- Written by Rand Sealey
Impressions of Recent Washington Vintages
Washington State has been blessed with a string of fine vintages since 2005, but their characteristics do vary from year to year. Here is a summary of my impressions of these vintages together with some fine examples of them.
The 2005 vintage could be considered a "classic" vintage, not so much in a qualitative sense as a structural one. Many of the wines, especially Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are fairly tight knit rather than textured, yet with moderate fruits and acids. It is more of a Cabernet/Merlot vintage than a Syrah one. All but one of the Review's highest rated wines of this vintage are Cabernets or "Bordeaux" blends: Pepper Bridge Reserve (19.5/20 points) TL Cellars Les Collines Cabernet (19.5) Nicholas Cole Reserve (19.5). The only exception is the SYZYGY Saros 134, a Tempranillo-Malbec blend (19.5).
The 2006 vintage comes on as being riper, fruitier and more open-knit than the '05. But some show considerable elegance and opulence. They frequently possess moderate acids and tannins and hence are attractive wines for near term, but not prolonged aging. Here, again, the "biggest" wines seem to Cabernet Sauvignons. Some of the best examples: Woodward Canyon Cabernet (19) Efeste "Big Papa" Cabernet (19) Spring Valley "Derby" Cabernet and "Uriah" Red (both 19) Long Shadows Pedestal Merlot (19) Adams Bench Reserve Cabernet (19) and Bergevin Lane Intuition Red (19.5). The two top Syrahs were Cadaretta (19) and Reininger Pepper Bridge (19).
The 2007 vintage is shaping up to be outstanding. Recently released wines show fine fruit as well as structure. Those vineyards that harvested low yields produced wines of great depth and concentration, wines to lay away for 3-10 years. This is also a vintage where Syrah is coming into its own. Best wines so far: Bergevin Lane "Princess" Syrah (19) Sleight of Hand Levitation Syrah (19) Archimage and Illusionist blends (both 19.5) Kerloo Syrahs (both 19) and more that are yet to be released or reviewed.
Most 2008 reds are still in the barrel, waiting to be bottled. Barrel tastings indicate much promise, including some possibly incredible wines: great fruit, depth and proportion. More to come. The best 2008 whites (Chardonnay, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne) are very fine - lovely perfume, fruit and balance. Best whites: aMaurice Viognier (19) Januik Cold Creek Chardonnay (19) Maison Bleue "Vallee du Soleil" Marsanne (19).
For the 2009 vintage, it's to early to tell. The reds are still fermenting and yet to be pressed and the whites are still in tanks. More later.
These are only generalizations and do not apply all wines of a particular vintage. There are always exceptions.
Walla Walla Valley Prepares for Fall Release Weekend
One of the year's top events in Walla Walla is Fall Release during the first weekend in November. It is less elaborate then the Holiday Barrel Tasting Weekend when barrel rooms are decorated and lighted. Fall Release started out a few years ago when Cayuse (of the sought-after Syrahs which are sold to a limited customer list) released its wines the first weekend of November. Then other wineries followed suit so that the weekend became a major event. This year, even more wineries are having special open houses. All the hotels, motels and restaurants are fully booked for the weekend, a remarkable turn-around from Spring Release when many reservations were cancelled. Some winery people have commented that Fall Release seems to bring in more serious wine buyers. That turned out to be the case last year and may well be this year, too. I will report on the outcome in a future blog.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Washington Wine Pioneer David Lake Passes Away
It was with sadness that I read of the death of David Lake on October 5 in the Seattle Times' obituary of October 11. I had known David since the early 'eighties when he was the winemaker for Columbia Winery. I knew that he had been ill and had retired from winemaking in 2005. But, nevertheless, I sensed that the Washington wine industry had lost a real pioneer and a fine friend.
David's pioneering achievements were remarkable. He was the first U.S. winemaker (originally from Canada) to become a Master of Wine, a distinction that can be attained only by rigorous study and tasting, followed by examinations and blind tastings. He, with winegrower Mike Sauer, was instrumental in planting Washington's earliest Syrah vines at the Red Willow vineyard in the Yakima Valley. With his knowledge, he brought a worldwide perspective to winemaking in Washington State.
Whenever I met David, at the winery, at lunch or at tastings, he was always kind, generous and thoughtful. I remember special occasions when he took the time to meet with me on a one to one basis. He was a gentleman who commanded great respect. He will be sorely missed.
Three Eastern Washington Wineries Open Tasting Rooms in Woodinville
Two Walla Walla Valley wineries and one from Prosser have added to the growth of the burgeoning Woodinville wine scene. I believe this is a logical move as it brings these wineries closer to the Puget Sound populace.
Back in September, Dusted Valley Vintners in Walla Walla opened a tasting room in the Hollywood Vineyard Plaza. In mid-October, Isenhower Cellars of Walla Walla joined forces with Maison Bleue to open shop at 15007 Woodinville-Redmond Road (between Silver Lake and Januik/Novelty Hill). Brett Isenhower will have to clone himself at two locations, while Jon Martinez has moved his entire Maison Bleue operation from Prosser to Woodinville.
These openings are just in time for St. Nicholas Day Open Houses, December 5th and 6th. For more information, visit the Woodinville Wine Country website.
For previous reviews, see the September issue of my Review of Washington Wines for Dusted Valley, June for Isenhower, and July for Maison Bleue.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Observations on the Wine Market and Recession
There is no doubt that the economy has had an impact on wine sales and the market, but what kind of an impact? My observations last week while visiting wineries and talking with winemakers in Walla Walla gave me impressions that were sometimes contradictory. One winemaker who had attended the Friday Entwine Dinner and Auction to benefit the Walla Walla Community College's Center for Enology and Viticulture told me that attendance and winery participation was down by almost half, a clear indication of the times. Yet, on Saturday and Sunday, I observed a strong turnout of visitors at the wineries I stopped at while taking friends around. And sales were strong with almost everyone buying at least two or three bottles at each stop.
I have read in the news that wine consumers are still buying, but buying down. This has been confirmed to me by Chuck Lefevre, the owner of Esquin, who said many customers were spending between ten and fifteen dollars a bottle. Most winemakers seem to be edging around the subject of wine sales and the economy, although one has candidly stated that "the recession is clobbering the wine industry." Also, it is no accident that more wineries are offering blends for under $20 a bottle (I will be making a special report on Best Buys for the November issue of the Review). Some newer wineries are making "value" their marketing strategy.
The conclusion I draw from these observations is that interest in Washington wine is not waning (which is indicated by a recent surge in new subscribers to my Review) and that consumers are still buying, but not spending as much. What I do wonder is what the impact is on those wineries that specialize in the higher end of the market, the $40-$50 and up a bottle, especially when it is not possible to produce high quality wines cheaply.
Castillo de Feliciana Opens a New Winery
On Saturday, while taking friends around the South Valley, I was driving along Stateline Road and noticed that Castillo de Felicano whose Pinot Grigio and Tempranillo were reviewed in my October issue was open to the public. It turned out to be the second day of business there, and the winemaker, Ryan Raber, was on hand. The winery has a nice, spacious tasting room and the outdoor patio has a sweeping view of the Blue Mountains. To get there, drive east along Stateline and turn right at Telephone Pole Road onto the Oregon side of the border.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Wine & Food Pairings in Walla Walla
When we're in Walla Walla (about half the time) Lynn and I usually eat fairly simply as we have a lot to do - my winery visits, Lynn's Audubon group, etc. This quarter, we're also taking courses at the Walla Walla Community College Quest Program.
Much of my cooking is done on the barbecue. I'll pick up beef steaks or lamb chops at Thundering Hooves (all grass fed, no antibiotics). With these, we've enjoyed the following wines: '07 L'Ecole No. 41 Estate Syrah, Seven Hills, '06 Glencorrie Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, '07 Sleight of Hand Levitation Syrah (great with T-Bones), '07 Bergevin Lane "The Princess" Syrah.
Sometimes, I'll grill chicken, especially thighs (tastier than breasts). With these, we've had '07 Walla Walla Vintners Merlot or Sangiovese, '07 Adamant Cellars "Nalin" Red Blend, '07 Bergevin Lane Couse Creek Pinot Noir.
For an easy to prepare dinner, I'll get a rotisserie chicken from Super 1 and have one of these: '07 Isenhower Road Less Travelled Cabernet Franc, '06 Bunchgrass Triolet Red Blend, '07 Adamant Cellars Spofford Station Merlot, or others. With pizza, we've had '07 Sleight of Hand Spellbinder Red and '07 Patit Creek or '07 Trio Vintners Zinfandel.
With the leftover breasts from the roaster, we'll make chicken salad for lunch to go with '08 Bergevin Lane Calico White, '08 Amavi Semillon or '08 Sleight of Hand Magician Gewurztraminer/Riesling.
Often, for lunch, we'll have bread, cheese, prosciutto and salami from Damon Burke's Salumerie Cesario. With goat cheese, we've liked '08 Sweet Valley Viognier, '08 SuLei Roussanne and '08 Patit Creek Chardonnay. With sheep's or cow's milk cheeses, we've had '06 Woodward Canyon Merlot, '06 aMaurice Malbec and '07 Trust Walla Walla Syrah.
Back to grilling, sometimes I'll do shrimp and/or scallops on skewers (using my all-purpose marinade - see my 14 September blog). These have paired nicely: '08 aMaurice Viognier, '08 Forgeron Roussanne and '08 Woodward Canyon Estate Sauvignon Blanc.
In a future blog, I'll do food and wine pairings in Seattle.
Harvest 2009 Under Way at Robison Ranch Cellars
Last Wednesday, Lynn and I helped crush Merlot at Robison Ranch with Ruth and Brad Riordan. We helped man the grape conveyer belt to pick out bruised or over/under ripe grapes; nearly all the grapes were ripe and sound and thus then went into the crusher-stemmer and then to the vat. On Thursday, we helped crush Semillion, and then on Friday, I helped Brad press the Semillon and put it into the fermentation vat. Tomorrow (Tuesday) I will help crush grapes from the Dwelley vineyard.
Two Bargains from Barnard Griffin at Esquin
For October, Esquin has two of Rob Griffin's wines on sale at terrific prices: the '08 Chardonnay (17.5/20 points) at $7.99 and the '06 Merlot (18/20 points) at $10.99.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Are Wine Competition Wine Medals Worth Anything?
Recently, I ran across an item on the internet about an article by Robert T. Hodgson in the Journal of Wine Economics, entitled "An Analysis of the Concordance Among 13 U.S. Wine Competitions." The Abstract reads:
"An analysis of over 4000 wines entered in 13 U.S. wine competitions shows little concordance among the venues in awarding Gold medals. Of the 2,440 wines entered in three competitions, 47 percent received Gold medals, but 84 percent of these same wines also received no award in another competition. Thus, many wines that are viewed as extraordinarily good at some competitions are viewed as below average at others. An analysis of the number of Gold medals received in multiple competitions indicates that the probability of winning a Gold medal at one competition is stochastically independent of the probability of receiving a Gold at another competition, indicating that winning a Gold medal is greatly influenced by chance alone."
This confirms my long-held belief that wine competition medals have little, if any, value except for advertising purposes. Years ago, winemakers would tell me that wine competitions were always "a crap shoot." A winery might get a Gold medal at one competition and no medals at another. It has been my experience as a judge at several competitions that the evaluation process is highly subjective. One time, I was at a table with Tom Stockley who liked a certain late harvest Riesling (which I found cloying) so much he wanted to give it a Gold. I dissented, but the table still ended up voting to give it a Gold. This is nothing at all like the kind of professional, objective evaluation that the U.C. Davis 20 point system entails (see my blog of 4 September, 2009). When you have a panel of judges making decisions based upon their own subjective impressions, the chance of a particular wine getting a Gold medal is almost completely random. Awarding Gold medals for wines might as well be based on an alignment of celestial objects.
Wine Crush In Full Swing at Robison Ranch Cellars
Yesterday, I received this email from Brad Riordan, the winemaker: "Well the proverbial you know what is about to hit the fan. I expect starting Tuesday we will get 2-3000# of fruit every morning thru Friday. Numbers are reaching the go point and Merlot, Sangio will start....I will post daily if not more often. BTW the Viognier is doing well."
Wine Tip of the Week
A few weeks ago, we had lunch with some out of town guests at T. Maccarone's in Walla Walla. On the wine list, I found Va Piano's Bruno's Blend V, so I ordered a bottle of it. It made a fine accompaniment to pasta and my Mac Burger. It's currently on sale at Esquin for $19 (regular $22).
N/V Va Piano Bruno's Blend V, Columbia Valley ($19-22)
This blend of 67% Syrah, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon and 14% Merlot offers a rich raspberry and plum nose with scents of brambles. The flavors are generous and spicy with a suave texture that spreads out in the back along with licorice and cola tones and extends into a ripe tannin finish.18/20 points.