It’s not all that often that I get to write a Tasting Notes column that is, in fact, a bunch of tasting notes. The Monday after Taste Washington is one of those rare days, though. As it is every year, Taste is a chance to take stock of what’s happening in the state, to taste a number of similar wines side-by-side, and to look ahead to what might be coming down the pike.
Cool is Cool
For a few years now, winemakers have been talking more and more about the potential of cooler-climate sites in Washington: the Columbia Gorge, Lake Chelan, and the upper reaches of Naches Heights and Snipes Mountain. This year, there were cool-climate Chardonnays from Savage Grace, The Walls, and Array Vineyards which showed bracing acidity and mineral structure, as well as fun one-offs like Gruner Veltliner from WT Vintners, Edelzwicker from Domaine Pouillon, and Chenin Blanc, Dolcetto, and Cabernet Franc from Memaloose, displaying the potential for cool-styled reds from the area as well.
There’s no doubt that the recent New York Times coverage of Washington Syrah disappointed many winemakers. A category that had perhaps been financially successful but not critically loved a decade ago has come along way, a reality that was only marginally acknowledged in the piece. As such, a number of winemakers were eager not just to talk about what they thought the Times got wrong, but also about what they were doing differently.
Whole-cluster fermentation was the big talking point, as too was earlier pick days and less oak usage. Co-fermenting with Viognier, a technique frequently employed in the Northern Rhone, is on the rise as well. As a result, there was no shortage of Syrahs that combined a meaty, savory aromatic profile with fruit at just the right level of ripeness. Standouts for me included the Two Mountain “Brothers” Syrah, the Two Vintners “Some Days are Stones,” aMaurice’s “Fred,” and Kerloo’s “Les Collines.”
Yet the more hedonistic style hasn’t gone extinct, and Syrahs which aim for a riper style can be delightful in their own right, as offerings from Co Dinn, EFESTE, K Vintners, and Tenet proved. Yes, there are still ones out there that offer little varietal character and taste more like generic red wine, but each year there seem to be fewer.
Change Bubbling Up?
It seems like every year, I lament the paucity of quality sparkling wine options in Washington. Yes, there are a few out there, but given the interest in varietals from Albarino to Zinfandel, you’d think a few more winemakers would want to tackle this incredibly popular category. Granted, sparkling wine is more expensive to make than still wine, and often requires several years (or more) of aging to reach greatness…but so what? There are a few wineries that could perhaps take on the challenge on a large scale; perhaps the next Ste. Michelle collaboration could be with a Champenoise legend. That said, Syncline’s “Scintillation” shows that smaller wineries can make quality bubbles, and if that doesn’t inspire some copy-cats, I’m not sure what will.