Shana Speaks Wine

Wine Journalist, Copywriter, and Marketing Consultant

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Filtering by Tag: Barbera

Walla Walla Washington Wine, Day 1

Ever-fascinated by burgeoning U.S. wine regions outside of Napa,  I've been hearing an escalating hum about the wines of Washington State.  The Pacific Northwest has started producing some rather interesting vinos, and it seemed about time to take a trip to the other coast to see it for myself.  The destination was Walla Walla, Washington, about four and a half hours outside of Seattle. (And you'd better believe I had a lot of fun with the alliteration of "Wines of Walla Walla Washington.  Try saying it 5 times fast, especially after a couple of glasses of the juice).

Walla Walla was granted AVA status in 1984 and has continually strived to excel in viniculture.  It's an eclectic place, with elevations ranging from 400 to 2,000 feet above sea level.  And while everyone associates Seattle with constant rain, there are very distinct rainy seasons once you get out to wine country.  The terroir is also a hodgepodge of soils, giving different characteristics to the grapes.  When visiting some of the wineries, I found many  grow their grapes in various locations around the state to take advantage of the distinct terroirs. Washington wines tend to lean towards Bordeaux blends and single varietal Syrahs but as I learned, there's a whole Old World grape reinassance, such as Italian and Spanish varietals, happening over there, too.  

I was picked up by Sharon of Bella Fortuna Events on a drizzly Thursday morning (I guess I arrived during the rainy season). The first stop was L'ecole 41, one of the original founding wineries in WA state, whose charming tasting room was a converted French schoolhouse.  I was impressed with all of the wines, but the L'ecole 41 Perigee, 2011 was particularly impressive.  The Bordeaux blend showed deep blackberry, blueberry and plum fruits along with spice and medium tannins.  A bit of tobacco and ash also came through on the end and it was very apparent this wine would age well. 
 

L'ecole 41 Perigee.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

L'ecole 41 Perigee.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

The Malbec was also noteworthy and married lush fruit with a structured restraint that kept it from being a total berry bomb. 

L'ecole 41 Malbec.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

L'ecole 41 Malbec.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Located next door, Woodward Canyon was also a noted winery in the region.  I liked everything well enough, but my curiousity was piqued with the Estate Barbera, 2012. While not as earthy as Italian Barberas, nor nowhere near as acidic, it was a riper fruit style that was a unique expression of the grape.  I also enjoyed their Merlot; while it was fruit forward and plush, there were enough tannins to give it structure and backbone, unlike the limpid Merlots that are often found with New World production.

Woodward Canyon's tasting flight.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Woodward Canyon's tasting flight.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Woodward Canyon's Barbera.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

Woodward Canyon's Barbera.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine. 

Unbeknownst to me, Walla Walla is located just a few miles away from the Oregon border; the Walla Walla AVA is actually comprised of 2/3 Washington State land and 1/3 Oregon land.  We crossed over to visit Zerba Cellars, a small producer with a rather large portfolio.

Zerba Cellars' tasting room.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Zerba Cellars' tasting room.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

For whites, I was taken by their Wild White, 2013.  This wine contained a whole potpurri of white grape varietals: 25% Chardonnay, 25% Semillon, 20% Riesling, 13% Viognier, 13% Roussanne, 4% Marsanne.  It sounds like chaos but it drank beautifully.  

Zerba Cellars Wild White.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Zerba Cellars Wild White.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

For reds, along with the traditional international big boy varietals, such as Cab, they are experimenting with Italian and Spanish grapes, such as Nebbiolo and Tempranillo.  The Estate Nebbiolo, 2011 (80% Nebbiolo, 20% Sangiovese), was rather lighter in body than its Italian brethen and almost feminine in its floral nose. Barolo-style this was not, nor was it even akin to a Barbaresco. Again, this lacked the acid that Italy is known for and I equated it more to a Burgundy Pinot Noir than anything else.  Of course, the marriage of Italy's most famous northern and southern grapes gave me pause; it's like Romeo and Juliet in a bottle. The Tempranillo, 2011, fared a bit better as the spicy and savory characters of licorice and tobacco balanced nicely with the deep blackberry and tart cherry fruits. 

Zerba Cellars Tempranillo.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne.

Zerba Cellars Tempranillo.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks WIne.

 

The next stop was at Saviah Cellars, where they had a Pinot Noir, 2011, that was prominent in the fruit. The Laurella, 2009, in contrast,  was a unique blend of 60% Sangiovese, 20% Cab Franc and 20% Merlot.  This was Walla Walla's answer to a Super Tuscan.  However, I was most impressed with their Syrah, 2010, with a balance of fruit and spice.  

Saviah Cellars Pinot Noir.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Saviah Cellars Pinot Noir.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Saviah Cellars Laurella.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

Saviah Cellars Laurella.  Photo by Shana Sokol, Shana Speaks Wine.

The day ended with a much-anticipated trip to Gramercy Cellars.  As expected, everything was spot on. The Third Man, Columbia Valley, 2011, a Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre combo that held true to a Rhone blend. Meanwhile, the Syrah,  Columbia Valley, 2012, was a great balance of fruit, spice and savory elements such as ripe raspberry, pepper and tobacco "The Duece" Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, 2012, in contrast, showcased more tannins, structure and earthiness than the Columbia Valley Syrah.  80% of the grapes were fermented as whole cluster (meaning you get more of the stems in the winemaking process), resulting in a wine with a more tannic backbone. We finished on the "Inigo Montoya" Tempranillo, Walla Walla Valley, 2011.  Technically 90% Tempranillo, 6% Syrah and 4% Grenache, the winemaker explained they now hold the wine for an extra 6 months to give it more of a Reserva style rather than Crianza, so the aging notes of leather and tobacco have more time to develop.  

I was excited by some of the day's discoveries and couldn't wait for Day 2....

Tre Bicchieri - A Visual Report

Picture this. A college party in some frat house basement.  Hot and chaotic, everyone is jostling to get their turn at the keg, clutching the plastic cup of brewskie protectively to their chests as they muscle through the crowd.  Small knots of friends yell at the top of their voices in order to be heard over the roar of others.  Now, replace the basement with a large, white-walled hall, the t-shirts and baseball caps with suits and ties and the plastic cups with wine glasses and you have a pretty good idea of the madhouse that was the Tre Bicchieri tasting. 

Tre Bicchieri translates to three glasses and is the highest rating given to a wine given by Gambero Rosso, an Italian food and wine magazine, publishing group, and sponsor of this event.  Many of the wines represented were beautiful, but damn, that was a shitshow to get a taste.  

In lieu of a written roundup of the best in show (I would have been trampled if I stopped to write anything down), I've pulled together a gallery of my favorites. 

 

 

Bubbles

Bubbles

Chianti

Chianti

 

Amarone

Amarone

Corvina clones, cab sauv and syrah blend

Corvina clones, cab sauv and syrah blend

More Amarone

More Amarone

Love this bottle shape

Love this bottle shape

Back in Piedmont territory

Back in Piedmont territory

The newest Barolo release from a good Piedmont producer

The newest Barolo release from a good Piedmont producer

Franciacorta, one of Italy's great sparkling wines

Franciacorta, one of Italy's great sparkling wines

More Barolo

More Barolo

This was a massive plum bomb - in the best way

This was a massive plum bomb - in the best way

 

More Piedmontese offerings - Barbera dAsti

More Piedmontese offerings - Barbera dAsti

And another Barbera for good measure

And another Barbera for good measure

Slow Wine Picks Up the Pace

What a difference a year makes.  Remember the Slow Wine/VInitaly tasting debacle a year ago? Maybe it was due to the new venue, or learnings from last year, or, more likely, the fact that this was the industry, not consumer tasting, but this year's event was spectacular. 

As a quick refesher, Slow Wine is part of the Slow Food Movement, an international organization the promotes clean, affordable and accesible food to all while preserving the traditions of the region and culture. Local and organic practices play a large part in their philosophy and the group, which started in Italy, now has global reach. 

The day started with a seminar on the aromas of prosecco.  It was simply illustrated with the key aromatics in glasses.  A rather basic lesson but still entertaining. 

 

Prosecco seminar. Photo by Shana Speaks Wine

Prosecco seminar. Photo by Shana Speaks Wine

Then, onto the tasting.  

The highlight of the event came at the very beginning.  One of my favorite producers, Marchesi di Gresy, whom I visited on my trip to Piedmont, and greatly influenced my passion for wine, was present at the event.  Even more exciting? Jeff, the cellar master who guided us through the tastings all those years ago, was at the table. So many memories came back to me and I felt my passion reignited once again. 

Marchesi di Gresy Barbaresco and Jeff Chilcott, Cellarmaster.  Photo by Shana Speaks Wine.

Marchesi di Gresy Barbaresco and Jeff Chilcott, Cellarmaster.  Photo by Shana Speaks Wine.

Of course, the wines were spectacular. He featured Barbaresco Camp Gros 2009, Barbaresco Gaiun 2008, and Barbaresco Martinenga 2010. All were elegant, balanced and finely structured.  

I primarily focused on the Piedmont wines as I wanted to delve even deeper into this favorite region. Much was tasted, much was noted, but these below are the other best in shows:

 La Spinetta Barolo Campe, Nebbiolo, 2009

Plums smoked with ash. Aromatic violets.  Tannins. Acid. Structure. Simply gorgeous.

 

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 Contratto Milliesimato 2009 

This estate is actually part of the La Spinetta portfolio and produces sparkling wines. This pinot nero/chardonnnay blend showcased pear, lemon, rose and a bit of buttered toast.  Very fresh, very crisp.

Contratto For England Rose 2008 

This 100% pinot nero was a very pretty sparkling rose option. Sweet cherry, strawberry and a hint of rose came through this berry-forward sparkler. 

 Casanova della Spinetta Sezzana 2004 

La Spinetta also owns property in Tuscany and creates Sangiovese-based wines from these vineyards.  The single-varietal Sangiovese was ripe with black cherry, plum and sweet baking spices.  

Wines from the La Spinetta portfolio

Wines from the La Spinetta portfolio

 La Gironda Barbera D'Asti La Lippa 2012

An easy-drinking option, this accessible Barbera was a bushel of mixed berries on the nose and the palate also oozed the blueberry, raspberry and blackberry fruits.  Quite a bit of earth also came through on this moderately acidic sipper.  

 Osvaldo Viberti Langhe Nascetta 2012

Nascetta, which is actually another name for Barbera, burst with overripe berries, freshly laid soil and wafts of mocha. 

Osvaldo Viberti Barolo 2007 

Rich and round, everything one could ask for in a Barolo. 

 Anna Maria Abbona Dogliani Superiore Majoli 2011

This dolcetto started with raspberry and strawberry but some baking spices and mocha gave it a little depth and intrigue.  

Keep tasting, friends...