- Written by Rand Sealey
In the October issue of the Review of Washington Wines, there are 31 red wines from the 2014 vintage out of a total of 46 reds. This is an indication that most of the wines now being released are 2014s and are going into a maturing cycle as the 2015's are just entering its release cycle (eight in the October issue).
Vintage release cycles are the natural progression of wineries moving from one vintage to the next. Wineries release new vintages either when the supply of a previous vintage has been depleted and when they are deemed drinkable enough for release. Only a few wineries hold wines for more than a year or so after bottling. Wineries, like many businesses, need cash flow and releasing new vintages is how this keeps going.
The 2014 vintage was another warm year (preceded by 2013 and followed by 2015, both warm years). There was a hot summer, with some days above 110 degrees, and a mild fall led to much of the harvesting completed by mid October. This resulted in ripe, well balanced wines that are already drinking well, although many will benefit from further aging. In other words, 2014 is turning out to be a classic vintage.
As an indication of the classicism of the 2014 reds, here are the top wines of the vintage in the October Review of Washington Wines.
2014 Col Solare Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain ($75) - 19.5/20 points
2014 Pepper Bridge "Trine" Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley ($65) - 19+/20 points
2014 Upchurch Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain ($70) - 19.5/20 points
2014 Woodward Canyon "Charbonneau" Red Wine, Walla Walla County ($79) - 19+/20 po
2014 Woodward Canyon "Old Vines" Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington State ($99_ - 19.5/20 points
There are also a fair number (14) of wines scoring 19/20 points in the October issue.
The strand that runs through these 2014s is the depth and balance that the wines possess: fine fruit, good acid balance, and ripe, smooth tannins, all making for approachable, yet age worthy wines. One cannot go wrong buying these wines.
The next vintage cycle, that of the 2015s, will be coming soon. I will be writing about it in the Review Blog accompanying the November issue of the Review of Washington Wines.
- Written by Rand Sealey
From time to time, I will review Oregon and Idaho wines in the Review of Washington Wines. Given the name of this publication, why do wines from other states appear. The rule I use is that if a wine comes from an AVA (American Viticultural Area) that extends into an adjoining state, it may be included in the Review of Washington Wines.
The American Viticultural Areas have nothing to do with State boundaries. They are creations of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau of the U.S. Treasury (abbreviated as TTB) which determines what areas may be designated as AVAs, based on terroir and climate data which an AVA a distinct character. There are three AVAs that straddle the borders with adjoining states: the Walla Walla Valley which includes parts of Washington and Oregon, the Columbia Gorge which encompasses both sides of the Columbia River, and the Lewis-Clark Valley which covers parts of the areas around Lewiston in Idaho and Clarkston in Washington.
Recent issues of the Review of Washington wines have covered wines from the three above American Viticultural Areas: The Lewis-Clark Valley in the September issue (Basalt Cellars and Clearwater Canyon Cellars), the Columbia Gorge (including Analemma which is in Mosier, Oregon, but gets most grapes from near White Salmon in Washington), and, of course, the Walla Walla Valley, which has more grape acreage on the Oregon side than the Washington. Tero Estates is a case in point. Both the vineyard, Windrow, and the winery is located near Milton-Freewater in Oregon, which makes it technically an Oregon winery. The Watermill and Zerba wineries are also located in Oregon, with vineyards on that side of the border. For the reasons stated above, they can still be reviewed in this publication.
When reviewing wines outside of these AVAs (and including ones from elsewhere, such as California, the Willamette Valley and other countries) I put them in the Review Blog which covers wines outside the scope of the Review of Washington Wines. For example, I reviewed wines from the Dowsett Family Winery (located in Walla Walla) in the 19 July Blog posting (scroll down to find it). Two were from a family vineyard in the Willamette Valley, the other two from the Columbia Gorge (and therefore included in the September issue).
So, in conclusion, the Review of Washington Wines covers wines from outside of the state's boundary, so long as they come from AVAs that encompass both Washington and an adjoining state.
- Written by Rand Sealey
As of this writing, September 13, the wine grape harvest is under way. At this point, pickings have been mostly white grapes, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon for BDX whites, and some lower brix grapes for sparkling wines and rosés. Lynn is at LeAnn Hughes' Patina Vineyard this morning to help pick Syrah grapes for Ashley Trout's Vital Wines Rosé.
The weather ahead looks to be moderate with temperatures in the 70's over the next couple of weeks which will be good for the progression of ripening. The main concern right now is smoke from wildfires around the state. In the past few days, gentle breezes have blown smoke away, but this morning, we awoke to brown haze enveloping the Blue Mountains in the Walla Walla Valley. Smoke is particularly worrisome in the Columbia Gorge, where the Eagle Creek fire continues to smolder. James Mantone (Syncline) has shown some frightening pictures on Facebook.
The concern about smoke taint recalls the 2015 harvest. When we were in Lake Chelan last week, we visited Hard Row to Hoe with Judy Phelps while Manson was shrouded in smoke from fires north of the Lake. She worried that 2017 was going to be another 2015. She had me taste some of her 2015's, but I didn't find smoke taint to be noticeable (those wines will be reviewed in the November issue of the Review of Washington Wines - the 2014's will be in October).
Let's hope the smoke clears again soon, and that good weather will hold over the next few weeks. More later!
- Written by Rand Sealey
On Saturday August 25, Randall and Jennifer Hopkins, owners of Corvus Cellars in Walla Walla hosted a tasting of Chenin Blancs from around the world. There were 20 in all - six from the Loire Valley, two of them sparkling, ten from Washington and four from South Africa. The wines were poured unmasked (not blind) on the premise that tasters should know what they were tasting and be objective. Tasters included winemakers, a wine writer, wine aficionados and a vineyard photographer. In addition, a wine distributor in Calgary provided wireless video commentary.
We started off with two Loire Valley sparking wines which were slightly effervescent and floral, a fine prelude. The Taille aux Loups Montlouis Pétillant was striking for its bone dry finish and nicely fruited, distinctively mineral flavors.
Then we went through ten Washington Chenin Blancs, most from old vines planted in the 1970s. All were respectable wines, but some lacking in the acidity that makes classic Chenin Blanc so distinctive. The most noteworthy were:
2015 L'Ecole No. 41 "Old Vines" Chenin Blanc, Columbia Valley ($14) - This showed bright fruit and typical minerality, but just a bit short on acidity (from a warm year when white grape acids dropped quickly).18+/20 points. I said the 2016 (reviewed in the September issue of the Review of Washington Wines) was a better vintage (18.5/20 points). All that said, L'Ecole, a pioneer of Washington Chenin Blanc does a fine job with this variety.
2016 Coeur d'Alene Cellars Chenin Blanc, Washington ($24) - I brought this to the tasting from my visit to the winery (reviewed September). Blended with 20% Chardonnay, it was attractively floral and nicely fruited, but the wine didn't seem to decide what the 20% underneath was. Some tasters thought Viognier from the slight tropicality. It, nevertheless, was a very nice wine, lifted by 7.1% total acidity on the faintly honeyed finish. 18.5/20 points.
2012 Merriman Chenin Blanc, Columbia Valley, Brasher Block ($28) - This was the most impressive Chenin Blanc from Washington, produced by a Carleton, Oregon based winery. The winemaker really shows what can be done with the grape. From 38 year old vines and whole cluster fermented, it possessed distinct floral aromas, melon, peach and citrus notes and precise acidity. 18.5+/20 points.
2010 Merriman Chenin Blanc, Columbia Valley, Brasher Block ($28) - Being two years older than the '12, this showed hints of caramel and developing complexity, along with touches of melon rind and orange peel, with somewhat softer acidity. 18.5/20 points.
After the Washington Chenin Blancs, we went on down to South Africa, a country noted for this variety. The 2013 Muldersboch from Stellenbosch was good, but not particularly complex and the 2016 MAN was well fruited and racy but rather sweet (5.3% residual sugar). The following two were more noteworthy.
2014 Pulpit Rock Chenin Blanc, Swartland ($9) - This possessed intriguing aromas of anise, melon, lime and wet stone and medium bodied flavors of pear and peach and a touch of pêche liqueur. While it lacked the precision of a top notch Chenin Blanc, it is hard to beat for the price. 18/20 points.
2015 Quinta Essentia Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch ($40) - Imported by the Betz Family Winery, now owned by Steve Griessel of South Africa. this really stood out. Deep golden colored, it exited rich aromas of pear, peach, minerals, beeswax and spiced white incense. The flavors were big and bold, filled with lots of fruit and minerality, followed by a long, well delineated slightly honeyed (3% residual sugar) finish. Some tasters found it somewhat Chardonnay like, not quite ringing true as Chenin Blanc. 19/20 points.
The last grouping was from France's Loire Valley, the premier region for Chenin Blanc, principally around Angers and and Saumur. The Angevins have been making Chenin Blanc for centuries and the combination of terroir and winemaking experience make for world class wines such as these.
2016 Bernard Fouquet "Cuvée Silex" Vouvray ($20) - This showed a medium gold color and floral aromas of pear, peach, spring flowers, wisteria and white incense. The flavors were fresh and vibrant, slightly spritzy, with fine acidity. Excellent value. 18.5/20 points.
2015 François Chidaine "Les Choisilles" Montlouis sur Loire ($35) - Montlouis is across the river from Vouvray and produces similar wines. I supplied this one. It showed wonderful Chenin Blanc purity with scents of apple blossoms and wildflowers and precise fruit and acidity and distinct minerality. The nearly dry, lightly spiced finish was long and complex. 19/20 points.
2015 Domaine Huet "Le Mont" Vouvray Moelleux ($50) - "Moelleux" means "sweet," in this case, a botrytis late harvest Chenin Blanc. Deep golden colored, it possessed an intoxicating nose of semi dried fruits - peach, apricot, orange peel - and scents of buttercups and spiced incense. The flavors were thick, lavish and viscous, yet well delineated by vivid acidity, followed by a seemingly endless finish, with notes of pêche melba, poire William liqueur and recurring orange peel. This was the sensation of the afternoon, provided by yours truly. 19.5/20 points.
There was some animated discussion of Washington Chenin Blanc, especially given the respectable but unexceptional quality of some of the wines in this category. As Randall put it, "Does the wine follow the market, or does the market make the wine?" That is to ask are winemakers making Chenin Blanc in a style that consumers like (slightly sweet, somewhat lower acidity) or are they making them that way because they think that's what customers want. There was general agreement that more exceptional Chenin Blancs could be made in Washington. In my opinion, if Washington wineries would follow the Merman model of sourcing from choice sites and picking for optimum fruit/acidity levels, more world class Chenin Blancs could be produced in this state.
- Written by Rand Sealey
The big news this week was the solar eclipse on Monday. August 21. Walla Walla saw 97% of totality which Lynn and I witnessed at Marvin Wood's birthday brunch, accompanied by Bloody Marys and bubbly. Here's what is coming up in the Walla Walla Valley.
New Single Vineyard Bottlings from Walla Walla Vintners and Tertulia Cellars
In September, Walla Walla Vintners will release its first Estate wines from the Cut Bank Vineyard above the winery barn off Mill Creek Road. The vineyard name comes from a small cleft formed by erosion by Mill Creek. The releases include a 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2012 "Vottaro" blend of 47% Sangiovese, 32% Merlot and 21% Cabernet Sauvignon. Both wines will be reviewed in the October issue of the Review of Washington Wines, each scoring 19+/20 points.
In October, Tertulia Cellars will release its inaugural vintage of its Tierra Labrada wines from the Elevation Vineyard, situated in the southeast corner of the Walla Walla Valley AVA at about 1500 feet. The wines include the 2015 Petit Verdot, 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2015 Merlot, all scoring 19.5/20 points. The Petit Vedot is one of the best renditions of that variety I have ever run across. The reviews will be in the October issue.
Justin Wylie's Eritage Resort to open in Fall
As an adjunct to the 300 acre Eritage Vineyard six miles north of Walla Walla, Justin Wylie will be opening a 10 suites luxury resort with a gourmet restaurant run by Jame Beard Award winner, Jason Wilson.
Walla Walla Valley looks Ahead to Harvest 2017
The Walla Walla Valley experienced a heat wave with temperatures above 100 degrees from mid July to mid August. Temperatures now are more normal with highs in the eighties and mid nineties. After record crops in 2015 and 2016, a smaller harvest is expected.