“Rise and shine,” I said to myself, awakening in Seattle on day two of the road trip.  It was a bit overcast, and there were some showers intermittent throughout the day, but after a run to another local coffee chain, Tully’s, we packed in the car and headed up to Woodinville for what promised to be a great afternoon, culminating in a planned interview with winemaker/winery owner/good friend John Bookwalter.

Our first stop was the magnificent facility of Chateau Ste. Michelle which is a real treat during their summer concert series (this year they host Jethro Tull, Steve Miller Band, Sarah McLachlan, Yes and Styx, and a lot more).  But alas we were simply assailing their tasting bar.

We tried five wines:

Chateau Ste. Michelle Grenache Columbia Valley 2007.  Grade=Outstanding.  One of their limited release wines, available only at the winery or from their wine club, this medium-bodied beauty showed off some impressive red fruit aromas and flavors, some brown baking spices and vanillin oak.  Really good.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Syrah Wahluke Slope 2006.  Grade=Outstanding.  All Syrah, this rich, jammy Syrah displays shades of the syrup bar at IHOP – blueberry, raspberry, boysenberry, blackberry – but without that sticky sweetness.  Here, the berry flavors are restrained, with a balance of savory herbs, mineral, olive tapenade, and baked rhubarb.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Syrah Canoe Ridge Horse Heaven Hills 2006.  Grade=Outstanding+.  Very cool Northern Rhone styled red, with 1% Viognier splashed in.  Smoky, toasty and roasty with baked cherries and blueberries, white pepper, cinnamon, rhubarb and dried herbs.  Another winery only release.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Merlot Ethos Reserve 2007.  Grade=Amazing.  The girl at the tasting bar slid this into the lineup as they had a ridiculous sale going on.  A proud, majestic Merlot – this is what all California Merlot wishes it could grow up to be.  Plush dark plums, blackberries, cedar smoke and graphite coexist with baking spices and toasty oak.  Just beautiful.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Muscat Canelli Columbia Valley 2008.  Grade=Outstanding.  Surprised I went for this one, eh?  Well, my wife loves these kinds of wines and I thought if it was good, she would get a bottle.  And I was right.  Just pretty orange blossom, dried apricots and honeysuckle with a nice balance of acidity.

Afterward, we got in the car and took the long drive across the street to Columbia Winery, which I got the feeling we were really intruding.  I was really looking forward to going to Columbia, having spent some time there on the 2009 Road Trip Washington Wine.

Columbia Chardonnay Wychof Vineyard 2007.  Grade=Average.  Fairly flabby, with a slight watery finish.  Has some stone fruit but comes across diluted.

Columbia Cabernet Sauvignon Otis Vineyard 2004.  Grade=Outstanding.  A lovely, medium-bodied red that shows off nice black currant, pepper, mocha, graphite and blackberry.  The first one we tried was corked, and the girl behind the tasting bar thought we were mad crazy for even mentioning it.  “It can get like that when it’s open for a day.”  HA!

Columbia Sangiovese Red Willow Vineyard 2006.  Grade=Outstanding.  Remarkable Italian varietal done Washington State style.  Cherry, tobacco and mineral.  Slight smokiness at the end.

Columbia Malbec Red Willow Vineyard 2006.  Grade=Outstanding.  Some really nice, fleshy blueberry and plum notes, a touch of cassis, tobacco smoke and vanilla.

Feeling a bit buzzed and completely ignoring the hunger rumbling in my gut, we pressed on to our next stop, Dusted Valley Vineyards.  I had kinda hoped my friends, winemakers Chad Johnson and Corey Braunel, would be hanging out, but I am sure they were out in Walla Walla working on the next batch of teeth strainers.

Dusted Valley Rambling Rosé Walla Walla 2010.  Grade=Outstanding.  This Rhone-styled rosé is a blend of Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault, coming together with wild raspberry, mulberry and strawberry notes, a hint of mint and marjoram, and light touches of mineral on the finish.

Dusted Valley Grenache Columbia Valley 2008.  Grade=Outstanding.  An incredible, medium-bodied red showing of loads of cinnamon-tinged red berry fruit, white pepper, nutmeg, herbs and minerals.  We would drink a bottle of this one later in the weekend.

Dusted Valley Squirrel Tooth Alice Red Columbia Valley 2008.  Grade=Outstanding.  This 50/50 blend of Grenache and Syrah faintly shows off its alliance with the Southern Rhone all while still maintaining its Washington State spirit.  Mild tannins, well-balanced acidity join forces in this copulating mix of red and blue berry fruits, baking spices and chicory.

Dusted Valley Syrah Stained Tooth Columbia Valley 2008.  Grade=Outstanding+.  This red lives up to its name in an almost black ruby appearance, and dripping with velvety tannins that seem to carry its dark-purply pigments right to the enamel of your teeth.  Red and black currants, blueberries, Açai berries, dried herbs, hints of fennel, lavender, red flowers, hickory smoke and cherry chutney.

Dusted Valley Syrah Rachis Columbia Valley 2008.  Grade=Outstanding+.  Gorgeous blend of Syrah and Viognier (co-fermented) along with small amounts of Grenache and Counoise.  Exceptional red flower perfume notes in the nose, with some zesty raspberry, currant and blueberry character intermingling with baking spices, herbs and mineral.

Dusted Valley BFM Wahluke Slope 2008.  Grade=Amazing.  This powerful Bordeaux-styled red, mostly Merlot is quite impressive.  Big F-n Merlot indeed.  Rich, dark chunks of plums, blackberries and blueberries, coupling with smoky cedar, mint, pepper and graphite undertones to resemble a Pomerol on steroids.

Dusted Valley Late Harvest Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2006.  Grade=Outstanding+.  A real treat, this sweeter-styled Syrah reminds me of a Banyuls with its slight boysenberry syrup notes and the minerality and well-balanced acidity.  There is a small glimmer of umami in there, adding a trace of savory to balance out its sublime sweetness.  Delicious!

Sensing we still had more in us, we walked across the parking lot to the new tasting room for DeLille Cellars, one of Washington State’s top producers.  Here was where all the damage was done for the evening, as our hosts excitedly added to their cellar, and we all added to our drunkenness, thanks largely to the absence of any spit buckets (What?  You mean we have to DRINK all this incredible wine?  Oh darn!).

DeLille Cellars Chaleur Estate Blanc 2009.  Grade=Outstanding+.  This beautifully-crafted Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend reminds me of some of the best White Bordeaux I have had in my lifetime, and then squashes those memories in an instant, because to me, this wine kicks all their asses!  Delicious notes of lemon chiffon, key lime, gooseberry pie, melon, crème fraiche and a hint of lanolin.  Gorgeous.

Doyenne Aix 2008.  Grade=Outstanding.  This Cab-infused Rhone red is a juggernaut of red and black berry fruits both in the nose and the mouth.  White pepper and cardamom float vaporously in the background while cinnamon and garrigue dance across the midpalate in some Machiavellian black fruit orgy.

DeLille Cellars D2 Columbia Valley 2008.  Grade=Outstanding.  DeLille’s flagship wine, this red Bordeaux-themed wine shows off brilliantly smooth tannins, full-bodied sexiness, and unctuous chocolatey blackberries, black currants and dark plums, mashed up with mint, chocolate, charcoal, cedar smoke and toasty oak.

DeLille Cellars Chaleur Estate Rouge 2008.  Grade=Amazing.  Uh… whoa… I am not sure how to react here… but this wine must be what ambrosia tastes like.  Silky, sultry tannins roll across the palate as intoxicating aromas of fruit, smoke and flowers fill the nose.  Juicy black currants explode and resonate,and the multilayered profile just changes as the seconds fade and the world melts

DeLille Cellars Harrison Hill 2008.  Grade=Amazing.  Tasting this side-by-side with the Chaleur Red, this must be how a sultan feels on Harem Appreciation Day.  Velvety smooth and enrapturing, this magnificent red is graceful with its exhibition of black and red fruits, and is powerful with its resonance on the palate.

DeLille Cellars Grand Ciel 2006.  Grade=Amazing+++.  As a treat, our hostess poured a sample of their big boy, the Grand Ciel, which earns this person a place in my will to be sure.  If nothing else, on my deathbed, I will bequeath her my palate’s undying gratitude for one of the most incredible tasting experiences of my entire life.  This Olympian feat in a glass is like watching a sunrise from the highest mountain, or staring at the bluest ocean waters.  100% Cabernet Sauvignon in all its majesty, with opulently rich and powerful blackberries and black currants, creamy vanillin oak, smoky cedar, tobacco and pepper underpinnings.

Time was getting near as my 4 o’clock appointment with John Bookwalter wasn’t far away, yet there was time for at least one more tasting
room visit before our meeting, so we went across the street, and dropped in on our good friends at Airfield Estates.

I must admit, out of my initial excitement over this brand, with I thought, given the aviation history in my neck-of-the-woods, Airfield wines would have been a no-brainer.  Yet the distributor I used to get them into our area I gather didn’t see it that way.  What should be a pallet display at WPAFB’s commissary, these wines have yet to crack the Buckeye state.

Anyway, we made it through several wines before the urgent need for food and my 4 o’clock appointment sent us on our way.

Airfield Estates Pinot Gris Yakima Valley 2010.  Grade=Outstanding.  Loads of juicy apples and pears, hints of pineapple, mineral and spices.

Airfield Estates Ruby Rosé Yakima Valley 2009.  Grade=Outstanding.  A blend of Syrah and Grenache, this juicy blush is full of strawberry/rhubarb salad, hints of wild raspberries and black cherries.

Airfield Estates Ruby Rosé Yakima Valley 2010.  Grade=Outstanding+.  Very different than the 2009, this is 100% Sangiovese, giving way to more watermelon, cherry and rosewater notes.  Crisper, livelier and actually richer than its predecessor.

Airfield Estates Runway Syrah Yakima Valley 2008.  Grade=Outstanding+.  Brand new to the roster, this incredible Syrah shows off some lively red and blue berry fruit aromas and flavors, lots of spicy character and a lush finish.

Airfield Estates Bombshell Red Yakima Valley 2009.  Grade=Outstanding+.  The flagship of the brand, this kitchen sink blend is one of the most consistent red values out there.  Medium-to-full-bodied with juicy, jammy red, black and blue fruits, soft oak and baking spice undertones.

Airfield Estates Dolcetto Yakima Valley 2009.  Grade=Outstanding+.  A huge surprise, this Piedmonte grape gets the Washington State treatment, with delicious red fruits, cloves, rosemary, fennel, pepper and light mocha undertones.

Dropping into Village Wines, which was right next door, we found our hostess getting some much-needed sustenance as we were trying to
dodge the rain.  The time was at hand to make our way to John’s place, but not before indulging in some seriously decadent popcorn (popped with truffle butter and salted with truffle salt; seriously, I was set to strip naked and rub myself all over with this stuff!) and a small taste of Turley Zinfandel (sacrilege to drink California wine in Washington State I know, but really? Turley Zin, by the glass?  I can’t even get this stuff in Kentucky!)

At last we made it to J. Bookwalter’s Tasting Gallery in Woodinville, and were quickly greeted by John and his wife Gretchen.  John was gracious enough to lead us personally through his wines:

J. Bookwalter Couplet Columbia Valley 2010.  Grade=Outstanding.  This Chardonnay/Viognier blend isco-fermented in stainless steel, and highlights hints of ripe pears, honeydew melon, Chinese Five Spice and pineapple undertones.

J. Bookwalter Anecdote Columbia Valley 2010.  Grade=Outstanding.  All Riesling, this pretty white wine is dry with gorgeous minerality, well-balanced acidity, and notes of Asian pears, ginger, lemongrass, lemon zest and dried apricots.

J. Bookwalter Subplot #25 Columbia Valley MV.  Grade=Outstanding. The workhorse of the brand, this multi-vintage blend of Merlot, Cab, Syrah, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Barbera (and a partridge in a pear tree) shows off loads of black fruits, baking spices and mineral.

J. Bookwalter Foreshadow Merlot Columbia Valley 2008.  Grade=Outstanding+.  I like to sing the praises of Washington State Merlot often, and this one deserves an anthem.  Blue and black berry fruits abound with deep brown spices, chocolate, mineral and baked earth characters.

J. Bookwalter Foreshadow Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2008.  Grade=Outstanding+.  Big, bold and complex with a truckload of black fruits, cola, pepper, baking spices, chocolate and cigar box coming together in a remarkable, full-bodied finish.

J. Bookwalter Antithesis Columbia Valley 2009.  Grade=Amazing.  This incredible homage to Chateau Cheval Blanc is 56% Cab Franc and 44% Merlot, combining for something of a Baked Alaska meets Black Forest Cake, with all its dark fruits, chocolate and creamy goodness, surrounded by voluptuous tannins and a promenade through the spice rack.

J. Bookwalter Conflict Conner-Lee Vineyard 2008.  Grade=Amazing.  The second vintage of this single-vineyard masterpiece, John shows off this terroir in a Bordeaux-styled red (Cab, Merlot and Malbec) that speaks soulfully of baroque blackberries, smoky plums and blueberries, anise, cherry cola, mint, fennel and tobacco leaves.  It finishes gracefully but never truly ends.

J. Bookwalter Protagonist Red Mountain 2007.  Grade=Amazing.  What can I say?  I picked this one for my #1 Wine of the Year in 2009, and it still shows gloriously.  Predominantly Bordeaux varietals with 3% Syrah blended in.

J. Bookwalter Protagonist Red Mountain 2008.  Grade=Amazing.  Shaking things up a lot, John fashioned the 2008 in a completely different context, creating a 50/50 Cab/Syrah blend that is much brighter, showing more red and blue fruits, more cinnamon and notes of rhubarb pie, roasted hazelnuts, olive tapenade and roasted fennel.

J. Bookwalter Antagonist Columbia Valley 2009.  Grade=Amazing.  This sexy Syrah-dominant blend comes from Joseph Phelps’ Syrah clone.  It displays a lot of big, brooding Cote-Rotie-styled notes of bacon fat, black raspberries, cracked pepper, roasted game, olives and camphor.  Blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

J. Bookwalter Chapter 3 Columbia Valley 2007.  Grade=Amazing+++.  Predominantly Cab, this could be Helen of Troy in a glass (or Adonis for all you manfans).  It oozes sex appeal, dripping with decadent notes of blackberries, black currants, mocha, espresso, baking spices, vanillin oak, cedar smoke, cigar box and dried mint leaves, all conjoining to create a dreamlike presence on the palate.

Needless to say, the interview was scrubbed, due primarily to our hosts’ pressing need for food, as well as my serious lack of professionalism and complete surrender to the Vacation demigods.  My most profuse apologies to my good friend John and his wife for holding up their vacation plans (which I believe were starting the following morning).  ¡Viva Tequila mis amigos!

We capped off the evening (or at least I did, being so far down in the bag as I was) by dining at the Purple Café, a mainstay of Woodinville, where two more bottles were shared, and a great dinner and evening was had by all.  After making our way back to B&E’s, a nap turned into a long good night for yours truly.

[Next time, casual tastings, Twitter friends and Derby Day long-distance]






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