a toast to terroir

Monday, April 01, 2013

Terroir is often claimed, but rarely captured. It is easiest to spot by tasting multiple wines from a single vineyard. Boushey and Ciel du Cheval come to mind – each expresses itself consistently no matter who is doing the winemaking.

Less common is finding a clear expression of a place from a vigneron – a winemaker who uses his or her own estate vineyards exclusively. In Washington, the vast majority of winemakers source grapes from far and wide, rather than focusing on estate-grown fruit. There are exceptions – Christophe Baron at Cayuse, Chris Figgins and Leonetti and FIGGINS, Serge Laville at Spring Valley – who do capture specificity in a bottle.

But the most difficult challenge is to make wines that typify a place that is far away from the actual winery. Which is one of the great strengths of Tim and Paige Stevens at Woodinville’s Stevens winery.
Though the occasional bottle is made from outside a specific part of the Yakima Valley, it is the Stevens wines sourced from DuBrul, Dineen, Sheridan and Meek in particular that typify a certain terroir. To put it succinctly, these red wines are lean yet graceful, compact yet generous in their way. They don’t shy away from flavors rich in herbal elements. The fruit is brambly and wild rather than sweet and concentrated. And the wines are almost always cellarworthy.

Stevens sends out a full set of wines to me annually, which often includes several that are not yet released. This allows me to see the entire line up at once, and gives me a very good sense of the house style. It also provides the opportunity to preview some wines that may well sell out in advance. So here’s a quick look at the current and future lineup. (Note – scores will be published, as usual, in Wine Enthusiast later this spring).

Currently available, and highly recommended:

Stevens 2010 Timley Malbec; $30
This is a sleek Malbec, adorned with generous baking spices around a firm core of wild blueberry fruit.

Stevens 2010 Merlot; $30
This is sourced from DuBrul and Meek, and it is remarkably complex, the dark fruits highlighted with toast and baking spices, clove and ginger.

Stevens 2009 424 Red Blend; $35
This Bordeaux blend is built upon a base of firm black fruits, with plenty of cassis.

Stevens 2009 XY Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon; $45
The best of an outstanding lineup of cellar-worthy, Yakima Valley red wines, the XY Reserve opens with a well-finessed bouquet of funk, fruit and flowers. The mid-palate brings compact black fruits, beautifully-structured with firm acids and fine tannins.

Slated for release later this summer, and already showing well:

Stevens 2010 YesOuiSiJa Red; $20
Sharp and spicy, with highlights of pine needle and a thread of smoke.

Stevens 2010 BlackTongue Syrah; $30
Sourced from a single block from the Dineen vineyard, and aged in 50% new French oak. Black fruits abound, along with licorice, tar and a whiff of iodine.

Stevens 2010 StevensFranc Cabernet Franc; $30
Tasted pre-release, this is clearly ready for prime time. It’s both compact and generous, with a core of wild berries soaked in minerals.

On a visit to the winery a few years ago, Tim Stevens confided that “we sell out fairly quickly – the 424 in three weeks, the Reserve about the same.” I have no reason to suspect that any of these wines will last long – except in your own cellar, where they will provide pleasure for many years to come.

Stevens Winery

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