- Written by Rand Sealey
So Cabernet Sauvignon is King and Merlot is the Queen and Syrah is the Jack. But what about the numerous other wine grape varieties? Variety is the spice of life, so there is a place for the others. Here's a run down of the most interesting and trendy varietals out there.
Grenache - After Syrah, Grenache is the main variety originating in the Rhone Valley., principally in the south, especially Chateauneuf du Pape and Vacqueras. It has a medium bodied flavor profile, akin to that of Pinot Noir, which is part of its appeal. Wineries making noteworthy Grenaches are àMaurice, The Walls, L'Ecole No. 41, Convergence Zone and Rotie Cellars.
Petit Sirah - This is not a Syrah at all, but Durif which is grown in Southern France. In France, it is somewhat ordinary grape, but it grows well in Washington State. It is typically a full bodied, smoky, spicy red. Milbrandt makes a fine one from the Northridge Vineyard. Dusted Valley and Thurston Wolfe make Peite Sirah as well, and Corvus uses it in a 50/50 blend with Syrah.
Petit Verdot - The name means "little green" which is what the grape looks like until it ripens fully. Only a bit is grown in Bordeaux today. But in Washington, the grape ripens more easily into a lovely crimson-colored, perfumed red. It usually is used as a blending grape in Bordeaux-style reds, but an increasing number of wineries are making it a stand-alone varietal, including Seven Hills, Tero Estates, Tamarack, Corvus and others.
Carmenère - This is called the "lost grape" of Bordeaux. It went mostly out of existence there after the killing frost of 1956. It was resurrected in Chile and then in Washington, producing a chewy textured, aromatic wine with a dash of pepper. It is one of the sexiest varieties out there. A fair number of wineries are making it, including Basel Cellars, Bartholomew, Clearwater Canyon, Otis Kenyon, Tertulia and Beresan.
Primitivo - This is the ancestor of Zinfandel, originating in the Adriatic region of Italy. As the name suggests, it is robust, somewhat rustic, yet flavorful red. The main source for Primitive is the Wahluke Slope where the warm climate is suitable for this grape. Principal producers are Forgeron Cellars (the 2014 vintage to reviewed in April), Wind Rose, and Bartholomew.
For white wines, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling are ubiquitous, but there is growing interest in Rhone white varieties. Five years ago, we saw Granache Blanc, Roussanne and Marsanne being planted at Tranche's Blue Mountain Vineyard. Today, the vines, along with others, are producing interesting whites.
Grenache Blanc - This white mutant of Grenache Noir is the subject of growing interest. The rich aromatics, medium full bodied flavors and crisp texture make for a versatile white. The Syncline, Kerloo Cellars and The Walls ("Lip Stinger") wineries make noteworthy ones.
Marsanne - Originating in the North Rhone Valley (Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage), this full bodied white offers notes of minerals and herbal tea, along with fine fruits. Rotie Cellars ("Northern White"), Isenhower Cellars and College Cellars make wines from this variety.
Roussanne - Highly aromatic (peach, apricot, white incense), this white tends toward the tropical. Very fresh and lively, it is an enjoyable varietal. Producers include Otis Kenyon and Balboa ("Mith"). And Isenhower Cellars makes a sparkling wine version.
- Written by Rand Sealey
This winter in the Walla Walla Valley has been one of the coldest on record. There have been two week-long spells of sub zero temperatures and much more snow than usual (which is typically an inch or two, not six to twelve inches). Twice Graybill Pond in front of our house on Kendall Road froze solid. One morning, our thermometer registered minus 2.6 degrees. Our January heating bill was horrendous. We spent ten days in Southern California (with two days of heavy cold rain in Pasadena) and returned to Walla Walla for another six inches of snow the next day.
The winter weather has had an impact on the wine industry as well. There was an article in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin about how local businesses experienced a downturn. Icy streets have deterred people from going out of their homes. This has affected wine tasting rooms as well. A couple of wineries reported that sales were down 30%. The same for restaurants. January and February are normally slow months, but this year has been slower than usual. There was a February for Foodies promotion and we attended a winemaker's dinner at Forgeron Cellars which was very nicely done. The 2012 Anvil Cabernet Sauvignon was a hit (to be reviewed in the April issue of the Review of Washington Wines - 19.5/20 points).
Another concern with the extremely cold weather has been about the grape vines. Fortunately, the vines went into dormancy in November and December, before the freezing weather hit. But some younger vines may not make it, and will have to be replaced. Also, some varieties are less hardy than others. We will have to wait until bud break in the Spring to assess the extent of damage.
Things are starting to get back to normal. Temperatures have been in the 30's, with early morning lows in the 20's. Spring will be coming before long!
March Cellars and Vital Wines at the Oscars
On another winter note, Ashley Trout's March Cellars and Vital Wines will be poured for attendees at the February 25 pre-Oscars gifting event at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. This is a first for a Walla Walla Valley winery. Vital Wines provides medical care for seasonal winery workers at the SOS Clinic, funded by proceeds of the sales of wines produced from donated grapes, equipment and supplies. March Cellars is Ashley's own winery, a tribute to those who moved westward in the 1800's.
March Cellars and Vital Wines is offering "The Oscar Pack" for $150 (plus 1 cent for shipping). It consists of three bottles of the 2015 Vital Wines "The Gifted" Red Blend, two 2014 March Cellars Chardonnay and one 2014 March Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon-Cabernet Franc. (See the October and December 2016 issues for reviews of these wines.) www.marchcellars.com.
Our Valentine's Day Wine
On yet another winter note, Lynn and I had filet mignon with a 2012 Domaine de la Charbonnière Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée Vieilles Vines. From 80 to 100 year-old Grenache vines, with a bit of Mourvèdre, it was superb, with intoxicating aromas of wild berries, orange peel, lavender and oriental incense. The flavors comprised an intricate composition of of multilayered fruits, robust yet velvety, marked by pepble minerals and a long complex finish. 19.5/20 points.
Next Week: On February 22, the March issue of the Review of Washington Wines goes on line along with a Review Blog posting about current wine trends.
- Written by Rand Sealey
College Cellars is the educational winery of the Walla Walla Community College's Center for Enology and Viticulture, founded in 2000 by Stan Clarke and Myles Anderson. The current administration is composed of Tim Donahue, Enology Instructor and Winemaker, Joel Perez, Director of Viticulture Manager, Danielle Swan-Froese, EV Program Coordinator, and Sabrina Lueck, Assistant Enologist. The instructors and students work at winemaking in projects on individual wines. The grapes come from the winery's estate vineyards (Clarke, Anderson) or from donated grapes. Many of College Cellars' graduates are now working at wineries around the world. Here is a listing of College Cellars' current vintages that have been or will be reviewed in the Review of Washington Wines. All are great values.
2014 Barbera, Walla Walla Valley, Anderson Vineyard ($18) - 18+/20 points - April 2016
2014 Tempranillo, Walla Walla Valley, Anderson Vineyard ($20) - 18+/20 points - April
2014 Carmenère, Walla Walla Valley, Clarke Vineyard ($20) - 18+/20 points - April
2015 Viognier, Walla Walla Valley ($16) -18/20 points - August 2016
2015 Chardonnay, Walla Walla Valley ($20) 18+/20 points - August
2015 Semillon, Walla Walla Valley, Clarke Vineyard ($14) - 18/20 points - January 2017
2014 Cabernet Franc, Walla Walla Valley, Clarke Vineyard ($20) - 18/20 points - January
2014 Petit Verdot, Walla Walla Valley, Clarke Vineyard ($24) - 18.5/20 points - January
2016 Rosé of Pinot Gris, Columbia Valley, Reed Vineyard ($16) - One of the first of the season rosés, made from Pinot Gris grapes that were given extended hang time, resulting in a copper hued color and distinctive flavors. 18/20 points. A full review to be in the March issue.
2015 Riesling, Walla Walla Valley, Loess Vineyard ($15) - 18/20 points - To be reviewed March
2014 Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, Clarke Vineyard ($20) - 18.5/20 points - March
2014 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, Clarke Vineyard ($22) -18.5/20 points - March
The following two wines are in limited supply and are reviewed here.
2016 Muscat Ottonel, Walla Walla Valley, Red Boar Vineyard ($16) - Sourced from chef Greg Schnorr's vineyard, this is a fun wine. Slightly effervescent (with a cider cap), it possesses pear, peach and citrus aromas with scents of honeysuckle and spiced incense. The slightly sweet flavors (6% residual sugar) are balanced by bright acidity. 18+/20 points.
2014 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Blue Mountain Vineyard ($28) - This was made as a special project and only 25 cases were produced. It shows a deep ruby color and enticing aromas of wild raspberries, mountain blueberries, and black currants, with scents of wild roses, mulberry, lavender, olive, violets and spiced incense. On the palate, the flavors are generous, yet focused, with notes of licorice, dark cocoa, French roast and loess minerals. The saturation continues on the back with sensations of pressed berries, roasted nuts, toffee, framboise and cassis liqueurs, and charcoal, followed by a savory ripe tannin finish. This wine delivers a lot of satisfaction which gives it a plus. 18.5+/20 points.
- Written by Rand Sealey
On January 19, Steve Warner, president of the Washington State Wine Commission and Josh McDonald, executive director of the Washington Wine Commission, briefed the State Senate Commerce, Labor and Sports Committee in Olympia about the impact of the state's wine industry. At one point, the committee chairman, Senator Michael Baumgartner (R - Spokane) asked, "You're telling me that wine is gonna be bigger than wheat?" Steve Warner replied, "It's gonna be big bigger."
Warner and McDonald told the committee that Washington has approximately 900 wineries, with about four new ones each month. The state has about 350 grape growers with approximately 53,000 acres. In 1915, 222,000 tons of grapes were produced, with a revenue of $254.2 million. The 2016 wheat harvest from 2.2 million acres reaped $600 million in sales. The 2016 grape harvest has been estimated to be 20% higher than the previous year. It's not going to be very long before Washington Wine becomes "bigger than wheat."
There are quite a few good reasons why Washington Wine is becoming bigger than wheat:
High quality-price ratios - Washington wines offer higher quality for their prices than any other wine producing state. The ratings in the Review of Washington Wines and other publications are evidence of that.
Plenty of available acreage and water access - There are hundreds of thousands of acres of land that are suitable for grape growing and there is good access to water, unlike drought plagued California. No wonder out of state investors are buying vineyard land here.
Reasonable farming costs and profit margins - Well managed vineyards and wineries have good chances of success in this state.
Growing awareness of Washington Wines - National and international press has created more awareness of Washington State as a producer of quality wines.
Education for developing talent and research - Viticulture and enology programs such as those of the Walla Walla Community College and Washington State University are training students to be skilled workers in the wine industry. Research at the WSU Prosser Extension and other institutions helps maintain the industry's progress.
- Written by Rand Sealey
In my last Review of Washington Wine Blog posting of 12 January, I wrote, "It is no secret that white wine grapes command lower price than red wine grapes. Red wines get more respect than white ones." While they cost more than white wines, there are still some reds that are great values. Most of them come in at the $25 price point. I rarely come across a red scoring 18.5/20 points for under $20. Also, there are few varietal wines in this category with the exception of Syrah, a less fashionable grape than Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varieties. Most will be blends. Also, these wines generally are "stretched" with some press juice. The trick, though, is not to put in too much press wine in the blend. Too much results in an astringent wine. I have rejected many reds for this. All this said, here are some recently reviewed wines that offer fine value for $25 or less.
2013 Cavatappi "San Pietro" Red Wine, Columbia Valley ($25) 18.5/20 points - October 2016
2014 Wind Rose Cellars Primitivo, Columbia Valley, Stone Tree Vineyard ($25) 18.5/20 points - November
2015 Eight Bells Marquette, Yakima Valley, Red Willow Vineyard ($25) - 18.5/20 points - November
2012 Eight Bells Merlot, Yakima Valley, Red Willow Vineyard ($25) - 18.5/20 points - November
2014 Les Trouvées Red Wine, Columbia Valley ($25) - 18.5/20 points - November
2015 Vital "The Gifted" Red Wine Blend, Walla Walla Valley ($25) - 18.5/20 points - December
2012 Tranche Cellars Sangiovese, Walla Walla Valley, Blue Mountain Vineyard ($25) - 18.5/20 points - January
2012 Tranche Cellars Tempranillo, Yakima Valley, Blackrock Vineyard ($25) - 18.5/20 points - January
2014 College Cellars Petit Verdot, Walla Walla Valley, Clarke Vineyard ($24) - 18.5/20 points - January
2014 Kerloo Cellars "Majestic" Red Wine, Columbia Valley ($25) - 18.5/20 points - January
2013 L'Ecole No. 41 Syrah, Columbia Valley ($24) - 18.5/20 points - February
2014 L'Ecole No. 41 Syrah, Columbia Valley ($24) - 18.5/20 points - To be reviewed March
2014 Structure Cellars "Newel" Red Blend, Columbia Valley ($24) - 18.5/20 points - March
2014 Structure Cellars "Bauhaus" Syrah, Columbia Valley ($25) - 18.5/20 points - March
2014 Nine Hats Merlot, Columbia Valley ($25) - 18.5/20 points - March
2014 Nine Hats Syrah, Columbia Valley ($25) - 18.5/20 points - March
2014 Nine Hats Cabernet Sauvignon ($25) - 18.5/20 points - March
2014 Nine Hats Malbec, Columbia Valley ($25) - 18.5/20 points - March