- Written by Rand Sealey
Christophe Hedges is the son of Tom and Anne-Marie Hedges and Director of National Sales and Marketing of the Hedges Family Estate on Red Mountain. I first met him at one of the Taste Washington Seminars, "What's the Points(s): Rating Washington Wines." At it, he made a passionate case for making terroir-driven wines for consumers, rather than for ratings. He is also an advocate of the scoreREVuTion movement, with aims to eliminate wine scores without lessening the importance of wine writers. I again met Christophe at the winery on my visit to Red Mountain on April 29.
When I arrived, I found Christophe cutting rock tiles for the exterior facade of a new kitchen expansion to the Hedges Chateau. We then went into the tasting room and he pulled out some bottles. As we tasted, we discussed wine writing and winemaking style. The approach (as taken by winemaker Pete Hedges, Christophe's uncle) is to keep alcohol and ph levels moderate so the character can come out. Doing so promotes the production of terroir-driven wines, rather than ones made for numbers. He does agree that wine writers should play an important role in consumer education. I pointed out that many consumers seek guidance in wine selection through ratings, but we completely agreed that wines should not be made just for ratings. I stated that ratings should be guidelines and must only be used in conjunction with descriptions of a wine's flavor and profile. In line with this, I pointed out what I called the "tyranny of the 100 point system," whereby the focus becomes numerical rather than qualitative.
As a representation of the Hedges style, we discussed the "House of Independent Producers," a Christophe Hedges project showcasing single vinifera varieties. The "HIP" 2010 Dionysus Vineyard Chardonnay is made in a "Chablis" style, crisp, yet well balanced, with a refreshing edge to it. Christophe's aim is to make "timeless, not fad-driven wines." For an example of the importance of terroir, we sampled a Syrah from the "Descendants Liegois Dupont," a tribute to Anne-Marie Hedges' grandfather, Marcel Dupont, a Chevaliers du Tastevin member and a lover of good food and fine wine. With the 2009 "DLD" Syrah, the emphasis is on the AVA: RED MOUNTAIN (Tom Hedges played a major role in obtaining American Viticultural Area status for it) and the vineyard, "Les Gosses." Syrah appears only on the back label, although it is 100% varietal. A young wine, it had considerable tannin structure, but a lot of fruit and depth lurked underneath. See the July issue of the the Review of Washington Wines for the complete reviews of the above wines, and other Hedges wines.
In winding up our conversation, Christophe talked a bit about how Europe has had four centuries of wine history, while Washington state had just decades. Great strides have been made, but it will be for the generations to come to fully realize the great potential of Washington wines. I added my recollections of Tom and Anne-Marie at the time the launched their first Cabernet-Merlot blend in 1987. We also spoke of "French Connections." We then bade our farewells and looked forward to meeting again soon.
- Written by Rand Sealey
I am posting this week's blog a couple of days early (Wednesday instead of Friday) because of the urgency generated by the extremely limited supply of some of these wines. They are not to be missed.
A Stellar Garnacha (Grenache) from Kerloo Cellars
2009 Kerloo Cellars Garnacha, Walla Walla Valley, Cockburn Ranch Vineyard ($35)
This is a sumptuous, savory Grenache. It exhibits a deep garnet color and aromas of raspberry, mulberry and orange peel, with ethereal scents of jasmine, dried roses and exotic perfumes. On the palate, there is a finely woven tapestry of red fruits, laced with cocoa, red licorice and loess minerals. On the back, there are sensations of kirsch liqueur, recurring dried orange peel and dried cherries, cinnamon bark and roasted almonds, supported by fine fruit acids on a lingering sweet-dry tannin finish. 19/20 points.
Pre-Release Offerings from Tero Estates
2008 Tero Estates Cabernet Franc, Walla Walla Valley, Windrow Vineyard (Pre-release - $39)
Deep ruby-garnet colored, this wine offers sultry aromas of roasted raspberries and cherry, anise, cigar box, roast coffee, dried roses and smoldering incense. The flavors are thick and sensuously chewy, underlain with mocha, licorice, French roast and basaltic minerals. The back picks up tones of dried cherries, orange peel, toffee, pain grille and roasted nuts, followed by a rich ripe tannin finish that is laced with spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, clove). 19/20 points.
2008 Tero Estates Windrow Red Blend, Walla Walla Valley (Pre-release - $45)
This is a field blend, reflecting the percentages of varietals planted in the vineyard: 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 6% Malbec. It displays a deep purplish color and terrific aromatics of blackberry, cherry and cassis, with scents of rose petals, violets and rubbed sage. The flavors are gratifyingly thick and generous, intermixed with dark chocolate, licorice and silty minerals. On the back, notes of squeezed blueberry juice, roasted nuts and dried cherries emerge, followed by a lingering spice-dusted chewy tannin finish. 19+/20 points.
Flying Trout Holds a Library Wine Sale
2008 Flying Trout Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills, Phinny Hill Vineyard ($27) - June 2010 issue
Here, Ashley Trout has turned out a delicious Malbec, with a rich, smoky blackberry nose that emits scents of lavender and burning incense. The flavors are deep and thick, like macerated blueberries and cherries, deepened by chocolate, licorice and scorched earth on the back, and then followed by a gush of ripe cranberry juice, along with an extract of orange peel mixed with spices on the chewy tannin finish. 18.5/20 points.
2008 Flying Trout Deep River Red, Columbia Valley ($27) - December 2010 issue
Composed of 57% Phinny Hill Malbec and 43% Windrow Cabernet Franc, this wine exhibits a brilliant ruby color and a sultry, smoky nose of raspberry, cherry and cassis with scents of violets and oriental incense. The flavors are ripe and sexy, imbued with semi-dried berries, Swiss chocolate, licorice and minerals. The vivid fruits persist on the back, with a squeeze of blueberry juice that lingers on the sweet-dry tannin finish. 18.5/20 points.
2008 Flying Trout The Brook Blend, Horse Heaven Hills ($33) - December 2010 issue
Since the time it was reviewed in June, this blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot has evolved further, advancing from 18.5+ points. It shows lovely aromatics of wild berries, perfumes and incense, and savory, exquisitely juiced, complex flavors that show notes of licorice and chocolate, French roast and dried berries. All this is laid upon a lingering fine grained tannin finish. 19/20 points.
2006 Flying Trout Deep River Red, Columbia Valley ($27) - November 2009 issue
Composed of 90% Stillwater Creek Sangiovese and 10% Phinny Hill Malbec, this wine exhibits a rich nose of roasted berries and cherries with scents of wildflowers and a hint of caramel. On the palate, the generous fruits are evident, with a touch of leather and earth, and then given a bit of oomph from the Malbec. 18.5/20 points.
2007 Flying Trout Cutthroat Red, Columbia Valley ($35) - November 2009 issue
This combination of two-thirds Phinny Hill Syrah and one-third Konnowack Vineyard Malbec is an unusual wine. True blue, it displays a bluish color and blackberry/plum aromas with scents of lavender and oriental incense. The blue fruits are saturated through the middle; with dried fruit confit notes on the back and ends up with a tart blueberry tone on the finish that is marked by black pepper and spices. 18.5+/20 points.
2007 Flying Trout Old Vines Malbec, Rattlesnake Hills, Konnowack Vineyard ($39) - November 2009 issue
Here, Ashley Trout has turned out an impressive 100% Malbec from the oldest Malbec vineyard (21 years) in Washington. Deep ruby color. Intense aromas of blackberries, huckleberries and forest carpet, with scents of violets. The dark fruits are saturated and mouthwatering, with tones of powdered cocoa and anise. The back palate turns to a chewy texture with a dark fruit underlay, followed by vivid fruit acids and silky tannins. It possesses remarkable elegance. 19/20 points.
2007 Flying Trout Old Vine Malbec, "Barrel Select #250," Rattlesnake Hills, Konnowack Vineyard ($39) - new review
This is the same as the above wine, but from a selected barrel. It is even more sensuous and super saturated, with a beautiful melding of fruit acids and ripe tannins. 19+/20 points.
- Written by Rand Sealey
On Wednesday, June 8, we drove to the Yakima Valley on our way to Walla Walla. We visited several wineries, some for the first time. Here's a summary of our visits. Reviews of the wines will be in the August issue of the Review of Washington Wines.
Southard - Scott Southard is an earnest young winemaker who has much potential. The winery in Selah, northeast of Yakima, is next door to his parents' home. He makes a very nice Roussanne and Cabernet called "whipping boy."
Gilbert Cellars - We visited the winery over in the Ahtamum Valley south of Yakima. We tasted the 2009's, including winemaker Justin Neufeld's JB Neufeld wines. At the tasting room downtown, we tasted some 2008's which will be in the August issue.
Treveri Cellars - Jurgen and Julie Grieb make methode champenoise varietal sparkling wines (Riesling, Muller-Thurgau, Pinot Gris and more) at their downtown facility. The wines range from dry to sweet. Some make delightful dessert bubblies.
Two Mountain - Located a few miles north of Zillah, this winery, owned by Matt and Patrick Rawn, makes wines from nearby vineyards which the brothers manage.
Maison Bleue - In Prosser, we met with Jon Martinez and sampled his newly released 2010 French Creek Chardonnay. We also tasted the 2010 Viognier and Marsanne which will be released in September.
Gamache Vintners - Roger and Bob Gamache have a new 2007 Merlot and a 2006 50% Gamache / 50% Champoux Cabernet Sauvignon which were quite impressive.
Bunnell Family Cellar - We had lunch at Susan Bunnell's Wine O'clock wine bar and had her husband Ron's striking 2008 Petit Sirah from the Northridge Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope
- Written by Rand Sealey
Last weekend (June 4-5) I made a couple of winery excursions. On Saturday, I drove to Woodinville and visited some wineries. Then on Sunday, Lynn and I went to a McCrea Cellars tasting.
My first stop in Woodinville was at Chateau Ste. Michelle. The newly-released 2010 Horse Heaven Hills Sauvignon Blanc is a winner - one of the winery's best yet - with fresh, fragrant aromas and bright, crisp flavors. The winery tasting room also has some limited release wines that are well worth visiting for. Here are two striking ones, made from varieties originating in the Rhone Valley.
2008 Ch. Ste Michelle "Limited Release" Grenache, Columbia Valley ($25 - winery only)
Brilliant ruby colored, this wine emits attractive aromas of crushed raspberries, cherries, dried roses, lavender and incense. The palate brims with rich, chewy bright red fruit flavors that are underlain with licorice, milk chocolate and minerals. The sensuous fruits persist on the back, accented by orange peel, followed by ripe, smooth tannins. 18.5/20 points.
2008 Ch. Ste Michelle "Limited Release: Cinsault, Columbia ($25 - winery only)
Medium ruby colored, this offers an intriguing nose of strawberry, cherry, mulberry, anise, orange peel and oriental perfumes. The exoticism continues on the palate with medium-bodied, yet penetrating, flavors of dried cherries, pomegranate juice and basaltic minerals. The back picks up sensations of currant liqueur, dried orange peel, toasted hazelnuts and a touch of creme brulee on a satiny tannin finish. 18.5/20 points.
My next stop was at the Hollywood Hill Vineyards tasting room. Steve and Becky Snyder have turned out some beautiful new releases: a 2010 Horse Heaven Hills Roussanne and two Syrahs, one from the Rattlesnake Hills and one from Red Mountain. These will be reviewed in the August issue of the Review of Washington Wines. In addition, I tasted an intriguing limited supply red from Stretch Island in Puget Sound (which is one of the Washington AVAs).
2009 Hollywood Hill Vineyards Regent, Puget Sound, Nelson Family Vineyard ($28)
Regent (of German origin) is most likely the only red variety that can successfully be grown in Puget Sound. Deep ruby colored, this wine exhibits an intense nose of black cherry, black currant, incense and violets. On the palate, the dark fruit flavors are penetrating, intermixed with dried cherries, cocoa powder and graphite. The back picks up dark concentrated fruit juices that are accompanied by tones of bitter orange peel and roasted almonds, followed by an intense yet silky finish. 18.5/20 points.
After Hollywood Hill, I drove over to JM Cellars where Paige Leighton poured some new releases, including the "Bramble Bump" (named for the knoll where the winery sits atop) blends.
2010 JM Cellars "Bramble Bump" White, Columbia Valley ($17)
This is a vivacious blend of 50% Viognier, 30% Chardonnay, and 10% each of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. It emits aromas of pear, melon and peach, with scents of jasmine and orange blossoms. The fruit compote flavors are fresh and lively, with a hint of tropical creaminess, counterpointed by squeezes of grapefruit and mandarin orange juices on a crisp, faintly honeyed finish. Not much was made, so it may be sold out by mid summer. 18/20 points.
2009 JM Cellars "Bramble Bump" Red, Columbia Valley ($22)
This is an engaging blend of 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Petit Verdot, 20% Syrah, 17% Malbec and 13% Merlot. It offers rich, smoky aromas of blackberries, cherries and plum, with thick, chewy, generous, yet focused, dark fruit flavors that show undertones of licorice, chocolate, and coffee bean. The finish is imbued with sensations of grape skin, mocha and spice. 18/20 points.
JM Cellars has also released a fine 2008 Longevity Bordeaux-style Red and a gorgeous 2008 Tre Fanciulli Cabenet-Merlot-Syrah blend. Both will be reviewed in August. Winemaker-owner John Bigelow gave me a deep-colored 2009 barrel sample from the winery's Margaret's Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley which showed wonderful aromatics and lavish flavors.
I also visited Davenport Cellars where Jeff and Sheila Jirka showed their new Intuition and "R.H.D." reds, which will be released and reviewed in August. Shannon Jones' Hestia Cellars had a deliciously fresh 2010 Chenin Blanc (I call it "Shannon's Chenin") and Rod and Leslie Balsley's William Church Winery turned out a finely fruited and extracted 2010 Viognier (the latter two also to be reviewed in August). Efeste had just released the 2008 "Big Papa" Cabernet Sauvignon which will be in the August issue.
On Sunday, Lynn and I went to McCrea Cellars' Private Tasting at co-owners (with Doug and Kim McCrea) Bob and Susan Neel's home in West Seattle. A full range of white and red Rhone-style wines were poured. Some of these will be reviewed in the August issue, but here are three wines that merit your immediate attention.
2009 McCrea Cellars Grenache Blanc, Yakima Valley, Boushey Vineyard ($25)
Dick Boushey was the first grower to plant Grenache Blanc in Washington State, and this is a fine rendition. Pale gold colored, it imparts aromas of Bosc pear and Crenshaw melon, with scents of lilac, pear blossoms and anise. The white fruit flavors are well extracted and and richly textured, with undertones of minerals, grape skin, orange peel and melon rind, followed by a crisp, juicy passion fruit and grapefruit imbued finish. 18.5/20 points.
2009 McCrea Cellars Viognier, Yakima Valley ($25)
This wine (blended with 12% each of Marsanne and Grenache Blanc) steers a mid course between the tropical and Chardonnay-like styles of Viognier. Light gold colored, it exhibits aromas of pear, melon and peach, with scents of acacia flowers, orange blossoms and jasmine. The palate reveals an array of fruit compote flavors, accompanied by touches of minerals, coconut and grapefruit on a lingering finish. 18.5/20 points.
N/V McCrea Cellars "non sequitur" Red, Washington State ($20)
A blend of 37% Syrah, 31% Mourvedre, 25% Cinsault and 7% Grenache, this would make a nice barbecue red. Deep ruby colored, it offers rich, spicy aromas of blackberry, raspberry and plum, with whiffs of tobacco and lavender. The flavors are full and generous, marked by notes of licorice, chocolate and minerally earth that hold on through the warm, well spiced finish that shows moderate tannins and acids. 18/20 points.
Correction to Last Week's Blog - In my blog of June 1, I reviewed the 2009 Fidelitas Semillon. It turned out that it was a stray bottle, and that the wine being offered at Esquin was of the 2008 vintage. The '08 is a bit less fresh and lively than the '09, but is still a terrific buy at $9.99.
Next Week's Blog Goes On Line Friday - Tomorrow, we are stopping in the Yakima Valley for two days on our way to Walla Walla. So upcoming blogs will be posted on Friday, June 17th, and the next two Fridays, with the July 1 post going on line simultaneously with the July issue of the Review of Washington Wines.
- Written by Rand Sealey
The June issue of the Review of Washington Wines is devoted to wines from wineries in the Walla Walla Valley, so the Best Buys for that issue come from that area. There is a bevy of wines from other parts of the state that would make fine values for summertime enjoyment. Here's a roundup of such wines, picked up from Seattle retailers
2009 Fidelitas Semillon, Columbia Valley ($9.99 at Esquin)
Sourced from the Stillwater Creek Vineyard in the Frenchman Hills, this offers fresh aromas of pear, melon and herb, with rich, creamy textures counterpointing the melon and citrus flavors. The crisp finish picks up notes of minerals, spice and toast. A terrific bargain. 18/20 points.
2010 Efeste Riesling, Columbia Valley, Evergreen Vineyard ($15.99 at Esquin)
Pale gold colored, this Riesling offers a fragrant, minerally nose of pear, peach and citrus. The white fruit flavors are bright and vivid, with a fresh, juicy slate-toned background. The off-dry finish is accented by bracing fruit acids. 18/20 points.
2010 Efeste "Feral" Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, Evergreen Vineyard ($17.99 at Esquin)
Made in a Sancerre-like style (and dedicated to Didier Dagueneau) this exhibits a pale gold color and steely, minerally aromas of granny apple, melon and herbs. Native yeast fermented, it shows wonderful purity of flavors. The steely crispness and focus persists on the back, enhanced by a twist of lemon zest on the finish. 18+/20 points.
2010 Renegade Wine Co. Rose, Columbia Valley ($9.99 at Esquin and Thriftway)
This bargain-priced rose shows a brilliant pink color and fresh aromas of strawberry, cherry and cherry blossoms. The flavors are fresh and lively, like a rose should be, with watermelon and strawberry juices cascading down the back, accompanied by a bit of grape skin extract and bracing fruit acids. 17.5+/20 points.
2008 Columbia Crest Grand Estates "Amitage" Red, Columbia Valley ($9.99 at Thriftway)
This is a new addition to Grand Estates line. Composed of 64% Merlot, 19% Syrah, 7% Cab Franc 4.5% Malbec and 5.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, it offers an appealing nose of blackberries, cherries, plums, tobacco and lavender. The flavors are ripe and supple, yet focused, and pick up notes of chocolate, licorice and earth on the back, followed by a chewy, spice-dusted finish. Not complex, but packs a lot of flavor for the price. 17.5+/20 points.
2009 Corvidae "The Keeper" Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley ($17.99 at Thriftway)
This is a tasty young Cabernet Franc that resembles a Bourgeuil from France's Loire Valley. It offers sultry, smoky aromas of backberry, plum, tobacco and spices. The flavors are generous and fleshy, with notes of chocolate, licorice and mocha, followed by chewy, not too assertive, tannins on the ripe finish. 18/20 points.
2007 McKinley Springs Syrah, Horse Heaven Hills ($13.99 at Esquin)
Deep ruby colored, this offers an unmistakable Syrah nose of blackberry and blueberry, with scents of rose petals, lavender and rubbed sage. The flavors are deep and chewy, underlain with licorice, dark chocolate, roast coffee and Horse Heaven scorched earth and minerals. The saturation continues on the back with tones of mocha, squeezed blueberry juice, followed by ripe, chewy tannins. This would be a fine value at $25; at $14, it's a killer deal. 18.5/20 points.