the buty and the betz

Monday, March 15, 2010

It’s a little too soon for baseball’s all-star nominations, but as far as Washington winemakers are concerned, I think we can put Caleb Foster and Bob Betz in the starting lineup right now. Brand new releases from both winemakers show them in top form, working with a vintage (2007) that many of this state’s winemakers consider to be superb.

As the most-anticipated red wines from 2007 hit the shelves, I find myself agreeing. 2007 is going to be counted among a handful of truly great Washington vintages.

At Buty on Friday I tasted three upcoming (spring) releases, highlighted by the 2007 Rediviva of the Stones ($55). In earlier incarnations this syrah/cab blend used grapes purchased from Christophe Baron, but the Fosters now farm their own land and expect to make this an all-estate grown wine soon. In 2007 the grapes were sourced from Lafore and River Rock (using the Tablas Creek syrah clone). Just 360 cases were made. Violets and compost dance through the aromas, leading into an intensely fruity palate loaded with sappy berry richness, nuanced with scents and streaks of cured meat, garrigue, earth and graphite. It strikes a perfect balance among fruit, earth, and rock, but at its core it’s wrapped tight, immaculately clean, and still almost impenetrably dense.

Buty’s 2007 Champoux Vineyard Red ($55) is built upon the splendid fruit from this world-class site in the Horse Heaven Hills. Just 120 cases were made. The blend is 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Cabernet Franc, and the opening notes – a marvelous mix of cherries, rocks, and chocolate – suggest a wine of immense power. Taransaud barrels translate to low toast, not smoky. Perfect ripeness with flavors of rock and acid preserved. This wine has it all – depth, blue and purple fruits, polished tannins – and probably a 25 year lifespan. The best wine yet from this talented winemaker.

I also had a glimpse of 2008, as Buty is releasing the 79% Merlot/21% Cabernet Franc from that vintage ($40). It’s a Right Bank-ish blend, wild and slightly brambly, with dark streaks of iron and pencil lead, moist earth and herb. Hints of green coffee creep into the finish; this is most definitely a red wine from a cooler site in a cooler vintage, but with the classic structure of Bordeaux.

A few days earlier I sat with Bob Betz and as usual the conversation ran round in animated circles, constantly coming back to all things vinous, and particularly the newest releases from Betz Family. In his own words, Betz is always striving to “get out of the mold, continue to experiment. 95% of winemaking is fixed, but the other 5% is refreshing.” To give you a sense of how far he takes his experimenting, I was invited to the winery a year ago for a tasting of 2007 Clos de Betz and Père de Famille from eight different barrels.

He was preparing to blend all the barrels prior to bottling the wines. So the varietal blend was done; the last tasting review was expressly for educational purposes. Samples from new barrels of the master blend were poured from each of the coopers. Each sample had been in the exact same barrel for six months, untouched except for topping and SO2 adjustments. “The cooperage signatures will never be as apparent as right now,” Betz explained, “when the wines have rested long in the exact same barrel.”

Those two wines have just been released, and they continue an unbroken string of excellence from Betz Family. The Betz Family 2007 Clos de Betz Red Wine ($45) is 57% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec, 5% Cab Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. This is the last year that Cab Franc and Malbec will be included at all, Betz told me. The Clos de Betz is more forward than the monumental Père de Famille, and sports ripe, dark, round, appealing fruit flavors of luscious raspberry and cassis, swathed in beaucoup de barrel. Toasty oak dissolves into polished tannins, finishing with black tea, licorice, smoke and charcoal. Yummy.

Bigger, beefier, bolder and simply breathtaking is the Betz Family 2007 Père de Famille Cabernet Sauvignon ($60). Included with the cab are smaller percentages of merlot and petit verdot. “They play supporting roles,” Betz explains, “contributing mineral and black olive hints.” Sweet, pure fruit – black currants and black cherry and blackberry – is packed tight here, concentrated and polished, but needing hours to breathe open. Dense, dusty, complex, complicated, sophisticated beyond description – you quickly run out of descriptors. The mailing list is closed, and these wines are not likely to last in the marketplace very long, so act now if you want them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bought some Buty, always a fan, but the 2007, wow! Blew me away!

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