- Written by Rand Sealey
About a week ago, Sean Sullivan who publishes the on-line Washington Wine Report (www.wawinereport.com) sent me an email asking me about my experience with Washington Chenin Blanc and my perception of it. Here is my reply:
Chenin Blanc, in my experience, was never any more than a bit player in the Washington Wine scene. It, I believe, is one of Washington's most undervalued varietals. Chenin Blanc makes more interesting wines than a lot of Chardonnay which has a pervasive sameness. I think the wines compare favorably to those of France's Loire Valley. The drier versions resemble Savennieres. McKinley Springs makes a fine dry Chenin. L'Ecole No. 41 makes a fine off-dry version which originated in the early '80's as Jean Ferguson's tribute to her cherished Vouvrays. Other good producers are Cedergreen and Hestia.
I don't know of any specific Chenin Blanc vineyards being pulled out. But it would not surprise me to learn that some did get pulled out. This is unfortunate, as much of the plantings of Chenin Blanc are over 30 years old and exhibit the floral aromatics, body and minerality that make the wines so distinctive.
I think the decline in consumption of Chenin Blanc is the result of an image problem. Chenin Blanc comes on as being a "cheaper" variety than Chardonnay or even Riesling. It is also being perceived as somewhat "sweet." These are not images that help widen the appeal of Chenin Blanc. To make a real comeback, it would need to become more prestigious. The quality is there, and there is the potential for even better wines, but given the market, there doesn't seem to be a lot of incentive. I think Chenin Blanc will continue to be a "niche" variety. It's main appeal would be to customers who buy off-beat wines such as those offered by Full Pull, as in Paul Zitarelli's "Save the Chenin" offerings.
Here are a few Chenin Blancs that I have recommended in previous issues of the Review of Washington Wines. As crisp, aromatic medium-full flavored wines, they would lend themselves well to lighter fare such as shellfish and chicken.
2009 Hestia Cellars Chenin Blanc, Columbia Valley ($15) - May 2010 issue
This is a delightful Chenin (a highly underrated varietal). It offers an enticing nose of Asian pear, peach, lilac and honeysuckle with a hint of fennel. The white fruit flavors are well extracted, with undertones of wet stone and peach pit that extend into a ripe, dry finish that shows tones of orange peel and almonds on a faintly honeyed yet dry finish. 18+/20 points.
2009 L'Ecole No. 41 "Walla Voila" Chenin Blanc, Columbia Valley ($14) - August 2010
"Walla Voila" originated as Jean Ferguson's tribute to her cherished Vouvrays, and it continues to be one of Washington's best renditions of Chenin Blanc. This vintage shows a brilliant gold color and enticing pear, peach and nectarine aromas with scents of honeysuckle. The well-extracted flavors are deliciously lively, with the slightly honeyed papaya and pineapple counterpointed by a crisp, citrusy finish. 18/20 points.
2009 Cedergreen Chenin Blanc, Columbia Valley ($17) - October 2010
Kevin Cedergreen sources his Chenin Blanc from 30 year-old vines at Willard Farms. This vintage exhibits an enticing nose of pear, melon and honeysuckle with an aroma of melon peel. The white fruit flavors show a definite stony minerality and old vine character, counterpointed by a supple texture. The back palate picks up grape skin, pear peel and leesy creaminess (from sur-lie aging) on the way to a crisp, lively finish. 18/20 points.
2009 McKinley Springs Chenin Blanc, Horse Heaven Hills ($12) - April 2011
This has to be one of the biggest bargains in white wine, from an undervalued varietal. Made in a dry style that recalls a Savennieres from Anjou, this Chenin shows a brilliant straw color and fresh aromas of pear, peach, honeysuckle and orange blossoms. The bright fruit compote flavors are ripe and well extracted and pick up tones of Horse Heaven minerals along with subtle spices, followed by a crisp, flinty dry finish. 18/20 points.
Some 2010 Chenin Blancs have already been released and others will come on the market in the coming months. Watch upcoming issues of the Review for reviews of these.
The next Review Blog to go on line May 2nd. - The May issue of the Review of Washington Wines goes on line Monday, May 2, and that week's blog will go on line simultaneously.
- Written by Rand Sealey
This posting is headed the way it is because, this year, there are two "Spring Release" weekends in Walla Walla. The first, April 8-10, was called "Cayuse Weekend" because that was when Cayuse Vineyards released its new vintages. The next Spring Release Weekend will be May 6-8, the "official" event, sponsored by the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance. Here's my report on the first spring event.
There were three new tasting room opening events:
Trio Cellars - In my blog of 17 January, I reported that Steve Michener and Denise Slattery had sold their winery to Karen La Bonte. The tasting room was slated to reopen in mid March, but the bureaucratic process of federal and state winery license transfers took longer than expected. Trio Cellars finally reopened on Thursday, April 7. Karen has done a great job expanding and redecorating the tasting room. I tasted some new releases - 2010 "Tres Rose," 2009 Primitivo and 2008 Cabernet Franc that will be reviewed in the June issue of the Review of Washington Wines.
Sleight of Hand Cellars - Trey Busch and Jerry Solomon hosted a "soft" opening (the Grand Opening to be in May) on Friday, t he 8th. The new building on J.B. George Road, next to Saviah, has been painted red, and the tasting room is stocked with Trey's classic LP record collection. There, we tasted the bright young 2010 "Magician" Gewurztraminer and 2010 "Magician's Assistant" Cab Franc Rose (to be in the June issue). The newly-released 2009 Funkadelic Syrah rocked (see the March issue).
Charles Smith Wines - Friday was also this winery's Grand Opening on South Spokane Street in downtown Walla Walla. The decor, designed by Olson Kundig Architects of Seattle, is industrial modern in a spacious building that was once an automotive service shop. There, we tasted new 2009 releases from K Vintners and the new 2010 Kung Fu Girl Riesling (these to be reviewed in June). On Saturday evening, there was a grand opening fete with paella prepared by chef Jim German of the Jimgerman Bar in Waitsburg.
Other noteworthy events:
Reynvaan Family Vineyards - On Friday morning, we drove out to the end of Cottonwood Road to revisit the Reynvaans' '08's and '09's. The 2009's - to be released in fall - are on track to becoming phenomenal wines (see the March issue for a preview review).
The Bank and Grill Dinner - Friday evening, Jan and Doug Roskelly coordinated a dinner at The Bank and Grill on Main Street in Milton-Freewater. Paired with Tero Estates and Flying Trout wines, the seared steak, prepared by owner Paul Freeman, was superb, tender and deliciously flavorful. This place is well worth driving down to M-F for.
Dusted Valley - On Saturday, I visited Chad Johnson and Corey Braunel's winery south of town. I sampled some tasty new reds - a 2009 Grenache, the 2008 Stained Tooth Syrah and the outstanding 2008 BFM "Bordeaux Blend" which will be reviewed in June.
Woodward Canyon - On Sunday, we drove west to Lowden and tasted some fine new releases with Rick Small: the 2008 Charbonneau Red and the 2008 "Old Vines" Dedication Series Cabernet, to be reviewed in June.
Robison Ranch Cellars - In the afternoon, we visited with Ruth and Brad Riordan and Jane Robison and got previews of the recently-bottled 2010 whites and the Ranch's 2008 Dinner Bell Red ("DRB") blend. Watch for reviews in June.
The Review of Washington Wines on Facebook - Go to the Review's Wall for pictures of some of these events.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Since early March, I have been participating in a wine tasting group in Walla Walla that meets about every three or four weeks. Most of the group is in the wine industry in one way or another. Each time, about ten tasters show up bringing a bottle of wine for the evening's theme. The wines are tasted blind in two or three flights. Then, the top two from each flight are re-tasted together to get the overall ranking of the top wines. The results can sometimes be surprising. Here are summaries of the three tastings I have attended so far.
The first was an Italian Barolo tasting. Eleven wines were tasted. The top wine turned out to be a "ringer" - a 2005 La Velona Brunello di Montalcino, made from Sangiovese Grosso, not the Nebbiolo of Barolo. Curiously, two of the top three wines were the same, 2005 Barolos from Terra da Vino "Essenze," but they tasted decidedly different, which indicates that Italian wines can show bottle variation.
The next tasting was hosted by Lynn and myself at our home in Walla Walla. It consisted of Oddball Cabernet Sauvignons, which was defined as ones not coming from Washington, California, Bordeaux or Coonawara. It was a wide-ranging collection from around the world, including Italy, Hungary and Arizona. The final four were, in order of preference, 2007 Concha y Toro "Terruyno" Old Pirique Vineyard, Maipo, Chile, 2005 Fraser from Idaho, 2007 Neil Ellis, Jonkershoek Valley, South Africa, and 2007 Cousino-Macul "Antiguas Reservas, Maipo, Chile.
Our last tasting was held on March 30th. It was Alsace Riesling. A wide range of styles were presented, ranging from clean and fruity wines to ones with heavy phenolic aromatics. The number one wine was a German "ringer," a 2008 Heymann Lowenstein Schiefersterrassen from Winningen on the lower Mosel just before the river flows into the Rhine at Koblenz. Number two was a 2005 Domaine Weinbach Schlossberg Cuvee Ste. Catherine and number three was a 2008 Zind Humbrecht Clos Hauserer. At this tasting, opinions about the wines varied considerably with some wines being ranked low as well as high, which goes to show that results can be highly variable even among expert tasters.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Last weekend, March 26-27, we attended Taste Washington Seattle. On Saturday, there were the Seminars. I attended one morning and one afternoon session. Lynn attended two other seminars, "Ladies First: Women in Washington Wine" and "With a Rebel Yell: Washington Wine Rock n Roll Winemakers." On Sunday, we both attended the Grand Tasting as media participants. Here's my report.
I attended the morning seminar, "Washington Emerging Varieties: Grenache Panache," moderated by Bob Betz (Betz Family Winery). The panelists were Shannon Berg (Seattle Magazine), Brian Carter (Brian Carter Cellars), Sara Schneider (Sunset Magazine) and Sean Sullivan (Washington Wine Report). After introductory remarks by Bob Betz, Brian Carter started the discussion with various quotes from Washington wine pioneer Dr. Walter Clore about how Grenache vines need to be stressed to establish strong roots and whose fruit needs to be handled gently. Of the wines tasted, I found the 2009 Betz "Besoleil" Grenache (to be reviewed in the May Review issue) and the 2009 Maison Bleue "La Montagnette" (April) to be the standouts.
My afternoon seminar, "What's the Point(s) Rating Washington Wines" was moderated by Sean Sullivan (Washington Wine Report) with panelists Rebecca Murphy (The Dallas Morning News), Sara Schneider (Sunset Magazine), and W. Blake Gray (The Gray Market Report). The panelists stated their rating systems: Sara Schneider and the Sunset Magazine wine evaluation staff use 20 points but only for internal use - recommendations are reported without scores. Blake Gray hates the 100 point system and uses a Five Star rating system. Rebecca Murphy's The Dallas Morning News uses blind tasting panels to evaluate wines. There was a good deal of discussion by winemakers and the panel, with many disliking the 100 point system and how it caters to marketing wines by the numbers. Christophe Hedges (Hedges Family Estate) made an impassioned advocacy for not making wines for ratings. Allen Shoup (Long Shadows) made a pertinent statement that how wines taste and go with food is more meaningful. Two standout wines were the 2009 Long Shadows "Poet's Leap" Riesling (my rating, 19/20 points) and the 2006 Grande Reve Collaboration III Syrah (19/20 points) I rated the 2008 Hedges Family Estate Red Mountain Blend a "Best Buy" at 18+/20 points.
The Grand Tasting
I found the 200 winery event at the vast Quest Field Event Center to be unwieldy and difficult to navigate. Luckily, we got an hour and a half head start as media participants. There did not seem to be too many problems with overindulgence by the public, but did find people hogging the tables at sought after wineries such as Betz Family Winery, Andrew Will and Gorman. There was plenty of good food and some of the most interesting wines were at the AVA tables, such as the Yakima Valley and Lake Chelan (where I tasted an excellent sparkling wine from Karma Cellars). Standout wines were found at Betz Family Winery, Andrew Will and Gorman Winery - I will review these in the May issue of my Review of Washington Wines.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Notes on Recent Winery Visits
During the past few weeks, we've been here and there around the wine country: Walla Walla, the Columbia Gorge and Woodinville. I will be reporting on these visits in the April and May issues of my Review of Washington Wines. Here, I'm giving you a preview of what's coming up soon and later.
The Columbia Gorge
On our way back from Bend, Oregon to Walla Walla, we stopped at Domaine Pouillon. I will be reviewing Alexis' and Juliet's new 2010 Gewurztraminer and 2008 Pierre Red in April. We also tasted a superb 2008 McDuffee Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon which will be released this summer. Later, there will be a fine 2008 Tablas Creek clone Syrah and a sensational 2010 Viognier Ice Wine that comes in at 16% Residual sugar, balanced by bracing acidity (3.7 ph). Syncline Cellars will soon release a delicious Rose composed of one-third Pinot Noir and two-thirds Rhone varietals.
Walla Walla Valley
At Buty (named for Caleb's wife, Nina) I picked up samples of Caleb Foster's stellar new reds: 2009 Merlot-Cabernet Franc, 2008 Champoux Vineyard and 2008 Rediviva of the Stones, all scoring 19 points or higher. Watch for the reviews in the April issue.
Last Saturday (March 19) we drove to Woodinville and visited several wineries. One of them was Guardian Cellars where we tasted with owner-winemaker Jerry Riener. Two wines (2008 Syrah and 2008 Gun Metal) will be reviewed in April. The knockout wine was the 2008 "The Wanted" Red. Only 14 cases were remaining, not enough to put in the May issue (April had already been wrapped up), so here is my review.
2008 Guardian Cellars "The Wanted" Red, Columbia Valley, Stillwater Creek Vineyard ($37)
This 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Cabernet Franc, comes from the Frenchman Hills near Othello. It is one of the thickest, suavest, most sensuous blends I've run across. Deep ruby colored, it emits a seductive wild berry nose with scents of lavender, rose petals, orange peel and oriental incense. The flavors are svelte, yet well-saturated, constituting a lavish intermix of ripe fruit, Swiss chocolate, licorice and earthy minerals. The back picks up notes of dried berries and cherries, recurring orange peel, creme brulee and spices (nutmeg, coriander, clove) on the way to a lingering toasty oak-laced (86% new French) supple tannin finish. This definitely a wine to be "wanted." 19.5/20 points.
We also visited Adams Bench where we tasted the 2008 Red Willow Cabernet Sauvignon. It came close to the 2007 which got 20/20 points last year. It will be reviewed in the May issue (19.5+/20 points). We also had the opportunity to compare the 2007 and 2008 Reckoning Red Blends (the 2008 reviewed in March - 19.5 points). The 2007 was showing better than the 2008 at the time, but I thought (and Tim Blue agreed with me) the 2008 had greater potential.
While in Woodinville, we visited a craft distillery in the Wine Warehouses district. It was the Project V Distillery and Sausage Company. It produces a vodka called "Single Silo," distilled from Washington winter wheat grown Joe and Anita Sprauer's family farm outside Withrow. Although most vodka is fairly neutral, this one was very clean and crisp and showed hints of toasted grain with a bracing hint of lemon. It is ideal for vodka martinis.