Tag Archives: Languedoc-Roussillon

Geek Notes — New Wine Books for April

Today was a gorgeous 69 degree (20.6°C) day in Paris. In my old stomping grounds of Seattle, it was mostly sunny and 52°F (11°C). There is no doubt that Spring is on our doorsteps.

Photo by Traaf. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

I’m going to be apartment hunting over these next few weeks looking for a permanent place to call home. A big priority for the wife and I will be to find a flat with plenty of natural light. My Parisian dream is to curl up on the couch with a good book in the afternoon light with the ambient sounds of the city below.

Even though I’ve got around 20 boxes of books currently on a boat, I’m always on the lookout for more. With that, let’s take a look at a few recent releases that intrigue me.

Cheese Beer Wine Cider: A Field Guide to 75 Perfect Pairings by Steve Jones and Adam Lindsley (Flexibound released March 19, 2019)

Now that I’m in the land of a 1000 cheeses, I feel like this is a subject that I need to bone up on.

I already own Steven Jenkins’ Cheese Primer which is kind of like The Wine Bible of cheese. It’s a great book that I wholeheartedly recommend but it is a bit dense (576 pages) and likely outdated (1996).

While Jenkins’ book does touch a little on wine pairing, I’m very intrigued at Jones & Lindsley new work offering more of a pairing focus across a variety of beverages. This could come in handy as I start using the SpitBucket Instagram page to catalog my quest to try as many new cheeses as I can.

Tears of Bacchus: A History of Wine in the Middle East and Beyond by Michael Karam, Editor (Hardcover released March 1, 2019)
Sourced from File:Archeological sites - wine and oil (English).svg made by Makeemlighter. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Archeological sites where evidence of ancient wine and olive oil making have been found.

I was a history geek long before I was a wine geek, so anything with the words “wine” and “history” in the title is sure to capture my excitement. Two of my all-time favorite wine history books are Hugh Johnson’s Vintage (sadly no longer in print) and Patrick McGovern’s Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture.

Both of those books devote chapters to the viticultural history of the Middle East (more so in McGovern’s work) but as part of a greater overview of wine history.

What’s intriguing about Karam’s work is the specialized focus on wine from the cradle of civilization. He certainly has the background and pedigree after previously contributing Middle Eastern sections in both the Oxford Companion to Wine and The World Atlas of Wine as well as authoring Wines of Lebanon.

Languedoc-Roussillon (Guides to Wines and Top Vineyards) by Benjamin Lewin MW (Paperbook released March 10, 2019)
Photo by Delphine Ménard. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

Vines in the Minervois region of the Languedoc.

This is the latest offering in Master of Wine Benjamin Lewin’s fabulous series of French wine guides. I can not rave enough about Lewin’s work and have already bought several in this series.

They are all under $10 ($7.99 for Kindle) and easily digestible at 112 (Wines of Alsace) to 182 pages (Wines of Burgundy).

But don’t let their slim size fool you. These books are chockful of great details that both wine geeks and newbies will find worthwhile. They not only give you a feel for the land and key producers but are particularly invaluable for anyone planning to visit these regions. I got immense use out of the Burgundy book during my trip there last year which sold me on this entire series.

Beyond travel plans, anyone who is studying for French wine certification is well advised to take a look at Lewin’s books. You won’t find a better value among study materials.

Red & White: An unquenchable thirst for wine by Oz Clarke (Hardcover release March 26, 2019)
Photo by Colin1661music - Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 3.0,

Oz Clarke

Oz Clarke is a legendary wine writer who is highly regarded for his wit and highly personable presentation style. His latest offering tackles the changing dynamics of the wine world today. This includes chapters on Portugal’s growth out of the shadows of Port, the impact of climate change on the “cool climate” regions of Germany, Austria and Switzerland, England’s growing sparkling wine industry and more.

While not necessarily a buying guide–at 656 pages–Red & White features several of Clarke’s buying tips and favorite producers.

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Getting Geeky with Tablas Creek Vermentino

Back in January I wrote a post called Wine Clubs Done Right which detailed my discovery of Tablas Creek’s Wine Club program and ultimate decision to join it. As I noted in that post, I don’t join many wineries’ wine clubs because they rarely offer (to me) compelling value and I don’t like being committed to buying quantities of wine that may eventually shift in style due to changing winemakers/ownership, etc.

However, while exploring the Tablas Creek story and all they had to offer I found many compelling reasons to pull the trigger and join. Much to my surprise, the folks at Tablas Creek were actually interested in my tale and offered on their blog some cool behind the scene insights into their own thought processes in how they set up their wine club programs.

You usually don’t see that kind of receptivity and transparency with many wineries but, as I’ve found out in the nearly 8 months since I’ve been a member of Tablas Creek’s wine club, that is just par for the course with them. It’s not marketing or show, these folks are really just wine geeks through and through who clearly love what they are doing and sharing that passion with others.

If you are wine geek yourself, I honestly can’t recommend a more exciting winery to discover.

Beyond their hugely informative blog with harvest and business details, the Tablas Creek website also offers a fantastic vintage chart of their wines that is updated regularly and an encyclopedic listing of grape varieties they farm complete with geeky history, winemaking and viticulture details.

Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes is still my holy writ (and I really like Harry Karis’ The Chateauneuf-du-Pape Wine Book chapter on grapes) but when I’m away from my books and want to check up on a Rhone variety there is no better online source than the Tablas Creek site. Plus, the particular winemaking details they cover in the entries is often stuff that you won’t find in many wine books because it comes from their decades of hands-on experience working with these grapes between themselves and the Perrins’ Ch. Beaucastel estate.

Photo taken by self and uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Counoise vine outside the tasting room at Tablas Creek.


But enough with the effusive gushing and let’s get down to some hardcore geeking over the 2017 Tablas Creek Vermentino from the Adelaida District of Paso Robles.

The Background

Tablas Creek Vineyards was founded in 1989 as a partnership between the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel and Robert Haas of Vineyard Brands. As I noted in my 60 Second Review of the 2000 Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the Perrins have been in charge of the legendary Rhone property since 1909.

Robert Haas established Vineyard Brands in 1973 as part of a long wine importing career that began in the 1950s working for his father’s Manhattan retail shop M. Lehmann (which was eventually bought by Sherry Wine and Spirits Co. to become Sherry-Lehmann). After World War II, he was the first American importer to bring Chateau Petrus to the United States. Haas also helped popularize the idea of selling Bordeaux futures to American consumers.

In addition to Beaucastel, Haas represented the importing interests of the Burgundian estates Domaine Ponsot, Henri Gouges, Thibault Liger-Belair, Jean-Marc Boillot, Etienne Sauzet, Mongeard-Mugneret, Domaine de Courcel, Thomas Morey, Vincent & Sophie Morey, Vincent Girardin and Vincent Dauvissat as well as the Champagne houses Salon and Delamotte. Haas would go on to sell Vineyard Brands to the firm’s employees in 1997 with his son, Daniel, managing the company today.

Aaron Romano of Wine Spectator noted that Haas also helped launch Sonoma-Cutrer and promoted on a national stage the prestigious California wines of Chappellet, Joseph Phelps, Hanzell, Kistler and Freemark Abbey. In 1980, he co-found the distribution firm Winebow Group.

Photo by Deb Harkness, Uploaded to Wikimedia commons under CC-BY-2.0

The vineyards of Tablas Creek with some of the rocky limestone soil visible.

The similarity in the maritime climate and limestone soils of the Adelaida District, west of the city of Paso Robles, inspired Haas and the Perrins to purchase 120 acres and establish Tablas Creek. Planting of their estate vineyard began in 1994 and today the winery has 115 acres of vines that are biodynamically farmed–producing around 30,000 cases a year.

Utilizing its close connection to the Chateauneuf estate, Tablas Creek would go on to become an influential figure in the Rhone Ranger movement in the United States. Doing the heavy lifting of getting cuttings from Beaucastel through quarantine and TTB label approval, Tablas Creek would help pioneer in the US numerous varieties like Counoise, Terret noir, Grenache blanc, Picpoul and more. Additionally the high quality “Tablas Creek clones” of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre have populated the vineyards of highly acclaimed producers across California, Oregon and Washington.

In the mid-2000s, Robert’s son Jason joined the winery and is the now the general manager as well as the main contributor to Tablas Creek’s award winning blog.

Photo provided by NYPL Digital Gallery. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-PD-Mark with an author that died more than 100 years ago.

Vermentino from Giorgio Gallesio’s ampelography catalog published between 1817 and 1839.

In March 2018, Robert Haas passed away at the age of 90 leaving a lasting legacy on the world of wine.

The Grape

The origins and synonyms of Vermentino are hotly debated. Some ampelographers claim that the grape came from Spain via Corsica and Sardinia sometime between the 14th and 17th centuries with modern DNA evidence suggesting that the Vermentino vine of Tuscany, Corsica and Sardinia is the same grape as the Ligurian Pigato and the Piemontese Favorita.

However Ian D’Agata, in his Native Wine Grapes of Italy, notes that these conclusions are vigorously disputed by Italian growers, particularly in Liguria, who point out that different wine is produced by Pigato compared to other Vermentinos. D’Agata, himself, relays that he usually finds Pigato to produce “bigger, fatter wines” that have a creamier texture than most Vermentinos. The name “Pigato” is believed to have been derived from the word pigau in the Ligurian dialect, meaning spotted, and could be a reference to the freckled spots that appear on the berries after veraison.

The absence of Vementino being mentioned in the 1877 Bollettino Ampelografico listing of Sardinian varieties suggest that it could be a more recent grape to the island (though it was later included in the 1887 edition). Today the grape plays a prominent roll in Sardinia’s only DOCG wine–Vermentino di Gallura.

Photo by 	trolvag. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Vermentino vineyards in Sardinia.


The connection to Favorita seems to be less disputed though Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz note in Wine Grapes that historically the grape was believed to have been brought to Piedmont originally as a gift from Ligurian oil merchants. The first documentation of the grape was in the Roero region in 1676 where it was reported to be a “favorite” for consumption as a table grape.

Almost two decades earlier, in the Piemontese province of Alessandria, a grape named “Fermentino” was described growing in vineyards along with Cortese and Nebbiolo with this, perhaps, being the earliest recorded mentioning of Vermentino.

Historically, as Favorita, the grape has a long history of being blended with Nebbiolo as a softening agent to smooth out the later grape’s harsh tannins and acid in a manner not too dissimilar to the use of white grape varieties like Trebbiano and Malvasia being blended with Sangiovese in the historic recipe for Chianti.

While once the primary grape of Roero, in recent decades Favorita has fallen out of favor as Arneis and Chardonnay have gained in popularity.

Photo by Magnetto. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Rolle/Vermentino grapes growing in southern France.

Outside of Italy and Corsica, Vermentino can also be found in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France where it is known as Rolle. Beyond Europe the grape is grown in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon and has become one of the fastest growing “alternative grape varieties” in Australia with nearly 300 acres planted in 2016 in areas like Victoria, the Hunter Valley, King Valley, the Barossa and Murray Darling.

While Tablas Creek mostly focuses on Châteauneuf-du-Pape grapes, they were one of the first domestic producers of Vermentino in the United States when they planted the vine in 1993 based upon the recommendation of the Perrin family’s nurseryman who thought the vine would do well in the soils and climate of the Adelaida District. While originally used as a blending component, the winery has been making a varietal Vermentino since the 2002 vintage.

In 2008, there were around 20 acres of the Vermentino planted in California when there was some speculation that the grape could have appeal to Sauvignon blanc drinkers. By 2017 that number had jump to 91 acres as producers like Tablas Creek, Seghesio in the Russian River Valley, Mahoney Vineyards, Fleur Las Brisas and Saddleback in Carneros, Unti Vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley, Gros Ventre Cellars in El Dorado, Brick Barn in Santa Ynez, Twisted Oak in the Sierra Foothills and others began receiving acclaim for their bottlings.

Outside of California, notable plantings of Vermentino can be found in the Applegate Valley of Oregon (Troon Vineyard and Minimus Wines), the Texas High Plains (Duchman Family Winery) and the Monticello AVA of Virginia (Barboursville Vineyards).

In 2017, Tablas Creek produced 1430 cases of Vermentino. While some producers age their Vermentino in neutral oak, Tablas Creek fermented the wine with native yeast and aged it in stainless steel tanks.

The Wine

High intensity nose. Very citrus driven with kiffir lime, pink grapefruit and pummelo–both the zest and the fruit. There is also a tree fruit element that seems a bit peachy but I would put it more in the less sweet yellow peach category than white peach.

Photo by David Adam Kess. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

The mix of citrus and yellow peach notes are very intriguing with this wine.


On the palate, those citrus notes carry through and have an almost pithy element to them. Not bitter at all but it definitely adds weight and texture to the medium body of the wine. The medium-plus acid is mouthwatering and lively but well balanced with the acid highlighting the yellow peach note. The palate also introduces some racy minerality with a very distinctive streak of salinity that lingers long throughout the finish.

The Verdict

The best way I can describe this 2017 Tablas Creek Vermentino is if a New Zealand Sauvignon blanc, a sur lie Muscadet from the Loire and an Italian Pinot grigio had a threesome and produced a baby, this would be it.

This is a fascinatingly unique and character driven wine that combines multiple layers of tropical and tree fruit with acidity, minerality, weight and texture. Well worth its $27 price.

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Getting Geeky with Otis Kenyon Roussanne

Going to need more than 60 Seconds to geek out about the 2013 Otis Kenyon Roussanne from Lawrence Vineyards in the Columbia Valley AVA.

The Background

Otis Kenyon was founded in 2004 by Steve Kenyon who still runs the winery today with his daughter, Muriel.

The winery’s name comes four generations of Otis Kenyons with the original John Otis Kenyon, a dentist by training, being a notorious figure in Walla Walla for burning down a competitor’s office when the later starting stealing half of Kenyon’s clients.

The labels of Otis Kenyon wines pay tribute to this family history in a playful manner with a silhouette of the original Otis Kenyon with singed edges as well as a red wine blend, Matchless, featuring an open matchbook on the label. The winery’s “business cards” are also matchbooks filled with actual matches.

Along with sourcing fruit from throughout the Columbia Valley, Otis Kenyon has an estate vineyard, Stellar Vineyard, located in the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater on the Oregon side of Walla Walla.

The wines are made by Dave Stephenson, who founded his eponymous Stephenson Cellars in 2001. Prior to working at Otis Kenyon, Stephenson started his career at Waterbrook and today consults for several boutique wineries.

Around 247 cases of the 2013 Otis Kenyon Roussanne were made.

The Vineyard

Sourced page https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/babe8d_812edf6fe37b403ebaa7687e2760dd66.pdf

Map showing the proposed Royal Slope AVA (in yellow) where Lawrence Vineyards are located. Prepared by Richard Rupp of Palouse Geospatial.

The Lawrence Vineyards are located on the Frenchman Hills of the Royal Slope of the Columbia Valley basin and includes six named sites–Corfu Crossing (first planted in 2003), Scarline (2003), La Reyna Blanca (2010), Laura Lee (2008), Solaksen (2013) and Thunderstone (2015). The Lawrence family also manages the nearby Boneyard Vineyard that includes five acres of Syrah. All the Lawrence Vineyards are sustainably farmed.

While managing 330+ acres of plantings the Lawrence family also own Gård Vintners which produces around 6000 cases a year sourced from their estate grown fruit and made by Aryn Morell. Together with Morell they also produce Morell-Lawrence Wines (M & L).

The Roussanne used by Otis Kenyon cames from 2007 plantings of the Tablas Creek clone in Corfu Crossing which sits on a south facing slope at an elevation that ranges from 1,365-1,675 ft. The soils here are a mixture of silt and sandy loam on a bedrock of fractured basalt.

Photo by  Peter Ellis. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.5

Riesling sourced from Lawrence Vineyards has been used in some of the state’s most highly acclaimed Riesling wines.

In addition to Otis Kenyon, M & L and Gård, other wineries that source fruit from Lawrence includes Latta Wines, Southard Winery, Cairdeas, Armstrong Family, Matthews Winery, Pend d’Oreille as well as Chateau Ste. Michelle for their top-end Riesling Eroica.

Other varieties that the Lawrence Vineyards farm include Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Malbec, Merlot, Mouvedre, Pinot noir, Chardonnay, Pinot gris, Sauvignon blanc and Viognier.

The (future) AVA of the Royal Slope

The proposed Royal Slope AVA was formerly delineated and submitted for AVA approval in early 2017. It includes the south facing slopes around Royal City located between the established AVAS of the Ancient Lakes and Wahluke Slope. Within the AVA is a sub-region of the Frenchmen Hills. The lead petitioner for the AVA was geologist Alan Busacca, former professor at Washington State University and Walla Walla Community College who also wrote the successful petitions for the Wahluke Slope, Lake Chelan and Lewis-Clark Valley AVAs.

The topography can range from relatively gentle to fairly steeper slopes of up to 22 degrees in the Frenchmen Hills region. The soils are fairly uniformed in their mixture of sandy and silty loam river deposits covering layers of fractured basalt left over from a period of intense volcanic activity during the Miocene Epoch. These soils are very high in calcium carbonate which may contribute to the strong minerality that wines from the Royal Slope tend to exhibit.

Throughout the growing season the region sees heat units (growing degree days or GDD) ranging from 2700 GDD to over 3000 GDD making it one of the warmest wine regions in the state. However the areas bordering the Ancient Lakes AVA to the northeast can be considerably cooler.

Charles Smith’s highly acclaimed K Vintners Royal City Syrah is sourced from the Stoneridge Vineyard in the proposed Royal Slope AVA.

Elevations range from 900 feet to upwards of 1700 feet with the higher elevation sites seeing much more diurnal temperature variation from the daytime highs to very cool temperatures at night which maintains acidity and keeps the vine from shutting down due to heat stress.

The proposed AVA contains 156,389 acres of which around 1400 have already been planted. Other notable vineyards in this proposed AVA includes Novelty Hill Winery’s estate vineyard Stillwater Creek, Frenchmen Hills Vineyard and Stoneridge

The Grape

Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz note in Wine Grapes that the first recorded documentation of Roussanne occurred in 1781 describing its use in the white wines of Hermitage. The name Roussanne is believed to be derived from the French term roux and could refer to the russet golden-red color of the grapes’ skins after veraison.

DNA analysis shows that there is a likely parent-offspring relationship with Marsanne but it is not yet known which variety is the parent and which is the offspring.

Photo by קרלוס הגדול. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

The reddish bronze hue that Roussanne grapes get after veraison likely contributes to the grape’s name.


In the northern Rhône regions of St. Joseph, Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage, Roussanne adds acidity, richness and minerality when paired with Marsanne. It can also be used in the sparkling Northern Rhone wines of St. Peray. As a varietal it can have a characteristic floral and herbal verbena tea note.

Unlike Marsanne and Viognier, Roussanne is a permitted white grape variety in the red and white wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape where today it makes up around 6% of the commune’s plantings as the third most popular white grape behind Grenache blanc and Clairette.

From a low point of 54 ha (133 acres) in 1968 plantings of Roussanne steadily grew throughout the late 20th century to 1074 ha (2654 acres) by 2006. Outside of the Rhone, the grape can be found in the Savoie region where it is known as Bergeron and is the sole variety in the wines of Chignin-Bergeron. In the Languedoc-Roussillon it is often blended with Chardonnay, Bourboulenc and Vermentino as well as Grenache blanc and Marsanne.

Roussanne is a late-ripening variety that is very prone to powdery mildew, botrytis and shutting down from excessive heat stress towards the end of the growing season.

Even in ideal conditions, Roussanne can be a troublesome producer in the vineyard with uneven yields often caused by coulure (also known as “shattering”) when the embryonic grape clusters don’t properly pollinate during fruit set after flowering. A significant cause of this is poor management by the vine of its carbohydrate reserves which the vine begins storing for the next year after the harvest of the previous vintage. Other factors at play can include nutrient deficiencies in the soil–particularly of boron and zinc with the later often being exacerbated in high pH soils.

Photo by Mark Smith of  Stefano Lubiana Wines Granton Vineyard Tasmania. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

During fruit set (shown here with Merlot), flowers that weren’t pollinated will “shatter” and not develop into full berries. This creates uneven yields with clusters having a mix of fully formed and “shot” berries. Roussanne is particularly susceptible to this condition.

Other varieties that are similarly susceptible to coulure include Grenache, Malbec, Merlot, Muscat Ottonel and Gewürztraminer.

A Case of Mistaken Identity

Prior to phylloxera, Roussanne was relatively well-established in California in the 19th century with plantings in Napa, Sonoma and Santa Clara where it was often blended with Petite Sirah. However, following phylloxera and Prohibition in the 20th century, most all Roussanne vineyards were uprooted.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, producers in California began experimenting again with the variety. In 1994, Chuck Wagner of Caymus Vineyards in Napa purchased 6400 Roussanne vines for his Mer Soleil project. The vines he purchased came from Sonoma Grapevines owned by the Kunde family who originally sourced their cuttings from a vineyard owned by Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon (who did not know that Kunde was going to commercially propagate them). The Bonny Doon cuttings came from a visiting Châteauneuf-du-Pape winemaker.

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

Many plantings of Roussanne in California in the 1980s and 1990s turned out to be Viognier (pictured).

Four years later a visiting viticulturalist identified the plantings in the Mer Soleil vineyard not as Roussanne but rather as Viognier–an identification that was later confirmed by DNA testing at UC-Davis. The discovery unleashed a cascading effect of lawsuits and countersuits from various parties involved as well as a hunt for true Roussanne plantings in California.

Tablas Creek Winery in Paso Robles began importing their Roussanne cuttings directly from their sister-property, Château de Beaucastel, in Châteauneuf-du-Pape in 1989. Additionally, John Alban began sourcing authentic Roussanne cuttings in 1991 with nearly all of the 323 acres of Roussanne vines in California (as of 2017) now being descendant from the Tablas and Alban vines.

Roussanne in Washington

Paul Gregutt notes in Washington Wines and Wineries that Roussanne in Washington “… can taste like a real fruit salad mix, everything from apples, citrus and lime to peaches, honey and cream.”

The grape was pioneered in Washington by Doug McCrea, the state’s original Rhone Ranger, of McCrea Cellars and Cameron Fries of White Heron Cellars in the 1990s. While varietal examples can be found, the grape is mostly used as a blending component in Rhone-style blends with Grenache blanc, Viognier and Marsanne.

Along with Doug McCrea of McCrea Cellars, Cameron Fries of White Heron Cellars (pictured) helped pioneer Roussanne in Washington State.


By 2017, there were 71 acres of Roussanne planted in Washington.

In addition to the plantings of Lawrence Vineyard, there are notable acreages of Roussanne on Red Mountain at Ciel du Cheval Vineyard, Stillwater Creek, Boushey Vineyard in the Yakima Valley and at Alder Ridge, Destiny Ridge and Wallula Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills.

The Wine

Medium intensity nose–tree fruits like spiced pear and apricot with a citrus grassy component that could be verbena.

On the palate the wine is very full-bodied and weighty with almost an oily texture. The spiced pear notes definitely come through with that herbal citrus tinge. Medium-plus acidity is still giving the wine freshness and balancing the weight. The moderate length finish ends on the pear and herbal notes.

The Verdict

I’m usually skeptical about how well many domestic white wines age but this 2013 Otis Kenyon Roussanne is holding on quite well for a 4+ year old white. The acidity seems to be the key and is a helpful balance to the full-bodied fruit.

The big weight and texture of this wine is reminiscent of a lightly oak Chardonnay with no malolactic and would serve as a good change of a pace for not only a Chardonnay drinker but also a red wine fan who is craving something very food friendly to go with heavier cream sauces, pork and poultry dishes.

At $25-30, this wine offers a fair amount of complexity and is definitely worth trying.

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Getting Geeky with Robert Ramsay Mourvèdre

We’re back after a vacation to take the nieces and nephew to the happiest place on Earth. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to play the Somm Game in between rounds of chocolate milk, lemonade and Sprit soda. Though absence does make the heart grow founder. And boy, am I ready to get back into the world of grown-up beverages!

So let’s continue our celebration of Washington Wine Month by taking more than 60 Seconds to geek out about the 2010 Robert Ramsay Mourvèdre from McKinley Springs Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills.

Full disclosure: During the 2012 vintage, when this 2010 Mourvèdre was just released, I did an internship at Robert Ramsay Cellars. Here I worked under the mentorship of Kristin Scheelar who was head winemaker at the time.

The Background

Robert Ramsay Cellars was founded in 2005 as a specialist in Rhone-style wines by winemaker Bob Harris. The winery’s name is a combination of Harris’ full name “Robert” with the last name of his great-uncle Mason Ramsay who helped raised Harris’ father when his grandfather was working overseas.

Before starting his winery, Harris served as winemaker for Coeur d’Alene Cellars and was mentored by Kristina Mielke-van Löben Sels of Arbor Crest, Nicolas Quille of Pacific Rim, Chuck Reininger of Reininger Winery and Ron Coleman of Tamarack Cellars.

Inspired by the great wines of Côte Rôtie, Harris’ first vintage was 125 cases of Syrah. A tasting room in Woodinville was opened in 2009. By 2014 the winery was making over 3000 cases. Among the notable vineyards that the winery was sourcing from include Red Heaven on Red Mountain, Phinny Hill and Mckinley Springs in Horse Heaven Hills, Dineen Vineyard in Yakima Valley and Upland Vineyard on Snipes Mountain.

Kristin Scheelar

In 2010, Harris hired Kristin Scheelar, a 2009 graduate of the Wine Production program of the Northwest Wine Academy (NWA) at South Seattle College. Prior to joining Robert Ramsay, Scheelar served as a harvest intern for Patterson Cellars under the tutelage of John Patterson.

My wife Beth also did an internship working with Kristin at Robert Ramsay. Here she is doing punch downs during the 2012 harvest on some Dineen Syrah.

Scheelar would stay at Robert Ramsay for four years, leaving just before the 2014 harvest to join Goose Ridge winery as an assistant winemaker. During her time at Robert Ramsay, she was an influential mentor to many female winemakers in the Woodinville wine scene including Lisa Packer of Warr-King Wines and her successor at Robert Ramsay, Casey Cobble–another NWA graduate.

Along with Packer, Cobble and Hillary Sjolund of Sonoris Cellars, Scheelar is a founding member of the Sisters of the Vinifera Revolution which aims to promote women in the wine industry. Through the years the organization has grown to include several wineries owned and headed by women winemakers including Lisa Swei of Three of Cups Winery, Pam Adkins of Adrice Wines, Lisa Callan of Callan Cellars, Mari Womack of Damsel Cellars, Toby Turlay of Ducleaux Cellars, Jody Elsom of Elsom Cellars and Kasia Kim of Kasia Winery.

Winemaking is messy work. This is me after working the sorting table near the destemmer at Robert Ramsay.

Today Kristin Scheelar is currently an assistant winemaker with Gallo at Columbia Winery.

The Vineyard

McKinley Springs Vineyard was first planted in 1980 by Robert Andrews in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. Located at an elevation of around 1000 feet, the sandy loam soils over broken basalt of the vineyard are noted for producing early ripening fruit that create well-structured wines with intense aromatics.

Today the vineyard covers more than 2800 acres with over 20 different varieties of grapes planted including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chenin blanc, Viognier, Malbec, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Cinsault, Roussanne, Counoise and Mourvèdre. Along with their Mourvèdre bottling, Robert Ramsay produces a varietal Cinsault and Syrah from McKinley Springs and uses some of the vineyard’s fruit for their Châteauneuf-du-Pape style blend Le Mien and Bandol-style Par La Mer wine.

In addition to Robert Ramsay, several wineries source fruit from McKinley Springs including Thurston Wolfe, Domaine Pouillon, Forsyth Brio, Maryhill Winery, Cor Cellars, Coeur d’Alene Cellars, Mercer Estates, Hestia, Robert Karl, Bunnell Family Cellars and Syncline.

In 2002, the Andrews and Roswell families of McKinley Springs established a winery that focuses on their estate fruit.

The Grape

In their book Wine Grapes, Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz note that Mourvèdre origins are likely Spanish with the first written account of the grape variety being under the synonym Monastrell in a 14th century document by Catalan writer Francesc Eiximenis.

The name Monastrell is derived from the Latin monasteriellu, meaning monastery. It is likely that the grape was first propagated by the Church.

Photo taken by self and uploaded to wikimedia commons as user:Agne27 under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Mourvèdre grapes from the Columbia Valley of Washington

By 1460, the Valèncian doctor Jaume Roig noted that Monastrell was the most widely planted grape in València–particularly in the region of Camp de Morvedre where the synonym Mourvèdre emerged from. Another common synonym, Mataro, likely comes from town of Mataró in the province of Barcelona. Located north of València, it would have been along the grape’s likely route out of Spain into Southern France.

Today, Mourvèdre/Monastrell is the 5th most widely planted grape in Spain with over 150,000 acres. It’s only behind Airén, Tempranillo, Bobal and Garnacha in acreage. Most of these plantings can be found in the València, Murcia and Castilla-La Mancha regions. It is the primary red wine grape in the DOs of Jumilla, Alicante, Almansa, Valencia and Yecla.

In France, plantings of Mourvèdre rose sharply in the late 20th century. It went from around 517 ha (1,278 acres) in the 1950s to 9,363 ha (23,136 acres) by 2009. It is most commonly found in the Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence and Southern Rhone regions. In Provence, it is the primary grape of Bandol. Here it must make up 50-95% of the blend along with Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault and Syrah.

Mourvèdre in Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Harry Karis notes in The Châteauneuf-du-Pape Wine Book that today Mourvèdre accounts for around 6.6% of all grape plantings in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Historically, the grape was known as Estrangle-Chien (“dog strangler”) due to its harsh tannins and high acidity. This thick-skinned grape thrives on warm, south-facing slopes that receive plenty of heat. This allows the vine to fully ripen the tannins and metabolize some of the hard malic acid.

photo taken by self and uploaded to wikimedia commons as user:agne27 under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Mourvèdre sample and a saignee rosé sample taken after 24 hours of skin contact. The thick skins of Mourvèdre contain lots of anthocyanins that contribute deep color to blends.

However, Mourvèdre is also very susceptible to drought conditions.  Karis notes that water-retaining clay soils and drought-resistance rootstock like 41B and 110R are ideal for the variety.

In the traditional Châteauneuf-du-Pape blend, Mourvèdre contributes structure via its high acid and tannins. It also provides ample alcohol and color. In the winery, winemakers have to balance the reductive nature of Mourvèdre with the very oxidation-prone Grenache.  To do this you need to ensure that Mourvèdre has plenty of oxygen during fermentation and élevage. Meanwhille, Grenache needs to be kept more anaerobically protected.

Varietal Mourvèdre wines are known for having meaty and spicy (particularly tobacco spice and clove) characters. They often have ample dark fruit flavors that can age into tertiary aromas of game and leather.

Mourvèdre in Washington State

photo taken by self and uploaded to wikimedia commons as user:agne27 under CC-BY-SA-3.0

The original block of Mourvèdre/Mataro planted in 1993 in Red Willow Vineyard in the Yakima Valley of Washington.

In Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide, Paul Gregutt notes that the first plantings of Mourvèdre in Washington was by Mike Sauer in 1993 at Red Willow Vineyard in the Yakima Valley.

By 2017 there were 126 acres of the grape planted in the state where it is used as a component in both Rhone-style blends and as a varietal wine.

Vineyards with notable plantings of Mourvèdre beyond McKinley Springs and Red Willow include Ciel du Cheval on Red Mountain, Alder Ridge, Coyote Canyon and Destiny Ridge in the Horse Heaven Hills, Elephant Mountain in the Yakima Valley and Northridge Vineyard in the Wahluke Slope.

Gregutt describes the style of Washington Mourvèdre as “…medium-bodied, lightly spicy with pretty cherry-flavored fruit and occasionally a distinctive, gravelly minerality.”

The Wine

The 2010 Robert Ramsay Mourvèdre from McKinley Springs has medium-plus intensity aromatics. Very much in the spicy and earthy category. There are some slight red fruit notes in the red currant and raspberry range. But they are very much overshadowed by the black pepper spice and forest-floor earthiness.

On the palate, the pepper spice is still the dominant note. The medium-plus acidity gives juiciness to the red fruit flavors and keeps them hanging around. The medium-plus tannins are very present. However, they have a soft, velvety-ness to them now that holds up the full-bodied weight of the wine. The finish unfortunately fades fairly quickly. It does bring back, albeit for a short moment, some of those savory earthy notes from the nose.

The Verdict

At nearly 8 years of age, this 2010 Mourvèdre is still delivering ample pleasure in the $30-35 range. But I suspect its peak may have been 2 to 3 years earlier.

There is definitely a good amount of complexity and balance. However, there is also the sense that the wine is on the wane with the short finish and fading flavors. Still this wine is in a good spot for those who crave more savory and tertiary-driven flavors in their wines. The wine will shine with a food pairings that compliments its spicy and earthy notes.  I can see it going particularly well with roasted lamb or a savory mushroom dish.

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