- Written by Rand Sealey
Finding the Wineries West of Walla Walla
Last Saturday, I drove from Walla Walla to Prosser to visit some wineries there and then back, stopping at Red Mountain on the way back. Going west out of town, I drove on the newly opened four lane Highway 12. On the way back I continued on the old Highway 12 and found myself forced to make circuitous detours back to downtown Walla Walla. Much of the old highway is being repaved and approaches to the new highway being constructed.
If you plan to be driving into Walla Walla in the near future and want to stop at some wineries on the way, be careful! Yesterday (Wednesday) I took a drive on the new Highway 12 to have a first hand look at what is going on and its impact on the wineries along old Highway 12. Here is what I found, going east to west.
There is an exit at Spalding Road with a sign for the Whitman Mission but no signs for wineries. At Reininger Cellars (to the right off Spalding; Three Rivers is across the old Highway 12 a bit to the east) I learned that a blue sign for wineries is being made in Yakima, but that may take some more weeks before it is erected. To get to Bunchgrass (Saturdays only) go east past the "Road Closed" sign at the Wallula Road exit and drive another half mile.
On the new Highway 12, at Frenchtown Road about another two miles west of Spalding there are makeshift orange signs on the roadway shoulders that read:
The problem is that by the time you see these signs, you will hardly have time to turn off to the exit. This exit will take you to Cougar Crest at the corner of Frenchtown Road and old Highway 12. To get to Glencorrie, go west past the "Road Closed" sign (there is a "Wineries Open" - actually only one winery - sign).
Needless to say, all this has had a negative impact on the wineries along the old Highway 12 (Waterbrook, L'Ecole No. 41 and Woodward Canyon are located west of the junction where the new highway joins the old). Business is down 30 to 60 percent The most adversely affected is Skylite Cellars situated in the no man's land between the Myra Road interchange and the Wallula exit off old Highway 12. The new section of Highway 12 has been under construction for well over a year and obviously there was plenty of time to make advance preparations to have signage in place when the new highway opened. Both the state and local Departments of Transportation have screwed up royally.
Two New Summertime Wines
Here are two wines that were made in such limited quantities that they will likely be gone by August.
2009 Gifford Hirlinger Pinot Gris, Walla Walla Valley ($18)
This is a bright, attractive white from the winery's estate vineyard. Brilliant straw color. Enticing lilac-scented pear, melon and orange peel nose. The flavors are well-extracted and creamy-textured, counterpointed by touches of hazelnut and pineapple on the finish. 18/20 points.
2009 Tertulia Cellars Rose du Mourvedre, Yakima Valley, Den Hoed Vineyard ($16)
This displays a deep pink color and an attractive nose of raspberry and strawberry with whiffs of clove and allspice. The red fruit flavors are lively and vivacious, followed by a zingy squeeze of cranberry juice on the nearly dry finish. This recalls the fine roses of Provence. 18/20 points.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Noteworthy Washington White Wine Varietals
At the Wine Bloggers Conference (June 25 - 27) I attended a session on the "Washington Wine Industry." In it, Paul Gregutt asked "what is Washington's signature grape?" For reds, it's obvious: Cabernet Sauvignon (old vines on vinifera roots); Cabernet Franc and Merlot (the best in the U.S.) and Syrah (encompassing a remarkably wide range of styles). But what of Washington whites? Here's my rundown of the most noteworthy white varietals.
Chardonnay - This is the largest produced white variety in the state. But most of it was planted before much thought was given to picking the best sites. That will require further sorting out. There are a few outstanding Chardonnay vineyards though: Connor Lee, south of Othello is one of the best and Buty makes an exceptional one; Chateau Ste. Michelle's Canoe Ridge Estate overlooking the Columbia River; Stillwater Creek on the Royal Slope (Sparkman Cellars and Novelty Hill); French Creek - 30 year old vines used in Maison Bleue's Au Contraire Chardonnay.
Riesling - This variety is poised to make a comeback. See my blogs of May 26 and June 16 for more about this grape.
Sauvignon Blanc - This variety is getting better and better. Earlier versions tended toward the extremes of green and herbal or tropical and figgy. Now better balanced wines are being made that show characteristics of gooseberry, citrus and minerals (picked up by deep rooted vines). Also improved trellis management has let to better ripening and fruit-acid balance. Fine examples: Efeste "Feral"; Chateau Ste. Michelle's Horse Heaven Hills; Woodward Canyon (strikingly Sancerre like).
Semillon - This is one of Washington's best keep secrets. The variety can show elegant, complex characteristics of waxy fruits, crisp citrus acidity and stony minerals. Some top Semillons are: Amavi Cellars, Va Piano, Robison Ranch Cellars, L'Ecole No. 41. There are also outstanding blends of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc: DeLille Chaleur Estate Blanc, Buty, and Covington Cellars "Dress White."
Viognier - This Rhone varietal is becoming better known. Its sensuous tropical character makes it particularly appealing. There is a wide range of styles from crisp, elegant and Chardonnay-like to opulently rich and creamy. Some fine examples: aMaurice (refined and ageworthy); Maison Bleue, William Church, Syncline, Robison Ranch (these are in the middle of the road style); Stephenson Cellars (opulently styled).
Marsanne - This varietal, along with Roussanne, is responsible for the great Hermitage Blanc of the north Rhone. Several Rhone-style specialists have added it to their white wine repetoires: McCrea Cellars, Syncline Cellars, DeLille Cellars.
Roussanne - Some wineries make this exotically-styled wine into a varietal: Forgeron Cellars, Maison Bleue, SuLeri Cellars (terrific value). Some blend it with Marsanne and or Viognier: DeLille Cellars, McCrea Cellars.
Gewurztraminer - The "Spicy Traminer" which originated in Alsace grows best only in a few areas, most notably in the Columbia Gorge where the 30+ year old Celilo Vineyard is located. The younger Evergreen Mountain vineyard has considerable potential. Best examples: Dowsett Family (Celilo) Domaine Pouillon (Evergreen Mountain).
Pinot Gris - Until a few years ago, Washington Pinot Gris wines were light bodied and somewhat green-toned. Now they have improved to the point where they exceed their Oregon counterparts, showing rich floral aromas and creamy textures, counterpointed by fine fruit acids. Fine examples: Andrew Will Cuvee Lucia, Locati Cellars, Columbia Crest H3, Wines of Substance.
- Written by Rand Sealey
The Wine Bloggers Conference
Last weekend (Friday, June 25 - Sunday, June 27) I attended the Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla at the Marcus Whitman Hotel and Conference Center, this year's venue. It was the first tine I had attended. It turned out to be very stimulating and informative. Here are some highlights.
On Saturday morning, there was a discussion about the "Terroirs of the Walla Walla Valley" with Professor of Geology Kevin Pogue of Whitman College. The presentation illustrated the importance of terroir (loosely translated as "a sense of place") in Walla Walla Valley wines. In an upcoming blog, I will write a fuller summary of the session.
Later in the morning, Conference participants loaded up on buses in groups of 15 to visit vineyards and wineries. My group's first stop was at the Spofford Station vineyard southeast of Walla Walla on the Oregon side of the valley. Located in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, it is a site that was heavily impacted by the Misoula Floods 12-15,000 years ago. The owner, Lynne Chamberlain, was a gracious host and we sampled wines from that vineyard with winemakers (including Brad Riordan of Robison Ranch and Devin Stinger of Adamant). Next, we stopped at College Cellars of Walla Walla Community College, where we participated in a blind tasting of 2009 Syrahs that were aged in different barrels, three in French oak and two in American oak. The differences were striking and revealed how much oak aging influences the taste of wines. Then we went to Long Shadows for a delicious lunch accompanied by a selection of the winery's wines. The '09 Poet's Leap Riesling, the '07 Saggi and '07 Sequel Syrah were outstanding.
In the afternoon, I attended a Breakout Session, "The Washington Wine Industry" with Paul Gregutt (paulgregutt.com), Coman Dinn (Director of Winemaking for Hogue Cellars) and Sean Sullivan (Washington Wine Report). The panel packed in a lot of information given the limited time of 50 minutes. Co Dinn illustrated how much Washington has over California in terms of climate and diversity of terroir. Paul Gregutt asked the question of "what is Washington's signature grape?' For whites, he noted that Chardonnay still has yet to find the best sites, and saw great potential for Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (a great secret). For reds, there are Cabernet Sauvignon, especially from 35+ year old vines on vinifera roots, Merlot (the best in the U.S.) and Syrah which has a remarkable range of styles. Sean Sullivan noted the dramatic growth of Washington wine, accompanied by a string of excellent vintages (Wine Spectator: '08 and '07, 95+ points, '06, 94 points, '05, 93 points). Of the 650 wineries today, many are small (under 4200 cases a year). Future challenges remain, such as how to sustain continued growth and how to reach across state boundaries. (For a more extensive report on this session, along with graphs, charts, and added commentary, see Sean Sullivan's June 29 post in www.wawinereport.com.)
On Sunday morning, the Conference wrapped up with sessions on wine blogging including "Bloggers, Wineries and PR Firms" which explored the complex relationships among these groups. The constant theme of wineries and their PR is that "we are here to help you." There is an awareness on the need for being on the cutting edge. The Conference ended with a Wine and Food Pairing with Winebow South American, Italian and Spanish wines together with dishes developed by the Marcus Whitman Hotel Marc Restaurant Chef, "Bear" Ullman. A concluding session announced Charlottesville, Virginia as the site of the 2011 Conference.
- Written by Rand Sealey
'Tis the Season for Roses
With the advent of summer and (hopefully) warm weather, the season for rose wines is upon us. While some tend to think of them as being less serious than red or white wines, there are quite a few roses that offer plenty of flavor interest.
Basically, there are two ways to make a rose. The preferred method is to crush red grapes, leave them on the skins for about 24 hours (to take on the rose tinge) and then ferment the juice. Another method is the saignee, whereby juice is drawn off from fermenting red wine and then continue the fermentation. The saignee process can be tricky, as the fermentation needs to be carefully controlled and brought to a dry or nearly dry finish. Properly done, roses can be terrific wines, ideal for summer.
In recent issues, and in the upcoming July post, I have reviewed a few noteworthy roses:
2009 Barnard-Griffin Rose of Sangiovese, Columbia Valley ($12) - Brilliant pink color. Fresh berry and cherry flavors, with good acidity. Terrific buy. 17.5/20 points. (May)
2009 El Corazon "Red Frog" Rose, Columbia Valley ($16) - Produced principally from Syrah, it has a deep rose color (from extended skin contact) and lively, lightly spiced fruit. 18/20 points. (May)
2009 Trio Vintners Tres Rose, Columbia Valley ($15) - A 50/50 Grenache and Mourvedre combination, it is off-dry (1.2% residual sugar) with vibrant berry fruits. 17.5/20 points. (June)
2009 CAVU Cellars Barbera Rose, Horse Heaven Hills, Alder Ridge Vineyard ($20) - This is a winner: ripe, fresh cherry flavors with a twist of orange peel. 18/20 points. (July)
2009 Trust Cellars Rose of Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley ($16) - Floral wild strawberry and raspberry with lively, lightly squeezed fruits and a snap of tangerine. 17.5/20 points. (July)
Here are a few more roses that I have liked:
2009 Adamant Cellars Ruby Ruth Rose #2, Columbia Valley ($15) - Deep crimson colored, this wine displays ripe, perfumed berry and cherry aromas with lively fruits and fine balance. 17.5+/20 points.
2009 Chinook Rose of Cabernet Franc, Yakima Valley ($15) - Brilliant pink color with raspberry and strawberry aromas and flavors that finish dry and well-extracted. 17.5/20 points.
2009 Waters Rose, Walla Walla Valley ($18) - Composed of 75% Syrah and 25% Viognier, co-fermented, this shows a pale salmon color, enticing berry and spice aromas, and flavors of gently squeezed pomegranates and berries. 18/20 points.
2009 Efeste "Babbitt" Rose, Columbia Valley ($18) - This is sold out at the winery but may be found at various retailers. Fairly dry for a rose, it abounds with deep, satisfying flavors. 18/20 points.
What to have with roses? These wines are ideal accompaniments to warm weather food: grilled chicken, charcuterie (ham, salami, pates) and salades composes (Nicoise, Cobb, chicken), also sushi. They make refreshing aperitifs, too.
Coming Up: The Wine Bloggers Conference
Tomorrow, I will be heading back to Walla Walla for the Wine Bloggers Conference which will being together 300 wine bloggers from around the country. There will be lots of events on the agenda and the conference looks to be busy and stimulating. I'll be reporting on it in next week's blog.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Further Comments on Washington Riesling
Since my blog of 26 May, "Whither Washington Riesling?" I received a couple of emails commenting on that article which, I think, put the varietal in a broader perspective. Here are excerpts, together with my comments.
The first was from Rick Johnson, owner of Walla Faces winery in Walla Walla:
"I agree with your blog on Riesling in Washington. We just bottled a limited production Riesling. Matt Loso, our winemaker, tried something different by fermenting a portion of our Riesling in a concrete egg. The egg fermented Riesling developed a more earthy tasting Riesling. Matt blended back the egg fermented Riesling into the main vat fermenting in a stainless tank. We think the result is quite promising."
I stopped by the tasting room where there were samples for tasting and found it to be quite promising, too. It is a 2009 from the Lawrence Vineyard, and it showed exceptional aromatics, depth and richness. It will be released this summer with the name, "Teri and the German." I will be reviewing it in the August issue of the Review of Washington Wines. (For a write-up about Walla Faces, see the March issue.)
The second email came from Paul Zitarelli of Full Pull Wines (see my blog of 1 May to learn more):
"Rand - As an avid Riesling fan, I enjoyed this week's blog. It got me to wondering your opinion on Bill Owen's Champoux Vineyard Riesling with OS Winery. I found it to be nearly sublime in certain vintages. He always keeps the alcohol level low (frequently under 10%) and really lets the Champoux terroir sing." (See the June issue of the Review for my write-up on this wine.)
"I also think as new plantings at Evergreen open up, we will see smaller wineries (outside of CSM's Eroica and Kung Fu Girl who take the vast majority of these grapes currently) start doing interesting things with that fruit. Efeste, which you mentioned, is a great example." (See the May issue for my review of the '09 Efeste Evergreen Riesling.)
"I'm on the record predicting that in 10-15 years, we will be talking about Evergreen the way we talk about Celilo now: as one of the finest vineyards in the state for the expression of aromatic white varietals." (I agree that the Evergreen Vineyard has great potential.)
I replied that "I agree that in the course of this decade, Riesling will make a comeback. The varietal just needs to overcome the image problem. There is great potential."
These two dialogues have led me to believe that Washington Riesling is headed toward a great future.
Get Your Rasa Vineyards 2007 Principia Syrah Before it's Gone
In the June issue of my Review of Washington Wines, I rated the '07 Rasa Principia Reserve Syrah 20/20 points, the second wine to receive the highest score in this publication. Only 70 cases were made and, with the rave reviews received (including mine), the supply will not last long. Full Pull Wines has just (today) made an offering of an allocation of this wine. To get yours, go to the Full Pull website, sign up, and see the latest offering.