Tuesday, March 26, 2013

State of the Union: Taste Washington 2013

What was was over.

Taste Washington 2013 is in the books, the two day formatted event showcasing some of Washington's finest wines has come and gone yet again. Over 200 wineries, some featured vineyards and AVAs and we're talking over 1,000 different wines easily. I didn't try to taste all of them. From the looks of the crowd at the end of the day on Saturday, some folks may have. I did experience the most aggressive line from a drunken wine event attendee of all time. I believe she was Australian.

There are a lot of tasting events that happen throughout the Northwest throughout the year, but there's not really anything on the scale of Taste Washington, not even close.  It is a combination of wine tasting, educational seminar, food pairing and who's who of the Washington wine and Seattle food and hospitality industry, for example on Saturday I saw Tom Douglas and Dick Boushey. See what I mean?

Taste Washington, in it's grandeur is slightly overwhelming, in terms of the number of wineries there as well as the number of attendees. To arrive at Taste Washington without a strategy is a fool's errand, and let's face it, no one likes to run errands. There's no glamour in that.

My strategy was a list of about 15 wineries that I wanted to check out, a couple that were new to me and a longer list of more established wineries that I knew would be pouring wines I had yet to try. I also gave myself the opportunity to wander around a bit and see what might "catch my fancy." Which is an expression I do not really understand.

My reactions to follow.

Syrah is Where the Sizzle's At (Again)
If you're not a fan of Syrah from Washington state then it's likely your tastebuds and olfactory senses are shot to hell. How else do you explain it? The varietal has so much to offer in terms of range. Perhaps second only to Pinot Noir in terms of it's ability to express the unique signature of the site it's grown in.  Washington has a great variety of sites and growing conditions and so, boom, it's got some great Syrah.  I'm actually trying to remember the last time I had a bad Syrah from Washington.

Highlights were from just about all over the state, the Chelan area vineyard designate Syrahs from perhaps the region's best producer Nefarious Cellars were really stellar, they were pouring the Defiance Vineyard Syrah and an under the table special pour, the Rocky Mother Syrah. Contrasts in style to be sure but both wines demonstrate the largely untapped possibility for cooler plantings of Syrah in Washington. From the opposite of cool sites there were excellent Red Mountain Syrah offerings, namely the Goedhart as well as my wine of the event,  but more on that later.  Not to be outdone of course was Walla Walla Valley. Syrahs from Tertulia Cellars as well as the Loess from Waters make a case for Walla Walla as the most aromatically captivating region of Washington.

That's New(s) to Me
The number of new wineries that rise above the standard bearers or even become part of the conversation is relatively small and speaking of small the newest Washington discovery for me was Ramseyer Vineyards. The little known Ramseyer Vineyards in Zillah, Washington has apparently already built a bit of a cult following, and has received some accolades from the press in high scores from Wine Spectator. I suppose I'm embarrassed to say I'd never heard of them. The wine (there's only one) is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Merlot and Malbec. The 2009 vintage, or Vintage Five was poured at Taste but their 2010 will be all estate fruit and it'll be released in May. Tiny production size at 220 cases but certainly worth seeking out.

You Never Forget Your First Love
The winery that introduced me to Washington and frankly wine is Claar Cellars and I was pleased to find them pouring their wines at Taste. My favorite was their 2010 Riesling which had stone fruit, as well as loads of honey and was taking on the secondary flavor characters which included diesel notes. The wine smacks of German Riesling and is one to seek out. The no frills Claar Cellars, is a family operation which is parked right next to highway 82 as a kind of gateway to the Rattlesnake Hills area in Zillah.

The Return of Value
As Washington's profile has raised, so have the prices on not only it's cult wines like Quilceda Creek, Cayuse and Leonetti but a lot of the high quality, smaller producers have moved from the high $20 mark to the $40 ballpark. While you certainly wish them all the success, as a consumer it's nice to find well made wines offering a high value. This, refreshingly was one of my standout impressions of Taste Washington this year. The values from Kevin White Winery were probably the most notable, his Fraternite blend, of Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah is only $20. When I asked Kevin about that his response was as notable as the wine value. "Well, I'm new, and nobody knows me yet, so it doesn't make sense to me to price the wines too high." I can't encourage you strongly enough to seek out his Fraternite and En Hommage, which is a Syrah and Grenache blend for a mere $5 more. Ryan Kerloo pulled out an under the table surprise in his Kerloo Cellars Majestic, a value priced GSM for $26, it was frankly incredible and will not last long. The For A Song wines produced by Vinum are a value beyond belief. Their 2009 Syrah and Chardonnay were both standout wines from the event and the Chardonnay retails at under $10.

Quality Across the Board
I wasn't taking tasting notes but the wines from Avennia continue to impress, and not just a little bit. I've been a fan of their Syrahs but the Bourdeaux style releases are also incredibly well made. What I like most about Avennia is winemaker Chris Peterson's commitment to the Yakima Valley. I believe it's what has made Maison Bleue such a favorite of mine. The commitment to site and demonstration of the region's potential, outside of Red Mountain as an exemplary growing region has produced some fantastic, nuanced and Old World style wines. If you're not familiar with these wines act quickly, it's a rising star.

Wine of the Night (Day)
So, keeping in mind that I did not get to try every wine; the one that I drank and was immediately taken by was the 2009 Collaboration III from Force Majeure. The winemaking team of Mark McNeilly and Mike Macmorran of Mark Ryan and some of the most sought after fruit on Red Mountain has produced a masculine Syrah that stands out in terms of it's texture and depth. Black berries and crushed stone minerality mark a serious Syrah on a day of exceptional Syrahs.

That's a wrap folks.


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