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

Sean P. Sullivan

2019 Tour Guide

Reviewed Wineries

Five Under Fifteen - May

Sunday, May 31, 2009 2 comments

In tough times, we continue the search for good, inexpensive wines.

Corvidae is a new winery from David O’Reilly of Owen Roe fame. The winery gets its name from a family of birds that includes crows. The Corvidae label focuses on value priced wines. The Lenore Syrah is named after the Edgar Allen Poe poem “The Raven” and “The Rook” label features a crow.

Columbia Winery is a large, Woodinville- area producer.

College Cellars is a teaching winery located in Walla Walla. The winery is located at the Center for Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College.

Silvery Lake Winery is also located in Woodinville. The winery was founded in 1987 and produces more than 50,000 cases annually.

Unfortunately I didn’t feel that any of these wines really brought the thunder as Mr. Vaynerchuck would say.

The hunt continues...If you have favorite Washington wines under $15, send them along and I will check them out.






Corvidae Syrah Lenore 2006

Lots of blueberry and blueberry pie aromas along with blackberry bush and a touch of licorice. A fair amount of alcohol hangs above the nose. A bit aggressive on the front end of the palate then dips down.

Purchased at Fremont Wine Warehouse for $13



Corvidae The Rook CSM Columbia Valley 2007

Maple mixes with boysenberry syrup, raisin, and dried cherry aromas. Pepper and anise occasionally join the fray. A bit flat on the palate with occasional sharpness. The alcohol does not always seem balanced. 45% Cabernet; 27% Syrah; 28% Merlot.

Purchased at Fremont Wine Warehouse for $13



Columbia Winery Syrah Columbia Valley 2005

Mulberry, blackberry, and touches of sweet and toasty oak. A dry style that comes across as quite sharp on the palate. The alcohol also seems a bit obtrusive at times.

Purchased at Safeway for $12



College Cellars Governor’s Red 2006

A slight cloudiness in the color. Brown licorice and a whiff of nail polish on the nose. Taste has some interesting things going on but is a bit sharp at the front and a little thread later on. Cabernet; Syrah.

Purchased at West Seattle Cellars for $14



Silver Lake Winery Syrah Rattlesnake Hills 2006

A light nose with bright berries, notably blackberry, along with violets and a touch of barnyard. Fairly unbalanced on the taste with a lot of tanginess. Overall a decent nose but the taste is a disappointment.

Purchased at Safeway for $9


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L’Ecole No. 41’s Recess Red is the winery’s red table wine. This wine is typically composed of barrels that didn’t make it in to L’Ecole’s higher end wines as well as the hard press fractions from their vineyard lots. Some years I have enjoyed this wine. This year I didn't think it quite came together.

NB: The 2006 vintage of this wine was our inaugural virtual tasting wine last August.







L’Ecole No. 41 Recess Red 2007

Chocolate mixes with herbs, light pepper, and spice on the nose. Nicely textured but not a lot of movement along the palate. Solid and even but overall unremarkable. 50% Merlot; 25% Syrah; 16% Cabernet; 6% Petit Verdot; 3% Cab Franc. 14.1% alcohol.

Sampled at 66 degrees.


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Tonight's Virtual Tasting is the Charles Smith 2007 Boom Boom! Syrah. As usual, I will be opening the bottle about 7pm and posting my thoughts on the wine throughout the evening. Please join us in trying this wine and posting your notes.

Also, I want to give a shout out to people at Solano Cellars in Berkeley, CA who will be participating in tonight's Virtual Tasting. Solano Cellars is doing glass pours of this wine and inviting their patrons to post their thoughts.

Also, entering 2008, I have created a Twitter site at: and will be tweeting along with VT'ing tonight.

Look for the first update about 7pm.

7:10 Update: Okay folks the bottle is cracked. Mr. Smith has eschewed the cork and gone with the screwtop on this wine. Temperature of the wine is 66 degrees.

7:30 Update: The wine is somewhat light in color. The nose brings it with lots of meat and dark berry aromas. Some floral components show at times. A very appealing nose at first blush.

Reminder to folks in the Bay Area, check out the Boom Boom! Syrah at Solano Cellars in Berkeley. Free pours of this wine tonight!

7:45 Update: The wine lives up to its name with a lot of expression on the palate. One boom would not do. The scents on the nose show up on the taste as well. Lots of fruit - predominantly blackberry - along with game. Fairly dry with a zing of acidity. Drops off a bit about half way through but then picks back up and races to the finish. Quite impressive for the price point.

8:00 Update: Still liking this wine quite a bit. A fair amount of oak shows through on the taste and the weight of the wine which seems like a bit of a shame as the fruit seems excellent. Some beautiful floral components - lavender and violets.

Some specs on the wine. A pleasantly restrained 13.5% alcohol. Thank you Charles. Other information I have is from the 2006 vintage which is listed on the website. For that wine, 4,300 cases produced. Vineyard sources are Sunset (Quincy area), Weyns (Frenchman Hills), and Talcott (Wahluke Slope). I will see if I can scare up information for the 2007 vintage.

8:15 Update: Blueberry also shows up on both the nose and the palate. I also get what I can only describe as an umami component on the taste.

Bottle reads "LAND TO HAND, VINEYARD TO BOTTLE." Indeed. A picture of a struck match accompanies these words.

8:45 Update: Some reviews of this wine from publications.

From Wine Spectator April 30 issue: 89 points. Bright and effusive, this is juicy with lively flavors of blackberry, plum and sweet spices, lingering on the open-textured finish. Drink now. 5,000 cases made. –HS

Nothing on Parker or Wine Enthusiast as far as I can see.

In terms of Harvey's review, I agree with most of what he has to say. Don't get the plum and sweet spices and I have never quite understood the open textured finish.

9:00 Update: Overall I really love the nose of this wine and the taste delivers a lot for the money. Given the dip in the midpalate and that it is a touch heavy on the oak, I would give this wine a "+" rather than a "*" in my rating system, although it is quite close to being a star wine. I would list it as Recommended which is a listing I give to +-rated wines that represent particular values at their price point. I do believe that this wine is an exceptional value. I purchased this wine for $13 at Pete's Seattle.

10:00 Update: One final thought. Letting this wine sit out it warmed up to about 68 degrees, and I found myself enjoying it considerably less. Now it also could be that the wine has been opened for three hours at this point as well but I believe it is the temperature. Bottom line is that temperature makes a big difference. I use a device from VinTemp to measure temperature. You don't need to go crazy and buy a temperature device but if you are drinking a wine at room temperature you're most likely not helping yourself as this tends to be 67-75 degrees. Not the best temperature for wine. Personally I prefer red wines at 62-65 degrees. If you don't have a cellar to keep the wines at a proper temperature, I suggest throwing wine in the fridge or freezer for 20-30 minutes. The warmer it is outside (and therefore inside for me), I tend to chill the wine a bit longer.

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Let it be known that the first wine I drank in my fourth decade was not only a white wine, it was a Chardonnay. It just goes to show that there is always time to turn over a new leaf.

Tranche Cellars is a new winery from Michael Corliss, Lauri Darnielle, and Kendall Mix. Last week I wrote about the Roussanne-Viognier. This week it is the Chardonnay. When I initially opened this wine, I did not get that much from it on either the nose or the taste. Several people who tried it with me agreed. We capped the bottle, vacuum pumped it, and put it back in the fridge for four days and then re-sampled it. At this point it seemed quite different. Not quite sure what was going on there but something to keep in mind if you try it.

Let me state for the record that chardonnay is not my grape. I liked this wine quite a bit, although I wanted the palate to be a little more rounded.

As with the Roussanne-Viognier, the back of the bottle of this wine gives a description that reads: “Be it known that the holder of this premier share of wine is entitled to enjoy aromas of toasted almond, vanilla and floral notes and a rush of apple, pear and nectarine in the mouth. The maker pledges to bestow uncompromising standards of quality in creating this blend for generations to come.”







Tranche Cellars Chardonnay Columbia Gorge 2005

Pale in color. A fairly quiet nose initially with light aromas of grass, hay, and butter. Remarkably restrained and clean on the palate. Smooth and even with a touch of crisp apple. 14.8% alcohol. Sampled at 52 degrees.

Purchased at McCarthy & Schiering.


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Fresh back from the mountains...

A reminder that May's Virtual Tasting will take place this Thursday May 28th. The wine is Charles Smith 2007 Boom Boom! Syrah. Please join us in trying this wine and posting your notes. Read more about this month's Virtual Tasting here.

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Two weeks back I wrote about Tranche Cellars, the new venture from Michael Corliss, Lauri Darnielle, and Kendall Mix. Since that time the winery has released its wines and gotten a website up, although the site functions only as a registration list much as with the Corliss Estates’ website. I have been waiting for some true white wine weather to give these wines a try. While I thought I might have to wait until the 5th of July, finally, it is upon us.

We’ll start with the 2007 Rousanne-Viognier. The front label reads "E PLURIBUS ENUM" on the bottom and appears to have a printed bottled-on date of 06092008. The back of the bottle irreverently reads: “Be it known that the holder of this premier share of wine is entitled to enjoy aromas of floral, orange blossom, lemon and hints of caramel and butterscotch and flavors of honey, melon and apricot. The maker pledges to bestow uncompromising standards of quality in creating this blend for generations to come.”

Forgive the artwork. As you can surmise, it is my own. Also, I always gave Roussanne two S's and two N's. Perhaps the French spelling?

Without further ado…







Tranche Cellars Rousanne Viognier Columbia Valley 2007

Pale gold with a slight greenish tint. Aromas redolent with freshly cut apples, mineral, spice notes, and occasional exotic fruit. Round and textured on the palate with generous amounts of oak - although by no means excessive - and white peach. The finish hangs, lingers, and shows lots of movement. 66% Rousanne, 33% Viognier. 13.7% alcohol.


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Back in December of 2008 Rand Sealey launched Review of Washington Wines, an on-line site that publishes monthly newsletters focused on Washington wine. Sealey brings to the site over 40 years of experience in the wine industry, most notably as owner of Seattle’s Esquin Wine Merchants from 1969 to 1997.

The monthly newsletter is broken down in to several sections including profiles, features, and lists of highly recommended wines and best buys. The profile pieces contain a short paragraph about a person or winery followed by a review of recent releases. May’s profile was on Walla Walla Vintners. The feature pieces look at an event or occasion, such as the Taste of Washington or spring in Walla Walla, and review five to six wines. The list of “Highly Recommended Wines” contains two to four high scoring wines. May’s list includes Syncline’s 2007 Columbia Valley Syrah and Betz Family Winery’s 2006 Clos de Betz. The “Best Buys” section contains five or more wines with high quality to price ratios. Examples from May include the 2008 Kung Fu Girl Riesling and 2007 Fidelitas M100.

Sealey rates his wines on a 20 point scale with half point increments (18, 18.5, etc). While 100 point addicts may wonder why he doesn’t multiply by five, this scoring system is common. Sealey only includes wines in his review that score 18 points or higher.

Review of Washington Wines’ newsletters are easy to read and are laid out along a single page with links allowing readers to jump forward to a particular section. Sealey includes a picture or two in each newsletter to add a bit of color. Long-time recipients of Esquin’s monthly flier will recognize Sealey’s engaging writing style.

Review of Washington Wines is a pay-for site that costs $20 annually. While not free, it’s less than you spend for lattes every week. A free issue is available on-line with registration.

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Col Solare is a collaboration between Chateau Ste. Michelle and Italian winemaker Marchese Piero Antinori. The winery released its first vintage in 1995 and opened a dedicated facility on Red Mountain in 2007. Marcus Notaro is the resident winemaker. For the 1999 vintage, winemakers were Ron Bunnell, now of Bunnell Family Cellar, and Renzo Cotarella, head enologist for Marchesi Antinori.







Col Solare Red Wine Columbia Valley 1999

Dried flowers (lavender) and earth combine to produce a beautifully fragrant nose. A deep and rich taste with compact fruit and a tight core of tannins. The mid-palate is loaded with black licorice. Exceptional and not yet at its peak. 70% Cabernet; 25% Merlot; 3% Syrah; 2% Malbec. 14.4% alcohol. 7,000 cases produced.


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A summary of articles from May 8th to May 14th on Washington wine.

From around the world…
writes about wine buyers’ visit to Washington state.

From around the country…

No love in this round-up.

From the blogosphere…

writes about tasting Washington and Australian wines. He also writes about Tranche Cellars and finesse wines.

Swordfern Wines
writes about Morrison Lane’s 2005 Cinsault. They also write about a joint tasting with WWR.
does a video podcast on L’Ecole No. 41.

writes about Chandler Reach’s 2004 Parris Estate Cabernet and Soos Creek Artist Series #5.

Washington Wine
writes about the continued growth of the Washington wine industry.

Wine Foot
takes a look at a couple of Syncline reds. They also interview Josh McDaniel of Sweet Valley Wines.
writes about Bergevin Lane.

Wine Peeps
does a spotlight on Quilceda Creek.

The Wine Muse writes about Walla Walla.

Beyond the Bottle
writes about the Cayuse 2005 God Only Knows Grenache.

Through the Walla Walla Grapevine
participates in Wine Blogging Wednesday’s with some thoughts on Long Shadows.

Cuvee Corner
writes about Hedges 2006 Three Vineyards Claret.

From the locals…

The Walla Walla Union Bulletin writes about the recent change in Washington liquor laws.

The Yakima Herald writes about the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center.

The Bellingham Herald writes about Otis Kenyon.

The Salem OR Capital Press writes about the approval of the Lake Chelan AVA.

The Tri-City Herald writes about K Vintners.

The Bellevue Reporter writes about the Auction of Washington Wines.

The Tacoma News Tribune writes about Benton City. They also write about a new fiction book the features Kestrel Vintners. They also write about improvements at Horse Heaven Vista.

That’s all folks!

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Rulo Winery is a Walla Walla area producer. The winery is solely owned by Kurt and Vicki Schlicker and has no investors or distributors. Just last week Rulo replaced their long-standing placeholder website with a real one. All of this helps Rulo keep their costs low while making great wine. To wit, the 2006 Syrca, a Syrah/Cabernet blend hence the name, is an extremely good wine for the price.







Rulo Syrca Walla Walla Valley 2006

Bright, piquant red fruit and wet stone aromas on a pretty, Rhone-style nose. A whiff of barnyard, smoke, and candied fruit rounds it out. Lots of fruit on the palate and a pleasing texture. The finish is all that holds this wine back. An excellent value. 70% Syrah; 30% Cabernet. 14.3% alcohol. Recommended.

Purchased at Pete’s Bellevue for $16.79


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Whitman Cellars is a Walla Walla producer. The Killer Cab is the winery’s table wine that is consistently an excellent value. The 2006 vintage has gone up in price a few dollars and doesn’t seem to be as frequently on sale as previous vintages. However, the fruit for this release is exclusively from the Walla Walla Valley, and the results show. Whitman wines always seem to drink better at a temperature of about 62 degrees so make sure to cool this one down a bit.

Score Name Notes $


Whitman Killer Cab Walla Walla Valley 2006 A funky, earthy nose with lots of black pepper. Coats the palate with chocolate, vanilla, and spice. Richly textured. 68% Cabernet; 25% Syrah; 7% Merlot. 13.8% alcohol.1,421 cases produced. $18

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1 Room, 2 Bloggers, 3 Wines

Wednesday, May 13, 2009 0 comments

Paul Zitarelli from Swordfern Wines and I sat down last week to break bread and taste some Washington wines. Paul’s wife Kelli joined in the fun; my friend Lindy hosted.

Paul and I dug in to the toolkit to find something the other had not tasted. Paul brought Pomum’s 2005 Shya Red Wine. I pulled out Ensemble’s Release Number Two. Both wines are Bordeaux blends. Both battled to a standstill. The Ensemble kept hearkening us back to the Old World; the Pomum kept unabashedly dragging us into the New. We finished the night off with a bottle of Va Piano 2006 Estate Syrah (Note: This wine is only available to wine club members but is the embodiment of Va Piano’s distinctive style found in their releases).

Pomum Cellars is a Woodinville winery that sources fruit from a number of excellent vineyards including DuBrul, Elerding, Snipes Canyon Ranch, Upland, Dineen, and AD Dunn Estate. Pomum’s wines include: Tinto, predominantly Tempranillo-based; Shya, a Bordeaux blend; and a Syrah. Pomum gained a bit of notoriety last year on Wine Library TV. Loved the wine; the label left me a little puzzled. A fishing fly?

Ensemble Cellars is a Walla Walla winery located in the airport region. Winemaker Craig Nelsen takes a unique approach blending one wine from three successive vintages using a variety of different vineyard sources and grapes. See my notes from the trip to Ensemble for 2008 Holiday Barrel Tasting here.

Va Piano Vineyards is also located in Walla Walla. The 2006 Estate Syrah is sourced exclusively from Block 4 of Va Piano’s estate vineyards.

See Paul’s write-up of the evening here.







Pomum Shya Red Wine Yakima Valley 2005

A fascinating nose. Almost herbal. Almost spice. A light dusting of high spice and an intriguing black olive component show through at times. Rich, dark cherry aromas come to the fore late. A drop dead gorgeous taste that is rich and opulent. Mouth coating with a zing of acidity. Beautifully balanced with cranberry emerging on the finish. 59% Cabernet; 27% Merlot; 10% Cab Franc; 3% Malbec; 1% Petit Verdot. 14.7% alcohol. 300 cases produced.



Ensemble Release Number Two

An engaging, earthy nose with pretty oak aromas, black pepper, chocolate, and light coffee scents. All about elegance on the taste. Light and perfectly balanced. 8% 2003; 59% 2004; 33% 2005.

362 cases produced.



Va Piano Vineyards Estate Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2006

An elusive nose with perfume, violets, earth, and game notes showing late. High, light berries mix with river creek aromas. The more you put your nose in to the glass the more the wine seems to move away. The nose shows small cracks in the armor at times. An incredible amount of up and down movement on the palate. Doesn’t seem to have completely come together at present but is extraordinarily intriguing and improves as it opens up. 100% Va Piano Vineyards Block 4 Syrah. 14.4% alcohol. 20% new French oak. 80% neutral French oak. 100 cases produced.


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Shady Grove Winery

Tuesday, May 12, 2009 0 comments

Shady Grove works with a number of varietals not currently seen elsewhere in the state. Albariño, also called Albarín Blanco and Cainho Branco, is a white wine grape grown in northwest Spain and northwest Portugal. Shady Grove is to my knowledge the first to cultivate this varietal in Washington. The Graziela is a mixture of Tempranillo, Graciano, and Juan Garcia. Graciano is grown primary in Spain in Rioja. Juan Garcia is native to the Fermoselle area in Zamora, Spain.

Purchased from City Cellars in Wallingford, Seattle.






Shady Grove Winery Albariño Coyote Canyon Vineyard HHH 2007

Straw colored. Honeysuckle, buttery oak, lemon zest, and spice shine through on a wine that offers pleasing acidity and tartness. Very enjoyable and would pair well with seafood. 100% Albariño. 44 cases produced. Recommended.



Shady Grove Winery Graziela 2007

Black and blue fruit mix with spice, floral notes, and hints of diesel. A bit more thin than expected on the taste and seems to have a somewhat strange after-taste. The right food might bring this wine alive. 50% Tempranillo; 25% Graciano; 25% Juan Garcia. 150 cases produced.



Shady Grove Winery Big Nose Red McKinley Spring HHH 2007

Dark and purply with lots of cola and brown licorice. A dense, thick wine that provides a lot wine for the money. 39% Cabernet; 34% Syrah; 24% Cab Franc. 1,000 cases produced.


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The May Virtual Tasting will be Charles Smith’s Boom Boom! Syrah 2007. The tasting will take place on Thursday May 28th.

Charles Smith needs no introduction. Smith is as iconic as his black and white labels with his mane of curly hair. Smith serves as winemaker for K Vintners (the “artisan winery”), Magnificent Wine Company (“wine for the people”), and Charles Smith Wines his “Modernist project.” The 2007 Boom Boom! Syrah clocks in at $15 and is fairly widely available. For a list of stores that will ship this wine to you check out WineZap.

As usual, I will be opening the bottle about 7pm and posting comments throughout the evening. Please join us in trying this wine and posting your notes. As always, I encourage you to pull a few friends together. If you can’t join on the 28th, feel free to send comments any time before or after. Links to previous virtual tastings are below. Also if you have suggestions for next month's wine, send ‘em along.

April Virtual Tasting- Columbia Crest GE Shiraz 2006

March Virtual Tasting - Magnificent Wine Co. House Wine 2006

February Virtual Tasting - Hedges CMS Red 2007

January Virtual Tasting - Columbia Crest GE Merlot 2006

December '08 Virtual Tasting - Ch. Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Cabernet 2005

November '08 Virtual Tasting - Russell Creek Tributary Red 2006

October '08 Virtual Tasting- Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet 2006

September '08 Virtual Tasting - Tamarack Firehouse Red 2006

August '08 Virtual Tasting- L'Ecole No. 41 Recess Red 2006

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A summary of articles from May 1st to May 7th on Washington wine.

From around the world…
, the news from India, writes about the import agreement between Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.

From around the country…

The Baltimore Sun picks up an AP story on the effect of the recession on Walla Walla.

Wine Spectator
writes about Washington’s two latest AVAs.

From the blogosphere…

Through the Walla Walla Grapevine
writes about Spring Release. See part II here.

Swordfern Wines
writes about the 2007 Pacific Rim Riesling from Wallula Vineyard.

Seattle Wine Blog
gives a best of from Taste of Washington.

Purple Liquid
does a blind tasting of cabernet from Washington.

Wine Peeps
writes about Bergevin Lane.

Beyond the Bottle
writes about L’Ecole’s 2005 WWV Cabernet.

Wine Foot
writes about Powers 2006 Reserve Cabernet and Meritage.

writes about WSU’s research winery.

Paul Gregutt
writes about finesse wines, new vineyards at Cayuse, Bunchgrass Winery, and sexy syrahs.

Washington Wine
writes about Cabernet Franc.

From the locals…

The Seattle Times writes about a bill to loosen wine and beer sales in Washington.

The Seattle PI publishes an AP story about work by the Washington Wine Commission to increase international wine sales.

Spokane’s Spokesman Review writes about Spokane’s spring barrel tasting and Washington wine country.

Wenatchee World
writes about upcoming wine events this summer.

The Yakima Herald writes an editorial about wine and the economy as well as a story on the same.

The Tri-city Herald writes about Kiona Vineyards and Winery. They also write about WSU’s new wine management program.

The Tacoma News Tribune writes about the re-emergence of Bunchgrass.

Oregon Live
writes about the latest goings-on in the Columbia Gorge.


The Sun Sentinel writes about Seven Hills Winery.

That’s all folks!

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Tranche Cellars

Friday, May 8, 2009 2 comments

Tranche Cellars is a new label from Michael Corliss and Lauri Darnielle. While Corliss Estates focuses on red wines (see my review of their wines from Holiday Barrel Tasting here), the Tranche label will focus predominantly on whites. The word “tranche” refers to a slice or section. In the world of wine, rather than releasing a wine all at once, it is often released in slices or tranches. This is particularly true in the case of Bordeaux. The first tranche is typically the least expensive and is used as a way to test the market. Subsequent tranches will be priced at different levels depending upon how the previous one sold.

The first released wines from Tranche Cellars will be a 2005 Chardonnay from the Columbia Gorge and a 2007 Roussanne-Viognier from the Columbia Valley. Tranche Cellars is located in Walla Walla in the building that previously housed Nicholas Cole. Nicholas Cole sold its winery and vineyards and opened a downtown tasting room in Walla Walla last year.

Look for reviews of the first releases from Tranche Cellars in the future.

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Bad economic times are a great time to dig in to the cellar and see what is in there. Here we tried two high-end wines from the 2003 vintage.

Cougar Crest was established in 2001 by Deborah and David Hansen. She makes the wines; he oversees the vineyards. The 2003 Cabernet Reserve fruit comes from Stellar and Cougar Hills Estate Vineyards.

Cuvee Orleans is McCrea Cellars’ top of the line Syrah. The wine is named in tribute to winemaker Doug McCrea’s birthplace, New Orleans. The fruit for the 2003 vintage comes from Dick Boushey’s Grande Côte vineyard in Yakima Valley and Ciel du Cheval on Red Mountain.

Both of these wines had a lot of life to them six years in. The Cuvee Orleans seemed far from being at its peak. The Cougar Crest Reserve Cabernet seemed like it might be at or slightly past its peak.







Cougar Crest Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Walla Walla Valley 2003

A gorgeous nose loaded with black cherry with a dusting of earth, black pepper and black licorice. Coats the palate. Taste is showing just a bit of age with some thinning in the midpalate but overall this wine is holding up quite well with many years ahead of it. 96% Cabernet Sauvignon; 4% Petit Verdot. 14.2% alcohol. 950 cases produced.



McCrea Cuvee Orleans 2003

A big, dense, dark wine with smoke, white pepper, rich spices, brown licorice, and a light herbal component. Thick and opulent. At times seems a touch hot. This wine is many years from its peak. 85% Syrah; 12% Mourvèdre; 3% Viognier. 14.8% alcohol. 405 cases produced.


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What follows is a summary of the 8th Annual Sexy Syrah event at Salty’s on Alki that took place on April 16th.This event is a benefit for FareStart, a job training and placement program for homeless and disadvantaged individuals. Sommelier’s David LeClaire of Seattle Uncorked and Tim O’Brien of Salty’s hosted the event which featured over 40 Washington wineries.

The Event

The 8th Annual Sexy Syrah event was one of the more enjoyable wine events I have attended - a perfect synergy of wine, food, location, and cause. In terms of the wine, it is rare to have the opportunity to taste so many wines of a specific varietal together, let alone so many from a single state. An enormous number of Washington wineries were represented with many pouring multiple Syrah. Salty’s provided the food, which was exceptional, and their mesmerizing location overlooking the Puget Sound and downtown Seattle. The room was crowded (the event was sold out) but not overcrowded as can too often be the case. There was room to mix, mingle, or step aside to concentrate on the wine. In terms of the enjoyment of the wine, the wine temperature, about 65 degrees, made the wines shimmer and shine, and the wine glasses matched the occasion. While these things may seem trite, I have been too many wine tastings with 75 degree wines served in glass goblets – a good way to ruin great wine (Don’t trust me on this, you can try this at home!). To top it all off the wines were not only available to taste but were also available for sale through West Seattle Cellars. What more could one ask for? Perhaps that it was all for a good cause.

Bottom line, if you like Syrah, this is an event for you. The event always sells out so keep your eyes open this time next year (NB: In a continuing effort to rescue oft-maligned wines, Uncorked is having a Washington Rose event next month. Read more about this event here).

The Judging

I had the opportunity to participate in this event as a judge to determine the top three wines of the evening. To be considered for the competition, the wines needed to be predominantly Syrah and be available for sale at the event. In total, 51 wines were part of the competition (a complete list of these wines is at the bottom of this post). In order to be considered for awards, a wine needed to receive at least two votes from the judges present. Numerous other wines were poured but were not part of the competition.

It is obviously challenging to pick the top three wines out of more than fifty. After tasting through the wines, I went back and re-tasted my top wines to make my final decision. My top three wines were, in order:

1. Forgeron Cellars Boushey Vineyard Syrah 2004 $47

This Syrah from winemaker Marie-Eve Gilla, along with a recent tasting of Forgeron’s 2003 Cabernet, inspired me to visit this winery during Spring Release last weekend. This was my first visit to the winery in a while, and I was not disappointed. Indeed, Forgeron’s 2004 Champoux Vineyard Cabernet was my wine of the weekend. Forgeron’s 2005 Zinfandel also came in second in our 2008 Reader Survey Wine of the year. Bottom line, if you have not tried Forgeron’s wines, check them out.

Tasting Notes: A funky, earthy nose with red fruit and game. Exceptionally well balanced on the taste. (**)

2. Walter Dacon C’Est Magnifique 2006 $42

I first tried this wine at the Taste of Washington where it was among the standouts. Re-tasting on this night confirmed my initial impressions.

Tasting Notes: An elegant wine with light game notes mixing with smoke and pretty floral aromas. (**)

3. Bunnell Family Cellar Boushey Vineyard “Yakima” Syrah 2006 $41.25

This Yakima Valley winery continues to excel with Syrah. Bunnell Family just opened a new wine bar in Prosser’s Vintner’s Village.

Tasting Notes: An exceptional nose with intense game aromas and smoke. A rich taste that is beautifully constructed. (**)

Each of these wines received 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place awards (judging results below).

The Judges
Sylvain Berthe - Seattle Daily Grill
Paul Gregutt – Writer, Seattle Times
Chris Nishiwaki – Writer, Seattle Metropolitan, Northwest Palate, Citysearch, Colors NW
Rob Ord – Sommelier, Wild Ginger
Lori Randall - Randall PR
Yashar Shayan – Sommelier, Wild Ginger & Bin Vivant
Aaron Snyderman - Sommelier, Campagne Restaurant, Herbfarm, and SeaStar
Sean Sullivan – Washington Wine Report
Tyler Urbigkit - Wine Buyer, Seattle Aquarium

The Judge’s Winners
1st Place (Tie)
Bunnell Family Cellar "Yakima" Syrah $41.25
Reininger Winery "Ash Hollow" Syrah $32.

2nd Place (Tie)
Walter Dacon "C'est Syrah Magnifique" Syrah $42
Otis Kenyon Winery Syrah $29.75

3rd Place
Forgeron Cellars "Boushey Vineyard" Syrah $47.00

The Head Turners

Two new wineries who were showing their inaugural releases also stood out. The first was Rotie Cellars which I wrote about after Spring Release weekend. The Sexy Syrah event was my first time tasting Sean Boyd’s wines. At the first sip I became immediately excited about this winery. Rotie Cellars makes delicious Rhone-inspired wines with a unique style. If you had to pick one, I would give a slight edge to the Northern Blend. However, Paul Gregutt said the same of the Southern Blend so tomayto tomahto. Rotie Cellars saves you from this wine lover’s dilemma by offering free shipping on two or more bottles. Problem solved. Look for a full write-up on Rotie Cellars’ wines in my Walla Walla Spring Release report due out in June. (NB: For those in the Seattle-area, the only place I have seen Rotie Cellar wines available is Cellar 46.)

The second head turner was Lantz Cellars. Lantz Cellars was founded in 2003 by owner and winemaker Kevin Lantz. The winery produces approximately 450 cases annual and has released its first vintages of Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet, and Syrah. There are two Syrah, one from Rattlesnake Hills and one from Yakima Valley. The Rattlesnake Hills offering in particular grabbed my attention. Lantz Cellars is having its Grand Opening in Everett this weekend if you are interested in checking them out. Look for a full write-up on these wines after this event.

Lantz Cellars and Rotie Cellars did not just make an impression on me. Wines from these producers came in first and second respectively in the vox populi People’s Choice awards (complete list below).

The People’s Choice Awards

2006 Lantz Cellars "Yakima Valley" -Syrah $28.00
2007 Rotie Cellars "Northern Rhone" Syrah $35.00
2006 Covington Cellars "Seven Hills - Starr" Syrah $35.00
2006 Passion Vineyard "Row 19" Syrah $31.50
2006 Bunnell Family Cellar “Yakima Valley" Syrah $41.25

The List of Wines Eligible for the Competition

  • Animale Syrah Columbia Valley 2007
  • Badger Mountain Syrah 2007
  • Bunnell Family Cellar Syrah Columbia Valley 2006
  • Bunnell Family Cellar Syrah Yakima Valley 2006
  • Chandler Reach Syrah 2004
  • Covington Cellars Starr Syrah Seven Hills Vineyard 2006
  • DiStefano Winery Syrah R 2004
  • Eaton Hill Winery Syrah 2006
  • Forgeron Cellars Syrah Columbia Valley 2003
  • Forgeron Cellars Syrah Boushey Vineyard 2004
  • Gamache Vintners Estate Syrah 2004
  • Gilbert Cellars Estate Syrah 2006
  • Gilstrap Brothers 45 Magic Syrah 2006
  • Isenhower Cellars River Beauty Syrah 2006
  • Isenhower Cellars Wild Alfalfa Syrah 2007
  • Jones of Washington Syrah 2006
  • Kana Winery Syrah 2005
  • Kestrel Vintners Syrah 2006
  • Kestrel Vintners Winemaker Select Series Co-ferment Syrah 2006
  • Lantz Cellars Syrah Rattlesnake Hills 2006
  • Lantz Cellars Syrah Yakima Valley 2006
  • Liberty Bay Syrah Columbia Valley 2006
  • Lowden Hills Winery See You There Syrah 2005
  • Masset Winery Reserve Syrah 2005
  • Masset Winery Basket Press Syrah 2006
  • Naches Heights Vineyard Syrah 2007
  • Nardone Wine Syrah Castello Poppiano 2005
  • Nota Bene Cellars Syrah 2005
  • Nota Bene Cellars Syrah 2006
  • Otis Kenyon Winery Syrah 2006
  • Palouse Winery Ahh! Syrah 2006
  • Passion Vineyard Row 19 Syrah 2006
  • Powers Syrah Columbia Valley 2006
  • Powers Syrah Cougar Vineyard 2006
  • Shingleback Black Bubbles Sparkling Shiraz
  • Reininger Winery Ash Hollow Syrah 2005
  • Reininger Winery Helix Syrah 2006
  • Seia Wine Cellars Syrah Alder Creek Vineyard 2005
  • Seia Wine Cellars Syrah Alder Creek Vineyard 2006
  • Stephenson Cellars Syrah 2006
  • Two Mountain Winery Syrah Yakima Valley 2004
  • Walter Dacon Wines C’est Syrah Beaux 2006
  • Walter Dacon Wines C’est Syrah Belle 2006
  • Walter Dacon Wines C’est Syrah Magnifique 2006
  • William Church Syrah 2006
  • Willis Hall Syrah Columbia Valley 2004
  • Willis Hill Syrah Wahluke Slope 2005
  • Willis Hill Syrah Yakima Valley 2005
  • Wilridge Winery Syrah 2005
  • Wilridge Winery Syrah 2006
  • Windy Point Vineyards Syrah 2005

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My favorite game after a day of wine tasting is to sit around with friends and go, person by person, through a series of questions about what stood out. Usually we do this at dinner and go around the table with everyone having a turn to answer the question posed. Then we move on to the next question. This would seem like a strange game but we are strange people. For me, talking about wine is a big part of the fun. The questions inevitably go like this - What was the wine of the weekend? What was the winery of the weekend? What was the value wine of the weekend? What was the most exciting new winery we visited? What was the biggest disappointment?

Usually this just makes for fun dinner time conversation. However, for 2009 Walla Walla Spring Release, I thought I would let you in on the fun and share the answers from myself and my friends Pat and Lindy who accompanied me on this trip. Of course, I take no responsibility for their thoughts as I can barely take responsibility for my own. Without further ado…

Wine of the Weekend – This is what I like to call the WoW Award. Over the course of three to four days it is not uncommon for us to try one hundred or more wines. The question - If you had to pick just one wine as standing out above others, what would it be?

Forgeron 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Champoux Vineyard $48 (Sean, Lindy) In the middle of a conversation with two people from the winery, Lindy tried this wine and blurted out “Oh my God!” bringing all conversation to a halt. After the conversation continued I tried the wine and, again interrupting the conversation, exclaimed “Oh my God you weren’t kidding.” It is a wine so good one loses all discretion upon first sip. A superb, breathtaking effort by winemaker Marie-Eve Gilla.

Trust Cellars 2007 Walla Walla Valley Syrah $28 (Pat) Pat declared this wine “the standard by which others shall be judged.” NB: This was a close second for my WoW Award.

Winery of the Weekend – Of the wineries we visited, what one winery stood out for its entire line-up?

Trust Cellars (Sean) Since starting Trust, winemaker Steve Brooks has made two excellent vintages of Syrah and Cabernet. His new releases, however, which include a 2008 Riesling, a 2007 Walla Walla Valley Syrah, and a 2007 Columbia Valley Syrah, are all simply standouts. Hats off Mr. Brooks.

Corliss Estates (Lindy, Pat) We first visited Corliss for 2008 Holiday Barrel Tasting and left blown away. On this occasion – the release of their 2004 Syrah – we also tasted barrel samples of their 2007 Syrah and Cabernet which were excellent.

Value of the Weekend – What one wine stood out as being a particular value?

Trust Cellars 2007 Walla Walla Valley Syrah $28 (Sean, Pat) The Syrah in this wine is composed of fruit from Les Collines and Va Piano vineyards, two of the finest in the valley. Add in 11% Cabernet from Prosser’s terrific Lewis Vineyard and the results are magic. This is an outrageous wine at a fantastic price compared to similar quality Syrah coming out of Washington.

Trust Cellars 2008 Columbia Valley Riesling $16 (Sean) This wine was tied for me for value of the weekend. While Riesling is generally a reasonably priced wine, this wine is a stunner – the first non-dessert white I have ever given a double star rating to. A wine this good at $16 cannot be ignored.

K Vintners 2007 Milbrandt Syrah $25 (Lindy) While Charles Smith’s Walla Walla offerings carry a pretty hefty price tag, his wines from the Columbia Valley and the Wahluke Slope are about half the price and certainly more than half as good.

Most exciting new winery – What new winery or winery you hadn’t visited before most excited you about Walla Walla wine?

For Lindy and me, this was a tie. Since the winemakers are friends, we will let them duke it out.

Rotie Cellars (Sean, Lindy) Sean Boyd is assistant winemaker at Waters Winery. He recently released three Rhone-style wines for his new winery, Rotie Cellars. There are two reds - a 2007 Northern Blend that is Syrah co-fermented with Viognier and a 2007 Southern Blend that is composed of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre. These are exciting, dynamic wines that offer restrained alcohol levels and terrific fruit. This is wine to seek out.

Kerloo Cellars (Sean, Lindy) Ryan Crane is assistant winemaker at Va Piano. This fall he will be releasing two Syrah - one with fruit from Va Piano and Les Collines vineyards; one exclusively from Les Collines Vineyard. A local friend who had tasted Crane's wines before I sampled them said "You are going to have your eyes opened." Indeed, both of Kerloo's inaugural wines are off the hook good. Crane also has a 2008 Tempranillo in the barrel that is exceptional - one of the few I have tasted from Washington that brings the Spanish grape home.

Forgeron Cellars (Pat) This was Pat’s first visit to Forgeron. He came away a believer.

Disappointment of the Weekend – For all the highs, there must be some lows. These could be wines, wineries, or experiences. The question – What was your biggest disappointment of the weekend?

Morrison Lane (Sean, Lindy) Lindy and I had tried several wines from Morrison Lane a while back and came away extremely impressed. So we were extremely excited to visit this winery and try a number of the unique varietals that they produce. Unfortunately on this visit – our first – the wines were all too warm (a good bit over 70 degrees) and didn’t show well as a result.

Long Shadows (Pat) The disappointment here was around the event which was a tasting of library wines. While several were tasted, specifically the 2005 Pirouette, 2004 Chester Kidder, and 2005 Sequel, the tasting did not include any wines from the 2003 vintage – the winery’s first - or others from 2004 or 2005. The wines in attendance were excellent. Those that were not were missed.

If you attended Spring Release in Walla Walla last weekend, feel free to join in this game and post your thoughts to these questions or other things that stood out during your visit.

As mentioned previously, a full write-up of the weekend including tasting notes will follow in about a month’s time. See the 2008 Walla Walla Barrel Tasting Report here (Note: opens .pdf).

NB: For those in the Seattle-area, Trust Cellars has a tasting at the Wine Alley in Renton on Thursday May 14th.

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After driving back to Seattle from Walla Walla through four hours of pouring rain I bring you...A summary of articles from April 15th to 30th on Washington wine.

Buckle your seatbelts, this round-up is a big one.

From around the world…

The Vancouver Voice writes about Magnificent Wine Company’s House Wine. NB: This wine was our March Virtual Tasting wine.

From around the country…

The Orlando Sentinel, among others, pick up an AP story about the effect of the recession on winery-oriented businesses in Walla Walla.

The Terre Haute Trib Star writes about Duck Pond’s Cabernet.

From the blogosphere…

Heather at Walla Walla Wine News gives her must see list for Spring Release weekend. WWWN also writes about the new Waterbrook tasting room and Charles Smith’s art project.

Thad at Beyond the Bottle writes about Walla Walla’s Saffron restaurant. BTB also springs in to summer (yes!) with Syncline’s 2008 Rose and Barnard Griffin’s 2008 Rose. There is also a brief border crossing to look at the A to Z 2008 Oregon Rose.

Swordfern Wines
writes about Soos Creek, the new Lake Chelan AVA, Sineanne’s Celilo Vineyard Gewürztraminer, and Syncline’s 2008 Rose. Swordfern also writes a great story about winning a bottle of wine at the Taste of Washington.

writes about Small Lot Co-op, Whidbey Island Spring Release Weekend, and gives a shout out to the new Lake Chelan AVA.

Wine Foot
writes about Reininger.

Wine Woot
woots on Seven Hills Cabernet.

Wine Peeps
does a Cab Franc tasting and checks out Gilbert Cellars’ and Syncline’s Rhone-style blends.

One Rich Wine Guy
talks about spring releases with callouts to Pepper Bridge, Walla Walla Vintners, Seven Hills, Saviah, Basel Cellars, Woodward Canyon, and Cougar Crest.

Northwest Wine Quest Blog
writes about Morrison Lane’s 33 1/3.

Wine Press Northwest
writes about Chateau Ste. Michelle distributing champagne, the Maryhill and Chateau Ste Michelle summer concerts. They also unleash a new on-line wine calendar.

Bricks of Wine
writes about Isenhower Cellars.

Southern Wine Report
writes about Columbia Crest’s 2006 H3 Cabernet. NB: This wine was the October 2008 Virtual Tasting wine.

Wine Industry Insights
reports that Chateau Ste. Michelle will be the exclusive importer for Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte.

Northwest Wining and Dining
writes about the Taste of Washington.

Wine Expedition
checks out Owen Roe’s Sinister Hand.

Through the Walla Walla Grapevine
writes about the Feast Walla Walla and Woodward Canyon.

Woodward Canyon
does some spring time blogging.

I Drink Your Wine
writes about Sleepy Dog Wines.

Vine Designs
writes about the House Wine label.

Riding Shotgun on the Hell Express
writes about Corvidae and Owen Roe.

Terra Sig
writes about Pacific Northwest wines.

Seattle Wine Blog
writes about Woodinville Passport.

writes about Seven Hills, K Vintners, his first 100 point wine, Nicholas Cole, Rulo, and Efeste.

YIKES that’s a lot of blogging.

From the locals…

The Seattle Times writes about the new Lake Chelan AVA.

The Bellingham Herald writes about Lost River Winery.

The Yakima Herald writes about Yakima Valley Barrel Tasting weekend as does On Magazine.

The Tri-city Herald writes about Kestrel Vintners and Latah Creek. They also write about spring barrel tasting in Yakima Valley.

The Olympian
reports that the legislature has passed a bill to allow wedding boutiques and art galleries to serve beer and wine.

The Puget Sound Business Journal writes about eastern Washington wineries setting up shop on the west side.

writes about new wineries opening up in Prosser.

The Walla Walla Union Bulletin writes about a new conceptual art piece by K Vintners’ Charles Smith.

The Tacoma News Tribune writes about recent changes at Columbia Winery.

Gregutt gives some tasting tips for the Taste of Washington, Spokane in the Spokesman Review.

That’s all folks!

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On the way out of town from Walla Walla Spring Release. Sunday we spent most of our time at wineries south of town. Stops included:

Chateau Rollat
Va Piano
Garrison Creek Cellars

Thanks to Catie at Through the Walla Walla Grapevine and Heather at Walla Walla Wine News for the suggestion to stop at Garrison Creek. We also tasted barrel samples from Sean Boyd’s Rotie Cellars.

Much more to follow. For now, back to the Rain City.

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Rain poured down on Walla Walla on Saturday sending Spring Release tasters scurrying. The rain lasted off and on most of the day. While the views suffered, it kept the wines a bit cooler in most cases. Wine stops yesterday included:

Spring Valley
K Vintners
Le Chateau
Morrison Lane
Grande Ronde Cellars
Corliss Estates

The weather Sunday has been better although still overcast in the morning. Today we have been focusing on wineries south of town with a brief stop downtown.

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Day one of Spring Release 2009…

Yesterday was a beautiful day in Walla Walla with weather in the seventies and the sun shining on the Blue Mountains. I started the day having lunch with Erica Sharp of American Winery is a Walla Walla based company that facilitates shipping direct from wineries to customers. After lunch our wine stops included:

Long Shadows
Rotie Cellars

Waterbrook’s new facility off Highway 12 is nearing completion. The gigantic production facility, which will house all of Precept Brands’ production, is open this weekend although construction is still being finished. The gorgeous tasting room, designed by Dan Kinkella, AIA is set to open for Vintage Walla Walla next month.

Rotie Cellars is a new venture by Sean Boyd, assistant winemaker at Waters. I had first sampled Boyd’s wines at Seattle Uncorked's Sexy Syrah event in Seattle last month (write-up of this event in the next week or so) and came away extremely impressed. Rotie Cellars makes two Rhone-style red blends, a Northern blend and a Southern blend. In a hopefully growing trend, Rotie Cellars is offering free shipping on purchases over two bottles.

On this Saturday a light rain is falling in Walla Walla. Day two plans are to visit wineries east of the town, including K Vintners and Abeja, as well as a number of airport wineries. We will wrap the day up at Corliss Estates downtown followed by…Game 7 Celtics vs. Bulls.

Of course, a full report of the trip with write-ups of the wineries and wines to follow in about a month or so. See the 2008 Walla Walla Holiday Barrel Tasting Report here (Note: opens .pdf file).

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WWR TN Database

See my Washington Wine Report Tasting Note Database. Read an explanation of the fields here. FINAL UPDATE 6/13/2015. See current Wine Enthusiast reviews here.

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