- Written by Rand Sealey
A few days ago, I ran across an article by Sean Sullivan in the Wine Enthusiast (Sean reviews Washington wines for that publication) titled "A White Wine Revolution is Underway in Washington's Reddest Appellation." It points out that 95% of the grapes grown in the Walla Walla Valley AVA are red. The fact that only 5% of the production is white is largely a matter of economics with red grapes commanding much higher prices. But there is growing interest in white grapes in an area dominated by red. The article includes interviews with Marty Clubb (L'Ecole No.41), Chris Figgins (Leonetti) and Tim Donohoe (College Cellars) and indicates that white grapes are now being taken more seriously. To see the article, go to www.wawinereport.com for a link.
This article brought to my mind having seen new vines being planted at Tranche Estate's Blue Mountain Vineyard in 2011. I asked what varieties were being planted and was told they were Rhone white varieties: Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul. Today, grapes from these vines are components of Tranche's Pape Blanc Rhone-style white wine.
There are other instances of newer planting of Rhone white grapes. When Sean and Conor Boyd planted the Rotie Rocks Estate Vineyard, the varieties included Viognier, Roussanne and Viognier which go into the Southern White Blend. Saviah Cellars has a Viognier from the winery's estate vineyard in The Rocks.
But what about other white varieties? It used to be believed that the Walla Walla Valley was too warm for Chardonnay and Riesling, both cool climate varieties. But when Justin Wylie planted the Eritage Vineyard north of Walla Walla, he picked out a high elevation site for Chardonnay and Leonetti has a parcel of Riesling on the estate vineyard. Also, the Aluvé winery has planted Chardonnay at the Menozzi Vineyard, whose proximity to the Blue Mountains make it suitable for that variety. The "White Bordeaux" varieties, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon do well at the Seven Hills Vineyard in the South Valley.
So there are the resources for the emergence of high quality white wines in the Walla Walla Valley as well as reds. Here are some noteworthy examples.
2018 L'Ecole No 41 "Luminesce" White Wine, Estate Seven Hills Vineyard ($21) - This 55% Sauvignon Blanc, 45% Semillon blend offers fresh aromas and combines the crispness of the Sauvignon with the creamy texture of the Semillon. Reviewed December 2019. 18.5/20 points.
2017 Reynvaan Family Vineyards "Queen's Road" White Wine ($65) - This is an outstanding 65% Viognier, 35% Marsanne from "The Rocks." It display a cornucopia of semi-tropical fruits and exquisite balance. Reviewed December 2019. 19.5/20 points.
2019 Rôtie Cellars Northern Southern White Blend ($32) - This blend of 65% Viognier, 20% Roussanne and 15% Marsanne has lovely aromatics and fresh, vibrant flavors. A full review to be in the April issue of the Review of Washington Wines. 19/20 points.
2018 College Cellars Chardonnay, Eritage Vineyard ($20) -This bargain priced Chardonnay is attractively styled and true to variety. To be reviewed in April. 18.5/20 points.
2018 Aluvé Chardonnay, Menozzi Vineyard ($35) - The proximity to the Blues make this a good site for Chardonnay. Lovely aromas and exquisite flavors. Reviewed October 2019. 19/20 points.
2018 àMaurice Cellars "Sparrow" Estate Viognier ($38) - This is a striking Condrieu-like Viognier which shows great precision and balance. Reviewed October 2019. 19+/20 points.
2018 Saviah Cellars Estate Viognier ($30) - Whole cluster pressed and aged in a concrete egg, this has viscous yet well balanced flavors. Reviewed October, 2019. 19/20 points.
- Written by Rand Sealey
On Saturday, February 29 (Leap Day) Lynn and I accompanied our friends George and Kim Suyama to Rotie Cellars' new storage and tasting facility in the Rocks of Milton-Freewater on Sunnyside Road, just past Cayuse. George is an architect and he designed the building which is located on Trumbull Lane, between the Rote and Cayuse Estate Vineyards. The occasion, held from 4 to 8, was to honor those who worked on the project - designers, contractors, carpenters, electricians, plumbers and so on. Conor and Jacqui Boyd, Sean's parents, were also there. Conor, a retired Weyerhauser executive, had a hand in the selection of the wood and the production of the cabinetry and table and countertops. Work is still in progress, but Rotie Cellars is aiming for a Cayuse Weekend opening the first weekend of April.
The design of the building, comprised of poured concrete and wood, is simple yet elegant. The ground level is the storage and maintenance area. Upstairs is the tasting room, with a long table and a wine service area. The ceiling is supported by wood posts and beams and the room is enclosed in glass, with sliding doors. The lighting wiring and and heating ducts are mounted externally. I talked with the electrician who did a great job installing the lighting - lamps enclosed in glass and connected to steel piped wiring. A ramp runs up the sides to the upper level and Rocks silt and stones arepiled up around the building, making for a structure that is attuned to the distinct vineyard terroir where the Walla Walla River flowed before changing course to its present course further north.
There was food and Rotie Cellars wine served as well, along with beer and a Tequila bar. Master chef Chas Latolais prepared a tasty rice, sausage and chicken dish and Rotie Cellars' new releases were poured: a 2019 Washington State Rosé produced in Provence style, composed of 85% Mourvèdre and 15% Grenache and the 2019 "Stonewall" Rosé, the Tavel style with 45% Syrah, 35% Grenache and 10% Mourvèdre, both delicious, scoring 19/20 points. There were two new whites: the 65% Marsanne, 35% Roussanne Northern White Blend and 65% Viognier, 20% Roussanne, 15% Marsanne Southern White Blend, both 19/20 points. Full reviews are to be in the April issue of the Review of Washington Wines. We also tasted the highly promising 2018 Northern Red Blend. It had just been bottled, so I will retaste it later for review in the May issue.
We're all looking forward to Rotie's opening this Spring.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Over the past few weeks, we've been trying some French and California wines in between the wines we've been tasting for the Review of Washington Wines. Here are our notes and scores.
We love the Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs of Burgundy. Here are some fine examples.
2018 Louis Jadot Pouilly Fuissé ($27.99 - Safeway) - Pouilly-Fuissé in the Maconnais, is a beautiful expression of Chardonnay. This one shows a brilliant gold color and lovely aromas of pear, peach, citrus, pear tree blossoms, acacia flowers and white incense. The flavors are vivacious, marked by notes of pear and grape skins and granitic minerals. The back picks up poire and pêche liqueurs and a twist of lemon zest on the way to a persistently minerally finish. 18.5/20 points.
2018 Regis Bouvier Marsannay, "Les Longeroies," Vieilles Vignes ($34.99 - wine.com) - Marsannay is located at the north end of the Côte d'Or. This wine, produced from Pinot Noir, shows a brick red color and a seductive nose of fraises de bois, cherries, black currants, black roses, tobacco leaf, orange peel and incense. The flavors are velvety yet vigorous, with notes of licorice root, cocoa powder, French roast and granitic minerals. The back picks up fraise and cassis liqueurs, followed by a luscious moderate tannin finish. 18.5/20 points.
2017 Regis Bouvier Bourgogne "En Montre Cul" ($34.99 - Esquin) - This comes from a vineyard just outside Marsannay and features a scantily clad woman picking grapes. It displays a brick red color and attractive aromas of strawberries, cherries and cassis with scents of crushed roses, tobacco, lilac and pink incense. The flavors are deliciously supple yet substantial, with considerable Pinot character, marked by notes of red licorice, coca and earth. The back reveals sensations of pressed berries, crème de cassis and nougat. follows by a sensuous, ripe moderate tannin finish. 18.5/20 points.
2016 Domaine Faiveley Mercurey 1er Cru, Clos des Myglands ($53.99 - Esquin) - This Faviley Monopole is situated in the heart of the Côte Chalonnais south of the Côte d'Or. It shows a deep ruby color and seductive aromas of wild strawberries, cherries, black currants, black roses, sweet tobacco and oriental incense. The flavors are thick, almost massive, yet elegant, with layers of dark fruits that are intermixed with licorice, dark chocolate, French roast and Sâone Valley minerals. The penetration continues on the back with macerated berries, roasted pecans, mocha, crème de cassis, pencil shavings and sweet oak followed by a long sweetish tannin finish. 19+/20 points.
Here are some wines from iconic wineries in Sonoma County and the Napa Valley that we have been following for decades.
2017 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast ($17.99 - Safeway) - Sonoma-Cutrer was a trailblazer of Sonoma Chardonnay in the 1980s. This one shows a brilliant gold color and attractive aromas of apple, peach, cirrus, apple blossoms, acacia flowers and whiffs of vanilla and white incense. The flavors are nicely balanced and true to variety, with notes of pear skin, peach stone and coastal minerals. The back picks up Calvados and pêche liqueurs and touches of creme fraiche and lemon zest, followed by a pleasingly fruited finish. 18+/20 points.
2016 Segeshio Zinfandel, Sonoma County ($23.99 - Safeway) - Seghesio has been family-owned since 1895. This Zin shows a ruby color and rich aromas of raspberry, Loganberry and plum with scents of rosebuds, tobacco and spiced wood smoke. On the palate, the flavors are generous and jammy, yet focused, with notes of licorice, cocoa powder and earth. The chewy textured yet supple back reveals macerated berries, roasted nuts, toffee and charcoal, followed by a ripe, spiced moderate tannin finish. 18+/20 points.
2016 Frog's Leap Zinfandel, Napa Valley ($29.99 - Safeway) - Napa Valley Zinfandels are a bit more structured than those of Sonoma. This one displays a deep ruby color and a rich, smoky nose of wild blackberries, cherries, Damson plums, rosebuds, sweet tobacco, brambles and spiced incense. The flavors are generous and chewy yet focused, with notes of licorice, dark chocolate, espresso and scorched earth. The saturation continues on the back with macerated berries, roasted nuts, spiced cherries and burnt charcoal, followed by a ripe, slightly grainy tannin finish. 18.5/20 points.
2016 Stag's Leap Winery Petite Sirah, Napa Valley ($37.99 - Safeway) - Petite Sirah has been grown in Napa since 1893. This is a striking version. Opaque purple-crimson colored, it emits intense, smoky aromas of wild blackberries, mountain blueberries, brambly currants, black roses, maduro wrapper, purple lilac, lavender and smoldering incense. The dark fruit flavors are bold and intense, infused with licorice, dark cocoa, French press and scorched earth. The saturation continues on the back with sensations of roasted berries and nuts, and burnt charcoal (a trait of Petite Sirah) followed by a grainy ripe tannin finish. 19/20 points.
2015 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley ($34.99 - Safeway) - Louis Martini was a legend in the Napa Valley. This wine t shows a deep ruby-garnet color and rich aromas of blackberry, cherry, plum, crushed roses, tobacco, cedar and incense. The ripe, fleshy yet structured flavors are typical of the Alexander Valley on the other side of the Sonoma Mountains from the Napa Valley, replete with licorice, chocolate, roasted coffee beans and loamy earth. The back picks up macerated berries, roasted nuts, mocha and pencil lead, followed by a pleasing moderate tannin and acid finish. 18.5/20 points.
- Written by Rand Sealey
During the past few days, I have noticed some deep discount wine deals being offered in the marketplace. A few days ago, I saw a 2014 Balboa Syrah from the Eidolon Vineyard which normally sells for $40 a bottle being offered for $16 at Last Bottle. Yesterday, I saw an offer from Full Pull for 2014 Basel Cellars Malbec for $17.99, normally $40. How and why do such deals come up? Often, it's because wineries want to clear out back vintages so they can move on to the next vintage. Or the offers may be of orphan varieties or brands that the winery wants to get rid of. A few months ago, Tero Estates decided to terminate the Flying Trout brand it had inherited when Asley Trout left. The Roskelley decided three brands (including Waters) were too many. So they blew out the Flying Trout brand for $15 a bottle for wines selling up to $40.
Back in the days when I owned Esquin Wine Merchants from 1969 to 1997, I made lots of deals, so deal making is not new. Most of the deals were under the table because of Liquor Control Board price posting regulations. Wines had to be sold for a fixed price. Some of the deals were a one on ten cases or one on five. The wines were purchased at the posted prices, and then free cases would magically appear. Other deals were posted off blind which means only the deal makers see them. I bought pallets (50 cases) of 1983 Chateau Talbot, a highly respected Saint Julien Third Growth, which I sold for $13.95 a bottle. I also did a lot of direct imports (called DIs in the industry) where French and Italian wines would be brought in through an importer who took a 10% charge for bringing them in.
In 2010, the State Supreme Court ruled Liquor Board price posting to be unconstitutional, which made deal making above board. Any retailer, wholesaler or winery could make deals directly without encumbrance from the Liquor Board. When the initiative which privatized liquor sales was passed, volume discounts were allowed, something that was to the advantage of big store retailers such as Costco and Safeway. Deal making today, is prevalent. Esquin today has a big section on the floor devoted to wines on deal.
Deal making is here to stay. There is so much competition in the wine industry today. Consumers have come to expect deals. And ratings and pricing are what drives the market.
Coming Up: The March issue of the Review of Washington Wines and Weekly Blog
Next week, we will be in Seattle, so there will be no weekly blog. The next blog will be posted on Monday, February 24 along with the March issue of the Review of Washington Wines. That issue will have a lot in it. More winter releases from Walla Walla, revisits to Five Star Cellars, Basel Cellars and TruthTeller, plus new releases from Eight Bells, Nota Bene Cellars, Fortuity Cellars. Also the first of the year Rosé wines and more.
- Written by Rand Sealey
When we buy a bottle of wine, it's what's inside that matters. But how about what's around the wine: glass and an enclosure? What are the impacts of these packaging components?
It is known that 2 to 3 percent of wine bottles with natural corks (cut from cork tree bark) are tainted by trichloranisole (called TCA for short) which produce an aroma akin to wet paper or dirty socks. Increasingly wine producers are going to alternative bottle closures. The main products are:
Screw caps - These are aluminum caps that are screwed on around the neck of the bottle. Stelvin is the most common brand. These, however, are used mostly for lower tier wine products.
Synthetic corks - These are processed products shaped like bark corks and made to look similar. The two leading products are DIAM, which is made from ground cork that has been washed and CO2 treated, and Nomacorc which is derived from sugarcane biopolymers.
Glass stoppers - A few wineries use these, Eight Bells, located in Seattle, in particular. They are inserted in the bottle neck. and then foil covered.
The trend away from cork will continue, except for the highest end wines whose corks are of the highest quality and individually inspected. It ia predicted that within a few years, less than 20% of wines will have natural corks. This includes imported wine, especially French, which are increasingly enclosed with synthetics.
The other part of the wine bottle packaging (aside from the label which is a visual and informative component) is the container, usually glass, which is not an easily recyclable product. Glass can be melted down, but not easily made into a recycled product. So uses for glass containers are limited and much glass ends up in landfills. Here are possible uses for glass and some glass alternatives:
Crushed glass - Some glass gets mixed with asphalt for paving ("glasasphalt") but only so much glass can be mixed in.
Ground glass - I have seen the operation of machine purchased by our friends Ted and Joyce Cox that crushes bottles into glass the consistency of sand, reducing the volume of one wine bottle into one pound of glass sand. The sand is also amorphous unlike the crystalline silica from which the bottle was made. This increases the usefulness of the product. It can be more easily used in glasasphalt and in other possible applications such as sandbags, concrete intermixtures and more. Experimentation is under way for more applications.
Alternative packaging - Aluminum cans are increasingly being used to package wine. These are mostly in the half bottle (375 ml.) size and for lower tier products. I have tried a few from 14 Hands that are of respectable quality. Aluminum is easily recyclable and there is a market for recycled aluminum cans. Plastic has the disadvantage of a weak market for recycling. How about reusable bottles? When I was in college in the 1960s, beer came in glass "longneck bottles" which could be returned to the brewery for refilling. The problem with wine bottle reuse is the multiplicity of glass colors and sizes. It would be great if a large winery such as Chateau Set. Michelle were to standardize its bottles and take them back for reuse.
Locally, in Walla Walla, we are working on this problem, such as what the Coxes are doing with the help of Philippe Michel and others. As Philippe put it, we are trying to help in a small way.