- Written by Rand Sealey
"A Celebration of Washington Syrah: Thirty Wines - Ten Vintages - Two Vineyards - One Winemaker"
On Monday, May 23, I attended a vertical tasting of ten vintages - 1997 to 2006 - of McCrea Cellars Syrahs, from the Dick Boushey's Grand Cote Vineyard (Yakima Valley), Jim Holmes' Ciel du Cheval Vineyard (Red Mountain) and Cuvee Orleans (blend from both), thirty wines in all. Hosted by Bob and Susan Neel, co-owners (with Doug and Kim McCrea) at Urban Enoteca (see the February 2011 issue of the Review of Washington Wines for more about this wine venue). It was a remarkable event. It was not a sit-down tasting. Instead, the wines were arranged on three tables in an open rectangle formation, with each set of the three designations on each table. Tasters moved around and sampled in whatever order they preferred. I went through each table one by one, going from the youngest (2006) to the oldest (1997) wine. Here is my summary of the most noteworthy wines, by vintage.
2006 - From a warm year, the wines showed well. The Ciel du Cheval was the most exceptional, showing a nose of raspberries, cherries, tobacco and a hint of violets, along with typical Red Mountain scorched earth. The Cuvee Orleans (a blend of select barrels from Grand Cote and Ciel du Cheval) showed smoky lavender and sage aromas and roasted berry flavors.
2005 - The Ciel du Cheval was a standout from an "indian summer" harvest - aromas of rose, lavender and sage, with ripe, completely integrated flavors, earthy but not heavy.
2004 - From a challenging vintage with a hot summer and a cooler harvest, the Cuvee Orleans displayed the most character, comprising of roasted berries, orange peel, earth and spice.
2003 - This was another very warm vintage. Here, the Ciel du Cheval showed well the typical characteristics of Red Mountain: an orange peel and incense nose, with generous, warm fruit, spices and pepper.
2002 - Again, another warm vintage. The Ciel du Cheval showed aromatics of raspberry, orange peel and incense, with squeezed dried berries and good acids. The Cuvee Orleans displayed roast berry and coffee aromas, with dried grape skin on the back and ripe, mature tannins.
2001 - Another warm vintage, with very ripe grapes. The Ciel du Cheval was the standout, with smoky oriental perfumes. The fine fruit acids have supported this wine for nearly a decade. The Boushey Grand Cote also showed well, with smoky dried berry and orange peel aromas and seductive flavors of a maturing Syrah.
2000 - From one of the hottest vintages in Washington history, the wines showed roasted fruit characteristics, with hints of caramel and roasted coffee, drying up a bit on the finish.
1999 - With a warm summer and cool nights, the vintage produced wines with fine fruits, balance and structure. The Boushey Grand Cote stood out, with oriental perfumes, orange peel and fine balance, followed by a long, nutted finish.
1998 - With this vintage, from another hot year, the wines were starting to show their age: dried berries, some fruit on the middle palate, but falling off on the finish.
1997 - This was a cool, marginal vintage. Again, the fruits were present in the middle, but dried up on the finish.
In addition, there were three whites. A 2009 Viognier which was fresh and juicy, and a 1997 Viognier which was truly remarkable, with butternut and tropical fruits, very much alive, unlike the reds of the same vintage. The 1990 Chardonnay was "interesting." Two 1994 Syrahs, one aged in French oak, and one in American oak showed a nutted dryness, but were still drinkable.
All in all, it was a truly memorable tasting. Many thanks to McCrea Cellars for this experience.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Buy 'Em Before They're Gone
For the summer months, many wineries make limited production wines that often get sold out shortly after they are released. These may include roses, but can include white and red wines as well. Here are some that I ran across during Spring Release Weekend in Walla Walla.
2010 Isenhower Cellars "Pink Paintbrush" Cabernet Franc Rose, Yakima Valley ($15 - winery only)
Light copper colored, this rose emits an intrriguing nose of semi-dried raspberries and cherries. The dried berry character (from extended skin contact) continues on the palate, followed by notes of mandarin orange and cranberry juices on a dry finish. 17.5/20 points.
2010 Amavi Cellars Semillon, Walla Walla Valley ($20)
Brilliant gold colored, this offers a fresh pear and melon nose with scents of jasmine and butternut. The flavors possess a beeswax-like texture that counterpoints the grapefruit and melon fruit acids, to make for a refreshing wine that would go well with shellfish. 18/20 points.
2010 Amavi Cellars Cabernet Franc Rose, Walla Walla Valley ($20)
Deep salmon colored, this displays enticing raspberry and watermelon aromas, with intriguing scents of rhubarb and orange peel. The flavors are well extracted (from skin contact) and imbued with tones of lightly squeezed berry juices, followed by a crisp, nearly dry finish. 18/20 points.
2010 Fjellene Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, Walla Walla Valley ($20)
This Sauvignon is made in a crisp, refreshing style. Light gold colored, it offers a striking nose of pear, melon, anise and lilac. The flavors are fresh and vibrant, enlivened by grapefruit and casaba melon fruits, and accented by stony minerals on a crisp finish that is counterpointed by a hint of fig. 18/20 points.
2010 Fjellene Cellars Rose, Columbia Valley ($20)
Composed of 100% Syrah, this brilliant pink colored wine exhibits aromas of wild strawberries, cranberries, rose petals and oriental spices. The bright flavors are deep and focused, with tones of watermelon juice and spiced orange peel, followed by a dusting of nutmeg and coriander of a lingering finish that shows vivid fruit acids. 18+/20 points.
2010 L'Ecole No. 41 Chenin Blanc, Columbia Valley ($14)
This new vintage sports the winery's new label and drops the "Walla Voila" designation. It offers a fragrant pear, melon, lilac and honeysuckle nose and fresh, lively peach and grapefruit flavors that show bracing fruit acids to counterpoint the medium-dry (1.5% residual sugar) finish. 17.5+/20 points.
2010 L'Ecole No. 41 Grenache Rose, Horse Heaven Hills, Alder Ridge Vineyard ($19 - winery only)
Very crisp and dry (0.5% residual sugar, no malolactic), this rose shows a pale rose color and aromas of cranberry and tangerine, with scents of wildflowers. The bright flavors are nicely fruited and hold on from the entry through the lightly spiced finish. 18/20 points.
2010 Buty "BEAST" Rose of the Stones, Rockgarden Estate, Walla Walla Valley ($19 - winery only)
Basically from young vines from this vineyard, and composed of Syrah and Grenache, this exhibits a pale copper color and spicy aromatics of raspberry and mandarin orange, along with vivid, dryish fruit flavors that are mouth-filling and satisfying, followed by a lively, dryish finish. 18/20 points.
Here are a couple of flavorful reds that would make fine barbecue wines.
2008 Trio Vintners Cabernet Franc, Yakima Valley ($26)
This Chinon-like Cab Franc displays a deep ruby color and smoky aromas of raspberries, cherries, tobacco and sage. The flavors are generous and savory, underlain with notes of licorice, chocolate, earth and minerals, followed by a chewy moderate tannin finish. 18+/20 points.
2006 Tranche Cellars Barbera, Columbia Valley ($20)
Deep ruby colored, this wine offers rich, smoky aromas of wild berries and cherries, with scents of rosebuds and mulberry. The dark fruit flavors are deep and tangy, like macerated tart cherries, accompanied by licorice, scorched earth and bitter chocolate, followed by persistent fruit acids on a lingering sweet-dry finish. Would make a fine counterpoint to grilled steak. 18/20 points.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Spring Release Weekend, May 6-8, was a busy one in the Walla Walla Valley. There was a lot of activity, which was confirmed by a number of people in the industry. Here are some of my highlights.
On Friday morning, I drove to Rasa Vineyards on Powerline Road, south of Walla Walla. There, I tasted some fine new '08's and '09's which will be in the July issue of the Review of Washington Wines. MacKey Vineyards' wines are also made there and will be reviewed. In the early afternoon, I went to Long Shadows where I tasted new vintages of Poet's Leap Riesling, Pedestal and Chester-Kidder. Later in the afternoon, I stopped by Seven Hills where Casey McClellan poured some library wines from the late '90's and early '80's which showed remarkably well. Then there was the Corliss Estates' release party where I tasted the impressive '05 Malbec, '05 Cabernet Franc, and a preview of the '06 Red Blend. All were superb, nearly seamless wines. That evening was the Robison Ranch Cellars club party with tasty pork spareribs. Later, I stopped by the Sinclair Estate tasting room to hear music played by Paul Gregutt, Peter and winery owner Tim Sinclair.
Saturday morning, I visited aMaurice where Anna Schafer poured here new '09 Viognier and '08 Syrah and "Tobey" Blend. Then, I went to Artifex to taste new releases from Cadaretta, and a newcomer to Walla Walla, Gino Cuneo's Tre Nova. After that, I stopped at Gramercy Cellars' new tasting room on South 9th, where Amavi used to be. The setting was rustic comfy, with leather sofas and a big screen HD T.V. At the airport, I visited Steve Brooks' new Trust Cellars digs. In the evening, Tranche Cellars (part of Corliss Estates) had it's party with live music.
Early Sunday afternoon, I drove south to see Fjellene Cellars (see the March 2011 issue for its earlier releases), Tertulia Cellars and Dusted Valley (a Focus report will be in the June issue). That wrapped up a busy weekend.
Watch for full reports in the June and July issues of the Review of Washington Wines.
An Auspicious Debut for Vinyl Wines
Today (Wednesday May 11) I met with Chip McLaughlin, younger brother of Erik McLaughlin of Corliss Estates, for lunch. At it, he brought his two new wines, his first. They were fine first efforts. For ordering and more information go to www.vinylwines.com. Here are my reviews.
2010 "R3" Rose, Columbia Valley ($15)
Predominately Cabernet Franc, this shows a brilliant pink color and a fragrant, attractive strawberry and cherry nose with a hint of spice. The flavors are fresh and sprightly, just as a rose should be. The finish is lively, off-dry and lightly spiced. 17.5+/20 points.
2009 Grenache, Walla Walla Valley ($25)
This exhibits a deep garnet color and a rich, sultry nose of wild raspberries and cherries, with scents of mulberry, rosebud and incense. The medium-bodied flavors are Pinot Noir-like, but with more of a roasted berry character. On the back, tones of licorice, cola, mocha and graphite emerge, followed by a squeezing of macerated cranberry juice and a twist of orange peel on a moderate tannin finish. 18+/20 points.
- Written by Rand Sealey
I have been in Walla Walla a few days now and have picked up some of the latest news.
Is Spring Here Yet?
When the Horizon Air Flight arrived in Walla Walla Monday afternoon, passengers, including myself, were greeted by 40 mph wind gusts as they got off the plane. Daytime temperatures are still in the 50's. There is not much activity in the vineyards as most vines are still dormant, either due to the devastating freeze of November or to the cold spring weather. The extent of freeze damage will not be known until the weather warms up enough for the vines to bud (or not).
Kerloo Cellars to Open a Tasting Room Downtown
Speculation as to who would be taking over the space formerly occupied by Sleight of Hand Cellars on South Second ended when Ryan and Renee Crane announced that they would be opening a tasting room in that location. Liquor license approval is pending, but the Cranes expect to open in early June. Doubleback Cellars and Caprio Vineyards will be taking over the space vacated by Nicholas Cole Cellars this summer.
Walla Walla Wineries Gear Up for Another Spring Release Weekend
After "Cayuse Weekend," April 8-9, wineries are getting ready for another Spring Release Weekend. Sleight of Hand Cellars, Charles Smith Wines and Trio Vintners have already had openings, but are planning additional "Grand Opening" events.
New Downtown Eateries
What's in the Kitchen restaurant and catering has moved to Main Street in a location formerly occupied by a jewelry store, as The Green Spoon. The menu is an eclectic combination of sandwiches, salads, burgers (beef, lamb and veggie) and vegetarian dishes. The liquor license is pending and, in the meantime, the establishment is offering free corkage., Another new downtown restaurant is the CrossRoads Steakhouse, formerly at the Crossroads Golf Course, now on West Alder in the location formerly occupied by 26 Brix. The steaks are thick, tender and delicious. Accompaniments are straightforward, Western style. Corkage is $15.
- 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.