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Posts tagged ‘Washington’

Barrel tasting with Chris Figgins

Chris Figgins, son of Leonetti Cellar founder Gary Figgins, assumed full responsibility for winemaking at Leonetti in 2001. For years Leonetti purchased their grapes but over time have moved to using Estate grapes from their own vineyards. The genesis for FIGGINS was the idea of making one wine from a single estate vineyard.

For the second year in a row my wife and I had a tasting appointment at FIGGINS Wine Studio on the Friday of Cayuse Release Weekend. Located just outside of downtown Walla Walla the Studio is the winemaking facility for FIGGINS, Doubleback and Toil Oregon.

We were greeted upon arrival with a glass each of the recently released 2012 Toil Oregon and 2010 FIGGINS.

Toil is a new Pinot Noir project from Chris Figgins using fruit sourced from the Ribbon Ridge AVA in the Willamette Valley. The wine itself was young, fresh and earthy with strong acidity. There were great flavors of tea, blood orange and mandarin on the palate. Our timing was perfect as the first release of Toil to mailing list members happened a little over a week ago. This is a strong first effort and I look forward to following Toil over the coming years.

The 2010 FIGGINS is big and brawny with an explosive nose of chocolate, leather and graphite. The palate was alive with flavors of menthol, red fruits and black currants. This is an exceptional wine that needs upwards of a decade in the cellar.

As we were finishing our pour of the ’10 FIGGINS, Chris Figgins himself arrived to taste some barrel samples with us. Although Chris and I have corresponded in the past year this was my first opportunity to meet him in person. I’ve been on the Leonetti mailing list for 20+ years and vividly recall the first time I met Gary Figgins at a release party in the mid nineties. As with his dad, winemakers don’t come nicer than Chris, who shared stories and gave us some insight into his vision for Leonetti, FIGGINS and Toil.

We tasted through the following barrel samples from FIGGINS and Doubleback:

  • ’13 FIGGINS Cabernet Sauvignon Sunrise Block
  • ’13 FIGGINS Merlot
  • ’13 FIGGINS Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 4
  • ’13 FIGGINS Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 7/8
  • ’13 Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon McQueen Vineyard
  • ’13 Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon Lefore Vineyard
  • ’13 Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon Bob Healey Vineyard
  • ’13 Doubleback Malbec Bob Healey Vineyard
  • ’12 Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon McQueen Vineyard

The samples were all exceptional but the FIGGINS Merlot and the two McQueen Vineyard Cabs really stood out.

As far as what’s to come? Chris mentioned a new project featuring Washington Aglianico. The vineyard called Serra Pedace is located high up in the SeVein project in the southern section of the valley. More to come on this. It also sounds like there will be new facilities for both FIGGINS and Doubleback in the next few years.

Prior to tasting the FIGGINS and Doubleback wines I figured I had myself covered by buying the Leonetti wines. What I learned is that each winery is distinct, with their own approach to making world class wines. I now find myself on the FIGGINS and Doubleback mailing lists, too.

These are truly some of the most exciting wines being made in the state of Washington (and Oregon if you include Toil). Plan your buying decisions accordingly!

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2005 Cayuse Syrah En Chamberlin Vineyard – Bottle Notes

The 2005 Cayuse En Chamberlin was the winning bottle in the December installment of Pick My Next Bottle. The wine was decanted for thirty minutes and served with Chicken Parmesan.

Cayuse was founded in 1997 by Christophe Baron, a native of France who grew up in family of winemakers in Champagne. Baron studied viticulture in Burgundy and Champagne, and had ambitions to make Pinot Noir in Oregon. However, on a visit to Walla Walla he found property that he believed would be perfect for growing grapes and decided to purchase the land.

En Chamberlin Vineyard was planted in 2000. This vineyard produces The Widowmaker Cabernet Sauvignon, Impulsivo Tempranillo and En Chamberlin Syrah.

Maroon in color. 14.1% ABV. Intoxicating aromas of olive brine, cherries and smoked meat. Full bodied with brilliant acidity. Super silky and lush on the palate. Flavors of plum, cherry, mineral, iodine and beef. I’ve had this wine many times over the last few years and the funk associated with early vintages of En Chamberlin seems to be subsiding. The finish is exceptionally long. There are no noticeable tannins on the finish and typically that would make me think the wine needs to be consumed sooner rather than later. That being said the fruit is still here in spades and this wine will probably drink well for several more years. Another triumph from Christophe Baron.

My rating: 95 points.

The waiting list for the Cayuse mailing list is huge and you need to be well-connected to get a bottle via retail. Either way, current vintages are worth the hunt!

For more on Cayuse please see The Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings and Winery Mailing Lists: The Fab 5.

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2000 Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon – Bottle Notes

Quilceda Creek Vintners was founded in 1978 by Alex and Jeanette Golitzin. Alex Golitzin is a nephew of André Tchelistcheff, the legendary winemaker who put Beaulieu Vineyard at the forefront of Napa Valley Cabernet in the 1960s and 70s. He credits summer trips to visit his uncle in St. Helena, California with developing his early interest in wine. Alex’s son, Paul Golitzin is now chief winemaker at the winery.

Quilceda Creek Vintners Cabernet Sauvignon has earned some of the highest scores of any wine produced in the United States. The 2002, ’03, ’05 and ’07 vintages all scored 100-point ratings from Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate. The 2003 vintage of Quilceda Creek’s Cabernet Sauvignon was named the No. 2 Wine of the Year by Wine Spectator. Quilceda Creek produces several single vineyard Cabernets, and they also bottled a Merlot through the ’06 vintage.

Purple in color. 14.9% ABV. Candied cherries, violets and vanilla bean on the nose. Maybe a slight hint of volatile acidity (VA). Concentrated and immense. Tons of structure. Currants, cassis, blueberry, chocolate, eucalyptus, spice and mineral on the palate. Plush and exotic. Silky tannins on an exceedingly long finish. I’d have scored this several points higher had the VA not been somewhat distracting.

My rating: 91 points.

Current vintages of the Cabernet Sauvignon can be obtained via the mailing list and at retail and should set you back around $150.

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2006 Cayuse Syrah Cailloux Vineyard – Bottle Notes

Cayuse was founded in 1997 by Christophe Baron, a native of France who grew up in family of winemakers in Champagne. Baron studied viticulture in Burgundy and Champagne, and had ambitions to make Pinot Noir in Oregon. However, on a visit to Walla Walla he found property that he believed would be perfect for growing grapes and decided to purchase the land.

Cailloux was the first vineyard planted by Christophe in 1997.

Deep purple in color. 15.3% ABV. Black cherry, blood, game, wet stones, tar and flowers on the nose. So complex that you could literally spend an hour just smelling this wine. Rich and full bodied with mouth watering acidity. Immensely concentrated. Cherry, iodine, cabbage, meat, olives and minerals on the palate. The finish is long and lush. This wine will drink well over the next 2-4 years.

My rating: 95 points.

The waiting list for the Cayuse mailing list is huge and you need to be well-connected to get a bottle via retail. Either way, current vintages are worth the hunt!

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2007 Grand Rêve Vintners / Force Majeure Collaboration Series II – Bottle Notes

Previously known as Grand Rêve, Force Majeure was founded in 2004 by Paul McBride and Ryan Johnson. Force Majeure pairs some of Washington’s highly acclaimed winemakers with fruit from one of Washington’s highly acclaimed vineyards, Ciel du Cheval. The winemakers contributing to the Collaboration Series is a Who’s Who of Washington winemakers including Ben Smith, Carolyn Lakewold, Chris Gorman, James Mantone, Mark McNeilly, Mike McMorran and Ross Mickel.

Purple in color. 14.9% ABV. Made by Ross Mickel of Ross Andrew Winery. A blend of 55% Syrah, 25% Grenache, 19% Mourvedre, 1% Viognier. An alluring nose of dark fruits, game and flowers. Full bodied with great acidity. Grilled meats, blueberries, peppercorns, coffee and cherries on the palate. The long, rich finish completes this wine. Drink over the next 4-6 years.

My rating: 93 points.

In just a few short years Force Majeure has become one of the top 5 Syrah producers in Washington. Look for the 2011 version that was recently released. $55 at the winery and retail.

Force Majeure warrants your attention and (as I write this) the winery is still accepting names for their mailing list.

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2011 Lauren Ashton Cellars Syrah – Bottle Notes

Lauren Ashton Cellars was founded in 2009 by Kit Singh. A Dentist by profession, Kit’s passion for wine was fueled by trips to Napa, Sonoma and Europe’s best known wine regions. Kit’s enology background includes classes at UC Davis and Seattle Community College along with an internship at Delille Cellars.

The inspiration for the name of the winery was Kit’s two children, Ashley Lauren and Ashton Troy. The packaging for the wines is impressive. The black and white pictures on the labels are from buildings in Estonia where Singh’s partner, Riinu Rammal, is from.

The grapes for the 2011 Syrah were sourced from the Columbia Valley AVA. Purple in color and 14.5% ABV. Brooding aromas of dark fruits, coffee and grilled meats. Great texture and acidity. Cherries, boysenberry, espresso, game, bacon and olive brine on the palate. Supple, mouth coating tannins. The finish is impressive. Simply stunning right now but this wine should age gracefully for 5-7 years.

My rating: 93 points.

The wine is a steal at $35. The Woodinville tasting room is open Thursday thru Sunday from 1pm to 5pm. I will be visiting soon.

This review was based on a sample provided by the winery.

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2000 Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon – Bottle Notes

Leonetti Cellar was founded in 1977 by Gary and Nancy Figgins. Leonetti, along with Quilceda Creek and Woodward Canyon put premium Washington Cabernet Sauvignon on the radar of wine consumers across the United States. Leonetti also produces one of the very best domestic Merlots.

Leonetti is near and dear to me as a wine consumer, and I’ve been on their mailing list for 20 years. Vintages like the ’92 Merlot and ’98 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon are included among my most memorable wines.

Almost purple in color. 13.6% ABV. Fruit for this wine was sourced from Mill Creek Upland, Seven Hills, Pepper Bridge, Windrow and Leonetti Estate Vineyards. 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc and 4% Merlot. A powerful nose of blackberry, smoke, earth and cocoa. Cherries, cassis, coffee, tobacco and currants on the palate. This wine is the classic iron fist in a velvet glove. Rich, lush and powerful. The finish is breathtaking. Well cellared bottles should should cruise to 20 years of age.

My rating: 95 points.

Leonetti has a full mailing list but the wine is readily available at retail in late-March. The winery has done an exceptional job at holding the line on prices and you should be able to find bottles right around $85.

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1997 Woodward Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon – Bottle Note

Located in the Walla Walla Valley appellation of Washington State, Woodward Canyon Winery was started in 1981 by Rick Small and his wife, Darcey Fugman-Small. Woodward Canyon produces almost a dozen different wines, and their Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon and Reserve Chardonnay are some of the very best examples of those varietals produced in Washington State.

The fruit for the ’97 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon was sourced from Champoux and Sagemoor Vineyards. Crimson in color with some bricking on the edge of the glass. 13.9% ABV. Intense aromas of cherry, leather, pencil and menthol. Currants, iron, vanilla, cassis, cherries, tobacco and chocolate on the palate. Full bodied and rich. The finish is long and still somewhat tannic. Drink over the next 3-5 years.

The reds from Woodward Canyon age as gracefully as anything produced in Washington.

My rating: 94 points.

The current vintage is widely available at retail, at the winery and via the mailing list for right around $80. The Artists Series Cabernet is a more affordable but delicious alternative for about $45.

The winery is also a great first stop as you head into the Walla Walla wine country!

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Betz Family Winery Fall 2013 Release Party

Betz Family Winery was founded in 1997 by Bob & Cathy Betz. Critical acclaim from local and national wine publications has put Betz Family Winery at the forefront of Washington wines alongside Cayuse, Leonetti and Quilceda Creek. The winery was sold to Steve and Bridget Griessel (with Bob Betz remaining on as the winemaker), and I fully expect quality will remain high for years to come.

Betz is open twice a year for the release of their wines: Spring welcomes Bordeaux Blends, and Fall the Syrah-based wines. Located south of the Schoolhouse District in Woodinville, Betz release parties draw such large crowds that Woodinville Fire and King County Sheriff employees are hired to direct traffic.

We attended the Fall release party this past Sunday, a stunning late Summer afternoon. Despite this day being the opening of the NFL season the winery was simply packed. Per usual, Bob and Steve made themselves available all afternoon to mingle with visitors.

Tasting and evaluating wine at release parties can be a challenge, as pours are usually small so you have just a few minutes to formulate an opinion. That said, the Betz lineup is better than ever.

Here are my initial impressions on the new releases:

  • 2011 Betz Family Bésoleil – 54% Grenache, 15% Cinsault, 12% Counoise, 12% Mouvedre and 7% Syrah. Strawberries, pepper, smoke, earth and olives. The Mouvedre, even at just 12%, is so very prominent. The most open of the new releases. My rating: 93 points.
  • 2011 Betz Family Syrah La Serenne – 100% Syrah from Boushey Vineyard. Dark fruits, meat, game and mineral. This wine is tight and needs at least 5 years in the cellar. My rating: 91points.
  • 2011 Betz Family Syrah La Côte Rousse – 100% Syrah from Ciel du Cheval and Ranch at the End of the Road Vineyards. Cherry, cassis, meat and violets. Dark and dense. Check back in on this one around 2020. My rating: 92 points.
  • 2011 Betz Family Syrah La Côte Patriarche – 100% Syrah from Red Willow Vineyard. Plush, dark fruits. Cherry and blackberry. Rose, stones and mineral. The best La Côte Patriarche ever and easily the best of the new releases. My rating: 95 points.

I’ve been buying the Betz wines for a decade now. I can’t emphasize enough that the entire lineup needs extended time in the cellar.

I understand the mailing list is full, although I suspect the wait isn’t too long. Fortunately, the wine is readily available all over Seattle almost year-round. Both of these new releases are worth searching for.

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2005 Cayuse Syrah Cailloux Vineyard – Bottle Notes

Cayuse was founded in 1997 by Christophe Baron, a native of France who grew up in family of winemakers in Champagne. Baron studied viticulture in Burgundy and Champagne, and had ambitions to make Pinot Noir in Oregon. However, on a visit to Walla Walla he found property that he believed would be perfect for growing grapes and decided to purchase the land.

Cailloux was the first vineyard planted by Christophe in 1997.

Crimson in color. 14.1% ABV. Aromas of cherries, smoke and olive. Deep and rich. Cherries, plums, iodine, saline and bacon fat on the palate. The cherry component on this wine is just massive. The finish goes on forever. Slight tannins. Drink over the next 1-3 years.

My rating: 94 points.

The waiting list for the Cayuse mailing list is huge and you need to be well-connected to get a bottle via retail. Either way, current vintages are worth the hunt!

If you enjoyed this post please consider subscribing to Zinfandel Chronicles updates by email.

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