Seattle Wine Blog

This blog is dedicated to commentary on all aspects of wine, especially short entries to help you find the best wines without the usual hype and spin. These are my frank, independent opinions, usually based on tasting wine at a public event, off the shelf or at the winery. "All creative acts must arise out of a specific soil and flicker with a spirit of place" -D.H. Lawrence

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Wine Blogging Wednesday #34 - Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon

Well, it's wine blogging Wednesday #34 hosted by Catie, the Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman at Through the Walla Walla Grapevine. Catie chose Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon. How fortunate, am I, to live in Seattle? Good luck to all of you out there in Montreal, Tokyo and Beaumont, Texas. Catie wanted to do Walla Walla Cabernet, but there are two difficulties with that. First, availability, in general, outside of Washington State is limited. Second, 2004 seems to be the current vintage and because of frost in January 2004, relatively little 2004 Walla Walla Cabernet was made. Most Walla Walla winemakers, like Jean Francois Pellet at Pepper Bridge, had to beg, borrow, and steal to get grapes from elsewhere in the Columbia Valley. Leonetti was a proud and rare exception. So I will leave Walla Walla Cabs to Catie.

There are very few pure 100% Cabs anywhere in the world , especially in Washington. IMO, this is fortunate because I believe that blending different varietals creates more interesting and complex wines. There are so many wonderful Washington Cabs, it was a hard choice. Just here in Puget Sound we could have chosen among Quilceda Creek, DeLille, Januik, Novelty Hill, Red Sky, Willis Hall, Note Bene, "OS" , or Fall Line to name just a few. We did choose wines from three local Puget Sound wineries. We chose winemakers with a strong interest in "terroir." Even though the wineries are in the metropolitan Seattle area, the grapes are grown in Eastern Washington. We chose wineries that had access to great vineyards. Chris Carmada at Andrew Will winery on Vashon Island made wines from three great Washington vineyards each in a different AVA. We tasted his 2004 Ciel du Cheval from Red Mountain, his Sheridan Vineyard from the Yakima Valley and his Champoux Vineyard from Horse Heaven Hills on the Columbia River. We could just as well have done something similar with Ben Smith and Gaye McNutt's vineyard specific wines from Tapteil, Klipsun, and Ciel du Cheval, all , however, from Red Mountain, but we chose to taste only Cadence 2004 Ciel du Cheval. Finally we tasted 2004 Soos Creek Cabernet made by Dave Larsen, another Boeing Wine Club graduate. Of course, these wines are very young. Years ago, it would have immediately been assumed to be a case of infanticide. Most of these wines are relatively undeveloped, but, interestingly, traditional palate refreshers for wine judges such as roast beef and olives, not only picked up the palate, but strikingly made the wine taste better, even more so than cheese. Was this a foretelling of the future or a deception? Is this why in so many wine judgings as many as 60% of the wines win medals? Clearly there are economic motives, but perhaps the olives and beef help. Here's the beef - specifically the wines we tasted:

1) The 2004 Andrew Will Ciel du Cheval "Cabernet" was 48% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 7% Petit Verdot. Hey, at least it has some Cab in it!

2) The 2004 Andrew Will Sheridan Vineyard was 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. More Cab here!

3) The 2004 Andrew Will Champoux Vineyard was 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 9% Petit Verdot. A little bit more, sir!

4) The 2004 Cadence Ciel du Cheval was 39% Cabernet Franc, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, and 8% Petit Verdot. I guess you could say we tasted Cab blends!

5) The 2004 Soos Creek was 84% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Cabernet Franc. Finally a real Cab!

To assist me in this single blind tasting of these five "Cabs", I called in some of the best palates in the west - Sam, Carol and Diane. Even though the most interesting question was about the winemaker's signature and "terroir," by force of habit everyone started to rank the wines by their preference. Overall these wines were very similar in their taste profile and their quality, but two wines did stand out statistically. The group had a distinct preference for the 2004 Cadence Ciel du Cheval, in a way, not that strange, since this came from a half bottle. On average, the group liked the Andrew Will Sheridan the least. There really weren't any significant differences in the average scores for the other three wines. The final empirical test? What's left in the bottle? The Cadence Ciel du Cheval was all drunk up. The Andrew Will Ciel had just a few drops left as did the Soos Creek. The Andrew Will Champoux had about a quarter of a bottle left and the AW Sheridan was left untouched except for the initial two once pours. I preferred the Andrew Will Ciel du Cheval followed by the Andrew Will Champoux and liked the AW Sheridan the least, too. The Cadence Ciel was the easiest to drink and the Soos Creek just flowed down your gullet, even though it still had a fair amount of tannin and was big in a typical Cab way.

What does all this mean? First and foremost it means that Washington State "Cabs" are excellent, interesting wines. With the exception of the Andrew Will Sheridan, scores for these wines would have hovered around "90". As usual, tasters ranked the wines by current hedonistic pleasure. The winemakers had different goals in mind when they made these wines. Cadence wines are made with a wide window of drinkability in mind. The Ciel du Cheval was definitely ready to drink even though it could probably improve with a little ageing. The Soos Creek was a harder wine with a little more backbone and will probably get even better as it gets older. Chris Carmada's wines are made to age. We tasted the 1998 Ciel du Cheval when it was eight years old and it was like a wonderful Bordeaux. Having tasted wine "professionally" for the past thirty years, I've learned to cancel out tannin and estimate what a wine will be like with age. The Andrew Will Ciel and Champoux are beautiful wines with good fruit now, but they will age well. The Sheridan was a surprise compared to Sheridan owner and winemaker Scott Greer's Orage which is magnificent. Perhaps Scott reserved the best grapes for himself.

Ah, yes, terroir! The three Andrew Will wines were very different from each other, on the other hand Diane, identified the Andrew Will Sheridan and Champoux as coming from the same hand. In retrospect, it seemed that the three wines from Ciel du Cheval vineyard had a family resemblance, but did anybody identify them blind? As Carol said, "perhaps [terroir] is mythology." But is wine about scientific data or is it about mythology(Yo, Bacchus) , romance and subjective pleasure? What a pleasure it was to participate in Wine Blogging Wednesday #34. Thanks, Catie!

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