Yesterday I went to my first wine tasting as a “trade” member when I attended the Washington Wine Trade and Media Tasting at Stella’s Fish Cafe in Minneapolis. The event was sponsored by the Washington State Wine Commission as part of their “Washington State Wine Month” promotion. My co-worker and I sampled about 100 different wines. There were only a couple of dessert wines offered, more on those below, but some dry table wine standouts were:
- Tamarack Cellars: Aside from being one of the friendliest people at the event, owner and winemaker Rob Coleman makes some amazing wines. At $16 retail, the Firehouse Red was probably the best red blend I tasted all day. It’s a perennial award winner in the wine mags and now I know why. His $15 Chardonnay was also amazing, considering that Chardonnay doesn’t do particularly well in Washington. It was just about as well balanced as a Chardonnay can get and the quality-to-price ratio (“QPR”) is unbeatable.
- Middleton Family Wines: The table by Middleton Family Wines was another one at which I probably could’ve spent all day due to their knowledgeable and very friendly rep. They were sampling wines from their Buried Cane and Cadaretta brands, all of which were fantastic. Across the board, these were some of the most aromatic wines we tried. Even the reds, which were categorically tight at this event, had wonderful bouquets. The 2009 Buried Cane Columbia Valley Riesling, which is fermented dry, was probably the best I had and it’s a steal at $14 a bottle retail. Their Cadaretta 2010 White Bordeaux Blend ($23) would’ve actually fooled me in a blind taste test as actually being a Bordeaux Blanc. The 2008 Buried Cane Hartwood Red Rhone Blend ($25) was also delicious.
- DaMa Wines: Right next to the Middleton table was another great table being tended by one of the owners of DaMa Wines, Mary Darby. Until yesterday, I was unfamiliar with DaMa Wines (probably because they didn’t have a rep in MN until this event and because they are a very small producer), but I can now call myself a huge fan. Soooo many of the red wines at this event were overly tannic and downright bitter. Maybe they just needed to be decanted or needed a few more years in the bottle, but I’m really not interested in bottle aging a $25 Washington wine. I want to drink it – soon – and if there’s one thing DaMa got right, it’s that their wines are drinkable now. The 2010 Columbia Valley Chardonnay ($21) was probably the best Chardonnay I tasted. The 2008 Cowgirl Cab, 2009 DaMaNation Red Rhone Blend and 2008 Columbia Valley Red Bordeaux blend were all sublime. No rough edges, not overly oaked or too tannic. Even though most of their wines have a pretty high ABV%, nothing seemed unbalanced.
- Oeno Distribution: Amy Mason and Anthony Abdallah recently set up a wine distribution business in Minneapolis and brought a nice group of their Washington Wines to the event. Anthony was tending the table and was a really nice guy. Two of the very good wines he showed us where the 2009 McKinley Springs Viognier (Horse Heaven Hills/$14) and the Thurston Wolfe Dr. Wolfe’s Family Red Blend ($16). The later is a very interesting blend of Primitivo, Petite Sirah and the little-known (and little-grown) varietal Lemberger. Outside of Austria, where it’s called Blaufrankisch, Washington State is probably the best producer of this varietal.
- Airfield Estates: I go into detail about their dessert wine below, but these wines really impressed me, especially from a QPR perspective. None of their offerings were more than $20 a bottle, and all of them were well made.
- Barnard Griffin: This table was tended by the adorable and self-titled “Winemaker’s Daughter,” Elise Barnard Griffin. Her father, Rob Griffin, has been making wine in Washington since 1977, which apparently makes him “the longest practicing winemaker in Washington State.” The experience shows in his wines, all of which were fantastic. Rob joined forces with his wife, Deborah Barnard, and began selling wines under their Barnard Griffin label in 1983. Like Airfield Estates, most of their wines come in under $20. The 2009 Columbia Valley Syrah was the best I tasted at the event.
There were other producers who showed great wines, including the ever popular Chateau Ste. Michelle, whose 2010 Eroica Riesling ($20), which is made in conjunction with Germany’s preeminent Riesling producer, Dr. Loosen, and 2006 Col Solare Red Blend ($75!!) were particularly enjoyable; Long Shadows Vintners with their excellent 2010 Poet’s Leap Columbia Valley Riesling ($14) and 2007 Saggi Sangiovese-based Red Blend ($45); Alexandria Nicole Cellars with an outstanding 2010 Shepherd’s Mark White Rhone Blend (H3/$20), and Milbrandt Vineyards with its well-rounded 2009 The Estates Malbec (Wahluke Slope/$25).
I left the event being very impressed with the state of Washington wines. The only issue, which I alluded to above, is that many of the cabernet and merlot-based reds were overly tannic and given too much new oak. Those wines would probably be good with a steak, but I firmly believe Washington wines shine when they are given treatments similar to what you might find in Bordeaux, Burgandy or the Rhone Valley, as opposed to when the vintners try to copy California’s style. Heck, Washington’s Columbia Valley lies between the 46th and 47th parallels, just like France’s famous wine-making regions (though, to be fair, so does Minnesota!).
The highlights of the event, of course, were the two dessert wine samplings, which I detail below…
I was really disappointed that I didn’t run into more dessert wines. Washington is a great producer of late-harvest varietals and ice wines and I was hopeful they would be on display. Sadly, they were not. The two dessert wines I did encounter are detailed below. Sorry for the poor picture quality, but the room was dark and I only had my telephone for the snapshots.
Don’t ask me how they can sell this amazing, botrytis-affected wine for $14 per half-bottle (I suspect the mechanical harvesting probably helps keep costs down), but I’m going to buy a case of it if I can get my hands on one. Seriously, you’re going to pay at least double that for a comparable Trockenbeerenauslese or Beerenauslese German Riesling. The link gives a lot of detail regarding the harvest and production of this wine, but all you really need to know is that it’s DELICIOUS. Apparently, Robert Parker agreed when he rated this wine 92 points.
- The color is a bright yellow-gold.
- On the nose I get candied apples, grilled pears, peaches, apricots and those tell-tale botrytized hints of honey, vanilla and caramel.
- In the mouth, the weight of this is quite nice. Not too heavy and not too syrupy. Just enough weight to let you know the wine is special.
- The bouquet really comes through on the palette, but you also pick up classic Riesling notes of wet stone and citrus.
- The finish is long for a $14 wine. Not as long as Sauternes or a TBA Riesling, but long enough and completely enjoyable. No off notes at all.
- Conclusion: Like I already said, if I can find a case of this, I’m buying it. And no, I will not share it with you.
Barnard Griffin 2009 Syrah Port
- This wine is fairly bright purple in color. It appears to have been made in a Ruby style, rather than barrel-aged like a Tawny. The notes on the website don’t indicate how this wine was aged and fermented, but I’m guessing there was some oak treatment post-press.
- On the nose, you actually get some of those classic Syrah red fruit notes, along with chocolate covered cherries, vanilla, and buttered toast.
- Despite being 18.4% ABV, this wine doesn’t feel heavy. It’s actually refreshing, which is unusual for a Port-style wine.
- I taste cherries, blueberries, and chocolate, along with a hint of toast and leather. The palette is not as complex as the top-tiered Ports I’ve had, but it’s got more depth and finish than the cheaper Ruby and Reserve Ports you’ll find going for the same price (or often more).
- Conclusion: At around 2500 cases produced, you may have trouble finding this wine, but if you do I think it’s worth the rather paltry sum they’re asking. Buy a couple of bottles and see how it develops over 5-10 years.