- Written by Rand Sealey
Where to Dine in Walla Walla
Last winter, according to a news article in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, five restaurants went out of business. Of these, 26 Brix was the most prominent. It's biggest problem was generating enough volume to sustain its spacious, nicely-decorated and well-staffed bar and dining areas. It is a real loss, but there are at least five other fine dining places worth eating at.
White House Crawford. The spacious dining area, well-prepared dishes, and the knowledgeable and attentive staff make this a memorable dining experience. The wine list is extensive and well thought out.
T. Macaronne's. This is one of our favorites for casual dining. Tom Macaronne offers an eclectic Italian-oriented menu. The short wine list is revised frequently and often includes new wineries, some of which I have reviewed after discovering them at T Mac's.
Brasserie Four. On Four East Main Street, this is a casual, kid-friendly French bistro-style restaurant that does a fine job. The wine list, unsurprisingly, offers a mix of French and American selections. Other wines by the bottle can be selected from a shelf facing the bar.
Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen. The name leaves no doubt as to the genre of this restaurant. It offers tasty, aromatic, well-prepared dishes. The limited, but well-selected, wine list consists of French, Italian, Spanish and American bottlings.
Creektown Cafe. South of downtown, this is a favorite of locals. Casual and eclectic "American," it is easy to like. Local fish and game are often offered. The wine list features local and international selections.
The Marc. We have not eaten at the Marc, the dining room of the Marcus Whitman Hotel, but we had a well-prepared Walla Walla Winemakers' Fete dinner in one of the banquet rooms.
A note about wine corkage charges. All the restaurants we have dined at allow guests to bring their own bottles provided they are not already on their wine lists. However, most do offer reasonably-priced wines by the glass or bottle. Corkages are generally $15-20, so my suggestion is to order a moderately-priced ($25-40) from the list. If you have that special bottle you want to bring, then by all means do so.
Wine Buy of the Week
In the next issue of the Review of Washington Wines, I will be reporting on "What's New in Woodinville." One of the wines that will be included is the one below. We've served it several times and it has turned out to be a real crowd pleaser. For under $20, it's a fine value, too.
2008 William Church Viognier, Columbia Valley ($18)
From the Connor Lee vineyard, this textbook Viognier offers a lovely nose of white peach, and South Pacific flowers. The stone fruits echo on the palate with a pleasing creaminess and the lush semi-tropical flavors glide effortlessly into a grapefruit and pineapple tinged finish along with a twist of orange peel. 18.5/20 points.
- Written by Rand Sealey
About the 20 Point System
A few days ago, I received an email from a subscriber asking if he could obtain permission to use my 20 point system in a blind Barbera tasting and what it would cost. I replied: "It won't cost you anything and you don't need my permission." I explained that the system isn't really new, It was originated by the University of California at Davis in the late 1950's.
The Davis 20 point system was commonly used in evaluating wines until the Wine Advocate and the Wine Spectator came along with the 100 point system. The Davis faculty experimented with 100 points in the 1940's, then came to the conclusion later that a 20 point system provided more precise results. The Davis system assigned points on a form: Clarity (2 points) Color (2) Bouquet (4) Total acidity (1) Sweetness (1) Body/Texture (2) Flavor/Taste (2) Acescensy (Bitterness) (1) Astingency (1) Overall quality (4). The last allows for more subjectivity than the other criteria, but less so than a 100 point scale. I generally don't use the forms when evaluating, but have them in the back of my head.
One interesting thing about the U.C. Davis system is that wines scoring 17-20 points are considered "wines of outstanding characteristics having no defects." This must mean that some wines are more outstanding than others. This is what the 17-20 point range means to me:
17 points - Very good, above the average for "premium" wines.
18 points - Exceptional, particularly fine wines.
18.5 points - A step higher, more complex and nuanced.
19 points - Outstanding, wines with great complexity.
19.5 points - A step higher into the realm of superlative depth and complexity.
Occasionally (but not often) I will use a + to indicate a wine that is a notch above it's point level in complexity.
The beauty of the 20 point system is its simplicity which reduces (but does not eliminate) the influence of subjectivity into the evaluation process. Wines get rated on the basis of their overall balance and total performance. This is what I strive to do.
For more information about the Davis 20 Point System go to: http://www.musingsonthevine.com/tops_rate.shtml
Super September Buys at Esquin
In its September mailer, Esquin Wine Merchants is offering more great buys. Here are three that are not to be missed.
2008 Barnard Griffin Pinot Gris, Columbia Valley ($7.99 bottle / Regular $13)
This is one of the best buys in an everyday white I've found in a long time. Rich nose of melon, peach and honeysuckle. The fruit compote flavors are bright and vivid with cream and lichee nut undertones. The lively juiciness pour on through into a bright orange peel and lime juice finish. 17.5/20 points.
2004 Sandhill Merlot, Red Mountain ($9.99 bottle / Regular $25)
Esquin sold out of the 2003 vintage, and now has the 2004. It emits a bouquet of roasted berries and cherries, cigar box and sage. The dark flavors are underlain with Red Mountain loam and minerals along with bittersweet chocolate, espresso and roasted nuts followed by dry tannins. The only negative is the slightly bitter dusty tannin edge on the finish (drink with a juicy steak to cut this edge). Hence 18.5 points minus .5 points for acescensy (bitterness) - see the 20 point system above - equals 18/20 points, still impressive for $9.99.
2006 Waters Syrah, Columbia Valley ($18.99 bottle / Regular $28)
Principally from the Minnick vineyard near Prosser, this wine exhibits a deep color with a rich, smoky boysenberry and cassis nose with scents of crushed roses, tobacco and sage. The rich earthy, terroir-driven flavors are underlain with basalt minerals and tones of espresso coffee, licorice and bittersweet chocolate. The back palate contains vibrant pomegranate and plum fruits that are imbued with a creme brulee texture and spices in the silky tannin finish. It doesn't hit you as being real big, but the nuances are more complex than any Syrah I've tasted for under $20. 18.5/20 points.
- Written by Rand Sealey
How I Became a Wine Writer
It was in 1969 that I became a professional wine writer. In December of that year Esquin Wine Merchants of Seattle was opened. From the beginning, it published and mailed monthly newsletters modeled after those of the San Francisco store of the same name. They were mostly about French and German wines. Washington wine was still in its infancy. I would write detailed descriptions of each wine being offered so customers would know just what they were getting. That was the marketing cornerstone.
In those early years, Esquin was basically a mail order business. A typical newsletter would describe about a dozen wines together with an order form. From the late 'seventies on, I would take trips to France and Germany and report on my wine discoveries upon my return. In the 'eighties the business grew steadily. As the wine selection expanded, the newsletter became a four page tabloid with over a hundred wines. But the original concept remained the same. In 1997, though, I finally decided to let Esquin go into the future with a new owner.
Settling my parents' estate kept me busy for a year afterwards until one day when Esquin's owner, Chuck Lefevre, asked me if I was interested in returning as a consultant to do the newsletter. So I agreed. Then, in March of 2007, my wife and I happened to stop in Walla Walla on the way home from Sun Valley. We fell in love with the town and its wines. In January of 2008, we bought a second home there. I subsequently proposed adding a "Washington Wine Review" to Esquin's monthly on-line newsletters. The experiment, however, somehow got lost among Esquin's myriad marketing activities and was abandoned by year's end. It was then that my independent Review of Washington Wines was born, with the launch issue going on-line in December.
I have not had any formal training in wine tasting and writing. My first wine event was as an undergraduate at Columbia University where I attended a tasting conducted by the California Wine Institute. My learning since has come from decades of experience. My approach has always been the same: to evaluate wines objectively and write descriptions as accurately as possible. After nearly forty years, I am still doing the same thing.
Check out the Washington Wine Commission's Website
This is a website any serious follower of Washington wines should bookmark. It has all kinds of information about Washington wines, news and tips for wine country visiting. For instance, there is a link to Budget Travel's article "Wine Country Contenders," which lists Walla Walla as one of those places where "Perhaps they're not the first place you think of when it comes to wineries, but these four regions offer character and great wine without the hoopla." Go to www.washingtonwine.org.
Wine Tip of the Week
Woodinville Wine Cellars has turned out a very nice "combination of select barrels" consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah, aged in 40% new oak.
2006 Woodinville Wine Cellars Little Bear Creek Red, Columbia Valley ($20)
This offers a ripe raspberry, plum and spice nose with generous, yet focused red (berry and cherry) and dark (plum, blueberry) flavors that are accented by licorice, cocoa, bramble, nutmeg and clove notes. Overall, it delivers considerable flavor depth and interest for under $20.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Bottling at Robison Ranch Cellars
One evening, while having dinner at Brasserie Four on Main Street in Walla Walla, we met an interesting older couple, Jim and Jane Robison. He is a third generation wheat rancher in the Valley and they have been married sixty years. He told us he had started a winery a few years ago and would have us over to have a look. A few weeks later, we got a call from Jane Robison to invite us over for the bottling of their Viognier and Rose.
So, on Tuesday, August 11, Lynn and I drove up the Lower Waitsburg Road to the Robison Ranch. There, inside a shed we found an improvised bottling line set up, manned by several friends. The winemakers, Brad Riordan and his wife, Ruth, were directing the process. First, shots of nitrogen were injected into the bottles to prevent spoilage, then the bottles were filled on a six-bottle nozzle machine. Following that, the bottles were corked, and then I (who upon arrival was put to work) put them into cases, taped them and stacked them on pallets. Occasionally there would be a spill, and Lynn would help with the cleanup. First, 40-plus cases of 2008 Viognier were bottled, then 30-plus cases of Rose. We finished about noon, and then had deli sandwiches along with Robison Ranch Viognier and Rose. All had a great time. I spent some time talking with Brad Riordan and learned that he had studied at the Walla Walla Community College's Center for Enology and Viticulture under the late Stan Clarke, and then teamed up with the Robisons to start Robison Ranch Cellars. The first two vintages, 2006 and 2007 were experimental, developing styles, testing oaks and nutrients, before its first bonded crush as a licensed winery in 2008.
After lunch, the Robisons invited us to view their property and the incredible view of the Blues wherever you looked. They were gracious hosts, and sent us hone with some bottles from Robison Ranch Cellars.
Robison Ranch Cellars' First Commercial Release
A few days later, I got an email from Brad Riordan asking me what I though of the wines. I responded that they were very well done and a fine first effort. He was particularly interested to know about the Rose, as they were about to market it. So here's my review:
2008 Robison Ranch Cellars Rose, Walla Walla Valley ($20)
Composed of Syrah, Viognier, Merlot and Sangiovese, this Rose displays a brilliant reddish color, with a smoky, flowery nose of crushed raspberries, orange peel and spice scents. Fairly dry on the palate with considerable extract for a Rose, it is infused with vivid fruits and notes of sage and coriander along with touches of minerals and loamy earth. The finish is long and fairly dry, yet finely fruited, like squeezed berry and pomegranate juice with a twist of orange peel reemerging in the aftertaste. 18+/20 points.
Glencorrie Cellars has an Open House
On August 18, we attended an Open House for the wine industry at Glencorrie Cellars, one of the Walla Walla Valley's newest wineries (I will be reporting on it in the September issue of the Review). Ronn Coldiron, the owner-winemaker, his wife, Michelle and the tasting room manager, Heidi Humbert, hosted the event, complete with a beautifully-catered spread and live music. Many winemakers were on hand to celebrate. From nearby wineries on Highway 12 were Chuck Reininger of Reininger and David Hansen of Cougar Crest. From further out, were Tanya Woodley and Elaine Jomwe of SuLei (another new winery that will be reviewed next month), Norm McKibben of Pepper Bridge, Muriel Kenyon of Otis Kenyon and others. It was a grand event, complete with a blazing sunset.
- Written by Rand Sealey
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