which is the true value wine?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

In a recent blind tasting, I included (among a range of about a dozen wines) three that covered a broad spectrum of prices but were comparable in that they were all Columbia Valley Cabernets or Cab-dominated Bordeaux blends. The results were quite interesting.

The first wine was the 2010 Soos Creek Sundance Red Wine. It’s the value-priced red in the Soos Creek lineup, and though it’s often a good deal, in this new vintage it’s a great deal. A Bordeaux-style blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot and 19% Cabernet Franc, it has a full array of plum, cherry, cassis and chocolate flavors, lightly leavened with a dash of herb. Tannins are dusty and detailed, and the wine has the stuffing to age over the next half decade or more.

The second wine was the 2010 L’Ecole No 41 Pepper Bridge Vineyard Apogee. This wine, made since 1993 by this founding Walla Walla vintner, is also a Cabernet-dominated, Bordeaux-style blend. In this vintage it was quite smooth and forward, with a mix of red and blue fruits. Buoyed by juicy acidity, it seemed almost to float across the palate, light and approachable.

The third wine was a ringer of sorts. The 2007 XIX Echo West Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is from a vineyard in eastern Oregon’s small slice of the Columbia Valley. Almost six years old and only recently released, XIX comes with a celebrity backer (ex-NFL star Keyshawn Johnson), an immense bottle, and a fancy website.

What made the results particularly interesting was the range of prices. In the Pacific Northwest, even now, it’s rare to find wines costing more than $50 or $60. Those may be entry-level prices for many Napa valley wineries, but top tier for most of the wineries up here. Most red wines, good as they may be, will cost between $25 and $45, even at full retail.

When the notes are taken and scores calculated, it’s always interesting to see how the wines are priced. In this tasting, the Soos Creek was the clear favorite. Although it definitely had an herbal edge to the finish, those flavors were beautifully integrated into a wine with all the other components – fruit, acid, tannin – in perfect proportion. From the first sip I thought “this is a wine I want to drink with dinner.” And so it was. And so I did.

The Apogee was even more forward, though perhaps less complex. Coming from a single vineyard, in a vintage cut short by a very early freeze, it had been picked over a period of two weeks, but relatively early in the season. A delicious wine for near term drinking, certainly. Long term? Anybody’s guess.

As for the XIX, I confess to having some doubts about celebrity wines in heavy bottles, but in a blind flight, you taste what you taste. Mostly I tasted heavy toast, which, it turned out, came from aging for 18 months in Hungarian oak. I found the XIX so tannic and toasty it seemed burned. A lot of breathing time helped to bring out more expressive flavors of cooked plum and raisins. The website lists a number of outlets, mostly in California, where the wine may be purchased at retail or on a wine list. There is no indication as to who actually made the wine, or if there are any subsequent vintages waiting to be released.

The Sundance retails for $20; the Apogee for $50, the XIX for $125. Full notes and scores will be published in a future edition of Wine Enthusiast magazine. The Sundance is my Pick of the Week this week.

Given the quality, a look at the entire Soos Creek lineup is in order. Along with the sensational Sundance there is another superb value, the 2010 Soos Creek Palisade Red ($25). Palisade is Merlot-based, with 11% Cabernet Sauvignon filling out the blend. Muscular and complex, this is Merlot at a level rarely found at this price. Cherry, cassis, earth, graphite and mineral flavors mingle seamlessly, from a brilliant mix of vineyards including Champoux, Ciel du Cheval, DuBrul and Klipsun.

The 2010 Soos Creek Artist Series #10 Red ($30) is roughly half and half Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, with just a splash of Merlot. It’s a pretty, fruit-forward wine, with cherry and berry flavors that carry a gentle whiff of leather.

The 2010 Soos Creek Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Wine ($35) is 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Cabernet Franc and 8% Merlot. It’s a full-bodied wine with deep black cherry and cassis fruit. A streak of iron runs through the well-modulated tannins. As usual with this vineyard, a few more years of bottle age are recommended.

I have sung the praises of Soos Creek for many years. Dave Larsen has acquired a remarkable portfolio of spectacular grape sources, including Bacchus, Champoux, Ciel du Cheval, Dineen, DuBrul, Klipsun, Lewis, Riverbend and Weinbau. And yet he keeps his prices at levels not much changed in the past 15 years. If you have not yet discovered his wines, I urge you to do so.

Soos Creek


Ron Washam, HMW said...

I'll second the motion that people who want really wonderful wines at ridiculously fair prices need to get on Soos Creek's mailing list. I took your advice about Dave Larsen's wines a couple of years ago, and I've not been disappointed.

David Larsen said...

Paul, Thanks for featuring our wines and for mentioning our value-pricing. If I raised prices, I'd have to work harder. But I've gotten too lazy for that.

And thank you Hosemaster for recommending our wines!

PaulG said...

I don't know who is more self-deprecating, you or our friend Ron. Cut it out you guys – you both work like dogs. Me, I just dog work...

ibglowin said...

I snagged a couple of bottles a few months ago when we were in Seattle from McCarthy & Schiering thanks to Sean Sullivan. Now resting quietly in the cellar.

PaulG said...

ibglowin - enough rest! Let Sean out of your cellar!

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