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Walla Walla Valley Report 2011 Part IV

Friday, December 30, 2011

Below is Part IV of a report from the Walla Walla Valley including wines from L’Ecole No 41, Woodward Canyon Winery, Abeja, K Vintners, Tero Estates, and Walla Walla Vintners. Read Part I here, Part II here, and Part III here.

L’Ecole No 41


It can sometimes be difficult for established wineries to garner the attention that the upstarts do. But there’s nothing like reintroducing yourself to your customers to change that.

2011 was a good year for L’Ecole No 41, one of Walla Walla Valley’s oldest and most highly regarded wineries. It included a successful label change, website redesign, and overall rebranding. The results have helped energize sales nationally and bring the winery additional attention. To cap things off, L’Ecole landed a spot on Wine Spectator’s annual top 100 list – at No 41 no less.

The reason for L’Ecole’s continued success is, of course, it’s commitment to continually producing high quality wines. Tasting through the lineup, the consistency in quality is amazing, as is the quality to price ratio on the wines.

The current releases include some fun wrinkles. Note that, with the rebranding, the Recess Red is gone and is now listed as Red Wine. “I figured that if Quilceda Creek had a Red Wine, we could too,” managing winemaker and co-owner Marty Clubb says jokingly. One of the standouts in the current releases is the 2008 Seven Hills Vineyard Cabernet. The fruit came from the 20th leaf from this section of the vineyard, and this 100% Cabernet is a compelling expression of valley fruit.

In other news, the Perigee Red Wine has all five Bordeaux varietals for the first time. Finally, the winery produced a wine called L’Erudite, with all proceeds going to Whitman College. This Bordeaux style blend is half from Seven Hills and half from Pepper Bridge and is a fascinating comparison to the winery’s single vineyard bottlings from these sites. “We wanted it to be a really special wine but be uniquely different,” Clubb says. As usual, they have more than succeeded.

L’Ecole No 41 Luminesce Estate White Wine Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2010 $19

Rating: + (Good) An aromatically appealing wine with apricot, light barrel spices, and a touch of citrus. The palate is rounded and creamy with a textured feel and bright acidity leading to a drawn out finish. 67% Semillon, 33% Sauvignon Blanc. 14.5% alcohol. 850 cases produced.

L’Ecole No 41 Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2010 $19

Rating: +/* (Good/Excellent) Lightly aromatic with white apple and speckled oak notes. Light bodied but spreads out across the palate with a crisp, clean feel full of apple flavors. 100% Chardonnay. Schmitt and Evergreen vineyards. 14.5% alcohol. 4,650 cases produced.

L’Ecole No 41 Red Wine Columbia Valley 2009 $18

Rating: + (Good) A jumble of black and blue fruit with toasty spice. The palate is full of tart fruit flavors with grippy tannins. A high QPR wine. 55% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Syrah, 5% Malbec, 3% Petit Verdot, and 3% Cabernet Franc. Aged 18 months in French and American oak. 4,200 cases produced. Recommended

L’Ecole No 41 Merlot Columbia Valley 2008 $24

Rating: + (Good) Very pretty aromas of brambly red fruit, a toasty top note, and light chocolate with the oak stealing a bit of the show at times. The palate is tart and puckering. 82% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot, 2% Malbec. Aged 18 months in oak (30% new). 14.5% alcohol. 4,400 cases produced.

L’Ecole No 41 Estate Merlot Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2008 $36

Rating: * (Excellent) An aromatically fascinating wine with earth, high toned red fruit, and chocolate. The palate is simultaneously rich and understated with focused fruit flavors and a drawn out finish. A persistent earth component makes for a mesmerizing wine. 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc. Aged 18 months in French oak (40% new). 14.5% alcohol. 1,100 cases produced.

L’Ecole No 41 Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2008 $29

Rating: * (Excellent) Very pretty high toned herbal notes along with black cherry and licorice on an aromatically compelling wine. The palate is delicious and fruit filled, loaded with puckering, pure cherry flavors and chalky tannins. An huge value. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Bacchus, Dionysus, Stone Tree, Weinbau, Alder Ridge, Mirage, Candy Mountain, Klipsun, Pepper Bridge, and Seven Hills. Aged 22 months in oak (33% new). 14.5% alcohol. 4,600 cases produced.

L’Ecole No 41 Cabernet Sauvignon Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2008
$60
Rating: ** (Exceptional) An earthy wine full of ripe black cherries, toast, spice box, and high toned herbal notes. The palate is elegant and seductive with soft fruit flavors and grainy tannins. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged 22 months in French oak (50% new). 14.5% alcohol. 188 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

L’Ecole No 41 Perigee Red Wine Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2008 $49

Rating: */** (Excellent/Exceptional) An aromatic wine with spice, pepper, dark fruit, and dark chocolate. The palate is firmly structured with dry, dark, silky fruit flavors. This wine needs some time to show its best. Give at least two years. 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec, and 4% Petit Verdot. Aged 22 months in French oak (50% new). 14.5% alcohol. 1,000 cases produced.

L’Ecole No 41 Apogee Red Wine Pepper Bridge Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2008 $49

Rating: * (Excellent) A very toasty, spicy, barrel forward wine. The palate is rich with dark fruit flavors. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 8% Malbec, and 3% Cabernet Franc. Aged 22 months in French oak (50% new). 14.5% alcohol. 1,250 cases produced.

L’Ecole No 41 L’Erudite “The Scholar” Red Wine Walla Walla Valley 2008 $60

Rating: ** (Exceptional) A very appealing, earthy wine full of rich, focused dark fruit flavors, toast, incense, and spice box. The palate is rich and fruit filled with tart, puckering flavors and firm, grainy tannins. A gorgeous wine. 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec, and 2% Petit Verdot. Seven Hills and Pepper Bridge vineyards. 300 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

L’Ecole No 41 Syrah Columbia Valley 2008 $24

Rating: * (Excellent) An aromatic wine with spice, earth, and dark fruit. The palate is full of plump dark fruit flavors with silky tannins. Lingers on the finish. A hedonistic but very well balanced wine. 95% Syrah, 5% Grenache. Stone Tree, Bacchus, Candy Mountain, Mirage, Seven Hills, Clifton, and Alder Ridge. Aged 18 months in oak. 15.0% alcohol. 2,250 cases produced.

L’Ecole No 41 Estate Syrah Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2009 $36

Rating: */** (Excellent/Exceptional) Leaps up from the glass with wild blueberries, game, and mineral notes. The fruit flavors are supple and refined but with a real richness with a great deal of complexity. Give 6 months. 100% Syrah. Aged 18 months in oak (40% new). 15.0% alcohol. 1,210 cases produced.


Woodward Canyon Winery


Woodward Canyon Winery is one of Walla Walla Valley’s graybeards. The winery was founded in 1981 by Rick Small and Darcey Fugman-Small. Thirty years later, after helping put Washington state and Walla Walla Valley on the map, Woodward Canyon keeps cranking out quality wines. Throughout it all, the winery is still willing to experiment, such as adding a sprinkle of Syrah and Mourvedre to their 2009 Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Why? Simply to make it a better wine. Purists be damned!

While the oak gets a bit too much of a spotlight on some of the wines sampled below, Woodward Canyon remains one of Washington’s finest with a track record few can match.

Woodward Canyon Winery Chardonnay Washington State 2010 $44

Rating: * (Excellent) Aromatically arresting with spice, marzipan, and grass. The palate is textured, speckled with oak flavors. Lingers on the finish. 100% Chardonnay. Woodward Canyon Estate and Celilo vineyards. Fermented and aged in French Burgundy barrels (20% new). 14.5% alcohol. 454 cases produced. Reviewed November 18, 2011

Woodward Canyon Winery Estate Sauvignon Blanc Walla Walla Valley 2010 $26

Rating: * (Excellent) Lightly aromatic with citrus, lime zest, mineral, and gooseberry. The palate is full with great intensity and depth of flavors and bright acidity. A beautiful wine. 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Fermented and aged in stainless steel and neutral oak. 14.1% alcohol. 201 cases produced. Reviewed November 18, 2011

Woodward Canyon Winery Artist Series #17 Cabernet Sauvignon Washington State 2008 $49

Rating: + (Good) Aromas of vanilla, butterscotch, wood spice, herbal notes, and dark fruit. The palate is dense and rich, full of dark fruit flavors with oak accents. The oak is at the fore at present but may integrate with time. 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, and 4% Syrah. Champoux, Spring Creek, Estate, Sagemoor, and DuBrul vineyards. 15.3% alcohol. 2,573 cases produced.

Woodward Canyon Winery Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2008 $78

Rating: * (Excellent) Medium ruby. Aromas of dark toast, black cherry, cedar, and light herbal notes. Tart and puckering on the palate with rich fruit flavors and chalky tannins. Persists on the finish. Alcohol shows through at times. 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot. Champoux, Sagemoor, and Woodward Canyon Estate vineyards. 16.5% alcohol. 505 cases produced.

Woodward Canyon Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2009 $44

Rating: * (Excellent) Toasty, smoky oak spices meld with spice and dark, penetrating fruit aromas. The palate has a silky, understated richness, gliding along with well-integrated tannins leading to a lingering finish. 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 7% Syrah, 4% Petit Verdot, and 4% Mourvedre. 14.5% alcohol. 588 cases produced.


Abeja


Who makes better Cabernet than John Abbott at Abeja?

I have to confess that many times when I feel like having a Cabernet Sauvignon, the wines from Abeja are the first that come to mind and I find myself asking this question. Abbott has a knack for the grape and year after year makes some of Washington’s finest. It’s also worth noting that the price of Abeja’s Cabernet has remained steady for a number of years, while his peers’ prices have increased. “I want to deliver a lot of value for what we are,” Abbott says, and indeed the winery does.

Standouts from the current lineup also include a 100% Merlot from Heather Hill and Bacchus vineyards as well as a 100% Cabernet from Heather Hill. This is the first vineyard designated wine from the winery’s estate vineyard, and it’s clear tasting this bottle why it was time.

Heather Hill is located in the southern section of the Walla Walla Valley AVA, east of Seven Hills Vineyard, in what I fondly refer to as ‘the occupied area’ of the valley. The vineyard was planted in 2001 and Abbott credits much of the site’s accelerated development to the sustainable farming practices used (the vineyard is certified LIVE and Salmon Safe). With the vineyard showing this well at less than ten years of age, the future is bright.

Abeja Chardonnay Washington State 2010 $36

Rating: * (Excellent) Beautifully appealing light barrel accents along with tart apple and citrus. A lively, light to medium bodied wine with a textured, creamy feel. 14.0% alcohol. 100% Chardonnay. Conner Lee, Estate. Reviewed November 18, 2011

Abeja Viognier Walla Walla Valley 2010 $28

Rating: * (Excellent) Leaps up from the glass with speckled oak spices, white peaches, and marzipan. The palate is taut and textured with a bright zing of acidity. Reviewed November 18, 2011

Abeja House Red Red Wine Columbia Valley 2009 $21

Rating: * (Excellent) Lightly aromatic with peppery spice, black cherry, light herbal notes, and chocolate. The palate is full of fruit flavors that draw out on the finish. Consistently one of the highest quality to price ratio wines in the state. 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc.

Abeja Merlot Columbia Valley 2009 $38

Rating: ** (Exceptional) Locked up tightly at present with very pretty, refined high toned red fruit, milk chocolate, and licorice. The palate is soft and fruit filled with tremendous concentration and elegance. 100% Merlot. Heather Hill and Bacchus vineyards. Aged 13 months in French and American oak (60% new). 14.6% alcohol.

Abeja Cabernet Sauvignon Heather Hill Walla Walla Valley 2008 $55

Rating: ** (Exceptional) Very pretty, high toned herbal notes along with oak spice and dark cherries on a wine to linger over. The palate is concentrated and rich while remaining silky and light on its feet with beautifully integrated tannins and an incredibly persistent finish. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged 23 months in French oak (80% new). 14.8% alcohol.

Abeja Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2008 $42

Rating: * (Excellent) A very pretty aroma profile with high toned herbal notes, spice, dark fruit, and bittersweet chocolate. The palate is rich yet refined, far from overpowering with a mixture of concentrated fruit flavors and elegance. 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc. Heather Hill, Bacchus, Dionysus, Weinbau; Hedges Estate vineyards. Aged 25 months in French oak (60% new). 14.9% alcohol.


K Vintners


K Vintners continues to make some of Washington’s most compelling, uniquely styled wines. The 2009 vintage releases reviewed below are no exception.

Each year some of my favorite wines to try from K are ones that use Cayuse Vineyards fruit, such as the Roma Red Wine from En Chamberlain Vineyard. This Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah blend provides an interesting contrast to Cayuse’s En Chamberlin Syrah.

Among his many offerings, winemaker Charles Smith has helped shine a light on the Wahluke Slope AVA with vineyard designated bottles such as ‘The Deal’ Syrah from Sundance Vineyard. These wines also continue to offer some of the best values in the K lineup.

Of note, Smith recently opened a tasting room in downtown Walla Walla – the worldwide headquarters – where the K Vintners and Charles Smith wines are poured. The K wines also continue to be poured at winery facility east of town.

Charles Smith Viognier Stoneridge Vineyard Columbia Valley 2009 $50

Rating: * (Excellent) An aromatic wine with apricot, creamsicle, and spice. The palate is silky and textured, broadening and expanding towards a long finish.

K Vintners Roma Red Wine En Chamberlain Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2009 $65

Rating: ** (Exceptional) An earthy, funky, aromatically compelling wine full of olive brine, smoked meat, and savory notes. The palate is soft and silky with tremendous intensity of flavors. Lingers on the finish. 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Syrah. 14.5% alcohol. 191 cases produced.

K Vintners The Creator Red Wine Walla Walla Valley 2009 $55

Rating: */** (Excellent/Exceptional) Light, high toned aromas of smoked meat, berries, and mineral notes. The palate is full of winding savory flavors while remaining light on its feet. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Syrah. Cailloux and Old Stones vineyards. 14.5% alcohol. 635 cases produced.

K Vintners The Deal Syrah Sundance Vineyard Wahluke Slope 2009 $40

Rating: ** (Exceptional) Leaps up with green olive, smoked meat, and a perfumed floral notes. The palate is textured with incredible depth and inner mouth perfume. 100% Syrah. 15.5% alcohol. 360 cases produced.

K Vintners The Beautiful Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2009 $60
Rating: ** (Exceptional) An uber aromatic wine with abundant mineral, green olive, and ash notes. On the palate, a gorgeous, textured, richly flavorful wine with a long, drawn out finish. 95% Syrah co-fermented with 5% Viognier. 15.5% alcohol. 580 cases produced.


Tero Estates


I’ve traveled all over the United States and elsewhere and there are few places that I find as beautiful and compelling as Tero Estates. The winery is located in the southern section of the Walla Walla Valley AVA (again, within the occupied area). The Blue Mountains frame part of the landscape along with rolling hills of nearby vineyards. There is a nearby grain silo. Then there is Tero Estates beautiful production facility. Something about the area just conveys a sense of beauty and serenity. And surrounding it all is, Windrow Vineyard, Tero’s estate vineyard.

Windrow is a 32 acre site with 25 acres currently under vine. It is part of the first commercial vineyard planted in the Walla Walla Valley (read more about the vineyard and winery here). While this vineyard has a long history, Tero’s focus on using this vineyard for many of its wines puts a spotlight on this unique site. Seven Hills Vineyard is literally a stone’s throw, providing an interesting contrast.

The new releases from Tero continue to impress with two beautiful estate wines. I should also note that I tasted the winery’s 2008 Windrow Vineyard Cabernet Franc in a casual setting (meaning I wasn’t taking notes) and found it to be an extremely enjoyable bottle. Alas, this wine is sadly already sold out.

Tero Estates Windrow Red Wine Walla Walla Valley 2008 $55

Rating: * (Excellent) Medium ruby. This wine is locked up very tightly at present but opens to reveal red fruit, licorice, and occasionally somewhat strong herbal notes. The palate is broad and generous, full of cherry flavors that glide along to a tart, cherry filled finish. 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Malbec. 14.3% alcohol. 106 cases produced.

Tero Estates Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Windrow Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2007 $90

Rating: * (Excellent) An aromatically intriguing wine with orange peel, cigar box, herbal notes, and cumin. The palate has soft but broad fruit flavors, velvety tannins, and a lingering, spice filled finish. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. 66% Old Block and 34% North Plateau. 14.8% alcohol. 71 cases produced.


Walla Walla Vintners


What can I say about Walla Walla Vintners that I haven’t said before (read previous posts about the winery here)? Gordy Venneri and Myles Anderson continue to make top quality wines at prices that just don’t budge. To wit, here’s a look at the winery’s price for its Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon in recent years:

2007 $35
2005 $35
2003 $35
2001 $35
2000 $35

I think you can guess what the price of the 2008 vintage, sampled below, will be.

That’s right; across nine vintages Walla Walla Vintners has not raised its price on this wine one single dollar. In 1997 the wine cost $32 – a full fourteen years ago. People must have been scandalized when it subsequently increased three dollars.

This can only mean one of two things. Either this is benign neglect where Venneri and Anderson keep forgetting to increment the price year after year, or it is a deliberate decision. For anyone who has met the two, there can be no question which it is. This is a winery that prides itself on continually over delivering on quality for the price and always succeeds.

Now someone out there is probably thinking, “These are terrible business people. How could they do that?” However, the rate at which the winery’s first ever wine club filled up earlier this year would dispute that (the only reason Venneri and Anderson didn’t start one sooner is they didn’t want to seem gimmicky).

Walla Walla Vintners has a large and devoted following. And it’s not just because they’ve held their prices. It’s because their wines are consistently fantastic. Who could as for anything more?

Walla Walla Vintners Merlot Walla Walla Valley 2009 $28

Rating: * (Excellent) Medium ruby. An aromatically appealing wine with toasty spices, chocolate, red fruit, and light herbal notes. The palate is tart and lively with a creamy, silky feel and grainy tannins. Drinking a bit young at present. Give six months. 88% Merlot. 12% Cabernet Sauvignon. Chan, Dwelley, Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills vineyards. 14.2% alcohol. Sample provided by winery.

Walla Walla Vintners Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley 2009
$28
Rating: + (Good) Medium ruby. A classically Walla Walla Vintners styled wine with char, chocolate covered cherries, and spice. The palate is soft, silky, and light with a tart finish. 85% Cabernet Franc, 12% Merlot, and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. Dwelley, Cordon Grove, Sagemoor, Weinbau, Kilian, and Spring Creek vineyards. 14.2% alcohol. Sample provided by winery.

Walla Walla Vintners Sangiovese Columbia Valley 2009 $24

Rating: + (Good) An aromatically appealing wine with earth, cranberry, raspberry, dusty chocolate, and roasted coffee bean. The palate has winding, tart fruit flavors. Oak gets a little heavy at times but overall a winner. 80% Sangiovese and 12% Syrah and 8% Malbec. Desert View, Dwelley Kiona, and Goose Ridge vineyards. Sample provided by winery.

Walla Walla Vintners Bello Rosso Red Wine Columbia Valley 2008 $32

Rating: +/* (Good/Excellent) Medium ruby. Brightly aromatic with cranberries, chocolate, and earth. The palate is light and tart with soft tannins. 50% Sangiovese and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. Desert View, Kiona, and Sagemoor vineyards. 14.5% alcohol. Sample provided by winery.

Walla Walla Vintners Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2008 $35

Rating: * (Excellent) A somewhat brooding but appealing wine with dark cherries, herbal notes, chocolate, spice, and earth. The palate has silky fruit flavors with well integrated tannins and a lingering finish. 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec, 2% Carmenère and 2% Petit Verdot. Pepper Bridge, Dwelley, Windrow, Seven Hills and Frazier Bluff vineyards. 14.5% alcohol. Sample provided by winery.

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1 Responses to Walla Walla Valley Report 2011 Part IV

  1. Anonymous Says:
  2. I loved reading about some of the Walla Walla anchors. Woodward Canyone was the winery that first got me hooked, and I can't come to Walla Walla without paying them a visit. Their '99 Old Vines Cab still is one of the best I've had and will always be a distinct wine-tasting memory for me.

     

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