art in a bottle

Monday, August 02, 2010

There are many winemakers who are artists, who make wine from the gut more than the lab, and who display a refined sensibility akin to a fine painter. But there are very few visual artists who are winemakers. In the Northwest I can think of only James Frey at Trisaetum winery in Oregon, and Tim Stevens at Stevens winery in Woodinville.

I’ve been drawn to Stevens wines since I first visited the tasting room some years ago. It was not just the dark intensity of the artwork, which adorns the walls of the winery and its labels as well, but also the dark intensity of the red wines. Tim Stevens quickly accomplished what most winemakers cannot do in a lifetime – he established a distinctive and personal style, a stamp that is placed upon all his red wines, that does not interfere with the amplification of site and vintage, but infuses them. I liken it to a great guitar player, who not only has the chops, but the tone. You need to hear just a single note or two to identify Clapton or Knopfler, for example. A sip or two and you know you’re drinking Stevens.

What distinguishes these wines is their darkness, density, and depth. Stevens draws from a handful of top-notch Yakima valley vineyards, including some in the Rattlesnake Hills and some on Red Mountain, but he labels them all Yakima Valley, a respectful tribute to that often-underrated AVA. In a tasting of current and upcoming releases, I found these to be the best wines overall from this winery to date.

Were I to pick a favorite, it would be the Stevens 2007 XY Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (due for September release – $42), a blend of the best barrel lots from the Sheridan, Dineen and Meek vineyards. It’s thick and dense, with chewy and substantial tannins. They dominate this young wine, but the stacked and subtle layers of red and black fruits, leaf and forest floor materials, moist earth and ashes keep the flavors complex and interesting. This wine absolutely must be decanted, and can be cellared almost indefinitely.

Close behind is the Stevens 2008 Merlot ($28) – half DuBrul and half Meek vineyard fruit. It’s a far cry from what most consumers would think of as Merlot – this is a stiff, tannic, muscular wine, with a deep earthiness that speaks of rich loam and ancient rock. It strikes me as more typical of Malbec. The tannins are firm and dense, and the fruits are black as coal and laced with tar and smoke.

The white wines – a 2009 AnotherThought Sauvignon Blanc ($19) and a 2009 Divio Viognier ($21) are richly textural, lushly aromatic, and thrillingly fresh. And there are other pleasures waiting for your discovery – a 2008 Cabernet Franc ($30); a 2007 424 Red ($33 – Mrs. G’s favorite), and a 2008 BlackTongue Syrah ($30).

Here’s a bonus. Already bottled (but not due for release until next winter) is a Stevens 2008 Chupauva Reserve Syrah ($55). Just 90 cases were produced, four barrels, all Dineen vineyard grapes. Dark, primary, and inky, this single vineyard reserve is a first time, and one-time only effort from Stevens. There is a spicy, botanical streak, separate from the black cherry and cassis, the licorice and smoke, the charcoal and earthy components. Big, tight, extremely young and persistent, it will take some years for this to unwrap. For ordering information on all these wines, visit the website.

Stevens Winery

4 comments:

Sam Keirsey said...

Tim and Paige Stevens are wonderful people as well, definitely one of my favorite wineries in Woodinville.

chuck clarke said...

Stevens is also one of my favorite wineries in Woodinville. This week my wife and I have enjoyed both the Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. From your description we are both looking forward to the 2007 XY Cab (the 2006 XY was also quite nice). I also appreciate the time they have taken every time I have visited to educate me on their approach to winemaking!

Scott M said...

Tim has worked in the food industry and is an excellent dessert chef too.

Barely a comment on 424, PG please continue tasting!

PaulG said...

Scott, I try to keep these blogs reasonably short, but since you ask, here's the review of the 424 (a high-scoring wine, like all the rest, when the official reviews are published in Wine Enthusiast):

Stevens 2007 424 Red Blend
Yakima Valley; $33
438 cases; 14.7%
39% Cab Franc, 36% Cab Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot. The blend really expands the mid-palate, without sacrificing the muscularity and density that are the Stevens style. The best 424 to date, this brings Petit Verdot into the blend for the first time, expanding the floral aromatics and deepening the tannins. Fruits are a complex mix of black cherry, blackberry and raisin, with licorice streaking into the finish.

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