- Written by Rand Sealey
On April 20, the Lewis-Clark Valley was approved by the Department of Treasury's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) as the newest AVA (American Viticultural Area). The AVA comprises 306,658 acres within the historic grape-growing region surrounding Lewiston, Idaho and Clarkston, Washington. The AVA approval goes into effect May 20. This did not come about easily. The TTB dragged its feet for months until Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) sent a letter urging the TTB to act on the petition as soon as possible.
The new AVA straddles the Washington and Idaho borders (in the same way as the Walla Walla Valley and the Columbia Gorge straddle Washington and Oregon). Dr. Alan Busacca, the geologist, worked on the petition which created the AVA, situated in Clearwater, Latah, Lewis and Nez Perce counties in Idaho and Asotin, Garfield and Whitman counties in Washington.
This AVA approval was great news to Coco and Karl Umiker of Clearwater Canyon Cellars in Lewiston. This is something they have been working on for seven years. Reviews of Clearwater Canyon Cellars' wines will be in the June and July issues of the Review of Washington Wines. Watch for it!
- Written by Rand Sealey
It is a commonplace comment that "tasting wines is hard work, but somebody's got to do it." Well that is true, it is hard work. My experience at two wine judgings explains why.
Weekend before last (April 16-17) I participated in the Seattle Wine Awards, conducted by Christopher Chan (see my blog of April 19 for a report) where each fouresome tasted 150 wines on Saturday and 100 on Sunday. On March 7, I tasted about 100 wines at the Seattle Magazine Washington Wine Awards judging, conducted by Yashar Shayan.
The biggest challenge in tasting a hundred or more wines is that 70 to 80 percent of these wines will be tannic young reds. After tasting a couple of flights of ten to fifteen wines, tannin fatigue sets in, with the palate getting coated with mouth puckering dryness. The traditional method of combatting this is spipping water and eating saltine crackers. But it takes more than that when going through a hundred or more wines. At the Washington Wine Awards, cheese and salami (prepared by the South Seattle Community College's culinary students) were served. The fat of the cheese and charcuterie helps cut the tannins in the mouth. At the Seattle Wine Awards, I found beef jerky to be particularly helpful as the sweet-salty and savory qualities served as an antidote. A lunch break in between also helps give the palate a rest.
There are other challenges as well. Wine tasting requires a lot of concentration, to evaluate wines fairly. Checking arithmetic (usually on a modified 20 point system) is a necessity. Also one has to move along quickly. Wine judging is not a task for slowpokes.
But, in the end, there is much satisfaction in wine judging. It is fun and rewarding.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Last weekend (Saturday, April 16th and Sunday, the 17th) I participated in the Seattle Wine Awards judging. This event has been conducted by Master Sommelier Christopher Chan, and is one of the most prestigious wine award competitions in the country. Out of hundreds of wines entered, only a fraction receive awards of Bronze, Silver, Gold and Double Gold. This year, I was asked to participate in the judging, all done by respected wine experts. These included Lenny Rede (Esquin), Emile Ninaud (Champion Cellars), Reggie Daignault (Washington Wine Academy), Dan Corson (Camaraderie Cellars), Chris Nishiwaki (Sip Magazine), Mark Tagaki (Metropolitan Market) and others, including some Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers.
On the morning of April 16, I took the 6 a.m. flight from Walla Walla to Seattle and took a taxi to the Downtown Sheraton Hotel. At 8:30, I and four other participants were picked up by Greg Chan, Christopher's dad, and also a judging panelist, who chauffered us to the Swedish Club on Dexter Avenue North. There, 24 judges were divided up among six tables of four, and the wined divided among the tables. There were 1376 wines entered, so that was the only practical way to have the wines evaluated. My foursome evaluated 3 flights of Merlots, 3 of Rhone-style res, 3 of proprietary reds, one of proprietary whites, one of Oregon Chardonnays. We went through 10 to 15 wines at a time, moving from one table to the next. Score sheets were collected and passed on to a panel, led by Peggy Reddy, which compiled the scores from a modified 20 point system. That day, with a lunch break and a group photo in between, we each went through about 200 wines. The Saturday evaluation ended at about 3:00.
That evening, I and other out of town panelists and a few others, joined Christopher and scorekeeper Peggy Reddy, for dinner at Blueacre Seafood. It was a superb meal, with all kinds of perfectly fresh seafood, raw oysters, octopus, black cod, mussels, salmon, scallops and more. Memorable wines included a 2014 Eitelsbacher Trocken Riesling from the Ruwer in a 1500 ml. bottle, a 2011 La Forest Premier Cru Chablis from Dauvisat Camus (compliments of Chris Nishiwaki), a Bouzy Rouge still Pinot Noir from Champage (a natural red for seafood). Also bubbly, Gruet Brut Sauvage and Bollinger Champage, and more.
The next morning, Greg Chan picked up me and the other out of towners at the Sheraton for the remainder of the judging. Christopher Chan encouraged us to use fractional points to add precision to our evaluations. I did so, and was faulted for scores that did not add up correctly. I replied that I never was very good at arithmetic, but was making an honest effort. The tables were redistributed, and mine evaluated 3 flights of Syrah, one of Oregon Pinot Noir, two of Riesling, two of BDX blends, and we finished off with 13 ciders, not an area of my expertise, but I did my best. After farewells, I left with Dan Corson, who kindly dropped me off back downtown to catch a cab to the airport for an afternoon flight back to Walla Walla.
It was a memorable tasting, extremely well orchestrated by Christopher and his crew of pourers and score compilers. Our score sheets and wine keys will be sent in a couple of weeks, and the awards will be announced at a later date. Thanks to all for a great job. More later!
- Written by Rand Sealey
A week ago (Wednesday, April 6) we attended the Vital Wines Launch Dinner at the Whitehouse-Crawford Restaurant in Walla Walla. Over a hundred people showed up to hear Ashley Trout (formerly of Flying Trout Winery) talk about her nonprofit winery whose sole purpose is to raise money for SOS Health Services in College Place, providing free, no questions asked, health care. This makes available health care to the many winery workers without medical insurance, something that is prevalent in the industry, much of which is seasonal. Ashley, herself, worked in the wine industry without health insurance for eight years. It became apparent to her that something needed to be done to help which is how Vital Winery came into being.
Vital Winery operates largely with donated resources, wine grapes, winemaking equipment, bottles, labels, shipping materials, just about everything involved in making wine. The first release is a 2015 Rosé Wine, made from Sangiovese from the Seven Hills Vineyard, and a red blend will be released in the Fall. Wines will be sold directly through a wine club and mailing list, as well as some select retail outlets. All profits go to the SOS Clinic. The 2015 Rosé is available for $18 a bottle. Go to www.vitalwinery.com for more information. In addition to Ashley, the assistant winemaker is Tim Doyle (who was at our table), social media director, Morgan Mayfield and public relations, Bob Silver. Compliance and bookkeeping is provided by Winery Compliance Services. And many other services are being donated.
The dinner, which included many winery workers whose meals were paid for as part of the dinner payments, was a great success. In addition to the new Rosé, many donated wines were poured. We had a lovely 2013 Reininger Carmenere and a robust Canvasback Cabernet Sauvignon (made by Ashley's husband, Brian Rudin) and much more. The Rosé was made in a fresh, lively, dry style, with notes of berries, cherries and watermelon. The three course dinner consisted of Fuji apple salate with pecans and Oregon blue cheese, spicy lamb sausage, and Grand Marnier cake.
Kudos to Ashley Trout for spearheading this project. It's all about "Taking care of each other."
- Written by Rand Sealey
This year, Cayuse Weekend and Taste Washington were on the same weekend, that of April 1-3. How that came about is this: Back in the October of last year, Cayuse sent a notification to put April 1-2 the calendar for its annual pick-up party; some months later, after the beginning of the year, the Washington Wine Commission announced the dates for Taste Washington for April 2-3. Normally, Taste Washington is held the last weekend of March, but that was Easter weekend, so it was moved back another week.
Since Cayuse Weekend and Taste Washington were must-attend events for me, I went to Cayuse on Friday, April 1 (announced as "No Joke") and Taste Washington on Saturday, flying there from Walla Walla. Here's my report:
Cayuse Weekend, Friday April 1
That morning, I drove towards Milton Freewater and turned off Highway 11 to Sunnyside Road and continued west a few miles to the winery (aka "The Box"). Once inside I started tasting the 2014's and 2013's. Christophe Baron, the owner-winemaker, always likes to kid me about my note taking, asking me "Do you like our wines?" I assured him I certainly did. I found the 2024's particularly compelling, although the 2013's were highly impressive as well. Here are my notes and scores.
2013 "God only Knows" Grenache - Brilliant brick red colored, this showed attractive aromas of raspberry, cranberry, pomegranate, roses, violets and incense. The medium bodied flavors were supple and alluring, with notes of pressed berries and roasted nuts, and sweet-dry tannins. 19+/20 points.
2014 "Widowmaker" Cabernet Sauvigon - This showed an opaque ruby color and a rich, ripe nose of blackberries, cherries, cassis, anise, crushed roses, tobacco and cedar. The flavors were deep and powerful, loaded with dark fruits, espresso and Rocks minerality, The power continued on the back with a long, ripe tannin finish. 19.5/20 points.
2014 Cailloux Vineyard Syrah - Deep purplish colored, this had an intense nose of wild berries, crushed roses, garrigue, tobacco, violets and incense. The full throttle flavors were deep and full, marked by distinct terroir, continuing on into a long, dark and brooding back and finish. 19.5/20 points.
2014 En Chamberlin Vineyard Syrah - Purplish colored, this possessed an intense, earthy, minerally nose of blackberries, blueberries, cassis, roses, garrigue and violets. The flavors were dense and compact, with notes of licorice, dark roast and chocolate. The intensity continued on the back with roasted berries and nuts, leather and cassis, followed by a long, powerful finish. 19.5/20 points.
2014 "Bionic Frog" Syrah - From the Cocinelle Vineyard, this showed a deep ruby color and a lovely, fragrant nose of wild berries, crushed roses, lavender, sweet tobacco and oriental incense. The medium bodied flavors were supple, yet focused, with notes of cocoa, French roast and minerals. The back picked up pressed berries and roasted nuts, followed by a long, spicy finish. 20/20 points.
2013 Armada Vineyard Syrah - This showed a seductive nose of wild fruits, wild roses, lavender, violets and sweet incense. The flavors mirrored the aromatics with mouth encompassing black and blue fruits that were underlain with licorice, French roast and minerals. The saturation continued on the back with pressed berries, roasted nuts, creme de cassis and orange peel, followed by a long ripe tannin finish. 20/20 points.
2014 "Impulsivo" Tempranillo - Deep ruby colored, this emited intriguing aromas of black cherries, roasted plums, black currants, anise, dark tobacco and black olive. The flavors were bold and direct, with a taut focus, accompanied by notes of licorice, dark chocolate, chicory coffee and minerals. The back picked up notes of pressed berries, Marcona almonds and leather, followe by a lingering dryish tannin finish. The best Washington Tempranillo I'vre tasted so far. 20/20 points.
2012 "Wallah Wallah" Special Syrah #4 - This showed a deep ruby color and seductive aromas of wild dark fruits, roses, lavender and spiced incense. The medium full-bodied flavors were thick and chewy, with noticeable Rocks earthiness. The depth and power continued all the way to the end, picking up roasted berries and nuts and ripe tannins. 19.5/20 points.
After picking up my Cayuse allocation, I went over to the Reynvann Family Vineyards winery at the end of Cottonwood Road. There, the newly released 2014 whites were poured, along with the 2014 reds, to be released in the Fall. I found the whites to be deliciously vibrant and the 2014 reds even more compelling than when they were tasted last November (reviewed in the February issue).
2014 Reynvaan Family Vineyards "In the Foothills" Viognier - From the Estate Vineyard on Cottonwood Road, this showed a brilliant gold color and a lovely, fragrant nose of pear, peach and papaya, with scents of butternut, meadow flowers and jasmine. The white fruit flavors, as well, were alluring, with silky fruits and peche and poire liqueurs and a long finish. 19.5/20 points.
2014 Reynvaan Family Vineyards "In the Rocks" Viognier - This showed a more minerally character than the Foothills along with a distinct varietal character, and well extracted fruits, and a long Condrieu-like finish. 19.5/20 points.
2014 Reynvann Family Vineyards "Queen's Road" White Wine - Composed of 70% Marsanne and 30% Viognier, it showed a brilliant gold color and a minerally nose of pear, peach and papaya, lemongrass, jasmine and dried flowers. The flavors were full bodied and extracted, with a long dry, yet finely fruited finish. 19.5/20 points.
After Reynvaan, I stopped at Otis Kenyon to taste the fine 2013 Carménère and Malbec from the Phinny Hill Vineyard, to be reviewed in the May issue. I also stopped at Kerloo Cellars to taste new releases to be reviewed next month.
Taste Washington, Saturday April 2
After arriving at Sea-Tac, I took a cab to the Century Link Exhibition Center for Taste Washington. My initial focus was to taste the wines of Avennia, Andrew Will, Betz and Cadence, wineries that are not open to the public. This gave me an opportunity to taste their wines at one venue. The reviews will be in the May issue of the Review of Washington Wines which goes on line April 26th.
I also visited some other wineries, looking for new discoveries. Co Dinn (Coman Dinn) had some compelling site specific wines, a Chardonnay and Syrah from the Roskamp Vineyard on Snipes Mountain and a Painted Hills Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, to be reviewed in a future issue. Another winery turning out terroir-driven wines in Ali Mayfield's The Walls, which is building a new winery in downtown Walla Walla. I tasted a striking 2014 "La Lutte" Chardonnay and a "Stanley Groovy" red that lives up to its name. These and others will be reviewed in June or July. A couple of interesting "outliers" were Wilridge's intruigingly aromatic 2013 Zweigelt Red from the Naches Heights AVA and a bold, dark "Artist's Series" Lake Chelan Syrah with a label by Eugene Lybecker, age 3.