- Written by Rand Sealey
In the November issue of the Review of Washington Wines there are several red wines from the 2015 vintage, and others have been reviewed in recent issues. This marks the beginning of the next vintage release cycle (see the 26 September Blog posting, "The Classic 2014 Reds now in Full Cycle," for the previous one). So, how is the 2015 vintage shaping up?
The 2015 vintage is on the record books as one of the warmest in recent years. The growing season started early and saw 3900 growing degree days, well above average. This put harvest two to three weeks earlier than usual. The heat levels pushed the yields slightly below normal. Qualitatively, the vintage is exceptional (The Wine Spectator rated it 92-95 points for Washington reds), especially for Cabernet Sauvignon which benefited from a moderate cooling trend in October which allowed flavors and aromatics to develop. A few areas were affected by smoke taint by wildfires, but this did not have a major impact overall. It was a harvest that made many grape growers and winemakers very happy.
At this stage, the 2015 reds are showing very well. In general, the wines are well fruited and structured, with fine aromatics (phenols) and depth. Acid levels are, for the most part, sturdy, more so than the 2013's from another warm year, and with well balanced tannins. Most of the 2015's released so far have been from other varieties than Cabernet Sauvignon, many of which will be released next Spring. So far, I have tasted many impressive 2015 Syrahs and Malbecs, as well as some alluring Grenaches and Petit Verdots (an ideal vintage for that variety).
So, as we go down the line on this cycle, we can look forward to a lot more impressive red wines. More later!
- Written by Rand Sealey
Last night, October 17, Lynn and I attended the Whitehouse Crawford Restaurant's Walla Walla Chef and Artisan Dinner. Last August, we attended a similar dinner which presented courses prepared by outstanding chefs using local artisan products (see the 16 August blog posting below). Again, I took on the job of matching wines to the menu. Here's what we, and the Milton-Freewater contingent accompanying us - the Roskelleys, Browns, Capps and Kennedys - had for the dinner.
Hors d'oeuvres for reception - Anchovy and almond crostini and heirloom tomato tartare toasts, prepared by Daisley Gordon, Café Campagne and Jason Wilson, E'ritage Resort.
2016 Gramercy Cellars Picpoul (Whitehouse Crawford welcome wine)
Champagne Michel Maillard Brut, "Cuvée Gregory" Brut
These wines made perfect foils to the savory appetizers, especially the ultra precise Champagne.
First Course - Winter luxury pumpkin soup with chanterelle mushrooms by Jamie Guerin of Whitehouse Crawford.
2012 Domaine Georges Vernay Condrieu, "Les Chaillées de L'Enfer"
Cultivating Viognier vines on the steep slopes of Condrieu, is a hellish job. This one, aged in oak (unusual for Condrieu) matched the savory soup. Autumn in the glass and in the bowl.
Second Course - Halibut quenelle in Dungeness crab velouté, by Daisley Gordon
2014 Domaine Duc de Magenta Chassage-Montrachet, 1er Cru Morgeot, Monopole Clos de la Chapelle
2012 Domaine Fontaine-Gagnard Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet, Grand Cru
Quenelles are composed of seived fish thickened with white sauce, and then poached. This was an exquisite dish, accompanied by elegant white Burgundies (Chardonnay). The Morgeot was steely and laser-like, with notes of toast and hazelnut. The Criots-Bâtard-Montachet (from a small Grand Cru parcel in Chassagne) was superb, complex and penetrating.
Third Course - Roasted lamb saddle, spiced sausage and braised shanks, by Jason Wilson
2012 Domaine René Leclerc Gevrey-Chambertin, 1er Cru Lavaux-St. Jacques
2013 Domaine Louis Jadot Chapelle-Chambertin, Grand Cru
2011 Domaine Faiveley Latricières-Chambertin, Grand Cru
I decided that the lamb and spiced sausage called for full-bodied red Burgundies such as those of Gevrey-Chambertin, near the north end of the Côte de Nuits. This trio matched the course beautifully. The Lavaux-St. Jacques was big and muscular, the Chapelle-Chamberlin, extremely elegant and complex, the epitome of Pinot Noir, and the Latricières-Chambertin, rich and velvety, yet admirably structured.
Dessert - Bourbon-vanilla rice pudding with poached quince, walnuts and quince sorbet, Tina Meyer, Whitehouse Crawford
The Rare Wine Co. Historic Series Madeira, "Savannah" Verdelho Special Reserve
In the days of George Washington, Madeira (produced on the Portuguese island of Madeira) was popular in America. And rice pudding was a favorite dessert of that time. So this pairing was made to order. Verdelho is a slightly sweet dessert wine which matched it beautifully with the creamy texture of the rice and the tang of the quince.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Just over five years ago, on July 1, 2012, the sale of spirits and other alcoholic beverages in Washington State was privatized, ending 79 years of state control through state liquor stores, This came about as a result of the approval of Initiative 1183 by a margin of 60 to 40 percent by voters in the November 2011 election. It was the biggest change in the way alcoholic beverages were sold in the state since the passage of the Steele Act in 1933, after the repeal of Prohibition, which set up the state liquor store system.
The passage of Initiative 1183 was all about getting the state out of the liquor business. After nearly 79 years of state control, voters were tired of the existing system. The Washington State Liquor Control Board had become a fossilized hidebound bureaucracy, beholden only to itself. Over the years, the State Legislature abdicated its responsibility for modernizing the liquor system. The only major change in the way alcoholic beverages were sold was in 1969 when the sale of wines besides Washington produced ones were allowed to be sold in grocery stores and other retailers. All other changes have been incremental.
Initiative 1183 was called the "Costco Initiative" for good reason. The main beneficiaries were the big retail outlets, including Total Wine and More, Safeway, and BevMo as well as Costco. The initiative had arcane layers of fees (on wholesalers and retailers) and taxes which added up to higher spirits prices relative to other states. But the initiative also permitted volume discounts from the wholesaler to retailer which has mitigated the effects of the higher taxes. It is the big guys who benefit the most from the discounts with their purchasing power for their chain operations. Central warehousing also added to the benefits.
So what does privatization look like now, five years later? The biggest change has been a far wider selection of products in the market, not only for spirits, but for wine and beer as well. I was at the Total Wine and More store in Spokane Valley last Friday, and saw a huge selection of everything - vodka, Tequila, Scotch, Washington, California and imported wines, beers and more. I was in Esquin Wine & Spirits (of which I was the founder in 1969) a couple of weeks ago and saw an array pf whiskies, Italian Amaros, Cognacs, brandies, and so forth. One of the reasons why initiative efforts to get the State out of the liquor business failed until 2011 was that the big distilling companies liked the old system because it reduced competition by limiting sales to smaller state run stores.
What about spirits prices? There is no doubt that prices are higher with privatization, but convenience (with more stores and more hours) and selection are greater. Volume discounts and competition has pushed prices downward since 2012. Spirits sales in Washington is being subsidized to some degree by profits from sales in other states.
Today's privatized liquor sales system could be better. Craft spirits distillers could use some help in tax breaks to enable them to be more competitive. And a reduction of the spirits sales tax from 20.5% to the state and local general sales tax would make things more equitable for consumers. But privatization is here to stay, and Washington residents are getting used to it. The Liquor Board has changed, too. WSLCB used to stand for Washington State Liquor Control Board, now it stands for Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board. How's that for change?
- Written by Rand Sealey
A week ago, we stopped on our way back to Walla Walla from Seattle to stop at the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center. It is located on Wine Country Road in Prosser, off I-82 (Exit 82) next to the Desert Wind Winery. We found our visit to be very interesting and educational.
Dr. Walter J. Clore is considered the father of vinifera grape growing in Washington. He arrived in Pullman in 1934 to study horticulture, and in 1937, landed a job at the WSU Research Center in Prosser. Later, he began testing grape varieties, and, in 1960, partnered wit Charles Nagel to determine what varieties grow best in certain places. He retired from WSU in 1976, but continued his studies. He passed on in 2003, and will forever be remembered as the "Father of Washington Wine."
At the Center, we tasted several Washington Wines with Tasting Room Lead, Mitzi Hadley and Executive Director, Abbey Cameron. The September Tasting theme was "Back to School Month," with wines from the four colleges with enology and viticulture programs, Walla Walla Community College (College Cellars), South Seattle College (Northwest Wine Academy), Washington State University ("blended learning") and Yakima Valley Community College (Yakima Valley Vintners). October's theme is" Lemtoberfest" featuring Limburger wines and Washington and German wine comparisons. For lunch, we had chicken sandwiches with a flight of white wines. The tasting room also has a wine shop where wines from around the state can be purchased.
The Center also has educational and meeting rooms were visitors can learn more about Washington Wines. We also saw exhibits on the history of Washington winemaking and maps of the state's American Viticultural Areas, along with a show of art works. The Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center definitely is worth a stop.
- Written by Rand Sealey
In the October issue of the Review of Washington Wines, there are 31 red wines from the 2014 vintage out of a total of 46 reds. This is an indication that most of the wines now being released are 2014s and are going into a maturing cycle as the 2015's are just entering its release cycle (eight in the October issue).
Vintage release cycles are the natural progression of wineries moving from one vintage to the next. Wineries release new vintages either when the supply of a previous vintage has been depleted and when they are deemed drinkable enough for release. Only a few wineries hold wines for more than a year or so after bottling. Wineries, like many businesses, need cash flow and releasing new vintages is how this keeps going.
The 2014 vintage was another warm year (preceded by 2013 and followed by 2015, both warm years). There was a hot summer, with some days above 110 degrees, and a mild fall led to much of the harvesting completed by mid October. This resulted in ripe, well balanced wines that are already drinking well, although many will benefit from further aging. In other words, 2014 is turning out to be a classic vintage.
As an indication of the classicism of the 2014 reds, here are the top wines of the vintage in the October Review of Washington Wines.
2014 Col Solare Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain ($75) - 19.5/20 points
2014 Pepper Bridge "Trine" Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley ($65) - 19+/20 points
2014 Upchurch Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain ($70) - 19.5/20 points
2014 Woodward Canyon "Charbonneau" Red Wine, Walla Walla County ($79) - 19+/20 po
2014 Woodward Canyon "Old Vines" Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington State ($99_ - 19.5/20 points
There are also a fair number (14) of wines scoring 19/20 points in the October issue.
The strand that runs through these 2014s is the depth and balance that the wines possess: fine fruit, good acid balance, and ripe, smooth tannins, all making for approachable, yet age worthy wines. One cannot go wrong buying these wines.
The next vintage cycle, that of the 2015s, will be coming soon. I will be writing about it in the Review Blog accompanying the November issue of the Review of Washington Wines.