Under the Radar Excellence

The Wines from Mackey Vineyards

A Serious Look at Washington Chardonnay

Ashan Cellars

Southern Oregon is Thinking Pink With a Purpose

Pink Wines for Summertime

Friday Find!

Wines from Washington's Largest Certified Organic Vineyards

Carbonic Maceration: Juicy, Fresh, Fun

Oregon's Nouveau Awesome

Who We Are

The staff of the Northwest Wine Anthem, we're good

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Quiet Mastery: Walla Walla's Mackey Vineyards

The Washington wine business attracts all kinds. Meticulous engineers who got into wine because they enjoyed the finer things in life, but were captivated by the science behind it. Foodies and amateur chefs who loved what wines did for their meals, and their quality of life and even the odd millionaire who made their fortune and sought the "glamorous life" that owning a winery seems to communicate. Or at least that's what people who don't work in the wine industry think.

The "genesis" story of Mackey Vineyards and how the Mackey brothers, Roger and Philip, came to Walla Walla is not uncommon. The two brothers left behind the corporate grind in California for a simpler, perhaps more honest life in the Walla Walla Valley. There they have purchased and are farming two estate vineyards the Mackey Vineyard located in the southeast Walla Walla valley and Frenchtown Vineyard a ten acre vineyard in Lowden near WallaWalla stalwarts like L'ecole 41 and Woodward Canyon (you'd pass it on your way into town). Of note: Dunham Cellars has long made a Frenchtown Vineyard designate Syrah.

The Mackey brothers were introduced to another pair of brothers who had made their way to Walla Walla, Billo and Pinot Navarene of literary and philosophical, Rasa Vineyards fame. Given the parallel nature of their lives the Mackey brothers landed on the talented Billo as their winemaker. What has resulted is an under the radar wine as there is in Washington and frankly for the price, it's almost like you're stealing.

There is a current of understatement throughout the Mackey Vineyards operation, at least from the outside perspective. And that's true of the labels as well. The labels are simple, one color and not particularly note worthy. The wines on the other hand definitely are.These wines are superbly made and when you consider that the Rasa Wines, Billo's label with his brother command prices in the $50 and north neighborhood the Mackey wines make for a great wine with an understated price-tag. Additionally less than 200 cases of each wine was made (save for the Concordia blend 340 some cases), so if you see it, seriously consider snatching some up. (I know Queen Anne's Champion Cellars carries the Mackey wines.)

Perhaps this understatement is a statement in and of itself? Rather than over the top gimmickry, pricing or catchy labels the Mackey Vineyards bottlings are all about what's inside. WHich really is the point anyways.

How would Billo characterize the style of wines he's is producing for Mackey? "The style of Mackey Vineyard’s wines is elegance and finesse rather than power. The wines are truly respective of site. The estate vineyard is signature rocks terroir, and it produces a very elegant style of Syrah that develops significant minerality, gaminess, and earthiness with bottle age. The Cabernet is slightly leaner in profile, more Bordeaux like in character than other Washington vineyards." That estate vineyard was formerly bought almost exclusively by K Vintners and was known as Wells Vineyard at the time. Having Billo on the team has also granted the Mackey Vineyards label access to some of Washington's most prestigious vineyard sites from which to source fruit.

In the Mackey wines you have reasonably priced, very well made wines that not many have yet heard of. This grants you an opportunity to get your hands on wines that drink at the same level as wines twice their price and impress your friends and family. These wines are also 2009 so you get a sense that they've only gotten and better and will likely do so for another handful of years. 

2009 Mackey Vineyards Merlot From some great Washington vineyards; Dionysus and Dubrul. This wine like all of the Mackey offering is elegant and well made. Layered and textured aromatically and on the palate. Black fruits and mocha aromatics, and flavors of black plum, dusty ripe blackberry, earth and more mocha. A fair bit of new oak is used on the Merlot, French only, the wine has great texture and finish and seems built for the long haul. (Hell, it's five years old already.)$36

2009 Mackey Vineyards Syrah A gamy Walla Walla Syrah in a style that I love. The preponderance of this wine coming from the Mackey estate vineyard as well as Walla Walla favorite of mine Les Collines and Bacchus Vineyard. Meaty and gamy aromas accented by dried herbs and white pepper. The palate is loaded up with ripe berry fruit, black licorice, earthy minerality, a kiss of fresh mint and sense of funkiness that has become a signature of that Rocks terroir. At just over $30 consider this the steal of the bunch in my opinion $32

2009 Mackey Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Refined, and distinguished. Fruit from the estate Mackey Vineyards, Gamache Vineyards and Stone Tree. Chocolate, eucalyptus and dusty aromas and a palate that is a balance of fruit and more savory character. Depth, complexity and a substantial finish for a crazy good price. $32

2009 Mackey Vineyards Concordia A GSM blend that's heavy on the S, or the Syrah. Fruit is sourced from Les Collines, Bacchus and Minick. An outstanding blend with an emphasis on savory over fruit. Effusive aromas of dried herbs, fennel, earth and spice. Great flavors acid and balance, black fruits, savory herbs and minerality make this a thinking woman, or man's wine. $38

These wines were provided as samples.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Ashan Cellars: A Washington Chardonnay Focus

Chardonnay in Washington has long been, until just the last year or two the most planted variety in the state. A varietal Chardonnay likely remains the country's most popular wine, and the state has a few producers who are really demonstrating a mastery of Chardonnay. My favorites have been from Abeja, Efeste and Forgeron Cellars. With the incredible renaissance of Chardonnay in Oregon, it's high time that someone has really sought to explore the wine's versatility and potential across the state. Enter Chris Gorman and his Chardonnay only winery, Ashan Cellars.

"I've always been a huge fan of the grape from all over the world & in all styles.  It's incredibly complex & can be made in so many different ways.  I started Ashan Cellars to focus on some of the greatest & historical Chardonnay vineyards in the state.  I've been making Chardonnay at Gorman Winery since 2006 and felt I wanted to try a focus on this noble grape." 

The motherland for Chardonnay is truly France's Burgundy, but for the New World palate, California has become the archetype. Within the American wine context there seems to have been a preponderance of heavily oaked ripe and round Chardonnay that have in recent years given some ground to Chardonnay done in stainless steel with a crispness and high acidity. Chris is game for both ends of the spectrum, as well as everything in between.

"Washington has a lot of stylistically different vineyards & should be able to produce diverse styles of this wine.  We are neither Napa or Burgundy, we are Washington & should not try to copy anyone... That's never interesting." To that end Chris has sought to use Ashan to showcase the state's range of Chardonnay sites. And it's an educational venture, both for Chris certainly, but for us as well. If there's any doubt about that you need only look at the back labels. They are loaded with more detail than any I have seen before.

The Ashan Chardonnays represent four different wines in total but below reflects the three that I was able to taste. The wines are showy across the board and Chris likes to rely on oak barrel fermentation. "Barrel fermentation has been a cornerstone to my production style at Gorman since the beginning. In both red & white wine in varying amounts.  It's not about the "woody" or "toasty" flavors produced, but more of the textural feel it imparts. The 3 single vineyard Ashan Chardonnays are fermented in French oak... Using different amounts of new and used barrels. This is based on the vineyard & structure of the grapes. We do not use commercial yeast & allow them to ferment naturally in the barrel. We keep these wines "alive" through constant battonage or stirring of the lees. Very old-world techniques to preserve the character of the wine."  

2012 Ashan Conner Lee Vineyard Chardonnay Opulence thy name is Conner Lee Chardonnay. Fermented in 100% new French oak barrels. This is a rich wine, aromatics are robed in barrel spice, ripe pineapple and papaya. The palate is full, lush and textured. Ripe fruit flavors and a buttery roundness   "Conner Lee is turning into the  "cult" vineyard for Chardonnay in Washington State.  I have worked with this fruit since 2006 with Gorman Winery.  It is a very expressive wine with lots of concentration and layers of spice.  It really pairs well with the barrel fermentation and represents a more "full-bodied" Chardonnay for Ashan." $45

2012 Ashan Kestrel Vineyard Chardonnay "Kestrel is a very small plot of the oldest producing Chardonnay vines in the state, planted in 1972. I am lucky to get this fruit and I treat it as such. It is very complex with lots of flavor and lively acidity." Chris uses 100% new French oak on this wine as well. This wine is also not shy, though not quite as showy as the Conner Lee and it carries a fair bit more acidity. Aromatics of nutmeg and spices, as well as honeysuckle lead to a honeyed palate that shows off it's ripe fruit, creamy texture and structure. $45

2012 Ashan Celilo Vineyard Chardonnay My favorite of the bunch, it's gorgeous and complete. I find Celilo Vineyard to create the greatest of Washington Chardonnays for my palate. It's a much cooler site and the vines are quite old. Celilo is more Burgundy than California. "Celilo is most certainly the coolest site and traditionally the last fruit I pick in those years... sometimes even in November.  Its a really beautiful site with high elevation, old vines from 1973 and the same vineyard manager for the last 38 years... that's significant.  We have chosen to only ferment in used French oak barrels since its character and weight are much more subtle." Aromatics of white flowers and citrus peel, and touches of minerality. Lemon creme, cantaloupe, and apricots balanced with stony accents and great acidity make for one hell of a beautiful example of Washington Chardonnay. $45

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Wine will, wine will, ROCK YOU! (But not if you don't buy a ticket...)

So now that we're done eating burgers and apple pie and the bottle rockets have (mostly) stopped screaming over our rooftops, it's time to talk about a more noble use for a bottle: wine, of course. 

Each year Washington wine gets one very special night to kick ass and party like a rockstar, and that night has come to be known as Wine Rocks. 

Yes, wine and rock 'n roll can pair well together, but you've got to have the right blend. Thankfully, local wine-lovers and event planners, Jen Doak and Jamie Peha, have managed to perfect that: wine, music, food, and a cause. 

Wine? Well that's a no-brainer. Washington has over 800 wineries and produces 12.5 million cases of wine each year. The wine industry employs almost 28,000 Washingtonians and makes up an $8.6 billion piece of Washington's annual economy. Let's make sure we do not underestimate the importance of the wine in this equation. Wineries from every corner of the state (and some neighboring ones) will be pouring wine at Wine Rocks! (There are too many to name, so instead we are going to give you this handy hyperlink ). 

Music? Well, that seems too obvious. Seattle is the city that gave us Quincy Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Queensryche (well, that was Bellevue - yes, really - but close enough), and of course, birthed Grunge - I think we can all agree that we should take advantage of our area's unparalleled passion for music. In this instance, it's actual winemakers making the music. (Did I just blow your mind?) This year it's Gordy Rawson of Chatter Creek , Darren Des Voigne of Des Voigne Cellars , Caroline Warwick of Kestrel Wines with Micah Riesenweber of Market Vineyards , and Victor Palencia and Paula Ramirez of Palencia Winery

Food? Again, this is not rocket science, people. Wine + Music + Food = Fun! And Seattle has given us perfect drinking food for over 50 years - (Dick's Drive In, 1:36 am) - and now food trucks are lining up outside our office high-rises downtown, beckoning us at 12:17 on Tuesday afternoon to a eat chicken and waffles - (on a stick!) Yes, food definitely seems to be a good idea for this wine and rock 'n roll blend. This year's food truck lineup for Wine Rocks includes Barking Frog Mobile Kitchen, The Grilled Cheese Experience, Jemil's Big Easy, Lumpia World, My Sweet Lil 'Cakes, and Papa Bois 

Finally, a Cause: That is what really completes this pairing and makes this event the best $45 you'll spend this summer. Each year, Wine Rocks selects a local nonprofit to donate the proceeds to, and this year it is one of Seattle's busiest, the University District Food Bank. This organization has been working to prevent hunger in Northeast Seattle for more than 30 years, and manages to help feed more than 1,100 families per week in their walk-in food bank. In just about 800 square feet, this incredible group distributed 2.3 million pounds of food last year. Besides their walk-in food bank, University District Food Bank also has a delivery program to help 55 home-bound seniors, and runs a backpack program at six local schools, which provides another 250 kids with healthy meals and snacks on the weekends when they aren't able to eat at school - (Which, in case you did not realize it, is how about 30,000 Seattle students  get one or two meals a day). 

Are you ready to rock out? I thought so.  Seattle's 7th Annual Wine Rocks event will be held on Thursday, July 10, 2014 at Elliott Hall at Bell Harbor - Pier 66.

Now, I have some good news and some bad news.  I'll give you the bad news first: It's already July 8 and you still have not bought your tickets to Wine Rocks - which means you might be crying in your empty wine glass at home on Thursday night, because this event sells out each year! You might miss your opportunity to party like a rockstar, with actual winemaking rockstars, while kicking hunger in the ass...

But here's the good news. It's not too late. At least, not yet. Tickets are still available at Brown Paper Tickets  and your entrance includes delicious appetizers, an opportunity to taste wines from 40 Northwest wineries, as well as craft beers and hard ciders (and, you know, watch those wine rockers up on stage). And as a bonus, you'll get a free music download from event sponsor Sub Pop Records , who will DJs there spinning music between live sets. 

Did I miss anything? It's quite likely. But that's okay too, because all the details you want to know about this unique event are on their sweet new website, at But I think we covered the basics: 

Wine Rocks, music rocks, food rocks, and helping others rocks too. So make sure you let your inner rockstar out to party on July 10 at Pier 66 . You can thank us for it later. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Purposefully Pink, Southern Oregon Rosé: Made With Intention

Summertime is off with a bang in Southern Oregon’s hot, sunny Applegate, Rogue, and Umpqua valleys. Barbecues, graduations, weddings and family outings are on the docket.  What will you find on the table during the summer season? Well if you're playing your cards right, chilled – and local – rosé.

Beautiful pinks are once again rising to the top, in the Pacific Northwest overcoming a lot of bad memories of sugar-added, chemically “enhanced” White Zinfandels from the 1980s and beyond. (editor's note: Thanks California.)  Since 2008, France has been selling more rosé wines than whites.  Rosé sales in the US climbed 39% last year, making it the eighth year in a row that double-digit increases have been reported.

The reason?  Rosé is becoming a better made product.  Instead of the run-off juice left over from a precious red, many wineries are now creating rosé with intention.  Winemakers are carefully planning the next vintage.  If a winery specializes in Pinot Noir or Syrah as a red, for instance, they may want to additionally showcase the varietal as a rosé.  Pinks are showing up on the finest wine lists, offering the best attributes of both reds and whites, often with a crisp acidity and lower alcohol that loves food, even difficult pairings such as salty and spicy flavors.

Rosé flaunts the same characteristics as the spring and summer seasons it shines in, light, playful, along with being sharp and varied.  The deep, dark fruit essence of the red wine it might have been is softened into delicate and delicious strawberry, raspberry, cherry and often rhubarb.   Citrus, stonefruit, and tropical notes may also be prominent.

Depending on the grape and the desired outcome, a rosé may spend as little as a few hours or as long as a few days in contact with the skin.  Lighter skinned reds such as Grenache are frequently soaked longer than are more potent varieties, for example, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Hillcrest Winery in the Umpqua Valley of Southern Oregon even produces a Blanc de Noir, a colorless red with as little skin contact as possible. 

Most rosés are meant to be consumed in the first year, when they are at their brightest, fruitiest and most aromatic.  (There are wineries that produce oaked rosés which are intended to be aged, although these are rare.)  Pair a rosé with meats and vegetables on the summertime barbecue grill, fruit kabobs, salty cheeses and fresh salads tossed with olives and tomatoes.  Save a couple of bottles for Thanksgiving, too – rosé can be a perfect companion for heavy sauces, turkey or ham.  A rosé can be served very chilled, as it will quickly warm a bit in the glass, allowing the wine to open and reveal layers and complexity like one might expect when letting a red wine breathe.

PebblestoneCellars 2012 Rosé of Syrah
The 2012 Rosé of Syrah from the Rogue Valley was produced by crushing the Syrah grapes and then leaving the Syrah grape juice in contact with the skins for 6 hours. It was then pressed and cool-fermented in stainless steel. Approximately 5% Viognier was blended into the final wine to enhance aromatics and flavor. The resulting wine has a beautiful ruby color with aromas and flavors of fresh plum and dried fig and a dry, balanced finish. 

2013 Quady North Rosé  (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre)
The 2013 Quady North blended rosé was originally a blend of the "saignees" from the Syrah that went into their 4-2,A, a red varietal Syrah.  Over the last few years, they have begun incorporating early picked and pressed Grenache and Mourvedre with their favorite Syrahs from the Applegate and Rogue Valleys.  The wine wafts strawberry along with hints of lemongrass and honey from the glass.

2013 Quady North Rosé  (Cabernet Franc)
The 2013 Quady North Cabernet Franc rosé from the Applegate Valley is a medium cherry color with floral notes, candied lemon, strawberry and rhubarb.

South Stage Cellars Semi Sparkling Rosé  (Petit Sirah, Cabernet Franc)
Winemaker Joe Dobbes has made a fun, slightly sparkling patio sipper for South Stage Cellars in the Rogue Valley.  A blend of 80% Petit Sirah and 20% Cabernet Franc, they recommend this rosé sparkler as a party wine with fruit salad and cheeses

Wooldridge Creek Sparkling Rosé 2013 (Tempranillo, Zinfandel)
The Wooldridge Creek, Applegate Valley method champanoise sparkling pink explodes with fresh strawberries, mango, kiwi and watermelon.

Wooldridge Creek Rosé 2013 (Tempranillo, Zinfandel)
Wooldridge Creek also makes a lovely dry still rosé, also from the Applegate Valley, which is smells of lemon zest with cherry on the palate and a little creaminess to soften the crisp acidity a bit.  Behind the tasting bar, Shelly’s eyes light up as she relates pairings with cheese, salami, calamari, and even burgers.

2013 Troon Vineyard Foundation ’72 Dry Rosé  (Sangiovese, Montipulciano, Primitivo)
Troon Vineyard has produced a light-colored rosé with aromas of key lime and meyer lemon finishing clean on the palate with strawberry and melon.  The grapes hail from one of the original vineyards in Southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley.  Suggested pairings are pasta, shellfish, salads and mild cheeses. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Friday Find, June 27th

Each Friday we highlight a wine from the Northwest that we think is a real "find." By find we might mean that it's a steal, as all of these wines we'll feature weekly are at or under $20. We might also mean "Hey, you really need to go find this", and it might be a wine that we feel not enough people know about. In any case, with the weekend pending, we're hoping to help you "find" a wine to kickoff the weekend right. We'll tell you a little bit about the wine and try to help you track it down here in the Northwest.

Yesterday I accepted an award as the Washington State Formal University Educator  for Sustainability 2014 from an organization called E3 Washington. That's cool. I don't usually get awards, for anything. In my other life where I earn money to pay for things, as opposed to just writing about wine a couple times a week for zero dollars, I do work in sustainability outreach and education at a University. A really large one. My job in this capacity is to try and get university students to pay attention to and understand the various elements of the campus that contribute to a more sustainable planet, and to participate in those elements in a way that allows us to maximize the potential of green buildings, composting, recycling, etc. 

I was thrilled to receive an award for my work; but over the course of the evening I learned about the work of a woman named Frances Charles, and the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe's successful efforts and collaboration in the removal of two dams along the Elwha river and the restoration of the river ecosystem as well as important land to their heritage and ancestry. I felt like the work I do paled in comparison. 

The deconstruction of two dams began in 2011, the first, the Elwha Dam, built in 1910 began the destruction of one of the more important salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest. Forty-five miles of river and one hundred additional miles of tributary were soon reduced to five miles of salmon access. This cut the tribe's people deep, but the salmon and the health of the area even deeper. A second dam was built in 1927 further mucking up the river's ecosystem. Through lobbying, hard work and collaboration with the National Park Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S Fish & Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Reclamation the dams are coming down and the land and waters are beginning to return to their natural state, the salmon will come back. 

The work of Frances Charles, the tribal council chairwoman and the people of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe point to proof that we can fix what we've broken. As our planet continues each day and our climate and environment continue to deteriorate there are stories of people getting it right. Those stories give me hope that if we can get together, and present real solutions we can see real progress. Maybe I am an optimist after all.

It feels trite to present to you a value priced wine after introducing you to such serious issues, but this is a wine blog after all. Today's Friday Find is not a tough to find wine by a small indie producer, not at all in fact. It comes from fairly sizable label, Snoqualmie Vineyards. Snoqualmie is one of the Chateau Ste Michelle brands and it's vineyards are the largest certified organic vineyards in the state of Washington. Their Eco line of wines, highlight many of the practices that they use across the board. These include the use of Eco glass, a lighter bottle that results in overall carbon emission reduction of 13%, this includes the shipping and transportation realities of  the things we consume, in this case wine. I was asked by Grape Collective what one sustainability element I'd like to see more wineries pursue and the lightweight glass would definitely be it. Snoqualmie has gone further though, their new packaging looks at various issues that can be addressed:

Snoqualmie Packaging Sustainability Overview: 

  • The new ECO glass bottles are among the lightest in the industry (397g) and result in a 13% reduction in carbon emissions. 
  • White wine labels now use EarthLabel™ by Smart Planet Technologies, Inc., an adhesive label system that provides improved barrier performance while reducing plastic content. 
  • Labels and other printed materials are on 100% post‐consumer waste materials stock. 
  • Corks and labels are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council; guaranteeing sustainable practices at the source of origin.  
  • The corks are also certified by the Rainforest Alliance, an international group committed to conserving biodiversity through sustainability. 
The Snoqualmie 2012 ECO Gewurztraminer is a $12 bottle of one of my favorite wine grapes and one I wish I could find more often. Gewurztraminer commutes a bit of rounded fruit and spice with an acid that makes it super food friendly. Ripe pineapple, and honeyed floral aromatics, and a palate with lush, ripe tropical fruits, as well as a kiss of spice and sweetness. The 2011 ECO Cabernet Sauvignon is a well made and approachable example of a cool vintage, fruit focused Cabernet. The wine offers bright red fruits, hints of clove and nice acid. Sixteen months in oak with only a small portion of that being new has mellowed the wine and given it nice mouthfeel with out going overboard. At $13 it's a great buy. The Snoqualmie wines may not be as hip, or indie as a lot of the labels we tend to present but when the big guys are doing the right thing it deserves acknowledgement.   

Monday, June 23, 2014

Frozen in Carbon: From Han Solo to Beaujolais to the Willamette Valley

Back in the days of the Galactic Empire, when the Imperial Fleet was wreaking havoc all across the galaxy the Rebel Alliance made it clear that they were more than just a band of rag-tag fighters by striking them where it hurt and destroying the Death Star. As if often the case, the Empire knew that they had to send a message and the plan was, capture Luke Skywalker, freeze him in carbonite and take him straight to the Emperor. Period, end of sentence for our heroes, or at least that was the plan. Only carbonite freezing was not a 100% thing, so his wing-man, Han Solo was chosen by Vader as a sort of test case, to be carbonite gift-wrapped and delivered to Jabba the Hutt. The rest as they say is history, or at least, good science fiction.

Much like carbon freezing, carbonic maceration is a technique that's got it's start long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, called Beaujolais. Or at least that's the French wine region that's become synonymous with the use of this particular method of fermentation. With carbonic maceration an oxygen free environment is created, when carbon dioxide, rather than carbonite, is pumped into containers where whole grapes, as opposed to crushed grapes, or Han Solo, begin their fermentation. What's interesting about that you might ask? We'll smart guy; the fermentation happens in each intact grape, within the skins as opposed to in the juice that is released when grapes are crushed. The latter being how wine is typically made.

The resulting wines are super fruity, low in alcohol and tend to be almost bereft of tannin whatsoever. Think of the Beaujolais Nouveau style. The wines undergo fermentation in steel tanks, again happening in each single berry, and then they are immediately bottled, as opposed to spending any time in a barrel. While freezing someone in carbonite preserves them so that you can deliver them without much fuss to your evil henchmen boss types, carbonic maceration preserves a fresh fruit forward wine that rather than preserving you should drink typically within a year of the vintage.

Wines fermented using carbonic maceration don't carry with them the structure and tannin that can lend itself towards a long life. When wine is typically fermented, after being crushed, it's exposed to various skin, seed and stem tannins, and it usually undergoes a much longer fermenting process which develops that structure and longevity. Additionally, wines done with carbonic maceration, because they were exposed to so little oxygen early on also tend to really open up over two to three days of drinking. The only problem there- these wines are so easy to drink they tend to disappear quickly.

While carbonic maceration is associated with Gamay and Beaujolais, not to be confused with Boba Fett and the Dune Sea of Tatooine, where one might associate carbonite freezing; folks in Oregon's Willamette Valley are looking to carbonic maceration to create a juicy, fresh and frankly fun drinking Pinot Noir. The style of wine has seen a bit of a boom recently with many of Portland's urban winemakers creating Oregon Nouveau style wines to coincide with November's Beaujolais Day, but the trending style of production has been around a long time at one Willamette Valley stalwart. 

Willamette Valley Vineyards probably makes Oregon's best known carbonite, I mean, carbonic maceration Pinot Noir in their Whole Cluster Pinot Noir. The wine started out in the early nineties as an experiment in style, says WVV's Jim Bernau "We were just experimenting in 1991 with Pinot Noir styles. We thought, 'What would happen if we made a Pinot Noir like the French were making Gamay Noir?' We just started off with 190 cases that first year with our Winemaker, Dean Cox. Then, the next year on a trip to the Willamette Valley. Robert Parker Jr. came into our cellar and told us we were making the most accessible Pinot Noir in the world. The wine took off and it is now one of our leading wines."

2013 Willamette Valley Vineyards Whole Cluster Pinot Noir The 2013 iteration of the Whole Cluster isn't 100% carbonic maceration and it varies from year to year but the goal is always approachability. Jim has come to refer to the Whole Cluster as "Pinot Candy."  Aromatics are forward with the aromas of cut strawberries, raspberries and there's a sweet note that's a bit reminiscent of cotton candy to be honest. Juicy, fresh fruit and fun, like I said before. The palate is crisp but at the same time softened by the juiciness of early season blackberry, candied cherries and slight hints of signature Oregon Pinot earthiness. Great balance and approachability by the suitcase-full. $22 

2013 Division-Villages, Methode Carbonique is part of the Division-Villages line up, all awesome wines, that pay an homage to the easy drinking affordable wines of France. (More on that later.) The Methode Carbonique from Portland's Division Winemaking Company underwent carbonic maceration before moving into concrete tanks.While carbonic maceration is done sans oxygen the concrete does allow for a bit of micro-oxygenation without the the tannin that barrels would impart. And wines that spend time in concrete will often take on chalky or soft stony characteristics. The wine is effusive with floral and bright fruit aromatics, the palate is bright and vibrant but not lean or angular, the carbonic method makes for a soft and super drinkable wine from the jump. Loaded with flavors of early season red berries and smacking freshness. The wine opens up over two to three days of drinking, if you can make it last beyond one sitting. $19

These wines were sent as samples from the wineries.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Cool Vintage, Cool Customer; Saviah Cellars 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon

The 2011 vintage for Washington wine may be nearly as cool as Miles Davis
The year 2011 was a tough one for Washington wine folks. It was a cold vintage, and not just that, it started out bad from the jump, as the kids say. As soon as harvest 2010 wrapped up. A nasty November frost laid waste to lots of vineyard acreage particularly in Walla Walla and the Horse Heaven Hills. Cabernet was hit hardest, likely because it is one of the most commonly planted wine grapes in Washington, King Cabernet dropped nearly 30% in 2011. 

The vintage began with a tough set of circumstances for growers and continued to be one of the coldest on record for Washington, in fact, perhaps the coldest ever for the wine industry. As a late ripening grape Cabernet Sauvignon can prove to be particularly finicky in a cold vintage and by finicky I mean, doesn't always ripen. Bud break began two to three weeks late in 2011 and largely much of the state never caught up to the "normal" years. Harvest began in warmer sites in late September and continued well into November.

In the 2011 bottlings you are seeing just how different, and in some ways difficult the vintage was for both winegrowers and winemakers. Under-ripe Cabernet Sauvignon often exhibits "green" or herbaceous characteristics, the common comparison being bell pepper flavors. This is attributed to a compound called Pyrazine, which is prominent in bell peppers and other vegetables. It's present in Cabernet Sauvignon and as the grape ripens, its exposure to sunlight actually destroys the Pyrazine compounds in the grape. Not a lot of sunlight? A whole lotta bell pepper. With a challenging vintage like 2011 and a  harvest that went late into November, particularly in cool areas, some folks may have picked the grapes too soon resulting in those green characteristics.
this photo of a frozen vineyard was taken in a completely different state, cool though right?
I am a cool vintage fan, almost universally. My favorite vintage in Oregon has been 2007, the 2010 wines in Washington, when well made are some of my favorites, see the Waters Winery 2010 Tremolo. When looking for dialed in Cabernet Sauvignon from Washignton State from it's most challenging vintage, look no further than the 2011 Saviah Cellars Walla Walla Valley Cabernet. A prime example of how elegant and complete a cool vintage wine can be.

The Saviah Cabernet is sourced from five different Walla Walla vineyards, some well known ones of course like Seven Hills and Pepper Bridge as well as lesser known, Ana Marie, McClellan Estate and Summit View. The wines complexity is present in both its aromatics, which exhibit dried rose petals, dried herbs, chicory and its layered palate which exhibits fresh and juicy fruits in currant and berries, hints of mocha and absolutely outstanding acidity and structure that are the hallmarks of well made cool vintage wines.

For Saviah winemaker Rich Funk, it was a memorable vintage. "Cool vintages require strong viticultural focus and a commitment to picking when the fruit is ready. I am usually mostly done harvesting by the end of October. But in both 2010 and 2011 we still had two thirds of our fruit hanging at that time. All my chips were on the table so to speak. We finished harvesting the Cabernet mid-November without being disappointed with any of picking decisions. For many, picking a little early in 2010 and 2011 resulted in angular tannic structure and under ripe phenolics."

The key to colder vintages is timing. It's balancing getting those last ripening days out of the fruit on the vine against the risk of rain, that could lead to mold, or an even more frightening prospect; frost, a real possibility in the Walla Walla Valley in November. A frost that could in fact that leave you without any fruit to make wine with. " Nerve racking to say the least...up checking weather stations every morning at 3:30, hoping for another five days without rain or frost and November cooperated beautifully."

A cold vintage like 2011 though can sometimes play the role of bellwether and really illuminate where the state's most experienced and talented winemakers are found. From the Washington Wine Report's Sean Sullivan "You could say that the cool 2011 vintage separated the men from the boys in the vineyard and in the winery in Washington, and while that was sometimes true, it's also a bit too simplistic. Mother Nature dealt some a tough set of cards and they simply did the best they could with what they had. In other cases, some who were dealt a pretty good hand overplayed it and produced wines that were at odds with the vintage. Others kept their cool, played their hand well, and produced some truly lovely wines."

While Rich's Cabernet shows he was up to the task for the challenging 2011, he's not necessarily looking to relive it any time soon. "While I enjoy a good challenge and the wines turned out well, I prefer the vintages like we have had in 2012 and 2013. The pace is much more comfortable, the risks fewer, the overall experience much more pleasant and the wines are excellent to boot.'