Today’s Fresh Sheet – new and recent releases – includes wines from Maison Bleue, Tulpen Cellars, Two Mountain, Smasne Cellars, Seufert Winery, Dowsett Family Winery, and Patton Valley Vineyard.
In a very (very) short time, Maison Bleue winemaker Jon Martinez has established himself as one of the state’s top winemakers. However, with the winery’s new releases, Martinez raises the bar even higher, with these wines competing with – and in some cases besting - the state’s top wines.
Maison Bleue’s latest releases contain some stylistic wrinkles. The 2011 Chardonnay from French Creek vineyard is a much fuller bodied, more fruit forward wine than previous vintages. Instead of using partial malolactic fermentation and partial stainless steel ageing, Martinez used full malolactic fermentation and oak aging in second and third fill barrels.
In terms of the new reds wines, the difficulties of the 2010 growing season have been well documented. “It was stressful has hell,” Martinez says of the vintage. “For things to work out the way they did, it took twice as much work. Maybe three times.” And the wines are just about that much better.
The 2010 Jaja Red Wine displays a heft and serious seldom seen in a wine at $25. Notably, Martinez included 26% of Mourvedre in the blend. “The big dose of Mourvedre took this to another level,” he says of the wine, which hails from Boushey and Upland vineyards.
The real stars of the show, however, are the La Montagnette Grenache and Gravière Red Wine. The 2010 La Montagnette Grenache is almost ethereal, displaying an exceptional purity of fruit. In terms of Washington Grenache, it is quite simply in a class by itself.
However, I am saving the best for last. For the 2010 Gravière Red Wine from Upland Vineyard, Martinez uses a whopping 75% Mourvedre along with 20% Syrah and 5% Grenache. The results are stunning. This is the finest Southern Rhone blend I have had from Washington to date and as good a wine as I’ve had this year. Just a baby now, this wine should last in the cellar as long as you care to hold it.
While the prices have increased on some of the new Maison Bleue wines, realistically, these wines were under priced before and, with quality this high, they still represent values.
Maison Bleue produces 3,500 cases annually. Read previous posts on the winery here.
Maison Bleue Au Contraire Chardonnay French Creek Vineyard Yakima Valley 2011 $25
(Excellent) This is a complex and intriguing expression of Chardonnay full of Bosc pear, hazelnut, melon, white peaches, lime zest, and spice on a surprisingly aromatic wine. A stylistic departure from previous vintages, the palate is medium plus bodied - a textured wine with richness without ripeness – with drawn out acidity, full of spice and citrus flavors. 100% Chardonnay. Fermented and aged in two and three year old French oak for five months. 100% malolactic fermentation. 13% alcohol. 650 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Maison Bleue Jaja Red Wine Yakima Valley 2010 $25
(Excellent/Exceptional) Pale ruby. An aromatic wine full of black and red raspberries, white pepper, plum, violets, and sage. The palate is tart and textured, chock full of drawn out red fruit flavors and floral notes with a white pepper filled finish. Considerably more gravitas than the 2009 and a wine that will only benefit from a few years in the cellar. 37% Grenache, 37% Syrah, and 26% Mourvedre. Boushey and Upland vineyards. 30% whole berries. Aged 10 months in two to five-year old French oak. Racked once with regular lees stirring. 14.5% alcohol. 390 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Maison Bleue La Montagnette Grenache Upland Vineyard Snipes Mountain 2010 $35
(Exceptional) Wound up tightly initially, this wine unfurls to reveal great aromatic complexity with wild raspberries, plum, peppery spice, and cassis. An incredibly compelling, rich mouthfeel that brings both weight and ethereal lightness with exceptional purity of fruit. A seemingly endless finish. Unlike any other Grenache being produced in the state, this wine is simply in a class by itself. 100% Grenache. 30% whole berries, 15% stem inclusion. Aged 10 months in five year-old French oak barrels. Racked once with regular lees stirring. 14.8% alcohol. 165 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Maison Bleue Gravière Red Wine Upland Vineyard Snipes Mountain 2010 $45
(Exceptional)Locked up tightly right now but chock full of white pepper, mineral, floral notes, herbal and ‘sauvage’ notes. The palate is richly flavored with stunning purity of fruit. Exquisitely balanced and light on its feet, with a textured feel full of white pepper, savory notes, and dark fruit flavors. Almost impossible to say where the wine ends and the finish begins, this wine hangs on as long as you want to count. As seamless as they come, this is a completely stunning wine that should lay down in the cellar for decades to come. On the high (high) side of the scale, this is as fine a Southern Rhone blend as the state has produced to date and as good a wine as I have sampled this year. 75% Mourvedre, 20% Syrah, 5% Grenache. 245 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Tulpen Cellars is the work of Ken Hart and Rick Trumbull. Hart, who serves as winemaker, is vineyard manager for a who’s who of Walla Walla Valley including Abeja, Dunham, àMaurice, and Walla Walla Vintners along with numerous other properties. Trumbull is a sustainable vineyard and orchard consultant and the founder of Sustainable Soil Solutions, which is dedicated to creating compost teas.
A simple story tells you much of what you need to know about Ken Hart. On the afternoon of my visit, I took a cab to Hart’s house to taste through the latest releases and stay for one of Hart’s famed dinners with a group of other guests. Giving the cab driver the address he said, “Oh, you’re going to Kenny’s house! You’re in for a treat.” Indeed, Hart is not just a skilled grower and winemaker, his home is also the best restaurant in town with multi-course meals complete with wine pairings for a room in this case of close to a dozen - no easy feat.
For the Tulpen wines, Hart takes the cream of what is already a very fine crop from the fruit that he works with. The results are wines of extremely high quality. Better yet, these wines are among the best values being produced in Washington - I can’t think of another winery with a stronger lineup of wines with sub-$30 prices. The only downside here is that production is microscopic, but these are wines worth seeking out.
Read a previous post about Tulpen Cellars here.
Tulpen Cellars Coalescence Red Wine Columbia Valley 2008 $26
(Excellent) The only thing better than the Tulpen Cellars wines themselves are the prices, and the 2008 vintage offerings are, again, among the better bangs for the buck in the state. This Cabernet Sauvignon dominant blend utilizes five Bordeaux varieties to create an aromatically appealing wine with abundant spice, herbal notes, cherry, floral notes, and milk chocolate. The palate is rich and hedonistic, full of chocolate and cherry flavors with grainy tannins. Lewis, Wallula, Tokar, Frazier Bluff, Les Collines, and Chelle den Millie vineyards. Aged in French oak (30% new). 14.2% alcohol. 74 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Tulpen Cellars Merlot Columbia Valley 2008 $28
(Excellent) Close to 100% varietal, this is a very pretty, classically Washington version of the grape full of raspberry, cherries, and milk chocolate aromas and flavors with plump, ripe tannins. Hangs on the finish. A bit wound up at present, give this one some time to open up to see it at its best. 95.2% Merlot, 4.8% Cabernet Sauvignon. Lewis and Wallula vineyards. 14.6% alcohol. 99 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Tulpen Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2008 $28
(Excellent) This is the yin to the 2008 Columbia Valley Merlot’s yang with identical fruit sources and blend percentages but with the varieties flipped. Locked up tightly at present, this wine opens to reveal high toned herbal notes, black cherry, and spice. The palate is taught and tight, full of black cherry flavors. Give one year or decant. 95.2% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4.8% Merlot. Lewis and Wallula vineyards. 14.1% alcohol. 107 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Tulpen Cellars Sangiovese Columbia Valley 2008 $24
(Good/Excellent) A moderately aromatic wine loaded with cranberry, raspberry, and light herbal and earth tones. The palate is full of ripe, tart cranberry flavors accented by a touch of chocolate. 93.9% Sangiovese (Lewis, Desert Hills), 6.1% Cabernet Sauvignon (Tokar, Heather Hill). 14.2% alcohol. 67 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Tulpen Cellars Syrah Columbia Valley 2008 $24
(Excellent) Though varietally labeled as Syrah, this is truly a Southern Rhone style blend. This is an aromatic wine with floral notes, raspberries, and white pepper. The palate is full of deliciously rich, ripe fruit flavors with lip smacking tartness and enough tannins to lay down in the cellar. 77.1% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre, 7.7% Grenache, and 5% Viognier. Mill Creek, Lewis, Art Den Hoed, and Wallula vineyards. 57 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Two Mountain Winery
Two Mountain Winery was established in 2002 by brothers Matthew and Patrick Rawn. The Rawns are one of a number of multi-generation farmers in the Yakima Valley.
Two Mountain is located in Zillah in the Rattlesnake Hills, a sub-appellation of the Yakima Valley AVA. The Rawns planted the 26-acre Copeland Vineyard there in 2002. Matthew Rawn serves as winemaker with Patrick overseeing vineyard operations (read the winery dog bios here).
All of the Two Mountain wines sampled below are aromatic, lighter bodied wines that are low in alcohol with less overt influence of new oak than often seen in the state.
Two Mountain Winery Hidden Horse Red Table Wine VIII Washington State NV $15
(Decent) Ground cranberries, orange peel, red raspberry jame, and red currant on a very fruit forward aroma profile. The palate is light bodied with soft fruit flavors and light tannins. 13.9% alcohol. Sample provided by winery.
Two Mountain Winery Lemberger Rattlesnake Hills 2010 $16
(Decent/Good) An aromatic wine with orange peel, cranberry, herbal notes, and a light medicinal note. The palate is medium bodied, soft and fruit filled. 82% Lemberger, 18% Merlot. 13.4% alcohol. Sample provided by winery.
Two Mountain Winery Merlot Yakima Valley 2008 $20
(Decent) Abundant cranberry, raspberry and mint on a fruit forward aroma profile. The palate is on the lighter side of medium bodied, soft and fruit filled with soft tannins and minimal oak influence. 94% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. 13.7% alcohol. Sample provided by winery.
Two Mountain Winery Cabernet Franc Reserve Yakima Valley 2008 $30
(Decent) A moderately aromatic wine with abundant herbal notes, crushed nuts, and pure cherry aromas. The palate is medium bodied, plush, soft and restrained with cherry flavors and soft tannins. A wood spice filled finish. 95% Cabernet Franc, 5% Merlot. 14.0% alcohol. Sample provided by winery.
Two Mountain Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Yakima Valley 2008 $25
(Good) A moderately aromatic wine with abundant herbal notes – almost veering toward the green veggies at times – along with black cherry, raspberry, and light chocolate. The palate on the lighter side of medium bodied with fresh fruit flavors and soft tannins. 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc. 13.8% alcohol. Sample provided by winery.
Winemaker Robert O. Smasne of Smasne Cellars comes from a fourth generation to raise crops in the Yakima Valley. Smasne started making wine in 1996. Since then he has created a long resume, which includes stints as assistant winemaker at Pepper Bridge and Amavi and director of winemaking at Alexandria Nicole.
Smasne started Smasne Cellars in 2006. The winery is an umbrella for several different labels - Smasne, Smasne Reserve, Farm Boy, and ½ Ass. Many of the Smasne wines focus on fruit from Upland, Lawrence, and Phinny Hill vineyards.
Smasne Cellars has tasting rooms in Woodinville and Kennewick with a production facility in Grandview.
Smasne Farm Girl Kaitlin Rayann White Wine Columbia Valley 2010 $14
(Good) Pale lemon yellow. A moderately aromatic wine with floral notes, peach, honeysuckle, and melon. The palate drinks off-dry, medium-plus bodied with a viscous feel, full of stone fruit flavors. 56% Roussanne, 39% Viognier, and 5% Marsanne. 13.5% alcohol. Sample provided by winery.
Smasne Cellars Aligoté Upland Vineyard Snipes Mountain 2010 $18
(Good) Pale straw colored. Very lightly aromatic with spice, straw, and hazelnuts. The palate is broad and medium bodied with a fleshy, textured feel drinking just off-dry. An intriguing bottle of this very seldom seen varietal that could pass for Chardonnay in a blind tasting. 13.5% alcohol. 45 cases produced. Sample provided by winery. Recommended
Smasne Cellars Morio Muscat Upland Vineyard Snipes Mountain 2010 $18
(Decent) Brightly aromatic with orange peel, honeysuckle, and lavender. The palate is dry and on the lighter side of medium bodied with abundant orange flavors and a lime note on the finish. Sample provided by winery.
Smasne Cellars ½ Ass Red Wine #3 Columbia Valley 2008 $36
(Good) Medium ruby. A fruit-forward wine with red currant, cranberries, crushed nuts, raspberries, high toned herbal notes, and wood spice. The palate is medium bodied, full of silky red fruit flavors with a wood spice filled finish. 63% Syrah, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot, and 2% Malbec. 14.2% alcohol. 74 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Smasne Cellars Block 3 Syrah Lawrence Vineyard Columbia Valley 2008 $35
(Good/Excellent) A lightly aromatic wine with cranberry, red fruit, floral notes, and mineral notes. The palate is soft with tart red fruit flavors that linger on the finish. 13.9% alcohol. 94 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Smasne Cellars Block 3 Syrah Lawrence Vineyard Columbia Valley 2009 $35
(Good) Medium ruby. A moderately aromatic wine full of wild blueberries, spice, violets, and light game notes. The palate is soft and silky with a tart finish. 13.9% alcohol. 71 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Smasne Cellars Carmenère Phinny Hill Vineyard Horse Heaven Hills 2008 $35
(Decent/Good) Brightly aromatic full of freshly snapped bell pepper, cherry, and spice. The palate is soft and silky, gliding along with velvety tannins and cherry flavors. Bell pepper aromas and flavors take over the show at times. 13.9% alcohol. 119 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Smasne Cellars Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon Upland Vineyard Snipes Mountain 2008 $45
(Excellent) A moderately aromatic wine with black cherry, herbal notes, and vanilla. The palate is full of cherry flavors with chalky tannins and a wood spice filled finish. 13.5% alcohol. 54 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Smasne Cellars Robert O Smasne Owen’s Reserve Columbia Valley 2008 $100
(Excellent) Dark ruby. An aromatically brooding wine with herbal notes, cherry cola, medicine cabinet, cranberry, licorice, and wood spice. The palate is loaded with tightly coiled cherry flavors and firm tannins that lead to a graceful finish. 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Petit Verdot, 9% Malbec, and 3% Carmenère. 14.2% alcohol. 37 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Seufert Winery owner and winemaker Jim Seufert is a fourth generation Oregonian. The winery is located in Dayton, Oregon within the McMinnville appellation. However, fruit for the Seufert wines comes from a variety of vineyards in the McMinnville, Yamhill-Carlton, and Chehalem Mountains AVAs. The wines below represent several different appellations as well as different clones of Pinot Noir.
Seufert Winery Pinot Noir Coleman Vineyard McMinnville 2009 $35
(Good) An aromatic wine full of ripe black cherries, cedar, and a light barnyard note. The palate is medium bodied, full of ripe cherry flavors and soft, velvety tannins. A fruit forward, appealing wine that gets a little weighty on the palate but delivers a lot of enjoyment. 100% Pinot Noir. Pommard clone. Aged in French oak (25% new). 13.5% alcohol. Less than 100 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Seufert Winery Pinot Noir Vista Hills Vineyard Dundee Hills 2009 $35
(Good) An appealing aroma profile with stargazer lilies, earth, bark, cherry, and light toasty notes. The palate is light bodied and soft with light cherry flavors that broaden out across the palate before trailing off toward the finish. 100% Pinot Noir. Dijon clone. 13.6% alcohol. Sample provided by winery.
Seufert Winery Pinot Noir Horseleap Vineyard Willamette Valley 2009 $30
(Decent) Comes off as reduced initially before opening to reveal a lightly aromatic profile of moss and strawberry notes. The palate is soft with tart cranberry flavors. 100% Pinot Noir. Pommard and 777 clones. Sample provided by winery.
It’s safe to say that no one in the state is as passionate about Gewürztraminer as Chris Dowsett at Dowsett Family Winery. Dowsett’s Gewürztraminer hails from 1982 plantings at Celilo Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge. These vines are dry farmed, a rarity for Washington. Despite a cool growing season and a cool site, these nearly 30 year old vines found their way to produce an exemplary wine. “The fruit was the most uniform colored I have ever seen out of there,” Dowsett says of the vintage. The proof is in the bottle.
Dowsett Family Winery Gewürztraminer Celilo Vineyard Columbia Gorge 2011 $22
(Excellent) An aromatic wine redolent with spice, rose petal, lychee, and grapefruit. The palate is medium bodied, laden with spices and mineral with a tart, drawn out finish. Less acid driven than it’s 2010 counterpart but still more than enough to take this wine where it wants to go and another beautiful offering from this winery. 100% Gewurztraminer. Fermented in neutral French oak. 0.4% Residual Sugar. 7.1 g/100ml T.A., 12.7% alcohol. 170 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Oregon has made a big splash of late with its Chardonnays and bottles like this one from Patton Valley Vineyard show why, sitting squarely between the Old World and the New. Fruit for this wine comes from Bethel Heights Estate Vineyard.
Patton Valley Vineyard Wente Clone Chardonnay Willamette Valley 2009 $24
(Excellent) Lightly aromatic with mineral, green apple, and spice. The palate is medium bodied and textured with green apple flavors and a tart finish. 100% Chardonnay. Bethel Heights Estate Vineyard. Fermented and aged in French oak (20% new). 14.1% alcohol.
Please note, my rating system was revised at the beginning of 2012 as follows. Read additional details here.
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