- Written by Rand Sealey
Since early March, I have been participating in a wine tasting group in Walla Walla that meets about every three or four weeks. Most of the group is in the wine industry in one way or another. Each time, about ten tasters show up bringing a bottle of wine for the evening's theme. The wines are tasted blind in two or three flights. Then, the top two from each flight are re-tasted together to get the overall ranking of the top wines. The results can sometimes be surprising. Here are summaries of the three tastings I have attended so far.
The first was an Italian Barolo tasting. Eleven wines were tasted. The top wine turned out to be a "ringer" - a 2005 La Velona Brunello di Montalcino, made from Sangiovese Grosso, not the Nebbiolo of Barolo. Curiously, two of the top three wines were the same, 2005 Barolos from Terra da Vino "Essenze," but they tasted decidedly different, which indicates that Italian wines can show bottle variation.
The next tasting was hosted by Lynn and myself at our home in Walla Walla. It consisted of Oddball Cabernet Sauvignons, which was defined as ones not coming from Washington, California, Bordeaux or Coonawara. It was a wide-ranging collection from around the world, including Italy, Hungary and Arizona. The final four were, in order of preference, 2007 Concha y Toro "Terruyno" Old Pirique Vineyard, Maipo, Chile, 2005 Fraser from Idaho, 2007 Neil Ellis, Jonkershoek Valley, South Africa, and 2007 Cousino-Macul "Antiguas Reservas, Maipo, Chile.
Our last tasting was held on March 30th. It was Alsace Riesling. A wide range of styles were presented, ranging from clean and fruity wines to ones with heavy phenolic aromatics. The number one wine was a German "ringer," a 2008 Heymann Lowenstein Schiefersterrassen from Winningen on the lower Mosel just before the river flows into the Rhine at Koblenz. Number two was a 2005 Domaine Weinbach Schlossberg Cuvee Ste. Catherine and number three was a 2008 Zind Humbrecht Clos Hauserer. At this tasting, opinions about the wines varied considerably with some wines being ranked low as well as high, which goes to show that results can be highly variable even among expert tasters.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Last weekend, March 26-27, we attended Taste Washington Seattle. On Saturday, there were the Seminars. I attended one morning and one afternoon session. Lynn attended two other seminars, "Ladies First: Women in Washington Wine" and "With a Rebel Yell: Washington Wine Rock n Roll Winemakers." On Sunday, we both attended the Grand Tasting as media participants. Here's my report.
I attended the morning seminar, "Washington Emerging Varieties: Grenache Panache," moderated by Bob Betz (Betz Family Winery). The panelists were Shannon Berg (Seattle Magazine), Brian Carter (Brian Carter Cellars), Sara Schneider (Sunset Magazine) and Sean Sullivan (Washington Wine Report). After introductory remarks by Bob Betz, Brian Carter started the discussion with various quotes from Washington wine pioneer Dr. Walter Clore about how Grenache vines need to be stressed to establish strong roots and whose fruit needs to be handled gently. Of the wines tasted, I found the 2009 Betz "Besoleil" Grenache (to be reviewed in the May Review issue) and the 2009 Maison Bleue "La Montagnette" (April) to be the standouts.
My afternoon seminar, "What's the Point(s) Rating Washington Wines" was moderated by Sean Sullivan (Washington Wine Report) with panelists Rebecca Murphy (The Dallas Morning News), Sara Schneider (Sunset Magazine), and W. Blake Gray (The Gray Market Report). The panelists stated their rating systems: Sara Schneider and the Sunset Magazine wine evaluation staff use 20 points but only for internal use - recommendations are reported without scores. Blake Gray hates the 100 point system and uses a Five Star rating system. Rebecca Murphy's The Dallas Morning News uses blind tasting panels to evaluate wines. There was a good deal of discussion by winemakers and the panel, with many disliking the 100 point system and how it caters to marketing wines by the numbers. Christophe Hedges (Hedges Family Estate) made an impassioned advocacy for not making wines for ratings. Allen Shoup (Long Shadows) made a pertinent statement that how wines taste and go with food is more meaningful. Two standout wines were the 2009 Long Shadows "Poet's Leap" Riesling (my rating, 19/20 points) and the 2006 Grande Reve Collaboration III Syrah (19/20 points) I rated the 2008 Hedges Family Estate Red Mountain Blend a "Best Buy" at 18+/20 points.
The Grand Tasting
I found the 200 winery event at the vast Quest Field Event Center to be unwieldy and difficult to navigate. Luckily, we got an hour and a half head start as media participants. There did not seem to be too many problems with overindulgence by the public, but did find people hogging the tables at sought after wineries such as Betz Family Winery, Andrew Will and Gorman. There was plenty of good food and some of the most interesting wines were at the AVA tables, such as the Yakima Valley and Lake Chelan (where I tasted an excellent sparkling wine from Karma Cellars). Standout wines were found at Betz Family Winery, Andrew Will and Gorman Winery - I will review these in the May issue of my Review of Washington Wines.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Notes on Recent Winery Visits
During the past few weeks, we've been here and there around the wine country: Walla Walla, the Columbia Gorge and Woodinville. I will be reporting on these visits in the April and May issues of my Review of Washington Wines. Here, I'm giving you a preview of what's coming up soon and later.
The Columbia Gorge
On our way back from Bend, Oregon to Walla Walla, we stopped at Domaine Pouillon. I will be reviewing Alexis' and Juliet's new 2010 Gewurztraminer and 2008 Pierre Red in April. We also tasted a superb 2008 McDuffee Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon which will be released this summer. Later, there will be a fine 2008 Tablas Creek clone Syrah and a sensational 2010 Viognier Ice Wine that comes in at 16% Residual sugar, balanced by bracing acidity (3.7 ph). Syncline Cellars will soon release a delicious Rose composed of one-third Pinot Noir and two-thirds Rhone varietals.
Walla Walla Valley
At Buty (named for Caleb's wife, Nina) I picked up samples of Caleb Foster's stellar new reds: 2009 Merlot-Cabernet Franc, 2008 Champoux Vineyard and 2008 Rediviva of the Stones, all scoring 19 points or higher. Watch for the reviews in the April issue.
Last Saturday (March 19) we drove to Woodinville and visited several wineries. One of them was Guardian Cellars where we tasted with owner-winemaker Jerry Riener. Two wines (2008 Syrah and 2008 Gun Metal) will be reviewed in April. The knockout wine was the 2008 "The Wanted" Red. Only 14 cases were remaining, not enough to put in the May issue (April had already been wrapped up), so here is my review.
2008 Guardian Cellars "The Wanted" Red, Columbia Valley, Stillwater Creek Vineyard ($37)
This 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Cabernet Franc, comes from the Frenchman Hills near Othello. It is one of the thickest, suavest, most sensuous blends I've run across. Deep ruby colored, it emits a seductive wild berry nose with scents of lavender, rose petals, orange peel and oriental incense. The flavors are svelte, yet well-saturated, constituting a lavish intermix of ripe fruit, Swiss chocolate, licorice and earthy minerals. The back picks up notes of dried berries and cherries, recurring orange peel, creme brulee and spices (nutmeg, coriander, clove) on the way to a lingering toasty oak-laced (86% new French) supple tannin finish. This definitely a wine to be "wanted." 19.5/20 points.
We also visited Adams Bench where we tasted the 2008 Red Willow Cabernet Sauvignon. It came close to the 2007 which got 20/20 points last year. It will be reviewed in the May issue (19.5+/20 points). We also had the opportunity to compare the 2007 and 2008 Reckoning Red Blends (the 2008 reviewed in March - 19.5 points). The 2007 was showing better than the 2008 at the time, but I thought (and Tim Blue agreed with me) the 2008 had greater potential.
While in Woodinville, we visited a craft distillery in the Wine Warehouses district. It was the Project V Distillery and Sausage Company. It produces a vodka called "Single Silo," distilled from Washington winter wheat grown Joe and Anita Sprauer's family farm outside Withrow. Although most vodka is fairly neutral, this one was very clean and crisp and showed hints of toasted grain with a bracing hint of lemon. It is ideal for vodka martinis.
- Written by Rand Sealey
The WSLCB Stings Walla Walla Winery Tasting Rooms
When we were in Walla Walla the past few weeks, there was a lot of talk about the Washington State Liquor Control Board inspectors' sting of several winery tasting rooms. Liquor Board inspectors have the authority to use under age decoys to check on how well licensees do in asking for proof of age before serving and or selling alcoholic beverages. This is a legitimate function of the Board's inspection system. But it seems the inspectors overstepped their authority is some respects.
One of the ruses used was to have a young woman come up to the tasting room table with a bag containing wine to make it appear that the person had already been i.d.'d, leading the tasting room server to think asking for proof of age wasn't necessary. Then comes the "sting" and citation. However, possession of liquor by a minor is a misdemeanor, so the "decoys" and their handlers were breaking the law. The Liquor Board enforcement office has admitted the inspectors had overstepped their authority and the citations were reduced to warnings. For more about this sting and comments, go to Sean Sullivan's Washington Wine Report (wawinereport.com) and Paul Gregutt's paulg's blog.com.
What is absurd about this episode is that underage drinkers do not ordinarily go to wine tasting rooms to procure alcohol. Generally they go after cheaper products, especially beer. As one commenter put it, "The problem they are trying to prevent is real, and should be monitored but I would like to see the high school or college party at which underage people are consuming alcohol, that the primary source of booze is $20-$80 bottles of wine." The Liquor Board's Enforcement division should be putting its focus on convenience stores and the like rather than small boutique wineries.
Charles Smith Wines to Open a Tasting Room Downtown
Charles Smith Wines (which includes K Vintners as well as Charles Smith Wines) is opening its long-awaited tasting room on South Spokane Street, off Main. The target date is for "Cayuse Weekend" - April 8 - 10. When I drove by a few weeks ago, it looked like a lot of work still needed to be done. But I have heard that the project is still on target. The design work is by Olson Kundig Architects of Seattle and the drawings for the facility look fabulous.
The Young Guns Wine Society Organizes
A group of young Walla Walla winemakers have organized the Young Guns Wine Society. In late 2010, Justin Basel, age 26 (Basel Cellars), Cameron Kontos, age 31 (Kontos Cellars), Josh McDaniels, age 22 (Sweet Valley Wines) and Greg Makito, age 25 (Skylite Cellars) banded together to form this organization. Their mission statement: "The Young Guns Wine Society is dedicated to Defining the next generation of winemakers." For more information, go to the Young Guns's website and Facebook page.
A Couple More Super Buys in Washington Wine from Esquin
Last week, I listed several wines at new, deep discounts that were exceptional buys. Here are two more that have not been previously reviewed. They are real steals.
2008 Fidelitas Semillon, Columbia Valley (Was $20 - Now $9.99)
This 100% varietal white displays a brilliant gold color and an attractive nose of pear, cantaloupe and peach with scents of lilac, orange peel and sandalwood. The white fruit flavors are rich and viscous, with tones of anise, basaltic minerals, and fig. On the back, mandarin orange juices give the wine a tangy component which is counterpointed by touches of vanilla oak (from barrel fermentation) and beeswax, all adding up to a sensuous, flavorful white. 18+/20 points.
2007 Ash Hollow Reserve Malbec, Walla Walla Valley (Was $42 - Now $17.99)
Deep ruby colored, this wine exhibits a deep ruby color and a rich, spicy nose of roasted blackberries and blueberries, with scents of dried roses, lavender and smoldering incense. The flavors are deep and well saturated, underlain with silty minerals, black licorice, bittersweet chocolate and coffee grounds. The flavors expand on the back, oozing with ripe, semi-macerated berry juices that pick up notes of mocha, spices, dried orange peel, roasted nuts and a grinding of black pepper on a savory ripe tannin finish. 18.5/20 points.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Great Buys for Washington Wine Month at Esquin
March is Washington Wine Month and there are some great buys out there. From Esquin's current newsletter, I have found these wines which are on sale at substantial price reductions which make them extraordinary values. They are not to be missed.
2008 Waters Interlude Red, Columbia Valley ($30) - July 2010 issue - Now $26.99
This Merlot (55%) Cabernet Sauvignon (44%) blend is impressive. It offers a rich, sultry wild blackberry and cassis nose with scents of rubbed sage and mint. On the palate, the flavors are well fleshed and saturated, with admixtures of huckleberry juice, graphite, cocoa powder and spices (nutmeg and coriander). The ripe tannin finish shows admirable fruit-acid balance. 18.5/20 points.
2007 SYZYGY Red Wine, Columbia Valley ($24) - August 2010 issue - Now $21.99
Here, Zach Brettler has put together a savory, flavorful blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec. It exhibits a deep ruby color, a rich nose of blackberry, cherry, tobacco and lavender. The dark fruit flavors are deep and fleshy, abounding with roasted berries with tones of bittersweet chocolate and mocha. On the back, it is thick and saturated, well lashed with licorice, earth, roasted nuts, spices and integrated sweet-dry tannins. 18+/20 points.
2007 Januik Red Wine, Columbia Valley ($22) - August 2010 issue - Now $17.99
This Merlot dominated (62%) wine offers a rich raspberry, blackberry and cassis nose with scents of tobacco and sage. The flavors are full and direct, but with an appealingly savory character that continues through the back along with notes of licorice, cola, bittersweet chocolate and roasted coffee, followed by chewy tannins and moderate acids. 18/20 points.
2009 Maison Belue Jaja White Wine, Yakima Valley ($17) - September 2010 issue - Now $13.99
“Jaja” is a southern French expression for a great everyday wine. Composed of 67% Roussanne, 28% Chardonnay and 5% Marsanne, it offers engaging aromas of green apple, star fruit, lilac and orange blossoms. The flavors are crisp and lively on the palate, with notes of white peach, pear and melon. On the back, the wine picks up a hint of creaminess from partial malolactic fermentation and sur lie aging. On the finish, wet stone tones and a tang of pineapple juice add character. 18.5/20 points. This is the highest score I have given to a dry white for under $20
2008 Obelisco Estate Red Blend, Red Mountain ($30) - January 2011 issue - Now $19.99
Deep ruby colored, this blend of 70.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 4.5% Malbec, offers rich, smoky aromatics of blackberries, cherries and plums, crushed roses, tobacco, sandalwood and incense. The macerated berry flavors are deep and chewy, yet svelte, marked by Red Mountain scorched earth and silty minerals. On the back, there are tones of licorice, bittersweet chocolate, medium roast coffee, and touches of toffee, roasted nuts and savory spices on a sweet-dry tannin finish. 18.5/20 points.
2008 Nine Hats Red Wine, Columbia Valley ($25) - March 2011 issue - Now $19.99
A blend of 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 10% each of Cab Franc and Petit Verdot plus 2% Malbec, from Long Shadows, this wine displays a deep ruby color and smoky, sultry aromas of blackberries, cherries, cassis, cigar box, crushed roses, violets and rubbed sage. The dark fruits are mouth encompassing, redolent of licorice, bittersweet chocolate, mocha, roast coffee and graphite. On the back, the dark fruit flavors march on, intermixed with kirsch liqueur, orange peel, roasted fruits and nuts, and followed by a ripe chewy tannin finish. Hats off to Gilles Nicault for putting this together. 18.5/20 points.
Highly Recommended Wines from TL Cellars at Deep Price Reductions
2008 TL Cellars “Release No. Five” Grenache, Walla Walla Valley ($65) - September 2010 issue - Now $35
Here, Troy Ledwick has turned out the best rendition of this up and coming variety that I’ve seen so far. Sourced from the Minnick Vineyard, it displays a deep brick red color and an intriguing nose of raspberry, Marion berry, wild cherry, crushed roses, orange peel, sandalwood and incense. The entry shows richly berried, medium bodied textures, followed by a tapestry of lavish fruits that are intermixed with loamy, silty earth, milk chocolate, gently macerated fruits, toasted nuts, licorice and mocha. The deep, finely wrought back palate shows impeccable fruit-acid balance (.62 total acidity) and is deftly dusted with clove, nutmeg and cinnamon bark laid on a sultry (15.2% alcohol) lingering smooth tannin finish. 19+/20 points.
2006 TL Cellars “Release No. Six” Petit Verdot, Columbia Valley ($65) - September 2010 issue - Now $35
Deep ruby-crimson colored, this wine, produced from the Boushey Vineyard, emits terrific aromatics: wild blackberries, mulberries, cassis, crushed blueberry, oriental perfumes, violets and incense. On the entry, the palate shows dark, macerated berry and cherry fruits, followed by sensations of kirsch liqueur, a distinctive basaltic minerality, dried berries, and touches of licorice, bittersweet chocolate and vanilla bean. All this is followed by fine, penetrating fruit acids that are composed of slightly tart squeezed berry juices, recurring kirsch, and a twist of orange peel. The finish culminates in a deft touch of French oak (one year old Vicard) and satiny sweet-dry tannins. In sum, this is the most alluring expression of Petit Verdot (seldom bottled as a varietal) that I’ve ever seen. 19.5/20 points.