- Written by Rand Sealey
Which grape varieites grown in Washington are trendy and which ones aren't? Here's my guide to them. I have indicated their directional positions using the face a clock. Twelve or one o'clock indicates a very trendy grape, Two o'clock is moderately so. Three o'clock is neutral and four or five o'clock means declining popularity. Here's my rundown:
Chardonnay - Three o'clock. The state's most widely planted variety is neither trendy nor declining in popularity. There are some highly impressive Chardonnays from specialists such as Array and Ashan, though.
Vioginier - Four o'clock. The trend for this grape has past its peak due to proliferation and quality variability. Some, suck as àMaurice and Reynvaan do continue to impress.
Riesling- Four o'clock. This is an underated variety and continues to be so. Most fans prefer the sweeter versions. But there are some fine Alsace-style dry ones. I recently tasted a superb version from Chris Dowsett (to be reviewed in December).
Sauvignon Blanc - Four o'clock - This variety produces fine dry wines, but tend to be eclipsed by the more prestigious Chardonnay grape.
Semillon - Four o'clock - Like Sauvignon Blanc, there are some noteworthy wines, but generally low profile.
Gewurztraminer - Three o'clock. This is another low profile grape that doesn't stant out. But for cognoscenti, some specialists such as Dowsett and Annalema turn out attention-getting wines.
Chenin Blanc - Three o'clock. - This variety remains in neutral, although L'Ecole No. 41 and Waitsburg Cellars make some fine ones, and excellent value.
Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul - Two o'clock. These are too recent to be really trendy, but there is growing interest in varieties originating in the Rhone Valley
Red "BDX" Varieties
Cabernet Sauvignon - One o'clock. Cabernet Sauvignon is still considered the "king" of red wines. The best ones continue to burnish that variety's reputation. There are, however, a lot of mediocre commercial ones.
Merlot - Three o'clock. This variety was highly trendy two decades ago, but now remains in neutral, taking a back seat to Cabernet Sauvignon. There are wineries making very fine Merlots, but few are staking their reputations on it.
Cabernet Franc - Two o'clock. This is somewhat trendy, but not catching on fire.
Petit Verdot - Two o'clock. This has been billed at a Bordeaux variety and often put in "BDX" blends. But hardly any Petit Verdot is grown in Bordeaux, but the grape does grow well in Washington State.
Malbec - Two o'clock. This, too has often beem represented as a "Bordeaux" grape, although little is grown there. It is grown principally in Cahor, in France's Lot Valley. There are some Malbec specialists such as Ashley Trout and Anna Schafer (àMaurce) to make it a noteworthy grape.
Red Rhone Varieties
Syrah - Two o'clock. This is considered the "king" of Rhone varietals, not as much so as Cabernet Sauvignon, but enough to make it trendy. The cult Syrahs from Cayuse, No Girls and Reynvaan are on waiting lists and register at twelve o'clock.
Grenache - Two o'clock. This is somewhat trendy, mainly as a niche medium bodied wine. The cult versions - Cayuse God only Knows, No Girls, K Vintners "The Boy." register one o'clock.
Mourvèdre - Two thirty o'clock. This seems to be just semi-trendy, not as exciting as Syrah or Grenache, but, from some wineires, well regarded. Used more in "GSM" blends than as a varietal.
Cinsault, Counoise - Three o'clock. These two Rhone varietal are so low profile, that they are in neutral. There are some interesting versions.
Petite Sirah - Two o'clock. This isn't either a Rhone variety or a Syrah, but Duriff, originating in South France. But it grows well in Washington and makes interesting robust wines, such as those from Thurston Wolfe and Dusted Valley.
Pinot Noir - Three o'clock. Oregon's Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs are eclipsing those from elsewhere. But there are some fine ones from the Columbia Gorge and some small pockets of the Walla Walla Valley.
Sangiovese - Three o'clock. Tuscany's premier grape, is more of a niche variety here. Mostly medium bodied wines, without great popularity. There are some nice ones, though.
Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Barbera - Three o'clock. Not much of these Piedmont varieties are grown in Washington State, so there is not enough to indicate a trend.
Tempranillo - Two thirty o'clock. Spain's premier grape has made limited impact in Washington State, so just semi-trendy. Gramercy Cellars, Kerloo Cellars and Salida (Doug McCrea) make some noteworthy ones.
- Written by Rand Sealey
As the Walla Walla Valley wineries gear up for Fall Release Weekend on November 6 - 8, here are some news and developments here.
Winery Fall Release Previews
In the Walla Walla Valley, some wineries preview their fall releases at special events for club members and friends. Among these were:
Tero & Flying Trout Wine and Swine - On Saturday, September 26, Jan and Doug Roskelley hosted a pig roast at the winery near Milton-Freewater, along with Ashley Trout. Their new releases were unveiled as well. See the October issue of the Review of Washington Wines for reviews.
Walla Walla Vintners Fall Release - On Saturday, October 3, Walla Walla Vintners poured its new Fall releases. The wines will be reviewed in the November issue which goes on line October 26th.
àMaurice Cellars Harvest Celebration - The same day, the Schafer family hosted a celebration with a tasting of new releases, along with vineyard tours, pumpkin carving, live music (with Anna Schafer's husband, Larry Cohen) and a screening of "Casablanca." New releases also to be reviewed in November.
Tranche Cellars Opening a New Tasting Room
Up until now, Tranche Cellars tasting facilities have been makeshift. Sometimes in the fermentation tank room, sometimes in a trailer. A new entrance, with nice metalwork signage, graces the entrance to the winery and the Blue Mountain Vineyard. The new tasting room is situated in front of the winery. Fall Release will feature Tranche's annual bonfire.
The Tero / Flying Trout / Waters and Locati Cellars Expanded Tasting Rooms
With the departure of Trio Vintners, Locati Cellars has moved into Trio's more spacious room, which has a spacious wine tasting bar and a humidor with a nice selection of cigars. The Tero / Flying Trout / Waters tasting room has been expanded by taking out the wall separating it from Locati.
Dusted Valley's New Winery
During the summer, one could see, just east of Braden Road in the South Valley, a large structure being built, first as a skeleton, and then eventually a building. It is Dusted Valley Vintner's new winery, which opened just in time for this year's harvest. The tasting room is still located on the Old Milton Highway.
An Elaboration on Last Week's Blog
In last week's Blog, "A Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre Resurgence?" I mentioned several vineyards planted with GSM varieties, including Tertulia's located deep down in the southeast part of the AVA. This is the Elevation 1200 (incorrectly identified as Riviere Galets, located elsewhere) Vineyard. Shortly afterwards, I got this email from Jon Meuret (Maison Bleue):
"Thanks for the mention in the most recent Blog. There are a few corrections to be made though. The Cote Rotie-like planting on the South Fork is actually mine, at least most of it. The 3 ft. x 3 ft. Sur Echalas part is planted in Grenache and Syrah, with a tiny bit of Marsanne. I will start harvesting a little next year from our estate block. The whole vineyard above is called Elevation Vineyard which is Tertulia's estate block. They do have a test plot of Syrah planted similarly though. Capri Walla Walla LLC owns the land and I have a long-term lease on my 2+ acre piece, Thought you should know."
Thanks, Jon, for letting me know. This is a good example of how vineyard developments are structured in many cases.
- Written by Rand Sealey
It seems that a few years ago, Rhone varietals could get no respect. More and more "BDX" wines kept appearing on the market, as well as "Bordeaux" varietals such as Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmenère, even though little of these grapes are being grown in Bordeaux any more. Many blends are five or six varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. But there seems to ba a sameness to many (but not all - there are superb renditions such as those from Seven Hills, Corliss, Figgins and Owen Roe).
The Rhone varieties - Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre - however, I think, are making a comeback. With better site selection and understanding the vinification of these varieties, more interesting and complex wines are being made. Here's my rundown of those wineries that are at the forefront of this resurgence.
Cayuse - Christophe Baron is the pioneer of bringing Rhone varietals to the "Rocks" with his single vineyard Syrahs and the alluring God only Knows Grenache.
Rotie Cellars - Sean Boyd's aptly named winery has made a name for itself with its Northern and Southern Blends and the "little g" Grenache and "dre" Mourvèdre.
Reynvaan Vineyards - The Reynvaan family's winery has acquired cult status with its Syrahs from the Rocks and the Foothills vineyards.
Kerloo Cellars - Ryan Crane staked his reputation on Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre (although he also makes a fine Malbec).
Maison Bleue - Jon Meuret has been making Rhone-style wines since starting in 2007. Since moving to Walla Walla, his emphasis is on Walla Walla Valley fruit.
And then there are the vineyards that are contributing to the increasing popularity of Rhone varietals. The pioneers were Mike Sauer (Red Willow Vineyard) and Dick Boushey in the Yakima Valley, and later Lewis Vineyard. Then came Patina and Les Collines in the South Walla Walla Valley. Then those in the Rocks of Milton-Freewater: Funk, Stoney Vines, Rotie and Rockgarden. Tertulia's Riviere Galets Vineyard deep in the southeast valley is a ringer for Cote Rotie with its steep, rock strewn slope. And more plantings are on the way.
Wineries now are making noteworthy "GSM" (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre) wines in the style of the South Rhone Valley, such as Vacqueyras and Cheateauneuf du Pape. Noteworthy recent versions are Forgeron's "Façon Rouge", Balboa's "Pandemonium" Syrah-Grenache), Tertulia's "Great SchisM" and others. There also are a bevy of Grenaches and Mourvèdres out there as well. All is well with Rhone varieties these days.
- Written by Rand Sealey
At this point, the 2015 wine grape harvest is coming to an end. A few more picks this week and next will bring it to a close. This is a far departure from 2011, a protracted late harvest. In 2011, picking began the first week of October for most wineries, this year it ended the first week of this month. Moderate highs in the upper 70's and low 80's have enabled growers to see grapes maturing evenly up to picking. Quality seems to be high, despite the 100 degree days from late June to the end of July. After veraison, the begining of grapes turning color, the grapes developed plenty of bright fruits and aromatic phenols. All this leaves growers and winemakers smiling.
A Grand Cru Chablis Tasting
Last night the SOB's (Sons of Bacchus) assembled at the Seven Hills Winery for a tasting of Grand Cru Chablis which consist of the best vineyards in that region of northeast Burgundy. These vineyards, above the town of Chablis, are located on a southwest exposure and on sites with the heaviest concentration of calcium which gives Chablis a distinctive minerally taste. All but two of the wines tasted were of high quality. Here are what I found to be the most exceptional ones.
2010 Domaine William Fevre Chablis Grand Cru, Bougros - This was the top favorite of the group. It showed a medium gold color and a flinty nose of apples and citrus. It came on strong on the palate entry with sturdy acids and steely minerals and a bone dry finish. 19/20 points.
2010 La Chablisienne Chablis Grand Cru, Bougros - La Chablisienne is the well-run cooperative of Chablis. This version showed a bright, fruity apple, pear and peach nose and chalky, steely classic flavors with a fine sense of balance and depth that kept on going through the finish. I preferrred it to the Fevre. 19+/20 points.
2012 Maison Dampt Chablis Grand Cru, Bougros - This negociant bottling offered a brilliant gold color and a floral apple and lemon nose with ripe, steely, saline flavors. The back showed a bit of restraint, coming on like a fine young Grand Cru. 19/20 points.
2009 Domaine Laroche Chablis Grand Cru, Les Blanchots - This showed a brilliant gold color and a distinctive nose of apples and peaches. The flavors started out soft, Meursault-like, then built up on the back with fine acidity and a steely dry finish. Interestingly, it was the only wine with a screwcap finish. This was the group favorite in its flight and my second choice. 19+/20 points.
2008 Jean & Sebastien Dauvissat Chablis Grand Cru, Les Preuses - This showed a brilliant color and aromas of apple, peach and citrus. Highly extracted, it showed deep, almost austere flavors with saline minerals and a bone dry finish. 19/20 points.
There was one ringer in the group, the 2011 Woodward Canyon Washington State Chardonnay. It was a fine wine in its own right (19/20 points), but stood out as being different from the others. Two wines, the 2006 William Fevre Les Preuses and 2007 Willaim Fevre Vaudesir were showing some oxidation.
Thanks to Casey McClellan and Erik McLaughlin for hosting this fine tasting.
- Written by Rand Sealey
With Fall Release Weekends coming up, we are going to see more red wines from the 2013 vintage coming out. The cycle for the 2012's (see the 15 March blog posting) has passed its peak, and the 2013's are coming through the pipeline.
The 2013 vintage comes from an uneven year weatherwise. After a cool spring, weather warmed up in the summer, with some periodic heat waves, and was followed by a cool autumn that saw occasional rain showers, which, fortunately, were brief enough to let the grapes dry out. The harvest progressed from mid-September to late October, one of those down to the wire vintages. The result were supple, fruit-forward yet structured wines. Vicky McClellan (Seven Hills Winery) described the 2013's as being "friendly wines," and I agree.
So far, I have tasted 2013's from Balboa, Barrister, Flying Trout, Mark Ryan, Owen Roe, Seven Hills, Long Shadows and others. Among the varietals, the Syrahs and Malbecs are particularly appealing, as well as some Grenaches and Petit Verdots. Here are some particularly noteworthy 2013's already reviewed.
2013 Mark Ryan "Wild Eyed" Syrah, Red Mountain (reviewed July - 19+/20 points)
2013 Mark Ryan "Crazy Mary" Mourvedre, Red Mountain (July - 19 points)
2013 Rasa Vineyards "In the Limelight" Petit Verdot (July - 19+ points)
2013 Owen Roe Syrah, Yakima Valley, Union Gap Vineyard (August - 19+ points)
2013 Owen Roe Syrah, Yakima Valley, Red Willow Vinryard (August - 19+ points)
2013 Seven Hills Petit Verdot, Walla Walla Valley, McClellan Vineyard (September - 19 points)
2013 Seven Hills Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, Seven Hills Vineyard (September - 19 points)
2013 Long Shadows "Saggi" Red Wine, Columbia Valley (September - 19.5 points)
2013 Long Shadows "Sequel" Syrah, Columbia Valley (September - 19.5 points)
2013 Barrister Petit Verdot, Walla Walla Valley (October - 19 points)
2013 Balboa Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, Eidolon Vineyard (October - 19 points)
2013 Balboa Grenache, Walla Walla Valley, Summit View Vineyard (October - 19+ points)
2013 Balboa "Pandemonium" Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley (October - 19 points)
2013 Flying Trout Malbec, Rattlesnake Hills, Konnowac Vineyard (Ooctober - 19 points)
To be reviewed in the November issue of the Review of Washington Wins are:
2013 Seven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, Seven Hills Vineyard (November - 19+ points)
2013 Seven Hills Vintage Red Wine, Red Mountain, Ciel du Cheval Vineyard (November - 19+ points)
2013 Isenhower Cellars "Jongleur" Petit Verdot, Columbia Valley (November - 19 points)
2013 L'Ecole No. 41 Grenache, Wahluke Slope, Stone Tree Vineyard (November - 19 points)
2013 Kontos Cellars Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, Summit View Vineyard (November - 19 points)
Over the next few yays, I will be tasting more 2013's from Sleight of Hand, Mark Ryan, Frichette (Red Mountain), Walla Walla Vintners, Forgeron, and àMaurice. I expect more exceptional wines.