- Written by Rand Sealey
Last March, I was one of the judges for Seattle Magazine's Washington Wine Awards. The wines were tasted blind in various categories according to variety or type, and price. The winners were announced in the August issue of Seattle Magazine. Here is a compilation of the winning wines which I have reviewed in the Review of Washington Wines and a few others, with my comments.
White Wine of the Year - 2014 Forgeron Cellars Chardonnay, Columbia Valley ($28) - In my review of March 2016, I called this a "nicely balanced" Chardonnay. Sourced from various vineyards, some from cool sites, some from warmer ones, it shows fine varietal character. At $28, it offers fine value. 18.5/20 points.
Chardonnay, $20 or Less - 2015 Chateau Ste. Michelle "Indian Wells" Chardonnay, Columbia Valley ($18) - I missed reviewing this, but after seeing the Awards listing, I picked up a bottle. I found it to be crowd-pleasing style of Chardonnay with semi tropical aromas and flavors, balanced by a bright, juicy finish. 18/20 points.
Rosé, All Prices - 2016 College Cellars Rosé of Pinot Gris, Columbia Valley, Reed Vineyard ($16) - From the teaching winery of the Walla Walla Community College, this was made from Pinot Gris grapes given extended hang time to produce a pleasingly supple copper hued Rosé. 18/20 points. March issue.
Red Wine of the Year - 2014 B. Leighton Syrah, Yakima Valley, Olsen Brothers Vineyard ($45) - Due to very limited availability, I have not reviewed this wine. But my nod from the Syrah over $40 category finalists would go to 2014 Mark Ryan "Lost Soul" Syrah, Yakima Valley, Red Willow Vineyard ($48) -"a stellar vintage from the first vineyard in Washington State to be planted with Syrah." 19.5/20 points. February issue.
Syrah, $25 - $40 - 2014 Kerloo Cellars Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Les Collines Vineyard ($40) - My review said "The flavors are alluring, with layers of lavish red and blue fruits.." 19/20 points. January issue.
Cabernet Sauvignon, $30 - $65 - 2014 Walla Walla Vintners Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley ($42) - This 86% Cabernet, with 6% Merlot, 5% Cab Franc and 3% Petit Verdot is very well put together. "The range of flavors give it a plus." 18.5+/20 points. April issue.
Red Blend, $20 - $40 - 2014 Mark Ryan "Numbskull" BDX Blend, Walla Walla Valley ($38) - I called this blend of 73% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Petit Verdot "mouth encompassing." 19/20 points. April 2016.
Red Blend, More than $40 - 2013 Long Shadows Chester-Kidder Red Blend. Columbia Valley ($55) - Somehow, I missed reviewing this. Long Shadows releases the Chester-Kidder a year later than the other portfolio wines. So I must have tasted the 2013 along with the other 2014's which scored 19.5/20 across the board. It should haver scored 19+ or 19.5/20 points.
Rhone Blend, $25 or Less - 2015 Kevin White Red Wine, Yakima Valley ($18) - I was going to review this wine in March, but pulled it when I found out it was sold out. The 2015 Kevin White "La Fraternité" Red Wine, Yakima Valley ($28) - 60% Grenache, 33% Mourvedre and 7% Syrah - 18.5/20 points, will be reviewed in the September issue - , along the 2015 "En Homage" Syrah, Yakima Valley ($28) 19/20 points.
Rhone Blend, More than $25 - 2014 W.T. Vintners Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley, Stoney Vine Vineyard ($35) - A fine exposition of "Rocks" fruit and minerality. 18.5/20 points. August issue.
- Written by Rand Sealey
In the August issue of the Review of Washington Wines, there are 20 wines scoring 19/20 points, two scoring 19.5/20 points and two scoring 20/20 points. How did I arrive at these scores?
As you all know, I use the University of California, Davis 20 Point wine scoring system. This was developed by the Enology department's faculty in the 1940's and '50's in order to arrive at a consistent system for qualitatively evaluating wines. The system was the standard until the advent of Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator 100 Point systems. The Davis system comprises of the following points assigned to wines:
Clarity - 2 points
Color - 2 points
Bouquet - 4 points
Total Acidity - 1 point
Sweetness - 1 point
Body/Texture - 2 points
Flavor/Taste - 2 points
Acescensy (Bitterness) - 1 point
Astringency - 1 point
Overall Quality - 4 points
Half points may be assigned.
The two most important attributes are Bouquet (4 points) and Overall Quality (4 points), defined as follows:
Distinct varietal characteristics, balanced bouquet - 4 points
Simply fruity characteristics, some bouquet - 3 points
Little varietal character, simple bouquet - 2 points
Underdeveloped nose, closed, non-apparent - 1 point
Defective nose, off odors - 0 points
Wines of "noble" quality with distinct and distinguishing character - 4 points
Wines that are "charming" with some special character - 3 points
Wines that are typical of the varietal/type and age - 2 points
Wines with no exceptional characteristics, but not flawed - 1 point
Wines with no exceptional characteristics, and possess flaws - 0 points
It is the these qualities that distinguish exceptional or great wines from good or very good ones. (The remaining points are for balance and without flaws, and all wines I review get one or two points in these categories). They have distinctive aromatics and special or distinguishing character. These are the ones that score 19, 19.5 or 20 points. Here are some examples from the August issue of the Review of Washington Wines.
2014 Co Dinn Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Sauvignon, Snipes Mountain, Roskamp Vineyard, Block Two ($50) - Classic varietal aromas - 3.5 points for Bouquet. 3.5 points for Overall Quality - 19/20 points.
2014 Walla Walla Vintners "GSM" Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley ($42) - Richly aromatic, complex nose. 3.5 points for Bouquet. 3.5 points for Overall Quality. 19/20 points.
2015 Rotie Cellars Southern Red Blend, Washington State ($48) - Seductive aromas. 3.5 points for Bouquet. Lavish, sensuous, complex flavors. 3.5 points for Overall Quality. 19.5/20 points.
2012 G. Cuneo Cellars "Seccopassa" Red Wine, Columbia Valley ($75) - Intense nose of dried fruits and aromatics. 3.5 points for Bouquet. "As good as any of the best Italian Amarones." 4 points for Overall Quality. 19.5/20 points.
2014 Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley ($94) - Classic, intoxicating nose. 4 points for Bouquet. "Admirably put together." 4 points for Overall Quality. 20/20 points.
2015 Rotie Cellars Northern Red Blend, Walla Walla Valley ($48) - Intoxicating, highly aromatic nose. 4 points for Bouquet. An array of complex flavors and aromas. 4 points for Overall Quality. 20/20 points.
Does this mean a 20 points wine is equivalent to a 100 points wine, or a 19 points wine a 95 point one? The answer is no. Do not multiply the 20 point system score by five to get an equivalent 100 points score. The 100 point systems (The Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator) are more subjective and less qualitative than the 20 point system than the 20 point system. A U.C. Davis 20 point wine is a balanced, distinguished "noble" wine worthy of admiration, without having to bow down before an almighty 99 or 100 points Bordeaux.
What all this brings us to is that the 19, 19.5 and 20 points scoring wines in the Review of Washington Wines offer greater value for the money than the highly coveted wines from elsewhere.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Chris Dowsett is not only the winemaker for the Buty Winery in Walla Walla; he also makes his own wines under the Dowsett Family label. They are truly family produced, with some of the grapes coming from Chris' aunt, and his sister and brother in law. Recently, I got samples of the new releases along with Chris' comments on the wines. Here are my reviews, together with the commentary.
2016 Dowsett Family Riesling, Columbia Gorge, Aunt Diane's Vineyard ($16) - Brilliant gold colored, this possesses an intriguing, rich, smoky nose of Asian pear-apple, white peach, musk melon, grapefruit, honeysuckle, jasmine, lemongrass and oriental white incense. The flavors, as well, are distinctive, more in the Alsace style, with full bodied old vine character and notes of peach stone, grape skin extracts, and volcanic minerals. The back picks up melon rind, grapefruit peel, toasted hazelnuts and persistent minerals on the bone dry finish Makes a striking alternative to those ubiquitous off-dry and medium-dry Rieslings. A bargain at $16. 18.5/20 points.
Chris writes, "This is a dry Riesling from a tiny vineyard in the Gorge, above Husum, that my Aunt's family has owned for generations. The vines were planted in 1960 and went through periods of use and neglect. In 2012, my Aunt and I started to bring the vineyard back from the weeds and suckers. I did 37 cases of wine in 2014, 42 in 2015, and a massive 73 in 2016. It is at 1100-1150 feet elevation and has a long, slow growing season. Barrel fermented (very old and neutral) to give body and balance to the acidity, it is finished dry."
2016 Dowsett Family Gewürztraminer, Columbia Gorge ($14) - Brilliant gold colored, this emits enticing aromas of pear, nectarine, citrus, melon, litchi nuts, honeysuckle, clover and spiced white incense. The flavors are fresh, lively and well extracted, with notes of fruit stones, pear skin, grape skin, and Columbia Gorge volcanic minerals. The back reveals sensations of poire William liqueur, grapefruit zest, ginger, melon rind and recurring litchi nuts on the way to a spice (nutmeg, clove, coriander) dusted dry finish. With plenty of varietal character, this scores 18.5/20 points.
Chris' comments: "This is the first version of this wine I have bottled. It is a blend of Celilo and Oak Ridge Vineyard fruit. I will continue to make the Celilo single vineyard release. I worked with Oak Ridge Vineyard from 1997-2001 at Canoe Ridge Vineyard, and always kept in touch with the owners. When a half acre of fruit opened up, I grabbed it. I tank fermented the Oak Ridge piece and blended some neutral oak fermented Celilo Vineyard fruit with it. I wanted to have a Gewürztraminer that I could let wine programs afford to pour by the glass, release a fresh spicy Gewurz young and still be able to give the Celilo release a longer period of bottle age before release. I will release this late summer."
2016 Dowsett Family "Georgia Rose" Pinot Noir Rosé, Oregon, Becklin Vineyards ($16.50) - Because this wine was made in Walla Walla, it is labeled "Oregon." Named for Georgia Rose Hannigan Johnson, Chris' maternal grandmother, it shows a pink-salmon color and intriguing aromas of strawberries, Rainier cherries, red currants, watermelon, cherry blossoms, pink lilac, and whiffs of white incense. The flavors are nicely extracted, just right, with notes of grape skin, melon rind and stony minerals. The back picks up fraise and cerise liqueurs and touches of dried currants and orange peel, followed by a crisp, dry finish. 18.5/20 points.
Chris: "This is the second vintage of this wine. My sister and brother-in-law bought some land on the east side of the Willamette Valley, in an area called Pete's Mountain. There are vines planted in 2000 on the site that they fell in love with. It is a strip of hillside with mostly Jory soils and three different clones of Pinot Noir. They are farmed by an amazing vineyard management company and they sell most of their fruit to a California winery and a few small Oregon wineries. I have used a small amount of the 777 clone Pinot Noir from the bottom of the hill for this wine. It was whole cluster pressed gently until I tasted excess tannins and phenolics, and then fermented cool in stainless. I love dry Pinot Noir Rosé and could not resist making this."
2015 Dowsett Family Pinot Noir, Oregon, Becklin Vineyards (price TBD) - This wine exhibits a deep brick red color and an intoxicating, smoky nose of wild fruits - fraises de bois, huckleberries, old tree cherries, black currants - with scents of crushed roses, pipe tobacco, oregano, sweet pea flowers, violets and oriental incense. On the palate, the flavors are deep and encompassing, replete with red licorice, cocoa powder, roasted coffee beans and mountainside earth and minerals. The velvety yet grainy textured back reveals sensations of pressed berries, cerise and cassis liqueurs, and touches of nougat and orange peel. The lingering finish is savory and sensuous, with the persistently smoky fruits wrapped around the slightly grainy moderate tannin finish that is lifted by vivid fruit acids. 19.5/20 points.
Chris: "This is the first red Pinot I have made for Dowsett Family. Growing up on a vineyard in Oregon, I fell in love with two things: Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir. I loved red Pinot, rosé Pinot and Blanc de Noir. I also tasted many wines and began to love the expression of the Pommard clone of Pinot Noir. I knew it was the one I would like to try and make someday. The Pommard at my sister's place is in the middle of the hill and beautiful. I could not resist making a tiny bit of this. I used just under 20% new French oak, fermented in small fermenters letting one get warm to balance some tannin with the acidity, and used 20% whole (uncrushed) clusters in one fermenter to lift the fruit a bit. We bottled just over 100 cases and will release in September. My entire family is very excited with this wine!"
- Written by Rand Sealey
Do you want wines that offer the most bang for the buck for your summer entertaining and enjoyment? Here's a list of recently reviewed wines that score 18.5/20 points for $25 a bottle or less. This list includes new reviews of wines from Kerloo Cellars and upcoming reviews of College Cellars.
2016 Kerloo Cellars Grenache Blanc, Walla Walla Valley, Blue Mountain Vineyard ($20) - Medium gold colored, this offers attractive aromas of pear-apple, peach, Crenshaw melon, pear blossoms, honeysuckle, jasmine and white incense. The flavors are vivid and nicely extracted, with notes of peach soon, melon skin and minerals. The back picks up poire and pacha liqueurs, melon rind and lemon zest, followed by a faintly honeyed yet lip-stinging finish. 18.5/20 points. New Review.
2016 W.T. Vintners Chenin Blanc, Columbia Valley, Stonebridge Vineyard ($20) - Chenin Blanc is one of Washington's most undervalued varieties. This one offers pear, peach, melon, honeysuckle and jasmine aromas of bright, expressive white fruit flavors. 18.5/20 points. To be reviewed in the August issue.
2016 Castillo de Feliciana Albariño, Columbia Valley ($22) - From a grape originating in the Galicia region of Spain, this shows intriguing aromas of pear-apple, honeydew melon, lime, white lilac, lemon verbena and fennel. The white fruit flavors are lively and bracing, picking up melon rind and creme fraiche on the way to a racy, persistent mineral finish. 18.5/20 points. - August.
2016 Gifford Hirlinger Estate Pinot Gris, Walla Walla Valley ($20) - Iridescent colored, this shows enticing scents of white lilac, pear blossoms, verbena and fennel with appealing white fruits dancing on the palate. More Alsace-like than most Washington Pinot Gris. 18.5/20 points. - August.
2016 College Cellars "RVM" White Wine, Walla Walla Valley ($20) - "RVM" stands for Roussanne (48%), Viognier (17%) and Marsanne (35%). It offers attractive fruit compote aromas and flavors that possess attractive vibrancy and a crisp, juicy finish. 18.5/20 points. - August
2016 Amavi Cellars Sémillon, Walla Walla Valley ($24) - Blended with 15% Sauvignon Blanc, this offers fresh, floral aromas and rich, crisp, well delineated flavors with a touch of beeswax (a trait of Semillon) and a lively finish. 18.5/20 points. - June
2016 Long Shadows "Poet's Leap" Riesling, Columbia Valley ($20) - This super value shows a gold color and enticing, floral aromas of pear, peach and citrus with scents of honeysuckle and clover. The flavors are vivid, finishing off-dry (1.2% residual sugar). 18.5/20 points. - June
2016 Kerloo Cellars Grenache Rosé, Columbia Valley, Painted Hills Vineyard ($22) - Brilliant salmon colored, this emits enticing aromas of strawberry, Rainer cherry and tangerine, with scents of alpine summer flowers and spiced white incense. The flavors, as well, are appealing, with notes of grape skin, tangerine peel and Painted Hills minerals. The back picks up kirsch and fraise liqueurs on the way to a lightly spiced, pleasingly juicy finish. 18.5/20 points. New Review.
2016 Aluvé Sangiovese Rosé, Walla Walla Valley ($22) - Pink-copper colored, this possesses enticing strawberry, cherry and cantaloupe aromas with scents of cherry blossoms and meadow wildflowers. The ripe fruits resonate on the palate and finish pleasantly juicy and dry. 18.5/20 points.- July
Julia's Dazzle Rosé, Horse Heaven Hills, The Benches Vineyard ($20) - From Pinot Gris grapes given extended hang time to produce a brilliant copper color, this offers aromas of cherry, grapefruit,muck melon and incense. The flavors are intermixed with grape skin, orange peel and melon rind and the finish is lifted by bright fruit acids. 18.5/20 points. - July
2016 Saviah Cellars Rosé, Walla Walla Valley ($18) - This is a tasty combination of 56% Sangiovese and 44% Barbera. It shows a brilliant copper-pink color and enticing aromas of strawberry, Rainier cherry, watermelon, spring flowers and white incense. The flavors are fresh and juicy with persistent minerality. 18.5/20 points. - June
2016 The Walla "Cruel Summer" Rosé Wine, Columbia Gorge ($22) - This has an added "secret ingredient." It shows a salmon color and aromas of strawberry, loganberry, red currant, rose petals and white spiced incense. The flavors are nicely extracted, with notes of tangerine peel and volcanic minerals. 18.5/20 points. - June
2015 Kerloo Cellars Syrah, Walla Walla Valley. Blue Mountain Vineyard ($20) - This bargain offers a deep ruby color and rich aromas of blackberry, blueberry and currants, with scents of black roses, mulberry, sweet tobacco and incense. The black and blue fruit flavors are generous and direct, with notes of licorice, cocoa, roasted coffee beans and minerals. The back picks up macerated berries, roasted nuts and creme de cassis, followed by a juicy, savory moderate tannin finish. Buy now, the supply won't last long. 18.5/20 points. New Review.
2016 College Cellars "La Laurella" Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley ($25) - This 100% Sangiovese was originally intended to be part of a "Super Tuscan" blend, but was deemed outstanding enough to be on its own. Well structured and Tuscan-like with notes of black cherry, plum and olive. with a dryish finish. 18.5/20 points. Full review to be in August.
2015 College Cellars "GSM" Red Wine, Columbia Valley ($25) - This blend of 45% Grenache, 37% Mourvedre and 18% Syrah offers enticing berry and currant aromas with scents of red roses, tobacco and incense. The flavors pick up dusty earth and minerals along with cassis and charcoal. 18.5/20 points. - August.
2015 College Cellars Petit Verdot, Walla Walla Valley, Clarke Vineyard ($25) - Crimson-colored and perfumed, this wine is velvety, yet forceful, with notes of French toast, silty minerals, creme de cassis and graphite, all very appealing. 18.5/20 points. - Full review August.
2015 College Cellars Tempranillo, Walla Walla Valley, Anderson Vineyard ($25) - Richly aromatic and will-structured, with notes of mulberry, licorice, chicory coffee, roasted nuts, and more, this wine is strikingly Rioja- like. Generous, yet focused. 18.5/20 points. - August
2014 Buty BEAST "Wildebeest" Red Wine, Columbia Valley ($22) - This mix of 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Syrah, 16% Merlot, 1% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Franc, 7% Mourvedre and 3% Grenache is more than a catch-all blend. It combines the structure of the BDX varieties with the fleshy Rhone varietal fruits. 18.5/20 points. - July
- Written by Rand Sealey
While working on the August Review of Washington Wines (on line July 24), I noticed that there were quite a few blends of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre in that issue. I counted six. I thought this must be a trend. I counted five more in the May through July issues.
GSM blends have been among our favorite Washington wines. We also love the blends of the South Rhone Valley, especially those of Vacqueyras, Gigondas and Chateauneuf du Pape, the inspirations for the GSM blends. Here's how the three varieties figure into the GSM blends.
Grenache - This generally (but not always) is the dominant grape in the GSM blends. Ripe and fleshy, with a medium bodied flavor profile, it gives blends a supple texture.
Syrah - This is the principal grape of the North Rhone, but it usually plays a secondary role in the South Rhone. It gives body and character to the GSM blends.
Mourvèdre - This grape usually plays a supporting role, too. Mourvèdre lends a spicy, smoky character to the wines.
The percentages of these grapes vary from one wine to another. Sometimes Cinsault, Counoise, Bourboulenc and Clairette may enter into the mixes (as in Chateauneuf du Pape). Here's a rundown of recently reviewed GSM blends with their varietal percentages.
2014 W.T. Vintners Red Blend, Walla Walla Valley, Stoney Vine Vineyard ($35) - 40% Grenache, 57% Syrah, 3% Mourvèdre - To be reviewed August
2014 Co Dinn "GSM" Red Wine, Yakima Valley, Lonesome Springs Vineyard ($45) - 36% Grenache, 35% Syrah, 29% Mourvèdre - August
2014 Saviah Cellars "GSM" Red Wine, Yakima Valley ($38) - 66% Grenache, 22% Syrah, 12% Mourvèdre - August
2014 Walla Walla Vintners "GSM" Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley ($42) - 67% Grenache, 32% Syrah, 11% Mourvèdre. - August
2015 Rôtie Cellars Southern Red Blend, Washington State ($48) - 70% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 15% Mourvèdre - August
2015 College Cellars "GSM" Red, Columbia Valley ($25) - 45% Grenache, 18% Syrah, 37% Mourvèdre - August
2014 Forgeron Cellars "Façon Rouge" Red Wine ($35) - 16% Grenache, 58% Syrah, 26% Mourvèdre - July
2014 Avennia "Justine" Red Wine, Columbia Valley ($40) - 45% Grenache, 19% Syrah, 36% Mourvèdre - May
2014 Betz "Bésoleil" Red Wine, Columbia Vallery ($40) - 33% Grenache, 24% Counoise, 17% Cinsault, 6% Mourvèdre - May
2013 Woodward Canyon "Erratic" Estate Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley ($59) - 9% Grenache, 46% Mourvèdre, 9% Grenache - May
2013 Tranche Cellars "Slice of Pape" Red Wine ($35) - 26% Grenache, 40% Syrah, 34% Mourvèdre - May
Here are a couple of South Rhone GSM blends we've enjoyed:
2013 Domaine Sang de Cailloux Vaqueyras ($32) - Mostly Grenache with some Syrah and Mourvèdre
2012 Pierre Amadieu "Le Pas de l'Aigle Gigondas ($36) - 85% Grenache, 15% Syrah