- Written by Rand Sealey
This year, Fall Release Weekend in the Walla Walla Valley was November 3-5. It was also the time of year when some of the most exclusive wineries introduced their new releases to list members. Also, many boutique wineries were pouring their hand crafted wines. Here's a run down of the wineries we visited over the weekend. A special report will be in the December issue of the Review of Washington Wines which goes on line November 24.
On Friday morning, we drove over to Abeja on Mill Creek Road where we tasted a world class 2016 Chardonnay, the 2015 Malbec and 2014 Heather Hill Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Then we went further east on Mill Creek to Aluvé where Kelly Menozzi poured a delicious 2016 Estate Chardonnay and a tasty 2015 Lewis Vineyard Sangiovese. Watch for the December issue for reviews of these wines.
In the afternoon, we went up Cottonwood Road to Reynvaan where we barrel tasted the 2016 Syrahs from a superlative vintage. A report will be in an upcoming Review Blog. Also poured was Matt and Lauren Reynvaan's special project, the MTR Productions 2012 "Memory Found" Syrah from The Rocks, to be reviewed in the December issue. Then we went on to Rótie Cellars where we tasted the stellar 2015 "little g" Grenache "Swordfight" Mourvèdre-Syrah, and 2014 "Homage" GSM blend, all scoring 19.5 points.
On Saturday morning, we went down Powerline Road to Rasa Vineyards to taste the winery's highly impressive new releases, all 19+ to 19.5/20 points. In the afternoon, we headed to The Walls where outstanding 2015s were poured along with the highly anticipated "Concrete Mama" (a nod to the Walla Walla Penitentiary) Syrah from the Rocks. Then we stopped at the Gesa Powerhouse Theater to taste Rasa Vineyards cellar master Noé Martinez's 2014 Xenolith "GSM" Red. In the evening, we went to the Corliss annual Fall Release event where the stellar 2012 Corliss Red and Cabernet Sauvignon were poured, both scoring 20/20 points.
Sunday afternoon, we went to College Cellars to sample the fresh new 2017 semi sparking Muscat and the promising 2016 Grenache and GSM reds, both potentially 19/20 points wines. To be reviewed in December.
There were so many outstanding wines at Fall Release along with other recent releases from Walla Walla that the December issue will be the biggest ever, with 64 wines reviewed, along with wines from Spokane from Barrister and Robert Karl plus the rest of the ones from Nota Bene in Seattle. Watch for it on November 24th!
- Written by Rand Sealey
Fall Release Weekend in the Walla Walla Valley is just a few days away, November 3-5. Here are my Recommendations for wineries to visit. This is not an inclusive list, but includes some wineries with noteworthy new releases.
Rasa Vineyards - The Naravane brothers will present some outstanding 2015s, some reviewed in the September issue, others to be in December.
Walla Walla Vintners - New 2012s from the Cut Bank Estate Vineyard (reviewed October) and a new 2016 Chardonnay (December), a first for WWV.
Kontos Cellars - New 2014 reds and the tasting room exclusive, the 2013 "Beckett." Reviewed November.
Northstar- The tasting room will have a bevy of winery only 2014 reds. Reviewed November.
Tero Estates - The new 2014 "ST" (Super Tuscan) and the limited 2014 Herb's Block Merlot will be released.
Waters - Two firsts: a 2014 Merlot and a 2014 Patina Vineyard Syrah. Reviewed November.
Solemn Cellars - Justin Basel's inaugural releases will be poured at the tasting room on JB George Road.
Ardor Cellars - There will be a new 2015 Grenache, four single vineyard 2015 Syrahs and a blend of the four Syrahs. Reviewed November.
Sleight of Hand Cellars - The knockout 2014 Archimage and Illusionist will be presented, along with some new 2015's. Reviewed November.
Balboa - There will be four new Reserve Reds and other wines from Balboa and Beresan.
Seven Hills - Casey and Vicky McClellan will have a highly impressive 2014 Artz Vineyard Red Mountain Cabernet (reviewed November) and a new 2015 Cabernet Franc.
The Walls - New 2015 Syrahs and the Ramparts "GSM" red will be released. To be reviewed in the December issue.
Corvus Cellars - Some new 2014 reds from the winery's estate vineyard on Red Mountain.
March Cellars / Vital Wines - Ashley Trout will be presenting her new wines (to be reviewed December) at the tasting room on Lyday Lane, off Braden Road.
àMaurice Cellars - There will be a new 2015 Conner-Lee Chardonnay and 2014 Estate reds to be poured. To be reviewed in the December issue.
Have fun in Walla Walla!
- Written by Rand Sealey
In the November issue of the Review of Washington Wines there are several red wines from the 2015 vintage, and others have been reviewed in recent issues. This marks the beginning of the next vintage release cycle (see the 26 September Blog posting, "The Classic 2014 Reds now in Full Cycle," for the previous one). So, how is the 2015 vintage shaping up?
The 2015 vintage is on the record books as one of the warmest in recent years. The growing season started early and saw 3900 growing degree days, well above average. This put harvest two to three weeks earlier than usual. The heat levels pushed the yields slightly below normal. Qualitatively, the vintage is exceptional (The Wine Spectator rated it 92-95 points for Washington reds), especially for Cabernet Sauvignon which benefited from a moderate cooling trend in October which allowed flavors and aromatics to develop. A few areas were affected by smoke taint by wildfires, but this did not have a major impact overall. It was a harvest that made many grape growers and winemakers very happy.
At this stage, the 2015 reds are showing very well. In general, the wines are well fruited and structured, with fine aromatics (phenols) and depth. Acid levels are, for the most part, sturdy, more so than the 2013's from another warm year, and with well balanced tannins. Most of the 2015's released so far have been from other varieties than Cabernet Sauvignon, many of which will be released next Spring. So far, I have tasted many impressive 2015 Syrahs and Malbecs, as well as some alluring Grenaches and Petit Verdots (an ideal vintage for that variety).
So, as we go down the line on this cycle, we can look forward to a lot more impressive red wines. More later!
- Written by Rand Sealey
Last night, October 17, Lynn and I attended the Whitehouse Crawford Restaurant's Walla Walla Chef and Artisan Dinner. Last August, we attended a similar dinner which presented courses prepared by outstanding chefs using local artisan products (see the 16 August blog posting below). Again, I took on the job of matching wines to the menu. Here's what we, and the Milton-Freewater contingent accompanying us - the Roskelleys, Browns, Capps and Kennedys - had for the dinner.
Hors d'oeuvres for reception - Anchovy and almond crostini and heirloom tomato tartare toasts, prepared by Daisley Gordon, Café Campagne and Jason Wilson, E'ritage Resort.
2016 Gramercy Cellars Picpoul (Whitehouse Crawford welcome wine)
Champagne Michel Maillard Brut, "Cuvée Gregory" Brut
These wines made perfect foils to the savory appetizers, especially the ultra precise Champagne.
First Course - Winter luxury pumpkin soup with chanterelle mushrooms by Jamie Guerin of Whitehouse Crawford.
2012 Domaine Georges Vernay Condrieu, "Les Chaillées de L'Enfer"
Cultivating Viognier vines on the steep slopes of Condrieu, is a hellish job. This one, aged in oak (unusual for Condrieu) matched the savory soup. Autumn in the glass and in the bowl.
Second Course - Halibut quenelle in Dungeness crab velouté, by Daisley Gordon
2014 Domaine Duc de Magenta Chassage-Montrachet, 1er Cru Morgeot, Monopole Clos de la Chapelle
2012 Domaine Fontaine-Gagnard Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet, Grand Cru
Quenelles are composed of seived fish thickened with white sauce, and then poached. This was an exquisite dish, accompanied by elegant white Burgundies (Chardonnay). The Morgeot was steely and laser-like, with notes of toast and hazelnut. The Criots-Bâtard-Montachet (from a small Grand Cru parcel in Chassagne) was superb, complex and penetrating.
Third Course - Roasted lamb saddle, spiced sausage and braised shanks, by Jason Wilson
2012 Domaine René Leclerc Gevrey-Chambertin, 1er Cru Lavaux-St. Jacques
2013 Domaine Louis Jadot Chapelle-Chambertin, Grand Cru
2011 Domaine Faiveley Latricières-Chambertin, Grand Cru
I decided that the lamb and spiced sausage called for full-bodied red Burgundies such as those of Gevrey-Chambertin, near the north end of the Côte de Nuits. This trio matched the course beautifully. The Lavaux-St. Jacques was big and muscular, the Chapelle-Chamberlin, extremely elegant and complex, the epitome of Pinot Noir, and the Latricières-Chambertin, rich and velvety, yet admirably structured.
Dessert - Bourbon-vanilla rice pudding with poached quince, walnuts and quince sorbet, Tina Meyer, Whitehouse Crawford
The Rare Wine Co. Historic Series Madeira, "Savannah" Verdelho Special Reserve
In the days of George Washington, Madeira (produced on the Portuguese island of Madeira) was popular in America. And rice pudding was a favorite dessert of that time. So this pairing was made to order. Verdelho is a slightly sweet dessert wine which matched it beautifully with the creamy texture of the rice and the tang of the quince.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Just over five years ago, on July 1, 2012, the sale of spirits and other alcoholic beverages in Washington State was privatized, ending 79 years of state control through state liquor stores, This came about as a result of the approval of Initiative 1183 by a margin of 60 to 40 percent by voters in the November 2011 election. It was the biggest change in the way alcoholic beverages were sold in the state since the passage of the Steele Act in 1933, after the repeal of Prohibition, which set up the state liquor store system.
The passage of Initiative 1183 was all about getting the state out of the liquor business. After nearly 79 years of state control, voters were tired of the existing system. The Washington State Liquor Control Board had become a fossilized hidebound bureaucracy, beholden only to itself. Over the years, the State Legislature abdicated its responsibility for modernizing the liquor system. The only major change in the way alcoholic beverages were sold was in 1969 when the sale of wines besides Washington produced ones were allowed to be sold in grocery stores and other retailers. All other changes have been incremental.
Initiative 1183 was called the "Costco Initiative" for good reason. The main beneficiaries were the big retail outlets, including Total Wine and More, Safeway, and BevMo as well as Costco. The initiative had arcane layers of fees (on wholesalers and retailers) and taxes which added up to higher spirits prices relative to other states. But the initiative also permitted volume discounts from the wholesaler to retailer which has mitigated the effects of the higher taxes. It is the big guys who benefit the most from the discounts with their purchasing power for their chain operations. Central warehousing also added to the benefits.
So what does privatization look like now, five years later? The biggest change has been a far wider selection of products in the market, not only for spirits, but for wine and beer as well. I was at the Total Wine and More store in Spokane Valley last Friday, and saw a huge selection of everything - vodka, Tequila, Scotch, Washington, California and imported wines, beers and more. I was in Esquin Wine & Spirits (of which I was the founder in 1969) a couple of weeks ago and saw an array pf whiskies, Italian Amaros, Cognacs, brandies, and so forth. One of the reasons why initiative efforts to get the State out of the liquor business failed until 2011 was that the big distilling companies liked the old system because it reduced competition by limiting sales to smaller state run stores.
What about spirits prices? There is no doubt that prices are higher with privatization, but convenience (with more stores and more hours) and selection are greater. Volume discounts and competition has pushed prices downward since 2012. Spirits sales in Washington is being subsidized to some degree by profits from sales in other states.
Today's privatized liquor sales system could be better. Craft spirits distillers could use some help in tax breaks to enable them to be more competitive. And a reduction of the spirits sales tax from 20.5% to the state and local general sales tax would make things more equitable for consumers. But privatization is here to stay, and Washington residents are getting used to it. The Liquor Board has changed, too. WSLCB used to stand for Washington State Liquor Control Board, now it stands for Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board. How's that for change?