- Written by Rand Sealey
As we near the end of the first half of the year, I have looked back at the January through June issues of the Review of Washington Wines to see what the most compelling wines were. These are wines that really stand out, especially for their respective categories. Here is a list of such wines and why they are so compelling. This is not by any means a complete list. There are more wines that are truly outstanding. The ones picked out are ones that call out to be really noticed.
2013 Woodward Canyon Estate Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley ($79) - This is an outstanding and unique version of a BDX blend, 33% Merlot, 33% Petit Verdot, 22% Cabernet Franc and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon. It pulls together the distinctive varieties into a highly complex combination. 19.5/20 points. Reviewed January.
2013 Charles Smith "King Coal" Cabernet-Syrah, Washington, Northridge Vineyard ($100) - A powerful combination of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Syrah from near Royal City. Vigorous and complex from beginning to end. 19.5/20 points. February.
2014 Mark Ryan "Lost Soul" Syrah, Yakima Valley, Red Willow Vineyard ($46) - This is a stellar vintage from the first vineyard in the state to be planted with Syrah. Seductive and saturated, it is a superb expression of Washington Syrah. 19.5/20 points. February.
2014 Mark Ryan "Lonely Heart" Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain ($95) - From the Quintessence and Obelisco vineyards, this 100% Cabernet is deep and concentrated, a superb expression of Red Mountain Cab that shows elegance from beginning to end. 19.5/20 points. April.
2014 Avennia Cabernet Sauvignon, Yakima Valley, Red Willow Vineyard, 1985 Block ($95) - This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon was aged in 100% new French oak. The flavors are wide ranged and complex, showing perfection in balance and complexity. 20/20 points. May.
2014 L'Ecole No. 41 Estate Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley, Ferguson Vineyard ($65) - This blend of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% - Merlot and 6% each of Cabernet Franc and Malbec, is deep and penetrating, with basaltic minerality and a long, powerful finish. 19.5/20 points. May.
2014 Alleromb Grenache, Columbia Valley, Scarline Vineyard ($65) - Full of mouth caressing flavors and superb balance, this is one of the best Washington Grenaches I've run across. 19.5/20 points. May.
2012 Tero Estates Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, Windrow Vineyard, Plateau Block ($55) - This is a big, powerful Cabernet with intense aromas and penetrating flavors, all superbly integrated and balanced. 19.5/20 points. May.
2014 Waters "Old Stones" Syrah, Walla Walla Valley ($50) - Full and brawny, with lots of flavor and back palate saturation, this is a superb expression of "Rocks" terroir. 19.5/20 points. May.
2014 Canvasback "Grand Passage" Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain ($80) - This "Reserve" Cabernet from Duckhorn shows a wide array of complex flavors and varietal precision throughout. 20/20 points. June.
2014 Gramercy Cellars "John Lewis" Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Les Collines Vineyard ($85) - From Block 16 and cluster fermented, this is Les Collines Syrah at its best, full and fleshy, yet focused, all flowing seamlessly. 19.5/20 points. June.
2014 Adams Bench "Ursula" Sangiovese, Yakima Valley, Red Willow Vineyard ($52) - This is world class Sangiovese, in the caliber of a Brunello di Montalcino, deep and intense, yet smooth and satiny. 19.5/20 points. June.
2014 Adams Bench Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Stillwater Creek Vineyard ($70) - Composed of 77% Cabernet Sauvignon and 23% Merlot, this is a knockout. With a full array of aromatics and flavors, it is tall, dark and handsome. 20/20- points. June.
2014 Maison Bleue "Frontière" Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, Waliser Vineyard ($65) - This is Jon Meuret's first foray into "Rocks" Cabernet Sauvignon. It shows intense aromatics and distinct, powerful, yet supple flavors that all pull together admirably. 19.5/20 points. June.
2013 DeLille Cellars Grand Ciel Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain ($160) - A big, powerful 100% Cabernet, intensely aromatic, with compact and intense, yet smooth flavors and a two minute finish, this has it all. 20/20 points. June.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Sauternes is one of the most remarkable wines of Bordeaux. Produced from white grapes, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle, it is usually a sweet wine. With the warm, humid climate, the grapes become infected with Botrytis cinerea, "the noble rot," a mold that causes grapes to become partially raisined, producing wines of considerable sweetness. This does not always occur. In some years only semi sweet or dry wines are produced depending in the growth of Botrytis cinerea. Sweet Sauternes age well. In youth, they are amiable sweet wines, suitable with desserts, especially tarts. As they age, they become drier as the sugars oxidize and acquire a caramelized taste, with the botrytis imparting a distinctive, fungal, nutted taste. These aged Sauternes make superb accompaniments to foie gras and Roquefort cheese.
On Thursday, May 18th, Philippe Michel hosted a tasting pf Sauternes from the 2005 and older vintages for the SOB (Sons of Bacchus) wine tasting group. Philippe supplied most of the wines from his cellar and others brought interesting wines. Because of the nature of Sauternes, there was not much agreement as to the favorites. That depended on individual preferences for highly botrytised wines or higher fruit acid ones. Here is a rundown of the most interesting wines, with my notes and scored, not in any particular order.
2003 Chateau Rieussec, Sauternes - This showed a deep amber color and a maturing nose of dried fruits and banana flambé, with nuts and spices. Elegantly styled, with considerable botrytis, a bit low in acid. 19+/20 points.
2003 Chateau Coutet, Sauternes-Barsac - Deep amber colored with an oxidative nose of dried fruits and butterscotch. The flavors were viscous, nearly dry, with nutted botrytis undertones and a long, complex finish. 19+/20 points.
2005 Chateau Guiraud, Sauternes - Deep amber colored, with a nutted nose of dried flowers and fruits. The flavors showed notes of honey, clover and creme brulée, and a long botrytis finish. A classic. 19.5/20 points.
1988 Chateau Lafaurie-Peraguey, Sauternes - This was a fine example of an aged Sauternes. Amber colored, it showed complex aromas of dried fruits, orange peel and caramel, with faintly honeyed flavors. Fine acidity has enabled this wine to age well, even though from a drier year without much botrytis. It was one of my favorites, but not by most tasters. 19.5/20 points.
2005 Chateau La Tour Blanche, Sauternes - Medium amber colored, this showed floral aromas of wildflowers, nuts and a hint of butterscotch. The flavors were rich and viscous, with a long, complex, spiced, nutted finish. Exquisitely styled. 19+/20 points.
1989 Chateau Sudiraut, Sauternes - This was an interesting example of an aged Sauternes. Medium copper colored, it showed a mature nose of dried flowers and fruits. The flavors were nearly dry, with a distinctive nuttiness. Past its peak, it lacked fruit acidity and complexity. 18.5/20 points.
Thanks to Philippe Michel for hosting this tasting and supplying nuts, dried fruits, Roquefort cheese and unforgettable mousse de foie gras. A superb tasting.
- Written by Rand Sealey
There is a lot of white wine being produced in Washington State, much of it good, but not a lot that is really outstanding. In my recent tastings, though, I have run across some whites that represent exceptional value. Here are some fine examples that show what it takes to produce wines that over deliver in quality-price ratios.
A lot of Riesling is produced, much of which runs from medium dry to medium sweet. But there are some drier versions which show what can be done with the variety. These two from Long Shadows are fine examples.
2016 Nine Hats Riesling, Columbia Valley ($14) - This one shows a greenish gold color and attractive floral aromas and fresh, vibrant fruits that are imbued with peach stone, stony minerals and lemon zest, finishing off dry (1.29 g/L residual sugar). A super bargain at this price. 18.5/20 points. To be reviewed in the July issue.
2016 Poet's Leap Riesling, Columbia Valley ($20) - Vividly fruited (pear, peach, star fruit) and floral (honeysuckle, clover, spiced white incense), this is a beautifully balanced, nearly dry (1.1 g/L residual sugar) with racy acidity that marks a great Riesling. 19/20 points. Full review in July.
Sauvignon Blanc / Semillon
There is a lot of sameness with Washington Sauvignon Blanc, much of it crisp and dry but somewhat straw like, without much vibrancy. Semillon gets really interesting only when the right balance of fruit acidity and viscosity are achieved.
2016 JM Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, Red Mountain ($25) - Sourced from the Klipsun Vineyard, this Sauvignon Blanc (with 5% Semillon) offers attractive aromas of meadow flowers and pear blossoms with fresh and brisk flavors that are marked by Red Mountain calcareous minerals. 18.5/20 points. To be reviewed in the June issue.
2016 Amavi Cellars Semillon, Walla Walla Valley ($24) - Blended with 15% Sauvignon Blanc, this offers aromas of pear-apple, peach and melon, with scents of orange blossoms, honeysuckle and wet stone. Saline minerals, beeswax and melon rind add flavor interest. 18.5/20 points. June issue.
2016 Adamant Cellars "Bijoux" White Wine, Walla Walla Valley ($25) - This 65% Sauvignon Blanc, 35% Semillon combination is a real "gem." It shows a brilliant gold color and attractive aromas of apple, pineapple, cantaloupe, apple and orange blossoms, and fresh, juicy flavors, with a crisp, faintly honeyed finish. 18.5/20 points. To be in the July issue.
Grüner Veltliner and Albariño
These are a couple of varieties not commonly grown in the U.S. Grinner Veltliner originates in Austria, and Albariño from the Galicia region of Northwest Spain. They are highly distinctive.
2016 Adamant Cellars Albariño, Walla Walla Valley, Gateshead Vineyard ($25) - This comes from a vineyard planted with Albariño in 2008. It shows a greenish gold color and fresh aromas of pear, citrus and wet stone. The flavors are crisp and vibrant, calling out for shellfish. 18.5/20 points. To be in the July issue.
2016 Balboa Grüner Veltliner, Yakima Valley, Bloxom Slope Vineyard ($20) - This offers intriguing aromas of granny apple, crenshaw melon, star anise, lemongrass and white pepper, with notes of celery stick, melon rind and saline minerals. 18+/20 points. June issue.
2016 Savage Grace Grüner Veltliner, Columbia Gorge, Underwood Mountain Vineyard ($24) - This wine picks up interesting aromas of Key lime, Crenshaw melon, kiwi fruit, pear blossoms, lemongrass, and notes of grape and pear skins and volcanic minerals. 18.5/20 points. June issue.
Most Viogniers veer toward the tropical side, but those that show more focus and balance can be exceptional. Here are two examples.
2016 Gramercy Cellars Viognier, Columbia Valley, Antoine Creek Vineyard ($22) - From a vineyard between Chelan and the Okanagan Valley, this shows floral aromas, and bright, well-extracted white fruits, with notes of peach stone, pear skin and glacial minerals. Bright fruit acids give the wine verve. 18.5/20 points. June issue.
2016 JM Cellars Viognier, Columbia Valley, Stillwater Creek Vineyard ($25) - With perfumed aromas of Bosc pear, star fruit, white lilac and fresh and lively flavors, with notes of peach stone, alluvial minerals, creme fraiche and hazelnut, followed by a crisp, finely fruited finish, this is a lovely Viognier. 18.5/20 points. June issue.
- Written by Rand Sealey
The weekend of May 5-7 was Spring Release Weekend in the Walla Walla Valley. I had already tasted many of the wines being poured that weekend, so my focus was on wineries that are open only for special events. Here's a recap of the weekend.
On the morning of Friday the 5th, I went out on Mill Creek Road to Abeja, an iconic winery and inn. There, with husband and wife winemakers, Amy Alvarez-Wampfler and David Wampfler, a tasty Mourvèdre Rose (see below) and the 2016 Viognier and 2014 Cabernet (both to be reviewed in the June issue) were poured. On the way back, I stopped at àMaurice for two gorgeous 2016 Viogniers (July) and at Walla Walla Vintners for a knockout 2014 Sagemoor Cabernet (also July). In the afternoon, I went to The Walls to taste the new Spring releases, including the 2016 "Cruel Summer" Rosé (see below).
Saturday morning was kicked off with a visit to JJ and Kelly Menozzi's Aluvé winery to taste a lovely 2016 Sangiovese Rosé (see below) and the inaugural estate vineyard 2015 Chardonnay and 2014 Cabenet (July issue). Then I went on to the Leonetti Spring Release event where I tasted the new 2015 Merlot, 2014 Sangiovese and 2014 Cabernet (to be in the June issue). In the afternoon, I went to Aryn Morell's full line up of his own wines (Alleromb and Morell-Peña) and those from other wineries where he is consulting winemaker (Ardor, Gard, Tenor, Matthews, Mulan Road and Morell-Lawrence). A report will be in the July issue of the Review of Washington Wines.
Sunday morning, I stopped at Rasa Vineyards to the south on Powerline Road where the 2015 Grenache, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot were previewed, along with the 2014 "For the Love of the Game" Cabernet Sauvignon, all to be reviewed in July.
More Rosé Wines
During Spring Release, and before and after, I tasted some more Rosé wines in addition to those listed in the April 24 Blog (scroll down below).
2016 Aluvé Sangiovese Rosé, Walla Walla Valley ($22) - This is a real charmer, with a light pink color and lovely aromas and flavors of strawberries, cherries and melon. Destemmed and crushed prior to press, it shows nice extraction and depth of flavor. 18.5/20 points. To be reviewed in July.
2016 Forgeron Cellars Rosé of Sangiovese, Walla Walla Valley ($20) - Another charmer, this shows a light pink color and appealing aromas and flavors of strawberry, cherry and watermelon, with fresh fruits dancing on the palate, followed by a dry finish. 18+/20 points. To be reviewed July.
2016 The Walls "Cruel Summer" Rosé Wine, Columbia Gorge ($22) - With an added "secret ingredient" inspired by the Rosés of Southwest France, this shows a salmon color and seductive, floral and fruit aromas and alluring, nicely extracted flavors. 18.5/20 points. A full review to be in the June issue.
2016 Abeja "Beekeeper's" Mourvèdre Rosé, Walla Walla Valley ($28)- Salmon colored, this shows intriguing aromas of raspberry, cherry, rhubarb and pomegranate, with scents of cherry, orange blossoms and hibiscus, and notes of grape skin, tangerine, pomegranate seeds and Provençal herbs and spices on the finish. For those preferring a drier style of Rosé. 18.5/20 points.
2016 Amavi Cellars Rosé, Walla Walla Valley ($24) - Produced from 100% Cabernet Franc, this shows a pale salmon color and engaging aromas of strawberry, cherry, rhubarb and tangerine with fresh, lively flavors and rain-misted gravel. 18.5/20 points. To be in the June issue.
2016 Mansion Creek Cellars "Vino Rosado" Rose Wine, Walla Walla Valley ($21) - This in an unique blend of Sangiovese and Pinot Noir with a bit of Souzão. It shows a light peach-pink color and intriguing aromas of cherries, melon, nectarine, with fresh, lively flavors, followed by a bright, juicy yet dry finish. 18.5/20 points. Full review to be in July.
- Written by Rand Sealey
French wines were my first love ever since my explorations in the summer of 1968 and in the following years when I owned Esquin Wine Merchants. Sadly, the great wines of Burgundy and Bordeaux have become costly, ones reserved for extra special occasions. But there are still fine values to be had from France. Here are my recommendations from recent tastings.
Maconnais and Beaujolais
Southern Burgundy is a good source of fine, affordable wines. The whites of the Maconnais (the birthplace of Chardonnay is in the town of the same name) and the Gamay reds of the Beaujolais offer a lot for their modest prices. The "Villages" wines make nice everyday wines, and the "Crus" of Beaujolais (Fleurie, Morgon, Moulin à Vent and others) are fine wines and great values.
2015 Louis Jadot Macon Villages, Chardonnay ($12.99 at Safeway) - Medium greenish gold colored, this wine possesses fresh aromas of apple, peach, citrus, apple blossoms and acacia flowers. The flavors are pure and natural, unencumbered by oak, and accompanied by notes of peach stone, grape skin and Maconnais slate, followed by a crisp, lemon zest accented finish. 18/20 points.
2015 Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuissé ($22.39 at Safeway) - Pouilly-Fuissé is the most prestigious appellation of the Maconnais. This one was partially barrel fermented and aged six months in French oak. It shows a brilliant gold color and lovely aromas of pear, peach and citrus, with scents of pear blossoms, white flowers and white incense. The flavors, as well, are appealing, with vivid Chardonnay flavors that are accented by peach stone, pear skin and slate minerals. The back picks up poire and pêche liqueurs and light oak on the way to a crisp, faintly honeyed finish. 18.5/20 points.
2015 Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages ($10.99 at Safeway) - This Gamay offers a purplish ruby color and attractive aromas of strawberry, cherry, plum, rosebuds, anise and light spice. The flavors are bright and juicy, with red fruits that are intermixed with licorice, cola, and dusty earth. The chewy textured back picks up pressed berries, toasted nuts and fraise liqueur, followed by a ripe soft tannin finish. 18/20 points.
2015 Jean-Ernst Descombes Morgon ($19.99 from wine.com) - The late Jean Descombes' Morgons were among my favorites. The winery is now run by his daughter, Nicole. This vintage presents attractive aromas of raspberry, cherries and currants, with scents of roses, mulberry and lavender. The flavors are pleasingly ample, yet robust, with notes of licorice, cocoa and minerals. The back picks up pressed berries kirsch and framboise liqueurs, followed by a moderate tannin finish that is lifted by bright fruit acids. A Georges Duboeuf selection. 18.5/20 points.
2015 Domaine des Rosiers Moulin à Vent ($19.99 - wine.com) - Deep purplish colored, this wine emits enticing aromas of wild blackberries, huckleberries and currants, with scents of crushed red roses, sweet tobacco, violets and spiced incense. The flavors mirror the aromatics with deep, robust fruits that are imbued with red licorice, cocoa, French roast and granitic minerals. The saturation continues on the back with sensations of pressed berries, creme de cassis and graphite, followed by a pleasing sweetish ripe tannin finish. A Duboeuf selection. 18.5/20 points.
2015 Domaine des Quatre Vents Fleurie ($23.99 - wine.com) - Fleurie ("flowery") is one of Beaujolais' most charming wines. This one offers a ruby-crimson color and seductive aromas of fraises de bois, wild cherries, red currants, rose petals, bayberry and violets. The medium bodied flavors, as well, are alluring, with layers of supple yet intense (old vines) red fruits that are imbued with red licorice, cocoa powder and granitic minerals. The back reveals sensations of gently pressed fruits, cerise and cassis liqueurs, a touch of nougat, and a dusting of ground charcoal, followed by a lengthy silky tannin finish. This delivers a lot of elegance for the price. A Duboeuf selection. 19/20 points.
2015 Domaine Diochon Moulin à Vent, Cuvée Vieilles Vignes ($23.99 - wine.com) - This is really serious Beaujolais. It exhibits a purplish ruby color and enticing aromas of blackberries, cherries and currants with scents of red roses, mulberries and violets. The robust flavors, as well, are appealing, with notes of licorice, cocoa and minerals. The back picks up kirsch and creme de cassis liqueurs, followed by a pleasingly juicy finish and soft tannins, lifted by bright fruit acidity. Enjoyable now, but will benefit from 1-5 more years aging. A Kermit Lynch selection. 19/20 points.
The Côtes du Rhône
The Rhone Valley is another source of fine values. The most prestigious appellations such as Hermitage, Cote Rotie and Chateauneuf du Pape have gotten pricey, upwards of $50 a bottle, but the regional and Villages bottling are quite affordable.
2016 Château de Campuget Costières de Nimes Rosé ($9.99 at Safeway) - This is a surprisingly good Rosé (70% Syrah, 43% Grenache) for the price. From the region west of Avignon, it offers a light pink-copper color and attractive aromas of strawberry, pomegradnate and tangerine with scents of cherry blossoms, summer flowers and spiced white incense. The flavors are somewhat restrained, yet well defined, with notes of grape skin, pomegranate seeds and orange peel, followed by a refreshing, dry finish. 18/20 points.
2015 M. Chapoutier "Belleruche" Côtes du Rhone ($10.99 at Safeway) - This 60% Grenache, 40% Syrah combination offers a purplish ruby color and engaging aromas of raspberry, blueberry and currant with scents of rosebuds, lavender and dried herbs. The medium bodied flavors are supple, yet vigorous, with cocoa and earth undertones and a rich, fruity, savory finish. 17.5+/20 points.
2014 Clos de Caveau "fruit sauvage" Vacqueyras ($29.99 at Esquin) - Vacqueyras can be called the "poor man's Chateauneuf du Pape." The dominant grape is Grenache with some Syrah and/or Mourvédere. This organically grown one is 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah, and shows a deep ruby color and a rich, smoky nose of raspberry, plum and black currant, with scents of rosebuds, mulberry, pipe tobacco, lavender and spiced incense. The flavors mirror the aromatics with thick, generous red and black fruits that are intermixed with licorice, cocoa, French roast and Dentelles de Montmriral minerals. The chewy textured back picks up roasted berries and nuts and touches of leather and dried currants, followed by savory moderate tannin finish. 18.5/20 points.
2013 Domaine le Sang des Cailloux Vaqueyras ($31.99 at Esquin) - This "Blood of the Rocks" tastes like it is predominately Grenache with some Mourvédre and Syrah. It shows a deep ruby color and intriguing aromas of wild fruits - blackberry, plum and black currants - with scents of rosebuds and garrigue (lavender and herbs) and smoldering incense. The flavors are thick and fleshy, with notes of licorice, dark cocoa, roasted coffee beans and minerals. The back picks up macerated berries, roasted nuts and charcoal, followed by a ripe, chewy tannin finish. A Kermit Lynch selection. 18.5/20 points.