- Written by Rand Sealey
Walla Walla Holiday Barrel Tasting Weekend
Next weekend, December 3-5, is Holiday Barrel Tasting Weekend in the Walla Walla Valley. It is a festive occasion as many wineries open up their barrel rooms and decorate them with greenery and lights. Most also pour samples of wines still in the barrels. Here are some events that are not to be missed.
Robison Ranch Cellars - This winery will be featuring its new 2008 Syrah and 2008 Merlot and sampling some 2009's at the Ranch on Lower Waitsburg Road on Saturday and Sunday.
TL Cellars - Troy Ledwick will be pouring current and future Releases at Catie Walker's new Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman store (see below) on Saturday, December 4 from 12 to 4.
Dusted Valley - Andrae's Kitchen, a mobile kitchen, will be parked at Dusted Valley on Saturday and Sunday. Great burgers!
Cadaretta / Artifex - Cadaretta and other Artifex wineries will be open on Saturday from 10 to 4.
Tero / Flying Trout - Jan and Doug Roskelley and Ashley Trout will be presenting new releases, barrel samples, music, food, bonfires and barrel burning at the winery west of Milton-Freewater.
Locati Cellars - The winery just south of the border, off Stateline Road, will be open Friday, the 3rd.
Rasa Vineyards - Billo and Pinto Naravane's new digs on Powerline Road will be open Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman Wine Shop Opens
Catie McIntyre Walker opened her new wine shop (which takes its name from her blog) at 19 North 2nd Street in downtown Walla Walla a few weeks ago. I haven't been there yet, but will just as soon as we get back to Walla Walla on Thursday. From what I've learned from friends, Catie's shop is a must visit place. She has an eclectic selection, not only of local wines, but other Northwest and international ones as well. She also hosts wine tastings from time to time. Troy Ledwick will be pouring his TL Cellars wines on Saturday (see above). By the way, be sure to check out Catie's excellent, chatty blog.
Just Opened: URBAN Enoteca in Seattle's SODO District
Last night, Lynn and I attended the opening of URBAN Enoteca at 4130 1st Avenue South. This is a 20,000 square foot destination wine tasting venue. It includes The Tasting Center which comprises of seven Tasting Bars (with five more to be added in the future) showcasing Five Star Cellars (Walla Walla Valley), Cave B Estate Winery (Columbia Gorge), Cote Bonneville (Yakima Valley), Fielding Hills Winery (Wahluke Slope), Fidelitas (Red Mountain), Kiona Vineyards & Winery (Red Mountain) and McCrea Cellars (Seattle). There also are three distinct private event spaces, offering space for from 25 to 175 seated guests and 300 for receptions. Catering is provided by Chef Jason Wilson Events.
The opening was a great event, the spacious facility was swarming with oenophiles, and the food was plentiful and delicious. The Tasting Center was luxuriously appointed with leather sofas and chairs, plenty of tables, and state of the art wine tasting bars. There, I saw Bob and Susan Neel of McCrea Cellars, David and Matt Hulse of Five Star Cellars, Mike Wade of Fielding Hills and Freddy Arredondo of Cave B presenting their wines. All the wineries were fine representatives of URBAN Enoteca's criteria that "they must be producers of exceptional Washington wines, must be fun and easy to work with, and have no current Seattle tasting room." Congratulations to owner Terry Thompson for masterminding this impressive enterprise.
URBAN Enoteca is is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday, closed Mondays for trade events and tastings. For more information, go to the website: www.urbanenoteca.com.
Other Westside Washington Wine Events
Not going to Walla Walla for Holiday Barrel Tasting Weekend? Then go to Woodinville for St. Nicholas Day Open House, Saturday and Sunday, December 4 & 5. Two day passes are available for $50, for one day, $40. For information, go to the Woodinville Wine Country website.
On Saturday, December 12, there is the DeLille Cellars Pere Noel party at the winery. We went last year and found it highly worthwhile. Fine food and wine. Cost is $25 per person and includes a logo glass. For information and tickets, go to DeLille Cellars' website.
The South Seattle Artisan Wineries (SSAW) is having Open Houses on Saturdays, December 4 and 11 from 1 to 5. For more information go to SSAW website (use your search tool to find it).
- Written by Rand Sealey
For Thanksgiving, Serve Washington Wines
Last year, I wrote the blog below before Thanksgiving. My recommendations hold true just as much as they did a year ago.
"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 ant 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."
A Couple of Postscripts to Harvest 2010
Here are two winemaker comments I received.
Trey Busch (Sleight of Hand): "Added ML to several more lots today. Tasted through pretty much everything to see their progression, and pretty excited about where these wines are headed." (Received Nov. 19 via Facebook.)
Erica Blue (Adams Bench): "Enjoyed reading your blog--indeed this was a protracted harvest. We pressed our last Cabernet Sauvignon into barrel today. Time for a toast! We agree that it is a season for careful winemaking, careful harvest decisions, and yet--these young wines have amazing promise." (Received Nov. 17 via email.)
Full Pull Washington Wine Price Reductions
Since my last blog posting, "Big Price Reductions by Washington Wineries," I received offerings from Paul Zitarelli's Full Pull Wines for the following wines. To see the offerings, go to www.fullpullwines.com.
2005 Forgeron Cellars Merlot, Columbia Valley (TPU $17.99 - was $30)
I have not reviewed this wine, but have tasted it a number of times at the winery. It is a fine rendition of multi vineyard Washington Merlot and would merit at least 18/20 points. This is a sure bet, as a mature Merlot for $18 is a steal.
2007 Dusted Valley "Stained Tooth" Syrah, Columbia Valley (TPU $17.99 - was $25)
Reviewed in last week's bog - 18+/20 points. (see posting below).
2009 Rasa Vineyards "The Composer" Riesling, Columbia Valley (TPU $17.99 - was $30)
Reviewed in the June issue of the Review of Washington Wines - 19/20 points. A first-rate Washington Riesling from the Dionysus and Bacchus vineyards for $18 is another steal.
Also take note of the Full Pull offerings of the Renegade Wine Company's (Trey Busch) 2008 Cabernet Franc, Horse Heaven Hills (TPU $13.89) and 2008 Malbec, Yakima Valley (TPU $13.89), both reviewed in the November issue of the Review - both 17.5+/20 points.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Big Price Reductions by Washington Wineries
Back on October 14, I wrote about "More Wineries go Into Red Blends," about the increasing number of red wine blends. Now, we are seeing more wineries simply reducing prices on wines they already have rather than creating new wines. This trend seems to be directed both at restaurant by the glass pours and retailer volume sales (I have seen some of these wines stacked up at Esquin). Here are some that have been reduced in price by 20 to 30 percent or more.
2008 Olsen Estates Blanc de Coteaux, Yakima Valley ($15 - was $28)
A blend of 70% Roussanne, 23% Viognier and 7% Marsanne, this wine offers a seductive pear-apple, peach and honeysuckle nose. The full-bodied white fruit flavors are intermixed with minerals and grape skin extracts, and underlain with notes of anise seed, graham cracker and toasted almonds, followed by a vigorous citrus and creme brulee laced finish. 18.5/20 points.
2008 Ch. Ste. Michelle / Dr. Loosen Eroica Riesling, Columbia Valley ($18 - was $25)
This bottling displays a brilliant gold color and a flinty nose of pear-apple, peach and nectarine, with scents of alpine wildflowers and verbena. The white stone fruit flavors are vibrant, with a steely backbone of grapefruit and pineapple. The steely minerality persists on the lingering, lightly spiced finish. This is a real bargain. 18.5/20 points.
2007 Gamache Vintners Boulder Red, Columbia Valley ($15 - was $20)
This blend of 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Malbec, 23% Syrah and 5% Cabernet Franc shows a deep ruby color and ripe aromas of blackberry, cherry, anise and sage. The red fruit flavors are bright and mouth filling, with undertones of licorice, stony minerals and cola. The lively character continues on the back with a squeeze of blueberry juice on a moderate tannin finish. 18/20 points.
2007 Dusted Valley "Stained Tooth" Syrah, Columbia Valley ($18 - was $25)
Deep purple colored, this wine shows unmistakable aromas of blackberries, blueberries, lavender and sage. The flavors are deliciously ripe and chewy, with tones of cocoa powder, licorice and roast coffee, and follow through on the back on the ripe moderate tannin and acid finish. 18+/20 points.
2007 Waters Syrah, Columbia Valley ($20 - was $28)
This wine from the Minick vineyard near Prosser offers an intriguing nose of raspberry, huckleberry and mulberry with scents of sandalwood, lavender and brambles. The flavors are ripe and generous, with a sexy texture that makes the wine easy to like, intermixed with tones of silty earth, milk chocolate, coffee grounds and licorice that persist on the back and lead into a ripe, chewy moderately tannic finish. 18.5/20 points.
2007 NxNW Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley ($22 - was $30)
This North by Northwest product is an eleven vineyard blend of 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot and 3% each of Cab Franc and Petit Verdot. It exhibits a deep garnet color and rich aromas of blackberry, blueberry, black currant, incense and rubbed sage. The flavors are deep and generous, with tones of licorice, mocha, roast coffee and earth, with the dark fruits persisting on the back and leading into a ripe, chewy tannin finish. 18.5/20 points.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Harvest 2010: Endgame
As of this writing (Sunday, November 7th) the wine grape harvest is just about over except for some isolated blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot (a notoriously slow ripener). It was one of the longest and slowest harvests on record, having begun about September 21 and ending the first (or second) week of November. Winemakers are very happy with the grapes they got. The crush progressed evenly as the grape picks were continuously spread out, unlike last year when an October 12 freeze necessitated harvesting the remaining grapes. Here are some reports from winemakers I talked with last week.
On Tuesday, the 2nd, I met with Trey Busch, co-owner and winemaker of Sleight of Hand, at Saviah Cellars where he makes his wines. There, I tasted some of the newly pressed 2010's from the barrels. First, was a French Creek Vineyard Chardonnay whose fermentation was finished and about to go malolactic. It was pleasingly ripe and applely, but even after malolactic fermentation, it will still be a fairly high acid wine. Two barrels of Funk Vineyard Syrah were sampled. The first picking was intense and saturated; the second, picked a week later, was even more concentrated. A Va Piano Merlot had an amazingly deep color and terrific fragrance for a wine that had just gone into the barrel. The 2010 vintage looks to be a stellar one for Merlot and Syrah.
On Wednesday, the 3rd, I helped Brad Riordan press Robison Ranch Cellars' 2010 Syrah. Fermentation was done and the wine ready to press and go into barrels. Brad was very happy with the outcome, especially for the Dwelley Jones Merlot and Spofford Station Syrah, both from south of Walla Walla.
On Thursday, I was at Va Piano Cellars where Ryan Crane, the assistant winemaker, was crushing the last picking of the harvest: Bacchus Vineyard Block 10 Cabernet Sauvignon (see the Review Facebook Wall for pictures of this). The grapes tasted sweet, with superb fruit-acids. The bunches were healthy and hardly any needed to be tossed out. Ryan described 2010 as a winemaker's vintage in that it called for skillful winemaking.
During the first weekend of December, I will have opportunities to taste 2010's and 2009's during Holiday Barrel Tasting Weekend in Walla Walla. Watch for my report in mid-December.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Why American Viticultural Areas Matter
While getting my copy for the November issue of the Review proofed by wineries, I got an email from Karen Wade, the Fielding Hills Winery winemaker Mike Wade's wife, suggesting I refer to their Riverbend Vineyard as being in the Wahluke Slope AVA. I replied that "I agree there needs to be more consumer awareness that geographical designations for wines are not just areas, but ones that are designated and delimited as specific American Viticultural Areas." Karen then replied, "I'm glad you feel that way about the Wahluke Slope and AVAs. I think Red Mountain is more widely known because there is actually a population that lives there and a significant number of wineries so people stand on the dirt and taste the wine. The poor Wahluke Slope AVA suffers geographically from 'no reason to go there.' Twenty percent of the wine grapes grown in the state are grown in the Wahluke Slope yet very few people know where it is. Wahluke means 'watering place" in the native language which is also interesting since we would not be growing the large amount of agricultural crops there without irrigation."
American Viticultural Areas are designated by the Federal Alcohol, Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The requirements for AVA approval consist of "Evidence that the name of the proposed new AVA is locally or nationally known as referring to the area." This needs to be supported by historical evidence and evidence of distinctive growing conditions. This does not mean that there are standards for grape use and production, or any quality standards. They are simply geographical designations. California has hundreds of AVAs and sub AVAs. And there are AVAs over much of the continental U.S. For instance, there is a "Mississippi Delta" AVA which consists of a few vineyards planted with the native Muscadine grape and an experimental station run by the Mississippi State University.
My point here about why American Viticultural Areas matter, especially in regard to Washington Wines, is that they are areas with distinct characteristics and not just places. Many visitors to the Lake Chelan AVA think of it as a place where one can go to wineries and marvel at the views of a beautiful lake while sipping wine. Likewise, the Walla Walla Valley has become a destination place to go taste wines rather than an AVA where grapes are grown.
Another important thing about AVAs is that they enable wineries to label their wines as coming from noteworthy areas and the vineyards that are located in them. This is not only a valuable marketing tool, but also gives consumers information about the wines' sources. Many wineries source their grapes from several AVAs and vineyards. For instance, the Buty Winery (see this month's Review issue) produces some of its wines from the Phinny Hill vineyard on the Horse Heaven Hills.
To learn more about Washington AVAs, I strongly encourage you to read Chapter 2 of Paul Gregutt's Second Edition of his "Washington Wines & Wineries: The Essential Guide." This is an even more comprehensive edition than the first, with profiles on hundreds of wineries. I do, however, find that there are at least several wineries that have been omitted. Most may be too new or too small to appear on the radar screen. But there are at least a couple that I think should have been mentioned as "Rising Stars." One is Adams Bench in Woodinville. I find Tim and Erica Blue's wines to be admirable. Their 2007 Red Willow Cabernet Sauvignon was my first wine to score 20/20 points. Adams Bench wines have also gotten high scores elsewhere. In the Wine Advocate, Dr. Jay Miller mentions Adams Bench as being one of "the names worthy of consideration in Washington Wines." Also, dozens of Walla Walla wineries are included, but no mention of Chris and Cameron Kontos and their Kontos Cellars whose wines I consider quite estimable. Curiously, their father, Cliff Kontos, is mentioned as co-owner of Fort Walla Walla Cellars, a three star winery. These omissions aside, I consider Paul's book to be outstanding and highly recommended. I have a signed copy inscribed "For Rand - you got me started down this tasty path! Thank You."