A review of recent releases from Washington State.
By Louis Marmon
Gazette Newspapers January 17, 2007
Every year a fellow wine writer begs me to join him for his annual Washington State wine tasting. In the past these have been dreadful affairs, with the amount of swill we had to wade through completely overwhelming the occasional stars. I have learned to strategically place myself on the far end of the table and watch the faces of the other people he has coerced to join him. If they look like they have a mouthful of paint, I let that bottle pass me by.
Let me clarify things before the emails start flying. I have had many good, and some great wines, from Washington State – which is not surprising considering that Washington is second only to California as a US wine producer. Cayuse and Betz produce terrific Syrah. L’Ecole No. 41 is known for their Merlot and other reds as is Chateau St. Michelle who also makes some of America’s best white wines. Columbia Crest and Snoqualmie are quality producers of value priced wines and Leonetti makes excellent Cabernet Sauvignon. Delille, Pepper Bridge, Januik, and many others are justifiably considered some of the better wineries in the US.
It’s just that few of these ever make it to my friend’s house. While we sometimes run out of synonyms for “horrid” the conversations are enjoyable and eventually a notable bottle from his ample cellar redeems the evening. So, with my usual trepidation, I decided to go through this again, claiming my customary seat and hoping that my phone would ring to rescue me.
Happily, there was a significant improvement in the quality of the Washington wines this year. One newcomer was the Alexandria Nicole Cellars, creator of notable wines from its 232-acre Destiny Ridge vineyards overlooking the Columbia River in the Horse Heaven Hills Appellation. Owner Jarrod Boyle has planted 15 different varietals on the property. While much is sold to other wineries, they bottle several of their own wines including the delightful Alexandria Nicole Quarry Butte, Destiny Ridge Vineyards 2003 ($ 20) a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Malbec with blueberry aromas and spicy red fruit flavors. I was also impressed with the well-balanced Alexandria Nicole Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 ($ 30) that has currant and cherry notes along with a touch of spice on the finish.
A real surprise was a trio of Syrahs from Walter Dacon Winery who source grapes from the Columbia and Yakima valleys. Owners Lloyd and Ann Anderson named the winery after his grandfather and focus on “Rhone” style wines, eschewing high alcohol, jammy wines in favor of a subtler flavor profile. A true boutique operation, they produce around a thousand cases each year. Try the exceptional plum and chocolate flavored Walter Dacon C’est Syrah Magnifique 2004 ($ 38) or the equally good, well-balanced Walter Dacon C’est Syrah Belle 2004 ($ 24) with dark fruit and currant notes. Also notable is the Walter Dacon C’est Syrah Beaux 2004 ($ 35) that has spicy cherry and plum flavors.
Located in an old firehouse in Spokane is Robert Karl Cellars. Winemaker Joe Gunselman, a practicing physician, produced 100 cases of the very good Robert Karl Syrah 2004 ($ 30) that has peppery cherry aromas along with blackberry and dark plum flavors. Also try the tasty Robert Karl Claret 2003 ($ 19), a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot has floral and cedar aromas accompanied by black fruit and tobacco notes.