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Mr Whirly in Washington state

Washington wine tour, June 3rd-7th 2013

On the first day, on Monday this week we took a bus from the peaceful and quiet city of Seattle on Route 90 heading east to the largest producer of Reisling in the world, Chateau St Michelle in Woodinville. I was actually shocked and surprised by the quality of the wines on a tasting of five of their Reisling’s which were:

2012 Dry Riesling Columbia Valley

2012 Eroica Riesling, Columbia Valley

2012 Riesling, Columbia Valley

2012 Dry Creek Riesling, Columbia Valley

2006 Eroica Ice wine Riesling, Columbia Valley

Different price points and yet the same wonderful quality shone through, so for me this showed me that larger wine companies can still produce great wines, albeit I must add, occasionally.

We then drove up and over the Cascade Mountains and the dramatic change in temperature, landscape, tree coverage and colour was very apparent. The eastern side of Washington state is practically a desert with 8-10 inches of rainfall in a year. All the vines over here are irrigated otherwise they would not survive. Over three hours later we arrive near the Wahluke slopes at Prosser and Milbrandt Vineyards.

We had a tasting here of some amazing single vineyard Syrah from this Slope:

2012 Clifton Vineyard, 2012 Clifton Hill Vineyard, 2012 Katherine Leone Vineyard and 2012 Northridge.

All were different from each other, full of fruit and yet had some lovely complexities too. That evening, on our way to our hotel we visited Canyon Ranch Vineyard and tasted wines from their Waterbrook, Canoe Ridge, Pendulum, Browne Family and Willow Crest range.

Tuesday 4th June

Riesling comparative tasting in the morning

Kung Fu girl Riesling 2012, Charles Smith, Columbia Valley ( loved this wine, potentially my favourite white wine all week)

Poets Leap Riesling 2011, Columbia Valley

Pacific rim Riesling, “ Wallula Vineyard- Biodynamic” 2010, Columbia Valley

Blind tasting

No 4  Trimbach, Alsace,  2010 ( I thought it was from Washington)

No 5  Jim Barry, Clare Valley, 2012. Wrong again

No 6  JJ Prum, 2011, Mosel. Yes I guessed right at last!

Another interesting tasting which showed that Washington can make very good Riesling but they lack the depth of Mosel and Alsace at the moment, probably due to the age of the vines and maybe the climate ( I thinks its a very hot climate that does not have much variation)

Wednesday June 5th

This was one of the days I was really looking forward to. We headed toward Walla Walla, home of great big reds and by that I mean powerful big reds. They are not shy at all.

We had a comparative tasting of Cabernets Sauvignon’s:

2009 Tamarack Cellars, Columbia Valley

2010 Dunham Cellars, Columbia Valley

2010 Seven Hills Vineyard, Columbia Valley

Then a blind tasting on three wines, which were:

N0 4 : Chappelet Signature, Napa Cab (I thought it was from Washington)

N0 5: Chateau  Haut-Bages Liberal, Pauillac ( bombed)

N0 6: Gramercy Cellar Pepperidge Vineyard Cabernet 2010 from Walla Walla ( I thought it was a Bordeaux!)

For lunch we headed to Charles Smith’s very trendy restaurant and bar and on the way I met Anna from “Amaurice”, a lovely little vineyard in Walla Walla, who was again another contact from my last trip here in 2006, who make some great Viognier as well as Syrah and Grenache blended and Malbec too.

In the afternoon we spent a few hours at Spring Valley winery, which I found of interest more because the drive to it, through fields and fields of dry land wheat and pea shoots. This vineyard is due west of Walla Walla in the flowing hills heading back towards the mountains, but even this small distance made a big difference in rainfall with another 6-8 inches falling here, allowing for crops to survive without irrigation. At the vineyard we did meet the families oldest member Dean Derby (they have sold up to Chateau St  Michelle recently) but he still very much works the land at 78 and the lasting memory will be watching him blissfully collect the hay in his old John Deere tractor, as  he waves to us as we drove off. A man more happy in his presence and where he was, I could not hope to witness.

Later on that day at a tasting of wines from the area at Woodward Canyon on the outskirts of Walla Walla in Lowden, the wines from Dunham Cellars shone through for me as well as Gramercy.

We tasted the following wines:

2011 Lewis Vineyard Riesling

2011 Shirley Mays Chardonnay

2010 Trutina Red Blend

2010 Syrah

2008 Lewis Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

Also good were wines from Gramercy cellars, (who I  also met in 2006 when I took a road trip to Walla Walla from Oregon and had the most amazing drive along the Columbia river from just north of the Oregon border) and later at dinner at L’ecole 41 we tasted a 2005 Seven Hills vineyard Estate “Perigee” that was by far the best red tasted so far. Why? Simple. It had some bottle age for a wine area that makes big reds, it’s pretty evident to me that’s an essential part of tasting these big fruit bomb wines (as long as they are from the cooler climate regions of this area like Red Mountain and the Rattlesnake Hills, great name!).

Thursday 6th June

The last day in our wine tour of Eastern Washington state. I missed the bus and was given a lift to Desert wind winery by Steve Werner who turns out to be a past employee of the special forces over there. Any honest

“ positive criticism “ of the tour and the focus on the commercial wines of Chateau St Michelle was quickly shelved in favour of divine pleasure of the week’s events! What followed was also a wee bit of a shock to the senses: a Syrah Seminar and comparative tasting at 9.15am!

We tasted the following wines:

2010 Willow Crest Syrah, Yakima valley

2009 Gordon Brothers Winery Syrah, Columbia Valley

2010 Milbrandt Vineyards “ The Estates” Syrah, Clifton Vineyard

Blind tasting:

No 4 : “ The Bishop” 2010, Glaetzer, Barossa Valley. I bombed on this one!

No 5 :  Terra Blanca Arch Terrace Syrah, Red Mountain, WA. Bombed again, thought this was from the Rhone.

No 6 E. Guigal, Rhone 2009 Crozes Hermitage. Bombed again!

No 7  Ramey Syrah, Sanoma, California. I thought this was from Washington so bombed!

I was surprised in a good way to see that the wine from Red Mountain, a lovely little hill perched on the side of route 82 heading west was something that I had mixed up with a Rhone Shiraz. Yes, I agree this is not very impressive of me but to be honest I was not the only one to make this mistake and this is a good mark to put down for the future: this region although hot and dry and sunburnt can make mineral and acidic Syrah that has those typical Rhone like herbal , thyme and sage overtones. Head for the hills of the Red and Rattlesnakes! On way back from Gordon’s vineyard after a lovely dinner outside overlooking the Snake River, we pass once again the circular fields of vegetables that are irrigated with a long arm on wheels that pivots in the middle of the field. All around is brown. The next morning, I boarded our twin-prop plane back to Seattle and the circles of green make such a picture as they spread out below me across this desert like country. Its certainly country that excites and enthrals here.