bit of richness from the Pinot Noir, and a touch of grape skin from the Pinot Meunier. This came on as a traditionally styled Champagne with a true Brut finish. 19/20 points.

Champagne Gaston Chiquet Brut Tradition, Dizy - This was a blend of 40% Pinot Meunier, 35% Chardonnay, and 25% Pinot Noir, from the 2010 vintage, with 8% each of 2009 and 2008, all Premier and Grand Cru grapes from Dizy, Hautviller and Mareuil-sur-Ay. It exhibited a medium gold color and fine bubbles, along with seductive aromas of pear, peach, strawberry, orange peel, pear blossoms and acacia flowers. The intermingling of red and white fruits were reflected in the medium full-bodied palate, along with notes of toasted nuts, cream (from full malolactic) and a lingering leesy (aged sur latte for 26 months) dry finish. Unoaked, the integrated components spoke for the wine. This was my - and Lynn's - favorite of the tasting. 19.5 points.

2002 Champagne Bollinger "Grande Année" Brut, Ay - This was the only major house Champagne in the tasting and the only vintage one. It was composed of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, 75% Grand Cru and 25% Premier Cru., fermented in old oak and aged on the lees for a minimum of five years. It showed a medium gold color and had fine bubbles and a distinctive nose of pain grilée, butternut, and musk-scented incense. The flavors showed a precise combination of crispness and creaminess, finishing with touches of lemon, herbs and toasty oak on the true Brut finish. 19.5/20 points.

A mystery sparkling wine was also poured, midway through the line up. It showed a gold color and fine bubbles, with a floral nose of apple, cherry and peach blossoms. The flavors were vigorous and showed more limestone than mineral, with a long, dry finish. It turned out to be Domaine Huet Vouvray Petilliant from the Loire Valley. The limestone is what set it apart from the Champagnes. 18.5+/20 points.

At $20 per person, this tasting was a bargain, offering as it did, an opportunity to sample a wide variety of fine Champages. Thanks to Jenna for putting this together. We'll be at the Chateauneuf du Pape tasting next week for sure.


Last Updated on Monday, 02 February 2015 16:29
When State Borders Matter With AVAs
Written by Rand Sealey   
Sunday, 25 January 2015 23:25

For the February issue of the Review of Washington Wines, I wrote up the 2012 Otis Kenyon Washington State Malbec. I received this comment from Muriel Kenyon, "This Malbec is 100% from the Phinny Hill Vineyard, but we cannot put Horse Heaven Hills on the label as we are an Oregon Winery and HHH is entirely in the state of Washington. It's the same issue that will pop up once The Rocks District of Milton Freewater is approved and Washington wineries won't be able to put it on their label." I replied "I'll just put in that it is sourced from Phinny Hill. Calling a wine 'sourced" is what I do when wine is from a single vineyard but it not on the label."

This is one of those instances where state borders do matter with putting on wine labels certain AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) which are approved by the Treasury Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau upon documentation that shows that a given area meets the criteria for a distinctive wine growing area.

When AVAs are approved, they can cover specified areas without consideration for state boundaries. There are two AVAs that straddle the Washington and Oregon borders: the Walla Walla Valley and the Columbia Gorge. Wineries within those areas can use their respective AVAs on their labels. Wineries can also put other AVAs on their labels so long as they are in the same state where the winery is located. For instance, the Barrister and Robert Karl wineries (both in the February issue) are located in Spokane, but since they are Washington wineries, they can put specific AVAs and vineyards on their labels.

However, if a winery is located in a state other than the one where the grapes come from, the wines can only specify the source state and not the AVA or vineyard, as in the case above of the Otis Kenyon Washington State Malbec. Simiilarly, the wines of Coeur d'Alene Cellars (also in the February issue) which is located in Idaho are are labeled as being from "Washington."

There also is some discretion allowed in how much grape source information is given on a wine label. A wine may be from the Yakima Valley, but can also be simply "Columbia Valley" or even "Washington State." Sometimes, how to label a wine can be simply a marketing decision. For a wine being marketed on the East Coast or in another country, Washington State may be more familiar than Columbia Valley or Yakima Valley.

Hopefully, all this will help clarify how American wines, especially Washington and Oregon ones, are labeled, and illustrate how state boundaries, at times, do matter.

Last Updated on Monday, 26 January 2015 22:11
Tasting 2007 Syrahs
Written by Rand Sealey   
Tuesday, 13 January 2015 16:21

Last night, I conducted a tasting of 2007 Washington Syrahs for Lynn's "Art Class" group. The first four wines were from the Helix by Reininger Phinny Hill Clonal Selection Collection which was purchased at the winery four years ago. I spotted it in its presentation wood box, and I decided it would be a good time to taste the wines. Here is what the accompanying sheet said:

The Helix Clonal Selection Collection (CSC) is the result of a desire to share and educate through experience and adventure. It is comprised of four unique Syrah wines sourced from the Phinny Hill Vineyards owned and mangaged by Dick and Cheryl Beightol. Three are 100% from each of separate clones and the fourth is an equal blend of the three clones. This presentation affords the knowledge and expreience of the "parts" and the "sum" of the Helix 2007 Phinny Hill CSC Syrah.

What is a clone? In viticultural terms, it's a population of vines which are theoretically geneticaly identical, having been propagated vegitatively (i.e. from cane cuttings, not by seeds) which are descendants of a single mother plant in an effort to isolate a specific trait(s).

Clone 174: Origin - Drôme, France. Low cluster weight and lower yield, medium sugar, good balance, cherry fruit flavors, often rated first in Hermitage tastings, overall A rating.

Clone 470: Origin - Tran et Garonne, France. Lower fertility, low cluster weight with loose architecture (open clusters, which discourages fungal disease), higher sugar, full bodied, higher acidity, can be floral, good color, later ripening, often rated first in Hermitage tastings, overall A rating.

Clone Noir: Origin - France, origins are more abiguous because several Syrah clones are referred to as Noir, but this one is believed to be from Hermitage. Dark color (Black Syrah as the name implies), earthy, rustic, spice, more tannic, higher sugar, concentrated.

This unique syrah offering is a wonderful adventure into the world of wine. Enjoy the experience with friends as you explore and evaluate the clonal traits of these wines and discover the symbiotic relationship in the Helix Phinny Hill CSC.

ph Titratable Acidity Cooperage

Clone 174 3.91             .58 g/100ml                 Neutral barrels

Clone 470 3.90             .62 g/100ml                 Neutral barrels

Clone Noir 3.98             .57 g/100ml                 Neutral barrels

CSC 3.92             .50 g/100ml                 Neutral barrels

Here are my notes on the clonal selections tasted and the final blended product.

Clone 174 - Ruby garnet colored, this had a rich, spicy, peppery nose, and notes of roasted berries and windblow earth. The back picked up toasted nuts and fine fruit acids, followed by a spiced, herbed lingering finish, with tannins that were smoothing out.  18.5/20 points.

Clone 470 - This showed a deep ruby colr and an intense, somewhat spiritous nose, with scents of attar of rose, garrigue and violets. The full bodied flavors came on vigorously, and the back showed notes of pressed fruits and well structured acids, all leading into a long finish. 18.5+/20 points.

Clone Noir - Deep brilliant ruby colored, this showed sultry, smoky aromas of roasted berries, garrigue and burnt brambles. The somewhat rustic flavors were deep and rich, with notes of roasted coffee and wind blown earth. The back revealed touches of leather and dried orange peel, followed by a lingering, spicy finish. 18.5/20 points.

CSC Blend - This blend of the three clones showed a deep, brilliant ruby color and a sultry nose of roasted berries, garrigue and smoldering oriental incense. The flavors were rich and deep, untermixed with savory fruits, coffee grounds, Phinny Hill gravel and earth, followed by a long finish, with fruits and tannins smoothing out and melding into an integrated whole, adding up to more than the sum of its parts. 19/20 points.

We also had two more 2007 Syrahs, both from the Walla Walla Valley.

2007 Spring Valley Vineyard "Nina Lee" Syrah, Walla Walla Valley - This displayed a deep medium ruby-garnet color and a smoky, earthy, spicy nose of semi-dried raspberries, cherries and cassis, dried roses and cigar wrapper. The medium full bodied flavors were deep and penetrating, with notes of chocolate, licorice and earth. On the back bright fruit acids emerged to give heft to the long, spicy finiah. 19/20 points.

2007 Kerloo Syrah, Walla Walla Valley - This was Ryan Crane's first vintage, released in 2010. Composed of 80% Va Piano and 20% Les Collines Syrah, it showed a deep ruby color and an intense, seemingly young nose of ripe fruits - blackberry, blueberry and cassis - with some maturing scents of dried roses, burnt brambles and incense. The flavors came on with a distinct vibrancy, with deep fruits, intermixed with chocolate and minerals. Bright fruit acids also added vigor to the lingering spiced finish. It could easily go another 5 or 10 years. 19+/20 points.

Also, a 2008 Syrah from one of Cayuse's vineyards in the "Rocks of Milton-Freewater," La Paciencia.

2008 No Girls Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, La Paciencia Vineyard - This showed a semi-opaque ruby color and intense aromas of roasted berries and semi-dried fruits, burnt brambles and smoldering incense. On the palate the flavors were robust and deeply earthy, with that indelible "Rocks" funk. The rich earthiness extended on through the back, along with roasted berries and nuts, all culminating in a lingering spiced and herbed finish. 19+/20 points.


No Review Blog Next Week

On Friday, January 16th, Lynn and I will be leaving Walla Walla for a winter getaway in Hawaii, on the island of Oahu. We will be returning January 24th, and the next Blog will be on 26th, along with the February issue of the Review of Washington Wines.





Last Updated on Tuesday, 13 January 2015 19:42
Holiday Wine Tastings
Written by Rand Sealey   
Monday, 05 January 2015 14:48

During the Christmas and New Year's celebrations in Walla Walla, we went through a lot of wines. Being poured for special occasions, there were quite a few memorable wines. Here are some of the highlights.

On December 24th, we went to an "Orphan's Christmas Eve Dinner," hosted by Marvin and Sally Wood, for those without family to dine with. There was plenty of Gruet and Domaine Mumm sparkling wine. We took a bottle of 2007 Rotie Cellars Southern Red, a blend of Syrah and Grenache, Sean Boyd's first vintage. It showed nicely, starting to round out into what the French call "velours."

Lynn and IO toasted Christmas Day with Champagne J.L. Vergnon Grand Cru Brut Blanc de Blancs. It showed luxurious floral aromas and a rich, creamy texture, followed by bracing acidity and true brut dryness. For dinner, we had the 2008 FIGGINS Estate Red Wine with roasted leg of lamb. The Figgins was still young and vigorous, but beginning to round out nicely.

On Sunday, December 28th, we hosted a Post Christmas Buffet for twenty guests. We had sliders with the Vermont smoked ham and turkey my brother in law in New Jersey had sent to us. A lot of wonderful wines were poured, some ours, some brought by guests. The 2011 François Childane "Clos Habert" Montlouis, from across the Loire River from Vouvray, was a superb expression of dry Chenin Blanc. The 2010 No Girls Grenache from the La Paciencia Vineyard was a beauty, but unlike any other Grenache, I've run accross, being more floral, rather than red fruited, than usual. Erik McLaughlin suspected there were white grapes in it. There were two superb Red Burgundies, a lovely, velvety 2010 Domaine Dubreuil Fontaine Pernand Vergelesses Premier Cru, Ile des Vergelesses, and an elegant, muscular 2010 Domaine Mugnier Nuits St. Gerorges Premier Cru, Clos de la Marechale. Dawn and Gary Brumfield brought a 2005 Pepper Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, which was developing beautifully. The star of the evening was the 2012 Domaine Georges Vernay "Les Chailles de L'Enfer" Condrieu, a striking expression of the Viognier grape, a wine that was "like a laser beam."

For New Year's Eve, we went to Brandon and Emma Kubrock's "Rock Out With Your Kubrocks Out" Party. Again, plenty of Gruet and Mumm sparkling wine was poured (Albertson's was having a big sale on them). I brought a bottle of Champagne Aubry Brut Premier Cru which was delicously frothy and creamy. Justin Wylie poured a preview of his highly impressive (potential 19.5/20 points) 2012 Va Piano DuBrul Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, to be released in the Spring. I took a bottle of the 2008 No Girls Grenache (see the 2010 above), and it turned out to be unlike most Grenaches, with scents of honeysuckle and white lilac (a bit of Roussanne, perhaps?). Anothr guest brought the 2006 Cayuse "God Only Knows" Grenache, which was more typical of the variety, and turning earthy and velvety. Another tasty Grenache was the 2011 Sleight of Hand Cellars "The Sorceress" Grenache. A 2008 Leonetti Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was big and loaded with flavor.

All these wines and others helped make for a memorable 2014-2015 Holiday Season.

Best wishes for a healthy and prosperous 2015!


Last Updated on Monday, 05 January 2015 15:40
Predictions for 2015
Written by Rand Sealey   
Monday, 29 December 2014 14:31

Now that the first issue for 2015 of the Review of Washington Wines is now on line, it's time for me to make some predictions about Washington wines in 2015

More High Quality Wines - Washington wines' cup runneth over. In the year 2014, each issue of the Review of Washington Wines had at least fifty wines. The overall quality of the wines reviewed has increased dramatically and there are more of them as new wineries producing top wines have emerged. Expect this trend to continue through 2015.

More High Quality-Price Ratios - Along with more high quality wines, there are more wines that offer high quality in releation to their prices. Last week's Blog listing of wines scoring 19/20 points for $40 or less included no less than 85 wines. This is another trend that will continue through 2015.

More New Wine Grape Acreage - The big news recently was the Betz Family Winery's purchase of 40 acres in the Sevein development in the South Walla Walla Valley. There is much more acreage available, and expect more investors to take positions there and elsewhere in the state.

Watch for the 2013's - More wines from the 2013 vintage, a "normal" year with near average temperatures and excellent harvesting conditions will be released in 2015. On the basis of my tastings from the barrel and bottle, the 2013's seem to be in between 2011 and 2013 in terms of character. The 2011's, from a cooler year, are more structured and ageworthy, resembling "old world" ones. The 2012's are more fruit forward and tasty, offering early gratification. The 2013's combine both structure and fruit, making them finely balanced, yet ageworthy wines. See "The Renvaan 2013 Syrahs Preview" section of the January issue of the Review of Washington Wines for an indication of how the 2013's are developing.

Wineries to Watch in 2015

Betz Family Winery - In the November issue of the Review, I reported on the winery's 2012 Rhone-style wines, all scoring 19.5 or 20/20 points. This is a dramatic new higher quality level resulting from an increased rigor in barrel selection. Watch for the 2012 "BDX" style wines to be released in 2015.

Buty Winery - With Chris Dowsett in charge as winemaker, Nina Buty's winery by the Walla Walla airport has gone from strength to strength. The 2011's were exceptional and expect the 2012's to be even more so.

Canvasback - The Red Mountain Duckhorn venture was off to an impressive debut with it's 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon (reviewed December, 2014). I tasted 2013's from the barrel with winemaker Brian Rudin a few months ago and found them to be rich and well structured. Watch for the final assemblage to be released later.

Eight Bells - This Ravenna district winery, owned by Tim Bates, Andy Shepherd and Frank Michels, turned out a stellar 2012 Eight Clone Syrah from the Red Willow Vineyard and some fine 2011's (reviewed December, 2014). Watch for more 2012's to be released in 2015.

Flying Trout - Now that Ashley Trout is back at work at the new Tero / Waters / Flying Trout facility on Peppers Bridge Road, look for some tasty new wines in 2015, including some magical Malbecs.

Waters - Watch for some impressive new releases from Jamie Brown as well. Can't wait for the 2012 Loess Vineyard Syrah.

Kevin White Winery - This winery continues to turn out knock-out values. The 2012 "La Fraternité" and "En Hommage" scored 19/20 points for $28. Watch for the 2013's to come out in 2015.


Happy New Year!




Last Updated on Monday, 29 December 2014 15:51

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