- Written by Rand Sealey
As of this writing, September 13, the wine grape harvest is under way. At this point, pickings have been mostly white grapes, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon for BDX whites, and some lower brix grapes for sparkling wines and rosés. Lynn is at LeAnn Hughes' Patina Vineyard this morning to help pick Syrah grapes for Ashley Trout's Vital Wines Rosé.
The weather ahead looks to be moderate with temperatures in the 70's over the next couple of weeks which will be good for the progression of ripening. The main concern right now is smoke from wildfires around the state. In the past few days, gentle breezes have blown smoke away, but this morning, we awoke to brown haze enveloping the Blue Mountains in the Walla Walla Valley. Smoke is particularly worrisome in the Columbia Gorge, where the Eagle Creek fire continues to smolder. James Mantone (Syncline) has shown some frightening pictures on Facebook.
The concern about smoke taint recalls the 2015 harvest. When we were in Lake Chelan last week, we visited Hard Row to Hoe with Judy Phelps while Manson was shrouded in smoke from fires north of the Lake. She worried that 2017 was going to be another 2015. She had me taste some of her 2015's, but I didn't find smoke taint to be noticeable (those wines will be reviewed in the November issue of the Review of Washington Wines - the 2014's will be in October).
Let's hope the smoke clears again soon, and that good weather will hold over the next few weeks. More later!
- Written by Rand Sealey
On Saturday August 25, Randall and Jennifer Hopkins, owners of Corvus Cellars in Walla Walla hosted a tasting of Chenin Blancs from around the world. There were 20 in all - six from the Loire Valley, two of them sparkling, ten from Washington and four from South Africa. The wines were poured unmasked (not blind) on the premise that tasters should know what they were tasting and be objective. Tasters included winemakers, a wine writer, wine aficionados and a vineyard photographer. In addition, a wine distributor in Calgary provided wireless video commentary.
We started off with two Loire Valley sparking wines which were slightly effervescent and floral, a fine prelude. The Taille aux Loups Montlouis Pétillant was striking for its bone dry finish and nicely fruited, distinctively mineral flavors.
Then we went through ten Washington Chenin Blancs, most from old vines planted in the 1970s. All were respectable wines, but some lacking in the acidity that makes classic Chenin Blanc so distinctive. The most noteworthy were:
2015 L'Ecole No. 41 "Old Vines" Chenin Blanc, Columbia Valley ($14) - This showed bright fruit and typical minerality, but just a bit short on acidity (from a warm year when white grape acids dropped quickly).18+/20 points. I said the 2016 (reviewed in the September issue of the Review of Washington Wines) was a better vintage (18.5/20 points). All that said, L'Ecole, a pioneer of Washington Chenin Blanc does a fine job with this variety.
2016 Coeur d'Alene Cellars Chenin Blanc, Washington ($24) - I brought this to the tasting from my visit to the winery (reviewed September). Blended with 20% Chardonnay, it was attractively floral and nicely fruited, but the wine didn't seem to decide what the 20% underneath was. Some tasters thought Viognier from the slight tropicality. It, nevertheless, was a very nice wine, lifted by 7.1% total acidity on the faintly honeyed finish. 18.5/20 points.
2012 Merriman Chenin Blanc, Columbia Valley, Brasher Block ($28) - This was the most impressive Chenin Blanc from Washington, produced by a Carleton, Oregon based winery. The winemaker really shows what can be done with the grape. From 38 year old vines and whole cluster fermented, it possessed distinct floral aromas, melon, peach and citrus notes and precise acidity. 18.5+/20 points.
2010 Merriman Chenin Blanc, Columbia Valley, Brasher Block ($28) - Being two years older than the '12, this showed hints of caramel and developing complexity, along with touches of melon rind and orange peel, with somewhat softer acidity. 18.5/20 points.
After the Washington Chenin Blancs, we went on down to South Africa, a country noted for this variety. The 2013 Muldersboch from Stellenbosch was good, but not particularly complex and the 2016 MAN was well fruited and racy but rather sweet (5.3% residual sugar). The following two were more noteworthy.
2014 Pulpit Rock Chenin Blanc, Swartland ($9) - This possessed intriguing aromas of anise, melon, lime and wet stone and medium bodied flavors of pear and peach and a touch of pêche liqueur. While it lacked the precision of a top notch Chenin Blanc, it is hard to beat for the price. 18/20 points.
2015 Quinta Essentia Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch ($40) - Imported by the Betz Family Winery, now owned by Steve Griessel of South Africa. this really stood out. Deep golden colored, it exited rich aromas of pear, peach, minerals, beeswax and spiced white incense. The flavors were big and bold, filled with lots of fruit and minerality, followed by a long, well delineated slightly honeyed (3% residual sugar) finish. Some tasters found it somewhat Chardonnay like, not quite ringing true as Chenin Blanc. 19/20 points.
The last grouping was from France's Loire Valley, the premier region for Chenin Blanc, principally around Angers and and Saumur. The Angevins have been making Chenin Blanc for centuries and the combination of terroir and winemaking experience make for world class wines such as these.
2016 Bernard Fouquet "Cuvée Silex" Vouvray ($20) - This showed a medium gold color and floral aromas of pear, peach, spring flowers, wisteria and white incense. The flavors were fresh and vibrant, slightly spritzy, with fine acidity. Excellent value. 18.5/20 points.
2015 François Chidaine "Les Choisilles" Montlouis sur Loire ($35) - Montlouis is across the river from Vouvray and produces similar wines. I supplied this one. It showed wonderful Chenin Blanc purity with scents of apple blossoms and wildflowers and precise fruit and acidity and distinct minerality. The nearly dry, lightly spiced finish was long and complex. 19/20 points.
2015 Domaine Huet "Le Mont" Vouvray Moelleux ($50) - "Moelleux" means "sweet," in this case, a botrytis late harvest Chenin Blanc. Deep golden colored, it possessed an intoxicating nose of semi dried fruits - peach, apricot, orange peel - and scents of buttercups and spiced incense. The flavors were thick, lavish and viscous, yet well delineated by vivid acidity, followed by a seemingly endless finish, with notes of pêche melba, poire William liqueur and recurring orange peel. This was the sensation of the afternoon, provided by yours truly. 19.5/20 points.
There was some animated discussion of Washington Chenin Blanc, especially given the respectable but unexceptional quality of some of the wines in this category. As Randall put it, "Does the wine follow the market, or does the market make the wine?" That is to ask are winemakers making Chenin Blanc in a style that consumers like (slightly sweet, somewhat lower acidity) or are they making them that way because they think that's what customers want. There was general agreement that more exceptional Chenin Blancs could be made in Washington. In my opinion, if Washington wineries would follow the Merman model of sourcing from choice sites and picking for optimum fruit/acidity levels, more world class Chenin Blancs could be produced in this state.
- Written by Rand Sealey
The big news this week was the solar eclipse on Monday. August 21. Walla Walla saw 97% of totality which Lynn and I witnessed at Marvin Wood's birthday brunch, accompanied by Bloody Marys and bubbly. Here's what is coming up in the Walla Walla Valley.
New Single Vineyard Bottlings from Walla Walla Vintners and Tertulia Cellars
In September, Walla Walla Vintners will release its first Estate wines from the Cut Bank Vineyard above the winery barn off Mill Creek Road. The vineyard name comes from a small cleft formed by erosion by Mill Creek. The releases include a 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2012 "Vottaro" blend of 47% Sangiovese, 32% Merlot and 21% Cabernet Sauvignon. Both wines will be reviewed in the October issue of the Review of Washington Wines, each scoring 19+/20 points.
In October, Tertulia Cellars will release its inaugural vintage of its Tierra Labrada wines from the Elevation Vineyard, situated in the southeast corner of the Walla Walla Valley AVA at about 1500 feet. The wines include the 2015 Petit Verdot, 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2015 Merlot, all scoring 19.5/20 points. The Petit Vedot is one of the best renditions of that variety I have ever run across. The reviews will be in the October issue.
Justin Wylie's Eritage Resort to open in Fall
As an adjunct to the 300 acre Eritage Vineyard six miles north of Walla Walla, Justin Wylie will be opening a 10 suites luxury resort with a gourmet restaurant run by Jame Beard Award winner, Jason Wilson.
Walla Walla Valley looks Ahead to Harvest 2017
The Walla Walla Valley experienced a heat wave with temperatures above 100 degrees from mid July to mid August. Temperatures now are more normal with highs in the eighties and mid nineties. After record crops in 2015 and 2016, a smaller harvest is expected.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Last night, Tuesday, August 15th, the Whitehouse Crawford Restaurant held a "Walla Walla Chef and Artisan Dinner," with dishes prepared by local chefs from with artisan foods grown by local farms. I had gotten a group of friends from PAWS (Perfectly Aged Wine Sippers) together - Ted and Joyce Cox, Howard and Sue Higgen, Philippe and Penny Michel, and his brother. and Lynn and I. The dinner was a BYOW - Bring Your Own Wine - event, with corkage charges waived. So I volunteered to supply the wines for the dinner from my bulging collection.
When the menu was first announced, I found it a challenging one for wine pairing. What wines to have with pork belly and roasted black cod? What I came up with was a Grenache Blanc and Grenache Noir themed selection. What made Grenache a logical choice was the medium bodied, aromatic and moderately tannic characteristics of the wines which would go with the rich, fatty dishes. So I put together a selection.
When we assembled at Whitehouse Crawford for the sold-out event, we were presented with the following menu, to which I have added my wine selections and my comments.
Chicken liver mousse bruschetta with pickled strawberry gelee and dijon. Rich Koby, Fat Duck Inn.
Radicchio agrodolce with goat cheese mousse and fennel pollen on black rye, Robin Leventhal, Wine Country Culinary Institute
2016 March Cellars Rosé, Walla Walla Valley (supplied by Whitehouse Crawford) - Fresh and dry, this went nicely with the hors d'oeuvres. 18.5/20 points.
2015 Reynvaan Family Vineyard Grenache Blanc, Walla Walla Valley - With floral aromatics, flavors ranging from citrus to tropical and piercing saline minerality and acidity, this made a fine accompaniment. 19/20 points.
2014 The Walls "Lip Stinger" Grenache Blanc, Yakima Valley, French Creek Vineyard - Crisp and bracing, yet finely fruited, this was a "lip stinger" indeed. Perfect pairing. 19/20 points.
Stuffed Peter Pan squash with lamb and feta. Lainie Carey, Whitehouse Crawford.
2013 Cayuse Vineyard "God only Knows" Grenache, Walla Walla Valley, Armada Vineyard - With an amazing, smoky, perfumed nose and thick, yet svelte, flavors, this was a superb alignment. 19.5/20 points.
Roasted Alaskan sockeye salmon with sweet corn, cherry tomato, purple potato succotash and gribiche, Robin Leventhal, Wine Country Culinary Institute.
2011 No Girls Grenache, Walla Walla Valley, La Paciencia Vineyard - With sensuous aromas of wild fruits and well structure, and a long, fleshy, complex finish, this paired well with the sockeye (substituted for the black cod originally announced). 19+/20 points.
Pork belly porchetta with stone fruit mustard and fines herbes potatoes. Rich Koby, Fat Duck Inn.
2012 Clos des Brusquierès Chateauneuf du Pape - Sultry and smoky, with lavish, rich savory aromas and flavors, showing the earthy and rocky "was" character, this was a perfect fit with the fat inter layered pork. 19+/20 points.
Rye profiterole with blackberry-sage ice cream, stewed blackberries and whipped crème fraiche. Tina Meyer, Whitehouse Crawford.
2012 Betz Family "Besoleil" Red Wine, Columbia Valley - This "CdP" style blend of 50% Grenache, 20% Consult, 15% Mourvèdre and 15% Syrah, showed supple, generous, yet bold and full flavors that counterpointed the cream and stewed blackberries. 19/20 points.
2012 Domaine de la Charbonnière Chateaunuf du Pape, Cuvée Spéciale - This was the "star" of the evening. An intense, dense old vine CdP, with tremendous depth and complexity, this really stood out. 19.5+/20 points.
Thank you to our Artisans
Frog Hollow Farms, Hayshaker Fram, Montelliet Fromage and Uppe Dry Creek Ranch.
At our table, the dinner and the wine and food pairings were declared a great success.
- Written by Rand Sealey
As the heat wave continues in Eastern Washington with temperatures around 100 degrees, there is still plenty of summer left. Here are some recently tasted wines that will fill the bill for drinking for under $25 a bottle.
2016 Canoe Ridge Cinsaut Rosé, Yakima Valley, Canyon Vineyard Ranch ($22) - Light copper-tinged pink colored, this offers enticing aromas of tart strawberry Rainier cherry and watermelon, with scents of cherry blossoms, spiced orange peel, lavender and white incense. The flavors are appealing, with notes of grape skin, melon rind and Provençal herbs. The back picks up fraise and cerise liqueurs followed by a juicy finish. 18+/20 points.
Note: This wine is available for $12.99 a bottle at Precept Brands' headquarters on Fairview Avenue in Seattle and at the Canoe Ridge tasting room on Cherry Street in Walla Walla. At this price it's a steal of a deal that's not to be missed.
2016 El Corazon "Red Frog" Rosé, Columbia Valley ($23) - Spencer Sievers and Raul Morin make a bit more extracted Rosé than usual. Brilliant strawberry-pink colored, it brims with aromas of wild strawberries, cranberries, red currants, red roses, lavender and white incense. The flavors are nicely extracted, with notes of tangerine peel, grape skin and minerals. The back picks up fraise and cassis liqueurs, followed by a dry, persistent finish. 18.5/20 points.
2016 Syncline Rosé, Columbia Valley ($24) - Composed of 35% Cinsault, 35% Grenache and 30% Mourvèdre, this offers a pink-salmon color and enticing aromas of strawberry, pomegranate and watermelon with scents of meadow flowers, lavender and lightly spiced incense. The flavors are nicely extracted and juicy, with notes of grape skin and pomegranate seeds, followed by a fresh, minerally dry finish. 18.5/20 points.
2016 Basel Cellars "2901" Estate Syrah Rosé, Walla Walla Valley ($25) - 2901 is the address of the winery on the Old Milton Highway. This shows a pink-copper color and fresh aromas of raspberry, Rainier cherry and tangerine, with scents of cherry blossoms and flowers. The moderately extracted flavors are pleasantly juicy with notes of tangerine peel and minerals, followed by a lightly spiced crisp finish. 18.5/20 points.
2016 L'Ecole No. 41 Old Vine Chenin Blanc, Columbia Valley ($14) - This is one of the greatest white wine bargains around. Lemon-gold colored, it possesses attractive aromas of pear, peach and melon with scents of honeysuckle, lilac and verbena. The flavors are fresh and vibrant with distinct old vine minerality. The back picks up poire William liqueur and grapefruit peel followed by a nearly dry, nicely fruited finish. To be reviewed in the September issue. 18.5/20 points.
2016 El Corazon "V Neck" Viognier, Walla Walla Valley ($22) - Brilliant gold colored, this has engaging aromas of pear, peach, citrus, peach blossoms, honeysuckle, verbena and white incense. The fruit compote flavors are appealing, with notes of grape skin, peach stones and minerals, followed by a well fruited finish. Full review to be in September. 18.5/20 points.
2016 Syncline Picpoul, Yakima Valley, Boushey Vineyard ($25) - This an intriguing wine, from a grape originating in Southwest France. It shows a brilliant light gold color and aromas of granny apple, gooseberry and Crenshaw melon, with scents of white lilac, anise and white incense. The flavors are striking and lip-stinging, with notes of tart apple skin and minerals. The back picks up melon rind and lemon zest on the way to a bone dry finish. It calls out for shellfish. 18.5/20 points.
2015 Ste. Michelle Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley ($18) - This is a "50th Anniversary Special Bottling" with script lettering on the label like that of the 1967 vintage. It's not just for nostalgia buffs. Deep ruby colored, it puts out classic Cabernet aromas of blackberry, cherry and plum with scents of black roses, mulberry, olive and anise. The flavors are direct and true to variety, with ample dark fruits, licorice, chocolate and earth, followed by a fruit forward, yet focused moderate tannin and acid finish. Purchased for $12.50. 18/20 points.
2015 Charles Smith "Boom Boom" Syrah, Washington State ($18) - Purplish ruby colored, this wine has typical Syrah aromas of blackberries, blueberries and currants with scents of rosebuds, sweet tobacco and spiced incense. The medium bodied flavors are generous with good varietal character, intermixed with licorice, coffee beans and earth, followed by a slightly chewy textured back and soft grainy tannins, all making for easy drinking. Purchased for $13.99. 18/20 points.
2015 Tenet Wines "The Pundit" Syrah, Columbia Valley ($25) - Produced by Ste. Michelle, this shows an inky purple color (typical of a young Syrah) and a rich nose of blackberries, blueberries and black currants, with scents of black roses, mulberry, tobacco, lavender, olive and incense. The black and blue fruit flavors are intermixed with licorice, dark cocoa, French roast and earth. The back picks up pressed berries, and creme de cassis, followed by a chewy moderate tannin finish. Purchased for $19.50. 18.5/20 points.
2014 Dunham Cellars "Three Legged Red" Wine, Washington State ($24) - This proprietary blend offers a deep ruby color and engaging aromas of blackberries, cherries, plums, red roses, mulberry and smoke. The flavors are medium bodied yet well stuffed, with notes of licorice, cocoa, French roast and earth. The back picks up pressed berries and roasted nuts, and the finish possesses enough acidity for depth and structure on the satisfying finish. Purchased for $18. 18/20 points.
2013 Tero Estates Barbera, Walla Walla Valley ($24) - Sourced from the Dugger Creek Vineyard, this shows a deep ruby color and rich aromas of blackberries, black cherries, black currants and black roses. The flavors are robust, yet generous, marked by chocolate, espresso and minerals. The back picks up tart cherries (a trait of Barbera) counterpointed by amaretto and nougat, followed by a satisfying finish. Full review in September. 18.5+/20 points.