Friday, June 05, 2009

Washington’s newest AVA is Lake Chelan, a unique region tucked into the northwest corner of the Columbia valley, in the eastern shadow of the Cascade mountains, and ringing a large lake, somewhat reminiscent of the Okanagan region of British Columbia. Wineries are new to this area, which has traditionally relied upon tourism and apple growing for its economy. The rise of the Washington wine industry, coupled with the vicissitudes of the apple industry, and prompted by the fact that wine grapes seem to thrive where apples do also, has initiated the region’s rapid growth – both wineries and vineyards – but it has all happened in the last ten years.

So there is little to go on as far as evidence of any terroir. The great majority of wines from Lake Chelan wineries released to date have been made with grapes from outside the region. That is just now starting to change.

Nefarious Cellars (their motto: “we are a chick, two guys, and a dog striving to blow your mind…”) is the project of Heather and Dean Neff. They are among the first vintners in the area to draw upon estate-grown fruit for some – not yet all –of their wines. Their original goal, they say, was to make pinot noir, and they had the creds – Dean had worked at Soter Vineyards and Deponte Cellars in Oregon.

Long story short – the pinot project didn’t work out, but riesling, viognier and syrah did. Nefarious has planted three vineyards in Chelan: Defiance, Rocky Mother and Stone’s Throw, with grapes now coming off of all three. New this spring are several that show the exciting potential of the Lake Chelan AVA.

Nefarious Cellars 2008 Stone’s Throw Vineyard Riesling ($18) is aromatic and lively, loaded with honeysuckle, peach, apricot, apple and cinnamon pear scents; delicate and complex in the mouth; bone dry and yet carries a lovely sensation of sweet blossom.

Nefarious Cellars 2008 Defiance Vineyard Viognier ($19) is from the second crop, another elegant, layered wine focused on citrus rind, grapefruit and white peach; firm, tightly knit, with wet stone underpinnings.

Nefarious Cellars 2007 Defiance Vineyard Estate Syrah ($27) brings ripe berries, plums and cherries, swept into a mix of smoke and rock and iron filings. As you taste through the wine there are citrusy acids and hints of resin and tar; it just keeps adding in the nuances.

I’ve previously tasted (and been quite impressed by) the Nefarious Cellars 2006 Rocky Mother Vineyard Estate Syrah (a Paul Gregutt Selection). The 2007 is not yet out, but the 2006 beautifully expresses an elegant side of Washington syrah, with subtle, complex scents and flavors that can be blown out in hotter regions.

Other Nefarious releases, from vineyards scattered around the state, are of the same high standard. Heather does the whites, with a refined, sure hand; Dean does the reds, several made from Riverbend vineyard (Fielding Hills) grapes. All are highly recommended.

Nefarious Cellars 2008 Consequence White Wine ($17) – a blend of sauvignon blanc, aligoté and Viognier, with pleasing flavors of stone fruits, apples, hints of buttered toast and a thirst-quenching minerality.

Nefarious Cellars 2007 Cabernet Franc ($28) – from the Weinbau vineyard on the Wahluke Slope; it’s lush and fragrant with sweet cherry and plum, truffle and smoke, moist earth and mocha. It’s surprisingly delicate in the mouth, and yet not shy with the flavors, which stack generously one upon the other, finishing with black olive and slightly bitter baker’s chocolate.

Nefarious Cellars 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($30) – here is your Riverbend vineyard fruit; dense and dark flavors of blackberry and cassis fruit with streaks of graphite, iron and granite. It has plenty of muscle, this is a wine to cellar for a few more years.

Nefarious Cellars 2007 Malbec ($28) – with fruit from Upland Vineyards in the new Snipes Mountain AVA, this dark, dense, smoky/inky malbec is anchored by darkly flavorful tannins, a mix of bitter chocolate, smoky espresso, and coffee grounds. This is a wine for serious steak eaters.

Nefarious Cellars 2007 The Spinner Red Wine ($24) – this first-time red blend from Nefarious is 50% merlot, 25% cabernet sauvignon, 20% syrah and 5% malbec. It’s a bit lighter and smoother than the varietal reds, but still carries the winery’s signature of firm acids, stiff tannins, layered aromas and tightly wound fruit.

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