typicity - part two

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

In Washington, there are some very good wines that are blends of many grapes, vineyards, and AVAs. Wines such as Pirouette (from Long Shadows) and Col Solare (from Ste. Michelle/Antinori) are examples of delicious red blends sourced from multiple AVAs. But if they can be criticized, it is a lack of typicity that bothers me about them both. They are very well-made, delicious wines, but what do they tell me about Washington, other than you can schmoosh things together and if you know how to do it you’ll make a pretty good wine? But we’re not going to discover our Rutherford Bench that way.

We’ll discover our Rutherford Bench through careful focus, matching the right grape to the right place. As they do in places such as France, Italy, Germany and Spain – DUH!

It happens in Washington also, but you have to search for it. Typicity is inherent in the work of vintners such as Christophe Baron at Cayuse, who biodynamically farms 55 acres on The Rocks in Walla Walla, and makes single vineyard wines – mostly pure varietals – from several of them. Cayuse wines have typicity in spades. They are riveting, unique, controversial, and fascinating. On a recent visit, M. Baron opened a bottle of his 2004 Bionic Frog – a pure syrah from the Cocchinelle vineyard. The threads of scent and flavor that unwound as we sipped the wine during the course of a half hour or so were revelatory. I had the clear sense that this wine could only come from this particular place.

Pacific Rim’s biodynamic Wallula vineyard riesling is another wine that broadcasts typicity and terroir. That particular vineyard, now owned by Allen Shoup and his partners, including the Den Hoed family, who planted it, is the featured site for two new wines that deserve your attention.


Interestingly enough, these wines perfectly embody the pros and cons of typicity. Den Hoed Wine Estates 2005 Marie’s View Red ($80) sources only Wallula grapes, but is an adventurous blend – 36% Syrah, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 12% Sangiovese. Rob Newsom of Boudreaux Cellars is the winemaker, and there-in lies the magic. Many, if not most winemakers would end up with a fruity mish-mash out of such a mongrel assortment, but Newsom has crafted a thrilling, sexy wine, rich and seductive. It’s a bit like a painter with a wide array of bright colors on his palette. Schmoosh them all together and you most likely get a dull brown. But blend them with real artistry and you create a nuanced shade that has its own unique identity.

For true typicity, however, there is the Den Hoed 2006 Andreas Cabernet Sauvignon ($80) made by Gilles Nicault of Long Shadows. This is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Wallula vineyard, and it’s a silky, concentrated Cabernet that spent 30 months in oak before being bottled. Tight, focused, pure, and firm, this classic Cabernet Sauvignon offers bucketloads of sweet cassis and cherry fruit, sculpted with crisp acids and polished tannins.

It is my sincere hope that as Washington viticulture and winemaking continue to evolve, more winemakers will take on the challenge of finding and expressing such magnificent typicity, no matter how risky and elusive it may prove to be.

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