Review of Washington Wines Blog
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
Late Summer Activities in Walla Walla
Written by Rand Sealey   
Wednesday, 27 August 2014 12:10

In Walla Walla, there is no dearth of things to go wine-wise or otherwise. Here are some of the things we did during the past few weeks, not in any partcular order.

Had Lunch at Woodward Canyon and a Tasting at Long Shadows - The last two weekends, we had lunch at Woodward Canyon's Reserve House where meals are prepared with fresh ingredients from the winery's Lazy S Arrow Produce. We also tasted the winery's new releases which are reviewed in the September issue of the Review of Washington Wines. Last Sunday, after lunch, we had a tasting at Long Shadows' Chihuly Room where we tasted the '13 Poet's Leap, '12 Saggi, '11 Chester Kidder, and Sequel, which will be in the October issue.

Played Pétanque - This is a sport, akin to bocce, played with steel balls (boules) in teams which score porints by getting their boules closest to a marker thrown on the gravel court or by knocking a competitor's ball out. This is a fun sport, and the Walla Walla Pétanque Club meets weekly.

Drank Rosé Wines - On some of our winery visits, we picked up some very nice rosé wines that will make for enjoyable late summer drinking. Here are three new ones.

2013 Bunchgrass Winery Grenache Rosé, Walla Walla Valley ($22) - Sourced from the Nostra Terra Vineyard, this rosé offers a light copper color and intriguing aromas of peach, apricot, cantaloupe, mandarin orange peel, marigolds and spiced incense. The exoticism continues on the palate with sensations of yellow fruits intermixed with grape skin, peach stone and gravelly minerals. The back picks up touches of melon rind, toasted hazelnuts, orange custard, and light spices on the lingering dry finish. 18.5/20 points.

2013 G. Cuneo Cellars "Rosato" Dry Rosé Wine, Columbia Valley ($18) - Mostly Sangiovese, with a bit of Barbera and Nebbiolo, this rosé shows a brilliant orangish pink color and inviting aromas of raspberry, cherry, cranberry, red roses abd sweet pea blossoms. The flavors are fresh and lively, well extracted, yet restrained, picking up notes of squeezed cherries and cranberries, and melon rind on the lingering, dry finish. 18/20 points.

2013 DaMa Cellars Rosé of Pinot Noir, Columbia Gorge ($30) - This one displays a brilliant orangish-pink color and attractive aromas of strawberry, Rainier cherry, and red currants, with scents of dried orange peel, and wildflowers. The flavors are bright and lively, with juicy summer fruits intermingled with grape skin and volcanic minerals, followed by a lingering, faintly honeyed dry finish. Reminscent of a Bourgogne Rosé de Marsannay. Only a couple of cases remain of this wine. 18.5/20 points.

Attended the Waters / Flying Trout Industry Party - On Monday, August 25th, Doug Roskelley, Ashley Trout, and Michael Mettler (the events marketing maestro) hosted a party for wine industry friends at the new production facility just below Amavi Cellars on Peppers Bridge Road. This new facility will enable the winery to bypass roadblocks that hinder cross-state operations such as those of Tero Estates and Flying Trout.

Planned a Trip to France - In October, Lynn and I will be flying to France to reconnect with friends near Paris and in Burgundy, whom we have not seen since the year 2000. So we've booked our flight, our rental car and made hotel reservations for what promises to be a memorable trip. I will be reporting on highlights of this trip upon our return.

Tasted Viognier Wines with PAWS - On Friday, August 23rd, we joined the others in the Perfectly Aged Wine Sippers group at the home of Pam and Ray Good, for a tasting of Viognier wines. A thunderstorm dampened the occasion which was moved indoors. Otherwise, it was a fun event, accompanied by delectable appetizers brought by participants. The top three wines, with my scores, were:

2012 Reynvaan Family Vineyards Viognier, Walla Walla Valley - Brilliant gold colored, this had a seductive nose of pear, peach, apricot and white incense (although I detected a bit of burnt grape skin) with lots of minerally "Rocks" flavor and a long, full finish. 19/20 points.

2013 àMaurice Cellars "Sparrow" Viognier, Walla Walla Valley - This showed wonderful varietal purity. Seductive white fruit aromas and scents of honeysuckke, white incense and wet stone, and elegant, precise flavors from beginning to end. Interestingly, the Sparrow appeared twice in this tasting. I scored one bottle 19.5/20 points, the other 19/20 points.

2011 Domaine Niero "Chéry" Condrieu Blanc - Condrieu in the North Rhone Valley is where Viognier originates. This one showed classic, pure Viognier aromas and flavors. Pear, peach, apricot, white lilac and white incense, with intense, minerally flavors that persist on the long, long finish. 19.5/20 points.

Had Lunches with Friends at the Capstone Kitchen - Capstone is the training restaurant at the Walla Walla Community College's Wine Country Culinary Institute, headed by Dan Thiessen. It gives students real live training in the preparation and serving of food to guests who are asked to rate the food and service on a scale of 1 to 5 points. Our scores were high, averaging 4.8 points. Unfortunately, College Cellars" wine was not served, as the restaurant is still waiting for the Liquor Control Board to issue a license.

Prepared for a Trip to the Wallowas - This afternoon (August 27th) we will drive to Enterprise, Oregon for two nights at the Prospector Motel. We will make some excursions around the Blue Mountains, and do some hiking and sightseeing in some of the most beautiful places in northeastern Oregon.

There are plenty of other things to do around Walla Walla, galleries, shows and concerts at the Gesa Power House Theater and Whitman's Cordiner Hall, and more. All this shows that Walla Wallans really know how to live the good life.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 August 2014 14:20

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