- Written by Rand Sealey
More Wineries Go into Red Blends
Lately, I have been seeing more red wine blends from more wineries. There are wineries that up until now have produced only varietal wines or "premium" blend that are venturing into producing wines for $20 or less. The reason is obvious: the economy which has driven more consumers to seek quality wines at more affordable prices.
Some of these blends have off-beat presentations. Corvus Cellars, which produces one principal wine, a Red Mountain Cabernet, has a "Ruckus Red." Sparkman Cellars has come out with a "Kindred Red," a tribute to family ancestors. Sometimes the blend is identified, sometimes not. More often than not, the blended wine is not mentioned in a winery's website. With the popularity of blends already being turned out by L'Ecole No. 41 (Recess Red) Saviah Cellars (The Jack) and Tamarack Cellars (Firehouse Red) and others, it seems more wineries are wanting to get a piece of the action. Here are some examples I've tried lately:
N/V Porzione Washington Red Wine by Distefano ($12)
Put together for Esquin Wine Merchants, this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot offers smoky aromas of raspberries, blackberries and plums. The flavors are supple and chewy, with undertones of chocolate, licorice and mocha, followed by a well- textured back that shows moderate tannins and a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg. Excellent value. 17.5/20 points.
2007 Ruckus Red by Corvus Cellars, Columbia Valley ($18)
This 50/50 blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon offers rich aromas of blackberries, cherries and plums with scents of lavender and sage. The medium full-bodied flavors are pleasant and generous, with touches of earth, licorice and cocoa powder. The back is well-textured with a pleasant ripeness that hold on through the chewy finish. 17.5+/20 points.
2008 Kindred Red by Sparkman Cellars, Columbia Valley ($20)
Deep ruby colored, this wine shows a smoky, spicy raspberry, blackberry and cherry nose with lavender scents. The flavors are generous and chewy, with a savory character that continues on the back, with fleshy fruits that are intermixed with notes of licorice, chocolate, mocha and earth. The ripe chewiness continues on the moderate tannin finish. Quite a bit of flavor interest for $20. 18/20 points. Purchased at Esquin Wine Merchants.
2008 Board Track Racer, "The Vincent," by Mark Ryan, Columbia Valley ($20)
This Cabernet Sauvignon / Syrah blend displays a ripe, spicy raspberry, blackberry and plum nose with scents of incense and sage. The flavors are ripe and fleshy, like berry preserves, with touches of licorice and cocoa powder, and persist on the back. The moderate acid and tannin finish shows touches of spice and vanilla. The back label says "Cellared and bottled by Board Track Racer Cellars, Benton City." 18/20 points. Purchased at Esquin.
2008 Matthews "Blackboard" Red Wine, Columbia Valley ($20)
This wine exhibits rich aromas of raspberry, cherry, blueberry, anise and a hint of mint, with direct, penetrating red and blue fruit flavors that show notes of licorice and chocolate. On the back, sensations of macerated currants and cherry liqueur emerge, followed a juicy ripe tannin finish. Proceeds benefit the Ackerley Partnership for resources at the University of Washington School of Education to improve student learning and train new K-12 teachers. 18/20 points. Purchased at Esquin.
Other Red Blends recently reviewed:
2007 McKinley Springs Bombing Range Red, Columbia Valley ($12) 17.5/20 points (October issue)
2008 Gifford Hirlinger Stateline Red, Walla Walla Valley ($16) 18/20 points (August)
N/V Va Piano Bruno's Blend VI, Columbia Valley ($20) 18/20 points (August)
2007 Bergevin Lane Calico Red, Columbia Valley ($16) 17.5/20 points (July)
- Written by Rand Sealey
CreekTown Cafe Reopens as South Fork Grill
The CreekTown Cafe in Walla Walla was for years a favorite of many locals and visitors. But the owners decided it was time for them to hang it up, so they sold the restaurant to Jodi Worden, a longtime employee, and her husband Chris who reopened it as the South Fork Grill. Many of the previous staff members have continued, including Chef Nimal Amarasinghe.
We have eaten twice at South Fork, both times for lunch. The sandwiches are thick and the salads plentiful. The desserts (a carryover from CreekTown) are sumptuous and are available for take out. The dinner menu is much like before, with some changes. The wine list consists mostly of local wineries, with generous glass pours at $6-10. All in all, it's a great place to stop for lunch. Sometime, I'll give you a report on dinner there.
The restaurant is located at 1129 S Second Ave., about a mile south of downtown, and is open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner.
Mackey Cellars Opens a Tasting Room Downtown
We visited brothers Philip and Roger Mackey's new tasting room (next door to Sleight of Hand on Second) the day it opened. Philip is the winemaker and Roger is the marketing guy. The wines are now being made at Rasa / Hence (see below). New releases are a 2008 Syrah and a 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Trio Vintners Moves Downtown
Trio Vintners (now a duo, husband and wife Steve Michener and Denise Slattery) has moved its tasting room to 102 South Second Ave. One of the original "Incubators" near the Airport, Trio has graduated to its new location. The wines are now being made at Forgeron Cellars, a few blocks away.
Rasa Vineyards Moves to Hence Cellars
Previously located at Artifex, Billo and Pinto Naravane's Rasa Vineyards has relocated to Hence Cellars on Powerline Road, south of Walla Walla. I visited there a few days ago, and saw new barrels and three gleaming new Letona fermentation tanks, Mackey Cellars also makes its wines there (see above). Because of contractual obligations the '08 and '09 vintages will be kept at Artifex for the time being. The Naravane brothers are thrilled to be making the 2010 vintage at their new facility. While there, I tasted their new "pb" wines, a 2008 Syrah and a 2008 Red Mountain Blend, at $29 price points, which will be reviewed in the November Issue of the Review.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Crush 2010 in Walla Walla
Presently, I am in Walla Walla as the grape harvest gets under way. So far, most of what has been picked are whites and Merlot. Syrah will probably start coming in next week, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab Franc a week or two later. Tero Estates harvested Merlot at the Windrow vineyard on the 29th and commented: "Merlot 26.6 brix - these berries are tasting amazing!" Ash Hollow has taken in 17 tons of Chardonnay and Merlot from Stillwater Creek. Yesterday morning, Trey Busch (Sleight of Hand) put on Facebook some beautiful pictures of Chardonnay vines at Jon Martinez' (Maison Bleue) French Creek Vineyard near Prosser.
I was at Waters Winery yesterday and saw some beautiful Marsanne grapes about to be crushed. In the fermenting bins were wonderful smelling Merlot grapes from the Seven Hills and Mars Hills vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley. Next door, at Va Piano, Syrah and Cabernet grapes were hanging on the vine in full sun. Chris Kontos (Kontos Cellars) commented on Facebook: "A few more days like this and we will have some tasty grapes after all. Almost time to turn our hands purple."
One reason to hope for an outstanding vintage is that the grapes are developing bright flavor profiles at lower brix levels. If the weather holds and everything goes right, this could be an awesome vintage.
The ten day weather forecast looks good. Temperatures in the 80's through the weekend. A few showers on Monday won't hurt so long as there is sun afterwards. The rest of the week is expected to be sunny, but at cooler temperatures, low 70's, high 60's. Forecasts for Prosser are similar, but slightly warmer.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Harvest 2010: An Initial Report
After a cool spring and summer, the 2010 grape harvest is starting to get under way, about two weeks later than normal. The Yakima Herald Republic reported on September 20 that "The Washington State University Extension Center in Prosser says the overall grape season has been about 14% cooler than average."
This year, the first grapes to be harvested are whites: Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer, with Pinot Gris coming in shortly. Merlot will be the first red to be harvested starting about now (Thursday, Sept. 23) in the Yakima Valley and on Red Mountain. On the Wahluke Slope Merlot is approaching maturity. In the Walla Walla Valley, the Seven Hills Vineyard is about to harvest Merlot. Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon are to come in later as the current Brix readings are still in the low 20's.
After some rainy days last week, the weather outlook is hopeful. In Walla Walla, the highs are currently in the 70's with partly cloudy mornings. Highs are expected to be in the low 80's over the weekend into early next week. There are similar forecasts for Prosser and Red Mountain. If this can stretch out for another three weeks...
Wine growers have been concerned about a harvest like 1999, another cool year that challenged winemakers. That concern seems to be easing a bit, but there remains the possibility of a repetition of last year when frost in mid-October brought the harvest to an abrupt end with a rush to collect and crush the remaining grapes. As one grower stated, this could be the best or the worst harvest yet.
For more information, go to Sean Sullivan's Washington Wine Report (www.wawinereport.com).
- Written by Rand Sealey
Visits to Mazama, Chelan and South
On September 12, Lynn and I drove to Mazama in the Methow Valley for our annual trek with friends we have been meeting up with over the years to take day hikes and do other activities. While there, I visited the Lost River Winery in Winthrop and tasted the current releases with winemaker John Morgan. These will be reviewed in the October issue of the Review.
On Wednesday, the 15th, we took an excursion to Chelan to visit some wineries: Vin du Lac, Hard Row to Hoe, Nefarious Cellars and Tsillan Cellars. I will report on these in the November issue. The next day, we stopped at Fielding Hills in East Wenatchee and Cave B near Quincy before heading south for Walla Walla. For pictures of the vineyards and winemakers, go to the Review of Washington Wines Facebook page (click on the link in the current issue).
At most of the places we visited, there was concern about the late maturing of the grapes on the vines. We stopped at Nefarious Cellars' Stone's Throw vineyard near Pateros on the way. The grapes looked healthy, but seemed to be another two weeks away from maturing. This is what most winemakers indicated. A fuller report on the prospects for the upcoming harvest will be in next week's blog.
For pictures of these visits, go to the Review of Washington Wines on Facebook.