- Written by Rand Sealey
I'm sure all of you have heard or read stories about wines that taste like they cost more than they do. Such as a $25 bottle that tastes like a $50 wine. I From my tasting experience, I have found that to be true sometimes. And I have run across overpriced wines. But I have found most wines to be quantitatively in line with their prices.
To test this theory, I put on a blind tasting of three Washington Syrahs, one costing $25, one $55 and one $85 at the last PAWS (Perfectly Aged Wine Sippers, a seniors tasting group) get-together which Lynn and I hosted. Tasters were asked to rank the wines, all from the same vintage, in order of quality. First for the best wine, and so on. Here are the results, in order of ranking.
2013 Reynvaan Family Vineyards "The Contender" Syrah, Walla Walla Valley ($85) - Ten out of fourteen participants ranked this the highest. I found it to be a rich, aromatic (truffles, lavender, violets), earthy, complex Syrah with a long finish. My score: 19.5/20 points. So here, you get what you pay for.
2013 L'Ecole No. 41 Syrah, Columbia Valley ($25) - This was a surprise second place (eight out of fourteen), an attractively priced Syrah with considerable balance, depth and varietal character. My score, 19/20 points.
2013 Long Shadows "Sequel" Syrah, Columbia Valley ($55) - If there was a direct correlation between price and quality, this should have been in second place (six did rank it second). I found it varietally correct, complex, but not highly so. 18.5/20 points.
I think the Sequel's placing third could be explained by its underdevelopment. In retesting it, I found it a bit closed in, without a lot of nuances. With a few more years aging, it will develop more complexity. The L'Ecole represents great value, but is nearly ready now and may not develop much more complexity.
This was an interesting exercise that, I think, shows that you do get what you pay for in wine to a considerable extent, but not completely so.
At the PAWS get-together, some more bottles were opened after the tasting. Here are the most noteworthy wines.
2012 No Girls Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, La Paciencia Vineyard - Made by Cayuse assistant winemaker, Elizabeth Bouncier, this was classic "Rocks" Syrah, rich, earthy and minerals, with notes of truffles, dried roses and dark fruits. 19+/20 points.
2012 Le Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf du Pape - This Grenache-dominated Rhone was lovely, yet solid and vigorous, with thick, lavish red and blue fruits and a long, complex finish. 19+/20 points.
2010 Coté Nicault Red Wine, Wahluke Slope - Gilles Nicault's Rhone-style Mourvèdre-Syrah-Grenache blend was rich and flavorful, with lots of texture and spicy black and blue fruits and a long finish. 19+/20 points.
2010 E. Guigal Côte Rôtie, Brune et Blonde - A superb rendition of this North Rhone Appellation, from high terraced vineyards, this showed great depth and authority. 19+/20 points.
- Written by Rand Sealey
November 4-6 was Fall Release Weekend in the Walla Walla Valley. This year, our focus was on wineries that are open for special events such as this one. Here's what we did that weekend.
On Friday morning, November 4th, we went to the Reynvaan Family Vineyards at the end of Cottonwood Road in the foothills of the Blue Mountains. As usual, most of the family was on hand - Mike and Gale, winemaker son, Matt, and daughter Angela and numerous sisters and in-laws. We tasted samples of the 2015 vintage, to be released in 2018. It is a stellar vintage, with scores of 19.5 to 20/20 points. A preview report will be in the January 2017 issue of the Review of Washington Wines.
In the afternoon, we went to Long Shadows to taste the newly released 2014 reds. They are among the best wines ever turned out by Long Shadows. Across the board, they were 19.5/20 points wines. Kudos to Gilles Nicault for coordinating the production of such stellar wines. Reviews will be in the December issue which goes on line November 23. Then we went to Woodward Canyon where we tasted the 2013 Estate Reserve Red and 2013 Charbonneau, to be reviewed in January.
The next morning, Saturday the 5th, I went to Rasa Vineyards on Powerline Road. I tasted the outstanding 2013's - Plus One Cabernet Sauvignon, Creative Impulse Cabernet-Merlot, and In order to form a more perfect union BDX blend, all to be reviewed in January. In the afternoon, we stopped at Walla Walla Gourmet to sample the Proper 2014 Syrah from the "Rocks," a 19.5/20 points wine to be reviewed in January. Then we went to The Walls Vineyards where we tasted the newly released 2014's, Lip Stinger Grenache Blanc, Cheys Syrah, Gasparts Syrah, and The Ramparts GSM Red. They will be in the December issue. In the evening, we went to Corliss' annual open house where we sampled the 2011 Corliss Red (to be reviewed December) and upcoming vintages.
Watch for the December and January issues for full reviews!
- Written by Rand Sealey
The 2016 wine grape harvest in Washington State is pretty much wrapped up. Rains in late October prompted winegrowers and wineries to pick up the remainder of the harvest, mostly Cabernet Sauvignon (luckily, most of that had already been picked). By various estimates, the crop is 5 to 10 percent above normal, mainly due to larger grape clusters, which means more volume. Quality, overall, is good, especially for the earlier ripening varieties. More definitive qualitative assessments will occur over the coming months as winemakers check the progress of the wines through the fermentations (primary and malolactic). Winemakers are optimistic. But more later!
Fall Release Weekend in Walla Walla is Coming Up
This year, Fall Release Weekend in the Walla Walla Valley is this weekend, November 4-6. In the 18 October Review of Washington Wines Blog, I listed a number of wineries especially worth visiting. Here are a few more additions.
Sleight of Hand Cellars - On Sunday morning, I tasted some outstanding 2014 reds - The Sorcerer Grenache, Levitation Syrah and Psychedelic Stoney Vine Syrah, all 19+ to 19.5 points. Reviews to be in the December issue, going on line November 23.
Tranche Cellars - For Fall, Tranche released a superb 2013 Chardonnay from the Celilo Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge. It was my highest scoring Chardonnay in the Seattle Magazine Wine Awards Judging back in March. A full review will be in the December issue. Some highly impressive 2012 reds - Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon - will be in the January issue.
Proper Winery - This winery has gotten 90 plus points scores every vintage since the inaugural 2009. The 2013 will be poured at Walla Walla Gourmet (formerly Salumerie Cesario) on Saturday from 1 to 5.
Gramercy Cellars - This morning, I tasted two stellar 2014 reds, The Third Man Grenache and The Deuce Syrah, 19+ and 19.5, respectively. Reviews will be in the December issue. Also outstanding are two 2013's, Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon to be reviewed January.
- Written by Rand Sealey
During our trip around the Olympic Peninsula, we discovered three wineries that very much worth visiting, Wind Rose Cellars, Camaraderie Cellars and Westport Winery. The wines are in the November issue of the Review of Washington Wines. Here is more about the wineries and the people behind them.
Wind Rose Cellars, Sequim, Washington
A wind rose is a wind direction indicator, and an elaborate compass version is depicted on the winery's labels. Wind Rose Cellars is owned by David Volmut and his wife, Jennifer States. David graduated from the Yakima Valley Community College's enology program in 2009 and he interned at Olsen Estates. The winery's focus is on Italian varietals - Dolcetto, Barbera, Primitivo, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo - and some Malbec and Cabernet. The wines are made at Bell Bottom, east of Sequim, where we visited David. The facility, open by appointment only, is adjacent to the Haze Lavender farm. The winery has a tasting room in Downtown Sequim on 143 West Washington Street and is open Wednesday through Saturday, with a bistro and bites menu. www.windrosecellars.com.
Camaraderie Cellars, Port Angeles, Washington
I first met Don Corson in April at the Seattle Wine Awards judging, on which we were panelists. He and wife, Vicki, started the winery in 1981 and grew the operation into a working winery, tasting room and garden, with a production of 3500 cases a year. In 2009, Don retired as Vice President of Merrill and Ring, a timber and land company. When we visited the winery, Don was out in Eastern Washington picking up grapes from the 2016 harvest. Vicki took good care of us and took us on a tour of the winery and garden. The winery is open weekends, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11 to 5 at 334 Benson Road, off Highway 101. www.camaraderiecellars.com.
On our way through the Olympic Peninsula, we spent three nights at the Kalaloch Lodge, halfway along the Pacific Coast in the Olympic National Park. Accommodations include comfortable cabins (one of which we stayed in) dotting the shore and rooms in the lodge. Local acitivites include hiking and beachcombing. The restaurant features seafood and other entrees (the steamed clams are especially tasty). The wine list of Northwest wines is limited and pricey, so I recommend you bring your wine and pay the reasonable $15 corkage fee.
Westport Winery, Aberdeen, Washington
The Westport Winery, about halfway between Aberdeen and Westport, is a family operation. It is headed by Blain Roberts, with his wife, Kim, running the restaurant, daughter, Carrie, managing the tasting room, and son, Dana, making the wine. Blain and Kim came to Westport after operating sport diving business out of Lahina, Maui. They purchased 20 acres in 2007, and later developed it into a destination Resort with a restaurant, garden working winery, and a lighthouse replica. In addition to a lineup of vinifera wines, Westport also makes a bevy of sparkling wines and fruit/grape blends. A portion of the proceeds go to local non-profits such as the Red Cross Blood Bank, the Westport Maritime Museum, the Grays Harbor Childrens' Advocacy, and many others. The Resort is located at South Arbor Road, off Highway 105, and is open daily from 11 to 6. www.westportwinery.com.
- Written by Rand Sealey
Back in April, while judging for the Seattle Wine Awards, table went through a couple of flights of about 15 Washington Chardonnays each. There seemed to be a depressing sameness about most of them, with only a couple of standouts in each flight. Most of the wines had good varietal character but without distinction. So, later on, in May, I was thrilled to find some real standout Chardonnays that displayed terroir and microclimate specificity. Two were from The Walls, Ali Mayfield and Mike Martin's winery in Walla Walla. They came from the White Salmon Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge. From volcanic soil and from a transitional climate, they showed great precision and site specific distinction. Then, a few weeks later, I visited Coman Din at his Co Din winery in Grandview. Sourced from the Rosekamp Vineyard on Snipes Mountain and with southern exposure, again I discovered distinctive character. These wines are:
2014 The Walls "La Lutte" Chardonnay, Columbia Gorge, White Salmon Vineyard ($42) - Reviewed June - 19/20 points.
2014 The Walls "McAndrew" Chardonnay, Columbia Gorge, White Salmon Vineyard ($42) - Reviewed June - 19/20 points.
2013 Co Dinn Chardonnay, Snipes Mountain, Rosekamp Vineyard ($45) - Reviewed July - 19.5/20 points.
Since then, I have run across a few more outstanding, site specific Washington Chardonnays:
2015 Owen Roe Chardonnay, Yakima Valley, DuBrul Vineyard ($48) - From a block planted in the 1990's, this shows distinct Rattlesnake Hills minerality and varietal purity. To be reviewed in the November issue 19+/20 points.
2015 àMaurice Cellars Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Conner Lee Vineyard ($32) - To be reviewed in November - 19/20 points.
2015 Buty Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Conner Lee Vineyard ($42) - To be reviewed November 19+/20 points.
Conner Lee, situated on Radar Hill in the Frenchman Hills near Othello is a fine source of Chardonnay. Great varietal precision and distinct minerality.
2014 Domaine J. Meuret Chardonnay, Columbia Gorge, White Salmon Vineyard ($35) - From the same vineyard as The Walls above. To be reviewed December - 19+/20 points.
2015 L'Ecole No. 41 Chardonnay, Ancient Lakes, Evergreen Vineyard ($35) - The caliche soil and old vines make this a distinctive Chardonnay. To be reviewed in December - 19+/20 points.