Cadence_2012This is a question that I feel like I’ve been asking myself for the last eight years. I still fondly remember buying a six-pack case of 2005 Cadence Ciel du Cheval and slowly working my way through it (if you can call that “work”). As classically structured and refined as it was, I couldn’t help but feel like I was rushing that wine. Each year, I would eagerly check in, and each year I’d have a similar result, and that was that it was only getting better. As I got down to my last two bottles, I started to wonder what I would do when it was all gone. Due to their limited distribution, I couldn’t find them on the shelves of my local retailers, and before I knew it, my stash was gone.

So why did I wonder if it was Washington’s time to shine? Simple. Because as much as I loved that wine, it seemed to be the exception, not the rule. I would check in from time to time on other producers at the local tastings, but I could never recreate the magic that seemed to emanate from that bottle of Cadence. The wines were often very good, but seldom great. In fact, if there was a term that I would have used to describe Washington wine to another wine lover throughout those years, the term would “dependable.” Good, solid, consistent, satisfying, but hardly great–until recently.

In the last two years, I have enjoyed tasting through a large number of Washington wines, and not just in one category. The fact is that what these wines are now expressing to me, which seemed lost somehow in the examples I had tasted before, is a sense of place. Recently, Washington wines don’t seem like they were trying to be Bordeaux or Napa; instead they are an expression of Washington, and I couldn’t be happier.

Keep in mind that Washington state, and its wine-producing regions, are quite large. The Columbia valley starts in the south and runs through the center of Washington, including nearly 99% of the state’s vineyards. However, as we look deeper into the smaller AVAs, we start to find a number of exciting terroir to discover. Walla Walla, Red Mountain and Wahluke Slope are just a few worth mentioning, which have been turning out wines of world-class standards.

So, what is it then?

leonetti_mixIs it possible that the region is changing, or is it just that the quality level in general has gone up as more and more producers become keen on setting themselves apart from the pack, and not simply trying to make good wine? I believe it’s the latter, as there have always been trendsetters here. Leonetti (a name that should be known by all) has been in the game and turning heads since 1977. Jim Holmes founded and planted one of the first vineyards on Red Mountain in 1975; the name of that vineyard is Ciel du Cheval, the same one that captured my attention through that fateful bottle of 2005 Cadence. Frankly, the list goes on and on, and it even includes modern-day trendsetters like K-Vintners, where Charles Smith has shown us the heights which Rhone varieties can achieve in Washington soils.

The best part is that Washington remains largely under the radar with the exception of a few well-known producers, yet it is the second-largest producer of wine in the United States. So finding these wines is much easier today than it ever was, and the prices remain very fair.

When I take this all into consideration, I believe it is Washington’s time to shine.

Below I’ve included some of my favorite Washington state wines from the last year, along with a few details about the vintages, as this can really help to point you in the right direction.

The Undeniably Classic 2012s

I must say that 2012 is the vintage that turned me back on to Washington State wines. The most interesting thing about it is that many people considered it to be relatively warm at the time, yet not so when compared to 2013 and 2014. By Washington standards, this was a classic and even vintage with near-perfect weather at harvest. When sampling them, it’s the freshness and balanced structure of the 2012s that draw me in. They are wines that I want to spend time with and watch mature.

Cadence_2012label2012 Gramercy Cellars Syrah John Lewis Reserve – The bouquet was wild and fresh showing savory herbs, black olive and dark black fruits. It was dense, with lifting acidity on the palate, as black fruits gave way to intense minerality. It finished long on dark fruits, pepper and spice. Nicely done. (94 points)

2012 Cadence Ciel du Cheval Vineyard – The nose showed crush black cherry with minerals, floral tones and a distinct savory richness. On the palate it was truly intense yet smooth with notes of cherry, sweet herbs and dark chocolate. The finish showed more of its youthful tannin, giving the fruit a dry yet still wonderfully concentrated persona. The 2012 Ciel du Cheval should spend a couple of years in the cellar for the best experience, as I am quite excited to see where it’s going. (94 points)

2012 K-Vintners Syrah The Hidden Northridge Vineyard Wahluke Slope – The nose was gorgeous, both richly intense, yet fresh and lifted with florals and minerality, showing dark earth, blackberry, savory herbs, violet floral tones, smoke and hints of toasty oak. On the palate, it displayed velvety textures like a sheet of heavy silk drawn across the senses, leaving remnants of black fruit, plum and hints of spice in its wake. The Hidden is a wine of layered aromatics contrasted by dense textures on the palate. It’s less about details today, with an almost black-hole persona that seemed to envelope all that it touched. (94 points)

DelilleD2_20122012 Cadence Tapteil – The Taptiel vineyard is showing a distinct savory quality with minerals, undergrowth, currant and hints of herbs. On the palate, it was at first angular, but with the fruit intensity and caressing silky weight to keep it fun. In fact, what left the biggest impression on me was its balance, as a mixture of bittersweet dark fruit seemed to touch upon all the senses and remained throughout the finish with an almost sappy concentration. This is some pretty intense juice, and yet again another wine that will probably benefit from a few years in the cellar. (93 points)

2012 DeLille Cellars D2 – This was a very pretty and floral red on the nose, showing spirited ripe cherry tones, blueberry skins, a hint of wax, and candied spice. Persistent red fruit gave drive to the palate along with notes of mocha, herbs and cedar. The textures were gripping yet silky smooth, leaving the senses perfectly attuned for another sip. Very nice. (91 points)

2012 L’Ecole No. 41 Perigee Estate Seven Hills Vineyard – On the nose, I found sweet tea and intense spicy red fruit. It was grippy on the palate with saturating dark red, finishing fresher than expected. It was almost too easy to like, and it was defined by soft textures. (90 points)

Getting Warmer Now: 2013, The Tightrope Vintage

L'ecoleno41Ferguson2013Coming out of the Classic 2012 vintage, it seemed like another cool vintage was on the horizon, with a late flowering and cool spring. Then came July and August, and with them a significant rise and lasting heat. The saving grace of 2013 was in the fall, when temperatures moderated and allowed growers to pick at perfect ripeness. The result is a set of wines with intensity and richness, yet offset by vibrant acidity.

2013 L’Ecole No. 41 Ferguson Vineyard – What a gorgeous bouquet on the ‘13 Ferguson. Here I found floral and sweet herbal tones, followed by crushed-stone minerality, and a mix of tart cherry and blueberry. On the palate, it was structured yet still powered on through its intense deep red fruits and caking minerality. The finish displayed an array of dried fruits, graphite and sweet herbal tones. It displayed a great amount of potential with its structure and concentrated fruit to spare. (95 points) find it at Morrell

2013 K Vintners Syrah River Rock – The nose showed exotic florals with marine minerals, and olive, then turning to sweet spice and black fruit. On the palate, I found dark blue and black fruits, with marine minerality coming through from the bouquet. The finish was incredibly fresh and lifted by inner floral tones. This wine wouldn’t be for everyone, but it’s certainly my cup of tea. (94 points)

GramercyCellarsJohnLewis20132013 L’Ecole No. 41 Apogée Pepper Bridge Vineyard – On the nose, I found dusty spice, black cherry, blueberry, sweet tea and chalky minerals. On the palate, velvety textures gave way to saturating black fruits with fine tannin, which saturated the senses. It finished long, like a black hole of fruit. (93 points)

2013 Gramercy Cellars Syrah John Lewis Reserve – The ‘13 John Lewis displayed a gorgeous bouquet of crushed blackberry, violet floral tones, saline-minerality, and hints of undergrowth. On the palate, I found lifted, silky textures with pepper-infused black fruits, zesty acidity and saturating mineral tones. It was remarkably pretty with its inner floral tones and lingering black fruit finish. (93 points)

2013 L’Ecole No. 41 Apogée Pepper Bridge Vineyard – On the nose, I found dusty spice, black cherry, blueberry, sweet tea and chalky minerals. On the palate, velvety textures gave way to saturating black fruits with fine tannin, which saturated the senses. It finished long, like a black hole of fruit. (93 points)

2013 Gramercy Cellars Syrah The Deuce Walla Walla Valley – The nose was dark yet full of life with intense black fruits, exotic florals, white pepper and spice. On the palate, I found rich, silky textures matched by youthful fine-grain tannin with dense black fruits, in a balanced yet currently monolithic effort. The finish was focused, long and youthful. I’d love to see where this wine is going. (91 points)

Rich, Big, Racy but Balanced: The Warm Vintage 2014s

K-Vintners-Milbrandt-2014The 2014 vintage was warm from start to finish, but in this case the heat was more even and less jarring to the vines than in 2013. The results were perfectly-even ripening. Meaning that although the ‘14s display the ripeness of the vintage, they do so while remaining balanced, and in a truly alluring way. Having only tasted a small set of early release 2014s, I must admit to enjoying them quite a bit.

2014 K Vintners Syrah Milbrandt Vineyard – The nose was airy and fresh with intense bright blackberry, exotic spice, olive and sweet herbs. I found silky textures on the palate with saturating raspberry, blackberry fruit, and sweet inner florals. It was intense on the finish, yet it remained fresh throughout with staining black fruits with a hint of tart citrus. (93 points)

AndrewWill20142014 Andrew Will Cabernet Sauvignon – The ‘14 Columbia Valley Cab is just stunning today. Here I found rich dark fruits and spice cake mixed with wild herbs and floral undergrowth in a truly alluring performance. On the palate, soft textures gave way to exotic spice and hard red candies with a hint of tannin that provided perfect grip. The finish showed a bit of austerity, yet its focused fruit and balance kept things fun and urged me to take another sip. (92 points)

2014 SIXTO Chardonnay Moxee – The nose was big and rich with dark oaky flavors, spiced apple, pear and sweet herbs. On the palate, it was rich but with great mineral cut and seductive notions of ripe, spiced pear. The finish was long with a tart acids that made for the perfect end-cap on this rich yet undeniably enjoyed wine. (92 points)

Article, photos and tasting notes by: Eric Guido
Red Mountain Vineyard photo courtesy of Washington State Wine and Andréa Johnson Photography

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