Monthly Archives: March 2012

A Quick Visit to Woodinville Wine Country

The tasting room at Januik / Novelty Hill

 A couple weekends ago, I was in Seattle, and decided to take the short drive to Woodinville, WA.  Now this is a community that is only a few miles away from Seattle, and is also known as Woodinville Wine Country to many people in the State of Washington.  An interesting factoid about this “Wine Country” is it contains no vineyards, just a whole bunch of wineries and tasting rooms.  Also along with wineries you will find some pretty classy restaurants.   There are over 50 wineries in the area, among them Chateau St. Michelle, Columbia Winery, Delille Cellars, and Januik Cellars.  Accompanying me on this trip was my sister and fellow wine enthusiast Chloe Nichols.  Unfortunately We didn’t have much time that day, so we decided on Januik / Novelty Hill and Columbia Winery as the two places we would try out.  Januik winery is owned by Mike Januik, who is formally the head winemaker at Chateau St. Michelle.  Now Mr. Januik is well known in the business and his wines are consistently recieving high scores from publications such as Wine Spectator.  Novelty Hill is a winery that is run under the supervision of Mr. Januik and also has put out some wines that have received high ratings.  The winery itself at Januik / Novelty Hill is a very impressive place; a large tasting room with a floor to ceiling glass wall that looks into the winery itself along with the barrel room. 

A view inside the winery at Januik / Novelty Hill

Of all the wines I tried, I was more impressed with the white wines as apposed to the reds, and I thought the Chardonnay, Riesling and Late Harvest Semillion I tried were all quite good.  The Chardonnay was a 2009 Novelty Hill made from grapes sourced from Stillwater Creek Vineyard.  On the nose it had an aroma of toasty oak with a hint of ripe apple, and had some nice acids on the palate with a smooth, creamy finish.  It was a bit on the oaky side, but overall a nice wine.  The 2010 Januik Riesling was from Bacchus vineyard, and had a nose of honey and apricot, with a hint of petrol.  It had a nice smooth finish with mellow acids and a taste of ripe apricot.   Finally the Novelty Hill 2007 late Harvest Semillion was a good wine to finish with.  It had a nice sweetness on the nose with a little petrol, and a nice smooth finish.  I thought that the Januik 2009 Lewis Vineyard Syrah was the best red wine I tried.  It had a nice medium purple color, and with a good balance of tannin and acids along with ripe dark fruit.  It had just the right amount of oak, which made it all the better.

The next stop was the Columbia Winery.  Just down the road from Januik / Novelty Hill, this winery has the look of a

Tasting bar at Columbia Winery

large mansion from the outside.  Inside it was also quite impressive, which included a very large tasting room that had multiple tasting bars.  The service here was very helpful and made the experience a nice pleasant time.  I thought most of the wines I tried here were very good, especially the Malbec and the late harvest Syrah.  The Malbec was a 2009 out of theColumbiaValley, with jammy fruit on the nose, and a great finish of blueberry along with smooth tannins.  I have not tried too many late harvest wines, especially a late harvest Syrah, but I was impressed none the less.  This 2009 had a deep dark purple color to it with a hint of chocolate on the nose, and had a nice sweet finish.  It is definitely a late harvest wine that would be a great one to have with dinner as well as for dessert.  So if you find yourse looking for a winery that has a nice selection of wine and a friendly staff to go along with it, stop by the Columbia Winery.

There are a whole bunch of wineries in Woodinville that I plan on visiting, so this most likely won’t be my last post about Woodinville Wine Country.  I would definitely recommend spending time in Woodinville if you in the Seattle area.  There is plenty of great food and wine to be found everywhere,  and its just a short drive away.




Naches Heights AVA and Other News

Just recently, Washington State added a new member to its AVA family.  Naches Heights was officially recognized as an AVA on January 13, 2012.  It is now the 12th AVA within the state.  A sub-appellation of the large Columbia Valley AVA, Naches Heights is located in Yakima County, and encompasses an area of 13,254 acres with 105 planted with vines, including 37 acres currently bearing fruit.  The elevation ranges from 1,200 to 2,100 feet, and growers believe that the land that the AVA sits on is quite unique and will give the wines a character that will stand out amongst wines from other growing regions in the state.  One very cool fact about Naches Heights is that all of the acres that have been planted are sustainably farmed.  There is also a very diverse array of varietals being grown in the appellation.  For example, Wilridge Vineyard, which is the largest in the AVA at 10 fruit bearing acres, grows varietals such as Nebbiolo, Tempranillo, and Souzao.  Growing in Naches Heights vineyard is Albarino, which is known for making great wines in Spain.  Along with the Albarino are varietals such as Syrah and Riesling.  There is a great article in Washington Tasting Room, which points out all the great attributes and other stats of the new AVA.  Certainly seems like a great place to plan on visiting soon.

 Also in the news…

 Robert Parker sometimes even scares himself by all the influence he has.

 The Californiawine market is experiencing a structural shortage, which may not balance out for years.

 And according to recent figures,  22% of the global wine market is Italian.

All for now…

Golden Ridge Cellars

A view of the vines at Golden Ridge

The final winery that I visited during my brief time in Walla Walla was Golden Ridge Cellars.  This estate winery owned by Michael and Cindy Rasch, is located right outside of town on eight acres of grapes.  There is a magnificent view in every direction from the property, and is a just moment away from downtown Walla Walla.  The Rasch’s relocated to Walla Walla from Seattle a few years back, and Michael decided to retire from his law practice and focus on his other favorite pastime, a passion for wine.  The two varietals grown on their property are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but they are considering planting some Cabernet Franc in the near future.  Michael is the head winemaker and viticulturist, and spends most of his day caring for his vines and working in the winery, or skiing at one of the nearby ski resorts.  I was very lucky to spend the day with both of them tasting wines downtown, and was given a tour of their winery as well.  Currently Golden Ridge sells most of their grapes, but they do produce a wine of their own, an estate red blend, and just recently bottled their second vintage.  

Golden Ridge Cellars Estate Red

 I tasted both the 2008 and 2009 while I was there, and thought they were both very well made wines.  Both vintages are a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and spent 26 months in French and American oak.  Production is limited, as both vintages yielded just over 100 cases.  Mike gave me a bottle of the 2008 to take home, so I decided to give it a try the other night.  This wine was a deep garnet red in color, with toasty oak on the nose along with dark black fruit.  The first sip gave way to spicy black cherry with some nice earthy, leathery tones and a hint of smokiness.  It had a nice lingering finish, with more of the black cherry and oak.  The alcohol at 14.7% sounds a bit hot, but seemed to balance out just fine.  And although a touch on the oaky side, I thought this wine was quite good, and it seemed to go well with the flank steak that was paired with it.  If you ever get a chance to Meet Michael and Cindy, they are very hospitable and are great to spend time with and enjoy a few glasses of wine.  And if you are lucky enough, Mike may even give you a tour of his magnificant wine cellar.  Not only is it full of great wines, it also contains a disaster survival kit, which of course most importantly includes wine glasses and a bottle opener:)



Spring Valley Vineyard 2008 Frederick Red Blend

Spring Valley Vineyard is an estate winery located within the Walla Walla Valley AVA on 111 acres of vines about 12 miles outside of town.  Among the varietals grown here are Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Syrah.  There is a rich family history behind this land, dating back to the mid 1800’s, but the first Merlot vines were planted in 1993 and the winery’s first vintage debuted in 1999.  The Spring Valley tasting room is located in downtown Walla Walla, and is nicely put together along with a very friendly staff.  Three of their wines, the Mule Skinner Merlot, Derby Cabernet Sauvignon, and Nina Lee Syrah are all 100% varietals.  The winery also has two red blends known as Frederick and Uriah.  Each one of these wines has received a score of 90 or above from Wine Spectator, with the Frederick and Uriah each receiving a 93.  I was in the mood for a red blend so I decided to take home a bottle of the 2008 Frederick.  This is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 9 % Petit Verdot, and 2% Malbec and was aged 21 months in French oak.   For a price of $50, this wine had a garnet red appearance with a bit of sediment, and on the nose I definitely got a lot of oak along with spicy black cherry.  There was definitely a big tannic structure to the wine along with mellow acids, and that cherry went along with some earthy, leathery tones and smokiness on the palate.  The alcohol came in at 15.3%, and it seemed to be just a bit too hot on the finish.  I would say that decanting this wine ahead of time might have been a good idea; it seemed the wine may have needed some time to breathe and unlock some of the aromas.  In spite of that, the wine seemed to be fairly balanced and complimented the flank steak I had along with it nicely.  Overall, aside from the high heat and heavy oak I thought it was a pretty good wine, and I look forward to what the next vintage of the Frederick red blend has to offer.



Seven Hills Winery

Seven Hills Winery has been around since 1988, and is one of the oldest wineries in the Walla WallaValley.  It is located right downtown basically next door the Marcus Whitman Hotel.  This winery has a reputation for producing some excellent wines over the years, so I was pretty excited to give them a try.  Most of the grapes used to make their wines come from vineyards such as Seven Hills, Klipsun, Melrose and Ciel du Cheval.  These vineyards consistently produce excellent fruit and are considered some of the finest vineyards in the state.  The tasting room at Seven Hills is quite nice and relaxing, and the staff was very friendly which made the visit that much more enjoyable.  I decided to give just the reds a try for this trip.  The first I tried was the 2009 Seven Hills Vineyard Merlot.  This was a very good wine.  It had a great structure and a nice finish of ripe fruit, and and was  balanced nicely with the right amount of oak.  Next up was the 2009 Seven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon.  This was a full bodied that was nicely strutured,  and left off with a nice fruity finish.  I also thought it had a good touch of oak to it, not overpowering and just enough to balance the wine out.  Finally, I tried the 2009 Walla Walla Valley Malbec.  Now I really like Malbec to begin with, and this one was quite impressive.  With a medium purple color to it, I got aromas of spicy ripe plum and blackberry, and it had a great balance of tannins and acids.  Again I thought it had the right touch of oak, and left off with a hint of blueberry and a nice lingering finish.  This one I liked so well I took a bottle home with me.  I thought that these wines were all very good and definitely lived up to their reputation.  If you have not yet tried any of Seven Hills’ wines, I would absolutely recommend them.  And if you find yourself in Walla Walla, it is definitely a winery I would consider a must visit. 



Lodmell Cellars

Lodmell Cellars 2008 Sublime

While I was walking around downtown Walla Walla in search of wine, I stopped in at the Marcus Whitman Hotel.  This is a very classy establishment that just happens to have a few tasting rooms in it, one of them being Lodmell Cellars.  This winery has been growing grapes since 1995, and owns vineyards overlooking the Snake River in Walla Walla County.  At the tasting room there was a nice lineup of wines, which included their 2007 Estate Merlot, a 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, a 2009 Rose´ known as Saignee, as well as their 2008 Sublime, a red blend.  The Merlot was a nice full bodied wine that was well balanced, and blended with 25% Cabernet Sauvignon which added a nice touch.  I found the Sauvignon Blanc to be a very refreshing wine; it was nice and crisp with aromas of fresh citrus.  Along with the Sauvignon Blanc, I thought that the Rose´ was also quite refreshing.  This wine was extracted a little more than a typical rose so it had bit of a darker color to it, and I sensed a nice pleasant aroma of strawberry.  The Sublime red blend is a combination of 50% Merlot, 30% Carmenere, and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and the fruit is sourced from the Columbia Valley.  This wine spent 30 months in French oak barrels and has a nice structure to it, with dark fruit aromas and hints of vanilla.  It is a bit hot at 15.4% alcohol, but not enough to throw the wine out of balance.  Overall I found Lodmell Cellars to be a very pleasant way to start the day wine tasting.  So if you are in Walla Walla and happen to find yourself strolling about inside the Marcus Whitman Hotel, take the time to visit Lodmell and treat yourself to some great wines.



A Trip to Walla Walla

A view of the valley from Golden Ridge Vineyards

This past Thursday, I took a day trip to Walla Walla, WA.  Walla Walla has quickly gained a reputation for churning out some excellent, world class wines, so I decided to take the 2 hour journey from Pullman, WA to try them out myself.  Now the Walla Walla AVA is located in southeastern Washington State within the large Columbia Valley AVA, and also encompasses a small part of northeast Oregon.  This area was granted AVA status in 1984 and at that time in the mid 1980’s, there was only about 60 acres of planted grapes and 6 wineries.  Well, these numbers have exploded in recent years to over 100 wineries and 1,600 acres of grapes. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Syrah are the most planted varietals, with an abundance of others planted in smaller quantities.  There is a very distinctive, unique terroir in the wines made here, and they definitely stand out when compared to wines from other regions.  The town itself is a vibrant community, with a great downtown dotted with tasting rooms.  While I was there, I only had time to visit a handful of wineries, but I was impressed none the less. Most all of the wines were outstanding and among the wineries visited, I decided to write reviews on Seven Hills, Lodmell Cellars, Spring Valley Vineyard, and Golden Ridge Vineyards. Instead of writing one long endless post, I thought I would break it up into separate entries, so each winery gets its own review. Walla Walla is definitely a must visit when it comes to wine country, and I plan on making the journey again soon.

Stay tuned for more…

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