washington wine grapes: cabernet

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Part four in this week's quick tour of the five most essential varietals grown and made in Washington. In a point/counterpoint article co-authored awhile back with Steve Heimoff, my cohort at Wine Enthusiast, I stuck my neck out (what else is new?) and suggested that single vineyard, 100% cabernet sauvignon – when done right – has potentially just as much specificity and focus (in plain English, terroir) as pinot noir.

My thinking was simply that when a winemaker tells me that he or she could not improve their cabernet by blending, and therefore left it as a pure varietal, there must be something special going on in that bottle – even more so if it is all from a single vineyard. Pinot noirs are frequently made this way; cabernets rarely so. Which makes them far more difficult to pull off successfully, and therefore, more interesting and noteworthy.

This line of thinking was prompted, of course, as a result of tasting dozens and dozens of such single vineyard cabs from Washington vintners: Quilceda Creek “Galitzine Vineyard”, DeLille Cellars “Grand Ciel Vineyard”, Cayuse “En Chamberlin Vineyard”, Owen Roe “DuBrul Vineyard”, Dunham “Lewis Vineyard”, Boudreaux “Champoux Vineyard”, Spring Valley “Derby”… the list goes on and on.

So far, Washington vineyards have remained phylloxera-free, and the state now has some of the oldest cabernet sauvignon vines in North America. Since they are planted on their own rootstock, the roots of these old vines go deep, and their flavors follow, deep and long. It has often been noted that Washington reds seem to express the best qualities of Bordeaux and California in a single wine.

Washington cabernet sauvignon is the grape that best captures this delicate balance. The great ones share an ability to walk the line between precision and opulence. They set their bright, polished fruit against vibrant acid; they integrate their new oak slowly but surely, creating complete wines that are more than the sum of their components. Best of all, they are wines that are delicious young and yet have the capacity to age gracefully over decades. Here are the benchmark and icon examples:

Benchmark: Columbia Crest 2007 Two Vines Cabernet Sauvignon; $8. The best cab from Two Vines to date. What other $8 cabs show this kind of concentration and fruit flavor? Berries, cherries, cassis, plums, coffee and smoke filter through the palate, with just a little bite to the tannins.

Icon: Quilceda Creek 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon; $125. As far as I know, Quilceda has captured more 100 point scores for its cabernet in the past decade than any winery in the world. The winery's track record for making great wines is unbroken, from the first vintage in 1979 on through to the most recent releases. This massive wine has just begun to emerge from its slumber. Fruit flavors of black, brandied cherries, cassis, and bourbon-soaked plums are wrapped in generous, layered oak. The wine is dusty, smoky, laced with streaks of licorice and brightened with sharp acids. It continues to expand further in the glass, adding flesh and spice to its frame, with a cedar/cigar box finish. Should last for decades.

4 comments:

Trey Busch said...

Paul, on Parkers board (Mark Squires) there is a great debate on CA vs WA Cabs/Cab blends, differences and similarities, etc. You and I made some of the same points, a definite cross between CA and Bdx! Great minds think alike!

Plymale said...

I like a floral bouquet in a Washington Cabernet.

Anonymous said...

Huge Smile! Trey, come on now, dont put yourself in the same company as P.G........laughing all the way Merlotman

PaulG said...

Go easy on Trey, Anonymous! If he wants to call us "great minds" it's fine by me!

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