Wednesday, June 13, 2007

WBW 34 - Washington State Cabernet

Hard to believe it's already Wine Blogging Wednesday time again. Created by Lenn almost three years ago now, WBW is a chance to try wine with a blogging community from around the world, to share experiences, to learn something new. This month our host is Catie at Through the Walla Walla Grape Vine, a blog devoted to Walla Walla Valley, Washington wines.

West coast wines are daunting to me, I must say. I just don’t enjoy the big and dense high alcohol wines that I tend to encounter from the California. California wines tend to be expensive, and quality tends to suffer at each price point in comparison with their counterparts from the old world. There are certainly exceptions – I’m not bashing west coast wine as a rule, even though it might sound that way. I am saying that in my limited experience, and with my limited wine budget, I have not yet found a reason to prioritize California wine.

But California is not the only state on the west coast making wine.

I learned several years ago that I enjoy Pinot Noir from Oregon, and that there are a few producers who make great wines at fair prices, prices that rival what I would spend for a bottle of Burgundy of similar quality (if not similar style). If there are Oregon wines that I love, might there be Washington wines that I love, at reasonable prices? I asked myself this question two years ago and I admit I’ve been pretty slow about getting answers. Probably because Cabernet based wines and Syrahs are not my passion. Also because the wines that sounded interesting to me tend to be in the mid to upper $30 range, and I usually don’t spend that kind of dough unless I already know and like the producer.

I did order a few bottles of Washington wine online though, just to take a shot. I relied on descriptions from the online store, word of mouth, and what I read in magazines. I narrowed it down to a few producers: Betz, Andrew Will, and Mark Ryan. Mark Ryan’s wines were the cheaper of the bunch, priced in the mid $30’s, and they had interesting names like Dead Horse and Long Haul. These are Bordeaux blend wines with most of the grapes coming from what is supposedly one of Washington’s best vineyard sites – Ciel de Cheval, or Horse Heaven Vineyard. If not WBW, then what better excuse to crack open a bottle?

Problem: the Mark Ryan bottle I have, while a Bordeaux blend, is not primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, as Catie requested. I hope she’ll let me slide with my blend of 48% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Franc, and then Cabernet Sauvignon and petit Verdot making up the balance.

2003 Mark Ryan Long Haul, $33 (Avalon Wines).
Dark purple and inky. Roasted aromas dominate, along with the heat of alcohol – this is 14.7%. With vigorous swirling I can smell some dark fruit, but it is fleeting. The nose even two hours later is nondescript with strong alcohol heat. The palate is also blurry. I’m trying to be forgiving here because I understand how difficult 2003 – very hot. But good wine makers make good wine in tough vintages. This wine is a fruit bomb, and the fruit is not impressive. At least come with sweet ripe juicy fruit if you’re gonna be a fruit bomb. This is roasted fruit that gives way too quickly to alcohol and Maybe Mark Ryan wasn’t trying to make a fruit bomb, but if this was supposed to be old world style wine with complex nuances, it is even more of a failure. After two hours open I could sense some cassis and some roasted black fruit, but the flavors were still out of focus and the wine is completely unsatisfying. And at $33, I feel a little ripped off, I must say. And I stored the wine properly, and all that. I just didn’t like it.

I’m not done with Washington, not at all, but I could sure use some suggestions about what to taste in order to keep going. That’s why I’m glad it’s WBW. Can’t wait to read the roundup.


Gene Stein, Ph.D. said...

Hey, Brooklynguy, here are some suggestions from a Brooklyn expat living in Seattle since 1970(that makes me a pioneer,I think. Mark Ryans's strength is in Syrahs and Rhone style wines. Here are a few suggestions for really good Cabs from Washington - about $10: Red Diamond, Barnard Griffin,about $20: Gordon Bros., Novelty Hill, about $30 Cadence, Fall Line,
Note Bene,Januick, Reininger, Amavi,DeLille "D2", $30+: Quilceda, Leonetti, DeLille -Harrison, Andrew Will. Check out the Seattle Wine Blog this month for more on Washington Cabs. Gene - Seattle Wine Blog

Brooklynguy said...

Hi Gene - thanks for this list. I will remember those names. And I will definitely take a peek around Seattle Wine Blog.

Anonymous said...

"along with the heat of alcohol – this is 14.7%." First, sounds like the alcohol was actually 15.6% - and we know it can be by law...I can't recall ever finding 'heat' in a wine that's really 14.7.

A friend of mine loves Betz - he says they're the only rival to Quilceda Creek. Or to be blow away, track down a 1994 Quilceda Creek.

Joe said...

Hi Brooklyn - I thought my l'Ecole was pretty nice, and probably cheaper in NYC than your Mark Ryan.
Jack - I have had 'hot' wines that were 12.5%, and didn't even notice it in some over 15% - I believe winemaking also has a role in how we perceive the alcohol level.

Brooklynguy said...

I have never tasted Betz Jack, but I will whenever I get the chance. I see L'ecole wines here and there, so that is doable. I agree about the alcohol heat thing - less about numbers, more about winemaking, grape quality, storage of bottles, etc.