sangiovese in WA?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Can Washington make a sangiovese with the character and longevity of the best Chianti? I would have to say, not yet. But that does not mean that Washington sangiovese is not already a success. Though still rather rare, and most often a blend component rather than a varietal wine, the number of sangios that I’m rating 88 points or higher grows with each passing year. They often have a sweet, ripe strawberry core of fruit. They are somewhat lighter in color than the Bordeaux reds. Most Washington wines have firm acids, but the sangios have a touch more. The big difference among them, and the trait that most often distinguishes them from Old World classics such as the Badia a Coltibuono I blogged about last week, is the exposure to new oak.

For years my favorite Washington sangios were from Leonetti (http://www.leonetticellar.com) and Walla Walla Vintners (http://www.wallawallavintners.com). Leonetti would include a sangio among their annual spring releases, but along with their merlot, it was always from a more recent vintage than the cabs. Last year, for the first time, they held the sangio back an extra year. The reason, Gary and Chris Figgins explained to me, is simple enough. The maturity of the vines has brought greater fruit concentration, allowing them to give the wine the extra year of aging prior to release. The Leonetti sangiovese, though the most expensive in Washington, is the least expensive of their wines, and has always seemed to me to be the stealth bargain in the lineup, as it displays the style and polish of their other reds, but is easier to find in retail shops and less costly on restaurant lists.

The Walla Walla Vintners sangiovese often seemed to be a very credible reflection of the same buttery, oaky, ripe style – not so surprising, as Myles Anderson and Gordy Veneri are good friends with the Figgins’ family. WWV has moved in a slightly different direction recently, and their sangio seems a bit sleeker and more fruit-forward, but still an outstanding effort. Here are my notes on those two, along with a few other favorite sangios from among recent releases, all scoring between 92 and 88 points in my Wine Enthusiast reviews.

Leonetti Cellar 2006 Sangiovese
Walla Walla Valley; $60
Held back for an extra year, this new Sangiovese from Leonetti was aged in 500 liter ovals. The vines are now a decade old, the flavors deep and dusty, with ripe and mature tannins and hints of coffee and anise. Good grip and focus, with a pure through-line and early suggestions of developing Brunello-like aging capability.

Walla Walla Vintners 2007 Sangiovese
Columbia Valley; $24
Bursting with delicious raspberry and cherry fruit, as sweetly sappy as if it came right off the tree, this sets up the flavors with vivid acidity, and finishes with buttery caramel. Smooth and fruity, beautifully ripe and ready to drink.

Trio Vintners 2006 Morrison Lane Vineyard Sangiovese Riserva
Walla Walla, $26
This belongs up there with Walla Walla’s best Sangioveses (Leonetti, Walla Walla Vintners). From the outstanding Morrison Lane vineyard, it’s a plush, toasty wine whose strawberry fruit is matched and balanced against toast, vanilla and tobacco. The mouthfeel is generous and somehow crunchy, as if a rock had slipped into the mix.

Andrew Will 2007 Cuvée Lucia Ciel du Cheval Sangiovese
Red Mountain; $28
Lush and fragrant, and happily and distinctively not tasting like a Washington Cabernet or Merlot, this is a bowl of rose petals and ripe cherries. Strong acids, earthy tannins, slivers of chocolate and a finish of espresso all combine into a lovely and lasting set of flavors. 100% varietal, aged in neutral barrels.

Tulpen Cellars 2006 Sangiovese
Columbia Valley; $26
Real pretty strawberry fruit shows right away. The 20% Sagemoor vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend was finished in new Hungarian oak, which does add some assertive spice. It’s got some grip, plenty of acid, and flavors dominated by the new oak.

2 comments:

Andy Plymale said...

Paul, you are making me hungry.

I really enjoyed the 2006 Wilridge 100% Sangiovese from Scott Williams' (I think it's Scott's) Ranch at the End of the Road Vineyard on Red Mountain. (Lovely view from there as well...)

I enjoyed the 05 Trio, but have not tried the 06. Thanks for the tip.

Ciao

Denise Slattery said...

Paul - Great post about Washington Sangiovese. We love what we have discovered in the state and plan to keep producing this wonderful wine. Thank you for the review of our Trio Vintners 2006 Sangiovese Riserva / Walla Walla Valley. Yep, this was a crowd pleaser. I just wish we had made enough for a crowd! We are sold out of that wine now. But the good news is that we have our 2006 Sangiovese / Walla Walla County which is 40% Morrison Lane fruit. We also just bottled our 2007 Sangiovese / Walla Walla Valley, which is 100% Morrison Lane, to be released in September. Thanks!

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