eric asimov raids my cellar

Sunday, April 14, 2013

“Riding With The King” was the soundtrack running through my head on Saturday during a two hour tasting of older Washington wines with Eric Asimov of the New York Times. Eric was visiting Walla Walla – his first time tour of eastern Washington – as a guest of Whitman College and geologist Kevin Pogue. They had spent the day visiting Red Mountain and Snipes Mountain vineyards, and pulled up in front of my Waitsburg cottage around 5 in the afternoon, looking a bit parched. We soon took care of that!

I’d offered to open a selection of well-aged wines from my cellar, and I had a lovely time earlier in the day pulling bottles from the shelves and considering which to show to Eric. One of the principal reasons I keep a large percentage of Washington wines in my rather cramped cellar is exactly for occasions such as this, when a visiting writer or winemaker comes calling. It’s great fun for me also, and there is always a surprise or two lurking among the bottles.

Eric and I have met on several occasions, but this was the first time he’d been out to eastern Washington, and certainly Waitsburg had not previously been on his radar. The opportunity to taste with him at my home in a most relaxed and unhurried way was truly special. We all owe Kevin Pogue a debt of gratitude for his work putting the trip together, and giving Eric a fine look at Washington terroir.

They’d asked that the tasting be limited to just six wines, and wanted to avoid over-the-top, high alcohol styles. This was not really that difficult with older vintages. As anyone can see, alcohol levels rose steadily through the last decade up until the 2010 and 2011 vintages, which knocked them well back. I opened the six wines about three hours before the tasting began. I wanted to get the cork-wrestling out of the way, check their condition, and give them a little breathing time. If there happened to be a bottle that seemed less than stellar, I would have switched it out for another. But in fact, all six showed well right out of the starting gate.

This was not a blind tasting, nor was it formal in any way. It felt more like three good friends getting together to enjoy some conversation and some interesting wines. That’s how the afternoon rolled, as we poured and tasted and chatted and laughed on into early evening.

First up were a pair of Merlots – a 2003 Walla Walla Vintners (14.2% alcohol) and a 2005 Leonetti Cellar (14.3% alcohol). The Vintners bottle was a classic, with dusty, ripe fruit and toasty highlights, smooth and delicious with a mocha-like ending. I felt it was probably at its peak. The Leonetti was still showing a great deal of youthful raspberry fruit and refreshing acidity; it might have been the current release rather than a wine entering its eighth year. If I had to choose, I would give the Leo a slight edge, for its tangy, vivacious fruit; Asimov preferred the lusciousness of the Walla Walla Vintners wine.

Four Cabernets followed. There was a 2003 Woodward Canyon ‘Old Vines’ (14.4% alcohol) that I had particularly wanted to include as a rebuke to the idiotic John Mariani comment that Rick Small’s wines wouldn’t age well. This wine drew high praise from all of us for its structure, texture and length. I especially liked the fascinating mix of dusty cherry fruit, highlights of mushroom and beautifully-ripened tannins.

A 2002 Januik ‘Seven Hills Vineyard’ Cabernet followed (14.1% alcohol). The cork on this wine turned to powder and gave me a bit of a fight, but I’d gotten it out without the powder falling into the wine, and it had blossomed over the three hours into a very appealing wine, a bit softer than the others, with ripe strawberry fruit and a slightly herbal finish.

The last two wines were the oldest and in many respects, the most interesting of the day. Those notes and comments will be on the next blog post.

1 comment:

Judy Phelps, Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards said...

I just finished reading Mr. Asimov's new book "How to Love Wine" which I really enjoyed and connected with. I was struck by the absence of any reference to Washington wine in the book. I took that to mean he is not a fan. Maybe this visit will turn him into one.

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