- Written by Rand Sealey
Two weeks ago (17 October) I wrote about "What Does Smoke Taint Taste Like?" Since then, I ran across an article (19 October) about how Walla Walla wineries are mitigating smoke taint in their wines. Here's what they've been doing:
Destemming grape bunches which reduces tannins.
No cold soaks that increase skin contact.
Using less oak. Aging in charred oak adds toastiness to wine.
Pressing at lower pressures which reduces skin extraction.
On the plus side, a bit of smokiness lowers pH levels and can, in some cases add some complexity to the wines. Also, for Walla Walla, distance from wildfires was helpful.
Another innovative way of mitigating smoke taint was found by Domaine Pouillon in the Columbia Gorge, which was hard hit by wildfires in Oregon. They are making Pet Nats, sparkling wines which are naturally bottle fermented, skipping malolactic fermentation and barrel aging, which circumvents smoke taint.
TERO Estates closing
On Monday, October 26, I got the news that TERO Estates was no longer going to make wine and would be closing the Rose Street tasting room. This is saddening news, but not unexpected. TERO Estates would never be the same without Doug and Jan Roskelley. The winery facility and the Windrow Vineyard are up for sale. Tastings can still be reserved at the Peppers Bridge and winery locations. This morning (Friday) we will be stopping by the Marcus Whitman tasting room on the next to last day to say hello to Janie Milgard.
- Written by Rand Sealey
In last week's Review Blog (see below), I noted that there were four new Cabernet Francs in the November issue of the Review of Washington Wines. While Cabenet Sauvignon still remains the premier grape variety, Cabernet Franc is getting more attention. Here's more about that grape.
Cabernet Franc is the parent of Cabernet Sauvignon which came from a crossing of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. It originated in the Loire Valley of France and was introduced to the Libourne region in the 17th Century. However, in the 18th Century, Cabernet Sauvignon became more popular in the Medoc region of Bordeaux. Today, Cabernet Franc plays a secondary role to Merlot in the Right Bank of the Gironde (Saint Emilion, Pomerol) and a tertiary role in the Left Bank (Medoc, Graves) behind Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It is only in the Loire Valley where the grape originated that Cabernet Franc plays a primary role as a varietal, and is the source for Saumur Rouge, Chinon, Bourgeuil and St. Nicolas de Bourgeuil.
Cabernet Franc cuttings were imported to California in the 19th Century, but Cabernet Sauvignon became more favored. There, Cabernet Franc veered toward vegetal characteristics (especially bell pepper). But in Washington, the vegetal character is toned down, with riper aromatics and suggestions of tobacco, coffee and herbs. One explanation for this is the longer daylight hours and cooler nights make Cabernet Franc more suitable in Washington than in California.
Much of Cabernet Franc's appeal is in the fruit forward flavors (raspberry, blueberry) and softer tannins, with the herbal characteristics not too overt, all of which make the wines food friendly (perfect Thanksgiving wine). Cabernet Franc will never replace Cabernet Sauvignon or even Merlot, but will play a supplementary role.
In addition to the four Cabernet Francs in the November issue, here are other noteworthy ones reviewed recently.
2017 Dusted Valley, Walla Walla Valley, Southwind Vineyard ($45) 19/20 points - October
2018 Watermill "Hallowed Stones" Walla Walla Valley ($40) 19/20 points -October
2017 Avennia, Horse Heaven Hills, Champoux Vineyard ($50) 19+/20 points - September
2017 Tinte Cellars, Yakima Valley, Dineen Vineyard ($36) 19/20 points - September
2016 William Church, Columbia Valley ($36) 18.5/20 points - September
2018 Seven Hills, Walla Walla Valley ($40) 19/20 points - September
2018 Nefarious Cellars, Wahluke Slope, Weinbau Vineyard ($38) 18.5+/20 points - August
2017 Dillon Cellars, Yakima Valley, Dineen Vineyard ($45) 19/20 points - August
2017 Barrister, Columbia Valley, Sagemoor Vineyard ($33) 18.5/20 points - August
2018 Savage Grace, Rattlesnake Hills, Copeland Vineyard ($32) 18.5/20 points - July
2018 Savage Grace, Yakima Valley, Pollard Vineyard ($32) 18.5/20 points - July
2018 COR Cellars, Horse Heaven Hills, Alder Ridge Vineyard ($28) - July
2017 Walla Walla Vintners, Columbia Valley ($28) 18.5/20 points - July
2017 Walla Walla Vintners, Walla Walla Valley, Waliser Vineyard ($45) 19/20 points - July
- Written by Rand Sealey
A week from today, Friday, October 23, the November issue of the Review of Washington Wines goes on line. Here are some highlights:
Reports on Fall releases from the Walla Walla Valley, including Abeja, Tero Estates, L'Ecole No 41, Gramercy Cellars, Woodward Canyon, Isenhower Cellars, College Cellars, Helix, Reininger, Three Rivers and Headhunter (a new brand).
Reviews of new wines from Tapteil and Frichette on Red Mountain.
New wines from Clearwater Canyon Cellars in Lewiston, Idaho, from the Lewis-Clark Valley AVA and Washington State.
There are seven wines scoring 19.5/20 points: 2019 Abeja Chardonnay, 2018 Heather Hill Cabernet Franc, 2017 Heather Hill Cabernet Sauvignon; 2017 L'Ecole No 41 Apogee and Perigee; 2017 Gramercy Cellars Lagniappe Syrah; N.V. Reininger CPR Sixth Edition Red Blend.
Also, It is interesting to note that there will be four Cabernet Francs, from Tero Estates, Isenhower Cellars, Tapteil and Abeja which show that this "BDX" grape is emerging as an exceptional variety in Washington. This will be the topic of next week's Review Blog.
- Written by Rand Sealey
In my blog of last week, I wrote about the wineries' worries about smoke taint as a result of the wildfires in Oregon and California (scroll down below to see it). But after posting the article, I came to the realization that there needed to be more elaboration. Some of you may be wondering what smoke-tainted wine tastes like.
Smoke taint in wine occurs when smoke dust accumulates on the skins of the grapes. The degree of taint can depend on the intensity and duration of exposure. In mid-September, a thick blanket of smoke blew from Northern California through Western Oregon and on across Eastern Washington. The effects have been devastating in California and Oregon, but, so far, the effects have not been particularly noticeable (see the article below for Ashley Trout's experience).
So what does smoke taint in wine taste like? Well, it has been described as smelling like an ashtray, or sometimes like campfire embers. On the palate, the sensations can be akin to burnt cardboard. But not all smoke sensations are due to smoke taint. Sometimes wines are described as being smoky or having scents of incense, which is the result of phenolic compounds in the wine. Certain varieties such as Cabernet Franc or Petite Sirah are frequently described as being smoky. Also, smokiness can come from the toasted oak barrels in which the wine is aged.
I have not tasted a lot of wines that have been affected by smoke taint. Most wines that have been significantly affected never make it into the market. Sometimes affected wines may be sold off and blended with enough untainted wine to dilute the taint. Or sometimes the taint is only slight and gets sold as such. An example is the Nefarious Cellars Mother Rock Estate Syrah which was affected by the Carlton wildfire of 2014 which was sold as the "Firestorm" Syrah. In the August issue, of the Review of Washington Wines, I described it as having an aroma of "wood smoke (but not obtrusively so)." The wine scored 19/20 points and it would have been 19.5/20 if it were not for the slight smoke taint. The wine was sold for $25 a bottle instead of the regular $45, which made it a bargain (the wine is now sold out).
So, in conclusion, there can be varying degrees of wildfire smoke taint from negligible to pronounced.
A Super Rhone Red Wine Buy from Esquin
Back on April 30, I posted a blog article on European wines from Esquin Wine & Spirits. One of the wines was the 2017 Domaine de la Pelaquie Lirac which comes comes from across the Rhone River from Tavel, A 70% Grenache, 30% Mourvèdre combination, it offered rich aromas of dark fruits and direct, generous flavors. It scored 81+/20 points, making it a great buy at $15.99 a bottle. Esquin has it back in stock and I recommend it highly at this price.
- Written by Rand Sealey
This Saturday (October 3) here in Walla Walla we are seeing a slightly hazy sky, but the Blue Mountains are clearly visible. Weather-wise, the nights and mornings are cool and the afternoons warm, nearly ideal conditions for a successful grape harvest. The ten day weather forecast is for continued highs in the 70's and low 80's, with a cooling trend from October 10 on. Much of the harvest should be completed by then with Cabernet Sauvignon needing more hang time.
The biggest worry for wineries has been the effects of the wildfires to the south in California and Oregon. On September 11, smoke began coming in, building up the following week to thick, extremely unhealthy smoke. The extent of smoke damage to the grapes was at yet unknown. Ashley Trout (Vital and Brook & Bull) wrote, "Thinking back to that smokey seek earlier in September, a sight of which had never been seen before in Washington, no one could advise me on what to do. Each fire and smoke incident is unique and many grapes and sites react differently." "We're through it now. Thankfully," she added. She made wine in buckets to see how the smoke affected the wine. And then, "Lab results are rolling in from those bucket micro-ferments and now I see we are through the woods. All is not lost and, in fact, this may turn out to be the most memorable harvests of them all. Onward we go."
Another big worry, though, for wineries is how Covid-19 is going to affect their businesses this fall. Presently, most wine tasting has been outdoors, but what happens when weather gets cooler and people spend more time indoors? Tasting rooms are limited to 50% capacity indoors and, already, fewer people are visiting wineries. This year, Fall Release Weekend in Walla Walla will be November 6-8 but it will be like none other before. Some wineries have already canceled their Fall Release events and most others have been scaled back. The usual winemaker dinners will not happen this year. Who knows what will happen? We shall see.