Wine Lab: The Wines of Washington State

As I mentioned in earlier post, I'm currently enrolled in viticulture and enology program at the Southern Oregon Wine Institute. Part of the curriculum is geared toward exposing students, many of whom have scant knowledge about imported wines, to the broader wine world, as a way to give perspective, via immersion into those regions many have merely heard of before. Today's wine review feature wines from Washington State, a couple real stinkers and two which received the coveted thumbs up.

Part of the class involves the writing of a tasting note about the wines presented, in what I consider a rather perfunctory style, notes which are not in my typical inimitable tone and tenor found on my blog. But this time, I was unable to hold back on the two dreadful examples. This had to be one of the worst representations of Washington State Wine, I've ever tasted, many of the other red wines pictured were frankly awful, except for the white wines. That said I hope you'll enjoy this edition of wine lab, three more should arrive over the next month or so.

Secret Squirrel BDX Blend 2013: I found the appearance of this wine with a depth of color, inky purple, and opaque. The aromas bounding from the glass were reminiscent of freshly ground sweaty horse saddle, wet, formerly dry tobacco leaves at the bottom of an ashtray, composted cherry and plum skins, and moldy olive brine, many days old. After the first slurp of this wine, I found it dry, and its acidity was flabby, its body was medium minus and the tannin level medium plus, but off-putting and strange.

Frankly, this wine didn’t taste much better than the aromas bubbling from the glass, like a science project gone wrong; smoked plums and cherries, toasted acorns in a squirrels den, and a half-baked blackberry pie, freshly ripe dark-skinned plums. The finish was short, mostly muted and otherwise just flat out underwhelming.  To be honest, this wine has little to do with the Bordeaux blend moniker it’s wearing and has more to do with a flabby hot mess of fruit going through spontaneous fermentation with native yeast, fruit fly ass, and swirling around a cup of volatile acidity. Possibly, lousy winemaking choices or poor storage conditions contributed too much moose and not enough squirrel.  I’m not sure what secret this squirrel is supposedly hiding, but a well-made; Bordeaux blend is not one of them.  Not Recommended.

NxNW Syrah, Walla, Walla: I found this wine intensely colored in appearance, purple opaque clarity, and a lighter colored rim. On the aroma scale, I found this wine very unpleasant, wet, dank earth, cherry cough syrup, smoked cherry, raw meat, served on crushed rock.  On the palate, I found this wine to be dry; the acid was balanced; the body was full, pulling away from flabby. Flavor-wise, there was more of the same from the nose, like someone trying too hard to produce a Rhone-style Syrah, sadly, lost in translation. The palate revealed meaty undercooked meats, trail dust, white pepper, anise, dry tobacco leaves. The flavor police went out to find the finish; they never came back, medium plus is a generous description.  Not Recommend. 

The North Star 2012 Left Bank Homage Blend, Cold Creek Vineyard: This wine was one of the better offerings that evening, tho none of the wines, in my opinion, had much of chance to show well considering they were served above room temperature, warm. Also, the decision to pour wines into perfunctory stems did not do those wines any favors either.  No tasting room would offer to have their wines tasted in this fashion, but what do I know, I’m just a student.  Now that said, I found the appearance of the wine to be deep in color, a garnet core, a cerise rim, the clarity was opaque.  Aromas wafting from the glass dealt a hand of roasted plum, crushed rock, dark cherry, and trailside wild anise. I found this wine dry, the acidity balanced, the body was full, and even though the tannins were a medium plus, it was still a bit grippy.  On the palate, decanting would have helped, but more broken rock, trail dust, dark summer plums, dark cherry, with a hint cedar. The finish was a medium plus; the Ph was 3.85 possibly indicative of a warmer site. This wine falls into the recommended range, thumbs up or 89 points.

Chateau St. Michele Eroica Riesling 2014, Ancient Lakes AVA: A wine that is found widely in distribution, all along the west coast in chain stores, with an upper price range, most consumers are not willing to splurge to obtain. I found the color in the glass to be light, slightly greenish to yellow hay, bright clarity. The aromas were, aromatic and delivered the classic Riesling characteristics. A considerable amount of petrol, a bit carbonated, stone fruits like apricot, lime rind, wet stone, and white peach flesh.  The taste was a bit off-dry, tho the acidity was crisp, the body was medium, and the tannins were moderate, well integrated. On the palate, kiwi slices, grated lime rind, wet stone minerality, stone fruits, apricot, peach, and nectarine.  The finish was long and persistent. I would recommend this wine, especially those seeking to pair this wine with spicy cuisines, like Thai food. This wine also found its way into the 'recommended' category.

Chateau Ste. Michelle has won many hearts and minds with the average consumer, filling empty wine glasses with reasonably well-made wines which deliver good quality, without the many artificial types of filler that many of their competitors in California are alleged to do. CSM is many things to many people, and they produce enough wine to stay in full distribution, year around, their wines are widely accepted, and sought after.  Their wines have proper shelf placement in chain stores. Their chain store lineup of wines is what I often refer to, as to "keep the lights on wines." That means these are the workhorse wines which help pay the bills, keep people employed, these types of wine allow CSM to pursued new projects; it's also a factor which enables them to operate a winery within a winery.  What many folks don’t know is that while CSM is smart with chain store line, they also make many bottlings which are not available in distribution.

If you’d like to visit their tasting room in Woodinville, a short drive from Seattle, about twenty, to thirty minutes. The grounds are beautiful and inviting. The staff is open and friendly. They offer a variety of wine tasting experiences, with different price points and educational opportunities.  In the tasting room, there are opportunities to taste and purchase wines, which you may find in a restaurant or two, but will not be in distribution. It’s likely these wines will be small production lots, and from selected blocks.  It’s a winery which offers food and pairing classes, and they provide an opportunity for fantastic family-friendly summer concert series each year. CSM is also part of the sustainability movement, employing all of the today’s buzz words to an ever-growing green conscious consumer base.  They offer an impressive array of wines at all the major price points, reds, whites, dry roses and even a collection of sparkling wine, something for everyone, even wine snobs like me.


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