What a year 2009 has been.
Washington bonded its 600th winery in February. The number of licensed wineries now exceeds 650, up from about 150 ten years ago. Two new American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) were approved in 2009 – the Snipes Mountain AVA and Lake Chelan AVA. This brings the total number of Washington AVAs to eleven with more expected in the coming year.
2009 was a year of unprecedented recognition for the Washington wine industry. Wine Spectator listed Columbia Crest’s 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon as its ‘Wine of the Year’ – the first time a Washington wine has been in the top spot. Spectator included a total of nine wines in their annual top 100, a record number for this publication.
Wine Enthusiast listed Charles Smith’s 2006 Royal City Syrah as their number two wine of the year. Enthusiast’s Enthusiast 100 included eleven wines, their Best Buy list included fifteen Washington wines, and their Cellar Selections list included four.
But the accolades did not stop there. Wine & Spirits named Walla Walla’s Charles Smith their ‘Winemaker of the Year’. Wine Enthusiast named Ste. Michelle Wine Estate’s CEO Ted Baseler ‘Person of the Year.’
Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, and Wine Enthusiast each rated a large number of Washington wines 90 points or higher. Wine Spectator also gave its highest ratings ever for a Washington wine to a white wine and also its highest rating yet for a Washington red.
In other news, 2009 saw another print publication - Washington Tasting Room - added to the family. It also saw the opening of a Washington wine-dedicated retailer, Full Pull Wines.
The economy started putting pressure on eastern Washington wineries, and a number responded by opening tasting rooms west of the crest. Many wineries backed up on vintages, some chose not to make wine in 2009, and high end, mailing list-only wines appeared in quantities unseen on retail store shelves. While Washington wine sales increased nationwide, consumers started buying less expensive wines. The economy also affected the restaurant industry, perhaps most notably with five Walla Walla restaurants closing their doors at the beginning of the year.
Amazon.com decided to pull out of its foray into the wine selling business. Especially in a down economy, the effects of this will be far reaching on the Washington wine industry.
The 2009 growing season and harvest was more uneven than the state has seen in recent years, most notably due to the October frost. Time will tell what effect this will have on the wines from this vintage.
For all the happy moments in 2009, there were sad times as well including the passing of former Columbia Winery winemaker David Lake.
That's it for 2009 folks. Have a great New Year’s Eve and a good start to the new year. Thanks reading the blog this year. Whatever 2010 may bring, one thing is clear. The future looks bright for the Washington wine industry. First post of 2010 will be next week.
What a year 2009 has been.
A look back at some of my personal favorites from the blog each month as we close out the year. Enjoy!
January saw the release of my 2008 Walla Walla Holiday Barrel Tasting Report. This one is more .pdf than post but...
February’s was a post on the importance of buying wine directly from wineries and what wineries can do to help them.
March’s was a Focus Report on Gramercy Cellars.
April’s was a story on drawing the ire of Dionysus by drinking a wine too early, in this case a 2007 Leonetti Merlot.
May’s was a look at Seattle Uncorked’s annual Syrah event.
June’s was a post on CellarTracker.
July's was a comparison of Washington Syrah to Australian Shiraz in terms of quality and price.
August's was a post on Cote Bonneville’s record breaking Cabernet.
September's was a Focus Report on Kerloo and Rotie Cellars.
October’s was a look at Quilceda Creek's 2006 Cabernets and the first post in the EAT & DRINK in the Northwest series.
November's was a series of posts comparing Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. See Part I, II, and III (Note: The promised Part IV on final thoughts is coming next month).
December’s was the 2009 Vintage Report and a look at Cayuse Vineyards 2007 Syrahs.
Happy New Year!
Note: This list is available with tasting notes in .pdf form here.
Others have weighed in. As we close out the year, it’s my turn to list my top wines of 2009. First let me say that any such list is, of course, subjective. Perhaps some year I will make a bracket system and compare these wines directly against each other, but until then…
Let's start with some background.
1. To be considered for the list, a review of a wine needed to be published on my blog in 2009. There were a number of wines I sampled toward the end of this year, such as those from
2. I evaluated based on rating, my overall excitement about the wine, and price. In terms of rating, all wines below received either a double or single star in my rating system. In terms of excitement, I focused on wines that stood out in the weeks and months after I sampled them.
3. I excluded wines that were considered for last year’s list, even if they were published this year (such as wines from 2008 Walla Walla Holiday Barrel Tasting which were published in January).
4. Although there were many wines I sampled this year, there were many (many) more that I did not. This is one of the things I find the most humbling and exciting about
What follows is therefore a list of Washington wines I sampled and posted on in 2009 that I was the most excited about. Nothing more. Nothing less. As with last year, I included only one wine from each winery. Without further ado…
1. Forgeron Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Champoux Vineyard 2004 $46
Of the many wines I tasted this year, none wowed me more than this gem from Marie-Eve Gilla at Forgeron. As I described in my original post, this was a wine that literally brought all conversation to a stop. From one of Washington’s finest vineyards and one of its finest winemakers. Reviewed July 16, 2009
2. Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Palengat Vineyard 2006 $83
While the Columbia Valley wine is its equal or better, the Palengat Cabernet is the one that impressed me the most from this vintage. This is Quilceda’s first release from this recently acquired vineyard located near Champoux Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills (the vineyard was planted in the early part of the decade; fruit from this vineyard was previously used by other wineries). This wine stands tall with the other offerings in Quilceda’s portfolio. Reviewed October 26, 2009
3. Betz Family Winery La Serenne Syrah 2007 $55
While the 2007 La Serenne Syrah from Betz Family Winery is probably the least immediately accessible of their new releases, it also brings the most long-term potential. The fruit from Dick Boushey’s vineyard has never been better. This is a dark, brooding, intense wine that needs significant time in the cellar to fully blossom. Reviewed September 14, 2009
4. Leonetti Merlot Walla Walla Valley 2007 $70
In the sequel to Sideways, Miles is waterboarded with this wine. He comes away a believer. Read the original post for a cautionary tale about using decanters with rounded bottoms. Reviewed April 11, 2009
5. Corliss Estates Red Wine Columbia Valley 2004 $65
This is Corliss Estates’ second released vintage, and none of their wines disappoint. This Bordeaux-style blend, while already five years old, will only improve with patience and time in the cellar. Reviewed September 29, 2009
6. Gramercy Cellars John Lewis Reserve Syrah 2006 $65
This is a wine that I literally lay awake thinking about for several weeks after I tried it. Was I thinking about this wine because I couldn’t fall asleep, or could I not fall asleep because I was thinking about this wine? It’s not clear. The bad news? This wine is long sold out at the winery. The good news? The 2007 vintage will be released next spring and is even better. Reviewed March 31, 2009
7. DeLille Cellars Harrison Hill 2006 $70
While many in Washington have gone big, this wine is notable for its elegant expression of a Bordeaux-style blend. The fruit comes from one of Washington’s oldest vineyards. Reviewed February 7, 2009
8. Cayuse Cailloux Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2007 $50
The grapes for this wine come from Cayuse’s oldest plantings in the “rocks” region of the Walla Walla Valley AVA. It shows on this exceptional offering. Reviewed December 28, 2009
9. Abeja Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2006 $42
Winemaker John Abbott creates some of Washington’s most compelling Cabernets. But he doesn’t stop there, making a Syrah, Chardonnay, and a Merlot that are also standouts. Reviewed August 2, 2009
10. 21 Grams 2006 $125
This Bordeaux-style blend is a collaboration of two of Washington’s finest wineries, Waters and Gramercy. One hundred cases are made annually with each vintage bearing a unique label made by artist Makoto Fujimura. Reviewed in 2008 Walla Walla Spring Release Report
11. Andrew Will Sorella Horse Heaven Hills 2006 $75
2009 marks the twentieth year since Andrew Will Winery was founded by Chris Camarda. The Sorella is the winery’s flagship wine with fruit from Champoux Vineyard. Reviewed April 10, 2009
12. Kerloo Cellars Les Collines Vineyard Syrah 2007 $32
Few new wineries excited me as much in 2009 as Ryan Crane’s Kerloo Cellars. This is one of two inaugural releases from this winery. The second is a Walla Walla Valley Syrah that goes head to head with this wine. Having tasted a number of wines in the barrel, there is much to look forward to from this winery. Reviewed September 11, 2009
13. Trust Cellars Columbia Valley Riesling 2008 $16
Riesling excels in Washington, and this offering from winemaker Steve Brooks shows the state at its best. Reviewed July 14, 2009
14. Beresan Stone River Walla Walla Valley 2005 $35
Beresan is a Walla Walla Valley winery nestled up against Pepper Bridge Vineyard. Fruit for the 2005 Stone River comes from Cobblestone Estate Vineyards and Pepper Bridge Vineyard. This is a thrilling wine that displays a unique aromatic and flavor profile from others in the state. Reviewed February 5, 2009
15. Rotie Cellars Southern Blend 2007 $35
This is another wine I have spent a lot of time thinking about in 2009. The 2007 Southern Blend is a wine that becomes more and more impressive with each sip. This is one of the inaugural releases from Sean Boyd’s Rotie Cellars, a winery on the way up. Reviewed September 11, 2009
16. Spring Valley Vineyards Uriah Walla Walla Valley 2006 $50
Spring Valley Vineyards is situated in a unique spot in the Walla Walla Valley, far north from most of the AVAs’ vineyards. The winery consistently produces exceptional wines that possess the ever elusive terroir. Reviewed July 21, 2009
17. Owen Roe Syrah Lady Rosa Yakima Valley 2007 $42
While Owen Roe is located in Oregon, many of the wines they produce use grapes from Washington such as this Syrah from the Yakima Valley. Reviewed April 28, 2009
18. Buty Sémillon, Sauvignon, Muscadelle Columbia Valley 2008 $24
For Buty winemaker Caleb Foster, this is the seventeenth vintage he has made this Bordeaux-style blend in Washington. It shows on this gorgeous wine. Reviewed September 15, 2009
19. K Vintners The Boy Walla Walla Valley 2007 $45
Fruit for this wine comes from Cayuse’s Armada Vineyard. It seems like it might be time for a tasting alongside Cayuse’s God Only Knows Grenache which hails from the same vineyard. Reviewed July 22, 2009
20. Walla Walla Vintners Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyard Select Walla Walla Valley 2006 $48
Walla Walla Vintners favors an opulent style that is rich with chocolate and cherry aromas and flavors. In exceptional years, the winery makes a vineyard select wine. This was clearly such a year. Reviewed December 2, 2009
21. Pepper Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2006 $50
Pepper Bridge is situated in a picturesque location south of downtown Walla Walla. Winemaker Jean-Francois Pellet crafts some of the state’s most compelling Cabernets. Reviewed April 12, 2009
22. Cadence Winery Taptiel Vineyard Red Mountain 2006 $44
While others accrue the accolades, winemaker Ben Smith quietly makes wines that are equally as good and that will outlive them all. Reviewed January 6, 2009
23. Mark Ryan Winery Dead Horse Ciel du Cheval Red Mountain 2007 $45
With 2007 one of Washington’s finest vintages and the fruit for this wine coming from one of the state’s best vineyards, how could acclaimed winemaker Mark Ryan McNeilly go wrong? He could not and does not on this excellent, age-worthy wine which perfectly displays the bold, rich style he favors. Reviewed October 20, 2009
24. Reynvaan Family Vineyards The Contender Walla Walla Valley 2007 $55
The Contender is one of the inaugural releases from Reynvaan Family Vineyards. This Syrah, which is co-fermented with Marsanne, is nothing short of exceptional. The fruit is from the initial plantings of the family's first vineyard, In the Rocks, in the southern section of the Walla Walla AVA. Vigneron Christophe Baron of Cayuse Vineyards serves as consultant. Reviewed December 22, 2009
25. Bunnell Family Cellar Boushey-McPherson Vineyard Syrah 2006 $42
Winemaker Ron Bunnell learned the trade at Chateau Ste. Michelle, Beringer Vineyards, and Kendall-Jackson before turning his attention to his own small, family-run winery. This Rhone varietal focused operation produces consistently impressive results. Reviewed May 6, 2009
26. Dusted Valley Vintners Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2006 $45
Dusted Valley Vintners is one of a number of eastern Washington wineries that opened tasting rooms in the Woodinville area in 2009. While this Reserve Cabernet was worth the five hour trip for west-siders, now you truly have no excuse. Reviewed September 25, 2009
27. Pomum Cellars Shya Red Wine Yakima Valley 2005 $38
Back in May then blogger/now Washington wine retailer Paul Zitarelli and I drew swords – each looking for a wine that was both extremely impressive and that the other had not tasted. While this battle continues (think “House of Flying Daggers” where seasons pass by as the two are locked in combat), this was a strong opening move by Mr. Zitarelli. In addition to this excellent Bordeaux-style blend, Pomum Cellars, located in Woodinville, is also one of a small number of Washington wineries to show success with Tempranillo. Reviewed May 13, 2009
28. Amavi Cellars Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2007 $28
Few make better wines at more compelling price points than Walla Walla’s Amavi Cellars. The 2007 Syrah is a beautiful expression of this varietal from perhaps Washington’s finest vintage. Reviewed October 6, 2009
29. Gorman Winery Evil Twin Red Mountain 2007 $55
Chris Gorman makes bold, expressive, small lot wines that display no shortage of fruit, tannins, French oak, and alcohol. Look for Gorman’s Collaboration Series V from Grand Reve in the future. Reviewed September 18, 2009
30. Olsen Estates Chardonnay Yakima Valley 2007 $25
What’s this you say? A Chardonnay on my list of top wines of 2009? No one could be more surprised than I am, yet here it is. This wine is a tribute to the varietal and proof that even long-time enemies can sometimes make up and be friends. Reviewed December 4, 2009
31. Walter Dacon Winery C’est Syrah Magnifique 2006 $42
Walter Dacon Winery is located in Shelton, Washington. Winemaker Lloyd Anderson, who previously worked with Doug McCrea at McCrea Cellars, devotes himself to Rhone and Mediterranean-style wines. Reviewed April 9, 2009
32. Va Piano Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia & Walla Walla Valley 2006 $38
Va Piano’s motto is “He who goes slowly, goes safely and goes far.” This Walla Walla winery not only boasts one of the most picturesque settings in the valley, it also produces some of its most enjoyable, understated wines. Reviewed August 5, 2009
33. Ardenvoir Sémillon Sauvignon Blanc 2008 $22
Ardenvoir is a second label for Walla Walla’s Chateau Rollat that focuses on white wines and roses. Reviewed November 19, 2009
34. Long Shadows Pirouette Columbia Valley 2006 $55
Long Shadows Pirouette is a conundrum for me. I consistently enjoy this wine – a Bordeaux-style blend with a bit of Syrah - from winemakers Philippe Melka and Agustin Huneeus. That said, I often wonder whether the unique expression of Washington gets lost somewhere in the blend. Reviewed July 23, 2009
35. Lantz Cellars Syrah Rattlesnake Hills 2006 $28
Lantz Cellars is another new Washington winery celebrating its inaugural releases in 2009. This wine from winemaker Kevin Lantz came in first as the People’s Choice at Seattle Uncorked’s Annual Syrah Event. Reviewed August 7, 2009
36. Adams Bench Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon “V” 2006 $42
Adams Bench is located in Woodinville in a pastoral setting far away from the area’s office parks. Chris Camarda of Andrew Will Winery is the winery's long-time consultant. Reviewed February 18, 2009
37. Col Solare Red Wine Columbia Valley 2006 $75
Col Solare is the flagship winery for Ste. Michelle Estates. The winery recently built a new facility high on Red Mountain. This is the first release produced at the new facility. Reviewed August 27, 2009
38. Balboa Winery Sayulita 2006 $40
Tom Glase serves as owner and winemaker for Balboa Winery. The winery is situated on the corner of Pepper Bridge Vineyard next to Beresan (Glase also serves as winemaker at this winery). Balboa uses neutral oak for its wines to put the focus on the fruit and the vineyards. This wine is named after a favorite surfing spot. Reviewed in 2008 Walla Walla Spring Release Report
39. Nefarious Cellars Riesling Stone’s Throw Vineyard 2007 $18
Nefarious Cellars is located in the recently approved Lake Chelan AVA. Heather Neff makes the white wines and husband Dean makes the reds. Fruit for this Riesling comes from one of the winery’s estate vineyards. Reviewed April 29, 2009
40. Waters Syrah Forgotten Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2006 $40
Waters Winery makes a number of vineyard-designated Syrahs. None are more compelling than this offering from Forgotten Hills Vineyard, located in the middle of the Walla Walla Valley AVA. Reviewed in 2009 Walla Walla Spring Release Report
41. Reininger Carménère Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2006 $45
Reininger created its first Carmenére in the 2002 vintage. Since that time it has gone on to become a winery favorite. Reviewed in 2009 Walla Walla Spring Release Report
42. Syncline Wine Cellars Cuvee Elena Columbia Valley 2007 $35
Syncline Wine Cellars is located in the Columbia Gorge. This Southern Rhone-style blend shows winemaker James Mantone at his best. Mantone will also be making wines as part of Grand Reve’s Collaboration Series. Reviewed December 10, 2009
43. Guardian Cellars Chalk Line Columbia Valley 2006 $25
While Guardian Cellars’ winemaker calls this a “kitchen sink” wine, it does not resemble my kitchen sink in any way. Reviewed February 25, 2009
44. Long Shadows Sequel Syrah 2006 $55
Long Shadows is a venture by former Ste. Michelle Estates CEO Allen Shoup who pairs some of the world’s top winemakers with Washington fruit. Here winemaker John Duval, whose previous efforts include Penfolds’ Grange, sees what he can coax out of the state’s Syrah with impressive results. Reviewed July 23, 2009
45. Soos Creek Red Wine Artist Series #5 2005 $28
David Larsen is one of a number of winemakers who had his start in the Boeing Wine Club. After spending twenty-eight years in the finance department at Boeing, Larsen retired in 2004 to spend more time on winemaking and other endeavors. Reviewed February 9, 2009
46. Tranche Cellars Rousanne Viognier Columbia Valley 2007 $30
Tranche Cellars is a second winery from Michael Corliss, Lauri Darneille, and Kendall Mix. The first winery, Corliss Estates, had its inaugural release last year. The third, Red Mountain Vineyards, will have its first release in 2010. Reviewed on May 22, 2009
47. Glencorrie Cuvee Marquis Columbia Valley 2006 $45
Glencorrie is another new winery marking its first release. The winery is located on the way in to Walla Walla. Charlie Hoppes of Fidelitas currently serves as winemaker. Reviewed June 19, 2009
48. Domaine Pouillon Gewurztraminer Columbia Gorge 2008 $17
Domaine Pouillon is located in the Columbia Gorge in Lyle, Washington. The winery is named after owners Alexis and Juliet Pouillon. Reviewed December 15, 2009
49. Novelty Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2005 $25
Novelty Hill is located in Woodinville. Mike Januik serves as winemaker. Reviewed February 14, 2009
50. Barnard Griffin Riesling Columbia Valley 2008 $8
I first tried this wine alongside several other Rieslings as part of my monthly Five Under Fifteen series. Washington makes many outstanding Rieslings, but few can compete with this wine on quality and price. Reviewed August 31, 2009
Each year Wine Enthusiast publishes three Top 100 lists: Best Buys, the Enthusiast 100, and Top Cellar Selections. While having three Top 100 lists may seem excessive, doing so allows the publication to distinguish between wines that provide exceptional Quality to Price Ratios (QPR), wines that are their top wines overall, and wines that are both exceptional and noteworthy for their ageability.
Earlier this month the magazine published the last of these lists, so let’s take a look at them. Continuing what has been an extraordinary year of recognition, Washington was well represented in all three Enthusiast lists. In the Best Buys of 2009, Washington had an astonishing fifteen wines in the Top 100, an exclamation point on the exceptional QPRs Washington is offering. Ten of these wines were white wines; five were red. Wineries represented included both large-scale wineries, such as Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest, and other Ste. Michelle Wine Estates holdings, as well as smaller wineries, such as Merry Cellars, Milbrandt Vineyards, and Upland Estates.
The Enthusiast 100 – which the publication describes as their “favorite wines of the year” - listed eleven Washington wines. In a reflection of the 100 point score contributing editor Paul Gregutt gave to Charles Smith’s Royal City Syrah – his first - this wine was number two on the list. Other wines included long-time top producers Betz Family Winery, Andrew Will, Leonetti Cellar, and Woodward Canyon. However, the list also included up and coming wineries such as Fieldling Hills and Stevens. Of note, Rotie Cellars 2007 Southern Blend, one of the inaugural releases from this winery, also made the list (see a Focus Report on Rotie Cellars here).
While the Cellar Selections featured a smaller number of Washington wines than the other two lists, the wines were no less impressive. They included notable “lay me down” wines from Betz and Woodward Canyon. The second vintage of Chateau Rollat’s Edouard de Rollat was also listed. Finally, McCrea Cellars – a winery that consistently puts out top quality wine and manages to fly below the radar – rounded out the list.
The Washington wines from each list along with their ranks and associated scores are shown below. Writer Paul Gregutt who reviews Oregon and Washington for Wine Enthusiast also creates a Top 100 list each year which is devoted to Washington wine. See this list here.
100 Best Buys of 2009 (15 wines)
3. Pacific Rim Pacific Rim Organic Riesling Columbia Valley WA 2008 $14 92 points
11. Washington Hills Summit Reserve Late Harvest Riesling 2007 89 points $8
13. Kirkland Signature Merlot Columbia Valley 2006 $9 89 points
17. McKinley Springs Viognier Horse Heaven Hills 2007 $14 91 points
21. Merry Cellars Sauvignon Blanc Wahluke Slope 2008 $14 91 points
38. Upland Estates Gewurtzraminer Yakima Valley Snipes Mountain 2007 $14 90 points
43. Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling Columbia Valley 2008 $12 89 points
57. Arbor Crest Merlot Columbia Valley 2006 $15 90 points
63. Milbrandt Vineyards Traditions Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2006 $15 90 points
69. Hogue Cellars Cabernet Merlot Columbia Valley 2006 $10 88 points
71. Chateau Ste. Michelle Sauvignon Blanc Columbia Valley 2007 $10 88 points
73. Snoqualmie Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2007 $10 88 points
76. Covey Run Reserve Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2006 $10 88 points
80. Hedges CMS Red Columbia Valley $13 89 points
89. Columbia Crest Two Vines Gewurztraminer Columbia Valley 2007 $8 87 points
The Enthusiast 100 2009 (11 wines)
2. Charles Smith Royal City Syrah WA State $80 100 points
8. Poet’s Leap Riesling 2007 $20 94 points
16. Betz Pere de Famille 2006 $58 96 points
39. Fielding Hills Cabernet Sauvignon RiverBend Vineyard Wahluke Slope 2007 $38 95 points
62. Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2006 $85 96 points
73. Andrew Will Red Wine Ciel du Cheval Red Mountain 2006 $55 95 points
74. Buty 70% Semillon/26% Sauvignon/4% Musacadelle Columbia Valley 2007 $25 94 points
82. Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen Eroica Riesling Columbia Valley 2008 $24 93 points
86. Steven’s Black Tongue Syrah Yakima Valley $32 94 points
95. Rotie Cellars Red Wine Southern Blend 2007 $35 94 points
97. Woodward Canyon Merlot Columbia Valley $39 94 points
Top Cellar Selections of 2009 (4 wines)
4. Betz Family Winery La Serenne Columbia Valley 2006 $55 95 points
12. Woodward Canyon Estate Red Walla Walla Valley 2006 $59 95 points
44. Chateau Rollat Edouard de Rollat Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2006 $65 94 points
95. McCrea Cellars Cuvee Orleans Syrah Yakima Valley 2005 $40 92 points
Few wines in Washington are as compelling – or as controversial – as those from Cayuse Vineyards. The wines of Cayuse are quite simply unlike any other wines produced in the state. Many things contribute to this but they can all be summed up as follows – Christophe Baron.
Baron is a native of France who grew up studying enology in Champagne and Burgundy. Baron traveled in the Walla Walla Valley in the mid-1990s and noticed an orchard covered with large cobblestones that reminded him of those in Chateauneuf de Pape. In the ensuing years, Baron planted a number of vineyards in this unforgiving area, using crowbars to plant the vines.
Many things distinguish Cayuse from other wineries in the state. One of them is these vineyards. The vineyards are unique in a variety of respects in addition to the cobblestones (although Baron guards the stones carefully saying anyone who takes one is sentenced to seven years of bad sex). Unlike many in the state, Baron uses vines grafted to Phyloxera-resistant rootstock. He made this decision after talking with a French winemaker who told him he was an “idiot” if he did not (Note: An exception to this is Cailloux Vineyard which was planted in 1997). Baron also keeps yields extremely low, about two tons per acre to concentrate the fruit.
In farming the vineyards, Baron uses biodynamic principles. These principles were first laid out by Rudolf Steiner in the early 20th century. Biodynamic viticulture involves looking at the vineyard as a holistic system. While it shares some commonalities with organic farming, it also embraces a more spiritual and philosophical bent. Among other things, biodynamic farming involves creating a series of preparations that are applied to the vineyard, such as cow manure buried in a cow horn in the soil. While many debate the scientific effect of biodynamic principles on the resulting wine, one thing is clear. Embracing this philosophy requires a meticulous attention to detail and intense care for the vineyards.
As Cayuse Vineyards has grown in size to its current fifty-five acres, Baron says he has been forced to follow the biodynamic principles a bit differently than he did when he first started given that timing is essential. Though there are thirty people working at the vineyard full-time, plowing the vineyards all at the same time according to the lunar calendar is nearly impossible. Baron says he has had to become more pragmatic and flexible.
In terms of production, Baron ferments his wine in concrete tanks adorned with rocks from the vineyards before moving them to barrel. Baron jokes that these concrete tanks is where the minerality of his wines comes from. Still, he says it would be impossible to get the same effect he is looking for from other containers.
For his fermentation, Baron uses only native yeast – those that come from the grapes. This is in contrast to most winemakers who use designer yeast that is added to the juice. For this reason, fermentation at Cayuse is sluggish compared to many in the state, often taking more than three weeks (compared to 7-10 days for those that add yeast). This can create a number of challenges in the winemaking process. For example, for the 2009 vintage of one of the tanks had not started fermentation after seven days of waiting. Baron solved the issue by adding juice from a tank that was fermenting. Baron says that when the health of the vineyard is good, the yeast will be good saying “We don’t use forces of death. All we use are forces of life.”
Baron says he wants what is in the glass to provide “emotion”. In this, he surely succeeds. People love, hate, or are just plain baffled by Cayuse wines because they are so distinct. The wines are marked by aromas and flavors of earth, mineral, blood, iodine, and meat. They are, quite simply, unlike any other wines being produced in Washington.
Cayuse distributes its wine exclusively via mailing list with a years-long waiting list. The wines are sold in three packs and come in boxes bearing the winery’s logo. Since the initial releases, all of Cayuse’s wines have been highly rated and sought after. And with good reason. These are not only among the most interesting wines being made in the state; Baron has also kept his prices reasonable despite the steady high scores and the stream of accolades.
Cayuse makes a series of vineyard-designated Syrah from what is referred to as “The Rocks” area of the Walla Walla Valley AVA. These vineyards are named Cailloux, En Cerise (French for cherry), En Chamberlin, and Armada. Bionic Frog is the name of the winery’s top of the line Syrah. Cayuse also makes a Cabernet Franc-dominant Bordeaux blend (Flying Pig), a Cabernet-dominant Bordeaux blend (Camaspelo); a Cabernet (The Widowmaker); a Tempranillo (Impulsivo); a Grenache (God Only Knows); a Rose; and a Viognier.
Here we sample three vineyard-designated Syrah from the new 2007 vintage: the Cailloux, En Chamberlain, and En Cerise.
Note: All wines decanted two hours prior to tasting and sampled at 66 degrees.
Cayuse Vineyards Cailloux Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2007 $50 Rating: **
A downright stinky nose with manure, burnt embers, and purple fruit. A well fleshed out, meaty palate dominated by olive flavors in its rich, expansive middle. Drinks like a well-cooked steak. 14.2% alcohol.
Cayuse Vineyards En Chamberlain Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2007 $50 Rating: **
A funky, aromatic nose with mushroom, earth, mineral, streaky red fruit, floral notes, and healthy dose of black pepper. Thick and intense on a palate that has a perfect polish to it and is almost impenetrable. The palate shows lots of sliced black olives and pepper. The finish is seemingly endless. 14.6% alcohol.
Cayuse Vineyards En Cerise Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2007 $50 Rating: *
Blood, smoked meat, mineral, and earth on a nose that is restrained initially yet powerful. The palate is rich with fruit and flavors of bloody roast beef. The finish lingers. A compelling wine that is missing a few layers on the palate compared to its littermates. 14.6% alcohol.
Washington Tasting Room is a new print publication dedicated to Washington wine country. The magazine describes itself as a “tour guide to wineries and wine regions, people, restaurants and eateries, accommodations, sightseeing, entertainment, local artists, and will bring you ideas and inspiration for your home.” The first issue was released in the Fall, and the second, Winter issue was recently released.
The first thing one notices about Washington Tasting Room is that it is beautiful in appearance. The magazine features a glossy cover and gorgeous, eye catching photographs throughout. Organizationally, the magazine is composed of a series of articles with event calendar information interspersed between them.
In terms of articles, the magazine features Tour, Taste, Travel, and At Home sections. The Tour section contains articles on wineries and vineyards. The Taste section contains articles on cheeses, restaurants, recipes, and a Sommelier Q&A. The Travel section includes articles about resorts, recreation, and entertainment. The At Home section contains articles on art and other areas of interest. Additionally, the magazine features sections on news and tasting room opening.
One can always tell a lot about a magazine from its advertisements – who are their readers or, in this case, who do they want their readers to be? Advertisements here include those from hotels, transportation services, and, of course, wineries. The magazine seems generally targeted toward wine tourists and is sure to be a tasting room staple. I can imagine seeing a copy on the nightstand of a B&B in wine country.
The choice of devoting a fairly substantial portion of the magazine to food and wine events seems an interesting one, and, again, telling about the overall intention of the magazine. Given that Washington Tasting Room is a quarterly, it can’t provide up-to-the-minute listing of the latest goings on. Rather, these listings focus on various long-scheduled events in Washington wine country making one say “Oh look, there is a winemaker tasting in Bainbridge in February. Let’s go!” Event listings are broken down into regions across the state.
Overall, Washington Tasting Room is an interesting, visually attractive magazine that one can either flip through and find short pieces of information or spend more time with, reading the longer articles if one so wishes. A perfect wine touring companion.
John Vitale serves as Washington Tasting Room’s publisher and editor. Contributors include Linda Hagen Miller, a freelance writer; Steve Roberts, author of the WineTrails book series and websites; Kori Voorhees, editor of Wine Peeps; Jim Tassielli, owner of a consulting firm that works with cheese makers and retailers; David LeClaire, sommelier and founder of Seattle Uncorked; food writer Cynthia Nims; and freelance writer Jill Perillo Clark.
Washington Tasting Room produces four issues annually. Issues are available by subscription ($20 annually) or at various locations such as wineries, restaurants, wine bars, and retailers ($6.95 per issue).
No post tomorrow. Happy holidays everyone.
A round-up of stories on Washington wine from December 15th to 21st.
From around the country...
The Annapolis Capitol recommends Columbia Crest’s Grand Estates Merlot and Cabernet.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch recommends Three Rivers 2007 River’s Red.
The LA Times recommends giving Washington wines to bosses and associates with callouts to Pepper Bridge, Andrew Will, L'Ecole No. 41 and Col Solare.
From the blogosphere...
Wine and Beer of Washington State gives a list of favorite under fifteeners from local bloggers.
Through the Walla Walla Grapevine writes about Tru Cellars and Holiday Barrel Tasting.
Beyond the Bottle writes about a trip to the Lake Chelan AVA.
Wine Peeps goes back to old favorites. They also try Ch. Ste. Michelle’s 2008 Chardonnay, Mountain Dome’s 2004 sparkling wine, write about Basel Cellars, and talk with Becky Snyder of Hollywood Hills.
The Oregon Wine Blog writes about Washington port-style wines. They also write about stops at Kana, Gilbert Cellars, and Plaza Socievole.
WAwineman writes about Castillo de Feliciana’s 2008 Pinot Grigio.
A Meal Without Wine writes about Lake Crest Winery.
Woodinville Wine Update writes about more Woodinville wineries who tweet.
WINO magazine writes about the Bunnell Family Cellars 2007 Vif. They also look at new Kamiak releases and write about Nodland Cellars and Nefarious Cellars.
The Examiner writes about Wedge Mountain Winery.
Yak Yak Wine writes about Alexandria Nicole 2007 Mr. Big Petite Syrah, winner of our 2009 Reader Survey Wine of the Year.
The Walla Walla Food and Wine Guy does some blending trials.
Wine Foot writes about the 2006 Col Solare (typo alert!).
Vint-Ed writes about Seven Hills Winery.
Pepper Bridge Winery writes about 2009 Holiday Barrel Tasting.
LaJollaMom reviews the 2006 Goose Ridge Red Wine.
The Washington Wine Guy writes about the 2006 Cayuse Armada and 2007 Reynvaan In the Rocks Syrah.
Toledo Wines and Vines writes about Washington wine with callouts to Thurston Wolfe, Alexandria Nicole, Five Star, Elegante, DaMa, and Make the Dash Count.
JustLuxe writes about Bunnell Family.
From the locals...
WSU writes about Washington wines in Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100.
The San Francisco Chronicle puts 14 Washington wines in its top 100.
That’s all folks!
This is part of a series of monthly posts called EAT & DRINK In The Northwest. The series is written by Marcus Pape and Melissa Peterman, authors of books by the same name. Read more about the series here.
EAT & DRINK In The Northwest
A HOLIDAY ENTERTAINING CLASSIC: CHEESE & WINE
When it comes to holiday gatherings, there is no offering more coveted in my opinion than the cheese tray. Whether it’s specifically for pairing with wine or just another accompaniment, there are a few tips to know before setting out any old cheese selection.
Cheese Tray Tips
Choose a variety of cheeses made from a variety of milks: cow milk, goat milk and sheep’s milk.
Think color. You don’t want all your cheeses to be cream or white colored. There are several gorgeous blue cheeses, bright cheddars, wine-soaked rinds and yellow goudas.
Allow cheeses to come to room temperature before serving, approximately 25 minutes. Soft cheeses need to be served soft. When cheese is cold, just like wine, the true flavors are hidden.
With anything salty, it’s always nice to pair it with something sweet. Add seasonal fruit, jam or mostarda to balance out the flavors as well as bring out the subtleties from the cheese. Many people add honey or even a lovely honeycomb for a show stopping presentation.
Think wine. If you are building a holiday cheese plate, you may be pairing it with deeper reds. That may lend you to more blue style cheeses, or other aged or richer styles like Camembert.
Provide a variety of “vehicles” for the cheese, like soft bread, crackers and pita chips. Nothings more sad than a gorgeous gooey brie with nothing to smear it on.
For a tasty and colorful twist to stark white goat cheese, you can mince a variety of fresh herbs and roll your goat cheese roll through it. Great to do it with spices, nuts or simple black pepper.
Lastly, presentation. There are so many lovely cheese trays, slate boards and granite slabs out there to show off your cheeses. For a nice wine themed tray you may even want to look into an oak barrel end.
Pairing Cheese & Wine
Cheese is one of the oldest and most common pairings with wine. When paired successfully, they can both do their part to bring out the best in each other. Just like wine, cheese comes in hundreds, if not thousands, of variations from body, flavor, smell, color and age. But with so many options for both cheese and wine the pairing decisions can be intimidating.
When pairing cheese with wine the first thing to remember is that if it tastes good do it! But of course not all wines taste good with all cheeses. Some flavorful cheeses can obliterate the wine they are paired with, making it taste flat and thin, and vice versa. So, even though it comes down to personal taste there are some general guidelines that may help the process. The following pairing suggestions provide a good place to start for pairing cheese and wine.
Cheese: Blue Cheese
Recommended Wines: Cabernet, Zinfandel, and Port
Featured WA Wine: Hogue Cellars Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
This wine is ripe and fruity on the palate with a touch of clove, cinnamon, and lavender.
Cheese: Camembert or Brie
Recommended Wines: Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Sparkling Wine
Featured WA Wine: Mountain Dome Non-Vintage Brut, Washington
This wine is soft and appealing with its pepper, pear and spice flavors.
Cheese: Goat Cheese
Recommended Wines: Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, or Pinot Noir
Featured WA Wine: DiStefano Winery Sauvignon Blanc
Flavors of pears, white peaches, and green apple with a touch of lemon peel and lime in the background.
Reynvaan Family Vineyards was established by Mike and Gale Reynvaan in 2004. Mike and Gale’s son Matt serves as winemaker. Reynvaan, who released its inaugural wines earlier this year, produces wines from 100% estate fruit from the Walla Walla Valley.
The winery currently has two vineyard sites. The first, In the Rocks, had its initial plantings in 2005. The family worked slowly, first planting five acres and then adding an additional five each year. The vineyard, which is currently fifteen acres, is planted to Syrah, Cabernet, Viognier, Marsanne, and Grenache Blanc. The second vineyard, Foothills in the Sun, is located near the Reynvaan family home. This location, which will be the site of the future winery, is nestled up against the Blue Mountains far along Cottonwood Road. The vineyard was planted in 2007 to Cabernet, Syrah, and Viognier. The first fruit from Foothills in the Sun is expected in 2010.
Earlier this year, Reynvaan announced that vigneron Christophe Baron of Cayuse Vineyards has been working as their viticulture and wine consultant. Baron has been involved in every step at the winery, from helping pick out vineyard sites to laying out the vineyards to making the 2007, 2008, and 2009 vintage wines at the Cayuse facility.
The inaugural releases from Reynvaan come from the first five acres planted at the In the Rocks vineyard. The first listed here is called “The Contender.” While the name is audacious and harkens to the names of some of the K Vintners wines, the wine lives up to the billing. This wine, a Syrah co-fermented with Marsanne, brings compelling aromatics and is rich and focused on the palate. The second wine, named In the Rocks after the vineyard, is Syrah co-fermented with Viognier and a splash of Marsanne. This wine, while not as fully fleshed out as The Contender, still shows the exceptional promise of this vineyard. Both of these red wines display Cayuse influences with earth, mineral, and focused fruit flavors. The third is a different beast altogether. This wine, a Rhone-style blend of Marsanne and Viognier, is the most limited of the three. While this wine has a great deal of appeal, the alcohol comes off as a bit heavy at times.
In a similar fashion to how Baron offers his Cayuse wines, Reynvaan offers its wines a year in advance through a mailing list. The 2008 releases – which were sampled during Fall Release and will be included in my upcoming report of this event – show the additional heft of another year of vineyard age.
The 2007 Reynvaan releases are sold out at the winery but are available through a variety of retail stores as well as on-line. These wines, while unique from those offered by Cayuse, show as similar an inspiration as one will find in Washington. While the Cayuse mailing list is close to uncrackable, the Reynvaan mailing list is currently open. However, with releases like these, that is sure to change.
Reynvaan Family Vineyards The Contender Syrah WWV 2007 $55Rating: **
Nose is a bit restrained initially with campfire, reductive aromas, and game. As it opens up, it explodes with purple fruit, mineral aromas, manure, earth, and flowers pushing their way up through it all. Thick and intense on a palate rich with fruit and lots of soil and bacon flavors. Beautifully balanced with depth and layers of complexity. Finish hangs. Syrah co-fermented with Marsanne. 13.99% alcohol.
Reynvaan Family Vineyards In the Rocks Syrah WWV 2007 $45 Rating: *
An aromatic wine with smoke, bacon fat, potting soil, lots of floral notes, vegetable aromas, fruit, and savory notes. Vibrant on the palate with a lot of intense fruit flavors. Dips just a bit in the mid-palate and isn’t entirely filled out at times but this will change as the vineyard matures. An excellent first release from this winery. Syrah co-fermented with 6.5% Viognier and 1.5% Marsanne. 14.44% alcohol.
Reynvaan Family Vineyards Queen’s Road White Walla Walla Valley 2007 $40 Rating: +
Light golden color. Golden delicious apples on the nose along with spice. A good bit of weight to the palate that has almost an apple juice feel without the sweetness. A backsplash of alcohol toward the finish. 65% Marsanne, 35% Viognier. 14.79% alcohol.
Samples provided by winery.
Note: Folks scrambling for last minute wine-related gifts, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need some assistance.
December's Virtual Tasting is tonight! The wine is the Brian Carter Cellars 2007 Abracadabra. This wine retails for $20 and is widely available. For those of you in the Seattle area, Brian Carter is offering 15% off a purchase of a bottle of this wine at the winery through the 22nd. Also, as mentioned earlier, I have seen the 2006 vintage on the shelves in some spots, so I will be trying this wine as well. Feel free to pick it up if you see it.
As usual, I will be opening the wine about 7pm and will be updating this post with comments along the way. I will also be tweeting @wawinereport and using the hashtag #virtualtasting. Please join us in trying this wine and posting your comments/tweets either tonight or in the future.
7:00pm Update: And we're off! First, let's start with some background on the winery.
Brian Carter Cellars is located in Woodinville, Washington. Winemaker Brian Carter brings almost three decades of experience in the Washington wine industry and has made wines at Paul Thomas Winery (now defunct), Washington Hills, and Apex Cellars. Carter began making his own wines in 1997 with his first vintage of the Solesce. This wine, a Bordeaux-style blend, is now Brian Carter Cellar's flagship wine. Unlike most Washington wineries, Carter focuses exclusively on producing proprietary blended wines. These include two Bordeaux-style blends, a Super-Tuscan-style blend, and a Southern Rhone-style blend. The Abracadabra is Carter's table wine. This wine was first introduced in the 2005 vintage.
On to the wines.
7:30 Update: As I mentioned earlier, I am sampling both the 2006 and 2007 wines as I saw both on the shelves.
I'll start with the 2006. Popped and poured. Composite cork. Wine is at 66 degrees.
Let's see if we can dissect the components of this wine a bit. Pretty, smoky Syrah notes along with appealing Grenache red fruit on an enjoyable nose. Earth and slate aromas often seen in Washington Sangiovese. Also a nice component along with black licorice. I get a bit of alcohol on the nose. Taste is tart and front loaded with a lot of cherry fruit. A lot of different things going on that I'm having a tough time teasing out right now. My immediate impression is that I like the nose but the palate doesn't seem to entirely come together. Time to give the 2007 a try.
8:00 Update: Sticking with the 2006 for the moment, what I am finding most interesting about this wine is trying to dissect out the different components of the wine on the nose and taste. I'll scare up some information on the blend later but you can definitely pick up Syrah, Grenache, Sangiovese, and Cabernet. I find it a bit easier to pick them up on the nose than the taste right now.
Moving on to the 2007, this is an entirely different wine altogether. No surprise as Carter varies the composition of this wine each year. Lots of Cabernet on this beast. A pretty nose with cherry along with milk chocoate, light herbal notes, and black licorice. Harder right now to tease out the components of this wine on the nose outside of the Cabernet. The taste is, as with the 2006, quite thick and rich. This wine has a bit more immediate appeal than the 2006 with a more complete palate. Wait...what's that? Some Petit Verdot? Some Cabernet Franc?
8:30 Update: As I mentioned before, Brian Carter is reknowned for his blending skills.
The 2006 wine is predominantly Syrah. The winery states that "the following went into the cauldron"
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Kudos to the winery for providing the vineyard information which I am always interested in seeing. The 2006 wine is 13.8% alcohol. 1,313 cases were produced.
By comparison, the 2007 Abracadabra predominantly Cabernet. The blend is:
35% Cabernet Sauvignon
17% Petit Verdot
14% Cabernet Franc
The wine comes in at a somewhat surprising 13% alcohol, considerably lower that most in the state which are routinely between 14.5 and 15%. 1,599 cases were produced.
The 2007 vintage retails for $20. I received this wine as a sample from the winery. The 2006 wine retails for $18. I purchased this for $15 at Pete's Bellevue.
Next up, what the major publications had to say about these wines.
9:00 Update: Here what the major publications and others have to say.
Let's start with the 2006 vintage. Writing for Wine Enthusiast, Paul Gregutt gives this wine 87 points and writes:
Sappy, tannic and loaded with plum and blueberry, some cassis and chocolate. A good follow-up to the previous vintage, with very dark fruit, polished tannins and a lengthy, tasty finish of chocolate-covered cherries. - P.G. (12/31/2008) - 87
In CellarTracker, a total of 3 notes on the 2006 which averaged 85.5 points.
For the 2007 vintage, Wine Advocate gives the wine 88 points and says:
The red offering, the 2007 Abracadabra is a blend of 8 red grapes with Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot making up just over half of the blend. Dark ruby-colored, it displays an aromatic array of cigar box, cinnamon, violets, black cherry, and black currant. Medium to full-bodied, it has ample layered, savory fruit, a bit of structure, some complexity, and excellent length. It will offer pleasure over the next 3-4 years.
Only 1 note in CellarTracker for the 2007 which did not include a numerical rating but noted that the wine was initially a bit closed.
Some final thoughts on these wines. Both are, indeed, a cauldron of varietals. The 2006 brings a lot of interesting things on the nose including smoke, red fruit, and earth. The palate doesn't quite stand up by itself but would be fleshed out by some food. I like this wine a bit more for the intellectual exercise of teasing out the different varietals than straight-forward drinking enjoyment. I would give this wine somewhere between a . and + in my rating system. The 2007 brings more, especially on the palate which is pretty full-bodied, strongly dominated by the Bordeaux varietals. I would give this wine a + in my system.
Thanks to everyone who took part in this month's tasting. We'll do it all again next month. If you have a suggestion for the wine, pop me an email.
Reminder that December's Virtual Tasting is the 2007 Brian Carter Cellars Abracadabra and takes place on Monday December 21st. Read more about it here.
Palazzo Intercreative, a Seattle-based marketing firm, has teamed up with the Washington Wine Commission to launch what it is calling a “Unified Social Media PlatformTM” on the Commission’s website. The goal of the site is to increase information and awareness about Washington wine by promoting two-way communication with buyers, tourists, bloggers, and media.
The site aims to accomplish this goal in three main ways. The first is by providing video content on wineries, winemakers, vineyards, and growers. This content will be available both from winery websites as well as from the Commission’s website. The videos that Palazzo produces will also be posted on the Washington Restaurant Association’s website to provide exposure to restaurant owners, chefs, and sommeliers. (Last year, Palazzo supported the launch of a similar platform, “WRA-TV”, for the Washington Restaurant Association.)
The second way is by working with wine bloggers nationwide through a “virtual blogging tour” to promote awareness of Washington wines by connecting bloggers with wineries.
The third way the site aims to increase awareness is by providing written information (an electronic press kit) about the wineries beyond what is currently available on the Commission’s site.
The site is being launched this week, starting with the first five wineries Palazzo has been working with - L’Ecole No. 41, Lodmell Cellars, Maryhill Winery, Cave B Winery, and Wilridge Winery.
Pennie Pickering, Principal at Palazzo Intercreative, says “We developed this platform in response to requests we were getting from our clients to simplify and streamline their Social Media Marketing initiatives. We are very excited that the Wine Commission recognized the power of this idea and has allowed us to realize it for them.”
The site will be linked from the main Washington Wine Commission website page under the listing “Social.”