Thinking back to when I was first getting into Washington State wine, the name Leonetti was already firmly fixed as an icon of the region. This was over ten years ago, and somehow I spent most of that decade getting more and more into the region, without ever having a chance to taste through a range of Leonetti. Then one day I had my chance, with a bottle of 2011 Sangiovese, a wine that Leonetti is especially known for. However, as luck would have it, I wasn’t impressed. The 2011 showed little in the way of Sangiovese character, and it sported a sweet spice and mineral note that brought Flintstones Vitamins to mind–I didn’t even write a tasting note.

But fear not!

I was determined to understand how this name had become a pillar of the region, and I’ve been around long enough to know that you should never judge a producer on one wine, from one vintage. Luckily for me, that opportunity was right around the corner, only two months after my ill-fated experience, I was offered a chance to taste with Chris Figgins himself, through a range of wines that spanned three vintages.

Chris Figgins, the son of the winery’s founder Gary Figgins, is a man that has his eye on the future of both Leonetti and the ever-evolving world of domestic wine. Within only moments of talking with Chris, the first thing that stood out to me was his love for Italian varietals and maintaining their character. You can imagine that after my experience with the 2011 Sangiovese, I wouldn’t have expected this, and I of course asked him about it.

30 Hectolitre “botti” At Leonetti

Chris went on to explain how the 2011 was an outlier from the normal style of their Sangiovese, due to a mix of frost-damaged vines from the previous year, and a long, cool growing season with one of the latest harvest dates on record. The wine was made from ripe, but also concentrated fruit. He then went on to assure me that the Sangiovese is aged in 100% neutral wood botti. You can imagine my surprise, but also my excitement, that this one wine may have been a misleading experience for me. He also had my interests peaked, as he talked about an Aglianico that he has thought about producing.

With that out of the way, we moved on to vintages, Leonetti, and Chris’ other projects. If you haven’t already heard, Washington State has had a string of great vintages starting with the classic 2012s and getting progressively warmer in overall temperature with each year. Keep in mind that this is a generally warm region, which is why it’s important to look to growers who aren’t in the business of making big blousy wines.

Leonetti, with its history going back to being Walla Walla’s first commercial winery in 1977, continues to strive for a classic, balanced style. With a constant eye on the future, and a no-compromise approach in the vineyards and cellar, the family farms five very distinct terroir from within their estate holdings—each contributes unique characteristics to the finished wines, and everything is done in-house. The pride that this family has for their products, their land and the well-being of the industry is like a breath of fresh air.

That said, Chris has also started to look outside of the family’s holding that produces his Figgins label, which includes a Cabernet-based red and Riesling from Washington, as well as projects that are coming together in the Willamette Valley–that’s right, Oregon.

That’s when we got to tasting.

With my detailed notes below, I’ll stick to broad impressions. First I’ll say that I enjoyed the Figgins wines, especially the Riesling for its sheer drinkability. However, they are a departure from the Leonetti style. That’s certainly not a bad thing, but don’t approach these wines as if they are an extension to Leonetti. The Figgins red was a solid effort that will make a lot of people happy. For me though, the real excitement was found in the Leonetti lineup, with the 2015 Merlot and 2014 Cabernet stealing the show. It’s not often in this business that you taste a wine and immediately want to put some in your own cellar, but that is indeed what happened here.

Oh, and I did have a chance to taste the Sangiovese again, this time the 2014, and while it didn’t blow my mind, I can assure you that it’s no slouch.

I totally get it, and I fully understand now why Leonetti is looked upon with so much respect in the region. These are gorgeous, world-class wines.

On to the tasting notes:

Leonetti Sangiovese Walla Walla 2014 – Here I found an intense mix of deep, spicy red fruits, with notes of new leather, chalk dust minerality and hints of cocoa. On the palate, firm, angular textures gained energy through zesty acidity with tart red fruits and spicy tannic crunch. It finished long and firm with palate-saturating deep red fruits. I’m not sure I’d call this Sangiovese in a blind tasting, but it’s undeniably an enjoyable wine that’s worth seeking out. (92 points)

Leonetti Merlot Walla Walla 2015 – I feel like I had a total ah-ha moment with the 2015 Leonetti Merlot, with a bouquet of sweet red and blue fruits, rich brown spices, sweet herbs and chalk dust minerality. On the palate, I found silky textures with herb-infused red berry fruits, exotic spice and inner violet floral tones. It seemed to saturate all of the senses with its sweet herb and fruit tones before heading into a long and concentrated finish where young tannin added a tart and grippy quality. What a beautiful wine. (95 points)

Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla 2014 – The nose was intense and utterly compelling, showing dark, rich red and black fruits with enticing notes of grilled herbs and masses of contrasting mineral tones. On the palate, I found soft, silky textures with sappy red fruits and a savory mix of herbs and spice. It was creamy yet structured with perfectly balancing acidity that resulting in a long and satisfying finish. There’s so much potential under the hood here, and I can’t wait to see what five or more years in the cellar might evoke. (96 points)

Leonetti Reserve Walla Walla 2013 – The nose was rich with crushed berry, sweet florals, hints of cola and undergrowth. On the palate, I found a refined and lighted expression, much more so than I would have expected with bright red fruits and hints of woodland flora. It finished long and spicy with hints of herbs. (92 points)

Figgins Estate Red 2013 – The nose showed intense ripe red fruits with dusty sweet spices, yet it was unexpectedly fresh and gained richness with air. On the palate, I found smooth, creamy textures offset by mouthwatering brisk acidity, as red berry fruits turned savory and spicier over time. The finish was long and dark, yet the ‘13 Figgins remained spry and light on its feet throughout. (93 points)

Figgins Riesling Estate 2016 – What a seductive bouquet, with ripe peach and sweet herbs offset by a spritz of lime and minerals. With time in the glass, it gained richness and spice. On the palate, I found soft yet energetic textures with ripe stone fruits and citrus-driven acidity. The finish was fresh and mouthwatering with hints of tropical fruits and tart citrus. Yum! (90 points)

Article and Tasting Notes: Eric Guido

Photos by Eric Guido, Garret Dostal, and courtesy of Leonetti Cellars

For more info on Figgins Family Wine Estates

Click HERE for the full selection of Leonetti wine at Morrell

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