A Wine Lover’s Diary, Part 591: Taste Washington

Taste Washington • Taste Greatness

Monday, March 28th: Clearing my desk to leave for Washington tomorrow for a tour of wineries and the Taste Washington festival. For dinner, steak with a bottle of Bridlewood Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($19.95 – Dense purple colour; spicy-savoury nose of dark chocolate and red berries with a floral note; full-bodied, dry, juicy with a smoky, blackcurrant, blackberry and bitter chocolate flavour (88)).

Tuesday, March 29th: Up at 5 am to get to the airport for an 8:05 am United Airlines flight to Denver and then on to Pasco, Washington. Angela Aiello is on the flight with me and we meet up with two Quebec wine writers, Nadia Fournier and Jean Aubry. Immediately on arrival, we are driven by Doug Marshall, Washington State Wine International Marketing Manager, to Alexandria Nicole Cellars, a castle-like building in Tuscan style perched on a rocky hill in Paterson in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. The winemaker, Matt, pours us a glass of Alexandria Nicole Cellars Shepherds Mark 2014, a blend of 60% Roussanne, 20% Marsanne and 20% Viognier: pale lemon colour with a minerally, spicy, nose of peach; full-bodied, fresh melon and honeysuckle flavours with a macadamia nut note; great length. (91)

The estate called Destiny Ridge Vineyards (325 acres, 275 planted) grows 20 different varieties and makes 32 different wines. We tasted three of them over a buffet lunch of chicken salad with tomatoes, cold cuts and cheeses.

  • Alexandria Nicole Cellars Destiny Ridge Vineyards Jet Black Syrah 2014: deep ruby colour; spicy, sandalwood, blackberry and blueberry bouquet; full-bodied, dry and fruit-driven with an engaging floral note. (90)
  • Alexandria Nicole Cellars A Squared Cabernet Sauvignon 2013: deep ruby colour with a cedary blackcurrant and spicy vanilla oak nose; full-bodied, dry and savoury with a licorice note. Firm structure. (91)
  • Alexandria Nicole Cellars Destiny Ridge Vineyards Quarry Bute Red 2013 (a blend of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 6% Malbec, 4% Syrah, 2% Petit Verdot.): dense purple-ruby colour; spicy-floral nose of black fruits with a pencil lead note; full-bodied, dry and savoury with ripe tannins. (89)

We checked in to the Hotel Marriott in Richland, unpacked and went off again to visit Col Solare in the Red Mountain AVA, the smallest AVA in Washington. They get a mere 6–8 inches of rain a year. 80% of the appellation is Cabernet Sauvignon.

Col Solare winery

The modern winery with its 56-foot bell tower is a partnership between Chateau Ste. Michelle and Antinori. The aptly named winemaker is Darel Allwine (although here they only make red wines). The second label is a translation of Col Solare – Shining Hill. The estate is 29 acres although they control a further 120 acres of vineyards.

Col Solare winemaker Darel Allwine

After a tour of the winery we sat down to a vertical tasting of Col Solare and dinner.

  • Col Solare 2010 (90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec): deep purple colour with a cedary, blackcurrant and vanilla oak nose lifted with a violet perfume; richly extracted, full-bodied, sweet fruit with a lively acidic spine, firm tannic structure, with a lovely velvety mouth-feel. (93)
  • Col Solare 2011 (77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec): Dense purple colour; cedary, dusty, savoury, black fruit nose with a note of licorice; full-bodied, dry and savoury, well- structured finishing firmly with sweet tannins. (91)
  • Col Solare 2012 (85% Cabernet Sauvignon 4% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 4% Syrah): Deep purple-ruby colour; cedary, floral nose of blackcurrant and fresh mushrooms; full-bodied, dry and elegant with plum, blackcurrant, tobacco and dark chocolate flavours. Well integrated oak. (94)
  • Col Solare 2013 (88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlot, 2% Syrah): deep purple colour with a spicy bouquet of tobacco, cedar, blackcurrant and plum with vanilla oak notes; full-bodied, richly extracted sweet fruit beautifully balanced with acidity to give the wine a dry, savoury finish. (93)
  • Col Solare 2014 (barrel sample – 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlot, 2% Syrah): Dense purple colour with an intense bouquet of cedar, blackcurrant, plum, tobacco and vanilla oak with a truffle note; a seamless wine, rich and full-bodied with flavours of dark chocolate, coffee bean and sweet spices ending on mellow tannins. Needs time but will be amazing. Could be the best yet. (93–95)

The interesting thing about these wines is that each has its own personality – very much vintage-driven. I asked Darel if we could taste his varietal Cabernet Franc and he brought up a sample before we had dinner.

  • Col Solare Cabernet Franc 2015: Dense purple in colour with a floral, iodine and chocolate nose; full-bodied, dry and savoury with ripe tannins. (90)

The menu: wild mushroom pâté flecked with hazelnut, duck breast with vegetable mash and carrots, followed by foie gras ice cream with a waffle crisp.

Wednesday, March 30th: A full day of winery visits today. Our first stop is Columbia Crest followed by 14 Hands (which is the height of a wild mustang).

14 Hands sculpture

Somewhere along the way this morning I lost my notebook with a review of the wines we tasted. After lunch we drove to J. Brookwalter.

  • J. Brookwalter Old Vine Chenin Blanc Vineyard 2015 (Yakima Valley): pale straw colour; quince, citrus with a minerally note on the nose; crisp, green pear, salty note; well balanced, with a bitter almond finish. Crunchy mouth feel. (90)
  • J. Brookwalter Couplet Conner-Lee Vineyard aland 2014 (68% Chardonnay, 32% Viognier): pale straw colour; apple, honeysuckle nose; dry, richly extracted, medium-bodied, dry, melon and apple flavours with a firm finish. (88.5)
  • J. Brookwalter Double Plot Chardonnay Conner-Lee Vineyard 2014: pale straw with a lime tint; smoky, apple. With a light vanilla note; nicely balanced, spicy oak with lively citrus acidity. Chablis style. (89.5)
  • J. Brookwalter Double Plot Chardonnay Conner-Lee Vineyard 2014 (9 months in barrel with lees stirring): pale straw with a greenish tint; spicy, vanilla oak, apple nose; sweet apple with toasty, vanilla oak that persists for a firm finish. (89)
  • J. Brookwalter Antagonist Syrah 2014: deep purple-ruby colour; smoky, spicy, peppery blackberry with a floral note; full-bodied, floral, blackberry, elegant, firmly structured, St. Joseph style. Firm tannic finish. (91)
  • J. Brookwalter Foreshadow Merlot 2013: deep ruby colour; spicy, vanilla oak and plum nose; medium to full-bodied, beautifully balanced, firmly structured, seamless. (92)
  • J. Brookwalter Protagonist Cabernet Sauvignon 2013: deep ruby-purple colour; cedary, blackcurrant with vanilla oak; medium for full-bodied, elegant, fruity, blackcurrant, beautifully balanced, firm finish with soft tannins. (92)
  • J. Brookwalter Foreshadow Merlot 2012: deep ruby colour; cedar, plum and cherry nose; medium to full-bodied, dry, elegant, seamless, firmly structured. (93)
  • J. Brookwalter Subplot No. 31 2014 (50% Syrah, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, 8% Malbec, 7% Cabernet Franc): deep ruby colour; spicy-savoury, vanilla oak, black fruit nose; fruity but well balanced and firm, richly extracted, full-bodied, sweet plum and blackberry flavours. Delicious wine. (92)

Next stop Barnard Griffin.

  • Barnard Griffin Pinot Gris 2015: pale straw colour; white peach, sulphur note; ripe and richly extracted peach flavour with citrus acidity. (88)
  • Barnard Griffin Fumé Blanc 2014: very pale colour; floral, citrus and banana nose; dry, green apple with a minerally-pencil lead nose; firm with a bitter finish. (87.5)
  • Barnard Griffin Chardonnay 2014: light lemon colour; minerally, apple nose, spicy, well-balanced, medium-bodied pineapple, and caramel with a touch of bitterness on the finish to give character to the wine. (89)
  • Barnard Griffin Albgerigno 2014: light straw colour; white peach and mineral nose; dry, elegant, beautifully balanced and fresh and pure, saline note and bitter almond finish. (89)
  • Barnard Griffin Roussanne Gunkel Vineyard 2014: light straw with a green tint; peach with a light floral note; well extracted sweet peachy fruit, mouth-filling; firm finish with a bitter note. (88)
  • Barnard Griffin Rosé of Sangiovese 2015: deep salmon pick; cherry, banana nose; fresh and lively with a cherry pit flavour. (88.5)
  • Barnard Griffin Merlot 2013: purple-ruby colour; iodine, plum with an oak note; dry, savoury, herbal with a tannic finish. Tight at the moment with a creamy, vanilla oak finish and lively acidity. (88.5)
  • Barnard Griffin Cabernet Sauvignon 2014: (with Merlot 15–20%, 3–5% Petit Verdot) dense purple-ruby; cedary, creamy, sweet currant fruit, firmly structured; medium- to full-bodied, tight.
  • Barnard Griffin Syrah 2014: deep purple colour; savoury, blackberry nose; full on the palate, sweet fruit with a herbal note with good acidity; fruit-driven and firm. (89)
  • Barnard Griffin Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2009: dense purple colour; floral, cedar, blackcurrant nose; well-structured , elegant, well- structured and firm. Still youthful. Hold 5 years. (89–91)
  • Barnard Griffin Côtes du Rôb 2012 (35.63% Cinsault, 28.49% Grenache, 14.29% Syrah, 11.96% Mourvedre, 9.63% Counoise): deep ruby colour with a violet rim; spicy, elegant, beautifully balanced with lively acidity; medium to full-bodied, juicy but firm with a creamy finish. (92.5)
  • Barnard Griffin Syrah Port 2014: dense purple colour; spicy, mulberry nose; concentrated blackberry and chocolate with spicy oak; firmly structured with evident tannins. Hold 5 years at least. (92)

Barnard Griffin Côtes du Rôb 2012

Final stop is dinner at Hedges Family Estates with Christophe Hedges and his friend Boo Walker. Christophe brought out two bottles of Champagne Gabriel Blanc de Blancs which Angela and Nadia sabered with a hand axe. After a tour of the building we sat down to dinner with a range of wines. The menu: Cauliflower soup, bitter lettuce and blood orange salad, roasted halibut with vegetable mash, maple pecan tart. The wines:

  • Hedges Red Mountain Le Blanc 2015 (50% Marsanne, 50% Viognier): pale straw colour; minerally, peach pit nose; medium to full-bodied, dry, honeysuckle and peach flavours with a touch of bitterness on the finish (90).
  • Hedges Red Mountain Les Gosses Vineyard Syrah Cuvée Marcel Dupont 2012: dense purple colour; cedary, black fruits on the nose; medium-bodied, savoury-herbal flavour with fresh acidity. (89)
  • Hedges Red Mountain Syrah 2013 (magnum): dense ruby colour; shy nose at the moment of blackberries; tight, dry and lean and acidic. Needs time. (89–91)
  • Hedges Merlot 1998: deep ruby colour; cedar and spicy plum nose; medium to full-bodied, lively acidity with drying tannins. (89)
  • Hedges Cabernet Sauvignon 2000: deep ruby-purple colour; cedary nose of blackcurrants and tobacco; medium-bodied and still tight. (89)
  • Hedges La Haut Cuvée 2012 (Cabernet Sauvignon): dense purple colour; plum and currant flavours; well-structured and firm. (90)

Hedges La Haut Cuvée 2012

Thursday, March 31st: Left the hotel at 8:15 am and stopped for breakfast at Mercer Wine Estate. Winemaker Jessica Munnell (who is married to the Argentina winemaker at Columbia Crest) led us through a tasting of her wines.

  • Mercer Chardonnay Reserve 2013 (Horse Heaven Hills): straw colour; leesy, apple with a buttery note; spicy, apple with well integrated oak; good length. (89)
  • Mercer Riesling 2013 (Yakima Valley): straw colour; lime, grapefruit, developing petrol notes; off-dry, honey and lime flavours, mineral note; beautifully balance, lovely mouth-feel. (91)
  • Mercer Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (with Syrah and Merlot): dense purple colour; savoury, black fruit nose with a cedary note; full-bodied, dry, sandalwood and plummy flavour, creamy mouth-feel with powdery tannins. (89.5)
  • Robert Willis Malbec Reserve 2013: dense purple colour; full-bodied, richly extracted, blackcurrant, full in the mouth, floral and fruity. Seamless and creamy with ripe tannins. (91)

Robert Willis Malbec Reserve 2013

Next stop: Côte Bonneville’s DuBrul Vineyard in the Yakima Valley where Hugh and Kathy Shiels walked us through the steep, rocky vineyard along with their dogs. The vineyard is tended by an all-female crew. On the 45 acres they grow 6 varieties. At various stops along the way the “wine fairy” produced Cote Bonneville wines for us to taste out of plastic glasses.

  • Côte Bonneville Chardonnay 2013: bright straw colour; very Burgundian in style, elegant beautifully balanced with apple, citrus and green pineapple flavours with a thread of minerality. (91)
  • Côte Bonneville Syrah 2012: deep purple with a violet tint; St. Joseph style – savoury, herbal, blackberry nose; full-bodied, dry, elegant, well balanced with a black cherry flavour and a firm finish. (91)
  • Côte Bonneville Cabernet Merlot 2003: deep ruby colour; cedar and blackcurrant nose; elegant and savoury with sweet fruit that finishes dry with a herbal note; full-bodied and beautifully balanced. (92)
  • Côte Bonneville Carriage House 2003 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc): deep purple-ruby in colour; cedar and blackcurrant nose; medium-bodied, dry, very Bordeaux in style with a firm tannic structure. (91)

Max in the DuBrul vineyard

Our next stop was Owen Roe (named for the Irish patriot) owned by a Belfast-born winemaker, David O’Reilly. We were treated to an outdoor lunch of quesadillas with the following wines:

  • Owen Roe The Kilmore Pinot Noir 2014 (Oregon fruit): deep ruby colour; cherry and vanilla oak nose; dry and full-bodied with a herbal note. (89)
  • Owen Roe Yakima Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012: deep purple-ruby colour; spicy, cedar, pencil lead nose; full-bodied, sweet and savoury with a minty note; lovely mouth-feel, finishing dry and firm. (90)
  • Own Roe Riesling Ravenna 2013: minerally-floral nose; off-dry with a grapefruit pith finish. (87)
  • Owen Roe Du Brul Riesling 2013: pale straw colour; petrol, floral, minerally, grassy nose; dry, crab apple, lime and grapefruit flavours with a lively spine of acidity. (90)

After lunch we are driven up the hill for a magnificent view over the Columbia River with blossoming cherry orchards spread out below us. Then we drove through the Cascade Mountains into Seattle (in sunshine!) and checked into the Kimpton Monaco Hotel within a few blocks of Pike Market. We joined Bob Betz for dinner at the Barking Frog restaurant in Woodinville. Before he ordered, Bob led us through a series of Betz Family wines, a company he recently sold but remains in a consulting role with. Bob has 41 harvests under his belt.

Bob Betz

  • Betz Family Cuvée Frangin 2014 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Counoise, Petit Verdot): deep purple colour; herbal, plum, leather nose; richly extracted. Dry and savoury with chocolate and rose petal notes; elegant, well balanced, lovely mouth-feel with ripe tannins. (91)
  • Betz Family La Serenne Syrah 2013: dense purple colour; savoury, roasted herbs and spicy oak on the nose; full-bodied, smoky, dark chocolate flavour; rich and full on the palate, meaty with lively acidity with evident oak. (93)
  • Betz Family La Serenne Syrah 2008: dense purple colour; meaty, herbal, spicy oak with iodine notes on the nose; elegant and seamless, juicy blackberry and mulberry flavours, beautifully balanced, fry with a firm finish. A majestic wine. (94)
  • Betz Family La Côte Rousse Syrah 2013: dense purple colour; earthy, coffee bean and spicy mulberry nose; full-bodied, dry and savoury, more structure than La Serrene; powerful with grainy tannins. Hold 3–5 years. (93.5–95)
  • Clos de Betz 2013 (Merlot with Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot): deep purple-ruby colour; cedar, blackcurrant and dark chocolate bouquet; dry, dusty, floral black fruit flavours. Elegant and firm. Very St. Estephe in style. (92)
  • Clos de Betz 2011: deep purple-ruby colour; floral, black and redcurrant nose with cedary notes; elegant, dry but juicy; firmly structured, very Bordelais in style; light on the palate with grainy, cocoa powder tannins. (91)
  • Betz Père de Famille 2012 (90% Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot and Petit Verdot): dense purple-ruby colour; sweet rhubarb and currants with floral and cedar notes; richer on the palate than the nose suggests. Hold 3–5 years. (91–93)
  • Betz Père de Famille 2008 (Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot): dense purple-black colour; vanilla oak, blackcurrant, savoury nose; richly extracted. Full-bodied, fleshy but firm, great balance and youthful still. (94)

I ordered grilled calamari and tagliatelle. With the meal, a bottle of Delille Doyenne Roussanne 2013: straw colour; lifted spicy peach nose with minerality; full-bodied, dry pineapple and peach flavours. (90)

Friday, April 1st: Our first stop is Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville. A beautiful estate full of Chihuly glass sculptures.

Chateau Ste. Michelle

Chihuly sculpture at Ste. Michelle

Chihuly sculpture on the label

They produce 3 million cases of white wine and 1 million red. As a group Chateau Ste. Michelle and the wineries it owns produce 8 million cases in total. David Rosenthal, the company’s white winemaker, led us through the tasting:

  • Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling 2014 (“One million cases, single most important wine in our company, we make more Riesling than any company in the world”): spicy, white peach nose; off-dry, citrus, apricot and white peach. Easy drinking (88.5)
  • Chateau Ste. Michelle Horse Heaven Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2014: pale straw colour; grassy, passionfruit, pink grapefruit nose; medium-bodied, dry and crisp, surprisingly elegant. (88)
  • Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay 2014 (Columbia Valley): medium straw colour; spicy, apple with a light floral note on the nose; medium-bodied, sweetish apple and Meyer lemon flavour with a touch of oak. (88.5)
  • Canoe Ridge Estate Chardonnay 2013 (Horse Heaven Hills): medium straw colour; spicy, apple, vanilla oak, full in the mouth, dry, apple and pear flavours. (89)
  • Chateau Ste. Michelle Ethos Chardonnay 2013 (Columbia Valley): bright straw colour; smoky, toasty, nutty nose; rich and full-bodied, sweet apple, toasty oak. (89.5)
  • Chateau Ste. Michelle Merlot 2013 (Columbia Valley): deep ruby colour; s flavours, red berry nose; medium-bodied, sandalwood sweet plum and cherry flavour with a firm finish. (88)
  • Chateau Ste. Michelle Sauvignon 2013 (Columbia Valley): dense ruby colour; spicy plum nose; medium-bodied, dry, dark chocolate and red berry flavour. (88)
  • Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (10% Syrah, Columbia Valley): dense purple-ruby colour; cedary, creamy, black fruit nose; full-bodied, juicy black fruit with tobacco and pencil lead notes. (89)
  • Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Merlot 2013 (25% Syrah): vanilla oak, red fruit nose; medium-bodied, dry and juicy with ripe tannins. Easy drinking. Good mouth-feel. (89)
  • Canoe Ridge Estate Merlot 2012: dense purple colour; smoky, toasty black cherry nose with pencil lead nose; medium-bodied, dry, minty, cherry flavour with a firm tannic finish. (89)
  • Chateau Ste. Michelle Cold Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (Columbia Valley): dense purple colour; cedary, blackcurrant nose; full-bodied, richly extracted, black fruit flavours with well integrated oak, nicely balanced and powerful. (90)
  • Chateau Ste. Michelle Ethos Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (Columbia Valley): cedary, blueberry and currant nose; medium to full-bodied, dry, elegant, nicely oak with a firm finish. (90)
  • Chateau Ste. Michelle Artist Series 2012 (Columbia Valley, five Bordeaux varieties): dense purple colour; cedar, blackcurrant; medium to full-bodied, beautifully structured, elegant, sweet fruit with grainy tannins. (91)

Next stop is Pomum. Pomum is a boutique winery in an industrial park in Woodinville where there are 15 wineries in units of 1500 square feet. Betz Family Winery started here; so did Delille. Javier Alfonso, the owner-winemaker, named his winery after pomegranate. His Spanish grapes are bottled under the Idilico label. He makes 5,000 cases.

  • Idilico Alabarino 2014 (Yakima Valley): pale straw colour, medium-bodied, crisply dry, white peach and citrus with a salty note and a touch of bitterness on the finish. (89)
  • Pomun Chardonnay 2014 (Columbia Valley): pale straw; citrus and apple nose; fresh, medium-bodied, dry pear and green apple flavours. Firm finish. (89)
  • Idilico Garnacha 2013 (Yakima Valley): ruby colour; strawberry puree nose with an earthy note; medium-bodied, sweet strawberry jam flavour with a bitter finish. Rich mouth-feel. (89)
  • Pomum Syrah 2013 (Columbia Valley): deep purple colour; spicy, mulberry and plum on the nose; dry, full-bodied, dried flowers and plum and prune, lively acidity with chalky tannins. (88)
  • Pomum Tempranillo 2013 (Columbia Valley): deep ruby colour; savoury, cherry nose; dry, medium-bodied, well-textured, dark chocolate and plum flavours. (90)
  • Pomum Cabernet Sauvignon Shya 2012 (Yakima Valley): deep ruby-purple; cedar, red berry fruit nose; medium- to full-bodied, dry, elegant, firmly structured, juicy and restrained, lovely mouth-feel, firmly structured. (91)

Pomum Cabernet Sauvignon Shya 2012

Dropped into another boutique operation in the same industrial warehouse complex – Two Vintners – to see their Zinfandel that was just being bottled. Then on to Columbia Winery for a lunch tasting.

Columbia Winery

  • Columbia Winery Chardonnay 2013 (Columbia Valley): bright straw colour; spicy pear; medium-bodied, sweetish pear and apple flavours, firm structured, medium to full-bodied, a touch of bitterness on the finish. (87.5)
  • Columbia Winery Composition Red Blend (NV) (70% Syrah, 13% Malbec, 3% Merlot,, 3% Mourvedre, 6% Select Red varieties): deep ruby colour; spicy red fruit nose; medium-bodied, dry, spicy-minty red berry flavours with evident tannins. (87.5)
  • Columbia Winery Columbia Valley Merlot 2013: dense purple colour; spicy, blueberry with an earthy note; full-bodied, dry, firmly structured. (88)
  • Columbia Winery Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013: dense purple colour; savoury, dusty black fruit nose; medium-bodied, dry, blackcurrant with a floral note, firmly structured, juicy fruit, with a firm tannic finish (89)

After lunch we dropped into the Sumerian Brewing Company for a glass of IPA before heading back to Seattle.

A couple of hours to spare so I walked over to Pike Market, ate some donuts and watched the flying fish display. Before dinner, dropped into Purple, a great wine bar.

Purple Wine Bar, Seattle

Dinner at RN 74 (named after the road that runs through Burgundy) with the CEO and winemaker of Charles Smith Wines. With my Alaskan king crab salad and wagyu beef and garlic frites I tasted the following Charles Smith Wines: Kung Fu Girl Riesling 2014 (the largest production from a single vineyard in the world – 230,000 cases), Supersubstance Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (from magnum), Sixto Uncovered Chardonnay 2013, Cs Substance Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, K Cabernet Syrah “The Creator” 2012, K Syrah 2013 (4% Viognier – my favourite wine of the night).

Saturday, April 2nd: A seminar this morning at the Four Seasons Hotel, “Tasting Washington: Exploring What Washington Wines Taste Like and Why,” moderated by Bruce Schoenfeld of Saveur Magazine. Panelists Bob Betz, Paul Gregutt and Jake Kosseff. “Fruit purity and structural integrity,” according to Bob Betz. Quotes from the seminar: “Heat accumulation and how it gets its distribution is what identifies its fruit.” “There is no anger in Washington wines.” To illustrate the points we tasted ten wines:

  • Milbrandt Vineyards Riesling Evergreen Vineyard Ancient Lakes 2013: pale straw colour; minerally, grapefruit nose with a touch of honey; spicy, lemon-lime and grapefruit flavours; mouth-filling fresh and zesty; good length. (89)
  • Co Dinn Cellars Chardonnay Roskamp Vineyard Snipes Mountain 2015: golden straw colour; peachy-melon nose with evident ok; full in the mouth with peach and a caramel notes, tangy acidity, warm alcoholic finish.
  • L’Ecole No. 41 Luminesce White Wine Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Valley 2014 (Sauvignon/Semillon) straw colour; minerally, pear and peach nose; full-bodied, very elegant, dry, beautifully oaked with great balance and length. (92)
  • Waitsburg Cellars Cheninieres Chenin Blanc Columbia Valley 2014: straw colour; quince and pear skin nose with a mineral note; round and full in the mouth, dry, pear flavour with a suggestion of honey, lovely mouth feel. (90)
  • Stevens Winery Merlot Yakima Valley 2012: deep purple-ruby colour; blueberry pie with a pencil lead note; medium to full-bodied, juicy, beautifully balanced with exciting acidity, bitter chocolate and cherry flavours; beautifully balanced. Very Pomerol with ripe tannins (DuBrul Vineyard). (92)
  • Spring Valley Vineyard Katherine Corkum Cabernet Franc Walla Walla Valley 2012: dense purple colour; cedar, spicy, blackcurrant nose with a vegetal note; medium-bodied, lovely mouth-feel, juicy fruit with an iodine note; dry, elegant, firmly structured; more heft and weight than the wine first suggests. (91.5)
  • Betz Family Clos de Betz Red Wine Columbia Valley 2011 (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot): deep purple colour; cedary, vanilla oak, currants and black fruit bouquet; medium-bodied, dry, supple with toasted herbs notes with blackcurrant, good muscularity, finishing firmly. (91)
  • Hightower Cellars Reserve Red Wine Red Mountain 2012: dense purple colour; cedar, blackcurrant, vanilla oak nose; full-bodied, dry but juicy and spicy. A seamless wine, beautifully structured. Cabernet/Merlot). (92)
  • Camerata Red Wine Cara Mia Vineyard Red Mountain 2012: dense purple colour; cedary, floral, minerailly, pencil lead, elegant but fleshy blackcurrant, firmly structured. Jammy fruit with a cinnamon finish. (91)
  • Sleight of Hand Cellars Levitation Syrah Columbia Valley 2013: dense purple colour; intense spicy, mulberry toasted herbs, meaty blackcurrant nose; juicy, meaty, full-bodied, coffee bean, dark chocolate, mouth-filling and rich. (91)

After the seminar I walked over to Field Event Century Link Centre for the Grand Tasting. Everyone, regardless of age, had to show ID and have their wrist stamped to prove they were old enough to drink. The hall held over 230 Washington wineries with 65 restaurant booths. Headed for the oyster and chowder bar before I started tasting.

Walked back to the hotel in time to join the group to take the 20-minute ferry over to Vashon Island for a visit to Andrew Will winery. Chris Camarda, the owner, poured barrel samples of his wines – Andrew Will Two Blondes Merlot 2015, Two Blondes Cabernet Franc 2015, Cheval Merlot Cabernet 2015, Champoux Block 2 Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Sorella 2014, Champoux Vineyard 2015 and the 2014 Two Blondes Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc blend. These wines were characterized by their intense purple colour, great purity of concentrated fruit and rich mouth-feel.

Chris Camarda at Andrew Will

Chris Camarda’s house on Vashon Island

Before dinner in Chris’s house we visited the pigs he keeps and saw the room where he cures his salami and prosciutto. The dinner table was full of bottles of Andrew Will wines. We started with the only white wine he makes – Andrew Will Viognier 2014 (spicy peach and honeysuckle nose; dry, elegant and mouth-filling flavours of peach and peach pit (90)), which we drank with the mixed green salad with citrus dressing. The main course was beautifully tender roast beef. I tasted Andrew Will Sorella Champoux Vineyard 2012 (90) and Two Blondes 2012 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc (92)) before Chris brought out Château Quinault L’Enclos 2000, Vieux Château Certan 2001 and Ramey 2003.

Andrew Will Sorella Champoux Vineyard 2012

Vieux Château Certan 2001

After the cheese course we drove back to the ferry and were the very last car to get on.

Back in Seattle we dropped into Cannabis City, Seattle’s Original Cannabis Shop, to see how they market the drug.

Cannabis City
Coming to Toronto soon?

A party followed in Daniel Speck’s hotel room to finish off bottles we had acquired over the past few days – and then cleansing ale at Von’s Gastro Bar before bed.

Sunday, April 3rd: Final seminar this morning: “Through the Grapevine: Lessons learned from a lifetime in Washington wine.” Moderator: Sean Sullivan of Wine Enthusiast. Panelists: Jim Holmes, Ciel du Cheval Vineyard; Bob Betz; Kay Simon, Quilceda Creek; Allen Shoup, Long Shadows. Riesling was the wine that sold in the early 1980s. Then Chardonnay took off.

  • Chinook Wines Cabernet Franc Yakima Valley 2013: deep ruby colour; spicy, floral, blackcurrant nose with vanilla oak; medium-bodied, dry, fruity cranberry with lively acidity; fresh in the mouth. (90)
  • Long Shadows Pedestal Merlot Columbia Valley 2005: dense purple-ruby colour; cedary, plum and blackcurrant nose; full-bodied, dry and savoury, mouth-filling, chunky mouth-feel, dark chocolate, great texture with firm cocoa powder tannins. (94)
  • Tamarack Cellars Red Wine Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Mountain 2012 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc): dense purple colour; cedar, damson, vanilla oak nose; medium-bodied dry, plummy and tannic; showing some oxidation. (89)
  • Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2008: dense purple colour; creamy blackcurrant bouquet with a cedary note; medium-bodied, dry, juicy, fresh, tobacco, pencil lead, redcurrant flavours; elegant and firmly structured. (92)
  • Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Galitzine Vineyard Red Mountain 2006: dense purple colour; savoury, cedary, blackcurrant nose; medium-bodied, dry, savoury with great extract and a firm tannic finish. Seamless and youthful. (94)
  • Betz Family Winery La Côte Patriarche Syrah Yakima Valley 2009: dense purple colour; toasty, roast meat, black fruits on the nose with a floral note; medium to full-bodied, juicy, blackberry and plum, beautifully balanced, lovely mouth-feel; fresh on the palate, firm finish. A seamless wine. (95)

Jim: One thing I’ve learned about growing grapes is don’t believe everything you hear.

Bob: The Columbia Valley is the hero of our story. It’s such a great place to grow grapes.

Kay: Be open to new technology but be sure the science is there.

Alex: Every year we get the fruit ripe.

Allen: Embrace change. The industry is steeped in tradition but we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t challenge the old ideas and embrace change. Quality is the essence of what has made Washington. The greatest changes to come will be in viticulture.

After the seminar our group walked over to CenturyLink Field to Taste Washington. Lunched on clam chowder and oysters before tasting.

At 3 pm our group met up to Uber over to Charles Smith Wines Jet City to taste three wines before Ubering over to the Pike Brewery for a jug of Locale followed by a jug of Kilt Lifter. While the group went on to the rooftop of the Hard Rock Café, I walked back to the hotel to pack for the early morning flight back to Toronto.

A cleansing ale at Pike Brewery


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