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The New Superstars of Washington Wine
by Jean Yates

A new crowd of Washington red wines have come my way over the last few months, and from the pack, a few are fast emerging as the future "cult" wines of the NW. Yes, if I've heard "This is the next Leonetti" from a wine rep once, I've heard it a hundred times, and it usually just isn't so.

But there are a couple of real winners, wines that Avalon's staff and the lucky customers who come in during staff tastings just loved. And there are even more "maybes" - wineries who show such promise, we give them provisional status in our superstar list.

Here's our admittedly biased list of the wines that did it for us!




Charlie Hoppes' Fidelitas Wines

Charlie Hoppes is on the cover of the August issue of Wine Press NW, featured in an article about "Consulting Winemakers", and he's in heavy demand from new wineries who crave his expert advice. But the wines Charlie makes that are closest to my heart are those he makes under his own "Fidelitas" label.

The second vintage of the Fidelitas range of wines is being released in October, 2004. In Charlie's first release, last spring (2003), he made only one wine, the Fidelitas Meritage 00. With his new Fall 2004 release, his offerings expand to include a white blend called "Tranquility", a Sauvignon Blanc, a Red Table Wine, a Merlot, a 2001 Meritage, and his first Cabernet Sauvignon, the Fidelitas Cabernet Sauvignon 02 $45.

Yes, his first Cab, Fidelitas Cabernet Sauvignon 02 $45 and I am telling you, Quilceda and Leonetti have nothing over this wine. It is really something. Run, do not walk, to your computer and order this wine. You'll be glad you did.

The nose is of sweet vanilla with hints of nutmeg and cedar, and the flavors- huge ripe plum, cherry, and black currant with layers of exotic spices, nutmeg, vanilla oak, an undercurrent of toasted espresso bean, fresh saddle leather, and beautifully integrated. I know you're thinking "well, she sells wine, so maybe she's just overstocked on this one", but I promise, you really want to get some of this wine.

Also in Charlie's October release is a sophisticated, textured Fidelitas Merlot 02 $30, unusually nuanced, with subtle layers of black berry, black currant, persimmon, bittersweet chocolate, and well integrated tannins, present in a most interesting way. It's not a simple black cherry fruity everyday drinker. This is a Merlot worthy of some serious cuisine, and will prove interesting as it ages over the next 5-7 years. Masterful wine making.

Charlie in the Vineyard


Bob Betz's Family Winery

Well, Bob was a superstar in the Washington wine world before he started his own winery. After 28 years at Stimson Lane, and after earning one of the nation's few Master of Wine degrees, Bob "retired" to make wines immediately compared favorably to Quilceda Creek Cabs and fine Bordeauxs.

Betz received a Master in Wine from the Institute of Masters of Wine in London in 1998, at the age of 50-years-old. Very few people receive this distinction and the only other holder of that title in Washington State is David Lake, from Columbia Winery. There are only about 250 people worldwide to hold the title since 1953.

Betz did so well that he was given two awards of distinction by the Institute: the Robert Mondavi Award for having the highest overall scores on all theory exams and the Villa Maria Award for the outstanding paper on viticulture. He wrote his graduate thesis on barrel influence on wine character.

Avalon's supply of Betz Family wine is very low (call if interested, there are a few magnums left). We are now offering his wonderful Syrah, shipping in October. Also, we are offering a bottle of his Wine Spectator 94 point Syrah La Cote Rousse $50 as a gift when you sign up for our NW Big Reds Club. And we have a very limited amount of his 92 point Betz Family Winery Syrah La Serenne $45 for October shipping.

Mike Wade's Fielding Hills Winery

OK, so the first Cab could have been beginners luck, and the second a fluke, but the third Cabernet Sauvignon out of this Wenachee based Estate winery is the best yet, with a 93 point score from Wine Spectator (8/04). Who would have thought that a bunch of apple and pear orchards would turn out to grow such spectacular grapes? And what will the future bring, with the vines (and the winemaker) maturing and improving?

Wine Spectator gave 93 points and has this to say about the new Fielding Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 02 $30:

"This small producer uses vineyards in Mattawa, a warmer corner of the Columbia Valley. Its come-hither ’02 Cab hits the jackpot with a generous core of mocha-scented blueberry, plum and spice flavors that fill the mouth and sashay around enticingly. Has depth and persistence, and it should continue to develop with cellaring. Drink now through 2010.—H.S."

Washington wineries who grow the "Big Reds" are not as concerned with the influence of the soils and geographic location of vineyards as growers of the fickle and variable Pinot noir grape. Taking a note from Pinot noir growers, it would be interesting to try to determine just what it is that produces such delicious, complexly flavored red wine grapes in the Wenachee area, and at Fielding's vineyard specifically. Is it the soils? The unusual air circulation that comes from being between a river and a high cliff? Or could it be the temperature changes that the geography creates? We shall see.

Nota Bene- Newest Graduate of Boeing Wine Club

The Nota Bene Miscela 01 $33- that's the wine to get from this tiny winery. Miscela is Italian for "blend", and this is a blend from Conner Lee Vineyard, Chandlers Reach Vineyard and Kestrel View Estates; but, also includes a touch of Klipsun Cabernet Sauvignon for softness and a splash of Ciel du Cheval Petit Verdot for color and aroma. 49% Merlot (33% Chandler Reach and 16% Kestrel), 34% Cabernet Sauvignon (25% Connor Lee, 6% Klipsun and 3% Kestrel), 16% Cabernet Franc (15% Kestrel and 1% Ciel du Cheval) and 1% Petit Verdot (Ciel du Cheval). This wine was aged in 75% new French oak barrels fro 21 months. It's the winemaker's favorite, and has big berry, plum, and toasted spice in the flavors with a long finish. It is opulent and rich.

Tim Narby and Carol Bryant of Nota Bene

Tim Narby joins a number of graduates from the Boeing Wine Club, including Cadence, Austin Robaire, Soos Creek and a half-dozen others who have taken their amateur status commercial with positive results.

“These are smart people who meet on a regular basis, ask questions, talk about wine making and know where to go for answers,” said Al Cutshall, Boeing Wine Club member. “We have great resources. We have great contracts with grape growers and we share whatever information we have.

Those resources include some of the best vineyards in the state of Washington. Nota Bene Cellars procures grapes from Ciel du Cheval Vineyard, Alder Creek, Conner Lee, Kestrel View, Artz Vineyard, Klipsun, Champoux Vineyards, Portteus Vineyards, Chandler Reach Vineyards and more. The vineyard pedigrees read like the Westminster Dog Show—the best of the best. And the wines show it.

Read Christina Kelly's article about Nota Bene here.

Mark Ryan Long Hauls Dead Horses

Mark McNeilly - tiny amounts of wine with complexity and depth, and funny names from a winery called Mark Ryan. Tobacco, mineral, mocha flavors, all made in a garage in Bellevue, Washington. Long Haul is a red blend named for the long drive across the Snoqualmie Pass in a rickety Ford truck full of grapes; Dead Horse is another red blend, made entirely from grapes from Ciel du Cheval (Horse heaven) Vineyard.

Mark McNeilly of Mark Ryan Winery

The winemaker is remarkably modest about his wine making, and seems oblivious to the "buzz" about his wines.

Mark says: "I believe Ciel du Cheval to be one of best vineyard sites in Washington. Consistently, Ciel du Cheval is one of the warmest vineyards in the state and this allows for big, ripe, elegant wines with great structure, balance and complexity. NO HORSES WERE HURT DURING THE PRODUCTION OF THIS WINE AND IT WAS TESTED ON HUMANS!"

Both the Long Haul and the Dead Horse are worth investing in, but the Mark Ryan Dead Horse 01 $36 is our favorite. It was pretty closed when first bottled, but it has softened and opened to show beautiful and varied classic Cab flavors. Dead Horse is, according to Mark, "Left Bank Bordeaux" in style and is made entirely from Ciel du Cheval Vineyard grapes. The wine is called Dead Horse because the vineyard name loosely translated in french is Horse Heaven.

Whitman Cellars - The Future Will Tell

This winery is a "maybe" on the "Superstars" list. Secret weapon: winemaker Steve Lessard, who's brought Whitman his expertise in making the Stags Leap Wine Cellars Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon. Weakness- what if he leaves? The winery does not own vineyards, and are relatively new to the area, where the best grapes are in super big demand.

So this winery is a maybe in the superstar list, but the Whitman Cellars Syrah 2002 $28 is a positive forerunner for wines to come. Wine Spectator gave it 93 points in August, 2004, and the wine out performs some $50 Washington Syrahs.

The Whitman wine we are most pleased with is their Narcissa Red 02 $28, a Meritage style blend that shows the experience of the winemaker- black currant, cassis, tobacco, leather, tar, black pepper, smoke, all wrapped around a core of sweet black cherry and plum fruit. It's Stephen Lessard's first vintage with Whitman, and shows the possibilities of many fine wines in the future.

Sheridan Vineyard and Winery - It's the Vineyard, Stupid!

Sheridan Vineyard owner and winemaker Scott Greer is a winemaker's winemaker. He's quickly earned the respect of some of Washington and Oregon's top winemakers, including Chris Camarda of Andrew Will, who is planting his own Estate vineyard next door to Sheridan's vines.

View of Sheridan Vineyard

Sheridan not only sells grapes, Scott also makes wine under the Sheridan label. His 2000 "Red" was a highlight of Avalon's web site last year, and his follow ups, the bargain Sheridan Kamiakin Red 01 $19.99 and the splendiferous Sheridan L'Orage Red 01$43 are both awe-inspiring, with huge flavors and layers of complexity.

The vineyard was founded in 1997, and the 67 total acres are just coming into complete production. With wines like the first two vintages, and the advantage of owning their own Estate vineyard, this winery is almost a sure thing for superstar status.

K Vintners and Cayuse- The Wild Men of Walla Walla

Charles Smith (K Vintners) and Christopher Baron (Cayuse) burst on the Walla Walla scene a few years ago, and frankly, people are still scratching their heads, bemused and startled by this tidal wave of Gallic charm and eccentric behavior. They plant in fields full of rocks, farm to the beat of their own drummer, and get 96 point ratings in Wine Spectator for a wine called "Bionic Frog". Is this nuts or what?!?

Christopher Baron comes from a wine making heritage in his native France, and when he met Charles Smith, a recent emigre to Walla Walla via Europe and California, a collaboration was born. Cayuse wines are scarce, highly sought after, and almost always Syrah. K Vintner wines range more in price, and often include juice from Cayuse wines that does not fit the recipe and gets declassified. Wines from K Vintners like "The Boy", "The Beautiful", and the new "House Wine" have come and gone almost instantly, offering huge flavors at bargain prices. The K Vintners Vineyard Designate Syrah's have gone almost as fast, with higher price tags.

We'll have a pretty good selection of K Vintners wines this fall, and a few bottles of the precious Cayuse Syrah's. Check with us as they come and go super fast.

Many Other Wineries We Might Have Mentioned

Now that I look over this article, maybe I shouldn't have written it, there are a lot of other wines that are also good, other winemakers with potential superstar status... I apologize to anyone who should have been in this list but is not, you know who you are!

-- Jean






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