Group Tasting: 2007 Washington Red Blends

Welcome to another Bottle Variations group tasting! Our Tasting Group meets semi-regularly for a blind tasting of 6 or so themed wines. The group knows the theme ahead of time, but only the organizer (generally myself) knows what the wines are specifically. However, I mixed up the wines after they were bagged, so while I knew what wines were in the tasting, I did not know specifically which wine I was tasting at any time. All of the wines were decanted for 2+ hours before tasting.

This tasting was of 2007 Washington State red blends. The 2007 vintage has been hailed in Washington as the best since 2005! This tasting was put together to test that theory. Without further ado, here are the wines:

1. JM Cellars “Bramble Bump Red”. 33% Cab, 31% Merlot, 15% Syrah, 13% Mourvedre, 8% Petit Verdot. $19.99. 14.3% Alcohol (Though Sean cried “Bullshit!” on the alcohol content).
My notes:
Ruby/purple color. Nose of wood spice, sweet ripe fruit, oak, lots of hot alcohol, vanilla, raspberry, blueberry preserves. Nicely medium-bodied on the attack, and then the oak comes out on the mid-palate. The tannins are firm, and the alcohol is evident. The fruit is pleasantly ripe, and it’s a little too oaky. Not focused. L found it medicinal, and I agree a little bit. Sean said it felt like “Chewing on a crowbar.” I didn’t get much of that, whatever it means…

The scores:
Me: 5.5
T: 4
M: 5
L: 5.5
G: 6
Sean: 7.5
Total: 33.5
Average: 5.58/10

2. Tamarack Cellars “Firehouse Red”. Columbia Valley. 31% Cabernet, 27% Syrah, 16% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 7% Malbec, 3% Sangiovese, 1% Carmenere, 1% Petit Verdot. $18.99. Alcohol content not listed on the bottle; don’t tell the police.
My notes:
Ruby and a little dark purple. Less oak, sweet fruit. Black cherry, cream, mild baking spice. The nose is subtler, and more multifaceted. The palate is smooth at first, and the tannin comes out on the mid-palate. Substantial oak on the finish. T says dark chocolate. I think the finish is just a little bitter, but I still like the wine in general. L found it to be a smooth and food-friendly wine. Sean thought it was over-extracted; I think he was in the minority there.

The scores:
Me: 6.5
T: 5.5
M: 6
L: 6.5
G: 7.5
Sean: 6
Total: 38
Average: 6.3/10

3. Waters “Interlude”. 55% Merlot, 38% Cabernet, 7% Cabernet Franc. $26.99. 14.5% alcohol.
My notes:
Opaque ruby color. Quite ripe nose, chocolate, plum preserves (but not pruny), sweet fruit, ripe. Alcohol is quite evident on nose. Some vegetal and dried herb aromas. L says sour cherry, and I agree. The palate isn’t as concentrated as I’d like, but it is pleasantly tart, with nice acidity. Sean thought that the fruitiness complemented what he called a “smoky oakiness,” and referred to the tannins as “chalky.” L thought it was too alcoholic on the nose but liked it in general, though she thought it was “too overt for most food pairings.” I agree; this is a cocktail wine.

The scores:
Me: 6
T: 5
M: 6
L: 7
G: 7
Sean: 7
Total: 38
Average: 6.3/10

4. Isenhower “Last Straw”. Columbia Valley. Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Merlot, Roussanne, Syrah (though I’m not sure of the blend). 14.5% alcohol. About $18?
My notes:
Opaque ruby color, quite vibrant. The nose is medicinal and alcoholic, with ripe plummy fruit. I thought it was kind of a vague, fruity nose, maybe dried fruit. L detected tarragon; T called it “dark fruit.” The palate really saved this wine for me. It was tart and juicy. My notes say “Tasty!” I appreciate the fact that it is not overly oaked, though it is super-sweet and ripe.

The scores:
Me: 6.5
T: 5.5
M: 6.5
L: 6.5
G: 6.5
Sean: 8
Total: 6.58/10

5. Cadence “Coda.” 57% Merlot, 18% Cabernet, 13% Cabernet Franc, 12% Petit Verdot. About $30. 14.4% alcohol.
My notes:
Lighter ruby color, almost translucent. Bright and very distinct cranberry on the nose. Again (and again and again) the nose is quite ripe, and the alcohol is evident. Not too much oak, but a little vanilla spice. L found the nose to be a little funky, T detected a Red Vines-esque candied aroma. The alcohol is evident on the palate as well; it’s a hot wine. There’s less body on this wine than any other one but number 3. L says it’s too tart, which I actually didn’t mind. It’s the booziness I couldn’t get over.
The scores:
Me: 6
T: 5
M: 5.5
L: 6
G: 6
Sean: 8.5 (I think maybe he’s getting a little tipsy at this point)
Total: 37
Average: 6.17/10

6. Three Rivers “River’s Red”. 48% Syrah, 22% Malbec, 12% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot, 7% Cabernet, 2% Carmenere, 1% Tempranillo (Where do they come up with these blends?!?). 13.6% alcohol. Around $13.
My notes:
Ruby-purple. Slightly funky nose, cherry, almost citrusy. Just a little wood, pencil lead/shavings. L detected blue cheese. Medium-bodied, firm and pleasant tannins, juicy and plump. T liked the acid; so did I. L found the wine to be food-friendly. All in all, this is one that we enjoyed quite a bit. The general consensus was that it was balanced and drinkable, while still being ripe and fruity.

The scores:
Me: 7
T: 6
M: 6
L: 6.5
G: 7
Sean: 8.5
Total: 41
Average: 6.83

Given the price and the scores, this is the only wine of the tasting to be rated as RECOMMENDED.

Overview:
Everyone at the tasting got a little frustrated at the lack of distinctions in these wines. M noted that they all looked VERY similar in the glass when we poured them side-by-side. T said they were “hard to differentiate.” Sean thought they all smelled like Grenache. My final notes were thus: “I would like all of these wines more if they weren’t 1. Overalcoholic and 2. So similar! At least there were no oak-bombs, though.”

It was astounding to find all these wines to be so similar when their blends are all so different. I have to suppose that this is due to the extreme ripeness of the grapes and the (I assume) similarity of the aging procedures.

Washington State is the Wild West of winemaking. Wineries are young, people are doing unusual things with grape blends, and the rules are fast and loose. So why are these wines so similar? Is this the effect of Parkerization, or do enologists think that this is the style consumers are after? Do these winemakers like their own wines?

I hope that this trend reverses itself, and that we begin to see more unique, individual wines coming out of our wine region.

Laurelhurst Cellars

Laurelhurst Cellars is another in a long string of new Washington wineries. Some people say that a new winery is bonded in Washington every week, some say every couple of days. Whatever the case, there is a glut of new producers in the state. Whether this is a good thing or a bad one is a matter open to debate. I’m of the position that it is a positive trend; while some might say that the average quality of Washington wine is being brought down as a result, I believe that a heavy infusion of new blood helps to bring innovation and dynamism to the industry. I predict that many of these new wineries will not survive beyond their first or second release, and that is well- the wheat shall be separated from the chaff, and quality shall rise to the surface and survive, hopefully. After all, the Washington wine industry cannot survive on Ste Michelle Wine Estates alone.

But I digress. Laurelhurst Cellars is a new Washington winery, now selling their second vintage (2006 reds). Their self-description on their Facebook page: “Laurelhurst Cellars. Established in 2004 by Greg Smallwood, Gabe Warner & Dave Halbgewachs in the Laurelhurst Neighborhood. Producing Premium Wines from Washington State.” Pretty straightforward. Three guys, Washington wine. They’ve actually relocated from Laurelhurst to Georgetown, an area burgeoning with wineries these days (six or so?). I recently had the opportunity to taste their wines. Here are my notes:

1. 2005 Azorica Red Blend. Columbia Valley. $26.99. 34% Cabernet, 28% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Franc, 16% Syrah. Boushey, Patch of Blue, and Kiona vineyards. 22 months in 100% new French oak. 52 cases produced.
Dark, opaque ruby. A nose of sweet fruit, raspberry, blackberry, vanilla, sweet wood. The wine is big and juicy, but surprisingly not over the top. The tannins are firm and gripping. Given the oak exposure, this wine is appreciably not too woody; it’s there in the form of a pleasant spiciness, but not obnoxious like so many Washington reds. Nice! 6.5/10

2. 2005 Petite Syrah, Yakima Valley. 20 months new French oak, 25 cases produced. $28.99
Very dark purple, quite opaque. The nose is a little more restrained than the first wine, showing wood spice and pencil shavings along with hints of dark sweet fruit. The palate is brambly and a little spicy, with blackberry and plums. The wine is juicy, and has nice acidity in a tight, focused style. Again, not over the top. 6/10

3. 2005 Boushey Vineyard Cabernet Franc. 22 months in 100% new French oak. 28 cases produced. $34.99
Medium ruby color, somewhat transparent. Brett on the nose, stinky, horsey, and a little pleasant vegetal note. The wine is medium bodied and has very smooth, round tannins. A little wood, a little vegetal. I would like this wine a lot more without the bretty aspect, but that’s something of a personal thing (I hate horsey-smelling brett). Some of my coworkers thought this was the best wine. 5/10

4. 2006 Laurus Nobilis Red Blend. 61% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot. Boushey, Klipsun, and Kiona Vineyard. $26.99. 160 cases produced.
Bright translucent ruby. Very juicy nose, red berries, sweet fruit, Chinese spices. Big and rich on the palate (my notes say “Whoa!”). Firm tannins, really tasty. 10-15 seconds of length. Great wine from a true Bordeaux blend, but not Bordeaux in style. 6.5/10

5. 2005 Boushey Vineyard Syrah. Aged 22 months in 100% new French oak (shocker). 23 cases produced. $36.99.
Opaque purple/ruby. A nose of blueberries and spice, a little tarry, mostly just juicy, ripe and woody (but not obnoxiously woody). Jammy on the palate, but with a nice backbone of acidity. Tarry and brambly. The tannins are supple, and balance well with the acidity and ripe fruit. Very subtly barnyardy (I predict that will increase with bottle age). 6/10

6. 2006 Red Mountain Cabernet. Klipsun and Kiona Vineyards. $36.99. 52 cases produced. Aged, again, for 22 months in 100% new French oak.
Medium ruby color, translucent. Bright and juicy nose, again, with sweet wood, vanilla, baking spice, black cherry, and ripe raspberry. Surprisingly medium-bodied on the palate. Quite smooth. Oaky, and without enough length. For their top-end wine, I would’ve expected something more; I like their less-expensive red blends more. 5/10

Conclusion:
These guys are definitely making Washington wine. The wines are ripe and approachable, in a big, juicy style. I like their wines, but I do wish that they’d lay off of the 100% new French oak a little bit. I also wish they weren’t quite so ripe, but that’s what practically all Washington wines are like these days. I didn’t have their alcohol contents in front of me, but since they’re Washington producers, and given the ripeness of the fruit, I’d have to expect that they all fall in the 14%-15.5% range. Remarkably, and to their credit, I didn’t find the alcohol to be obnoxious on any of their wines. I don’t have any idea how long the bottles had been open.

Regarding their prices, I think they’re gutsy but not entirely unreasonable. The wines are good, and the prices never get into that $40-$50 price range that so many producers fall into (Mark Ryan, Chris Gorman, Longshadows, Boudreaux, ad infinitum). Who knows what a little press recognition might bring on that front, though.

I like the wines, I want to see more from this producer, and I hope they start picking their fruit earlier and laying off the new oak.

Event Report: Seattle Wine Awards

Taylor had the pleasure of attending the Seattle Wine Awards a couple of weeks back. He e-mailed me this report, and I’m posting it here for him.

Seattle Wine Awards

Held at the historic Rainier Club, the Seattle Wine Awards is
marketed as Washington’s most “prestigious” wine awards. Wineries that
received awards poured their honored wines—though there were some
notable award winners absent, including Buty. We were worried that
the event might be a little stuffy, considering the venue, but it was
actually an enjoyable experience and a great opportunity to try some
of Washington’s best.

We neglected to take notes while tasting each wine. To be honest, this
would have been too much of an undertaking for our palates as almost
200 different wines were poured. We will mention some wines that
caught our attention, though.

Of the established wineries represented at the SWA, Boudreaux’s 2005
Reserve Cabernet was a stand out. At just over $100 the producer
seems to have presumed greatness from this wine; it met those
expectations with its great structure and beautiful red fruit notes on
the nose and palate. Cote Bonneville Carriage House 2005 also greatly
impressed us. Similar to the Boudreaux, it has great structure with
accessible tannins, but is instead driven by gorgeous dark plum and
blackberry fruits. This is another great offering from Dubrul
Vineyard.

With regard to established wineries, we enjoyed Zerba’s 2005 Reserve
Walla Walla Cabernet and 2006 Reserve Walla Walla Syrah. It is hard
to understand how this largely estate winery is not more popular west
of the Cascades. Their wines always bring depth and complexity
without being bulky or overripe, often coming in at under 14.0%
alcohol. These two are great examples of this winery’s talent,
especially the Cabernet.

Two impressive newcomers were Obelisco and Hollywood Hill. Obelisco
Estate Red Mountain Cabernet 2007 was a gorgeously deep wine with
cedar, leather, and all sorts of dark fruit on the nose. Lush tannins
and balanced acidity really made this an impressive wine even in its
youth. Especially surprising to us was that this wine was taken from
second leaf vines. $60 is a pricey start for this winery’s first
release, but it is not outrageous considering its Red Mountain peers.
This wine really is a head above many other wines from that
appellation.

Hollywood Hill was represented by two of their Syrahs—their 2005
Yakima and their 2006 Rattlesnake Hills each of which retail for
around $30. The Yakima was driven by bright ripe fruits, while the
Rattlesnake Hills had a little bit more complexity and spice. Both
were beautifully balanced and lingered on the palate. Although not
quite as new to the scene as Obelisco, Hollywood Hill is still a young
winery and it appears to be headed in an interesting direction.

On a slightly different note, this was our first trip inside the
Rainier Club and we were quite taken with the enormous wood fire oven
and grill that took up an entire wall of one of the dining rooms. A
huge banquet of roasted meats, cheeses, fruits, spreads, and breads
covered the tables and offered a mouth-watering reprieve from the
multitude of wines.

Thanks, Taylor, for the interesting review!

What have I had lately?

Well, I’ve been trying to avoid doing this, but I haven’t had any wines with a particular theme lately, and so here are some notes on a bunch of wines I’ve tried lately.

1997 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Rioja Rose
Lopez de Heredia may be the last great traditional Rioja producer. Their dedication to vineyard-designate wines, long aging, and spontaneous fermentation astounds me. This is the current release of their rose, and it is like nothing I have tasted before. Whites and roses in an oxidized style are traditional for Rioja, but few producers that I’ve seen continue to produce wines in this style, and none do so as uncompromisingly as Lopez de Heredia. From the Tondonia estate, this wine is somewhat salmon-colored, but really it borders on amber with a tinge of brown. The nose is nutty; very sherry-esque; if the alcohol were higher, I’d peg it for a fino. The palate is equally oxidized. All the flavors are tertiary; there is almost no fruit whatsover, only perhaps the slightest hint of peach. The remarkable part about this wine is that the acidity has been beautifully maintained. It is crisp and tasty. I have no idea how much longer this wine could age, since I’ve had little experience with this style, but it is delicious now. 8/10

2007 Joseph Drouhin Chablis
Pale hay color. The nose is restrained, but there is a distinct note of lemon and stone fruit. The palate shows a pleasant juicy citrus layer, along with crisp apples and pears. There is nice zing of acidity, but the wine is a little too ripe for me, for Chablis. If I had been in the mood for this wine I might have liked it more, but when I see Chablis from a classic vintage like 2007 I want oyster shells. Fans of unoaked domestic chardonnay should search this one out. 5.5/10

2007 Domaine de la Quilla Muscadet Sevre et Maine
Very pale color, almost with a hint of green. The nose is quite expressive for a Muscadet, showing honeydew melon and citrus rind. The palate is crisp, with a nice hint of salinity. This is a nice, enjoyable beverage, perfect for summertime, though I do wish that it had a little more acidity. Still, it’s great for under $15. 6/10

2004 Prinz Hallgartner Jungler Riesling Spatlese, Rheingau.
Rich lemon color. The nose is boisterous, with honey and citrus jumping out of the glass. The palate carries that honey and citrus with it, but adds ripe apricots and a lovely floral note. The residual sugar is delicious and enjoyable, not at all cloying, and the acidity holds up its end to produce a balanced, tasty wine. I recall this wine being under $20. If so, it is worth it. 6.5/10

Beronia 2001 Gran Reserva Rioja
Medium garnet color; it’s quite pretty. The nose is very herbaceous and earthy; it smells of soy, and copper, with a raspberry fruit component. The palate is nicely medium bodied, and not too oaky. The tannins are firm but fine-grained. This is a well-made wine; it is juicy, with a red fruit aspect, but an earthy one as well. The length is impressive, going on for at least 30 seconds. I wish I had a piece of mole pork with this; it is a great food wine. 7/10