After the Saturday break, I went for a walkabout around the hotel we (the Guild) were staying. Downtown Seattle on a Saturday afternoon is pretty busy, compounded by the midst of being in cruise season, with multiple cruise ships headed for Alaska docked just down the street, and some Taste of Seattle thing going on with tons of live music and food. I had a few hours to kill before the Guild was hosting a seminar with the Washington Wine Commission and a tasting soon after with 16 awesome Washington State producers, including Brian Carter, Buty, Cadence, Revelry, Syncline and Waters.
A beautiful day, barely a cloud in the sky, and about 90 degrees outside, it was a great day to walk around, and even more so to venture somewhere indoors. My destination – the Seattle Art Museum – was where I found more than a few crazy art pieces, particularly in the foyer.
I found myself wondering for some time, even sitting down to take in a few paintings that left me rather awestruck. I haven’t been to an art museum in years, and it reminded me of my days as an art room nerd back in high school, the times I would spend cleaning the sink room with my own concoction of household and industrial cleaners – maybe that is what is wrong with me now.
The symbiosis between art and wine wasn’t lost on me, neither on that day in particular, or each and every day I experience in this business. While science plays a major role in crafting wine, I feel it is the artisanal side that brings life to the juice. A bit of Chaucer, a bit of Caravaggio, some Neruda, some Dickinson, and a dash of Rembrandt – take your pick, the end result is liquid poetry.
And so it goes as I rejoined the Guild for a brief introduction to what makes Washington State so special, with Washington Wine Commission’s Marketing Director Rob Andersen. Having been a part of their annual Road Trip Washington Wine, I had a personal vantage point of how special this state is within the wine world, and how unique it is in comparison to California or anywhere else in the country. It is fairly hard to understand the justification for distributors back home not to want to work with Washington State wines more, and introduce more producers to their market, simply on the fact that there is overwhelming value throughout the state. Yet I find the reluctancy to take on more Washington producers while adding less quality-oriented California producers is astonishing in the least.
On hand in the tasting area were the wines of aMaurice, Baer, Brian Carter, Buty, Cadence, Covington Cellars, Dunham Cellars, Hestia, Januik and Novelty Hill, Reiniger, Revelry, Seven Hills, Sparkman, Syncline and Waters:
aMaurice Chardonnay Conner Lee Vineyard 2010. Grade=Outstanding. From one of the best vineyard sites in all of Washington for Chardonnay, this beautifully-made white wine is rich and full-bodied, with Asian pear and light cinnamon notes.
aMaurice Grenache-Syrah Boushey Vineyard 2010. Grade=Outstanding. A big, Chateauneuf-du-Pape style of red, full-bodied with spicy, peppery red fruits and hints of exotic spices.
aMaurice Syrah Walla Walla 2009. Grade=Outstanding. Voluptuous red, full-bodied with notes of black cherry, rhubarb, dark plum and duck fat notes.
Baer Shard Stillwater Creek 2012. Grade=Outstanding. 100% Unoaked. Clean, medium-bodied with gorgeous stone fruit, hints of mineral and brilliant acidity from start-to-finish.
Baer Ursa Red Columbia Valley 2010. Grade=Amazing. A rich, robust blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Gorgeous!
Brian Carter Oriana Columbia Valley 2011. Grade=Outstanding. A vibrant blend of Viognier, Roussanne and Riesling, this aromatic white gives you loads of white flowers and apricots, touches of lime zest and mint and finishing up with pretty minerality.
Brian Carter Tuttorosso Yakima Valley 2008. Grade=Outstanding. This Sangiovese-Cab-Syrah blend is reminiscent of the bold Super-Tuscans of Bolgheri. Full-bodied, unctuous red fruits, hints of dried herbs and spice, and finishing with mocha, tobacco and cedar smoke.
Brian Carter Solesce Columbia Valley 2007. Grade=Outstanding. This Bordeaux-themed blend of Cab, Merlot, Cab Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot is dense, rich and decadent. Chocolate-covered black currants, cigar box and brown spices abound.
Brian Carter Opulento 2010 (375 ml). Grade=Outstanding+. A port-styled blend of Touriga Nacional, Sousao, Tinta Cao and Tinta Roriz. Rich, decadent, sweet black fruits, molasses, candied pomegranates and brown spices.
Buty White Walla Walla Valley 2011. Grade=Outstanding. A blend of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle, this homage to the great white Bordeaux is dry, crisp and lively, highlighting bright citrus notes, lemongrass and cilantro, finishing with brilliant minerality.
Buty Chardonnay Conner-Lee 2011. Grade=Amazing. Another gorgeous example of this single vineyard, here the Chardonnay is a bit rounder, richer and fuller-bodied than the aMaurice, Creamy, yet with notes of steely lemon and yeasty sourdough.
Buty Columbia Rediviva Red 2010. Grade=Amazing. This incredible blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah gives you full-bodied richness, black and red fruits, exotic spices, cedar and tobacco.
BEAST Sphinx Riesling Wallula Vineyard 2012. Grade=Very Good. A gorgeous single-vineyard, dry-style of Riesling. Crisp, vibrant acidity with white peach, mint and Asian pear notes.
Cadence Coda Red Mountain 2011. Grade=Outstanding. This blend of Merlot, Cab, Cab Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot is their “second” label release. Full-bodied, rich and loaded for bear, this sets the bar quite high.
Cadence Red Ciel du Cheval 2009. Grade=Amazing. Heavy on the Cab Franc, this beautiful, St.-Emilion inspired red loads you up on luxuriously-spread black fruits, rich, toasty brown spices, cocoa, cigar and cedar notes. Just gorgeous.
Cadence Red Tapteil 2009. Grade=Amazing+. Here you have something more in league with a Pauillac, this predominately Cabernet Sauvignon driven blend (along with Merlot and Cabernet Franc) is powerful, densely concentrated with black fruits, pepper and spices.
Cadence Red Camerata 2009. Grade=Amazing++. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot – this is an exceptional estate bottling, full-bodied, sultry tannins and decadent black fruits all over this wine.
Cadence Bel Canto 2009. Grade=Amazingn. A Cabernet Franc-based blend (finished up with Merlot and Petit Verdot) you could argue this as being America’s answer to Cheval-Blanc, or at the very least, a lustier, sultrier version. Big, bold blue fruits and baking spices mingling with black peppercorns, chocolate, tobacco and creamy oak spices.
Covington Cellars Blanc Klipsun Vineyard 2011. Grade=Outstanding. Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon come together to give you a well-balanced, light-bodied white, with great acidity and nuanced citrus fruit.
Covington Cellars Sangiovese 2009. Grade=Outstanding. 100% Sangiovese. Dark cherries, dried herbs and cedar smoke with hints of creamy oak and dusty mocha.
Covington Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla 2009. Grade=Outstanding. Bold, full-bodied red. Chewy tannins and hints of chocolate, dark cherries and black currants.
Covington Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Klipsun Vineyard 2009. Grade=Outstanding+. This single-vineyard outing is very impressive, richer than the Walla Walla Cab, with bolder tannins and dense, unctuous black fruit.
Dunham Riesling Lewis Vineyard 2012. Grade=Outstanding. Dry, minerally white wine with hints of wet stones, lemon, verbena and chamomile.
Dunham Trutina Red 2010. Grade=Outstanding+. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Syrah. Bold, full-bodied red with loads of dark fruits, spices and dried herbs.
Dunham Cabernet Sauvignon Artist Series Lewis Vineyard 2008. Grade=Amazing. A powerfully rich and sexy-smooth red, all Cab, all new oak. It’s a whole-lotta debauchery in a glass.
Hestia Chenin Blanc Hahn Hill Vineyard 2011. Grade=Outstanding. Clean, crisp white wine revealing ripe melon, pear and lime notes. One of the best white wines in the room.
Hestia Merlot Columbia Valley 2010. Grade=Outstanding. A seriously juicy, medium-to-full-bodied red. 100% Merlot. Loads of blue and red fruits.
Hestia Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2009. Grade=Outstanding. With 5% Petit Verdot, this bold, jammy red gives you loads of black fruits, spice and black pepper notes.
Januik Sauvignon Blanc Sagemoor Vineyards 2012. Grade=Outstanding. With 17% Semillon. Crisp, light and airy with dry notes of lemon, lime and grapefruit.
Novelty Hill Sauvignon Blanc Stillwater Creek 2012. Grade=Outstanding. With 21% Semillon. Light and crisp with well-balanced acidity, hints of lemon, dried herbs and fresh-cut hay.
Januik Red Columbia Valley 2010. Grade=Outstanding. Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. Juicy, medium-to-full-bodied with loads of juicy red and black fruits.
Novelty Hill Royal Slope Red Blend 2009. Grade=Outstanding. Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Mourvedre and Petit Verdot. Jammy with peppery red fruits, blue and black berry fruits, spices, tobacco and mocha undertones.
Reininger Merlot Walla Walla Valley 2009. Grade=Outstanding. Blended with 4% Cab and 4% Petit Verdot, this bold, full-bodied red gives you dark, rich blue fruits, oak spices and black peppercorns.
Reininger Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2009. Grade=Outstanding. 100% Syrah aged in neutral oak, there is some serious density here with bold, spicy red and blue fruits, black and pink peppercorns, rhubarb, sassafrass and saffron. Kinda reminds me of something from St. Joseph.
Helix Pomatia Columbia Valley 2009. Grade=Very Good. Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Smooth, fleshy red with velvety blackberry and dark plum notes, oak spices and cocoa.
Helix Merlot Columbia Valley 2009. Grade=Very Good. A smooth, medium-to-full-bodied Merlot, with juicy blueberry, black cherry and cedar notes.
Helix Syrah Columbia Valley 2009. Grade=Very Good. All Syrah, all neutral oak, this medium-bodied red is spicy, zesty and juicy, with loads of red fruit, nutmeg, cinnamon and coffee berry notes.
Helix Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2011. Grade=Very Good. Clean, crisp stone fruit with hints of citrus and mineral.
Revelry Limited Edition Reveler 2010. Grade=Amazing++. One of winemaker Jared Burns’ best yet, this powerful, densely concentrated red is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, showing off rich, complex notes of black currant, blueberry, chocolate fudge, cigar box, sage and black pepper notes. Just incredible.
Rotie Cellars Southern Blend White 2012. Grade=Amazing+. Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne. Arguably the best white wine in the room. Silky, voluptuous notes of stone fruit, white spices and orange blossom.
Rotie Cellars Southern Blend Red 2011. Grade=Amazing+. Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault. Powerful yet showing off smooth tannins, bold flavors of red and black cherry fruit, white cinnamon, saffron and mocha notes.
Sparkman This Old Porch Rosé 2012. Grade=Outstanding. A saigneé of Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Malbec. Juicy strawberry and pomegranate notes, dry and lean on the finish.
Sparkman Birdie Riesling Bacchus Vineyard 2012. Grade=Outstanding. Floral with stone fruit, ginger and green tea leaf notes. Very dry, almost Alsatian in style. Really nice.
Sparkman L’Autre Pinot Noir Temperance Hill 2011. Grade=Very Good. Pretty bold, Washington State spin on the Oregon Pinot Noir – jammier dark fruits mix it up with traditional hints of black pepper, truffle, dusty earth and dried herbs.
Sparkman Darkness Syrah Yakima Valley 2011. Grade=Outstanding. Black as hell and damn decadent across the palate. Loads of black fruit, pepper, oak spice and cocoa mix it up with earth and dried herb tones. Finishes long and strong.
Sparkman Wilderness Red 2011. Grade=Outstanding. This brooding, masculine blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Mourvedre, Merlot and Malbec has a lot of balls – inky black fruits, pepper, mineral, black truffle and root beer.
Syncline Grenache Blanc Boushey Vineyard 2012. Grade=Outstanding. Asian pear, green apple and melon notes, with hints of white flowers, ginger and litchi. This is an incredibly supple and smooth white wine.
Syncline Mourvedre Columbia Valley 2011. Grade=Amazing. They had me at Mourvedre. Big, bold, spicy and almost black in the glass, this lusty red gives you juicy blackberry, blueberry and black cherry undertones, spiced up with cinnamon, clove and mocha.
Syncline Cuvee Elena Columbia Valley 2010. Grade=Amazing. Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Counoise and Cinsault. A rockin’ interpretation of Chateauneuf-du-Pape-styled reds, with bold, powerful tannins, dried cherries, dried herbs, and black currant tartlets. Awesome!
Syncline Subduction Red 2011. Grade=Amazing. A bit different from the Cuvee Elena, showcasing more Mourvedre in the blend than Grenache (as is the case in the Elena), its darker, sexier and far more powerful. Sort of like going from Vampire Diaries to True Blood (forgive the TV analogy). Lots of smoky black fruits, it’s more like seduction than subduction.
I missed Waters altogether, along with Seven Hills (though I’ve had the majority of their wines recently) and most of Revelry (always at the tops in my book!), yet I think I covered the room pretty well. I was equally excited to get reaction from my boss, Ken Lewis, who conveyed to me there wasn’t a bad wine in the room.
While the Guild chieftains gathered for a special dinner with the attending winemakers and reps, I snuck out of the hotel, down the street and hit Von’s GustoBistro and House of 1000 Spirits for dinner on my own. Something called a Vietnamese Style Banh Mi Prime Hamburg, this big ass burger consisted of a hoisin glazed burger, with sweet and sour chiles, pickled carrots and cucumber relish, sambal aioli and bibb lettuce. Washing it down with a Mack & Jack’s African Amber, I was pretty much set for the evening.
Next time, it’s Sunday Sunday Sunday in Seattle, with a recon trip out to Total Wine & More, lunch at Japonessa (twice in three days!), dinner at Lesocho and room service back at the Four Seasons, all while finding my emotional “center.”