- Written by Rand Sealey
Barrel Tasting 2008's in Walla Walla
December 4th through 6th was the Walla Walla Valley Holiday Barrel Tasting Weekend and most wineries offered samplings from the barrel. I tasted many 2008's and was amazed by much of what I found. It is going to be a fabulous vintage. Most of the wines will be bottled in winter or spring and be released late summer or fall. Some wines will be for club members only. Some are being offered as futures - buy them! Here are some highlights.
2008 Rasa Vineyards QED Syrah, Walla Walla Valley (Price TBD)
This 85% Syrah, with the remainder consisting of Grenache, Mourvedre and a dash of Viognier, exhibits a deep, inky purple color. The nose emits powerful, smoky aromas of wild berries, tobacco and brambles. There are massive dark fruit flavors from beginning to end, underlain with licorice, roast coffee and loamy minerals. The back palate spreads out and culminates in an opulent, ripe, chewy finish, marked by ripe tannins. This will age beautifully. 19/20 points.
2008 Rasa Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, DuBrul Vineyard (Price TBD)
This is a phenomenally dense 100% Cabernet. The aromas are filled with cherry, blackberry, cigar box, oriental incense and rose petals. It is surprisingly rich and ripe on the palate, with a lush background of dark fruits, yet dry and well structured. Earth, minerals, licorice, coffee grounds and toffee emerge on the back palate and glide into a long ripe tannin finish. It is seemingly forward, yet will age well. It shows great potential. Kudos to Billo Naravane. 19+/20 points - could go to 19.5.
2008 Bergevin Lane Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Franciscia's Vineyard (Futures - $39)
I tasted this from a one year-old barrel - the blend will be a combination of new and older oak. This displayed intense aromatics of wild berries, blueberries, violets and incense. The flavors were thickened by frequent pumping over during fermentation. It had layers of mouth-coating dark fruits, underlain with licorice, mocha, chocolate and minerals, and supported by ripe tannins on the long finish. 19/20 points.
2008 Reynvaan Family Vineyards Unnamed Syrah, Walla Walla Valley (Futures - $40)
Reynvaan is certain to be the next cult winery (Christophe Baron of Cayuse is a consultant there). This Syrah exhibits terrific aromatics of black currants, lavender, rose petals and oriental incense. The flavors are thick, almost massive, yet with a supple, chewy texture that shows tones of cocoa, licorice and spice and a touch of leather, followed by sweet-dry tannins. Co-fermented with 10% Viognier. 19/20 points.
2008 Reynvaan Family Vineyards In the Rocks Syrah, Walla Walla Valley (Futures - $45)
Co-fermented with 6.5% Viognier and 1.5% Marsanne this is another big Syrah. The nose is somewhat closed, yet reveals aromas of black cherry, blackberry, anise, lavender and minerals. The big, thick, earthy flavors are underlain with coffee grounds, licorice, squeezed blueberry juice, and supported by ripe tannins. 19/20 points.
2008 Reynvaan Family Vineyards The Contender Syrah, Walla Walla Valley (Futures - $55)
This barrel sample displayed a lovely black currant and black cherry nose with lavender and violet scents and whiffs of pepper. On the palate, it tasted thick, meaty and chewy, stuffed with licorice, minerals, cocoa, espresso coffee and imbued with a sexy texture that glided over the palate on to a lingering, ripe tannin finish. Co-fermented with 5% Marsanne. An amazing wine, this is a contender for a 20/20 points score. 19.5+/20 points.
2008 Robison Ranch Cellars Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Spofford Station Vineyard (Price TBD)
This winery was bonded in 2008 and is one to watch for as the wines are released in May or June. Tasted at the Robison Ranch Open House in November, it showed fine aromatics of raspberry, blackberry, blueberries, lavender and rose petals. On the palate, it was well-endowed with ripe, chewy red and blue flavors that held on nicely from beginning to end, marked by licorice, minerals, cocoa, squeezed pomegranate juice, and a touch of white pepper. 18.5+/20 points.
2008 Va Piano Estate Red, Walla Walla Valley (Wine Club)
This blend of 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc and 14% each of Merlot and Petit Verdot displays a floral raspberry, cherry and cassis nose with rose petal scents. Silky and elegant on the palate, it shows a fine equipoise of fruit and extract along with tones of anise, baker's chocolate, toasty fine-grained oak and smooth tannins. 19/20 points.
2008 Va Piano Estate Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Block 4 (Wine Club)
Dark purplish colored, this wine offers an intense lavender and violet-scented cassis and wild berry nose. The palate reveals loads of layered dark berry fruit with dense underpinnings of roasted fruits, licorice, chocolate and scorched earth. Bright acidity, ripe tannins and a chewy texture, give the wine strength. 19/20 points.
2008 Kontos Cellars Malbec, Walla Walla Valley (Wine Club)
Again, as with the '07 Malbec, you will need to join the Kontos wine club to get this wine. This vintage displays a deep crimson color, an intense nose of blueberries, currants and violets. The true blue flavors are deep and finely fruited accompanied by licorice, cocoa and mineral tones and followed by a twist of berry juice and a dash of pepper on the ripe tannin finish. 18.5+/20 points.
2008 Tranche Cellars Barbera, Columbia Valley, Northridge Vineyard (Price TBD)
This is a fine, bright rendition of Washington Barbera. It exhibits a dark ruby color, an intense violet-scented cherry and berry nose. The flavors are thick and well-extracted, underlain with licorice and a twist of blueberry juice on the ripe tannin finish. 18.5/20 points.
2008 Tranche Cellars, Estate Syrah, Walla Walla Valley (Pride TBD)
Tranche is one of the Corliss winery's various projects. This Syrah offers a lovely violet and lavender scented cassis, blueberry and blackberry nose. The gorgeous dark fruit flavors are intermixed with licorice, chocolate, mocha, earth and a twist of extracted pomegranate and blueberry juices on the chewy tannin finish. 19/20 points.
2009 SuLei Cellars Roussanne, Walla Walla Valley, Cockburn Hills Vineyard (Price TBD)
Nearly all the wines I tasted from the barrel over the weekend were reds, but at SuLei I sampled this noteworthy white. It displayed a brilliant gold color, a young, enticing lilac, peach and melon nose. The flavors were pleasant and lively, with a bit more acidity than the '08 I reviewed last September. Just settling down, it showed a zingy ripe passion fruit and citrus finish. 18.5/20 points. Also watch for the 2009 Rose and 2008 Roller Girl Red to be released next spring.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Walla Walla Holiday Barrel Tasting Weekend: The Inside Scoop
The Walla Walla Holiday Barrel Tasting Weekend is one of the Valley's biggest events. Held on the first weekend of December, this event has a festive atmosphere as barrel rooms are decorated with lights and greenery, and many wineries offer tastes from their barrels. This is also the time when new vintages are released. This years' Weekend, from December 4th to 6th, was awesome as there were many exceptional wines. There will be fuller reports in the January and February issues of the Review. But, here's an Insider Preview:
Reininger Cellars has released a fine 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills vineyards ($38 - 18.5/20 points) and a ripe, robust 2006 Ash Hollow Vineyard Syrah ($41 - 19/20 points).
Woodward Canyon released its 2007 Artist's Series #16 Cabernet Sauvignon - thick, chewy and well-extracted ($49 - 19/20 points).
Northstar has a nice, rich beautifully balanced 2006 Walla Walla Valley Merlot ($50- 18.5+/20 points).
Reynvaan Family Vineyards' 2007 "In the Rocks" Syrah is a knockout ($50 - 19/20 points). The winery is sold out, but this is worth seeking out, Next week, I'll report on its 2008's.
Tranche Cellars, one of the Corliss projects, showed a superb 2007 Roussanne (67%) - Viognier (33%) blend ($30 - 18.5/20 points). Again, some fantastic 2008's from the barrel.
Artifex, the state of the art custom crush facility was the site for an Open House for five of its wineries: Lullaby, Tulpen Cellars. Rasa Vineyards, Cadaretta and Reasons. A full report will be in the February issue of the Review (the January one doesn't have room for everything). But don't miss the sensational 2007 Rasa QED ($50 - 19/20 points) and the Reasons 2007 Malbec - big, deep and dark ($35 - 19/20 points) and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($35 - 18.5+ points). Cadaretta also released a big, brawny 2007 Syrah ($35 - 18.5+/20 points).
Next week's blog (December 14th) will report on the 2008's tasted from the barrel. Stay tuned!
As I mentioned in the December issue of the Review (to go on line Dec. 10) there was not room for this section, so it is being published here. So here are my suggestions.
Give a Gift Subscription to the Review of Washington Wines
What better way to give to a fellow wine lover than a subscription to this publication? Unfortunately gift subscriptions cannot be entered through the Review's signup system, but they can be done manually from mail orders. For instructions on how to do this, scroll down to the November 22 blog below.
Give a Winery Club Membership
Most wineries have Wine Clubs where members get six or more bottles shipped or picked up twice a year. Most clubs offer a 20% member discount on purchases as well. To learn more about how this works, see the April issue of the Review. You can order a membership for a friend and have the shipments charged to your credit card.
Give Washington Wines
This is almost a no brainer. This is especially appropriate for out of state friends and family. Wineries and retailers will ship where it is legal to do so. In states that do not allow shipments from out of state, there may be retailers there that will deliver.
- Written by Rand Sealey
How I Evaluate Price and Quality in Wines
This can be considered the third of my series (I didn't plan it that way) on wine evaluation standards. The first, September 7, described the 20 Point System I use. The second, November 16 dealt with wine rating vis a vis the Wall Street Journal article, "A Taste of Illusion." Here, I will comment on how price and quality enter into my reviews.
First, I evaluate wines in terms of overall impressions, how balanced and complex they are, and award them scores based on their level of quality: 17+ points is very good, 18+ exceptional, 19+ outstanding (again, see September 7).
Then I ask myself if a given wine is worth the price. A $20 or less wine getting 18 points is exceptional value. If an 18 point wine is $40, it's not such a great value. Going further up the price scale, my thinking is that a wine costing $40-50 should be worth at least 18.5 points. A wine over $50 should merit at least 19 points. A wine with a stratospheric price of $100 or more should be 19.5 points. If a wine falls outside these parameters, I usually leave it out (and I have left many out). Occasionally, I will include a wine of particular merit and interest and leave it up to the reader to decide if the wine is worth the price. On the other hand, an omission of a particular wine does not necessarily indicate poor value. Space limitations preclude listing all wines that demonstrate good value; I can include only ones of particular value and interest.
Most winemakers have reasonable perspectives on their products' values. They know their peers and have a good idea of how they stack up. And they have a good knowledge of the price point standards in the industry. But there are always some vagaries. Some have inflated notions of their worth. Some deliver terrific bang for the buck. I am always on the lookout for wines in the latter category.
In sum, in reviewing wines, I always endeavor to convey a sense of what constitutes real value. My job, as I see it, is not just to report wine descriptions and ratings (as some reviewers do) but to review the wines that consumers should be considering.
- Written by Rand Sealey
For Thanksgiving, Serve Washington Wines
For their Thanksgiving wine recommendations most retailers - wine shops and supermarkets alike - suggest all kinds of wines, French (Beaujolais Nouveau!) Italian, South American or whatever. It seems they are simply pushing what they want to sell.
Thanksgiving is a distinctly American holiday. So why not have American wines for this holiday which gives thanks for our country's bounty and heritage? And in our case, it should be celebrated with Washington wines which are among the finest our country has to offer.
I have no specific suggestions. Just about any fine Washington wine will work: Syrah, Cabernet, Merlot, you name it. Most Washington wines are very versatile. If some family members or friends prefer white, make it Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Viognier or even Chardonnay. So for this Thanksgiving, just reach into your cellar or wine rack, or go to your supermarket or wine merchant and pick out your Washington favorites.
Would You Like to Give a Gift Subscription to the Review of Washington Wines?
Last summer, when we revamped our subscription system, we discovered a flaw in the gift subscription system. All gift orders went into limbo as the software failed to notify recipients and kept them in the orderers' names. It turned out to be too costly to fix, so we have gone to a manual system for entering gift subscriptions. Here's how to order a gift subscription:
List on a sheet of paper the recipients with their names, mailing addresses and email addresses and mail it to:
Review of Washington Wines
C/O Rand Sealey
8807 Fauntleroy Way SW
Seattle, WA 98136
Note: I will be in Walla Walla from December 3rd to 14th. All orders received during that time will not be entered until the 14th unless they are received at 415 E. Sumach St. Walla Walla 99362.
Enclose a check payable to Review of Washington Wines. A single [Full] subscription is $20 for 12 months (includes archive and blogs). Each additional [Full] subscription is $10.
When each order is received, I will enter each subscriber and email each recipient a notification that a gift subscription has been ordered, together with a user name and login password (which can be changed). Each recipient will be told who the giver is.
Note: Entering a subscription on-line in someone else's name and then paying for it with your credit card will not work. The subscriber and payer have to match for security reasons.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Comments on the Wall Street Journal "A Taste of Illusion" Article
The Wall Street Journal's Weekend Journal issue of Nov. 14-15 featured a front page article written by Leonard Mlodinow who teaches randomness at Caltech, entitled "A Hint of Hype, A Taste of Illusion" about how "They pour, sip and with passion and snobbery, glorify and doom wines. But studies say the wine-rating system is badly flawed. How the experts fare against a coin toss." It is a very interesting article, and I agree with much of it, although it makes more assumptions than it should. Wine evaluation can be highly subjective, and results can vary significantly. But I do have a few comments to make.
My first comment is about the contention that "even flavor-trained professionals cannot reliably identify more than three or four components in a mixture, although wine critics regularly report tasting six or more." I agree that even the most seasoned taster cannot identify more than four components at one moment. But wine continually changes in the glass so that multiple components can be identified in repeated nosings and sips. In re-evaluating wines from samples purchased at tasting rooms, I generally will spend 10-20 minutes smelling, tasting and swirling to pick up the various components. Continued tasting can reveal more nuances or shortcomings as well. I also do believe that the more complex a wine is, the more components there are to be identified (so I'll just go on and keep providing detailed descriptions in my reviews).
I totally agree with the randomness of wine competitions. I have already addressed this in my blog of September 28 which concurs with the conclusions of Robert Hodgson that "winning a Gold medal is largely a matter of chance." This is the same study that the Wall Street Journal Article refers to.
My final comment is about the range of deviation among ratings of the same wine, even from the same reviewer. Robert Parker admits a possible deviation of 2-3 points on his 100 point scale. Given that the 100 point system is really a 20 point one since 80 points is the baseline for a good commercial wine, a deviation of 3 points is a 15% one. With the 20 point system I use (see my blog of September 7) there is a 16 points baseline which means that a deviation of a half point is one-eighth or 12.5%. With either system, there is at least that much subjectivity (probably more) involved. I readily admit my ratings can deviate by a half point or so, depending on when and how I tasted a particular wine.
In short, wine reviewers are not infallible. We all have our preferences and biases, and as one critic commented, "We're not robots." But at the same time, wine tasting is not necessarily an "Illusion," but rather a sensory experience that can convey differing impressions to different tasters. It is up to the consumer to decide what he or she likes best. Wine ratings can only be guidelines, not arbitrary pronouncements.