fielding hills – new 2007 releases

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Four years ago I first tasted the wines of Fielding Hills, and was immediately dazzled. “This red wine specialist has just released their fourth vintage,” I wrote in my Seattle Times column; “and as I tasted through these five wines, I completely ran out of superlatives. I don’t believe I have ever given such rave reviews to an entire lineup of wines from a young winery. A good place to start is with the 2003 Merlot ($28), a brilliant, polished, beautifully nuanced wine that may be as good as any Washington merlot I’ve ever tasted. The winery’s cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, syrah and RiverBend red releases (all $26 -$30) follow suit; spectacular wines. The RiverBend vineyard fruit plays a big part in their success, but owner/winemaker Mike Wade is equally important. He has a natural gift for crafting elegant, expressive wines.”

That same column also featured new releases from Mark Ryan, O•S, K Vintners, Leonetti Cellar and Quilceda Creek – pretty lofty company for a little, unknown Wenatchee winery. But with each passing year, Fielding Hills has justified my initial praise. I’ve also had the opportunity, thanks to owners Mike and Karen Wade, to go back and taste earlier vintages, from the first release in 2000 onward.

It’s tempting to say that Fielding Hills has improved with each new vintage, but in truth they started at such a high level of excellence that simply maintaining it would be a daunting challenge for any winery. The Wades have done so with remarkable consistency.

Credit their RiverBend vineyard, 28 acres planted on the Wahluke Slope, about four miles southeast of Mattawa. The vineyard’s cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot and syrah vines are producing their 10th commercial crop this vintage. Along with Fielding Hills, these grapes are used in wines from Chateau Faire La Ponte, Cuillen Hills, Hard Row to Hoe, Nefarious Cellars, Soos Creek, Tsillan Cellars and some (extremely fortunate!) home winemakers.

Production has been stuck at around 800 cases (split among five different wines) annually, but Mike Wade says he’s “shooting for 1200” in 2009. One hang-up has been limited winery production space, compounded by permitting problems from the local authorities. A wine club was set up a couple of years ago and the 200 allotted spaces quickly sold out, but wines may be ordered directly from the winery at this time of year, when they are first released. If you link to them from this website, please mention that to the Wades.

The 2007 lineup is consistent with previous vintages, with a couple of notable, vintage-related characteristics. First, the fruit is as juicy and delicious as always, but the vines are beginning to show more maturity, and there is some added weight and depth. Second, though the acid/tannin/fruit balance remains absolutely perfect, the alcohol levels have skied up – into the mid-15’s – so high, in fact, that Mike Wade is considering a second round of lab testing just to confirm the numbers, which clearly caught him off guard.

He won’t water back; so I wouldn’t look for a Bordeaux-like 13% Fielding Hills wine any time soon. He’s also used more new oak – mostly American – than ever, and some of the wines are still in the midst of integrating it all, as they go directly from barrel to bottle, being blended at bottling time. All this suggests that you cellar them for an additional year or two at least.

I rate the new wines rate as highly as any in the winery’s history, which is to say in the 90 – 95 range. Prices have not risen in three years, and remain highly competitive. Some brief notes:

Fielding Hills 2007 RiverBend Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($38)
189 cases
In the blend are small portions of 8% syrah, 3% merlot and 1% cabernet franc. This is a spicy take on cabernet, with some of the pepper and smoked meat character of syrah coming through, despite the fairly small amount in the blend. The concentration of cassis and black cherry fruit is astonishing; matched with ripe tannins that hint at black olive.

Fielding Hills 2007 RiverBend Vineyard Syrah ($40)
184 cases
Four percent cabernet and 4 percent merlot in this fruit-powered syrah. Spicy and annotated with scents of game, anise, smoke, and moist earth, the black and purple fruits dominate. It’s still young, a bit oaky, and relatively high in alcohol.

Fielding Hills 2007 RiverBend Vineyard Merlot ($36)
172 cases
Succulent, liquorous, dense and tart – this is superb Washington merlot. It is bursting with blueberry and black cherry fruit flavors, and has the highest percentage of merlot ever for Fielding Hills. Included in the blend is 2% cabernet sauvignon and 5% syrah.

Fielding Hills 2007 RiverBend Vineyard Tribute Red ($32)
197 cases
This Tribute is 43% syrah, 30% merlot, 18% cabernet sauvignon and 9% cab franc; the bouquet immediately grabs you with a rich mix of smoke, jam, brioche, and new oak – much in keeping with past vintages. About three quarters of the oak is new, and mostly American. It’s a bit more broadly open right now than some of the other new releases.

Fielding Hills 2007 RiverBend Vineyard Cabernet Franc ($30)
134 cases
This blend is 88% cabernet franc, 6% syrah, 4% merlot and 2% cabernet sauvignon. Like the merlot, it’s quite liquorous at the moment, but also full of ripe fruits – raspberry, blueberry, boysenberry – as it opens in the glass the varietal flavors begin to emerge, with hints of coffee and light herb.

http://fieldinghills.com

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