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Friday, June 25, 2010

Each year for the past four, Myles Anderson and Gordy Venneri have hosted a vertical tasting of one of their Walla Walla Vintners wines. Past events have focused on Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot; yesterday it was Sangiovese in the spotlight. Both men confessed to being a bit nervous about showing ten vintages of Sangiovese to the group of friends, winemakers and press that they’d invited. They had never done a 10-year Sangiovese vertical before – I don’t know of anyone in this state who has. They need not have worried. The wines were absolutely thrilling.

I am going to post up my raw tasting notes, with scores, though I have not had the time to go back and see how these new scores match up with my original reviews. No matter, if they are different, so be it. No one had any idea how these wines would age, and I tend to be a conservative scorer with young wines. Two of my favorite vintages – 1999 and 2004 – were poles apart. Red wines of all types from 1999 have been proving themselves remarkably ageworthy, though the vintage was panned by most out-of-state reviewers (for the record, I loved it from the start). And 2004 was a terrible freeze year, when Anderson and Venneri had to scramble for grapes from new sources.

They have made other changes along the way; in fact, the only consistent thread has been that all 10 of these wines had enough Sangiovese in them to qualify as varietal. The first vintages were blended with Cabernet Sauvignon exclusively. In 2002 that was dropped in favor of Syrah. In 2003 and ever since, some Malbec was also included (“to round it out and give more body in the mid-palate” says Venneri). If you are lucky enough to have any of these back vintages, I’d say drink up everything prior to 2005. A six to 10 year window seems optimal for these wines. The younger vintages – 2006, 2007 and 2008 – seem raw and undeveloped in comparison. Let them age awhile and the latter two in particular should do extremely well. Here are my notes, with scores reflecting current drinkability and, for the younger wines, future prospects.

Walla Walla Vintners 1999 Sangiovese
Columbia Valley
Original retail: $25
Smoky nose, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, drinking beautifully right now; with soft, sweet, raisin and prune fruit flavors, juicy acidity, a soft but full spread across the palate, and lingering grace notes of tobacco, black olive, nutmeg, dried herb. I could drink this all night! 92

Walla Walla Vintners 2000 Sangiovese
Columbia Valley
Original retail: $24
Up to 23% Cabernet Sauvignon. A shade lighter than the ’99, and it tastes further along the aging curve, the fruit fading and the acidity coming up. Quite a lot of brown sugar in the nose, along with soft leather, pie cherry, subtle vanilla bean, a hint of milk chocolate, and still firm tannins. Medium length. 90

Walla Walla Vintners 2001 Sangiovese
Columbia Valley
Original retail: $24
This is 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, done with SuperTuscan style in mind. Spicy with brown sugar and seed scents – caraway, poppy – and the most full-bodied so far. It’s got a great mid-palate, supple with mature cherry/berry fruit flavors, and cut tobacco. It loses steam in the finish, failing to add the complexity of the earlier vintages. But a delicious bottle, drinking quite well. 89

Walla Walla Vintners 2002 Sangiovese
Columbia Valley
Original retail: $24
Now the blend changed to 20% Syrah (Morrison Lane vineyard). No Cabernet. A lighter vintage, without the stuffing or complexity of the previous years. The switch to Syrah did not seem to help the aging of the wine; it feels thinner than the others, with little fruit sweetness, just orange peel, strawberry, dried herb, and a tinge of green in the tannins. 87

Walla Walla Vintners 2003 Sangiovese
Columbia Valley
Original retail: $24
Again Syrah (13%, Morrison Lane) was added, and for the first time Malbec (5%, Pepper Bridge). Back to a more complete wine, moving nicely along the aging curve, with polished tannins, and a good mix of purple fruits, Provençal herbs, spice and coffee grounds. Though it thins out and gets astringent in the finish, it does bring in some nice complexity, minerality and focus. 90

Walla Walla Vintners 2004 Sangiovese
Columbia Valley
Original retail: $24
5% Syrah (Goose Ridge) and 5% Malbec (Snipes Canyon). From here on, there was Kiona End of the Road Sangio in the blend. Lovely aromatics, lush and loaded with Asian spicebox notes. Also truffle and soft leather, maybe at a real aging peak. Still loaded with sweet fruits, plenty of chocolate, nice peppery highlights – this wine really has it all going on, but it does hit a wall that suggests it’s at its peak. 91

Walla Walla Vintners 2005 Sangiovese
Columbia Valley
Original retail: $24
9% Malbec, 8% Syrah (Goose Ridge). Beautiful aromatics again – 5-6 years may be the sweet spot for these wines. Nicely defined with coffee, curry and caramel accents. But the fruit is still center-stage, bright and sappy boysenberry and sour cherry. Tannins still need smoothing out, they have a slightly bitter, stemmy character. Second bottle – more sweet, ripe fruit character, that covers up the stemmy tannins. 90

Walla Walla Vintners 2006 Sangiovese
Columbia Valley
Original retail: $24
12% Syrah (Goose Ridge), 5% Malbec (Dwelley, Pepper Bridge). This is still in its youth, and possibly in a mildly “dumb” period. The fruit is tart and tight, showing plum and unripe berry, with plenty of leaf and bark also. Tannins are stiff and need more softening; in keeping with the vintage, this is a difficult, hard, unyielding wine. 87?

Walla Walla Vintners 2007 Sangiovese
Columbia Valley
Original retail: $24
14% Syrah (Goose Ridge), 9% Malbec. A high percentage of non-Sangiovese in the blend. Surprisingly, this is not as impressive as some older bottles, but perhaps it just needs time to evolve. Subtle hints of a wide variety of herbs, mint, leather, earth, and truffle are wrapped into very tart, very tight, very young berry and plum fruit. Some chocolatey oak is also evident. This wine needs another five years! 91/93?

Walla Walla Vintners 2008 Sangiovese
Columbia Valley
Original retail: $24
9% Malbec, 8% Syrah (Goose Ridge). Extremely young, tart, primary fruit. Excellent concentration, pure fruit, good balance, and threads of the details that will ultimately emerge – herb, fungus, earth and pepper. Seems very young compared with the beautifully aged older wines. Is Sangio the hidden jewel of ageworthy Washington wines? 92?

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

20% Syrah? 21% Cab? As a Sangiovese grower/vintner, my response is that the wine may indeed have been quite good. Sangiovese, they were not.

KENTONRP said...

As a Sangiovese grower/vintner, then you know the law says 75% has to be of that varietal. And 95% has to be from Washington/AVA, so Sangiovese they are!

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