modern wines for modern palates

Thursday, May 26, 2011

For some years now, many young American winemakers have been trying to modernize their wines. They have set their sights on seemingly simple goals – ripen fruit appropriately, minimize intervention during fermentation and after, reduce alcohol levels, and aim for elegance, finesse and detail in the finished wines.

I thoroughly applaud such attributes, and am delighted when they show up in the wines I review. But crafting such wines is not in any way easy. Vintage variation, widely varying consumer preferences, the conflicting demands of on-premise and other retail clients, distributors with their camel's nose in the winemaker's tent – all these things and more can thwart the best of intentions.

This week I have had the extreme pleasure of tasting through new and upcoming releases from two relative newcomers to Washington state winemaking. Both left successful careers elsewhere to move to eastern Washington and set up wineries. Both arrived with very specific ideas about what they wanted to achieve. And in just a half dozen vintages each, they have not only met those goals, they have moved themselves and their wines to the front ranks of rising superstars who have their fingers solidly on the pulse of the trends that are defining the next era of winemaking here in the Northwest.

Gramercy Cellars was awarded a four star ranking in the second edition of my book (see pp. 168 - 169), while Maison Bleue was noted as a rising star (see pp. 275 - 276). Whether the disparity is due to my own lack of discernment, or a different evolution into superior quality wines, I will let you, my gentle readers, decide for yourselves. Whatever. These are both equally superior wineries, with extremely hard working, creative, focused and truly talented winemaker/owners at the helm.

Full reviews and scores of these current releases will appear in an upcoming issue of Wine Enthusiast.

Gramercy's Greg Harrington arrived with impeccable sommelier credentials – the youngest American ever to pass the Master Sommelier Exam. His Washington odyssey began in the Spring of 2004, at a backyard picnic in Brooklyn, hosted by the Walla Walla Wine Alliance. There, Greg and his wife Pam tasted wines that stunned them, being very different what they had come to expect from American wines. They moved to Walla Walla, and immediately began the task of finding how to make such wines for their own label.

Just released:

Gramercy Cellars 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon; $45
Aromas of dark berries, cassis, smoke, earth and toast. The fruit is surprisingly open and tastes more like red berries than black; the acidity perfectly balances and stretches out the flavors.

Gramercy Cellars 2008 Lagniappe Syrah; $45
An outstanding and uniquely styled Syrah. The mix of tart fruits, peppers, herbs, earth and forest floor flavors is riveting.

Here is a preview of some Gramercy wines that will be released in the fall.

Gramercy Cellars 2009 Inigo Montoya Tempranillo; $45
A dark core of smoke and espresso, wrapped around clean red fruits and moderate acidity. Fine structure and depth.

Gramercy Cellars 2009 Syrah; $45
A very firm and well-structured expression of Walla Walla Syrah, with a core of blueberry/blackberry fruit, amply wrapped in sweetly toasty, smoky oak.

Gramercy Cellars 2009 Lower East Cabernet Sauvignon; $32
Juicy and sappy, a generous burst of strawberries, raspberries, and red fruits, with plenty of spark and vitality.

Gramercy Cellars 2009 The Third Man Red; $45
Pungent, spicy, with supple and luxurious fruit, a mix of raspberry and black fruits, baking spices, sweet barrel flavors. Da bomb!

Maison Bleue's Jon Martinez has put his focus squarely on Yakima valley vineyards. His newest wines are his best ever. He is sourcing grapes from superb sites such as Boushey, Olsen, Upland, and his own French Creek. Rhône varieties and blends are the stock in trade, and belong in the first rank of such wines being made anywhere in this country. The word is getting out, so if you want these wines, get on the mailing list now.

Maison Bleue 2010 Au Contraire French Creek Vineyard Chardonnay; $20
This unique old vine Chardonnay vineyard makes cool climate grape flavors as interesting and complex as any fruit bomb. It’s Chablis without the chalk.

Maison Bleue 2009 Jaja White; $15
A blend of Marsanne, Chardonnay and Roussanne, this is bright and fruity, with a streak of vanilla.

Maison Bleue 2009 Soleil Roussanne; $25
Luscious aromas – stone fruits, candy, wax, peel, honey, cumin, allspice – just keeps on going. Firm in the mouth, with the same exotic and refined blend of interesting spices and fruits.

Maison Bleue 2009 Jaja Red; $20
Half Grenache and half Syrah, from Boushey and Upland. Tart and sappy, bursting with raspberry and pie cherry tang.

Maison Bleue 2009 Upland Vineyard La Montagnette Grenache; $35
As fine a Grenache as I have yet tasted from Washington state, this aching purity of the fruit, married to the density, focus and minerality, is breathtaking.

Maison Bleue 2009 Upland Vineyard Gravière G.S.M.; $40
Half Syrah, one quarter each Grenache and Mourvèdre, sourced from the Upland Vineyard in the tiny Snipes Mountain AVA. A revelation. Pure berries, cassis, rock, earth, licorice, and a hint of baking spices.

Gramercy Cellars
Maison Bleue


Wes Cook said...

Great post Paul and thanks for pointing out Gramercy...I'll have to track down some of their juice. I had the pleasure of trying the Maison Bleue wines at Taste Washington PDX a few weeks ago and totally agree with you. Outstanding wines and wonderful values IMO. Cheers!

Rand Sealey said...

Yes, Paul, Greg Harrington and Jon Martinez both are doing great jobs with their wines.

Jo Diaz said...

Love the image!


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