- Written by Rand Sealey
Friday, May 4 through Sunday, May 6 was Spring Release Weekend in Walla Walla. This is the time when many wineries officially release their new wines. It is also the time when some wineries open up for special events. Here's what I did that weekend.
On Friday morning, I drove over to the Airport District to visit Steve Wells' Time & Direction winery where I tasted the inaugural releases of a 2017 white, a 2017 rosé and a 2016 Syrah from the Frenchman Hills of the Royal Slope. The wines will be reviewed in the June issue of the Review of Washington Wines. Then I visited the Armstrong Family Winery's new tasting room on Main Street. The 2014 reds will be in the June issue.
The next day, I attended the annual Abeja and Leonetti Spring events. Reports on these will be in the June issue. In the afternoon, I stopped at The Walls for the new 2015 "Stanley Groovy" Red and Curiositas Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, to be reviewed in June. I also made stops at Foundry Vineyards (impressive 2014 reds) and Gramercy Cellars. In the evening, we went tp Corliss for the release of the 2013 Syrah and previews of upcoming vintages.
On Saturday evening, we went to Dunham Cellars's Winemakers Dinner in the barrel room, prepared by chefs Mauro Golmarvi of Assagio in Seattle and Andrae Bopp of AK's. Mauro and Connie are our next door neighbors and Andrae and Michelle live a quarter mile south of us. So it was great having a great dinner prepared by our neighbors. The menu and wines were wonderful. Roasted beets with 2015 Shirleu Mays Chardonnay. Wild greens, pear and apple salad with 2014 Trutina Red Blend. The entrées consisted of braised pork belly by Andrae and Rosso buco by Mauro, with 2013 Lewis Vineyard Cabernet and 2014 Columbia Valley Syrah. Dessert was Mauro's olive oil cake with 2016 Late Harvest Riesling. There was a lot of fun and conversation. It was one of the best winemaker dinners we've ever been to. The Dunham wines will be reviewed in June.
Watch for the June issue of the Review of Washington Wines which goes on line April 25.
- Written by Rand Sealey
This week, we have some Walla Walla Valley wine news items and more recommendations of wineries to visit during Spring Release Weekend.
The Abeja Winery Sold
On the front page of Sunday morning's Walla Walla Union-Bulletin was the top headline: "Mill Creek fixture Abeja sold." The article reported that the Mill Creek winery and inn had been sold to new owners. The winery's founders, Ken and Ginger Harrison have sold their majority interest to Arnie Prentice of Seattle, owner of an insurance brokerage and consulting company, USI Kibble & Prentice. The Inn at Abeja has been sold to another investment group, Seattle based Columbia Hospitality, which recently acquired the Walla Walla Red Lion Inn and Suites. The Harrisons will continue to retain "significant equity ownership" in the Winery and in the operation's oversight. The winemakers, husband and wife team of Daniel Wampfler and Amy Alvarez-Wampfler will continue their roles in the operation. The Inn at Abeja will keep all on site team members, including innkeeper Mary Besbris. Metis, an Exvere Company, served as advisor for both transactions. The Abeja sale is the most recent of a succession of merger and acquisition deals put together by Metis, which has an office in Walla Walla.
Walla Walla Valley Spring Release Weekend Coming Up
In addition to the wineries listed in my previous Blog posting, there are a few more wineries especially worth visiting May 4-6.
Tero Estates - The winery near Milton-Freewater is featuring the Swing Notes Big Band on Saturday from 11 to 4. The winery is also releasing its new DC3 Red and the Block Cabernets.
Armstrong Family Winery - Tim and Jen Armstrong have opened an new tasting room in downtown Walla Walla on Main Street. Last Fall, the family moved their winery operations to the area, where they have a vineyard.
Gramercy Cellars - Greg Harrington and Brandon Moss have some new releases including a delicious Olsen Vineyard Rosé and a tasty 2015 Grenache and 2015 Mourvèdre.
Also, check the April and May issues of the Review of Washington Wines for other wineries with new Spring Releases.
- Written by Rand Sealey
This week's blog lists more wineries to look at during the Walla Walla Valley Spring Release Weekend, May 4-6. During the past couple of weeks, I have visited more wineries which will be releasing some interesting and impressive wines. Here they are.
Waters Winery - When we were there last Friday, Chad Garofalo happened to be bottling the 2013 "Primadora" Cabernet Sauvignon from Tero's Windrow Vineyards Hill Block for the "House of Waters" Winr Club. It is a knockout, thick and flavorful, with layers of delicious dark fruits and great penetration (19.5/20 points). This is worth joining the club for. Also the TR Wines group will be starting a "Concierge Club" encompassing all three brands - Tero Estates, Waters and Flying Trout.
The Walls - We took some friends to the winery at the corner of Pine Street and 13th Avenue. There, the new 2017 "Cruel Summer" Rosé was poured. Because of harvest time fires in the Columbia Gorge, there is no 2017 Pinot Noir Rosé. In its place is a Grenache based Rosé (with a bit of Mourvèdre), which is perfectly balanced and extracted, like those of Provence. Also introduced was the 2015 "Curiositas" Cabernet Sauvignon from Red Mountain. It was full-bodied with heady dark fruits, yet one of the most refined Red Mountain Cabernets I've ever run across (19.5/20 points). Full reviews of these two wines will be in the June Issue of the Review of Washington Wines.
Foundry Vineyards - After The Walls, we stopped at the Foundry. There we got a preview tasting of the 2015 Walla Walla Valley Syrah from the Cougar Crest Vineyard. It's highly impressive and especially recommended it you like the thick, meaty yet varietally pure style of Syrah (19/20 points). Also tasted was a nice 2017 Rosé of Syrah which shows excellent balance, extraction and varietal character (18.5/20 points). Both will be in the June issue.
Forgeron Cellars - For Spring Release, Forgeron has new vintages of its Rhone style wines, the 2016 Façon Blanc, a flavorful blend of 60% Viognier, 27% Roussanne and 13% Grenache Blanc. The 2015 Façon Rouge is a GSM combination of 58% Syrah, 31% Mourvèdre and 11% Grenache and shows rich aromas of red and blue fruits and a tasty chewy texture. The 2015 Barbera from the Sagemoor Vineyard is a fine medium bodied yet robust red with the variety's characteristic note of tart cherries. All three of the preceding wines score 18.5/20 points. The 2014 Anvil Merlot comes from the Minnick Hills Vineyard and shows what can be done with Walla Walla Valley Merlot (19/20 points). To be reviewed in June.
Walla Walla Vintners - On Saturday, I stopped by and tasted the new 2014 Merlot and Syrah from the Cut Bank Estate Vineyard above the winery. Both were true to variety and showed plenty of depth and complexity, both scoring 19/20 points. Full reviews will be in the June issue.
College Cellars - Another stop was at the Walla Walla Community College Institute for Viticulture and Enology. There is a delightful frizzante (slightly effervescent) Rosé of Grenache (18.5/20 points), a crisp nicely fruited 2017 Sauvignon Blanc from the Clarke Vineyard (18/20 points) and a fine, complex 2015 "Laurella" Sangiovese (!8.5/20 points) which is a super value at $25.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Last week, we spent eight days in the Midwest, flying to Kansas City and driving from there to Bentonville, Arkansas, Tulsa, Oklahoma and Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. The focus of the trip was to visit Museums with collections of fine art, but also to receive some exceptional dining experiences as well. Here's our account of this trip.
On Saturday, April 7, we took the early morning flight from Walla Walla to Seattle, and then to Kansas City. When we arrived in KC, it was still winter. Temperatures were in the 40's and no trees budding. For dinner, we had booked the Corvino Supper Club, owned and by Michael and Christina Corvino. He is the chef and grew up in Walla Walla, the son of Joe and Carolyn Corvino. For the entrée, we had fried whole chicken, a Midwestern staple, which was deliciously moist and judiciously breaded. The Corvinos each came to our table to greet us. The meal was accompanied by a tasty, robust 2014 Domaine Raspail Gigondas.
The next day, we went to the Kimball Museum, a Gunnar Birkerts-designed (1994) building. There, we saw some compelling prints by Cuban artist Belkis Ayón and street photography from the 'sixties by Garry Winograd. We had lunch at one of the best museum restaurants in the country, Café Sebastienne, where we had chicken salad croissant sandwiches with Beaujolais. After lunch, we went to the Nelson-Atkins Gallery, endowed by the Kansas City Star newspaper founder. William Rockhill Nelson. In the Bloch wing, we saw socially conscious photography, and in the main galleries, the famous Caravaggio painting of St. John the Baptist. For dinner, we went to JJ's, reputed to be one of Kansas City's best steakhouses. We were not disappointed. The restaurant had a promotion of 40% off on Bordeaux by the bottle. After consultation with the sommelier, we ended up with a 2010 Chateau Grand Pontet, Saint Emilion, Being Merlot dominated (70%, with 15% each of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon), it was a perfect accompaniment to our filet mignon.
The following day, Tuesday, the 9th, the museums were closed, so we had lunch at Café Trio on Main Street, near our Best Western. I had crab cakes and Lynn, mac and cheese, with Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc-Viognier. In the afternoon, we went to the home of well known regional artist, Thomas Hart Benton. My parents were close friends of Tom and Rita when my family lived in Kansas City in the 1940's and house sat for the Bentons when they went to Martha's Vineyard for the summer. We saw Tom's studio and the bedroom where I slept one night visiting the Bentons in 1967. We returned to Trio for dinner where I had short ribs (actually thick) with Lenore Washington Syrah and Lynn, stuffed acorn squash with Cline Viognier.
On Wednesday, the 10th, we drove south to Bentonville, Arkansas, the home of the Walmart headquarters, where the famous Crystal Bridges Museum is located. When we arrived in Bentonville, we went to The River Grill (actually no river nearby) for lunch. It was nice and quiet with Ansel Adams prints on all the walls, and we met the owner, who has owned the restaurant for 19 years. We had chicken salad sandwiches with Ch. Ste. Michelle Riesling, always a reliable standby. Later, we drove by the Crystal Bridges entrance and a guard (with a tech son in Seattle) gave us tips on what to do the next day. Dinner was at "Tusk and Trotter," a noisy, crowded place with tables of 8 or 10 people. We divided a full barbecued baby spareribs, along with Handcraft Winery California Petit Syrah.
The next day, we drove into Bentonville, parked next to the Compton Gardens and walked north on pathways to the Crystal Bridges Museum buildings. First, we had a tour of a Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian house that was disassembled in New Jersey and reassembled on the Crystal Bridges property; it is constructed of cement blocks and lots of Philippine mahogany wood. Lunch at Crystal Bridges was straightforward, Vietnamese noodle salad with chicken and Sebastiani Chardonnay. At the museum, we saw a wide range of contemporary American art works, including a maquette model of the 3-story tall Jim Dine Pinocchio which was fabricated at the Walla Walla Foundry and then disassembled and shipped to Borås, Sweden. Then we walked back to the Gardens along the "Tulip Trail." At the upscale 21c Museum Hotel on A Street in Bentonville, frequented by art lovers and Walmart execs, we enjoyed a "Rajah" cocktail (Gin, Chartreuse and bitters). The hotel is owned by Alice Walton. We remained at the hotel for dinner at "The Hive" restaurant, decorated with an artistic rendition of a giant beehive on the walls. Our affable waiter served us perfectly cooked diver scallops which paired beautifully with a Macon-Chaintré, from one of the best villages in the Maconnais. After dinner, we toured the hotel's extensive art collection.
On Thursday, the 12th, we drove southwestward to Tulsa, the home of the Gilcrease Museum, founded by Oklahoma oilman Thomas Gilcrease who amassed an extensive collection of Western art, including works by Frederic Remington and Charles Russell, plus native American crafts. The restaurant was one of the nicest museum dining rooms we've ever experienced, spacious and sunny, with white tablecloths. I had a buffalo burger with a Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon and Lynn, a Cobb salad with Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay. The food and wine went together so nicely we each had two glasses. In the evening, we had dinner at "Baxter's Interurban" right next door to the Best Western - grilled chicken Caesar salad with Kendall Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay. I related the story of how that slightly sweet Chardonnay got created accidentally, as the result of a stuck fermentation, and how Jess Jackson sued his former winemaker, Jed Steele for allegedly stealing the formula.
Friday, April 13th was not an unlucky day. We drove south to Dallas where our first stop was the Dallas Museum of Art. The lunch was, again, straightforward, with tuna salad croissant sandwiches and house Chardonnay. Then we toured the museum, starting with Yayoi Kusama's "Pumpkin Infinity Room;" a 45 second "look" was our viewing time allotment! The museum galleries included many contemporary photographs and modern masters, including René Magritte, Piet Mondrian, Marsden Hartley, Georgia O'Keeffe and many more. We also walked in the Nasher Sculpture Garden across the street. That day was Lynn's birthday and we went to the city's best seafood restaurant, Ocean Prime, for dinner. Lynn loves Champagne, so we had a bottle of Henriot Brut Souverain - very precise and elegant - with our Gulf snapper and grilled Brussels sprouts.
On Saturday, we drove west to Fort Worth to visit three museums in the Museum District. First, the beautiful Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, designed by architect Tadao Ando. There, we saw a diverse and impressive collection of modern art. Lunch was at Café Modern where Lynn had a tuna Nicoise salad, and I had a burger with Charles Smith "Boom Boom" Syrah. After lunch we toured the Kimbell Art Museum (two pavilions one designed by Louis Kahn, the other by Renzo Piano) and then the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. We then went to the Best Western Irving DFW near the airport. Dinner was Chinese food, at Lin's Garden, the only restaurant in the area. Our spicy chicken and Seafood Delight were washed down with Margaritas.
Early the next morning we flew from DFW to SEA and then to ALW ending what was a memorable trip with fine wine, food and art.
- Written by Rand Sealey
This weekend, April 6-7, is Cayuse Weekend in the Walla Walla Valley. This when Christophe Baron's winery on Sunnyside Road in the "Rocks" releases its new vintage and previews barrel samples of the following vintage. This Friday morning, we drove down there to visit and celebrate the Bionic Frog's 21st Birthday. Here's what we tasted.
2016 Cayuse Viognier, Walla Walla Valley, Cailloux Vineyard - This is a gorgeous Viognier. Christophe Baron makes one that is more age worthy than most. This vintage shows a bright gold color an alluring aromas of pear, peach, papaya, honeysuckle, jasmine and white incense. The flavors are deliciously vivid and mouth filling, replete with pear skin, peach stone and minerals, followed by a long, persistently minerals finish. 19.5/20 points.
2016 Cayuse "Flying Pig" Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley - This Cabernet Franc, Merlot blend exhibits a semi opaque ruby color and intoxicating aromas of wild blackberries, huckleberries, black currants, tobacco, herbs, crushed roses and smoldering incense. The flavors are bold and direct, redolent of dark fruits that are intermixed with licorice, dark cocoa, espresso and Rocks minerals and loam. The back picks up roasted berries and nuts and then amps up with mocha, charcoal and herbs on the lingering finish. 19.5/20 points.
2016 Cayuse "Camaspolo" Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley - This Cab-Merlot blend offers a deep ruby color and a rich Cabernet dominated nose of blackberries, cherries, plums, cassis, crushed rosed, mulberry, tobacco, cedar and incense. The flavors are seemingly taut and direct, yet accessible, with notes of licorice, cocoa, French roast and minerals. The structure continues on the back with macerated berries, roasted walnuts, integrated oak and graphite, followed by a firm, yet sweetish tannin finish. 19+/20 points.
2016 Cayuse Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Cailloux Vineyard - Crimson-purple colored, this emits lovely, floral aromas of wild raspberries, cranberries, pomegranates, red currants, rose petals, sweet tobacco, lavender, dried herbs, violets and wafts of light spiced incense. The flavors are medium bodied but lavish, with much Syrah purity, marked by cocoa, black tea and stony minerals. The lengthy back picks up pressed fruits, graphite, kidskin and fine grained, sweetish moderate tannins and flows seamlessly into a lingering finish. 19.5/20 points.
2016 Cayuse "Bionic Frog" Syrah, Walla Walla Valley - All from the Cocinelle ("ladybug") Vineyard, this shoes a purplish ruby color and an intense nose of wild fruits - blackberries, blueberries, cherries, black currants - with scents of attar of rose, pipe tobacco, lavender, incense and evident Rocks funk. On the palate, the flavors are thick and chewy, muscular yet supple, with intermixtures of licorice, French roast and minerals. The back reveals sensations of macerated berries, roasted nuts, leather, game and burnt charcoal, followed by a lingering chewy tannin finish. 19.5/20 points.
2016 Cayuse Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, En Chamberlin Vineyard - Deep ruby colored, this possesses a rich, earthy, perfumed nose of blackberries, mountain huckleberries, black currants, bayberry, crushed black roses, lavender and smoldering incense. The flavors mirror the aromatics with thick, chewy black and blue fruits that re infused with licorice, Sumatra roast and riverbed minerals. The saturation continues on the back with roasted berries and nuts, dried currants and burnt charcoal, followed a lingering sweet-dry tannin finish. 19.5/20 points.
2016 Cayuse "Impulsivo" Tempranillo, Walla Walla Valley, En Cerise Vineyard - Deep ruby colored, this possesses an intriguing nose of blackberries, cranberries, plums, black currants, crushed black roses, dark tobacco and burnt wood. The flavors are taut yet chewy textured, with black fruits that are underscored by notes of licorice, bittersweet chocolate, chicory coffee and mineral and loamy earth. The intensity continues on the back with sensations of roasted berries and almonds, bitter dried orange peelsl and cherries, followed by a long, long dryish Gran Reserva Rioja like finish. 19.5/20 points.
The 2016 preview was followed by a pouring of a library wine from the 2011 vintage, a challenging one, but with some compelling wines such as this one.
2011 Cayuse "Bionic Frog" Syrah, Walla Walla Valley - Deep ruby crimson colored, this edited a perfumed nose of dark fruits - blackberry, cherry, plum, black currant - with scents of attar of rose, dark flowers, maduro wrapper, garrigue and smoldering oriental incense. The flavors show the tautness of a 2011, fortress-like, but in this case, still accessible, with a highly nuanced mid palate, marked by notes of licorice, bittersweet chocolate, French press coffee and distinct Rocks minerality. The back picks up pressed berries, roasted nuts, toffee and burnt charcoal, followed by a long, complex herb and spice dusted old world like sweet-dry tannin finish. 20/20 points.
After Cayuse, we went over to Reynvaan Vineyards at the end of Cottonwood Road in the foothills of the Blue Mountains. There, we tasted a couple of whites - Grenache Blanc and Viognier - and reprises of the 2015 In the Rocks and In the Hills Syrahs,, and a preview of the 2016 "The Classic" Red Wine from the barrel.
2016 Reynvaan "The Classic" Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley - Composed of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 13% Petit Verdot and 7% Cabernet Franc. It comes on like a classically-styled "BDX" blend with a deep ruby color and intoxicating aromas of blackberries, black cherries, black plums and black currants, with scents of black roses, bayberry, tobacco, cedar and incense. The flavors mirror the aromatics with authoritative, yet accessible dark fruits that are imbued with licorice, cocoa, French roast and Rocks minerals. The saturation continues on the back with sensations of macerated berries, roasted walnuts, mocha, toffee and pencil lead, followed by long, purely fruited ripe tannin finish. 19.5/20 points.
No Review Blog Next Week
Tomorrow morning, we will be leaving for Kansas City for the beginning of a tour of Art Museums in the Midwest, returning April 15. The next Blog posting will be on April 16.