Tag Archives: Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Cinsault — The Black Prince of South Africa

As promised in my summary post about the 2018 Hospice du Rhône Weekend, I’ll tackle each of the four seminars with their own posts beginning with the first seminar on Friday — South Africa’s Cinsault Renaissance.

I’m hard-pressed to narrow down which of the four seminars were my absolute favorite but, without a doubt, this seminar was the most eye-opening. In my Quick Take on Day 1, I commented how neither Cinsault nor South Africa tends to be on the radar of most US consumers. The trade organization WOSA (Wines of South Africa) reported in 2016 that the US receives only 3% of the wine exported from South Africa. In 2014, when US sales of wine (both domestic and exported) were around 370 million cases, wines from South Africa accounted for less than 0.33% of those sales.

But after attending this seminar moderated by Lauren Buzzeo of Wine Enthusiast and reading about my friend Adrienne’s wine adventures drinking South African wines in Nambia, it’s clear that South Africa is a wine producer worth paying attention to—not the least of which for the country’s treasure trove of old vine Cinsault.

The seminar featured 9 Cinsaults and Cinsault-dominant blends from 7 producers with winemakers Tremayne Smith (The Blacksmith Wines), Andrea Mullineux (Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines), Danie Steytler (Kaapzicht Wine Estate) and Ryan Mostert (Silwervis) on the panel.

I will get into my tasting notes on the individual wines in the moment but first some geeking about Cinsault.

Cinsault: The Mediterranean “Pinot noir”?

Jancis Robinson notes in Wine Grapes that the earliest recorded mention of Cinsault was under the synonym ‘Marroquin’ in 1600 by the French writer Olivier de Serres. The modern spelling ‘Cinsault’ emerged in the 1880s as a likely derivative from ‘Sinsâou’ that was used in the Hérault department along the Mediterranean coast as early as 1829.

Photo by Varaine. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Cinsault growing in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

DNA analysis suggest this area is the probable birthplace of Cinsault due to its close genetic relationship to the Piquepoul varieties and the potential parent-offspring relationship with Rivairenc (Aspiran), the very old Languedoc grape.

Today some of the oldest vines of Cinsault in the Languedoc date back to 1900. While Cinsault suffered the same post-WW II image problem here it did in South Africa, it is also benefiting from renewed interest in the variety with even acclaimed Burgundian producers like Anne Gros (of the notable Vosne-Romanée family) and her husband Jean-Paul Tollot tending to 50+ year old vines in Minervois.

Outside of France, the grape is found in the Puglia region of Italy where it is known as Ottavianello and must make up a minimum of 85% of the red blends in the Ostuni DOC. In Morocco it is the most widely planted grape variety but that is largely because Cinsault is also a popular table grape variety.

Chateau Musar has long championed the grape variety in Lebanon, frequently blending it with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

In Washington State, Paul Gregutt describes wines made from Cinsault as like a “good Beaujolais” and notes in Washington Wines that it can be found in Walla Walla in the Morrison Lane and Minnick Vineyards as well as in the Horse Heaven Hills at Alder Ridge.

Cinsault in South Africa

Tim James in Wines of the New South Africa notes that Cinsault was introduced to South Africa in the 1880s and quickly became a popular planting. By 1909, it was the most widely planted red grape variety and the third most popular grape after Greengrape (Semillon) and Muscat.

Originally known as “Hermitage” until the mid-1930s, Cinsault would eventually account for as much as a third of all vineyard plantings in South Africa and was used to make everything from dry reds to sweet fortified wines to even brandy. The rise in popularity of Chenin blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon after World War II would eventually signal the grape’s decline throughout rest of the 20th century but even as its popularity wane it was still frequently used as a blending grape to add perfume and acidity to some of the country’s top Cabernet Sauvignon.

By 2008, Cinsault accounted for around a tenth of all vineyards in South Africa with notable plantings in Paarl, Breedekloof and the ward of Malmesbury in Swartland. Roughly translated to “The Black Land” in reference to the renosterbos (“rhino bush”) shrubs that dot the landscape, it is somewhat poetic that old vine vineyards of the Black Prince in Swartland would be the source of some of the most delicious Cinsault at the seminar.

Seminar Wines

Most of these wines are limited releases and hard to find in the United States. But they are well worth the hunt if you can get them.

Color of the The Blacksmith Barebones. Note how you can read through the core to see the text underneath.


2017 The Blacksmith Barebones, W.O. Paarl (Wine Searcher Average $24)
Medium intensity nose with black cherry and fresh uncured tobacco.

On the palate, those black cherry notes come through and are quite juicy and fresh with medium-plus acidity. Medium tannins and medium body contribute to the “Beaujolais” quality of the wine making it very pleasant and enjoyable with a moderate finish.

2017 The Blacksmith Prince of Bones, W.O. Swartland (No WS listing. At the seminar, Lauren Buzzeo priced it at $45)
Medium-plus intensity nose with lots of blue floral notes to go with the black cherry and tobacco notes exhibited by the Barebones.

On the palate, those fresh uncured tobacco notes from the nose change to more cured tobacco spice–not that dissimilar from Bordeaux wines. Medium-plus acidity maintains the juiciness of the cherry fruit with medium-plus tannins contributing to the medium-plus body of the wine. Long finish ends on the spicy note and mouthwatering fruit. Outstanding wine and probably my favorite of the tasting.

2017 Sadie Family Pofadder, W.O. Swartland (WS Average for 2016 vintage $42)
Medium-minus intensity nose. Light raspberry and some herbal notes. With some air a slight watermelon note (both flesh and rind) come out which is intriguing.

On the palate, the fruit flavors are similarly light. High acidity and chalky medium-plus tannins contribute to a thin and skeletal feel of the wine. Very short finish brings an earthy element that is hard to make out.

2017 Craven Wines Cinsault, W.O. Stellenbosch (WS Average $14 but I’m skeptical as Buzzeo listed the price at $55)
Medium intensity nose with red cherry, rose petals and fresh forest earthiness.

On the palate, the earthy element becomes a little more herbal but also brings a savory black pepper spice note. High acidity and medium-plus tannins are balanced a bit better with the fruit than the Sadie Pofadder so the wine feels more firm and structured rather than thin and skeletal. Seems young but promising.

The Badenhorst Ramnasgras from Swartland was fantastic.


2016 A.A. Badenhorst Cinsault Ramnasgras, W.O. Swartland (WS Average $38)
Medium-plus intensity with black cherry notes and lots of spice and meatiness. A mix of Burgundian and Rhone notes on the nose that had my mouth watering before even taking a sip.

On the palate, the cherry and spice carries through with the mouthwatering continuing with the medium-plus acidity. High tannins hold up the full-bodied fruit of the wine really well and contribute to this wine feeling like a meal in itself. Another favorite.

2016 Kaapzicht Cinsault 1952, W.O. Stellenbosch (NO WS listing though one merchant offering it for $31)
Medium intensity nose with an intriguing mix of cherry pie spices and leather.

The Kaapzicht 1952. Note how much darker this wine is in the core.


On the palate, those cherry pie notes come through with a toasty graham cracker crust character as well. Juicy medium-plus and ripe medium-plus tannins gives the wine great structure and mouthfeel. Long finish keeps with the cherry pie note with some cured tobacco spice joining the party. Very delicious.

2015 Kaapzicht Cinsault Skuinberg, W.O. Stellenbosch (NO WS listing though one merchant offering it for $79)
Medium-minus intensity nose. A mix of minty menthol and coffee espresso with some undefined red fruits.

On the palate, the red fruits become more defined as cherry and raspberry but the menthol and espresso dominant. Like the 1952, the medium-plus acidity and tannins give the wine exceptional balance and structure. I just don’t know if I’m a fan of this flavor profile as much.

2015 Leeu Passant Old Vine Cinsault, W.O. Franschhoek (NO WS listing though one merchant offering it for $103)
Medium-plus intensity nose with black raspberry and blackberry notes. There is also a minty element here but it smells more like fresh mint leaves rather than menthol.

The black fruits carry through on the palate with the minty notes being more subdued. In their place some of that Bordeaux-style tobacco spice emerges which gives the wine a savory element with the medium-plus acidity. Medium-plus tannins balances out the full bodied weight of the fruit. Long finish lingers on the spice. Really well made wine.

2015 Silwervis Cinsault, W.O. Swartland (WS Average $26 but I’m skeptical as Buzzeo listed the price at $50)
Medium intensity nose with coffee and cherry notes. With some air, a little floral mint and fresh tobacco leaf comes out.

On the palate, the coffee notes dominant with fruit present but struggling to emerge. Medium acidity and medium-plus tannins have firm edges to them. Even though this one of the oldest wines at the tastings, it felt really young. Intriguing though.

Takeaways

Cinsault’s diversity is a joy for food pairing but a nightmare for blind tasting.

As I reviewed my notes I saw some patterns emerging (cherry and tobacco) but many of those notes overlap with styles familiar to Burgundy, Beaujolais and lighter Bordeaux. A few examples even hit some of those savory meaty notes of a Rhone. Still, this diversity is exciting because here we have a wine that can be anything from a great picnic & BBQ sipper to something savory and complex that can hold up to robust dishes.

While two of my favorites (The Blacksmith’s Prince of Bones and A.A. Badenhorst’s Ramnagras) were from the Swartland–along with the intriguing but young tasting Silwervis–it was hard to pinpoint terroir characteristics. Considering how much I’ve liked other wines from these producers, I wonder how much of it is more producer style verses the region?

But a big takeaway, and one that the moderator and panelists frequently referred to, was the importance of older vines for Cinsault. The vine lends itself easily to overproduction and with its thin skins can be prone to producing thin flavors. While that may work for bulk rosé, it’s not ideal for making character driven wines.

With over 1600 acres of Cinsault vines over 20 years old (and many of the wines featured in this tasting coming from 40+ year old vineyards), South Africa does have a good bounty of older vines to work with. The really lovely Leeu Passant Old Vine Cinsault from Franschhoek was sourced from South Africa’s 2nd oldest red wine vineyard from vines that are 91+ years old. You can taste the added complexity and concentration from these older vines.

Remarkable stuff that is, again, well worth the hunt to find.

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Hospice du Rhône Weekend 2018

The BBQ prep for the closing dinner.

Just got back home from a wonderful weekend down in Paso Robles attending the 2018 Hospice du Rhône. This was my first time attending the event and I can tell you that my wife and I are already making plans to attend the 2020 event April 23rd-25th.

To be honest, we are even thinking about attending the 2019 event in the Rhône Valley.

We purchased two weekend passes at $995 each which got us:

4 seminars featuring 9-11 wines each including many wines with limited releases and very small production.
Two lunches (a Rosé lunch on Day 1 and Live Auction lunch on Day 2)
An Opening and Closing Tasting featuring hundreds of wines with each tasting having a different theme (older vintages for Day 1 and newer vintages for Day 2) so each day had different wines to try.
Farewell dinner and BBQ

As you can probably garner from the first paragraph, my wife and I left the event feeling that the cost of the weekend pass was more than worth it for the experience we got. So I’ll share some of my favorite geeky moments, top wines and the two slight negatives that put a damper on an otherwise stellar event.

I’ll save my reviews of the 4 seminars (South Africa’s Cinsault Renaissance, A 6th Generation Crusade in the Barossa Valley, Lost and Found: Old Vine Rhônes Across California, The Majesty of Guigal) for their own individual posts because there was a lot of great stuff from each to unpack.

Top 3 Geek Moments

Meeting two Masters of Wine in Billo Naravane of Rasa Vineyards and Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock Wine Co. I got a chance to talk to Billo about the possibilities of Walla Walla hosting a future Hospice du Rhone (would be incredibly exciting!) and with Morgan it was hard not to be charmed with his unabashed geekiness for old vine vineyards in California.

John Alban, Morgan Twain-Peterson and Tegan Passalacqua at the old vine seminar.

Which along those lines….

Having the light bulb flick on about the treasure of old vine field blends. Some of the most exciting wines at the event were old vine field blends featuring a hodge podge of grapes like Mataro (Mourvedre), Syrah, Peloursin, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Trousseau noir, Grenache, Mondeuse, Alicante Bouchet and the like inter-planted and fermented together. In an industry dominated by monoculture and mono-varietal wines, the character of these field blends like Carlisle’s Two Acres and Bedrock’s Gibson Ranch are off the charts.

And no one is intentionally planting field blends right now. This truly is a treasure of the past when farmers, rather than viticulturists, just kind of did their thing and let what would grow, grow. That kind of proposition is way too risky today but that only heightens the importance of saving these old vineyards and supporting the wineries who source fruit from them.

As a Millennial, the character and stories behind field blend plantings is the perfect antidote to the mind-numbing boredom of the “same old, same old”. Millennials are changing the wine industry with their craving for new experiences and new things as well as authenticity–which an old vine field blend delivers in spades. It’s why I’m skeptical that Cabernet Sauvignon will continue it dominance and why I don’t think Merlot’s downturn is just because of a movie.

Potek Winery’s Mormann Vineyard Syrah from the Santa Rita Hills.
Great wine but Potek’s labels are WAAAAAAY too busy. Admittedly in a wine shop I wouldn’t even give them a second look because they’re so hard to read.

Though speaking of that movie…

Screw Pinot. Let’s start drinking Santa Barbara County Rhônes. I mentioned this in my quick take on Day 1 and day 2 only reaffirmed how special these cool climate Rhônes are. I’ll also add the Russian River Valley of Sonoma because not only can you find Carlisle’s Two Acre gem there but I was also thoroughly impressed with the wines from MacLaren.

Top 10 (non-seminar) Wines of the Event

When you have wines like a 2005 Guigal La Turque being poured at the seminars, it would be easy to fill up this list with nothing but seminar wines. But there were a lot of fantastic wines poured at the Opening and Closing tastings so here are 10 of my favorites in no particular order.

2016 Jada Hell’s Kitchen Paso Robles — It was actually hard to narrow down just one of the Jada wines to put on this list because every single one of them were stellar. This one was very full bodied and hedonistic with rich dark fruit, velvety smooth mouthfeel and a long finish with dark chocolate notes.

2016 Louis Cheze Condrieu Pagus Luminis — Crisp but mouthfilling. Lots of fresh tree fruit notes–apricots and peaches–with some stony minerality.

2016 CR Greybehl The Grenachista Alder Springs Grenache Mendocino County — I guess I could add this to my cool-climate Rhône discoveries. Like Jada, this was a hard one to narrow down because I loved everything from this producer. The Alder Springs had a particular vivacious mouthfeel of juicy blackberries with some spice and floral notes.

While I enjoyed the opportunity to try Saxum, I’m actually far more excited about the wines being made by their assistant, Don Burns, with his wife Claudia at their Turtle Rock Winery.

2012 Turtle Rock Willow’s Cuvee Paso Robles — Made by the assistant winemaker of Saxum. Truthfully, I liked these better than the Saxum wines I tried. Very floral with a mix of red and dark fruit. One of the best noses of the night.

2012 Dos Cabezas Wineworks El Campo Sonoita Arizona — One of the surprises of the event. A Tempranillo-Mourvedre blend from Arizona that tasted like a spicy Ribera del Duero and juicy Jumilla had a baby. Very impressive.

2008 Kunin Alisos Vineyard Syrah Santa Barbara County — Winners across the board from Kunin. Great mix of dark fruit and earthy forest floor. Very long finish. These were wines I wished I had more time to savor.

2012 Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf-du-Pape — This hit my perfect catnip style of savory, meaty undertones wrapped around a core of juicy, mouthwatering fruit. Such a treat to have and I suspect that the 2015 will be even better with a few more years.

2007 Carlisle James Berry Syrah Paso Robles — All in all, Carlisle probably made my favorite wines of the entire event. I can still taste the 2016 Two Acres from the old vine seminar but this James Berry was a close second. Still very lively with dark fruit, mouthwatering medium-plus acid and some spicy minerality on the finish.

A 100% Cinsault pet-nat was not only geeky good but also a palate savior.
Would really love to see more sparkling wines like this at future Hospice du Rhone events.


2017 The Blacksmith The Bloodline Cinsault Pet-Nat Darling W.O. South Africa — This was much needed salvation for the palate (see below) but it would have been a treat to try under any circumstance. Super geeky Cinsault pet-nat, this wine had a huge nose of orange blossoms and cherries that jumped out of the glass.

2005 Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage — This wine wasn’t part of any featured tasting and was certainly an unexpected treat that someone brought to the Live Auction lunch on Day 2. This was my first Chave and my lord! Still quite young and powerful for its age with layers of red fruit, savory Asian spices and a long finish of smokey BBQ notes.

Palate Fatigue and a little clicky culture

While overall the event was fantastic, there were two things that stuck out as minor negatives. One was the absence of sparkling wines which are the guardian angels of the palate at tastings like these. As readers of my flashback review of the 2017 Taste Washington know, periodically taking a break from big, heavy reds with some palate cleansing bubbles is a must if you’re going to maximize your tasting experience.

There were a few producers pouring some roses and crisp white wines which helped but it was disappointing not to see more sparkling examples. I know that the Rhône is not particularly well known for bubbles but there is the Clairette de Die and Saint-Péray AOCs producing sparkling wine and Australia has a good tradition of making sparkling Shiraz. I’m sure there are also examples from New World producers experimenting with sparkling Viognier and other varieties. It would be great to give these wines more visibility and they would be absolute god sends during the big tastings.

While some of the “clickiness” at lunch was disheartening, the gracious couple who shared this wine from their table gave me an amazing thrill that was a joy to try.


The second negative was how “clicky” the culture among the attendees were–especially at the lunches. It’s wonderful that the Hospice du Rhône is in its 22nd year and it’s clear that there are many people who have been attending this event regularly. But for a “newbie”, it felt hard at times to break into the crowd.

Again, this was most felt at the lunches where several times seats and entire tables were reserved not by official organizers but other attendees who didn’t seem to have any interest in interacting with people who weren’t part of their local scene.

But there were certainly more than enough gracious attendees who were welcoming and approachable (as well as the organizers themselves like John and Lorraine Alban, Vicki Carroll and Faith Wells) to make the event exceedingly enjoyable and well worth attending again.

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60 Second Wine Review — 2000 Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape

A few quick thoughts on the 2000 Château Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

The Geekery

According to Harry Karis in The Chateauneuf-du-Pape Wine Book, the origins of Beaucastel date back to 1549 when Pierre de Beaucastel purchased land in Coudoulet. The property came under the control of its current owners, the Perrin family, in 1909 when Pierre Tramier purchased the property and turned it over to his son-in-law, Pierre Perrin.

Beaucastel is most notable for using the 13 historic grape varieties of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. According to their website:

Grenache and Cinsault provide warmth, colour and roundness; Mourvèdre, Syrah, Muscardin and Vaccarèse provide structure, aging abilities, colour and a very straight taste; Counoise and Picpoul provide body, freshness and very particular aromas.

Since the 1960s, all the vineyards have been farmed organically with several parcels biodynamic.

The 2000 vintage was a blend of 30% Grenache, 30% Mourvèdre, 10% Syrah, 10% Counoise, 5% Cinsault and 15% combined of Vaccarèse, Terret noir, Muscardin, Clairette, Picpoul, Picardan, Bourboulenc, Roussanne.

Each grape variety is harvested and fermented separately. For reductive grapes like Mourvèdre and Syrah, fermentation is done in oak barrels while oxygen-sensitive grapes like Grenache are fermented in cement tanks. The finished blend is aged for a year in large foudres. Around 16,665 cases made.

Photo by	Jon Sullivan. Released on Wikimedia Commons under PD-author

Savory grilled meats notes feature prominently in this wine.

The Wine

High intensity nose. Lots of tertiary notes–meatiness, leather and tobacco spice. With some air, you get dried red cherries.

On the palate, those savory characters come through but more “animal-like”. Two Brett Stars but very well balanced with smoke and tobacco spice. Medium-plus acidity takes the dried red cherry notes and bring them back to life with freshness. Medium tannins are quite soft but still provide good structure. Long finish ends on the spice and meaty notes.

The Verdict

Gorgeous on several levels. For folks who like savory and tertiary notes, this wine is drinking perfectly now and with the acid will probably still be giving pleasure for at least 3-5 more years.

Well worth the $100 average retail but even at a restaurant mark-up around $185, I still think this is an exquisite bottle.

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Getting Geeky with Gramercy Picpoul

Going to need more than 60 Seconds to geek out about the 2015 Gramercy Picpoul from Walla Walla.

The Background

Gramercy Cellars was founded in 2005 by Master Sommelier Greg Harrington and his wife, Pam. Prior to starting a winery, Harrington managed wine programs for restaurants owned by Joyce Goldstein (Square One in San Francisco), Emeril Lagasse, Stephen Hanson and Wolfgang Puck (Spago). At the time that Harrington passed his MS exam in 1996, he was 26 and the youngest person to have achieved that honor.

According to Paul Gregutt, in Washington Wines, while sommelier-turned-winemaker is somewhat common in California and other parts of the world, Harrington was the first to traverse that path in Washington State.

In 2006, Gramercy started a partnership with Jamie Brown of Waters Winery that eventually led to the development of Wines of Substance (later sold to Charles Smith) and 21 Grams (now owned by Doug Roskelley and Mike Tembreull, owners of TERO Estates and Flying Trout Wines).

In 2008, Harrington was named by Seattle Magazine as “Best New Winemaker in Washington” and followed that up in 2014 as the magazine’s “Winemaker of the Year“.

Along with Harrington, the wines of Gramercy Cellars are made by Brandon Moss who joined the winery in 2009 after stints at King Estate in Oregon, Indevin in New Zealand and Waters in Walla Walla.

Drawing from Ampélographie Viala et Vermorel. Uploaded by JPS68 via photoshop to Wikimedia Commons under PD Old

Picpoul blanc grapes by Viala et Vermorel


Gramercy started making Picpoul in 2013 because the variety was a favorite of Pam Harrington. That first vintage came from Olsen Vineyards in the Yakima Valley from a block that was scheduled to be uprooted and planted over to Grenache. The cuttings were sourced from Tablas Creek Vineyards in Paso Robles from original vines at Château Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Subsequent vintages of Gramercy Picpoul have been sourced from Los Oídos Vineyards located in the Blue Mountains of Walla Walla which are managed by Ken Hart and sustainably farmed. In addition to managing Los Oídos, Hart was also involved in the planting of Ash Hollow, Nicholas Cole, Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills East vineyards and today helps manage the vineyards of Abeja, àMaurice, Dunham and Walla Walla Vintners.

The Grape

According to Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes, the first mention of Picpoul (or Piquepoul) was of the black skin variant in 1384 near Toulouse in the Occitanie region that borders Spain. The name is believed to have been derived from the Oc dialect words picapol or picpol which loosely translates to a “place with a peak” and may refer to the cliff-side vineyards where the grape was planted.

The first account that explicitly described the white skin mutation of Picpoul was in 1667. There is also a pink-skin Picpoul gris that is nearly extinct. All three color variants are part of the 22 grapes that are authorized to be grown in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

A Picpoul de Pinet from the Languedoc.


In 2009, there was over 3500 acres of Picpoul blanc planted in France–mostly in the Languedoc area where it is the notable variety of Picpoul de Pinet–the largest white wine producing AOC in the Languedoc. The grape is valued in the white wines of the Languedoc and Provence for its high acidity and lemon, floral aromatics.

In the United States, Tablas Creek was the first to plant Picpoul blanc in 2000. In California, Tablas Creek has noted that the variety is early budding but late ripening and tends to produce rich tropical fruits along with its trademark “lip stinging” acidity. Several producers in Paso Robles will occasional produce bottlings of Picpoul blanc including–Adelaida Cellars, Denner Winery, Derby Wine Estates, Halter Ranch, Lone Madrone, Bending Branch Winery and Broc Cellars.

Outside of Paso Robles, the grape can also be found in Calaveras County where Twisted Oak Winery and Forlorn Hope make varietal examples as well as in the Arroyo Seco AVA of Monterrey County which supplies Picpoul for Bonny Doon. In Arizona, Cimarron Vineyard in Cochise County is growing Picpoul blanc for Sand-Reckoner Winery and in the McLaren Vale of Australia, Picpoul blanc has been produced by Coriole Vineyards since 2015.

In Washington, outside of the Los Oídos Vineyards supplying Gramercy, the grape is being grown at Boushey Vineyards, Corliss Estate’s Blue Mountain Vineyard in Walla Walla and at Tanjuli Winery’s estate vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA.

The Wine

Photo by Vegan Feast Catering. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

The lemon custard aromatics and creaminess of this 2015 Gramercy Picpoul is just one of the many complex layers to this wine.

High intensity nose. There is a lot going on here. Initially it starts out very floral and lemony with subtle pastry crust like a lemon custard tart. Underneath the lemon zest is some dusty gravel mineral notes. In a blind tasting, this would have my brain start thinking white Bordeaux. There is also a white floral note in the background that is not very defined.

But on the palate the wine switches gears and starts getting more tree fruit oriented with spicy d’Anjou pears and the floral notes morphing more into lemon verbena. The custard note from the nose carries through adding a richness to the mouthfeel–creamy but not buttery like a California Chardonnay. Even with this weighty creaminess the high acidity is quite present, offering exquisite balance and freshness. The gravel mineral notes come through and have a “crushed rock” element that is almost electric. The long finish brings a subtle hint of hazelnut that would have me wondering in a blind tasting if this was a village level Meursault.

The Verdict

Incredibly complex wine that jumps out of the glass and leaves a lasting impression on the palate. At around $20 bucks this is an absolute steal for all that this wine delivers.

But even if you can’t find a bottle of Gramercy’s Picpoul, do yourself a favor and find any bottle of Picpoul to try. If you are looking to trade out from your same ole, same ole Sauvignon blanc and Pinot gris, this grape is perfect.

Picpoul has the freshness and zip of a great Sauvignon blanc but with some of the spice of Gruner Veltliner and depth of a well made Chardonnay. Examples from Picpoul de Pinet can be had for $10-13 and are often far superior to what you usually find among Sauvignon blanc, Pinot gris/grigio and Chardonnay in the under $15 category.

This is definitely a grape that should be high on any wine geek’s list to try.

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Getting Geeky with Soaring Rooster Rose of Counoise

Going to need more than 60 Seconds to geek out about the 2016 Soaring Rooster Rosé of Counoise from Tagaris Winery.

The Background

I talked a little about the Taggares family and Tagaris winemaker, Frank Roth, in my 60 Second Review of the 2015 Tagaris Pinot noir from the Areté Vineyard.

In addition to the 200 acre Areté Vineyard, Tagaris also owns the 100 acre Alice Vineyard on the south slopes of the Saddle Mountains in the Wahluke Slope AVA. Named after owner Michael Taggares’ mother, this vineyard is home to many grape varieties that are unique to Washington State such as Counoise, Grenache, Tempranillo and Mourvedre.

Located near Weinbau and Rosebud vineyards is Tagaris’ third estate vineyard–the Michael Vineyard–that is also planted to unique varieties like Carménère, Cinsault, Barbera and Sangiovese.

The 2016 Rosé of Counoise was made via the saignée production method where juice from red Counoise must is “bled off” and fermented into a rosé. In her book, Rosé Wine, Master of Wine Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan describes how during this point the must has a higher level of alcohol compared to the short maceration method. As an extracting agent, the alcohol leaches out more color and flavor from the skins producing deeply colored and richer flavored rosés.

The Grape

Photo by Vbecart. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Counoise grapes growing in a vineyard owned by the Syndicat des Vignerons des Côtes du Rhône, Châteauneuf-de-Gadagne, Vaucluse.

Jancis Robinson notes in Wine Grapes, that Counoise is a very old grape variety, distantly related to Piquepoul, that was first mentioned in Avignon in 1626. The French poet Frédéric Mistral (1830-1914) claimed that the grape was of Spanish origins, being first brought to the Rhone in the 14th century during the papal reign of Urban V by a vice-legate named Counesa.

While Harry Karis, in The Chateauneuf-du-Pape Wine Book, believes that Counoise originated in Provence, it was in Châteauneuf-du-Pape where the grape first gained renown in the 19th century as a key component in the blends of Château la Nerthe made by Joseph Ducos. Baron Pierre Le Roy de Boiseaumarié of Château Fortia, who helped write the original AOC laws of the region, was also a fan of the variety and made sure it was included as a permitted grape for red Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

More recently both Domaine du Pégau and Château de Beaucastel have championed usage of Counoise in Châteauneuf-du-Pape–even though today it only accounts for around 0.4% of all plantings. In fact, over the last couple decades Beaucastel has been decreasing their plantings of Syrah in favor of Counoise, feeling that the grape’s natural acidity, spice and late-ripening qualities serve as a better compliment to Grenache and Mourvedre. Making up to 10% of the blend for their CdP rouge in some years, Beaucastel uses the highest proportion of Counoise in the region.

Outside of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the grape can also be found in neighboring Gigondas and several villages permitted to use the Côtes du Rhône-Villages appellation. It is also grown in the Ventoux and can be used in the rosé wines of Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence. In these rosés, Counoise usually sees brief skin contact as part of the short maceration method with the Counoise contributing fresh acidity, spices and dark berry fruits. For the red Counoise wines of Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, aromas of chocolate and leather can also emerge.

Photo taken by self and uploaded to Wikimedia Commons as User:Agne27 under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Counoise vine growing outside the tasting room of Tablas Creek in Paso Robles.


In the United States, Tablas Creek brought cuttings of Counoise from Château de Beaucastel to California in 1990. From there it spread to other Rhone Rangers in Paso Robles and then up north to Randall Grahm’s Bonny Doon winery in Santa Cruz where Grahm often blends it with Cinsault. In the Livermore Valley, the Wente family makes a small-lot varietal example of Counoise.

The winemaking team at Tablas Creek notes that the grape is prone to oxidation which makes it a useful compliment to the reductive nature of Syrah and Mourvedre in blends.

In 2000, Doug McCrea (of McCrea Cellars/Salida) convinced Jim Holmes of Ciel du Cheval Vineyard on Red Mountain to plant Counoise from Tablas Creek cuttings. By 2012, the acreage of Counoise in Washington had grown to 15 acres with plantings in the Yakima Valley vineyards Meek and Airfield Ranch, the Alice Vineyard in the Wahluke Slope, the Needlerock Vineyard in the Columbia Valley as well as Forgotten Hills Vineyard and Morrison Lane in Walla Walla. In Washington Wines, Paul Gregutt notes that John Farmer, one of the first to plant Rhone varieties in the Horse Heaven Hills, also sought out cuttings to plant at Alder Ridge Vineyard.

Photo by Williamborg. Released on Wikimedia Commons under PD-self

The Wahluke Slope AVA with the Saddle Mountains in the distance. The Soaring Rooster Rosé of Counoise comes from the Alice Vineyard in this AVA.


In addition to Tagaris Winery, varietal examples of Counoise can also be found in Washington from Cairdeas Winery, Cana’s Feast, Côtes de Ciel, Lindsay Creek Vineyards, Martin-Scott Winery and Syncline.

The Wine

Medium-plus intensity nose. A mix of raspberry and dark berry fruits. There is also a blue floral element that is intriguing.

On the palate, the dark blackberry fruits dominant more and add a bit of weight to this rosé. While there is a lot of fruit, it’s dry. There is also some texture you feel on the tongue. It’s not bitter or pithy like phenolic extract but, again, adds to the overall weight of the wine. Medium-plus acidity adds a juicy freshness with even a bit of minerality peaking out on the moderate length finish.

The Verdict

With the weight and dark fruits, this is a rosé for red wine drinkers. Its full body and richness opens it up to interesting food pairing possibilities. After reading Simonetti-Bryan’s Rosé Wine, I think I’ve found a rosé to experiment with for some of the more robust pairings I mentioned in my review of the book like lamb and beef brisket.

For $12-15, this 2016 Soaring Rooster Rosé of Counoise is a very solid dry rosé that gives drinkers a lot of food pairing versatility as well as a chance to geek out with a very cool grape.

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Wine Geek Notes 3/5/18 — Zinfandel, World of Syrah and Washington Wine

Photo by schnaars. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

Here is what I’m reading today in the world of wine.

Interesting Tweets and Weblinks

The Week in Zinfandel (2/26/18) by Tom Lee (@NWTomLee)

This is a frequent series by Lee on the Zinfandel Chronicles that highlights reviews and articles that discuss Zin. He was gracious enough to include my recent review of the 2014 Two Vintner’s Zinfandel in his recent round-up but I was most excited to explore several of the other links he posted. Below were two of my favorites.

Have We Taken the “Less Is More” Wine Aesthetic Too Far? by Jon Bonné (@jbonne) for Punch (@punch_drink)

With Bonné being one of the big proponents for lighter, lower alcohol wines (pretty much the anti-thesis of “Parkerized”), this was not an essay I expected to read from him. But he does make a lot of great points about the value of diversity as he bemoans the lack of interest in what he terms “Ferdinand wines”–big wines that have beauty even at high alcohol levels–such as California Zinfandel, Amarone, Brunello di Montalcino, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Priorat.

Heart of Zinfandel: Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley (Paywall) by Stephen Brook (@StephenPBrook) for Decanter (@Decanter)

As I described in my post Zin-ful Thoughts, my opinions of Zinfandel are evolving and I’m eagerly looking for new areas to explore. Brook gives a nice overview of Dry Creek Zins and has me particularly intrigued by the offerings of Joel Peterson’s Once & Future from the Tedeschi Vineyard, Fritz Underground Winery and Passalacqua’s PQZ.

Cayuse manages to be weird in both taste and marketing. Though, IMO, their Cailloux and En Chamberlain Syrahs–with their boring orange labels–are the best.


World of Syrah Kick-off at Celebrate Walla Walla by Bean Fairbanks of Wine Beer Washington (@winebeerWA)

Part 1 of a series from the World of Syrah presentation given by writer Patrick Comiskey (@patcisco) and Master Sommelier/Master of Wine Doug Frost (@winedogboy). Nice overview of the distinction between the regions where Syrah is used as the primary grape versus more of a blending variety but my favorite quote is the one Bean highlights from Comiskey “The Syrah taste needs to be weird NOT the marketing”.

The beauty of Syrah, especially from the Rocks District in Oregon, is the funky weirdness. But gimmicky marketing is just….gimmicky marketing. If the wine can’t stand out on its own without the gimmicks than that should be a red flag.

Taste Washington Wine Month Links

March is Taste Washington Wine Month which at SpitBucket means that I’ll be nose deep in studying more about the history of the vineyards, wineries and people that make the Washington wine industry so exciting.

The women of wine are taking their rightful place (Jan 2015) by David LeClaire (@SeattleUncorked) for Seattle Dining (@SeattleDINING1)

March is also Women’s History Month and I loved this article from LeClaire highlighting kick-ass women who are not only winemakers (like Kay Simon of Chinook and Cheryl Barber-Jones of Chateau Ste. Michelle) but also sommeliers, writers (Braiden Rex-Johnson of Northwest Wining and Dining), chefs, and educators (Joan Davenport of WSU and DavenLore Winery).

Purple Gold: The influence of Husky alums can be tasted throughout the Northwest wine industry (December 2012) by David Volk for the Columns alumni magazine of the University of Washington.

I stumbled across this link while researching for the The Mastery of Bob Betz post. Every Apple Cup, I want to do a tasting of Husky wines vs Coug wines but, while it is easy to find wines made by WSU grads, until I came across this link I didn’t have an easy resource for wines with UW connections.

Washington’s great vineyards: Upland Vineyard (August 2013) by Andy Perdue (@GreatNWWine) for Great Northwest Wine.

Inspired by Peter Blecha’s essay on the history of Associated Vintners that I highlighted in my 3/3/18 Geek Notes, I wanted to research more about the role that William B. Bridgman played in the history of Washington wine.

That research brought me to Perdue’s article on the history of Upland Vineyard that Bridgman first planted in 1917 with Vitis vinifera varieties like Zinfandel and Sauvignon blanc. Today the vineyard is owned by the Newhouse family who continue to farm old blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin blanc, Merlot and Riesling that were planted in the 1970s. There is also a block of old vine Black Muscat that the date of planting is not quite known but it is possible that these vines are approaching the century mark.

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The Mastery of Bob Betz

Washington State is ridiculously spoiled with talented winemakers.

Alex Golitzin of Quilceda Creek, Christophe Baron of Cayuse, Chris Figgins of Leonetti, Rick Small of Woodward Canyon, Scott Greer of Sheridan, Anna Shafer of àMaurice, Greg Harrington of Gramercy, Kay Simon of Chinook, Charlie Hoppes of Fidelitas, Chris Upchurch of DeLille/Upchurch Vineyard, Ben Smith of Cadence, Chris Camarda of Andrew Will, Charlie Hoppes of Fidelitas, Rob Newsom of Boudreaux, Kerry Shiels of Côte Bonneville, Chris Peterson of Avennia/Passing Time, etc.

And that is only a small sliver of the immense talent in this state.

But if you asked me to give you just one expression of winemaking talent that exhibits the best of Washington, I would answer without any hesitation that it is Bob Betz.

From Chicago to the Chateau

A Chicago native, Bob Betz moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1954. He attended the University of Washington with the goal of entering med school but, when those plans didn’t work out, he spent a year in Europe with his wife, Cathy, where he discovered a passion for wine.

After working at a wine shop for a year, he was hired by Charles Finkel (now of Pike Brewing Company) to work at Chateau Ste. Michelle back when the Washington powerhouse was a small winery operating on East Marginal Way in Seattle. There he was mentored by the famed consultant André Tchelistcheff of Beaulieu Vineyard fame.

Starting in communications with the estate, as Chateau Ste. Michelle moved to Woodinville and grew into Washington’s largest winery, Betz worked his way up to Vice President of Winemaking Research–working closely with an All-Star roster of winemaking talent such Mike Januik (Novelty Hill/Januik Winery), Cheryl Barber-Jones (Sozo Friends), Kay Simon (Chinook Wines), Joy Anderson (Snoqualmie Vineyards), Erik Olsen (Clos du Bois/Constellation Brands) and Charlie Hoppes (Fidelitas). During this time, his own passion for winemaking and starting his own label developed.

Photo taken by self. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons as User:Agne27 under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Bob Betz (in grey sweat shirt) talking with guests at a release party at Betz Family Winery


In the mid 1990s, he embarked on completing the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) program, earning his Master of Wine (MW) in 1998. To this day, he is one of the few MWs who are practicing winemakers (Billo Naravane at Rasa/Sinclair Estate is another), with the vast majority of individuals who hold that title being writers, educators, wholesalers and retailers.

In earning his MW, Betz won the Villa Maria Award for the highest scores on the viticultural exam as well as the Robert Mondavi Award for the highest overall scores in all theory exams.

Betz Family Winery

In 1997, Greg Lill of DeLille Cellars offered space in his winery for Betz to make six barrels of his first vintage. Sourcing fruit from Klipsun vineyard on Red Mountain, Harrison Hill on Snipes Mountain and Portteus vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA, it wasn’t long before the accolades came in with Betz having numerous wines featured on Best of Washington lists by the Seattle Times and Seattle Met as well as earning Winemaker of the Year from Sunset Magazine in 2007. Moving from DeLille, he was one of the first wineries in the now-famous “Warehouse District” of Woodinville before building his own winery.

Just as he was mentored by Tchelistcheff and others, Betz has mentored other budding talents such as Kathryn House (House of Wine), Tyson Schiffner (brewmaster at Sumerian Brewing), Ross Mickel (Ross Andrews), Chris Dickson (Twill Cellars), Casey Cobble (Robert Ramsay) and his eventual successor as head winemaker at Betz, Louis Skinner.

La Côte Rousse, a “New World style” Syrah from Red Mountain


In 2011, with Bob & Cathy Betz’s daughters expressing no interest in taking over the winery, Betz worked out an agreement to sell the winery to South African entrepreneurs Steve and Bridgit Griessel. Agreeing to stay on with the winery for five more years, a succession plan was worked out with Louis Skinner, a South Seattle Northwest Wine Academy alum and former assistant at DeLille Cellars, taking over the winemaking duties at Betz Family Winery in 2016 with Betz as a consultant.

In 2017, Bob Betz returned to Chateau Ste. Michelle as a consultant for Col Solare, a joint project with the Antinori family located on Red Mountain. Here Betz will be working with Darel Allwine and Antinori’s head enologist Renzo Cotarella.

Tasting the Best of Washington

While the future of Betz Family Winery looks strong with the Griessels and Louis Skinner, there is something magical about “Bob’s vintages” of Betz that are worth savoring. Paul Gregutt, in Washington Wines, describes Betz Family Winery as one of the “Five Star Wineries” in Washington and ascribes their success to Betz’s “painstaking planning and attention to detail”, noting that if even a single barrel of wine didn’t meet his standards then it would be sold off rather than used in the wines.

La Serenne, a “Northern Rhone-style” Syrah from Boushey Vineyard.

The list of vineyards that Bob Betz has worked with includes some of the “Grand Crus” of Washington like Boushey Vineyard and Red Willow in Yakima; Ciel du Cheval, Kiona and Klipsun on Red Mountain; Harrison Hill and Upland Vineyard on Snipes Mountain.

2010 La Serenne Syrah – 100% Syrah sourced from Boushey Vineyard. This cool-climate site north of Grandview, Washington is often harvested more than a month after the Syrahs that go into La Côte Rousse from Red Mountain are picked. Around 535 cases were made.

High intensity nose with a mixture of dark fruit–black plums and blackberries–smoke and spice.

On the palate those dark fruits come through but it is the savory, smokey, meatiness that is the star of the show. Medium-plus acidity keeps it fresh and juicy while the medium-plus tannins have a velvety feel at this point. The long savory finish on this wine would make any Côte-Rôtie lover weak in the knees. Stunningly beautiful and well worth the $70-75.

2011 La Côte Rousse – 100% Syrah sourced from Ciel du Cheval and The Ranch At The End of The Road Vineyard in Red Mountain. The parcels from Ciel du Cheval include some of the oldest plantings of Syrah on Red Mountain. The wine was aged in 45% new oak barrels. Around 559 cases were made.

Medium-intensity nose. A bit more oak driven with the baking spice. Underneath there is a core still of dark fruit but it is not as defined.

On the palate, the fruit is still struggling to be defined. It seems to be a mix of black cherries with a little red pomegranate. Medium acidity and soft medium tannins add lushness to the mouthfeel. The oak is still fairly noticeable with a sweet vanilla edge and rich dark chocolate note that lingers through to the moderate finish. Definitely a more “New World” style that reminds me of a less sweet Mollydooker. Not my personal style but at $70-75, it is well in line with Mollydooker’s Carnival of Love and Enchanted Path for those who enjoy those bold, lush wines.

2011 Bésoleil – A blend of 54% Grenache, 15% Cinsault, 12% Counoise, 12% Mourvedre and 7% Syrah. Sourced from vineyards in Yakima, Red Mountain and Snipes Mountains, this was the first vintage to include Counoise. Around 662 cases were made.

Medium-plus intensity nose. Very evocative mix of blue flowers–violets and irises–with spicy black pepper, anise and Asian spices. This wine smells like you walked into a fantastic Indian restaurant.

On the palate, a mix of dark and red fruits come out but the spices get even more mouthwatering with the medium-plus acidity. The medium tannins are very silky at this point, helping the fruit to wrap around your tongue and linger for a long finish. Still fairly New World in style but at $50-55, this is inimitably charming and complex to entice a Châteauneuf-du-Pape fan.

2011 Clos de Betz – A blend of 67% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot. Often features fruit from Ciel du Cheval and Kiona on Red Mountain, Red Willow and Dubrul in the Yakima Valley and Alder Ridge in the Horse Heaven Hills. The wine was aged in 45% new oak. Around 1186 cases were made.

Clos de Betz, a Right Bank Bordeaux style blend.

Medium intensity nose–a mix of red and black currants with a floral element that is not very defined. With some air, tertiary notes of tobacco spice emerge as well as an intriguing graphite pencil lead that would have me thinking Cabernet Franc is in this blend even though it’s not.

On the palate, the tide tilts more towards the red fruits dominating with the medium-plus acidity adding a sense of freshness to the wine. The graphite pencil notes disappear and seem to be replaced with an espresso chocolately note that plays off the tobacco spice that carried through. Medium tannins are well integrated and velvet–showing that this wine is probably at its peak drinking window now. Moderate length finish brings back the floral notes though I still can’t quite pinpoint them.

At $65-70, you won’t confuse this for a St. Emilion or Pomerol but this wine amply demonstrates how fantastic Bordeaux varieties–particularly Merlot–do in Washington State.

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60 Second Wine Review — 2011 Ormes de Pez

A few quick thoughts on the 2011 Château Ormes de Pez from St. Estephe.

The Geekery

Since 1940, Château Ormes de Pez has been under the ownership of the Cazes family, owners of the famous 5th Growth Pauillac estate of Lynch Bages, with the same viticulture and winemaking team used at both estates. Additionally the Cazes family also own the Graves estate Villa Bel Air and Domaine des Senechaux in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Stephen Brook notes in The Complete Bordeaux that Ormes de Pez has 3 distinct soil types with a third of the vineyards planted on a mix of clay and gravel, another third planted on gravel and sand and another parcel, located near Tronquoy Lalande, planted on pure gravel.

The 2011 vintage is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot that spent 15 months aging in French oak (45% new). The estate produces around 210,000 bottles a year with no widely distributed second wine.

The Wine

Medium-plus intensity nose. Some dark fruits (currants and blackberry) with earthy leather. With a little air some of the oak spices comes out.

Photo by The U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under Public Domain usage.

There is quite a bit of spice and complexity in this wine as well as an intriguing black licorice note.


On the palate the dark fruits carry through and have a juicy component with medium-plus acidity. Medium-plus tannins still have a firm grip on this wine but, thankfully, they don’t seem as green as some of the other 2011 Bordeaux wines have been. A little black licorice spice joins the more pronounce oak spice of clove and cinnamon. The finish has good length with the earthy leather from the nose returning.

The Verdict

You can’t sugar coat the problems that the 2011 vintage gave Bordeaux with its crazy spring, rainy July and uneven ripeness seen throughout the region. However as Andrew Jefford noted in Decanter even in rough vintages, high quality producers still have the tools to make good quality wine.

At around $35, this 2011 Ormes de Pez has impeccable pedigree with the Lynch-Bages team and is a solid value for Bordeaux.

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Walla Walla Musings

A few notes from the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance tasting featuring 40 different Walla Walla wineries at Seattle’s McCaw Hall.

New (to me) Walla Walla Wineries that Impressed

With over 900 wineries, even the most avid Washington wine lover has a hard time trying to taste them all. Walla Walla, alone, is home to around 120 wineries so even this tasting provided only a slice of what the AVA has to offer. My strategy at events like this is to hit several new wineries that I’ve never tasted before revisiting old favorites.

Lagana Cellars— Poured 2 whites (Sauvignon blanc and Chardonnay) and 2 reds (Syrah and Cabernet Franc) and while all 4 were solid, the reds were definitely a step above. The 2014 Minnick Hills Syrah was one of the few 2014 Syrahs that seemed to escape the reductiveness that (unfortunately) characterized several of their peers at this tasting and showed a beautiful mix of black fruit, mouthwatering acidity and spice. The 2015 Seven Hills Cabernet Franc demonstrated all the things that are beautiful about Washington Cabernet Franc (More on that below). It had vivacious, high intensity aromatics of violets and blackberry, medium-plus body with silky tannins.

Kontos Cellars— Poured 3 reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and blend) plus a bonus bottle blend named Beckett after the winemaker’s daughter. Founded by the sons of Cliff Kontos of Fort Walla Walla Cellars, the trademark seen throughout the Kontos wines was gorgeous aromatics and pitch perfect balance between oak, fruit, tannins and acidity. Even the two 2014 wines (Cab & Alatus blend) stood out but the star of the flight was the wine club member’s only release Beckett blend. A blend of 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot and 8% Syrah, the 2013 Beckett showcased Kontos’s high intensity aromatics with a mix of red and black cherries, red floral notes and lots of savory spice.

I’m very glad that I didn’t miss this table.


Tertulia Cellars— Poured 3 reds (Rhone blend, Syrah and Cabernet Franc). This is a little of a cheat since Tertulia is not really a newbie. Founded in 2005, I did try some of their early releases several years ago and wasn’t that impressed. I figured after nearly 10 years, I should give them another shot and boy am I glad I did. The 2013 Riviera Galets “The Great Schism” Rhone blend was outstanding.

A blend of 50% Grenache, 40% Syrah, 7% Cinsault and 3% Mourvedre, this wine would do extremely well in a tasting of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Beautiful savory, meaty nose but with enough rich dark fruit to clue you in that it was a New World wine. This wine also had one of the longest finishes of the night. The 2014 Whistling Hills Syrah had some of the 2014 reductive notes but it blew off fairly quickly with some air. The 2015 Cabernet Franc, like the Lagana above, was delicious.

Other wineries that impressed me were Caprio Cellars (especially the 2015 Walla Walla Red), Solemn Cellars (especially the 2014 Pheasant Run Cabernet Sauvignon) and Vital Wines (especially the 2016 Rose).

Old Favorites that Shined

You can never go wrong with Woodward Canyon and their 2014 Artist Series is a worthy follow up to the 2013. The 2014 Old Vines also did very well. In fact, along with the 2014 wines that are noted throughout this post, Woodward Canyon seemed to be one of the few producers to have 2014 wines that weren’t showing any green or reductive notes. (More on that below)

Despite enjoying their estate red for several years, I actually never knew that Figgins produced an estate Riesling and it was fantastic! From the 2016 vintage, the Riesling is decidedly on the dry side and had all the gorgeous white flower, apple and apricot notes that Washington Riesling is known for. Truly a top shelf Riesling that would go toe to toe with the best of Alsace and the Mosel.

Anna Shafer of àMaurice continues to show why she is one of the best winemakers in the state working not only with her estate vineyards but also making a mouth-filling but elegant 2015 Boushey Vineyard Grenache and a 2016 Connor Lee Chardonnay that would tickle the taste buds of even the most ardent Meursault fan.

The Bledsoe Family rose was also very tasty.


Doubleback introduced their 2015 Flying B Cabernet Sauvignon. I got the first taste of a brand new bottle and I was highly impressed with how aromatic and flavorful it was for a pop and pour young Cab. While I enjoyed the regular flagship Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon, I will say that for half the price the Flying B is giving it a run for the money. I would highly encourage folks to sit on the flagship Cab for 5-7 years from vintage date and drink the Flying B while it ages.

Geeky Grapes on Display

While Washington State and Walla Walla wineries are known for fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Riesling, it was fun seeing winemakers embrace more obscure varieties like Albariño (Adamant Cellars), Grenache blanc (The Walls) and Carménère.

Paul Gregutt notes in Washington Wines and Wineries that the Figgins family of Leonetti were likely the first to plant Carménère in the state with cuttings they got from Guenoc Winery in California. Those cuttings were eventually shared with Colvin Vineyards that produced the first varietal Carménère in Washington in 2001. Since then the grape’s acreage in the state has expanded with plantings in Alder Ridge Vineyard, Minnick Hills, Morrison Lane and Seven Hills Vineyard.

I tried to figure out what vineyard in the Wahluke Slope had Carménère but my question was brushed off because they wanted to “highlight the AVA and not the vineyard.”
Um….okay.


Among the numerous wineries featuring a Carménère at the tasting were Balboa/Beresan Winery, Drink Washington State (from Wahluke Slope), Reininger Winery and Skylite Cellars. I missed out on trying the Reininger but was fairly impressed with Drink Washington State’s offering. But admittedly at $26 you are paying for the uniqueness of the variety in Washington and, right now, it is hard to compete with some of the Carménère coming in from Chile that often delivers outstanding value under $15.

Probably the geekiest wine at the tasting was Foundry Vineyards’ Stainless Steel Chardonnay from the Columbia Gorge. A Chard? Geeky? It is when it has 6% Maria Gomes blended in. Also known as Fernão Pires, Jancis Robinson notes in Wine Grapes that this obscure Portuguese grape variety is actually the most widely planted white grape in Portugal with over 41,500 acres. It is believed to have originated in either the Bairrada DOC or in the Tejo region but it can be found throughout the country including in the Douro. In the US, though, it is quite the rare bird.

Pay Attention to Washington Cabernet Franc

Walter Clore encouraged the first plantings of Cabernet Franc in the mid-1970s as part of Washington State University’s experimental blocks. In 1985, Red Willow Vineyard in Yakima planted the grape which was used by Master of Wine David Lake at Columbia Winery to produce the first varietal Cabernet Franc in 1991. Since then the grape has seen growth from 150 acres in 1993 to a peak of 1157 acres in 2006 only to decline to 685 acres by 2017.

Which is a crying shame because of how absolutely delicious Washington Cabernet Franc is!

The 2012 Spring Valley Katherine Corkrum Cabernet Franc was, hands down, one of the best wines in the entire tasting.


While Old World examples from places like Chinon and Saumur-Champigny in the Loire can be light to medium bodied and herbal with trademark pencil shaving notes, examples from Washington hold up to the weight and profile of the state’s best Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Here Cabernet Franc can develop perfumed blue floral aromatics with some subtle fresh forest floor earthiness that add layers. The dark raspberry and blueberry carry a juicy edge due to the grape’s natural acidity. With some age, a very enticing fresh ground coffee note often comes out–something that the 2012 Spring Valley Vineyards Katherine Corkrum Cabernet Franc was starting to develop.

Outside of Walla Walla, stellar examples of Washington Cabernet Franc include Chinook Wines, Barrister, Camaraderie, Matthews Cellars, Gamache Vineyards, Chatter Creek and Sheridan Vineyard’s Boss Block.

At the Walla Walla tasting, in addition to the Spring Valley example that was a contender for Wine of The Show, other tremendous Cabernet Francs were showcased by Lagana Cellars (2015 Seven Hills), Tamarack Cellars (2015 Columbia Valley), Tertulia Cellars (2015 Elevation), Tranche (2013 Walla Walla), March Cellars (2016 Columbia Valley) and Walla Walla Vintners (2015 Columbia Valley)

What happened in 2014?

Along with Woodward Canyon, Kontos produced the cleanest and best tasting 2014 reds I encountered at the tasting.


The most baffling aspect of the Walla Walla tasting was how many 2014 reds were disappointing. Despite widely being considered a very good year in Washington State and Walla Walla, in particular, several wines from even big name and highly acclaimed producers showed green pyrazine or reductive notes. One winery had massive volatile acidity (VA) issues with their 2014s. With many wineries also featuring 2013 and 2015 reds, sometimes even of the same wine as their 2014, the shortcomings in the 2014s stuck out like a sore thumb.

And it wasn’t very consistent with one winery’s 2014s being green while another winery’s 2014 example of the same variety would instead have the closed aromas of reduced wines or (at worst with at least 2 examples) the burnt rubber aroma of mercaptans. While the reductive issues are minimized with getting some air into the wine (like with decanting), the green notes don’t go away. I can’t figure a reason why there would be so many green notes in what was a very warm vintage.

As far as I can tell there were no reports of millerandage or coulure which can promote uneven ripeness and hidden green berries inside clusters of varieties like Grenache, Merlot and Malbec. Plus, it was the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrahs that were more likely to show green notes. My only theory is that with it being such a large vintage perhaps some vineyards were over-cropped? But given the pedigree of the producers, I feel like that is unlikely.

I honestly don’t know. As noted above, there were still 2014s that were drinking well (and I certainly didn’t get a chance to taste every single one that was being poured) so I encourage consumers not to avoid the vintage but be aware that there is some inconsistency. I’m just reporting on a trend that I observed during this one tasting event.

My Top 5 Wines of the Event

The 2016 Figgins Estate Riesling was an absolute gem.

There were plenty of outstanding wines featured at the 2018 Walla Walla Wine Tasting at McCaw Hall that give me reasons to be excited about the future of the Walla Walla wine industry. This region is well worth exploring at your local wine shops and restaurants. Even with my reservations about many 2014 wines, there were numerous wines poured that I could very enthusiastically recommend. But my top 5 overall were:

1.) 2013 Tertulia Riviera Galets
2.) 2012 Spring Valley Vineyards Katherine Corkrum Cabernet Franc
3.) 2013 Kontos Cellars Beckett
4.) 2015 Abeja Merlot
5.) 2016 Figgins Estate Riesling

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Getting Geeky with Domaine de Couron Marselan

Going to need more than 60 seconds to geek out about the 2014 Domaine de Couron Marselan from the Ardèche region.

The Grape

According to Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes, Marselan is a crossing of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache that was created by Paul Truel in 1961 at the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA). The grape was named after the town of Marseillan where cultivars produced by the INRA’s breeding estate of Domaine de Vassel are stored.

Marselan wasn’t officially added to the register of varieties till 1990 when growers began to plant it in the Languedoc and Southern Rhone. By 2009, there were almost 6000 acres planted with Robinson noting that the most successful producers of the variety have been Domaine de Couron, Chateau Camplazens, Domaine de la Camarette, Paul Mas, Mas de Ray and the Châteauneuf-du-Pape estate of Domaine de la Mordorée which does a Marselan, Merlot and Grenache blend.

In the Côtes du Rhône AOC, Marselan is only permitted up to a maximum of 10% so Rhône producers wishing to make a varietal examples have to produce it as a Vin de France or under one of the regional Indication Géographique Protégée (IGP) like Pays d’Oc, Mediterranee, Bouches-du-Rhone, Aude, Cotes de Thau, Coteaux d’Enserune, Cotes de Gascogne, Comtes Rhodaniens, Cotes Catalanes and, in the case of this bottle of Domaine de Couron, from the Ardeche.

Photo by Vbecart. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons and released under  CC-BY-SA-3.0,

Marselan grapes


Outside of France, Marselan was first planted in the Penedès region of Spain in the mid-1990s with some growers in the Terra Alta region of Catalunya also experimenting with the variety. In Argentina, around 195 acres of the grape was planted as of 2008 and around 59 acres in Brazil. In Uruguay, Bodega Garzón blends Marselan with Tannat and makes a varietal example as well.

In China, the Sino-French Demonstration Vineyard located in Hebei province in the shadow of the Great Wall in Hulai county includes plantings of Marselan that winemaker Li Demei produces a varietal wine from. The 2015 Marselan from Grace Vineyard in the Shanxi province won the top prize at the 2017 Decanter Asia Wine Awards.

The Winery

Located in the village of Saint Marcel d’Ardeche, Jean-Luc and Marie-Lise Dorthe are 9th generation vignerons farming their vineyards in this area of the Rhône valley northwest of Avignon. All their parcels are farmed sustainably and organically.

The area used to be a Roman settlement with many ruins and archaeological sites. The Roman coin featured on the Domaine de Couron label was uncovered in one of their vineyards.

Domaine de Couron farms .72 acres of Marselan planted in granite and limestone soils. The grapes are completely destemed after harvest and fermented in concrete tanks. The wine doesn’t see any oak during aging so as to better convey the typicity of the grape and terroir of the vineyard. Around 1000 cases are produced each year.

The Wine

Mid intensity nose. A mix of black fruit like cherries and currants as well as some herbal notes like mint and tomato leaf. With some air, a little Grenache-like smokiness emerges.

Photo by McEC16. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

The mix of juicy cherries and currants give this Domaine du Couron Marselan a lot of charm and adds to its food pairing potential.


On the palate, the black fruit carries through but the medium plus acidity also adds some red fruit like juicy cranberries to the mix. The herbal and smoke notes are still present but much more muted on the palate than on the nose. In their place is an intriguing tobacco note that I usually associate with Cabernet Sauvignon that has seen some time in oak. Medium tannins and medium body give good balance and structure.

The Verdict

What was most charming about this bottle of Domaine du Couron Marselan was that you could pick up some of the Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon characteristics of its parent varieties in this wine. In a blind tasting, I would probably peg it as a moderate weight Côtes du Rhône or perhaps even an earthier Spanish Garnacha.

For a BBQ wine or if you are just in the mood to try something different, it is well worth the $13-16 for a bottle of this geeky grape.

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