- 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.
- 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.