all betz are on

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wretched pun – wonderful wines. Last Sunday, the Betz Family winery held an open house for mailing list members only. The winery releases its wines twice a year, and in the late summer/early fall it is the syrahs that are on display. Bob Betz, who holds the rare Master of Wine (MW) certification, and who worked for almost three decades as a sort of creative director/educator for the expanding portfolio of wines under the Chateau Ste. Michelle umbrella, is now making his own brilliant wines. Though he has settled into a rhythm, built his dream winery, and prefers to work with established growers, under long term contracts, he is by no means standing pat.

I visited the winery last Monday, just before the first grapes from this year’s harvest were about to arrive. Betz was eagerly anticipating the weeks of intense work that lay ahead. “In 2009 we’re jumping on to Snipes Mountain,” he enthused, referring to the tiny new AVA set in the heart of the Yakima valley. “We’re bring in 10 year old grenache from Newhouse, and some counoise from Olsen. I want to get out of the mold, continue to experiment. 95% of what we are buying is fixed, but the other 5% is not, and it’s refreshing.”

We began the tasting with the Betz Family 2007 Bésoleil Red Wine ($44). This is 80% grenache, 5% syrah and 15% mourvèdre. Intensely aromatic, it is absolutely bursting with black cherry, strawberry and raspberry aromas, leading into a lush and luscious palate replete with black fruits. There are streaks of tree bark, a whiff of smoke and above all intensity of fruit. For drinking right now, this is the bottle to have.

Betz has offered a matched pair of syrahs for some years now. The Betz Family 2007 La Serenne ($55) is 100% syrah (Phelps clone) from the Boushey vineyard, where the same rows have been farmed for Betz since 2000. Less than two tons/acre were picked in ’07 – yielding a wine with even more concentration than usual. It’s so compact that it’s almost impenetrable, but the gorgeous aromas portend a glorious wine with appropriate bottle age and/or breathing time. A dark, dusty mix of black fruits, black olives, black coffee and licorice, this has such density that it’s almost impossible to separate out all the fruit layers, let alone the earthier components that make Boushey syrah so distinctive. At 14.8% alcohol, this may be the biggest Betz Boushey Syrah ever, and definitely a wine to cellar.

The Betz Family 2007 La Côte Rousse ($55) is the winery’s Red Mountain syrah, from two of the oldest plantings in the AVA. It’s 60% French clones from Ciel du Cheval, the rest Phelps clone from End of the Road. Supple, firm, compact, with black olive, mineral, red licorice, currant and pomegranate fruits. Bass notes if you will, of rock, iron and clay. Is the 2007 as massive as the astonishing 2006? I think it’s too early to tell, but even if a shade less powerful, it is just as complex and detailed.

New this fall is a third syrah, the Betz Family 2007 La Côte Patriarche ($55) from the acclaimed Red Willow vineyard. Included in the blend is 10% grenache from Alder Ridge (“I thought the nose needed a little more lift” Betz explains), and 10% mourvèdre from Olsen Estates (“to add some black spice notes”). Those who have had the David Lake/Columbia syrahs from Red Willow will be interested to see how other winemakers are working with the fruit. Not just Betz, but Owen Roe and Efesté are pulling in Red Willow syrah. La Côte Patriarche is named in honor of David Lake and vineyard owner Mike Sauer, who jointly pioneered syrah in Washington long before anyone thought it viable. This first bottling has medium concentration, light details of herb, olive, and sage; a hint of lemon verbena, and tight red currant and berry fruit flavors. There is a nice finishing kiss of caramel and toasted almonds.

Though the mailing list is closed, these wines will be turning up in some of the better bottle shops around western Washington this week.

1 comment:

SuburbanwineGuy said...

I attending the Betz release party and they were all OUTSTANDING. I'll be putting them down for a couple of years

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