I vividly recall when I first tried the inaugural releases from Rôtie Cellars. It was last spring at Seattle Uncorked’s annual syrah event. I had tasted through fifty some odd Washington State syrahs before I arrived at the table where winemaker Sean Boyd was pouring. Boyd poured a glass of his 2007 Southern Blend – a mix of grenache, syrah, and mourvedre. The first sip was arresting. I looked up from my glass and said, “You have my complete attention.”

It takes a certain style of wine to stand out in large format tastings. Usually these are the bigger, brawnier wines that elbow their way to the front with fruit, oak, and alcohol. Boyd’s Rôtie Cellars wines are none of that. Rather these are lower oak, lower alcohol wines that focus on fruit expression. As indicated by the winery’s name, Boyd is a Côte-Rôtie lover. With Rôtie Cellars, Boyd focuses on trying to make Old World-style wines from New World fruit. The results for Boyd’s 2007 Northern Blend (syrah co-fermented with viognier) and Southern Blend were among the most compelling wines coming out of Washington last year.

After being greatly impressed by a winery’s first release, I always hold my breath a bit when trying the second. Was it just a great vintage? Was it just beginners luck? After spending time last fall talking with Boyd and tasting barrel samples, it was clear that the answer to the first question was yes and the second question was no. 2007 was a great vintage, but Boyd’s subsequent wines are every bit as impressive if not more so. Of course, the proof is really in the bottle, and the 2008 releases emphatically confirm my initial excitement about this winery.

Boyd works as assistant winemaker at Waters Winery where he produces the Rôtie Cellars wines. He shows an intense and contagious passion for wine and for winemaking. Last year when I talked to Boyd about the new winery, he was perhaps most excited about his 2008 Grenache, which would ultimately go into the Southern Blend. “You’ve got to try the 2008!” Boyd implored at the winery’s release event. I did and, true to the vagaries of barrel tasting, Boyd seemed suddenly unimpressed with his own creation. “Tasted a lot different a couple of weeks ago,” he said somewhat deflated. While he was riding the roller coaster that is watching wine age in the barrel, it was clear that lurking in the darkness was a wine worthy of excitement.

When I first tasted Rôtie Cellars 2008 Southern Blend several months ago, the wine was still somewhat reluctant to show itself. The fruit expression was vibrant but the wine hadn’t yet taken on the earth tones that made the 2007 wine so compelling. It has since blossomed into the wine Boyd was so excited about back when he tasted it in the barrel.

While the Southern Blend is an strong statement of the promise of grenache and grenache blends in Washington, Boyd’s 2008 Northern Blend is even more impressive. Syrah has become a bit of a dirty word in Washington and elsewhere of late, but Boyd’s 2008 Northern Blend is another data point, if any were needed, that this grape excels here. This is an intense, meaty wine with textured fruit flavors. “I’m pretty proud of this wine,” Boyd says.

Since launching Rôtie Cellars last year, Boyd has opened up a tasting room in downtown Walla Walla. He is also preparing to launch Rôtie Cellars’ wine club. The winery’s club – Rotesians – has a very unique twist, what Boyd refers to as “lifetime pricing.” People who join the wine club now will be able to sign up for allocations of wine at 2010 prices in perpetuity. Boyd says his goal is to “reward our loyal clients who found us at the beginning.” He continues, “I’m in it for life, and I’m going to love to get stuck in fifteen to twenty years when everybody tells me how stupid this idea was.”

Rôtie Cellars produces 1,000 cases annually.

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Rôtie Cellars Northern Blend Red Wine Washington State 2008 $35
Rating: ** (Exceptional) An aromatic nose with violets, bacon fat, and blueberries. A meaty, rich, intense wine loaded with fresh fruit and umami flavors along with a textured mouthfeel. Oak is very far in the background putting the focus firmly on the fruit. 97% Syrah, 3% Viognier. 14.2% alcohol. 396 cases produced.

Rôtie Cellars Southern Blend Red Wine Washington State 2008 $35
Rating: * (Excellent) Redolent with earth, raspberries, red cherries, and Red Vines. Beautifully rich, pure fruit flavors on the palate. Exceptionally well balanced with a long finish. 70% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre. Aged in French oak (100% second fills). 14.2% alcohol. 400 cases produced.