Review of Washington Wines Blog
The SOB Amarone Tasting
Written by Rand Sealey   
Friday, 22 November 2013 16:25

Last night, November 21st, the Sons of Bacchus (SOB's for short) and a Daughter of Dionysus assembled at the home of Gilles Nicault (Long Shadows) for a tasting of Amarone wines. Amarone is a designation for specially fermented Valpolicella from the region around Verona in the Italian Veneto. The principal grape is Corvino, although some other varieties are permitted. A special guest of the group was Gino Cuneo, proprietor and winemaker of Gino Cuneo Cellars in Walla Walla, which specializes in Italian varietal wines, including amarone styled ones. He provided the group with informative insights on the wines and their winemaking.

There are two main styles of Amarone: dry, called Amarone Classico, and sweet, called Recioto della Valpolicella, although the latter becomes drier with age. Traditionally, grapes were dried on straw mats to concentrate the flavors. Today, special racks are used for the process.

Twelve wines were tasted in three flights of four. Here are the top wines from each flight, with my notes and scores.

1976 Bertaini Recioto della Valpolicella Amarone - Deep garnet colored, this wine emited pungent aromas of crushed roses, dried orange peel and peppery. Now nearly dry, it was a fine example of aged Amarone. 19.5/20 points.

1990 Bertani Recioto della Valpolicella Amarone - This comes on like a younger version of the above, with a less developed bouquet and less complex flavors, very impressive nevertheless. 19/20 points.

2008 Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Classico - The youngest Amarone tasted, this showed a deep ruby color and a rich sweet berry nose, with scents of dried roses and oriental perfumes and sturdy, direct flavors. 19/20 points.

2006 Accordino Agino Amarone della Valpolicella Classico - Another younger Amarone, this showed a deep ruby color and a rich, berried nose of dried fruits and roses, oriental perfumes and incense, and deep, muscular flavors. 19/20 points.

2004 Gaspari Recioto della Valpolicella Amarone - This is a fine example of a Recioto that is just beginning to mature. Lovely aromas of crushed roses, sandalwood, and incense with elegant, sweetish-dry flavors that linger on the finish. 19+/20 points.

2006 Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva - Opaque purplish color, this came on like a elegantly styled younger Amarone. It possessed lovely aromas of dried roses, orange peel and violets, with lush sweet-dry fruit flavors. It will have a great future. 19+/20 points, potential 19.5+.

Afterwards, there was a bonus 13th wine. It showed a deep purplish color and a lovely perfumed nose of roses and violets and tasty sweet-dry fruit flavors. It was Gino Cuneo's 2011 "Nebarro" Red Wine, a "secco" style blend of Nebbiolo and Barbera (hence, the name). I will be visiting Gino in the near future and will be reviewing his wines.

Thanks to Gilles for his hospitality and to Gino for his insights.


Last Updated on Friday, 22 November 2013 17:05
Tasting with the 20 Point System
Written by Rand Sealey   
Thursday, 14 November 2013 22:27

Last niight, Lynn and I hosted at wine tasting at our home in Walla Walla. The theme was to taste blind six different varietal wines as see how the guests' scores compared with those of mine in my previously published reviews. Our guests were Tom Olander and Barb Comaree (Bunchgrass Winery), Steve Robertson (SJR Vinevard in the "Rocks"), Sabrina Leuke and Tim Donahue (College Cellars). Generally, guests scored the wines lower (17-19/20 points) than I did (18.5-19.5). I think that may be because winemakers and growers tend to be more critical of their and others' wines. Some of my scores were a bit lower (.5 point) than when originally reviewed. Scores can vary bit when tasted in a different setting. Everyone found using the University of California Davis 20 Point System to be interesting and useful, in comparison to the more widely used 100 points.

After the tasting, during supper, there were some stimulating discussions. One of the wines tasted was a Syrah from the proposed new AVA, "The Rocks District of Milton Freewater" which showed distinct characterisics of that terroir. Tim Donahoue theorized that it could be from amino acids associated with the soil although there isn't proof of that. Steve Robertson brought up the subject of the need for more of an identity for the Walla Walla Valley AVA. All of us agreed that something needed to be done about that. I suggested there needed to be more focus on the Walla Walla Valley's wines, setting them apart from those of, say, Red Mountain which seems to get a lot of press although it is not a real destination locale with lots of wineries, spas, restaurants and so on. How to make Walla Walla a destination is what needs to be figured out. Walla Walla has plenty going for it, the word just needs to get out more.

It was a fun and stimulating evening. Getting together and tasting and talking about wines, and about the future of Walla Walla wines is a recurring theme in the Valley.


Wine Writing as Poetry

Yesterday, in the process of getting Review of Washington Wines copy proofed, to check for accuracy and possible ommissions, I emailed copy on the Betz Family Winery for the December issue to Bob Betz. I got the following reply: "You are quite a poet. Not only are the facts correct, but your descriptions make me want to rush out an try these wines. Well done, well stated and much appreciated." I replied, "It is very kind of you to call me 'quite a poet." When I write about wines such as yours, I try to convey a sense of character and style, like poetry in a bottle." Then I got this reply from Bob: "You hit it spot on, Rand." Thanks again, Bob.


Last Updated on Friday, 15 November 2013 05:32
Walla Walla Fall Release Weekend
Written by Rand Sealey   
Thursday, 07 November 2013 14:13

This year's Fall Release Weekend, November 1-3, was another fun-filled event even even though the weather was not particularly cooperative (inntermittent rains). Here's a rundown of the weekend's happenings.

On Friday, the 1st, we first went to Long Shadows where we tasted the 2009 Chester Kidder Red and the 2009 Sequel Syrah, both to be reviewed in the December issue of the Review of Washington Wines. There, directing winemaker, Gilles Nicault also took us to the back where we tasted the newly fermented 2013's from the tank. They showed marvelous aromas and fruit, showing promise for an outstanding vintage. Then we stopped by Bunchgrass to taste with Tom Olander the new 2012 Whispering Owl White and 2010 Windrow Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, to be reviewed in December. That evening, we attended Robsion Ranch Cellars' Club dinner.

On Saturday morning, we went to Tranche Cellars at the Blue Mountain Vineyard to taste with Griffin Frey. Then we drove up to the end of Cottonwood Road to the Reynvaan Family Vineyards winery. All the Reynvaans were there and previewed the 2012's which will be reviewed in January. Then we went on to Isenhower, then Rasa and MacKey on Powerline Road. The wines will be reviewed in the December issue. The premier event of the evening was Corliss' Fall Release party, where a fantastic 2009 Syrah was previewed (to be released in 2014). There, all had a good time with plenty of stimulating conversation.

On Sunday afternoon, we had a great time at Northstar's "Blending Experience." There, Lindsey Dean guided us through a tasting of six 2009's: four Merlots from different AVA's and a Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Petit Verdot. Then each participant put together a blend of their favorite wines. Lynn put together a blend of 70% Horse Heaven Hills Merlot and 30% Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. My blend consisted of 70% Walla Walla Valley Merlot, 10% Red Mountain Merlot, 10% Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot. I was pleased with my result. Here's my review:

2009 Northstar "Rand's Blend" Merlot, Columbia Valley - Deep purplish ruby colored, this blend offers a perfumed nose of wild blackberry, cherry, cassis, crushed roses, violets and white incense. The flavors mirror the aromatics with supple, yet structured, red and blue fruits that are intermixed with licorice, Swiss chocolate, French roast and silt and loam minerals. The back picks up notes of squeezed berries, kirsch liqueur and creme de cassis, followed by supple tannins and light spices on the lingering finish. 19/20 points.

Each of us botted our wine and got to take it home. The Blending Experience is held periodically and reservations are required. The cost is $65 for club members and $85 for non members.

As a fun post Fall Release Weekend event, the Mark Ryan Winery had an Industry Night party on Monday at the downtown Walla Walla tasting room on Main Street. Mark McNeilly grilled beef burger sliders on ciabatta buns to go with the newly released 2012 Viognier and 2011 reds (to be reviewed in the December issue). Again, there was a lot of conversation and a great time.


Last Updated on Thursday, 07 November 2013 15:08
Walla Walla Fall Release & Other News
Written by Rand Sealey   
Tuesday, 29 October 2013 13:34

Some Walla Walla Wineries to Visit During Fall Release Weekend

Here are my suggestions for "must visit" wineries during Fall Release, November 1-3. This is not an inclusive list. There are many other wineries worth visiting. If you have favorites, by all means, visit them. These are wineries that have noteworthy new releases or special library wines for tasting.

Buty - Nina Buty and winemaker Chris Dowsett will have some tasty 2012 whites and 2010 reds (see the November issue of the Review of Washington Wines).

Gramercy Cellars - This winery has a bevy of impressive 2011 reds (see the November issue).

Kerloo - Ryan Crane has turned out some fine 2011 reds (reviewed in September and November).

L'Ecole No. 41 - Here, the new 2010 Apogee and Perigee (reviewed September) will be poured along with other recent releases.

Maison Bleue - Jon Meuret's tasting room opened on South 2nd in August. Most new wines will be released in spring, but the 2011 La Montagnette Grenache is worth stopping by for.

Seven Hills Winery - This winery turned out some of the top wines of the 2011 vintage (reviewed September and November). Some library wines will also be poured.

Tero Estates/Flying Trout/Waters - Having acquired Waters, Tero will be pouring three labels at the Marcus Whitman Hotel tasting room. The Waters Winery will be serving its own wines at the J. B. George Road location and Tero/Flying Trout at the South Valley. (See the October issue for Tero's new 2010 reds and November for Flying Trout's).

Va Piano - This winery has two outstanding "Black Label" 2011 Syrahs (see the November issue).

A couple of wineries west of Walla Walla, are noteworthy not only for the wines, but for the food as well. For that, go to Long Shadows and Woodward Canyon.


Harvest 2013: Endgame

Last Wednesday, October 23, I was at the Corliss Winery in Walla Walla tasting the 2008's (to be reviewed in December) with Lauri Corliss and winemaker Andrew Trio. While conversing, Andrew mentioned that the winery had just celebrated the completion of harvest the day before. I added that the wine growers really lucked out with the sunny days in mid October, after a spell of rainy weather. A few wineries are still picking a few blocks, but the harvest is essentially complete. The wineries really do have something to celebrate, a vintage that promises to be exceptional, and it's over before Fall Release.


A Tasting of Older Bordeaux

On Tuesday, October 22, the Sons of Bacchus and two Daughters of Dionysus assembled once again for a superlative tasting of Right Bank Bordeaux wines from vintages of 2003 and earlier. Here are the top scoring wines.

Flight 1 - 1985 Ch.Cos d'Estournel, St. Estephe

Flight 2 - 1995 Ch. Ducru Beaucaillou, St. Julien (the 1995 Lynch Bages, Pauilliac was a close second and my favorite)

Flight 3 - 1996 Ch. Pichon Longueville, Comtesse de Lalande, Pauillac (this was the star of the evening)

Flight 4 - 2001 Ch. Smith Haut Lafite, Graves-Pessac (this was a surprise winner)

Two bonus wines were served as well, a deliciously crisp and vibrant Cold Heaven 2011 Viognier from the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard in California's Santa Rita Hills, and a 1983 Ch. Doisy-Vedrines Sauternes-Barsac which was ambrosial and nearly perfectly aged and still vibrant.

Special thanks to Steven Maxood for putting this tasting together and providing the Viogner, and to Erik McLaughlin for bringing the superb Doisy-Vedrines and supplying a summary of the results, and to all who brought such special wines.



Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 October 2013 14:25
An Afternoon in the West Valley
Written by Rand Sealey   
Tuesday, 22 October 2013 13:33

On Saturday, October 19th, Lynn and I made an excursion out to Lowden, about 12 miles west of Walla Walla. This can be considered the birthplace of Walla Walla winemaking, in that Woodward Canyon, L'Ecole No. 41 and Waterbrook all got their start in Lowden in the 1980's, even though they were preceeded by Leonetti.

Our first stop was at L'Ecole No. 41, in the historic Lowden Schoolhouse No. 41. There, we tasted the new 2011 Stone Tree Grenache and 2012 Semillon, both to be reviewed in the November issue of the Review of Washington Wines. For previous releases, especially the 2010 vintages of the Apogee and Perigee red blends, see the September issue.

After L'Ecole, we went over next door to Woodward Canyon for lunch at the Reserve House, which has been turned into a casual restaurant serving lunch Friday through Sunday. We had some delicious meatballs with potatoes and rice, along with the 2010 Woodward Canyon Merlot. Owner-Winemaker Rick Small stopped by our table and told that they were just finishing harvest and were very pleased with the outcome. Rick also talked about his and Darcey's upcoming trip to the south of France, a respite that they were very much looking forward to. Then we stopped by the tasting room to pick up a bottle of the 2012 estate Dolcetto which will be in the December issue.

Then, we drove back east and turned left off Highway 12 at Frenchtown Road and went up to Long Shadows, which is now open daily from 11 to 5, by appointment only (go to longshadows.com to make reservations). There, Rachel Riddle poured us tastes of the 2012 Poet's Leap Riesling, 2009 Saggi (see the January issue for a review), 2009 Chester Kidder Red Blend, and the 2009 Sequel Syrah (the last two to be reviewed in the December issue).

Our day was leisurely, a contrast to the hectic pace of event weekends (such as the upcoming Fall Release). Optimally, one should allow 30 to 45 minutes per visit. All this befits the casual lifestyle of the Walla Walla Valley.


Coming Up: Next week's blog, which goes on line on October 29th along with the November issue of the Review of Washington Wines, will have tips on wineries to visit during Fall Release Weekend, November 1 through 3. It will not be an inclusive list, but one highlighting wineries with interesting new releases.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 22 October 2013 14:31

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