- Written by Rand Sealey
Noteworthy Washington White Wine Varietals
At the Wine Bloggers Conference (June 25 - 27) I attended a session on the "Washington Wine Industry." In it, Paul Gregutt asked "what is Washington's signature grape?" For reds, it's obvious: Cabernet Sauvignon (old vines on vinifera roots); Cabernet Franc and Merlot (the best in the U.S.) and Syrah (encompassing a remarkably wide range of styles). But what of Washington whites? Here's my rundown of the most noteworthy white varietals.
Chardonnay - This is the largest produced white variety in the state. But most of it was planted before much thought was given to picking the best sites. That will require further sorting out. There are a few outstanding Chardonnay vineyards though: Connor Lee, south of Othello is one of the best and Buty makes an exceptional one; Chateau Ste. Michelle's Canoe Ridge Estate overlooking the Columbia River; Stillwater Creek on the Royal Slope (Sparkman Cellars and Novelty Hill); French Creek - 30 year old vines used in Maison Bleue's Au Contraire Chardonnay.
Riesling - This variety is poised to make a comeback. See my blogs of May 26 and June 16 for more about this grape.
Sauvignon Blanc - This variety is getting better and better. Earlier versions tended toward the extremes of green and herbal or tropical and figgy. Now better balanced wines are being made that show characteristics of gooseberry, citrus and minerals (picked up by deep rooted vines). Also improved trellis management has let to better ripening and fruit-acid balance. Fine examples: Efeste "Feral"; Chateau Ste. Michelle's Horse Heaven Hills; Woodward Canyon (strikingly Sancerre like).
Semillon - This is one of Washington's best keep secrets. The variety can show elegant, complex characteristics of waxy fruits, crisp citrus acidity and stony minerals. Some top Semillons are: Amavi Cellars, Va Piano, Robison Ranch Cellars, L'Ecole No. 41. There are also outstanding blends of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc: DeLille Chaleur Estate Blanc, Buty, and Covington Cellars "Dress White."
Viognier - This Rhone varietal is becoming better known. Its sensuous tropical character makes it particularly appealing. There is a wide range of styles from crisp, elegant and Chardonnay-like to opulently rich and creamy. Some fine examples: aMaurice (refined and ageworthy); Maison Bleue, William Church, Syncline, Robison Ranch (these are in the middle of the road style); Stephenson Cellars (opulently styled).
Marsanne - This varietal, along with Roussanne, is responsible for the great Hermitage Blanc of the north Rhone. Several Rhone-style specialists have added it to their white wine repetoires: McCrea Cellars, Syncline Cellars, DeLille Cellars.
Roussanne - Some wineries make this exotically-styled wine into a varietal: Forgeron Cellars, Maison Bleue, SuLeri Cellars (terrific value). Some blend it with Marsanne and or Viognier: DeLille Cellars, McCrea Cellars.
Gewurztraminer - The "Spicy Traminer" which originated in Alsace grows best only in a few areas, most notably in the Columbia Gorge where the 30+ year old Celilo Vineyard is located. The younger Evergreen Mountain vineyard has considerable potential. Best examples: Dowsett Family (Celilo) Domaine Pouillon (Evergreen Mountain).
Pinot Gris - Until a few years ago, Washington Pinot Gris wines were light bodied and somewhat green-toned. Now they have improved to the point where they exceed their Oregon counterparts, showing rich floral aromas and creamy textures, counterpointed by fine fruit acids. Fine examples: Andrew Will Cuvee Lucia, Locati Cellars, Columbia Crest H3, Wines of Substance.
- Written by Rand Sealey
The Wine Bloggers Conference
Last weekend (Friday, June 25 - Sunday, June 27) I attended the Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla at the Marcus Whitman Hotel and Conference Center, this year's venue. It was the first tine I had attended. It turned out to be very stimulating and informative. Here are some highlights.
On Saturday morning, there was a discussion about the "Terroirs of the Walla Walla Valley" with Professor of Geology Kevin Pogue of Whitman College. The presentation illustrated the importance of terroir (loosely translated as "a sense of place") in Walla Walla Valley wines. In an upcoming blog, I will write a fuller summary of the session.
Later in the morning, Conference participants loaded up on buses in groups of 15 to visit vineyards and wineries. My group's first stop was at the Spofford Station vineyard southeast of Walla Walla on the Oregon side of the valley. Located in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, it is a site that was heavily impacted by the Misoula Floods 12-15,000 years ago. The owner, Lynne Chamberlain, was a gracious host and we sampled wines from that vineyard with winemakers (including Brad Riordan of Robison Ranch and Devin Stinger of Adamant). Next, we stopped at College Cellars of Walla Walla Community College, where we participated in a blind tasting of 2009 Syrahs that were aged in different barrels, three in French oak and two in American oak. The differences were striking and revealed how much oak aging influences the taste of wines. Then we went to Long Shadows for a delicious lunch accompanied by a selection of the winery's wines. The '09 Poet's Leap Riesling, the '07 Saggi and '07 Sequel Syrah were outstanding.
In the afternoon, I attended a Breakout Session, "The Washington Wine Industry" with Paul Gregutt (paulgregutt.com), Coman Dinn (Director of Winemaking for Hogue Cellars) and Sean Sullivan (Washington Wine Report). The panel packed in a lot of information given the limited time of 50 minutes. Co Dinn illustrated how much Washington has over California in terms of climate and diversity of terroir. Paul Gregutt asked the question of "what is Washington's signature grape?' For whites, he noted that Chardonnay still has yet to find the best sites, and saw great potential for Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (a great secret). For reds, there are Cabernet Sauvignon, especially from 35+ year old vines on vinifera roots, Merlot (the best in the U.S.) and Syrah which has a remarkable range of styles. Sean Sullivan noted the dramatic growth of Washington wine, accompanied by a string of excellent vintages (Wine Spectator: '08 and '07, 95+ points, '06, 94 points, '05, 93 points). Of the 650 wineries today, many are small (under 4200 cases a year). Future challenges remain, such as how to sustain continued growth and how to reach across state boundaries. (For a more extensive report on this session, along with graphs, charts, and added commentary, see Sean Sullivan's June 29 post in www.wawinereport.com.)
On Sunday morning, the Conference wrapped up with sessions on wine blogging including "Bloggers, Wineries and PR Firms" which explored the complex relationships among these groups. The constant theme of wineries and their PR is that "we are here to help you." There is an awareness on the need for being on the cutting edge. The Conference ended with a Wine and Food Pairing with Winebow South American, Italian and Spanish wines together with dishes developed by the Marcus Whitman Hotel Marc Restaurant Chef, "Bear" Ullman. A concluding session announced Charlottesville, Virginia as the site of the 2011 Conference.
- Written by Rand Sealey
'Tis the Season for Roses
With the advent of summer and (hopefully) warm weather, the season for rose wines is upon us. While some tend to think of them as being less serious than red or white wines, there are quite a few roses that offer plenty of flavor interest.
Basically, there are two ways to make a rose. The preferred method is to crush red grapes, leave them on the skins for about 24 hours (to take on the rose tinge) and then ferment the juice. Another method is the saignee, whereby juice is drawn off from fermenting red wine and then continue the fermentation. The saignee process can be tricky, as the fermentation needs to be carefully controlled and brought to a dry or nearly dry finish. Properly done, roses can be terrific wines, ideal for summer.
In recent issues, and in the upcoming July post, I have reviewed a few noteworthy roses:
2009 Barnard-Griffin Rose of Sangiovese, Columbia Valley ($12) - Brilliant pink color. Fresh berry and cherry flavors, with good acidity. Terrific buy. 17.5/20 points. (May)
2009 El Corazon "Red Frog" Rose, Columbia Valley ($16) - Produced principally from Syrah, it has a deep rose color (from extended skin contact) and lively, lightly spiced fruit. 18/20 points. (May)
2009 Trio Vintners Tres Rose, Columbia Valley ($15) - A 50/50 Grenache and Mourvedre combination, it is off-dry (1.2% residual sugar) with vibrant berry fruits. 17.5/20 points. (June)
2009 CAVU Cellars Barbera Rose, Horse Heaven Hills, Alder Ridge Vineyard ($20) - This is a winner: ripe, fresh cherry flavors with a twist of orange peel. 18/20 points. (July)
2009 Trust Cellars Rose of Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley ($16) - Floral wild strawberry and raspberry with lively, lightly squeezed fruits and a snap of tangerine. 17.5/20 points. (July)
Here are a few more roses that I have liked:
2009 Adamant Cellars Ruby Ruth Rose #2, Columbia Valley ($15) - Deep crimson colored, this wine displays ripe, perfumed berry and cherry aromas with lively fruits and fine balance. 17.5+/20 points.
2009 Chinook Rose of Cabernet Franc, Yakima Valley ($15) - Brilliant pink color with raspberry and strawberry aromas and flavors that finish dry and well-extracted. 17.5/20 points.
2009 Waters Rose, Walla Walla Valley ($18) - Composed of 75% Syrah and 25% Viognier, co-fermented, this shows a pale salmon color, enticing berry and spice aromas, and flavors of gently squeezed pomegranates and berries. 18/20 points.
2009 Efeste "Babbitt" Rose, Columbia Valley ($18) - This is sold out at the winery but may be found at various retailers. Fairly dry for a rose, it abounds with deep, satisfying flavors. 18/20 points.
What to have with roses? These wines are ideal accompaniments to warm weather food: grilled chicken, charcuterie (ham, salami, pates) and salades composes (Nicoise, Cobb, chicken), also sushi. They make refreshing aperitifs, too.
Coming Up: The Wine Bloggers Conference
Tomorrow, I will be heading back to Walla Walla for the Wine Bloggers Conference which will being together 300 wine bloggers from around the country. There will be lots of events on the agenda and the conference looks to be busy and stimulating. I'll be reporting on it in next week's blog.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Further Comments on Washington Riesling
Since my blog of 26 May, "Whither Washington Riesling?" I received a couple of emails commenting on that article which, I think, put the varietal in a broader perspective. Here are excerpts, together with my comments.
The first was from Rick Johnson, owner of Walla Faces winery in Walla Walla:
"I agree with your blog on Riesling in Washington. We just bottled a limited production Riesling. Matt Loso, our winemaker, tried something different by fermenting a portion of our Riesling in a concrete egg. The egg fermented Riesling developed a more earthy tasting Riesling. Matt blended back the egg fermented Riesling into the main vat fermenting in a stainless tank. We think the result is quite promising."
I stopped by the tasting room where there were samples for tasting and found it to be quite promising, too. It is a 2009 from the Lawrence Vineyard, and it showed exceptional aromatics, depth and richness. It will be released this summer with the name, "Teri and the German." I will be reviewing it in the August issue of the Review of Washington Wines. (For a write-up about Walla Faces, see the March issue.)
The second email came from Paul Zitarelli of Full Pull Wines (see my blog of 1 May to learn more):
"Rand - As an avid Riesling fan, I enjoyed this week's blog. It got me to wondering your opinion on Bill Owen's Champoux Vineyard Riesling with OS Winery. I found it to be nearly sublime in certain vintages. He always keeps the alcohol level low (frequently under 10%) and really lets the Champoux terroir sing." (See the June issue of the Review for my write-up on this wine.)
"I also think as new plantings at Evergreen open up, we will see smaller wineries (outside of CSM's Eroica and Kung Fu Girl who take the vast majority of these grapes currently) start doing interesting things with that fruit. Efeste, which you mentioned, is a great example." (See the May issue for my review of the '09 Efeste Evergreen Riesling.)
"I'm on the record predicting that in 10-15 years, we will be talking about Evergreen the way we talk about Celilo now: as one of the finest vineyards in the state for the expression of aromatic white varietals." (I agree that the Evergreen Vineyard has great potential.)
I replied that "I agree that in the course of this decade, Riesling will make a comeback. The varietal just needs to overcome the image problem. There is great potential."
These two dialogues have led me to believe that Washington Riesling is headed toward a great future.
Get Your Rasa Vineyards 2007 Principia Syrah Before it's Gone
In the June issue of my Review of Washington Wines, I rated the '07 Rasa Principia Reserve Syrah 20/20 points, the second wine to receive the highest score in this publication. Only 70 cases were made and, with the rave reviews received (including mine), the supply will not last long. Full Pull Wines has just (today) made an offering of an allocation of this wine. To get yours, go to the Full Pull website, sign up, and see the latest offering.
- Written by Rand Sealey
The Tero Estates - Flying Tout Partnership
I have been following Ashley Trout's Flying Trout Winery for over a year now, since she was sharing her space with Spencer Sievers' El Corazon on Palouse Street in downtown Walla Walla. Then, shortly before Spring Release Weekend this year, I learned that Flying Trout had moved to a new location near Milton-Freewater, sharing space with Tero Estates. So I visited the winery during Spring Release, and one of the things I asked was how this came about. The Palouse Street location was a difficult one for wine production. Then the opportunity came up to partner with Tero Estates at its location amid the Windrow Vineyard. This was a great fit, sharing winemaking facilities and expertise. It was a win, win, win situation: for the two partners and for El Corazon, which was left with room to grow as well.
Tero Estates is a partnership between longtime friends Mike TEmbruell and Doug ROskelley. They learned that the Windrow Vineyard was for sale. So Doug and Jan Roskelley traveled to Milton-Freewater, Oregon to see it. The purchase was finalized June 1, 2007. It was planted in 1981, as part of the original Seven Hills Vineyard by Dr. Herb Hendricks and Dr. James McClellan. In 1994, the vineyard was split and the eastern part sold with the Seven Hills name. Situated on a bench where the Lower Dry Creek empties into the southern Walla Walla Valley, the vineyard varies from deep deposits of windblown loess to shallow layers of gravelly cobble. It is planted mainly with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc with a bit of Malbec and a few other varieties. These grapes compose the Tero Estate wines.
Flying Trout is aptly named as Ashley flies down to Argentina for part of the year working in the Mendoza region, making wine. Her main focus in Walla Walla is on Malbec, which is Argentina's principal grape and which is gaining a greater presence in Washington State. She also makes distinctive blends with Malbec and other grapes, as well as some varietal bottlings. She also has imported a crisp, dry Torrontes from Argentina. She has been involved in winemaking ever since she arrived from the D.C. area to attend Whitman College.
The Tero Estates - Flying Trout partnership is a remarkable one, which admirably reflects the spirit of cooperation and friendship that characterizes the Walla Walla Valley winemaking community. The winery is located at 52015 Seven Hills Road. It is open for Special Events and Thursdays from 3:00 to 6:30 for "Happy Hour" on the veranda. Phone: 541 203-0020.
No Blogs for the Next Two Weeks
On Thursday, June 3, I will be flying to New York City and will be there, and then in the Washington D.C. area, until June 16. I will have sporadic internet connectivity during that time and a busy schedule of activities. So I have determined that it would be best to suspend the posting of my blogs for the duration of this trip. I'll get back to you when I return!