Below are my Wine Enthusiast reviews for January 2020. Wines are listed alphabetically by winery. Read information on how I review wines here. Read about the Wine Enthusiast rating system here. Read about how to interpret my scores here. All of these reviews are freely available on-line at the Wine Enthusiast Buying Guide. See previous Wine Enthusiast reviews re-published in this space here. Search Wine Enthusiast‘s on-line database here. Read instructions on how to find Washington wine reviews at Wine Enthusiast here.
A whole lot to unpack from the 86 wine reviews in the January Wine Enthusiast, and I’ll write more about more of these wines and wineries in subsequent posts.
First up, what an impressive job College Cellars is doing with its wines (College Cellars 2017 La Laurelia Red Blend Walla Walla Valley $30, 91 points, Editor’s Choice; College Cellars 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley $25, 91 points, Editor’s Choice; College Cellars 2017 Anderson Vineyard Barbera Walla Walla Valley $25, 90 points; College Cellars 2018 Cockburn Ranch Mourvèdre Walla Walla Valley $30, 90 points).
College Cellars is a teaching winery for the Institute of Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College. Tim Donahue (pictured above right) is director of winemaking. Joel Perez (left) is director of viticulture. Sabrina Lueck (below) is instructor of enology, and Danielle Swan-Froese fills out the team as program coordinator.
The program and winery focus on giving students hands-on experience. The program has an illustrious group of graduates that have already had a significant impact on the Washington wine industry. These people include Chris Peterson (Avennia, Passing Time), Elizabeth Bourcier (Cayuse), Steven Thompson (Analemma), Shane Collins (Rocky Pond), Ali Mayfield (Wahluke Wine Company), Brian Rudin (Canvasback), Ryan Crane (Kerloo), Marcus Rafanelli (L’Ecole No. 41), Ryans Raber and Driver (Tertulia), Josh McDaniels (Doubleback), Keith Johnson (Sleight of Hand), Brooke Robertson (Delmas), and the list goes on.
Over 200 graduates are currently employed in the wine industry. “We have 57 winemakers, 26 cellar masters or workers, 22 assistant winemakers, 19 vineyard mangers, and 12 students who are studying at 4 year institutions,” says Lueck. “51 are owners or partners in their business, including wineries, vineyards, vineyard management companies, and sales companies.”
The college has plenty more students in the pipeline. The future for the Washington wine industry couldn’t be brighter. Alternately, for aspiring winemakers and vineyard managers looking for a place to learn…
We talk a lot about the DeLille Cellars Chaleur Blanc and deservedly so. It is consistently one of the top white wines in the state. Continuing in this trend, the 2018 offering is a knee buckler (DeLille 2018 Chaleur Blanc Columbia Valley $35 93 points, Cellar Selection). But we should also be talking about DeLille’s Roussanne. This can be an absolutely stunning, unique wine, and the 2018 offering is just that (DeLille 2018 Roussanne Red Mountain $35, 91 points, Editor’s Choice). It offers aromas of nori, seashell, and tropical fruit with an exquisitely balanced palate. I can’t think of another wine like it coming from Washington (though Latta’s Roussanne also hits a consistently high mark).
Of note, as I’ve written about on Facebook, DeLille recently moved into the old Red Hook Brewery in Woodinville and did an extensive remodel. The tasting room is now open for seated tastings by appointment.
The new red Rhone releases from Saviah Cellars are top notch (Saviah 2017 Reserve Syrah Walla Walla Valley $45 94 points, Editor’s Choice; Saviah 2017 The Stones Speak Estate Syrah Walla Walla Valley $55, 93 points, Editor’s Choice). They also offer some crazy good value (Saviah 2017 Syrah Walla Walla Valley $32, 92 points, Editor’s Choice).
But one of the wines that I found most compelling was the winery’s Viognier (Saviah 2018 Saviah Estate Vineyard Viognier Walla Walla Valley $30, 91 points, Editor’s Choice). Fruit for this wine comes from the Rocks District, and it’s like drinking a fresh peach from a glass full of stones. There is a trend of more white wines coming out of Walla Walla Valley, and this is another terrific example.
Then on the value side, there’s Saviah’s Jack series wines, which always offer a lot of bang for the buck (Saviah 2016 The Jack Grenache Columbia Valley $18, 90 points, Editor’s Choice; Saviah 2018 The Jack Red Blend Columbia Valley $18, 90 points, Editor’s Choice). In this great bounty of offerings from the winery, I haven’t even mentioned the 2017 Une Vallée Walla Walla Valley ($38, 93 points, Editor’s Choice). What a set of releases!
In January I issued a 2020 Washington Merlot Challenge to readers to drink at least one bottle of Washington Merlot each month this year. Part of the inspiration was the last couple vintages from Seven Hills Winery, one of which is reviewed here (Seven Hills 2016 Merlot Walla Walla Valley $25, 91 points, Cellar Selection). The 2017 offering is even more impressive.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the wines from Time & Direction. Steve Wells started this winery, which focuses on Rhone-style wines, with the 2016 vintage. A tasting room for the winery opened in downtown Walla Walla last year.
Much of Time & Direction’s focus is on fruit from the Royal Slope. I’ve been telling every winemaker who will listen lately about the potential I am seeing from this area – as much as any area in Washington – for Syrah and other Rhone varieties. When we talk about Syrah in Washington, we talk about Red Willow, Boushey Vineyard, and – more broadly – the Rocks District. I believe Lawrence Vineyards, a collection of sites managed by the Lawrence family, and other vineyards on the Royal Slope will become part of this list.
What’s got me so excited? Wines like these from Time & Direction from this region (Time & Direction 2018 Fretboard Corfu Crossing Vineyard Viognier Columbia Valley $25, 92 points, Cellar Selection; Time & Direction 2017 Bruce’s Island Reserve Syrah Columbia Valley $65, 92 points; Time & Direction 2018 UpUpDownDownLeftRightLeftRightBASelectStart Thunderstone Vineyard Grenache Rosé Columbia Valley $22, 90 points, Editor’s Choice). They are not to be missed.
The Royal Slope can bring a fascinating combination of savory notes, such as black olive and smoked meat, not unlike in some respects the Rocks District though without the high pH and associated mouthfeel. The wines can also bring a lovely sense of structure. Compelling Rhone offerings from this area can be found from Gård, Alleromb, Latta, K Vintners, and others. The Royal Slope currently has an appellation application pending.
Looking for wines that offer terrific value? Check out the Merf wines. These come from Ste Michelle Wine Estates winemaker David Merfeld, who heads up winemaking at Northstar. Talking with Merf last fall, his intention is to offer high quality and superb value. He definitely accomplishes that goal (Merf 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley $13 90 points, Best Buy; Merf 2017 Chardonnay Columbia Valley $13, 89 points, Best Buy).
The labels are based on the hood of a Camaro, David Merfeld’s first car. The extended Merfeld family has certainly taken notice of the wines. “There’s Merfelds coming out the woodwork!” Merf told me last summer. “Mom and dad are proud.”
Again, more to come on some of the wines below in subsequent posts. Without further ado.
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Andrew Rich 2015 Glacial Columbia Valley $45 87 points
Syrah makes up 52% of this wine, with the balance 26% Mourvèdre and 22% Grenache. The aromas of apple and cherry are lifted and show a bit of booze. Ripe fruit flavors follow, trailing on the finish. The warmth of the vintage shows.
Beauty in Chaos 2016 Red Blend Columbia Valley $13 87 points
Raspberry, cherry, vanilla, coconut and sweet spice aromas are followed by flavors that mix fruit and barrel. Overall, the oak is far out front, and, as a result, it shows some astringency that is a bit distracting.
Betz Family 2017 La Côte Rousse Syrah Red Mountain $62 94 points
For the first time, this wine is blended with a touch of Viognier (3%). It was partially fermented in concrete, and the aromas are lifted with notes of huckleberry, raspberry, herb, orange peel, black pepper and abundant minerals. The blue-fruited palate is silky, soft and fresh, with a fine sense of acidity and tannin structure. It brings a lot of finesse as well. Best after 2024, with a long life after that. Cellar Selection
Betz Family 2017 Domaine de Pierres Syrah Walla Walla Valley $62 93 points
This is the winery’s second offering from its Rocks District Ancient Stones Vineyard. It was fermented 100% whole cluster, and has nuanced aromas of wet gravel, brown stems, grilled asparagus, flower, green olive, orange peel and mineral, followed by a full-feeling, textured, but still elegant palate, full of olive flavors. The finish draws out. It’s a classy, exquisitely made interpretation of this area. Editor’s Choice
Betz Family 2017 Bésoleil Columbia Valley $48 93 points
Grenache makes up 49% of this wine, with the rest Mourvèdre (34%), Counoise (11%) and Syrah. The aromas are very pretty, with notes of white pepper, blueberry, raspberry and mineral. The palate is medium bodied, bringing a sense of delicacy. It’s all about elegance, with a fine sense of peppery spicing that ups the interest. A long finish caps it off. Editor’s Choice
Betz Family 2017 La Côte Patriarche Red Willow Vineyard Syrah Yakima Valley $62 92 points
This wine hails from the state’s first Syrah vineyard. Intriguing aromas of smoked meat, blueberry, coffee, dried herbs and aniseed lead to quite restrained fruit and savory flavors. The overall balance and length is striking. A lot of tannic structure backs it up. There’s no mistaking where the wine comes from. It will have a long life in front of it. Best after 2023. Cellar Selection
Betz Family 2017 La Serenne Boushey Vineyard Syrah Yakima Valley $62 92 points
Coming from one of the state’s top Syrah sites, this wine was fermented 60% whole cluster—more than ever before. The aromas are brooding, with notes of ember, whole blueberry, raspberry and assorted dried herbs. The palate is soft and brings coffee flavors with savory streaks throughout. An extended finish caps it off. This one is all about sophistication, but with a sneaky sense of intensity and enough structure to reward time in the cellar. It only ramps up with time open. Best after 2022. Cellar Selection
Canvasback 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley $55 91 points
Fascinating aromas of assorted dried herb, cherry, dried flower, raspberry and anise are followed by an elegantly styled palate. The tannins give a light squeeze. Far from a big, bold Cabernet, it’s a pretty representation of the variety and vintage, with enough stuffing packed in to do well in the cellar.
Canvasback 2018 Riesling Columbia Valley $30 90 points
Peach, lime leaf, sweet herb, botrytis and Nestea iced tea aromas are followed by off-dry stone fruit flavors, with plenty of Nestea accents. It’s an enjoyable, warmer climate example of the variety with spot-on balance.
Canvasback 2017 Funk Vineyard Syrah Walla Walla Valley $70 88 points
The Rocks District shows itself on the aromas, with notes of green olive, green herbs, tobacco, orange peel and mint. The palate starts out sleek in style, ramping up significantly with time open. Fruit and savory flavors mix.
College Cellars 2017 La Laurelia Red Blend Walla Walla Valley $30 91 points
Light in color and very pretty. Fruit-driven aromas of whole berry, plum and dried herb are followed by blue fruit flavors that bring a sense of elegance and texture. It’s gorgeous. Editor’s Choice
College Cellars 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley $25 91 points
Coming from grapes donated by the Figgins family (Leonetti Cellar, Figgins), cocoa, green herb, thyme, spice, green pepper and whole black cherry aromas set the stage. Soft, light, pretty, acid-driven flavors follow. It impresses. Editor’s Choice
College Cellars 2017 Anderson Vineyard Barbera Walla Walla Valley $25 90 points
The aromas intrigue, with notes of smoke, cedar, dried tobacco and red cherry. A light, elegant palate follows, with a pleasing, juicy feel. The transparency is enchanting.
College Cellars 2018 Cockburn Ranch Mourvèdre Walla Walla Valley $30 90 points
Examples of Mourvèdre are a rarity in this appellation. The aromas pop, with generous helpings of freshly ground black pepper and dark roasted coffee bean, along with fresh herbs. The palate shows more of the same. It displays a sense of lightness and deftness that heightens the interest, with a citrus streak throughout, showing the variety’s lighter side.
College Cellars 2018 Stoney Vine Vineyard Mourvèdre Walla Walla Valley $30 88 points
Examples of this variety are a rarity in the appellation. Aromas of smoke, brown stem, hard candy, pot roast, black pepper and herbs lead to elegant, tart, citrusy fruit flavors. The tannins give a firm handshake. Give it some time to settle in.
College Cellars 2017 Seven Hills Vineyard Sangiovese Walla Walla Valley $30 87 points
Aged in amphorae, this has unique aromas of plum, wet clay, smoke and blackberry, followed by red currant, distant smoke and talc flavors. A medicinal note lingers on the finish. The tannins have a slightly tacky feel.
Dance 2017 Chardonnay Columbia Valley $42 89 points
Aromas of toast, pear, the underside of a pineapple, candlewax, peach and wet slate lead to full-bodied fruit flavors. It shows a lovely sense of texture and richness. The toastiness is quite upfront at present. Give it a bit of bottle aging to integrate.