Overview


Washington Wine Report is an independent publication focused on bringing Northwest wine to you and bringing you to Northwest wine. Our goal is:
  • To help you select Pacific Northwest wines at a variety of price levels
  • To keep you up-to-date about the Northwest’s wineries, vineyards, and individuals
  • To help you plan trips to wine country
  • To connect you to the larger wine community

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Reviewed Wineries

Dunham Three Legged Red 2006

Thursday, July 31, 2008 0 comments

Summary: As you may know, Port, the dog whose picture adorns Dunham’s Three Legged Red label, passed away recently (see Walla Walla Wine News.) Port was one of the many dogs featured in the book Winery Dogs of Walla Walla.

As the story goes, in 1994 winemaker Eric Dunham saw a small animal across from his house being attacked by a pit bull. The animal turned out to be a puppy. The puppy survived the attack but lost a leg on the starboard side leaving two on the port side. Dunham so named the dog Port. Port could frequently be seen at or about Dunham's winery.

While the dog is gone, the wine named in his honor remains.


Wines:

Score

Name

Notes

$

*

Dunham Three Legged Red 2006

A rich nose with coffee, black fruit, and black pepper. An almost earthy quality to the nose. A good full taste, marked by blackberry and chocolate, with pleasing tannins on the back end. Some may find it over-oaked. I didn’t. A very good wine for the money. If it is on sale, it’s a steal.

$19

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Owen Roe Abbot's Table 2007

Wednesday, July 30, 2008 0 comments

Owen Roe – located in Oregon – makes a number of exceptional wines from Washington fruit. Each year, the Abbot’s Table is something to look forward to. Always a fascinating blend of grapes, this year’s wine does not disappoint. The blend is as follows – 22% Sangiovese; 20% Zinfandel; 20% Merlot; 15% Cab Franc; 7% Grenache; 6% Syrah; 3% Cinsault; 3% Petit Syrah; 3% Malbec; 1% Pinot Noir. Wow! A 2007 – ridiculously young for a red wine – this wine still needs a bit of time to settle down.


Wines:

Score

Name

Notes

$

+

Owen Roe Abbot’s Table Columbia Valley 2007

Somewhat light in color, the wine has a bold nose marked by milk chocolate, cinnamon, and spice. This is an almost syrupy wine with a lot of body to it. A bit astringent, perhaps due to its young age, the wine also has a bit too much alcohol on the nose. If these aspects settle down over time, this wine will be a whopper for the money. Recommended.

$23






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Long Shadows has become, in a short time, one of the premier wineries in Washington state (see 2008 Walla Walla Spring Release report). Former Stimson-Lane CEO Allen Shoup works with renowned winemakers from around the world for this venture. Each winemaker creates a single wine using Washington fruit. Add resident winemaker Gilles Nicault to shepherd all of the wines along (Nicault also makes his own fabulous Chester-Kidder red blend), and the results are dazzling.

The Poet’s Leap Riesling is made by Armin Diel, one of Germany’s most highly regarded Riesling producers. While I did not find this year’s offering - just released - quite as compelling as last year’s, it is still a good, very well made wine.


Wines:

Score

Name

Notes

$

+

Poet’s Leap Riesling 2007

A complex nose with honey, pear, apple, white grapefruit, peaches, and mineral notes. A thick wine that coats the mouth. A bit more tart than the 2006. 12.9% alcohol. 1,904 cases produced. Recommended.

$20






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Thought those Betz Family wines were a little hard to find? They are about to get a little harder.


Betz has closed their mailing list. From now on, only mailing list members will have access to the order page on their website. Others will have to look for their wines in local stores or will have to get on the waiting list.


This change should not come as much of a surprise. While Betz decreased their production slightly in 2005, their wines have become increasingly scarce over the last few years as the winery has continued to grow in prominence. And for good reason. Winemaker Bob Betz not only makes some of the best wines in Washington state, he has also been a tireless champion for Washington wine, dating back to his days at Chateau Ste. Michelle.


Betz makes three Bordeaux blends – Clos de Betz, Pierre de Famille, and Le Parrain (added in 2005) and four Rhone blends – La Serenne, La Cote Rousse, Chapitre 3 (recently added), and Besoleil. All of the wines are meticulously made and are consistently exceptional.


So what do these changes mean to you? First, if you appreciate Betz’ wines, it is worth getting on the waiting list. As I mentioned in a recent post, wineries make much more money when they sell wines directly from the winery. Secondly, it means that if you see their wines in stores – they typically provide a good amount of wine to distributors – think about picking it up. The prices, as is generally the case for Washington wine, keep going up, but like the price of gasoline, it is not going to go back down and today’s prices will seem like a bargain tomorrow.

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Bunnell Family Cellars is a small winery located in Prosser, Washington. Named after winemaker Ron Bunnell, the winery focuses on Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, and Rhone-style blends. RiverAerie, their second label wine, is named after their herb farm on the Yakima River. Bunnell’s 2005 releases are truly impressive. The 2006’s are expected to be released later this summer.

Wines:
ScoreNameNotes$
+
RiverAeirie Malbec 2006The nose on this wine evolved quite a bit after being opened a short time. It started out with spice and leather and over time these were replaced by berry and floral aromas with a touch of black pepper. A good full feel on the palate for a medium-bodied wine. A good example of the varietal. $19
**
Bunnell Family Cellars RiverAeire Efete 2005A nice, engaging nose marked by blackberry, spice, and anise. A good mid-palate and finish marked by lush tannins. Exceptional for the price point.$19
**
Bunnell Family Cellars A Pic 2005A perfectly put together wine with a beautiful taste and finish The nose is surprisingly subtle with light barbequed green pepper aromas.$28





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Buying Washington wine

Thursday, July 24, 2008 1 comments

I have received comments that people would like more information about where they can find some of the wines reviewed in my reports (see sidebar listing) in their area. As several have noted, my wine reports are focused on retailers in the Seattle area as this is where I live.

Information about retailers in other areas within Washington and especially outside of Washington can be difficult to come by. Some wineries list on their website what stores sell their wine. Most do not. However, if you contact the winery, in many cases they can tell you stores that sell their wine. If not or if the winery is too small to have a wide distribution, the following are my suggestions for buying Washington wines. They are, in order:

  1. Buy from the winery where possible. Many Washington wineries are small production operations. The wineries make a substantial amount more money when they sell their wine through the winery versus through a distributor. For example, for a $30 bottle of wine, the wholesale price may be $15, and the cost to the winery, say, $13. So if they sell a bottle from the winery, they make $17 profit. If they sell through a distributor, they make $2 profit. This is why those all mailing list wineries are doing so well. In terms of buying from the winery, some are set up to sell on-line. Some require faxing or calling with a credit card. In terms of supporting Washington wine, it’s worth the effort.

  1. Buy from a local wine store. If you live in Washington state, many local stores have decent to exceptional selections of Washington wines. Regardless of whether you live in the state, most wine stores are happy to order a particular wine for you, even if they do not stock that wine. Buying from a local store also allows you to develop a relationship with the people who work there. You come to understand their taste in wine and they come to understand yours. This is an excellent way to become exposed to wines you might not otherwise come across.

  1. Buy on-line…from a local store. Buying from on-line retailers can also be a good way to go. I recommend going with smaller, Northwest-located businesses, as again, this is an effective way to support the Washington wine industry. There are a number of stores that sell and/or specialize in Washington wine. Two that I will mention here (I am not affiliated with them in any way) who have exceptional selections are avalonwine.com and compasswines.com. There are a number of others.

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Morrison Lane Nebbiolo 2003

Wednesday, July 23, 2008 1 comments

Morrison Lane is a small winery located in Walla Walla, Washington. While perhaps best known for providing uncommon varietals from their estate vineyards to local winemakers, they also bottle a number of these as single varietal wines, including a Cinsault, a Nebbiolo, and a Carmenere. The Nebbiolo reviewed here, is one of the few I have had from the state that really shines.

Morrison Lane’s wines can be somewhat difficult to find. West Seattle Cellars is one of the few spots locally I have seen bottles on the shelves (please note, I am not affiliated with this store in any way). However, if you do come across their wines or are traveling to Walla Walla, I recommend giving them a try.


Score

Name

Notes

$

*

Morrison Lane Nebbiolo 2003

A very complex nose with fig, spice, and mature red wine aromas. An excellent taste and an extended finish with a touch of spice at the end.

$35






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As Washington wines continue to receive high ratings and reach a wider and wider audience, the wineries confront the increased expectations associated with high prices and high-end wine. Are Washington’s wineries ready?

Indications are that some still have a ways to go. One prominent winery who recently built a multi-million dollar facility in Walla Walla sent this message out last week. To protect the not-so-innocent, I will refrain from naming the winery here.

RE: Dear Wine Club

Dear Wine Club,

The weather is hot and the grapes growing , and the much awaited release of our Grenache Rose’ has arrived. It maybe the prefect deck wine for the summer of 2007. Your next shipment is right around the corner so I am reaching for new shipping addresses and Credit Card info is up to date so you all can enjoy our great wines. We are having a great year New tasting room a staff that is totally awesome need I say more.

The message was cordially signed by the marketing and sales manager. The message was sent to their wine club members, of which I am one, with the entire list in the “To” list instead of bcc’d, a significant violation of member privacy.

My first thought was that the winery’s site had been compromised, given the strange subject line, the numerous typographical and grammatical errors, and the request for credit card information. I sent this concern along to the winery. After receiving no response, I sent another message and received confirmation that this was, in fact, a legitimate message from their marketing and sales manager. Apparently, an apology was sent to the list by the same individual for not blind copying the message to the list, although I did not receive this message. Unfortunately, failing to bcc the list was only the most significant part of this embarrassment. With messages like this, I would not only expect that their marketing manager would soon be listed as “former,” I would expect many of their wine club members would be as well.

With the spotlights shining on Washington, there will be increased pressure to provide not only top quality wines but also top quality, professional service. While the small mom and pop wineries may be forgiven for such mistakes, the larger, more successful wineries will not be. Beware Washington. Opportunity knocks!

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These are two wines made by Mark Ryan McNeilly of Mark Ryan Winery and Chris Gorman of Gorman Winery for two separate wine ventures. The first, Sinner’s Punch Red, was made for the Giant Wine Co. The second, The Elle Syrah-Viognier, was made for Cru Selections. Both are interesting wines that give you something to think about. Neither completely delivers the way you want them to but both keep you coming back to explore them. The Sinner’s Punch I would have recommended except for something on the aftertaste that I didn’t care for. The Elle Syrah-Viognier is definitely something to look for. I expect both won’t be around for long given the accolades these winemakers garner.


Wines:

Score

Notes

$

+

Sinner’s Punch Red 2006

Herbs are the predominant aroma, reminiscent of some of the Spring Valley wines. A very enjoyable, light-bodied wine for the money. Something on the aftertaste that is a little untoward and detracts from an otherwise excellent effort. Mostly Syrah with some Cabernet. Recommended.

$13

*

Elle Syrah-Viognier 2006

A refined nose marked by white pepper on first pour. Nose is not as compelling as the Sinner’s Punch. Beautifully balanced on the taste. You are left wanting more on the nose but the taste delivers. Overall, an excellent wine for the price.

$14






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Sheridan Winery sources its grapes from their estate vineyard in Yakima Valley. Grapes from this vineyard are used by a number of prominent wineries including Andrew Will, Quilceda Creek, and O.S. (formerly Owen Sullivan). Sheridan's flagship wine is the L’Orage, a cabernet-based blend. The 2004 vintage of this wine was nothing short of stunning.

Sheridan has garnered positive press lately for their wines. Their second label, Kamiakin, has been getting a strong push from the local wine shops. It was therefore with great anticipation that I tried their latest releases as well as the previous year’s syrah. Unfortunately, I found the wines a bit disappointing and seeming quite young and green. Perhaps a little time or decanting will settle them down.


+

Sheridan L’Orage 2005

This wine still seems quite young, with a green nose accompanied by tobacco, pencil shavings, spiced plum, and anise. On the taste, it is a medium-bodied wine with an excellent subtlety and smooth tannins. Good finish but mid-palate hasn’t come together. Suggest decanting or waiting 6 months. 67% Cabernet; 33% Cab Franc. Sheridan Vineyard, Yakima Valley.

$42

.

Sheridan Syrah 2005

Not a big fan of the nose which is marked by soy, spice, and a little chocolate. Very well put together on the taste. 100% Syrah. Sheridan Vineyard, Yakima Valley.

$40

+

Sheridan Syrah 2004

Nose is marked by light soy, black licorice, and fig. An even body on a very well put together wine.

$40

.

Kamiakin Yakima Valley Red Wine 2006

Smells exceptionally green and young. Nose is a bit off-putting with rhubarb, pencil shavings, and mustard seed. The taste is quite good until three quarters of the way through when it falls apart. There is enough there that time may pull it together but not worth drinking right now. Maybe in three to six months, but you can do better for a $14 wine. Tasted twice with consistent notes.

$14

.

Kamiakin White Wine 2007

A good nose with white grapefruit and honey. A little sharp and puckering on the palate.

$14






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Recently I wrote about one of the issues I have with many of the major wine publications: By the time a wine is reviewed, it is no longer available. Often the next vintage is already out. The example I gave was Amavi’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. This wine received a 92 point rating in the June 30th edition of Wine Spectator but by the first week of July, the 2006 Cabernet was on the shelf. See the full write-up here.

While I have often observed that wines are gone by the time their ratings are published, in this case, it was a variation on this theme. Following my post, I received an e-mail from Eric McKibben, General Manager/ Partner at Amavi Cellars. McKibben said the release of the 2006 Cabernet was moved forward about a month due to the increased sales of the 2005 following the high Wine Spectator rating. Specifically, he said:

The reason the 2006 is out is that the 2005 sold out rapidly after that rating came out. We had giant orders from our East Coast distributors who read the rating online before we even knew about it. Within a week and a half, all our stock for our distributors nationwide was gone. We were about halfway through the vintage and anticipated running out by the end of August, and instead were out by mid-May. We then sold out of our tasting room stock within a week after that as orders poured in for direct to consumer shipments nationwide. So our Seattle distributors twisted our arms for the 2006, and we gave it to them about a month before we really wanted to release it.

So in this case, the 2005 Cabernet was available briefly after the rating, but due to the increased demand following the high rating, it quickly sold out and the 2006 was released (NB: The 2006 is every bit as good. Buy it now before you read a great WS review and it's already all gone!).

This brings me to a second issue I have with many of the major wine publications. The issue of ratings and their resulting affect on sales. More on this in a subsequent post.

Thanks again to Eric for passing along this information.

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Washington Malbec

Wednesday, July 16, 2008 2 comments

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a blind tasting of Argentine Malbec with the folks from Wine Peeps. While overall production of Malbec in Washington is very low (700 tons crushed last year) and most wineries are using it purely as a blending grape, there are a small but increasing number of wineries producing it as a single varietal wine. Is this just another winemaker dalliance or will Malbec become another feature grape for Washington? Only time will tell. What is clear for the moment is that, with production low and the prices therefore high, it’s difficult for to compete with the wines from Argentina.

Below are some of the most interesting examples of Washington Malbec I have come across this year.


Wines:

Score

Name

Notes

$

**

Walla Walla Vintners Malbec 2005

Campfire. Chocolate. Excellently balanced. Full bodied. Not as true to the varietal as some.

$30

*

Saviah Malbec 2005

What a whopper! A rich nose loaded with spice and chocolate with hints of toast. This wine has evolved quite a bit since I last tasted it.

$30

+

Gifford-Hirlinger Malbec 2007

An outrageous nose. Taste is quite good. Exceptionally promising for such a young wine. Barrel sample.

BS






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Amavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

Saturday, July 12, 2008 6 comments

Amavi’s name comes from a combination of the Latin root words, "am" (love) and "vi" (life). Winemaker Jean-François Pellet’s 2006 Cabernet is nothing short of an exceptional wine, especially at this price point. On sale, it’s a steal. The 2006 vintage also has a significantly improved label.



Wines:

Score

Name

Notes

$

**

Amavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

A gorgeous wine marked by dark fruit, cinnamon, and clove. Silky in texture, this wine opens up and expands beautifully on the palate with a finish that sails on and on. Although best after decanting thirty-plus minutes, it showed remarkably well even on first pour. 76% Cabernet; 18% Merlot; 5% Syrah; 1% Cab Franc. Pepper Bridge, Seven Hills, Les Collines, and LeFore vineyards.

$28






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A wine spectator's dilemma

Friday, July 11, 2008 0 comments

Like many wine lovers, I follow Wine Spectator and other major wine publications. While I enjoy their reviews, there are a couple of issues I have with them which led me to start this blog. I will address one of them here.

In its June 30th 2008 edition, Wine Spectator gave Amavi’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 a 92 point rating. This is a large accomplishment for a $25 wine. How large you ask? In the Wine Spectator database, there are five red wines that have received 93 points or higher at or below this price point. They are:

Leonetti Cabernet 1989, 96 pts, $25
Leonetti Merlot 1992, 96 pts,$25
Waterbrook Merlot 1989, 94 pts, $14
Leonetti Merlot 1989, 93 pts, $18
Woodward Canyon Cabernet 1988, 93 pts, $24

There are ten (TEN) red wines in the database that have received 92 points at or below this price point. They are:

Ch. Ste. Michelle Cabernet Cold Creek Vineyard 1996, 92 pts, $25
Columbia Crest Cabernet Estate Series 1996, 92 pts, $16
Delille D2 1993, 92 pts, $18
Kiona Cabernet 1999, 92 pts, $24
Leonetti Merlot 1991, 92 pts $22
Leonetti Merlot 1990 , 92 pts, $22
Oakwood Cabernet Reserve 1987, 92 pts, $20
Seven Hills Cabernet CV 1999, 92 pts, $22
Spring Valley Cab Franc 2003, 92 pts, $18
Waterbrook Cabernet 1994, 92 pts, $20

What do I make of these lists? First, there are very few red wines that have received this rating or higher at or below this price point. Second, almost all of those wineries are big players in the market in 2008. Third, no wine has received this rating or higher at this price point since Spring Valley Cab Franc 2003 four vintages ago. Fourth, which one on those lists is not like the other? Fifth, look at those Leonetti prices? You will be saying that a lot in the future about today's Washington wine prices. Stock up now.

Bottom line? It’s a big deal. So what’s your next thought? “I want to try this wine” right? However, on July 10th – ten days after the publication date, what do you find on the local shelves? The just-released Amavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2006. How can this be?

It’s because the Amavi Cabernet 2005 was released one year ago. Therefore, the Wine Spectator review is stale from the moment it's published. This is why the goal of this blog is to “provide ratings of currently available Washington wines”.

I will be posting a review of Amavi’s newly released Cabernet 2006 tomorrow. NB: I’m sure you can still find the 2005 in a place or two as well.

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Gorman Winery 2005 Releases

Tuesday, July 8, 2008 0 comments

Chris Gorman’s winery is located, like many in the area, in an office park in Woodinville. This winery has long had a cult following and has recently been receiving strong critical reviews as well. These wines are always quick to sell out so keep your eyes out for them.

Wines:
ScoreNameNotes$
+
Gorman Pixie 2005A light nose with hints of spice. A good, well-balanced wine that has yet to really open up. 100% Syrah, Ranch at the End of the Road Vineyard, Red Mountain AVA. $35
**
Gorman Evil Twin 2005A great nose with blackberry and violets. A full, rich taste. 75% Syrah; 25% Cabernet. 100% Red Mountain. $55





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Five Under Fifteen - July

Wednesday, July 2, 2008 1 comments

Recently my sister sent me a note saying, “I'm not very likely to be buying $54 bottles no matter how good you say they are!” Ah I remember those days. Don’t worry winemakers, I’ll work on her.

While Washington is making great wine at competitive price points, it is also making a lot of good wine at the so-called “value” price point of $15 and under. These wines are not only great values, but a number of them are also produced at scale and receive large distribution, meaning you might actually be able to find them outside of the state.

So in the interests of providing Elizabeth information on wines she might actually be able to find and be inclined to buy if she does, this is the first in a series of reviews of 5 wines $15 or under.

Of the wines below, the Desert Wind Ruah and Waterbrook Melange have consistently been good across vintages. This is a quality I admire in a value wine as it means if you’re looking for a good wine at this price point, you’ve got something reliable regardless of what vintage it is.

Have a favorite Washington wine at $15 and under? Write a comment or send me an e-mail and I will review it in a future entry.


Wines:

Score

Name

Notes

$

*

Desert Wind Ruah Wahluke Slope 2006

Light in color, the 2006 Ruah has a complex nose with bright red fruit, raspberry, mineral, and mocha notes. The wine opens and expands with a very even attack, mid-palate and finish. An exceptionally well-balanced wine at this price point and a steal if on sale. Cab Franc; Cabernet; Merlot. Note: Needed to open up for 30+ minutes to shake off the greenness.

$15

*

Waterbrook Melange 2005

White pepper, sage, and mineral on the nose. An even mid-palate with a nice, puckering finish. Not a big wine but well put together. Consider buying if you find it on sale, otherwise you can do better for $15. 40% Merlot; 32% Caberbet; 18% Sangiovese; 7% Cab Franc; 3% Syrah.

$15

*

Hedges Family Estate CMS Red Columbia Valley 2006

Lots of mineral notes, red currant, and red fruit on a nose reminiscent of a Rhone-style wine. A medium-bodied wine that builds to a crescendo. 52% Cabernet; 44% Merlot; 4% Syrah.

$12

+

Columbia Crest Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

A decent but not particularly complex nose with spicy plum mixed with dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and mocha powder. Black cherry dominates the taste and finish. A doughnut hole wine that is round on the front and edges but is thin on the mid-palate.

$11

.

Columbia Winery Columbia Valley Merlot 2005

A good nose, fitting of a more expensive wine, with spice, cedar, and boysenberry. The taste is a bit of a let down, being focused up front and finishing with a real sandpaper feeling on the tongue. This wine improved quite a bit over the course of an hour with the tasted being tamed a bit. However, if it’s not “drink me now” at this price point, I don’t drink it ever.

$12

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Recently I reviewed Cadence's 2006 Coda, so I thought it would be a good time to look back a couple of releases and see how they are holding up.


2004 was a breakthrough year for Cadence. They planted their own estate vineyard, named Cara Mia, on Red Mountain. Fruit from the Cara Mia vineyard will be featured in the 2006 releases, of which the Coda was the first. Go here to read an excellent write-up of the research and work that went into creating this vineyard.


Cadence’s 2004 releases all received 91+ point ratings from Wine Spectator which gave the winery a considerable amount of well-deserved attention. These wines taste every bit as good with another year in the bottle.


See a writeup of Cadence's 2005 releases here.



Wines:

Score

Name

Notes

$

*

Cadence Ciel du Cheval 2004

Red fruit aromas highlighted by strawberries and dried cherries. Hints of baking chocolate and rose petals. An almost candied aroma. A dry wine with a light but pleasing finish. Light in color. 39% Cab Franc; 32% Cabernet; 21% Merlot; 8% Petit Verdot.

$40

*

Cadence Klipsun 2004

Dried fruit and flower aromas with a similar candied note found on the Ciel. An expansive mid-palate. Nice tannins on the back end. 66% Merlot; 34% Cabernet.

$40

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