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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

5 things I learned about the Washington State Wine Scene during WBC 10

Well the Walla, Walla wine bloggers conference has come and gone, I was sad to see it go, but very appreciative of this opportunity to get reacquainted with Washington State Wine scene as I like to call it [don't think anyone else is calling it that]. It was fantastic to meet many of the other bloggers who've I've only known through Face Book or Twitter, [as there was over 300 folks it was hard to meet everyone] it was great to make those connections in person and get a chance to talk a little shop live. The Washington Wine Commission in conjunction with the Open Wine Consortium, Producers and Zephyr Wine Adventures put on a fantastically well organized conference. The number of different wines we were able to encounter over the three day period was just incredible [a virtual tsunami] of red and white wines, even bubbly made an appearance and the fantastic folks behind the label were equally winetastic.

Just speaking from my perspective, my sense of the of the overall satisfaction from other wine bloggers is that, the conference was a huge hit with all attendees, it would seem that no one can stop talking about the wonderful Washington Wine Scene [of course there were and still are a few dissenters]. Taking a look around and across the net and you can still see it's still a huge trend [with plenty of buzz] on Twitter and many of my FB friends are still talking about their experiences. As for me, my overall impression was very good and I have a lot to write about in the coming months and I would say further that the, [please feel free to quote me], "Washington wine is a force to be reckoned with" and the bloggers [myself included] are going to get that message out, not just in the few weeks afterward, but in the week and months ahead, but continuing on like a ripple on the proverbial pond once a few [huh, what? I mean a few asteroids striking the surface] causing waves to crash on beach and flood coastal communities stones a thrown into the still surface, sorry that pap I just typed out sounded a bit too reflective, anyways you get my point, they are and will continue to make a big splash in the world of vino.

That said, I thought I would just share a few "leftovers" [as some are fond of calling this blog] with you about the Washington State Wine Scene, that I didn't know before? Apparently there's is plenty, as I discovered for myself in more ways then one, through our various excursions and speed tastings. As I travel from wine destination to wine destination, meeting producers, winemakers, vineyard workers, wine bloggers, PR professional and others behind the label, I continue on my quest to learn all I can about this wondrous love affair with the Vitis Vinifera or the "wine-bearing" grape. Think about this statement the next time you pour yourself a great glass of vino, "In water one sees one's own face; but in wine, one beholds the heart of another"....an old French proverb.

The first thing I learned that they [producers in WA] make some fantastic Merlot in Washington State, single variety Merlot and or Merlot dominated blends which are not flabby or soft, wines that actually has some very nice structure and nuanced flavors. I will admit this openly, I'm not a big "Merlot Fan" just look at my many reviews and you will be hard pressed to find even one or take a look in my 200 bottle wine vault, there's no Merlot. It's not that I dislike the grape and I won't have Merlot-Meltdown like Miles expressed to the character Jack in the movie "Sideways" regarding his hatred for the grape [or as some suggest his loathing of having loved and not being loved in return].

No, no nothing like that, I just have not come across a lot of Merlots which have impressed me enough to say, um I wanna buy that or not enough to want to recommend it someone in a review. Typically I love Merlot when it is blended, and not the lead grape. So yep that makes me a "Left-Bank" kinda guy and speaking of blending and I hope I get this quote correct, in Washington State, "they [producers] don't add Merlot to a blend with Cabernet Sauvignon to soften the Cab, no instead they add Cabernet Sauvignon to the Merlot to tame its massive structure." as I was sampling Merlot after Merlot, I said to myself, "wow that statement is right on" and has me leaning to the right in the context of Washington Wines.  Check out this trailer below for the movie Merlove, which features many producers from  Washington state.




The second thing I learned is Walla, Walla Washington is a great place to to go for a wine tasting adventure. If you're like me and there's a chance that some of you are, then this one of those great wine destinations that you will want to make plans to stay there for a least a week and explore everything they have to offer. This was my first time in this particular area and I must say I was really impressed with atmosphere in Walla, Walla. Fantastic people, charming accommodations [many great B&B's], inviting little restaurants, and many downtown tasting rooms, I really got a great vibe being in their downtown late at nite, strolling through their city. Walla, Walla reminds of downtown Paso Robles quite a bit, with the very welcoming atmosphere and down to earth feel, I am sure you will be just delighted by the experience as I have been. This picture to your left is the one I took inside the B&B I stayed my first night in Walla, Walla and to me exemplified everything you will experience when you stay here, Stone Creek Manor. or anywhere else in town as there a number of B&B's in Walla, Walla.

Third I learned, the wines I encountered could be characterized as a Bordeaux blend, I found this is a very common thread during my tastings and you'll most likely find the same at many Washington State Wineries. I personally was thrilled with many Bordeaux inspired blends I found being poured at the conference and during our forays into the vino landscape that is Washington Wine. It was not just the red blends either, there were a good number of white-Bordeaux being poured as well. Now of course one of the better, if not best thee known producer in the state is Bob Betz  of [Betz Family Winery], known to many as Washington’s favorite boutique winemakers and a very familiar figure in vino circles for creating Bordeaux inspired blends. It was also my great privilege to meet him and his daughter during the Willows Lodge hosted, "Woodinville Grand Tasting". In the line-up there was also some other favorites of mine at this tasting, DiStefano Winery, Sparkman Winery, Baer Winery, Northwest Totem Cellars and Des Voigne Cellars who stunned me with their Meina Flor, a Rhone inspired Rousanne and Viognier blend, excellent!

If you're new to the world of vino, you may very be scratching your head thinking, "what’s a Bordeaux Blend?"  Okay here's the typical text book answer, it’s a blended red wine that contains two or more of the varietals which are authorized for use in the red wines of France's Bordeaux region which is divided left and right. Typically you'll find these varieties in the blend, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmenere. A typical Bordeaux blend will have Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot as the primary grape (up to 85%), with other grapes making up the remainder. On the lesser known side of the ledger, if you are talking about "White-Bordeaux" then of course you speaking of Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle composing the most typical blends.

Ah the perfect segway to my fourth thing I recently learned about the Washington State Wine Scene, is the fact that Sémillon is a widely planted grape variety in this North West Wine Region. In fact Washington Wineries are known for their Semillon, and while this wine is most often enjoyed young or blended with its companion Sauvignon Blanc, Washington Sémillons are known to age beautifully into rich, honeyed, nutty wines. In their youth they offer a broad spectrum of  flavors, ranging from crisp citrus to melon and fig, and fresh pears to vanilla. A wine typically lower in acidity than Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon is luscious, yet light and the two blend marvelously together. Semillon being lower acidity makes it's more susceptible to botrytis  [or Noble Rot], resulting in a fair number of late-harvest bottlings, which make for a nice after dinner quaff with some paired cheeses in place of dessert. My favorite was is the one pictured to the left here, Chaleur Estate Blanc from Delille Cellars, it was fantastico!



The fifth  and final thing was something I learned so much more about, than I had previously known or experienced and what is that you may ask? Well it's the AVA called Red Mountain, it freaking rocks and is one of the smallest in the state. The Red Mountain AVA has become the epicenter of Washington States Bordeaux blends, thus raising the caliber of Washington wines to a whole new level.

It all started with Tom and Anne-Marie Hedges of Hedges Family Estate, who took a chance buying acreage on this obscure little hill and produced their first vintage in 1987. See my review of 2007 Three Vineyards  Get Over Hedges Red Mountain Three Vineyards  which I wrote before my trip and which I recently re-tasted in their barrel room, alongside the 2006, which I gave the edge to over the 07, perhaps its still a bit too young, but since they had a few cases of the 2006 left, I grabbed [paid for with cold hard plastic] 6 bottles of the 2006 and will be here shortly via Fed Ex [btw, the Chateau Talbot in that pix above, didn't hold a candle to their Three Vineyards]. The Hedges Family Estate Chateau gave us a first class head to head match up of some of their wines versus some other heavy hitters [eye opening experience] and wow I was blown away by their entire operation and want to thank them for literally rolling out the red carpet for me and many other lucky bloggers who got to be there on this optional part of conference. Thinking back to my time I spent with the folks at Hedges and hearing the passion about their vision expressed by Chris Hedges, you can’t help but reflect on how rapidly the region has grown from those humble beginnings to become a behemoth of quality well made and yet very diverse wines, cheers to Red Mountain!

I must say I was very happy to visit this region for the second time, as I've been through the Woodinville Winery loop before and this second time through I refreshed my palate and understanding of the great things going on in WoodinVille, Walla, Walla and Red Mountain, the opportunity to visit great places like Cave B on the Columbia Gorge, Col Solare on Red Mountain and see the Wallla, Walla Wine Scene first hand was just a fantastic trip and one I would highly recommend as a way to expand your palate and your mind in relation to finding and consuming world class new world wine. I have much more to say on this subject so please stay tuned, until next time cheers everyone!

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1 comment:

Lisa said...

Dear Bill,

It was nice to finally meet you (and Rene) at WBC. I’m sorry that we didn’t get a chance to talk more. The video diaries and documentary kept us very busy. Thanks again for participating! http://www.youtube.com/winebloggerschannel. We were proud to be a part of such a great event bringing together a cadre of incredibly talented people.

Looking forward to seeing you in September.

Best regards,
Lisa Mattson
The Journey of Jordan: a wine and food video blog

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