thank heaven it's finally may!

Monday, May 02, 2011

I don't know where you live, but round here April really sucked! May came in yesterday like a switch labeled "Spring" had finally been flipped. We ripped out dead plants in the garden and put in new ones. And I thought about some of the highlights of the week and month gone by.

On Thursday last week I had the extreme pleasure of attending a vertical tasting of Walla Walla Vintners' Cuvée wines. Owners Myles Anderson and Gordy Veneri have made this an annual occurrence, each year featuring a different set of wines from their library. The Cuvée, they explained, was originally "a grand accident". In 1996 there wasn't enough wine to make a single varietal, so they opted for a blend (it was a bad freeze year). It was so successful that customers began requesting it, and so in 1999 they started making it again.

We tasted every vintage – 1996, 1999 – 2008, and the unreleased 2009, along with a single vineyard 2009 Cuvée from Cordon Grove. I found the younger wines, that had retained the freshest fruit, were my solid favorites. Some highlights:

*** 2005 – Washington State Cuvée. The most diverse (8 varieties) blend so far, and the most delicious of all the older vintages. Spicy, with mint, pepper, bright acidity, sculpted tannins, and some pretty herb.

** 2006 – Washington State Cuvée. 7 varieties, 8 vineyards, 4 AVAs. A little leather in the nose but not in the flavor. Firm, good concentration, with muscular fruit and stiff but ripe tannins. Drinking well right now, with a shell of tannin and streaks of licorice and anise.

** 2007 – Washington State Cuvée. 7 varieties, 8 vineyards. Nice blend, smooth and spicy, with peppery/herbal highlights around light strawberry fruit. Some cherry highlights. Not a big wine in the mouth, but balanced and refined.

*** 2009 – Yakima Valley Cordon Grove Vineyard Cuvée. A blend of 60/40 Cab Franc and Merlot. Lovely, though nothing like any previous Cuvées. Cassis, black fruits, fine-grained tannins, black tea, dark chocolate. Lovely bottle. Best of show.

** 2009 – Washington State Cuvée (unreleased). Young but nicely integrated flavors, with primary red fruits, lots of barrel spice, some white pepper, green tea, good persistence.

Later that day I paid a visit to Billo Naravane at Rasa. This is clearly one of Walla Walla's rising star wineries, and one that should be a must-see for anyone coming over for spring release next weekend. Among the highlights: a new sister label, named pb, with lower pricing and an unusual (and delicious) Pinot Gris. Also a rare 100% Mourvèdre, and a preview of the not-yet-released Rasa Vineyards 2008 Principia Reserve Syrah, a tight, dense, deeply detailed wine, dramatically structured for long term aging. Still showing a fair amount of herb and forest floor flavors, but clearly the ripe, deep fruit is there, albeit quite compact. The structure of this wine is absolutely perfect. Get on the mailing list now.

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of playing music and tasting wines at Balboa's Spring Release party. New single vineyard varietal wines were premiered, from a vineyard in the Rocks named LeFore. The new owners are still undecided about whether or not to keep the name, but there is no doubt about the fruit. It's a principal component in DoubleBack, and delivers focused, gravelly, outstanding concentration in these well-priced offerings from Balboa.

A couple of quick thoughts for those coming over for Spring Release next weekend. First, make your restaurant reservations now! Second, plan your visits to minimize driving times. Third, come on up and visit Waitsburg. In fact, if you are still in search of lodging, our brand new, two bedroom, two bath 3 Maples Cottage is still available as of this morning. A great headquarters for wine touring the east end, downtown and airport wineries, and an easy walk to the Whoopemup Hollow Cafe and jimgermanbar.

I will be playing music with my partner Pete Crawford on Friday at Dunham Cellars (beginning at 5pm) and Sinclair Estate's downtown tasting room (beginning at 7pm). Hope to see some of you there!

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