Sunday, November 9, 2008

Bond, the drive, the wineries not Cayuse

My visit to Walla Walla was a short trip. In fact, I never actually made it into town, but I did manage to stop in at L'Ecole, Cougar Crest, Long Shadows, and of course Cayuse.

The drive from Seattle to Walla Walla takes about 5 hours... more or less depending on (a) traffic (b) weather conditions and (c) your willingness or ability to observe of the 70mph speed limit.

Traffic was fairly light Friday morning, though over the Summit (about 45 minutes east of Newcastle) there was a bit of snow mixed in with the rain – and State Patrol was doing spot checks of truckers making sure they were carrying chains. That slowed things down a bit.

On the way back home I learned that my driving is rather susceptible to James Bond music. There seems to be a direct influence on car speed. While channel surfing XM radio I discovered the Cinema channel was playing all Bond film music. The title songs were being played backed to back as well as some great classic dialogue from Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, and Brosnan. More fun, and well, accelerator enabling, were the action and chase themes from the soundtracks.

Some of you know I'm a little partial to James Bond, the short stories, the books, and the films. Of course I have the DVD's (OK, I also have VHS tapes and Laser Disks from some of the films hidden away) I also have all the books from Fleming, plus collections of the old serials that first appeared in Playboy back in the early 60's. Sure there've been some incredibly lame moments in the series (Brosnan "surfing" against an incredibly lame green screen comes to mind) but the series was really reborn with Casino Royale, and I’m SO looking forward to seeing Quantum Solace, hopefully this week!

I got to a particularly fun stretch of road between Tri-Cities and Yakima when the soundtrack from Casino Royale was just hitting it’s stride… I won’t be specific about exactly how fast I was going. Fortunately the music also helped sharpen my attentiveness – I spotted the speed trap fast enough to shave… uh, about 30mph off my speed as I spotted the State Patrol car ahead of me.

So about the wine :-) Lowden is home to Woodward and L’Ecole, neighbors that are also the first wineries on Highway 12 on the way into Walla Walla. With the limited time I had to pick between the two… I’ve always enjoyed Woodward’s wines, especially their “Old Vines” Cab, but L’Ecole was wrapping up their 25th anniversary, and the 1915 schoolhouse that’s home to the winery is always fun to visit.

I tasted through L’Ecole’s 2007 whites (Chard, Chenin Blanc, Semillon) and the ’05/’06 reds (Merlot, Cab, Syrah and Bordeaux Blends). My favorites were the ’06 Walla Walla Seven Hills Merlot, $36 – black cherry and blackberry with a little bit of mint and the 06’ Walla Walla Seven Hills Syrah, $36 – jammy dark plum, black currant, classic earthy Walla Walla finish.

Next down Highway 12 was Cougar Crest’s new winery – the old tasting room is still open near the airport. The new winery was constructed with Rastra, a “Green” building material made from recycled foam plastics. The tasting room is probably 10 times the size of the old place with a long tasting bar, and a cool seating area where you can relax while you taste.

Cougar Crest makes some of my favorite WA whites – they don’t use any oak in their Chards or Viognier. The ’06 Chardonnay- $20 has great apple/pear taste with some zing of citrus. Juicy, wonderful unoaked Chard! The ’06 Viognier - $20 tastes like a mix of pear, pineapple, and melon, with more of that citrus zing.

I’ve long been a fan of Cougar Crest’s Cabs and Syrahs, but this time around my favorite wine was their Cabernet Franc! Cab Franc is usually a blending grape (and got dissed in Sideways almost as much as “F’ing Merlot”) but more WA winemakers are doing great things with the varietal. CC’s ’05 Walla Walla Estate Cab Franc - $36 has lot’s of re fruit red currant and cherries. There’s also some pepper notes. It’s a VERY smooth wine – and well balanced between the tannins and acidity.

Long Shadows new winery is about 1 ½ miles from Cougar Crest up the hill on Frenchtown Road. The winery is only open a couple weekends a year, and like a number “high-end” wineries they choose to open their doors the same weekend as Cayuse’s release weekend… so I jumped at the chance to taste the wines.

Long Shadows is a little like a home for consulting winemakers – Allen Shoup, the former CEO of Chateau Ste Michelle developed the Ernst Loosen (Eroica) and Antinori (Solare) partnerships at CSM. At Long Shadow he partners with renown winemakers from around the world to craft small batches of wines from WA grapes. Michele Rolland (he who seems to have decoded Robert Parker’s palate) joins Randy Dunn (Feather), Armin Diel (Poet's Leap), John Duval (Sequel), and others to make good wine. Rolland’s Pedestal may be the best Merlot made in WA. I’m also partial to Duval’s Syrah, Sequel. Duval was the winemaker for Penfold’s Grange (one of Australia’s most famous wines), and at Long Shadow he makes the Syrah from Columbia Valley fruit. I’ve been buying Sequel since the first vintage (2003), and I was eager to taste the new ’06 Sequel - $55 The first thing I noticed was the DEEP purple color – it’s a stainer. The dark chocolate, blackberries and cherries were the first notes I tasted, and there’s a little cocoa on the finish.

I also tasted the ’05 Pedestal (fun to see how the 05 is aging without popping the cork on my remaining bottles) I do think Pedestal is one of the top Merlot’s made in the state – it’s certainly one of the priciest.

I also got to try the ’06 Chester Kidder (made by Shoup and Gilles Nicault, a former winemaker at Woodward.. who happens to be married to Marie-Eve Gilla, the winemaker at Forgeron, another good WA winery).

The most interesting wine I tried is only available at the winery…. Poet’s Leap ’06 Carmina Burana Riesling - $25. I had a chance to meet and talk with Long Shadows GM/CFO Mike Williamson while I was tasting the wine. I always assumed Poet’s Leap was all stainless steel fermented… turns out part of it is fermented in a huge oak barrel, about half of the barrel (approx 450 Liters) ends up blended into the regular Poet’s Leap. The barrel is then topped off with Riesling aged a little longer, and then bottled as a winery only offering. Over time and reuse the oak becomes more and more neutral (new oak imparts significantly flavor to a wine than an oak barrel that’s been used vintage over vintage) The wine has all the great fruit of the regular Poet’s Leap (white peach, honey, great minerality) plus just a little spice from the oak – enough to lend just a bit of smoother mouthfeel and maybe a touch of vanilla.

Next post… Cayuse…

No comments: