Tag Archives: Petit Verdot

Quilceda Creek Release Party

If you ask Washington wine lovers what are the “cult wines” of Washington–the Screaming Eagles, the Harlans or the Grace Family Vineyards of the state–one name that would be unanimously mentioned is Quilceda Creek.

With the mailing list long since closed, and a healthy waiting list to boot, my wife and I were lucky to get on the members list back in 2009. Each year we look forward to the release of the Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Below are some of my thoughts from this year’s release party.

But first, some geeking.

The Background

Quilceda Creek was founded in 1978 by Alex and Jeannette Golitzin. Alex’s maternal uncle was the legendary André Tchelistcheff who helped Golitzin secure vineyard sources and provided barrels from Beaulieu Vineyards. At the time of Quilceda’s founding, there were only around 12 wineries operating in Washington. In 1992, their son Paul joined the winery and today manages both vineyard operations and winemaking.

In addition to Tchelistcheff, the Golitzins can also count Prince Lev Sergeyevich (1845-1915/16) of the House of Golitsyn as another winemaking ancestor. Sergeyevich was the official winemaker to Czar Nicholas II with the sparkling wines produced at his Crimean winery, Novyi Svit, served at the Czar’s 1896 coronation. It is believed that Sergeyevich’s sparkling wines were the first “Champagne method” bubbles produced in Russia.

Quilceda Creek has received six perfect 100 point scores from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate–for the 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2014 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2014 Galitzine Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Red Mountain. In 2011, the 2005 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was served by the White House for a state dinner with Chinese president Hu Jintao.

The winery has been featured several times on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list, including twice being named #2 wine–in 2006 for the 2003 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and in 2015 for the 2012 edition of that wine.

The Vineyards

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

Kiona Vineyard on Red Mountain–which played an important role in the early wines of Quilceda Creek.

Paul Gregutt, in Washington Wines, notes that in the early years of Quilceda Creek, Otis Vineyard in the Yakima Valley was the primary source of fruit.

In the 1980s, the focus moved to Red Mountain with Kiona Vineyards providing the fruit for several highly acclaimed vintages. Eventually Klipsun, Ciel du Cheval and Mercer Ranch (now Champoux) were added to the stable.

Today, Quilceda Creek focuses almost exclusively on estate-own fruit, making four wines that are sourced from five vineyards.

In 1997, Quilceda Creek joined Chris Camarda of Andrew Will, Rick Small of Woodward Canyon and Bill Powers of Powers Winery/Badger Mountain to become partners in Champoux Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. First planted by the Mercer family in the 1970s, fruit from Champoux Vineyard has formed the backbone for nearly all of Quilceda Creek’s 100 pt wines. In 2014, when Paul and Judy Champoux decided to retire, the Golitzins purchased their interests in the vineyard.

The author with Paul Golitzin.

In 2006, they acquired a 4.5 acre parcel next to Champoux which they named Palengat after Jeannette Golitzin’s side of the family. Located on the south slope of Phinny Hill, the vineyard was planted between 1997-2002.

In 2001, the Golitzins partnered with Jim Holmes of Ciel du Cheval Vineyard to plant a 17 acre estate vineyard, the Galitzine Vineyard, on Red Mountain next to Ciel du Cheval. The vineyard takes its name from an old spelling of the family’s surname and is planted exclusively to clone 8 Cabernet Sauvignon. Originally derived from 1893 cuttings taken from Chateau Margaux in Bordeaux, clone 8 is highly favored by acclaimed Cabernet Sauvignon producers.

Planted in 2010, Lake Wallula Vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills is 33 acres planted exclusively to Cabernet Sauvignon on a plateau overlooking the Columbia River.

The Wallula Vineyard near Kennewick was developed by the Den Hoed family in 1997 in partnership with Allen Shoup (now with Long Shadows Vintners).

The Wines

In addition to tasting and releasing the 2015 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2015 Columbia Valley Red blend was also tasted.

2015 Columbia Valley Red Blend is a blend of 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot that was sourced from the Champoux, Galitzine, Palengat and Wallula vineyards. Essentially a “baby brother” to the flagship Cab and vineyard designated Galitzine and Palengat, the CVR is selected from declassified lots that have been aged in 100% new French oak 18-21 months.

The 2015 Columbia Valley Red blend (CVR) just wasn’t doing it for me at this tasting.

Medium intensity nose. Surprisingly shy as this wine is usually raring to go. Some dark fruits–blackberry and cassis–and noticeable oak spice.

On the palate, those dark fruits carry through but become even less define than they were on the nose. Medium acidity and a bit of back-end alcohol heat contribute to the disjointed feeling with this wine. The medium-plus tannins are firm but do have a soft edge that adds some texture and pleasure to the mouthfeel. Moderate length finish of mostly heat and oak.

2015 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is 100% Cab sourced from the Champoux, Lake Wallula, Palengat and Wallula vineyards. The wine was aged 20 months in 100% new French oak.

Medium-plus intensity nose. Rich dark fruits with razor sharp precision–black plums, blackberries and even blueberries. There is also a woodsy forest element that compliments the noticeable oak spice.

On the palate, a lot more of the vanilla and oak baking spice notes carry through–particularly cinnamon–that adds a “pie-filling” richness to the wine. However, the medium-plus acidity balances this hefty fruit exceptionally well to add elegance and freshness. High tannins are present but like the CVR have a soft edge that makes this very young Quilceda Cab surprisingly approachable now. You can very much feel the full bodied weight of its 15.2% alcohol but, unlike the CVR, there is no back-end heat tickling the throat. Still only a moderate length finish at this point but the lasting impression is the juicy, rich fruit.

The tasting and barrel room of Quilceda Creek in Snohomish.

The Verdict

This tasting was a complete role reversal of the CVR and Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Usually it is very consistent that the CVR is happily ready to be consumed young while the Cab needs some cellar time to fully integrate and shed the baby fat of oak.

Though that “baby fat” of new oak is still present in the 2015 Columbia Cabernet Sauvignon, the precision of the fruit and elegance is striking right now. This is, by far, one of the best tasting new releases of the Columbia Valley Cab that I’ve had. While I’m still concerned with the high alcohol level, I’m very optimistic about how this wine will age and develop in the bottle.

While I was able to get this for the member’s price of $140, the Wine Searcher average for the 2015 is now $218. Putting this in context of similar priced Napa Valley wines like Opus One, Caymus Special Select, Pahlmeyer Proprietary, Joseph Phelps Insignia, Stag’s Leap Cask 23, Mondavi To Kalon and Dominus—there is no doubt that the Quilceda Creek Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon belongs in that league and should probably be batting clean-up in that line-up.

Pallets of the 2015 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Even at the member’s $140 a bottle price, this is still over a million dollars worth of wine.

The CVR was $42 for members ($65 on Wine Searcher) and is usually one of the most screaming deals in wine. I would compare previous vintages of the CVR to $70-100 Napa wines like Silver Oak, Frank Family, Groth, Cakebread and Caymus and watch the Quilceda Creek Columbia Valley Red blend blow them out of the water.

But this 2015 vintage…I don’t know. It’s very possible that I got an awkward bottle or that the wine, itself, is just in an awkward phase of its development. It’s worth keeping an eye on but till then I would recommend the almost ironic advice of enjoying your 2015 Quilceda Creek Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon now while waiting for the “baby brother” 2015 CVR to age.

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Wine Geek Notes 3/16/18 — Pinot Meunier, 2015 Bordeaux and Cali 2nd Wines

Photo by Igor Zemljič. Released on Wikimedia Commons under PD-user

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

Interesting Tweets and Weblinks

Pinot Meunier Goes Beyond the Blend in Champagne by Jameson Fink (@jamesonfink) for Wine Enthusiast (@WineEnthusiast). Brought to my dash via Frank Morgan (@DrinkWhatULike).

I absolutely ADORE Pinot Meunier so I was thrilled to see Fink give this unheralded grape of Champagne some much needed love. While Chardonnay and Pinot noir get all the attention, Pinot Meunier is often the backbone of some of the most powerful and evocative Champagnes made in the region. Echoing David Speer of Ambonnay Champagne bar (@AmbonnayBar) in Portland, Oregon, Fink notes that the flavors that Pinot Meunier brings to the table includes “… white flowers, herbs (in a good way), blueberries, spices, earth and meaty notes—[a] ‘fascinating mix of sweet, savory and spicy tones.'”

A few of my favorite Pinot Meunier-dominant Champagnes include Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve NV and Duval-Leroy NV Brut with the grape often playing equal billing with Pinot noir in the wines of Pol Roger and for Charles Heidsieck’s Brut Reserve. But what excites me the most about Fink’s article is the emergence of single varietal Pinot Meunier Champagnes with Fink’s providing a nifty shopping list of producers to seek out. Several of these growers (such as Jérôme Prévost and Laherte Frères) have been on my must-try list since I reviewed Robert Walters’ Bursting Bubbles and this just gives me more incentive to hunt them down.

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

Château Paloumey in Ludon-Médoc

Here We Go Again: Value Bordeaux 2015 by Neal Martin (@nealmartin) of Vinous (@VinousMedia).

The 2015 and 2016 vintages are going to be a smorgasbord of goodness for Bordeaux lovers. While, yes, there are going to be the outrageously priced top estates, there is also going to be an abundance of value. In this article, Martin list several top finds under $25 that are very intriguing. I’ve had Château Paloumey from the less than stellar 2011 vintage and was rather impressed so I would be very interested in trying the 2015 of this Haut-Medoc estate. Another wine that Martin highlights is the 2015 Eva from Château Le Pey that is 25% Petit Verdot!

All these wines look to be well worth exploring. Other sub $25 Bordeaux from the 2015 vintage that I’ve personally had and would also encourage Bordeaux lovers to explore include:

Ch. Lanessan (Haut-Medoc) Wine Searcher Ave $25
Ch. Chantegrive (Graves) Wine Searcher Ave $19
Ch. Vrai Canon Bouche (Canon-Fronsac) Wine Searcher Ave $25
Ch. de la Huste (Fronsac) Wine Searcher Ave $19
Ch. Ferran (Pessac-Leognan) Wine Searcher Ave $19

Berger on wine: Parallel brands allow room to grow by Dan Berger for The Press Democrat (@NorthBayNews)

The concept of Second Wines is well known for Bordeaux lovers. It allows an estate to be more selective in both the vineyard and winery, limiting their top cuvee to just the “best of the best”. The remaining juice is still very good but often doesn’t merit being premium priced so estates would create a second label to sell the juice. The benefit to the consumer is that they get the pedigree of the Grand Vin’s viticulture and winemaking teams but are only paying a fraction of the price of the top cuvee.

In California, the wineries are also very selective in limiting their top cuvee to just the “best of the best” but would instead sell off the declassified juice as anonymous bulk wine to other producers. California négociants like Courtney Benham often make off like bandits buying premium lots from top wineries and selling them under their own label.

But the consumers still don’t know where the juice came from which is why I’m encouraged by Berger’s article that more wineries are starting to create their own second labels to bottle their declassified lots. I’m particularly intrigued by Cathy Corison’s Corazón and Helio labels and Ramey’s Sidebar wines.

Hide yo kids, Hide yo wife

I really wish this was an April Fool’s Day joke but I fret that it is not. So consider this a public service warning because soon your local grocery stores and gas stations are going to be inundated with displays and marketing for Apothic Brew— a “cold brew-wine” hybrid created by Gallo.

While I was able to find some redeeming factors in the whiskey barrel aged wine trend that Apothic helped popularize, I really have no clue what Gallo’s marketing team is thinking with this. But, it’s Gallo and they didn’t become a billion dollar company by coming up with stupid ideas so who knows?

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60 Second Wine Review — àMaurice Viognier

A few quick thoughts on the 2016 àMaurice Viognier.

The Geekery

àMaurice was founded in 2004 by Tom and Kathleen Shafer with the winery named after Tom’s father. Paul Gregutt notes in Washington Wines that the first couple vintages were made by Rich Funk of Saviah Cellars while the Shafer’s daughter, Anna, studied winemaking down in Argentina with Paul Hobbs’ Viña Cobos.

The estate vineyard was first planted in 2006 in Mill Creek Valley in the foothills of the Blue Mountains–not far from Leonetti’s Mill Creek Upland Vineyard. Planted to Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Syrah, it was the first registered sustainable vineyard in Washington. Additionally, àMaurice were charter members of Vinea–an alliance of Walla Walla vineyards and wineries committed to sustainable practices.

In addition to their estate fruit, àMaurice also sources from Gamache, Connor Lee and Weinbau Vineyards in the Wahluke Slope; Boushey and Den Hoed Vineyards in Yakima Valley as well as Sagemoor, Bacchus and Dionysus Vineyards in the Columbia Valley.

The 2016 àMaurice Viognier is sourced primarily from Gamache and Den Hoed Vineyards. The wine was aged in 5% new oak.

The Wine

High intensity nose with lots of tree fruits–peaches and apricot–and white floral notes. There is also a spiciness in the background that I can’t quite pick out.

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

Lovely ginger spice adds lots of character to this wine.

On the palate those ripe tree fruits carry through and add lots of weight and depth to the wine. But there is also a lot of elegance with medium-plus acidity adding freshness and lift. There is some citrus zest that comes out on the palate with the spice getting more defined as fresh ginger. The floral notes return for the long silky finish.

The Verdict

At around $28-35, this is clearly one of the best white wines made in Washington. What is more remarkable is that this is essentially Anna Shafer’s entry-level Viognier with àMaurice also offering an estate bottling as well as a Viognier/Marsanne blend from Boushey Vineyards.

Well worth looking for.

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60 Second Wine Review — Sinclair Estate Vixen

A few quick thoughts on the 2013 Sinclair Estate Vixen from Columbia Valley.

The Geekery

Sinclair Estates was founded in 2010 by Tim and Kathy Sinclair, who also own the Vine & Roses Bed and Breakfast in Walla Walla.

This vintage was made by Amy Alvarez-Wampfler, an alum of Walla Walla Community College, who started at Columbia Crest Winery–eventually becoming responsible for their 10,000 barrel Chardonnay program. At Columbia Crest she was mentored by Ray Einberger, Juan Munóz Oca, Daniel Wampfler and Keith Kenison. In 2010, she was hired by the Sinclairs to be their head winemaker and general manager.

In 2015, Alvarez-Wampfler left Sinclair to join her husband, Daniel, as winemakers of Abeja–following John Abbott who launched the winery in 2002. She was succeed at Sinclair by Billo Naravane, a Master of Wine who also owns Rasa Vineyards in Walla Walla.

The 2013 Vixen is a blend of 63% Mourvedre, 26% Syrah and 11% Petit Verdot. The wine was aged for 36 months in French oak with 19 barrels (around 475 cases) produced. Across all their wines, Sinclair Estate only produces around 1500 cases.

The Wine

Medium-plus intensity nose. Lots of black pepper and oak spice with blue floral notes. Underneath there is dark fruit–black cherries and plums–as well as a little tamarind for intrigue.

Photo by kaʁstn Disk/Cat. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 3.0 (DE)

The savory tamarind notes compliment the dark fruits of this wine very well.

On the palate, the spice notes–particularly nutmeg and clove–carry through but more of the vanilla from the oak emerges. The dark fruits and savory tamarind are still present with the medium acidity balancing them enough to compliment the full-bodied weight and medium-plus tannins. On the long finish the black pepper spice re-emerges.

The Verdict

The 2013 Sinclair Vixen is an intriguing “Rhone blend with a twist” with the Petit Verdot replacing Grenache. Very characterful wine that strikes an interesting balance between the lusciousness of New World dark fruit and oak with the savory spiciness of Old World influences.

At around $40-45, this is a very delicious red blend that is great by itself but worth savoring over a long dinner.

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60 Second Wine Review — Alexandria Nicole Tempranillo

A few quick thoughts on the 2010 Alexandria Nicole Tempranillo from Destiny Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills.

The Geekery

Founded in 2001, the origins of Alexandria Nicole date back to the first planting of the Destiny Ridge Vineyard by Jarrod and Ali Boyle in 1998.

Jarrod was working as a viticulturist with Hogue Cellars, under the mentorship of Dr. Wade Wolfe (of Thurston Wolfe fame). While checking out vineyard sites, he noticed an unplanted south facing slope north of Alderdale that overlooked the Columbia River. Finding out that the property belonged to the Mercer family (Champoux Vineyards and Mercer Wine Estates), the Boyles and Mercers went into partnership to plant Destiny Ridge Vineyard.

Today, the 267 acres of Destiny Ridge are sustainably farmed and planted with 23 grape varieties–including unique varieties like Tempranillo, Barbera, Carménère, Counoise, Marsanne, Mourvèdre, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot and Roussanne. While the Boyles get first pick, Paul Gregutt in Washington Wines notes that fruit is also sold to wineries like Chateau Ste. Michelle, Darby Winery, Guardian Cellars, Saviah and Tamarack.

The 2010 Tempranillo is a blend of 94% Tempranillo, 4% Malbec and 2% Cabernet Franc. The wine spent 20 months aging in 1 and 2 year old French barrels with 104 cases made.

The Wine

Medium-minus intensity nose. Red fruit dominant with cherry and cranberries. A little tobacco spice but very muted.

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

Dried cranberry notes characterize this wine.

On the palate, the red fruit is carrying through but is faded and dried. This dried fruit element, interestingly, seems to amplify the spice with black licorice notes joining the tobacco. Medium-plus acidity and firm medium-plus tannins add an edge to this wine that is desperately missing the fruit to balance it.

The Verdict

This wine is probably about 3 years past it peak. That said, even at its peak, it’s hard to say this was a compelling enough wine to merit its $55 price tag.

Especially when you compare it to what you can get at that price from Spain (not to mention southern Oregon), it’s clear that you are paying for the novelty of a Washington Tempranillo.

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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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Getting Geeky with 2008 Sarget de Gruaud-Larose

Going to need more than 60 Seconds to geek out about the 2008 Sarget de Gruaud-Larose from St. Julien.

The Backstory

Clive Coates notes in Grand Vins that the 2nd Growth estate Ch. Gruaud-Larose was formed in 1757 when two brothers, one a priest and the other a judge, pooled together their inheritance and purchased adjoining vineyards to create the 116 hectare (≈ 287 acres) property. Wine that was in high regard and commanded prices almost on par with estates like Ch. Latour and Margaux had been produced on the property for sometime prior to the brothers’ involvement.

The Gruaud brothers were known for their eccentricities, particularly the judge, who would hoist different flags on the property after harvest to signal what nationality he felt that year’s wines would most appeal to. A British flag would be raised if the wines were going to be full-bodied and firm, a German flag if they were going to be soft and supple and a Dutch flag for a style that was a mix of the two.

The magistrate also garnered a reputation for alienating the merchants and négociants with his business practices. Each year when the previous vintage was ready to be sold, he would go to the market center and set his price for the vintage. If his price wasn’t met, he would leave only to come a few months later with an even higher asking price for his unsold wine. In what seems like a foreshadowing of the future tranche release and en primeur systems, M. Gruaud would keep raising his price until eventually the merchants capitulated else wise the price would be higher the next time he returned.

In 1778, the property passed to the magistrate’s daughter and son-in-law, Joseph-Sébastian de La Rose, who affixed the name Larose to the estate. Larose would also go on to establish the large Haut-Medoc estate of Ch. Larose-Trintaudon located on the border of Saint-Laurent and Pauillac.

The author at Gruaud-Larose.

The estate would change hands multiple times and in 1867 the two families who jointly owned the property split it up into two estates–Ch. Gruaud Larose Sarget and Ch. Gruaud Larose Faure (sometimes labelled as Ch. Gruaud Larose-Bethmann). The two estates co-existed until the early 20th century when the Bordeaux négociant family of Cordier bought first the Sarget portion in 1917 and then the Faure portion in 1935 to reunite the two properties.

Founded in 1877, the Cordier négociant house became a significant player during World War I when they landed the exclusive contract to supply the daily wine rations for the entire French Army. Flushed with income, they were able to acquire numerous estates over the next several decades beyond Gruaud-Larose, including the St. Emilion estate Clos des Jacobins, the Premier Grand Cru Classé Sauternes estate Ch. Laufarie-Peyraguey, Ch. Meyney in St. Estèphe, the 5th Growth Haut-Medoc estate of Ch. Cantemerle and the 4th Growth St. Julien estate of Ch. Talbot.

Today, Gruaud-Larose is owned by the Merlaut family under their Taillan Group which also includes the 5th Growth Pauillac estate of Haut-Bages Libéral, the 3rd Growth Margaux estate of Ch. Ferrière, Ch. Chasse-Spleen, Ch. Citran and several others in Bordeaux, the Loire and the Rhone.

The Estate

Bottles from the 1815 vintage of Gruaud-Larose in the estate’s cellar.

While still a large estate by Bordeaux standards with over 200 acres planted to vines, Ch. Gruaud-Larose has seen it size reduced somewhat since the 18th century. However, it is still one of the few estates whose vineyards have remained relatively the same since the property was classified in 1855.

The majority of the vineyards are on the southern side of St. Julien between Ch. Lagrange and Ch. Brainaire-Ducru. There is a parcel further west next to Ch. Talbot and another plot of vines located on the boundary of St. Julien and the commune of Cussac, across the road from the Haut-Medoc estate of Ch. Lanessan. While the average age of the vines are 40 years old, the estate owns several plots that are more than 100 years of age. All the vineyards are sustainably and organically farmed with around 100 acres farmed biodynamically.

Jeff Leve of The Wine Cellar Insider notes that Gruaud-Larose is unique in St. Julien for not only having the most clay soils in the commune but also for being located at the highest elevation on the St. Julien plateau.

After the retirement of winemaker Georges Pauli, Eric Boissenot has served as consultant for the estate.

Wine Stats

Ch. Gruaud-Larose produces around 540,000 bottles a year with about 45% of the yearly production being declassified to the second wine of Sarget de Gruaud-Larose. Named after the mid-19th century owner, Baron Jean Auguste Sarget, the wine spent 18 months aging in 30% new oak.

In 2008, the blend was 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec with around 15,100 cases made.

The Wine

Photo by © Superbass. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-by-SA-4.0

A lot of cedar cigar box notes in this wine.

Medium-plus intensity nose. Very cigar box with tobacco spice and cedar. Underneath there is some red fruits like currant and plum.

On the palate, those cigar notes carry through and bring an even more savory, meaty element. Medium-plus acidity maintains freshness and adds a little juicy element to the red fruits. Medium tannins still have some grip but are rather mellow at this point. Moderate length finish ends with the same cigar box notes that have dominated this wine from the beginning.

The Verdict

With the 2008 edition of the Grand Vin of Gruard-Larose going for around $90, the 2008 Sarget de Gruaud-Larose is a very solid second wine at around $35-40.

It is a classic St. Julien that would certainly appeal to folks who like old school, savory Bordeaux. While the tannins are softening, the wine has enough acidity and structure to still be drinking well for at least another 3 years.

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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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Cab is King but for how long?

Photo from Wikimedia Commons from George Cattermole and the  Gallery of Shakespeare illustrations, from celebrated works of art (1909). At a 2018 Unified Wine & Grape Symposium panel on Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the directors of winemaking for E. & J. Gallo Winery, Chris Munsell, shared a bit of advice that he learned from a marketing executive.

…for any wine to be successful, it need[s] to be of good quality, known by consumers and profitable for everyone involved. — Wines & Vines, Jan 29th, 2018.

Following that line of thought, it’s easy to see how Cabernet Sauvignon ticks off each box.

Cab’s ability to make high quality and age-worthy wines is legendary. It is relatively easy to grow in the vineyard and is very adaptable to a wide range of winemaking techniques. This adaptability increases the profitability of the grape as winemakers can make virtually any style of Cab to fit consumers’ tastes at prices that still meet desired profit margins.

At the Unified panel mentioned above, Evan Schiff, the winemaker for Francis Ford Coppola Presents’ Diamond line, describes how Coppola can make consistent under $13 Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from vineyards throughout California with the use of enzymes that facilitate quick fermentation, oak barrel alternatives like chips and staves (as opposed to $400-1000 new barrels) and micro-oxygenation.

Meanwhile, in Napa County where a ton of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes can cost anywhere from $6,829 to $59,375, producers seemingly have no problem selling high end Napa Valley Cabernets for several hundreds of dollars.

The reason why Cabernet Sauvignon is a fairly easy sell is because of the second point in Munsell’s advice. For consumers, it is a known quantity.

Photo by self, uploaded to Wikimedia Commons as Agne27

One of the oldest plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon in Washington State at Red Willow Vineyard in the Yakima Valley.

In 2017, while off-premise sales of wine only grew by 3%, Cabernet Sauvignon out-paced that trend with 5% growth. This growth was seen across a variety of price points ranging from a 21% increase in sales of $4.50 (per 750ml) boxed wine to a 15% increase in sales of Cabernet Sauvignon over $25.

Cab is clearly King but even the reigns of Sobhuza II and Louis XIV eventually came to an end. Looking to the horizon, it is not hard to find trends that, like Macbeth’s witches, whisper of toil and trouble in store for the monarch.

Fair is Foul and Foul is Fair: Who seeks something unique and rare?

If you want to bet on the dethronement of Cab, you only need to look towards the first, second and third murderers of all things–Millennials. With over 75 million members (surpassing now the Baby Boomers), industries ignore this powerful demographic at their peril.

While it’s a mistake to overly generalize with such a large cohort, one consistent theme that has emerged is that Millennials tend to value experiences over material goods. In the wine industry, we are seeing this play out in Millennial wine drinkers’ “curiosity” about unique grape varieties and unheralded regions. Instead of seeking out the high scoring Cult Cabs and status symbols that beckoned previous generations, Millennials often thirst for something different, something interesting.

A report by Master of Wine Matt Deller notes that 65% of Millennial drinkers in his Wine Access study actively sought out “unusual wines and vintages”. And while the buying power for Millennials currently lags behind Generation X and Baby Boomers, Millennials have a desire to spend more.

With this context in mind, some interesting trends stand out when you look at the acreage reports of vineyard plantings in California.

Of course Cabernet Sauvignon still commands a significant chunk of acreage with 90,782 acres of vines in 2016. That is around a 26% increase from 2008 and is a testament to the healthy market that exists for Cabernet. But looking a little deeper we see that savvy vineyard owners and wineries are anticipating the adventurous appetites of Millennial drinkers.

How does Teroldego pair with newt eyes and frog toes?
From the California Department of Food and Agriculture and USDA 2016 acreage report

During that same 2008-2016 period, we can see impressive growth in Italian grape varieties in California like Aglianico (≈ 63% growth), Montepulciano (≈ 77%) and Primitivo (≈ 233%). Even the obscure northeastern Italian grape of Teroldego from Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol is getting in on the action with an astounding growth of nearly 731%.

The vast majority of these new Teroldego plantings occurred in 2014 & 2016 with huge producers like Bogle Vineyards, Constellation Brands, E & J Gallo Winery and Trinchero Family Estates behind most of the plantings in the Central Valley of California. It looks like the grape is being groomed to be the “new Petite Sirah” as a key component in mass-produced red blends (or a Pinot noir-enhancer) but varietal examples from producers in Clarksburg, Lodi, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara could offer consumers intriguing and characterful wines.

Beyond the second wave of Cal-Ital varieties, Cabernet is seeing growing competition from its Bordeaux stable-mates of Malbec (≈ 130% growth) and Petit Verdot (≈ 62%) as well as the Uruguayan favorite Tannat (≈ 132%).

Among white wines, we see a similar pattern even though Chardonnay still accounts for over 94,000 acres in California–an increase of around 13% from 2008.

If she was around today, it’s likely that Lady Macbeth would be drinking Moscato… or Rombauer Chard
From the California Department of Food and Agriculture and USDA 2016 acreage report

While Chardonnay still rules by Cabernet Sauvignon’s side, we have upstarts like the Spanish variety Albariño (≈ 107% growth) and Portuguese grape Verdelho (≈ 75%) seeing significant increase in plantings. As with the reds, the interest in Italian white varieties is growing with Vermentino seeing around a 287% growth in plantings and the combine stable of Muscat grapes (led by Moscato bianco) more than doubling their acreage in 8 years.

There is no question that Cabernet Sauvignon bears a charmed life. It makes delicious wines that delight both wine drinkers’ palates and wineries’ bottom lines. But the fickle and ever-changing tastes of the wine world means that even the greatest of kings have reigns that are just brief candles.

While Cab’s light is not likely to go out anytime soon, perhaps the king should watch out for his shadows.

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60 Second Wine Reviews — Darioush Cabernet Sauvignon

Some quick thoughts on the 2013 Darioush Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley.

The Geekery

Back in 2004, Matt Kramer pegged Darioush Winery as “One to Watch” in his book New California Wine, and his words have proven apt as Darioush has become one of the “must visit” estates in Napa Valley.

Located in the Stags Leap District, the winery was founded in 1997 by Iranian immigrants Darioush and Shahpar Khaledi. The site of their winery on the Silverado Trail used to belong to Altamura Winery before the later moved down to Wooden Valley near the city of Napa.

The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from estate fruit in Mount Veeder and Oak Knoll District AVAs and from hillsides vineyards in the greater Napa Valley AVA. The wine is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot that spent 22 months aging in 85% new French oak. Around 9,155 cases were made.

The Wine

Medium intensity nose. Dark fruit (blackberry, black plum) with noticeable vanilla and oak spice.

The mouthfeel is huge! Very full bodied and almost thick with high tannins and dense dark fruit. I felt like I was chewing this wine more than I was chewing my steak. The wine did have medium plus acidity that added a saving grace of juiciness to keep my palate from wearing out. Long finish brought some spice.

The Verdict

Photo by Jim Gateley. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC BY 3.0

The Darioush Winery in Napa Valley. Like the wine they make, it’s BIG!

Big, big, big wine. It has a lot of character and probably would benefit from a good 2 hour decant which my dinner didn’t afford.

Still, it paired well with my steak and was worth the restaurant mark up. At around $95-110 retail, it is worth the money for someone who wants a huge, brooding red wine that is almost a meal in itself.

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