the cutting edge wines of savage grace

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Savage Grace winery, named for owner/vintner Michael Savage and his wife Grace, is tucked into the nondescript cluster of startups just north of downtown Woodinville. It was established in 2011, when a single wine – a Cabernet Franc from the Rattlesnake Hills AVA in the northern Yakima valley – hinted at some of the mineral-infused reds from the Loire valley.

However where those wines all too often (except in the ripest years) have a strong herbal/stem character, this Savage Grace wine showed something different, more elegant, more refined, focused and pure, even in such a cool vintage. The follow-up wines from 2012 are good enough to convince me that Michael Savage has performed the rare trick of establishing a strong identity with a new winery almost immediately. Better still, the wines he is making are fine-tuned to what I like to call the 21st century palate.

What that means is they are wines that favor purity of fruit, natural acidity, moderate levels of alcohol, and minimal intervention. No winemaking tricks are needed or wanted. The wines reflect grape, place and vintage, and the winemaker stands aside and lets them speak for themselves.

For far too long many of Washington’s most noteworthy wines have suffered from the Bigger Is Better syndrome. Talk to the winemakers and they almost always will decry the fact that alcohol levels have crept up by about 1% per decade since the early 1980s. And yet they throw up their hands and say that there really isn’t anything to be done about it.

Why not?

Of course there is plenty that can be done about it, and in vintages and vineyards that don’t over-ripen fruit, many excellent wines can be made with alcohol kept well below 14%. This is what Savage has done, and he’s done it with whites and reds, and without sacrificing flavor, balance or complexity.

My colleague Sean Sullivan is charged with reviewing most of these wines for Wine Enthusiast, given the division of duties (by AVA) that has been in place for the past year or so. But I had the opportunity to taste through them all, and was extremely impressed. Michael sent me some notes on his project that he’d written in response to a questionnaire from Sean, and Sean generously agreed to let me share a little bit of it with you on this blog.

SS: When did you first become interested in wine and why?

MS: I think the aha! moment for me was when I realized that wine could actually be part of the meal and take an ordinary meal into a new zone, if the fit was good. And that I didn't need to spend a lot to do so, as long as I understood the wine world better. Rather than spending $50+ on a Napa Cab, for example, I could get a Loire Valley wine that went better with most meals. This really got me into the Cabernet Francs, Sauvignon Blancs, and Chenin Blancs of the Loire Valley and other similar food-friendly wines, like Pinot Noir. There's flavor and texture there, without the big body.

SS: What was the impetus/inspiration for starting the winery?

MS: It was started when I realized that I could make some wines that I felt like fit my style and that I could stand behind. It also helped that I was already in the winemaking world by that time, getting a lot of experience in a winery and with Washington fruit and seeing what sites could make that vision possible.

SS: How did the winery decide on the name?

MS: The name is a joining of my last name and my wife, Grace's, first, but savage also fits with what I think the vine needs to go through for quality wine, and hopefully some grace is what the wine achieves in the end. Also, the idea of a savage quality in the wine, to me, sort of says that I'm not going to be afraid to let the natural qualities of the grape, site and vintage be featured in the resulting wine. With that, of course, comes a lot of responsibility, to pick sites, grapes, wine styles, etc. that will allow that to happen and still making a tasty and sound wine.

PG: Here are my thoughts on the first full release (2012) of Savage Grace wines. A sincere bravo! for a job well done. All qualify as Picks of the Week.

Savage Grace 2012 Red Willow Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc; $15
77 cases; 12.8%
Several different clones are blended into this Loire-influenced Sauvignon Blanc. The freshness and tart, tangy citrus fruit flavors are impressive, and would certainly match well to a plate of raw oysters.

Savage Grace 2012 Underwood Mountain Vineyard Riesling; $17
90 cases; 10.5%
Despite its 1.7% residual sugar, this tart, phenolic, textural effort barely qualifies as off-dry. It could be from the Pfalz, or from Eden Valley in Australia, but in fact comes from the Columbia Gorge in Washington state. Skin and pith rather than flesh fruit flavors, and superb minerality.

Savage Grace 2012 Celilo Vineyard Chardonnay; $20
70 cases; 13.3%
Very well made, with flavors keyed to mineral and natural acidity. The texture and detail are immaculately rendered, and as over-worked as the phrase Burgundian has become, this actually qualifies.

Savage Grace 2012 Copeland Vineyard Cabernet Franc; $22
81 cases; 12.5%
The pure flavors of raspberries over crushed rock recall a young Bourgueil, as does the Euro-level alcohol. There is no hint of green, unripe, or stemminess; just the precise, clean fruit and impressive minerality.

Quantities are very limited and may be ordered directly from the website. They are also being carried at Seattle’s Soul Wine, Pike & Western, McCarthy & Schiering and European Vine Selections wine shops.

2 comments:

Bob Henry (Los Angeles wine industry professional) said...

Paul,

Nice to know there are other "partisans" for Cabernet Franc up in the NW beyond my limited (and favorable) experience with Tamarack Cellars.

Down here in California, we still have a few "die hard champions" for bottling the wine separately. But with the indifference that the retail and restaurant trade shows for the varietal, I wonder how long that will last? (Another varietal consigned to a lonely existence sold exclusively to mailing list patrons . . . alas.)

An ignoble treatment of the noble grape behind Cheval Blanc. (A wine whose 1947 bottling is considered "the best" wine in the world according to discriminating collectors.)

~~ Bob

Yashar Shayan said...

I wonder if he'll do Chenin soon?

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