- Written by Rand Sealey
Taste Washington - A Report
Taste Washington is the Washington Wine Commission's biggest event of the year. Held on March 27th this year, it featured over 200 wineries, 800 wines, and over 75 restaurants. The event was so big, it was overwhelming. For the most part, I could only focus on wineries I was not familiar with and hope to make some discoveries. Here are some of my finds.
Animale - This ultra boutique winery poured a fine 2007 Petit Verdot (44 cases) and Syrah (45 cases). I will check this out.
Stomani Cellars - This small winery in Seattle's SODO district has some nice chewy Italian varietals, especially Sangiovese, and blends. I will visit the winery and find out more.
Walter Dacon - This Shelton winery had a fine line-up of '07 Syrahs - C'est Belle, C'est Beaux, Magnifique. Will make an appointment to retaste.
College Cellars of Walla Walla Community College - Under the tutelage of Billo Naravane (Rasa Vineyards) who was at the table, the College's students have turned out a nice '08 Semillon and '07 Scholarship Red.
Cedergreen Cellars - Kevin Cedergreen had some nice whites, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc, and reds, Thuja, Merlot, Cabernet. I re-tasted later with Kevin and will report on the wines in June.
Irlandes - I tasted a nice '07 Syrah and '07 Merlot. They have a tasting room in Woodinville, so I will check it out later.
The Taste Washingon Seminar: Common Ground - Boushey Vineyard
The day before the Grand Tasting (see above) Taste Washington conducted a series of Seminars. Lynn and I attended one of them which focused on Dick Boushey's vineyard near Prosser, in the foothills of the Rattlesnake Mountains. It was moderated by Bob Betz, owner-winemaker of Betz Family Winery. The panel consisted of Dick Boushey, Joshua Greene (Wine & Spirits magazine) Kevin Pogue (Professor of Geology, Whitman College) and Sara Schneider (Sunset magazine).
Bob Betz kicked off the discussion by stating the seminar's purpose as exploring the "sensory consequence of site specific wines." Seven wines were poured, six of them from wineries using Boushey Vineyard fruit:
2007 JM Cellars, Syrah, Yakima Valley, Boushey Vineyard
2007 Bunnell Family Cellar Syrah, Yakima Valley, Boushey-McPherson Vineyard
2007 Sparkman Cellars Syrah, Yakima Valley, "The Darkness," Boushey-McPherson Vineyard
2008 Forgeron Cellars Syrah, Yakima Valley, "La Serenne Block" (Barrel sample)
2008 Maison Bleue Syrah, "Liberte," Yakima Valley, Boushey Vineyard
2008 Betz Family Winery Syrah, "La Serenne," Yakima Valley
The seventh wine was not from Boushey Vineyard, but from Red Mountain:
2008 Betz Family Winery, "La Cote Rousse," Red Mountain
Winemakers were also present: Chris Sparkman, Ron Bunnell, Marie-Eve Gilla (Forgeron) and Jon Martinez (Maison Bleue). The discussion initially focused on the soil characteristics of the various blocks: Goldenview (Maison Bleue, JM Cellars) on silty loam over basalt, where roots grow deep; Boushey-McPherson (Bunnell, Sparkman) on high elevation with shallow silt loam over basalt; La Serenne-County Line (Forgeron, Betz) on deep silt over Misoula Flood sediments. The similarities of these parings could be detected in tasting them. Dick Boushey commented that small clusters of small berries is what he looks for in grape growing. Kevin Pogue pointed out that hydrologic properties is perhaps the most important factor in terroir. Marie-Eve Gilla commented that with Dick Boushey's grapes, "you don't have to fight with the fruit, just let it do its work." The wine writers had interesting comments. Sara Schneider said California Syrahs tend to be fruitier, unlike the brooding, savory characteristics of Washington Syrahs which are often rejected in California. Joshua Greene also sensed a "backlash" against Washington Syrahs which come from "redder fruits." The last wine, the Betz "La Cote Rousse," stood out from the Boushey Vineyard wines in its darker, spicier fruit characteristics. In summing up, Bob Betz echoed the "sensory consequence of site specific wines." The seminar was a revealing exercise in discovering how terroir as well as winemaking technique can have a profound effect on a wine's characteristics.
- Written by Rand Sealey
The Wine O'clock Wine Bar in Prosser
When in Prosser, you definitely should visit the Wine O'clock Wine Bar in the Vintner's Village (which also includes several winery tasting rooms). Run by Susan Bunnell, wife of Bunnell Family Cellar and RiverAerie winemaker Ron Bunnell, it is a delightful place to taste the family's wines and to have a delicious meal.
Lynn and I visited Wine O'clock on February 26 and were seated at an attractively appointed table. The restaurant pours the the Bunnell Family and RiverAerie wines at retail prices and also offers three glass flights. We ordered one of the artisan pizzas (baked in a wood fired oven) along with two flights: the '07 "Lia," "a Pic," and "Vif" for Lynn and three '06 Syrahs, Boushey, Clifton Hill and Horse Heaven for me. We also shared each other's flights. The pizza was delicious as were the wines. Susan Bunnell also poured us some samples of the soon to be released '07's. The action there was lively. A local couple was seated next to us and said they came regularly. Winemakers, writers and consultants also were around.
Wine O'clock also offers daily specials: bistro-style dishes created by chef Laurie Kennedy. Every effort is made to source its menu locally and sustainably, and to produce its dishes from scratch by hand. The retail and tasting hours are daily from noon to 5 p.m. The dining room is open Friday and Saturday from noon to 7 p.m. and Sunday and Monday, noon to 5 p.m. Reservations are encouraged (509 786-2197). Wine O'clock is located at 548 Cabernet Court. To get there, take exit 80 off Interstate 82, turn south, left at the rest stop onto Merlot Drive. Drive 1.5 miles, right on Port, right on Cabernet Court.
Wine O'clock is highly recommended. Kudos to Susan Bunnell who has done a remarkable job of launching this venture.
Rasa Vineyards: A Correction
In my blog of last week, I incorrectly described the Riesling I tasted as being from the Mackey Vineyard. I had tasted a couple of Syrahs from that winery, and miswrote the Riesling as being from Mackey. It is actually from Rasa Vineyards (Billo and Pinto Naravane's own winery). The correct name of the wine is:
2009 Rasa Vineyards Riesling, "The Composer," Columbia Valley, Sagemoor Vineyards
This is composed of 50% Dionysus Vineyard, Block 17 and 50% Bacchus Vineyard, Blocks 1b and 1c. It came on as being more integrated than most Washington Rieslings. The typical apple, peach and grapefruit aromas were evident, along with wet stone minerals and spices. The fruit-acid-sugar balance was near perfect. 18.5+/20 points.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Barrel Tasting at Rasa Vineyards
On March 9th, I met with Billo Naravane of Rasa Vineyards at the Artifex facility in Walla Walla where his and his brother Pinto's wines are made (see the January issue of the Review of Washington Wines). First, we tasted some 2009's from the barrels. (Here, pluses indicate the potential for the wines' scores to go higher as they develop.)
2009 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Les Collines Vineyard
Co-fermented with 3% Viognier, this had just finished malolactic fermentation, but was already showing exciting aromatics (berries, pepper, violets) and well-packed dark fruit flavors. 18.5+/20 points.
2009 Syrah, Yakima Valley, Bacchus Vineyard
This showed an inky color and black cherry and black currant aromas with the blackness persisting on the palate with a deep penetration. Strikingly rich and thick, yet focused. 19+/20 points.
2009 Cabernet Franc, Wahluke Slope, Weinbau Vineyard
With this, I picked up smoky berry aromas with exotic scents. The flavors were deep and focused with plenty of extract and a persistence from beginning to end. 18.5+/20 points.
2008 QED Syrah, Walla Walla Valley
Tasted from the tank, this Syrah was sensational. With barrel aging, it had accumulated intense berry, incense, crushed rose and lavender aromas, with deep, saturated flavors that encompassed the palate, Underlain with plenty of licorice, chocolate, vanilla bean and loamy, earth, it is sure to be a compelling wine. See the January issue of the Review for the previous tasting of this wine. 19+/20 points.
Then we tasted two 2008's that had recently been bottled.
2008 "Vox Populi" Mourvedre, Yakima Valley, Minick Vineyard ($36 before May release - direct orders only, not on website)
This was originally intended to be blended with the QED, but turned out to be so compelling that it had to be bottled on its own. It is an exotic, aromatic wine with a rich, chewy character that floats into a gorgeous back palate and finish. Watch for the April issue of the Review for a detailed review. 19/20 points.
2008 Red Blend, Yakima Valley, Du Brul Vineyard (Release December)
I tasted the DuBrul Cabernet Sauvignon in December and found it highly impressive. Since then the brothers decided to blend it with one-third DuBrul Merlot, making it an even more stunning wine. It shows an exotic character that is unusual for a "Bordeaux" blend, and is loaded with an array of complex aromas and flavors. Read more about it in the April issue. 19.5+/20 points.
After we tasted the above wines, Billo then took me back to the barrel room to taste some wines from the MacKey Vineyard for which he is a consulting winemaker. They were very promising wines.
2008 MacKey Vineyard Syrah, Walla Walla Valley
From a cool climate site on the south fork of the Walla Walla Rver, this was a North Rhone Syrah look-alike. Wild berry aromas, and brooding character, expressing the essence of the Syrah grape. 18.5+/20 points.
2009 MacKey Vineyard Riesling, Yakima Valley Dionysus Vineyard
This came on as being more integrated than most Washington Rieslings. The typical, apple, peach and grapefruit aromas were evident, along with wet stone minerals and spices. The fruit-acid-sugar balance was near perfect. 18.5+/20 points.
- Written by Rand Sealey
How I Pick the "Best Buys"
During the sixteen months that I have been writing the Review of Washington Wines, I have found one of the hardest parts to be picking wines for the "Best Buy" section. Selecting wines that get 18.5 points or more is relatively easy. Wines that are exceptional make themselves apparent by their complexity and flavor interest. But finding wines that make the 17.5-18 point "cut" is not so easy.
There is a lot of decent Washington state juice out there, but not much of it is of enough interest for readers of the Review. I know all of my subscribers are sophisticated enough to demand wines, even "everyday" ones, that provide a modicum of flavor interest.
The under $20 reds us the trickiest bill to fill. Buying wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah is not cheap. The prices for grapes range from $1200 to $3000 per ton depending on quality. I have found most under $10 reds to be mediocre and many from $10 to $15 to be "standard quality" (16-17 points). My cut-off point is 17.5 points (which equals about 88/100 points). Lately, I have found few interesting reds for under $20.
Whites are easier as there is more of a glut of white wine (the price range being $800 to $1200 per ton) especially with less prized varietals such as Riesling, Chenin Blanc and Semillon. Even Chardonnay and Viognier can be fine values.
But there are still good sources of great values. Take a look at the following:
2008 Airfield Semillon, Yakima Valley ($16) 18/20 points - April issue
2008 Barrage Cellars Riesling, Yakima Valley, Dineen Vineyard ($15) 18/20 points - April
2008 McKinley Springs Viognier, Horse Heaven Hills ($15) 18+/20 points - April
2008 Syncline Subduction Red ($18) 18/20 points - April
2007 Columbia Crest H3 Merlot, Horse Heaven Hills ($13-14) 18+/20 points - March
Also, look for exceptional wines, rated 18.5 points in the $20 - $25 range. There can be some pretty fine and complicated wines. Some examples:
2008 L'Ecole No. 41 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley ($20-23) 18.5/20 points - March
2007 Waterbrook Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley ($22) 18.5/20 points - March
2008 Maison Bleue Grenache, "Le Midi," Yakima Valley ($25) 18.5+/20 points - April
2008 Maison Bleue Syrah, "La Roque," Yakima Valley ($25) 18.5/20 points - April
2008 El Corazon "With Love" Syrah, Columbia Valley ($23) 19/20 points - December (I tasted this recently and it has evolved to the point where it advances from 18.5+ points. It is a terrific value. Buy it.)
- Written by Rand Sealey
The Limited Production Washington Varietals
A few days ago, I was looking at the U.S. Department of Agriculture 2009 Washington State wine grape production figures, and was struck by how limited the production of red varietals other than Cabernet Sauvignon (27,600 tons) Merlot (24,800 tons) and Syrah (10,000 tons). Cabernet Franc comes in fourth at 2,600 tons, followed by Malbec at 1,000 tons and Sangiovese at 900 tons. All the rest are under 500 tons each.
So I thought I'd give you a rundown on those varietals producing 1,000 tons or less, and what they represent, including those wineries that specialize in them.
Malbec - This varietal originated in France. A small amount is grown in Bordeaux, but it is Cahors in the Lot Valley that produces most of France's Malbec. A large amount is produced in Argentina. Washington Malbec is typically aromatic and dark fruited (ranging from red to blue to black). The best areas for growing Malbec in Washington are the Wahluke Slope, the Horse Heaven Hills and the southern part of the Walla Walla Valley. Specialists: Flying Trout, aMaurice (Ashley Trout and Anna Schafer b oth spend part of the year in Argentina making wine there) Beresan and El Corazon.
Sangiovese - This is the principal grape of Tuscany, and is used to make Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino (Sangiovese Grosso). Washington winemakers like to call it "Sangio" and use it to make gracefully-styled, aromatic, medium-bodied wines. Some is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon for "Super Tuscan" style wines. Specialists: Walla Walla Vintners (varietal and "Bello Rosso" Sangiovese-Cabernet blend) Columbia Winery (Red Willow Vineyard) Flying Trout.
Petit Verdot - This varietal is generally used for blending with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc both in Bordeaux and the U.S. to add aroma and texture. Petit Verdot requires warm growing sites in order to yield ripe grapes. Little is produced as a varietal wine. When done so in Washington, the result is a highly aromatic, fleshy wine with much flavor interest. Specialists: Januik Winery, Seven Hills Winery (McClellan Estate) Five Star Cellars (Petit Verdot/Cabernet Franc blend) and Saviah Cellars.
Grenache - Principally used for blending with Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault in the South Rhone Valley, Grenache generally produces well-textured, ripe, medium-bodied wines. In Washington, it is usually used for "Rhone style" blends such as Rotie Cellars' "Southern Blend." Only a few wineries make it as a varietal. Specialists: Maison Bleue ("La Montagnette," "Le Midi") Isenhower Cellars ("Rara Avis").
Barbera - Originating in the Pedmont region of Italy, this grape produces robust, cherry-like reds. In the early days of California and Washington winemaking much Barbera was planted by Italian-Americans. Now only limited plantings exist in Washington state, but they make tasty pasta wines. Specialists: CAVU Cellars, Forgeron, Woodward Canyon (this winery also makes a juicy, robust Dolcetto from an even more limited production varietal).
Tempranillo - This is the principal grape of Spain, grown in the Rioja and Ribera del Duero districts, producing elegant, aromatic medium to full bodied reds. It is used to a similar effect in limited quantities in Washington. Specialists: Castillo de Feliciana, Thurston-Wolfe, Gramercy Cellars. Waterbrook makes a fine one that is only available at the Walla Walla Wine Works tasting room on Main Street.
Carmenere - This is the "lost" grape of Bordeaux, wiped out by the Phyloxera devastation of the 1870's and not replanted. Much is grown in Chile today and in small quantities in Washington state. Typically is a robust, aromatic, "peppery" wine that has possess much elegance. Specialists: El Corazon ("Tiger's Blood") Beresan, Otis Kenyon, Tertulia Cellars, Reininger.
Petite Sirah - This is called Durif in France and is considered a common varietal there. A fair amount is planted in California and only a small quantity in Washington where it produces a robust, dark, berry-like and somewhat peppery wines. Specialists: Thurston-Wolfe (Zephyr Ridge Vineyard, Horse Heaven Hills) and Bunnell Family Cellar (varietal, and in blends) Milbrandt (Wahluke Slope).
Roussanne - There is one limited production white varietal worth noting, and that is Roussanne which originates in the north Rhone Valley. It is an aromatic white, but less floral and tropical than Viognier. There are some fine examples produced in Washington. Specialists: SuLei, Maison Bleue, Forgeron Cellars.