This report from the Walla Walla Valley includes wines from Reynvaan Family Vineyards, Gramercy Cellars, Woodward Canyon, Rasa Vineyards, and Seven Hills Winery. Read Part I here.
Reynvaan Family Vineyards
Reynvaan Family Vineyards‘ ascension into the upper echelon of Northwest wineries has been remarkably swift (read previous posts about the winery here). It seems hard to imagine that the winery’s first wines were released a mere four years ago. Since that time, Reynvaan has gone on to not only produce consistently stunning wines; they are also producing wines that are as good as any being made in Washington.
The 2011 vintage releases reviewed below are notable not only for their high quality but also for a series of white wine releases. While the winery has made its Queens Road White – a blend of Marsanne and Viognier – since the beginning, 2011 saw its first varietal bottlings of Grenache Blanc and Viognier.
Walla Walla Valley designated white wines are rare beasts (the valley is planted to 82% red wine varieties). The Grenache Blanc is the only one I’m aware of coming out of the valley and one of the very few being made in the state (Two Vintners, Syncline, and McCrea also make varietal bottlings). In terms of Viognier, àMaurice Cellars on the other side of the valley in the Upper Mill Creek area makes an estate bottle as does Abeja from the same area. I strain to think of others.
These bottles would be interesting to Walla Walla Valley and Northwest devotees for that reason alone. But they offer so much more than simply intellectual interest with the Grenache Blanc in particular a wine that I kept coming back to over and over again.
The latest red releases continue the winery’s string of high quality vintages, with The Contender and Stonessence wines in particular standouts. Like everyone across the Northwest, Reynvaan had to drop a lot of its fruit in order to achieve ripeness during the historically cool growing season – something that makes the wines in high demand and short supply. Talking with winemaker Matt Reynvaan about the vintage he said simply, “I’m happy with the wines. I wish we made more of them.”
Reynvaan Family Vineyards Estate Grenache Blanc Estate White Walla Walla Valley 2011 $55
(Excellent) Leaps up from the glass with earth, mineral, savory notes, and spices, lemon, almond, and toast – leaning far toward the savory side over fruit. The palate is medium bodied with a lot of texture and depth along with mouthwatering acids. A very uniquely styled wine – it’s hard to think of another like it – that brings a red wine seriousness in white wine clothing, drinking best around 60-62 degrees. Highly recommended. 100% Grenache Blanc. Aged in French oak and stainless steel. 12.59% alcohol.
Reynvaan Family Vineyards Queens Road White Estate White Walla Walla Valley 2011 $60
(Excellent) A moderately aromatic wine with barrel spices, abundant earth notes, mineral, peach, marzipan, and savory notes. The palate brings a sense of richness and texture while still remaining light on its feet with abundant umami flavors. 55% Marsanne, 45% Viognier. Aged in French oak and stainless steel.
Reynvaan Family Vineyards Viognier Estate White Walla Walla Valley 2011 $55
(Excellent) An aromatic wine with abundant peach, wet stone, and vibrant floral notes. The palate has a pleasing sense of texture, dancing elegantly. A very pretty wine that might not suite all comers. 100% Viognier. Aged in French oak and stainless steel with full malolactic fermentation.
Reynvaan Family Vineyards Foothills Reserve Estate Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2011 $55
(Excellent/Exceptional) Intensely aromatic with heaping amounts of black pepper, underbrush, peat, savory notes, and plum. The palate is elegant in style with soft, fresh savory flavors.
Reynvaan Family Vineyards The Unnamed Estate Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2011 $60
(Exceptional) Somewhat stylistically distinct from previous vintages with fascinating savory aromas, olive, and floral notes. The palate is full of umami flavors with enough tannins to lay down well in the cellar and a long, lingering finish. Syrah co-fermented with Grenache Blanc. 13.8% alcohol.
Reynvaan Family Vineyards In the Rocks Estate Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2011 $60
(Exceptional) Pops aromatically with floral notes, olive, umami, abundant minerality, and an earthy funk. The palate is rich and textured while retaining a sense of deftness. Syrah co-fermented with Viognier. 14.0% alcohol.
Reynvaan Family Vineyards The Contender Estate Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2011 $60
(Exceptional) Thrillingly aromatic with abundant savory notes, violets, black olive, meat, and an earthy funk. The palate is a showstopper, textured and rich while retaining great delicacy and energy. A statement wine. Syrah co-fermented with Marsanne. 13.7% alcohol.
Reynvaan Family Vineyards Stonessence Estate Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2011 $70
(Exceptional) An aromatically arresting, perfumed wine with ash, crushed stone, peat, olive, braised meat, and smoke. The palate has earth-shaking intensity with waves of umami and earth flavors and a hyperextended finish. 100% Syrah. 14.0% alcohol.
Exciting things are afoot at Gramercy Cellars (aren’t they always)? Among them, the winery is fully settled into its new home, building a crush pad and filling it with shiny new equipment, including a shaker table and press. As a result, the winery was able to crush at this facility for the first time in 2013. This can only have a positive effect on what are already remarkably high quality wines.
In other news, the winery has added a Southern Rhone-style blend to its Lower East program. The Lower East wines, which hide in the shadows with no mention on the winery’s website, provide a ready destination for some of the younger vine fruit that the winery works with but also provides consistently high quality at an affordable price. The wines are only sold through distribution and through the mailing list. Two words: find them.
Like many of the wines from the vintage, the 2011 wines are more immediately accessible than their 2010 cousins. They include several single vineyard wines, including a 100% Les Collines Syrah and a 100% Phinny Hill Cabernet Sauvignon. With the winery’s restrained use of new French oak and lower alcohol levels, this provides a vivid view of what these vineyards taste like in this vintage. Who could ask for more?
Gramercy Cellars Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2011 $50
(Excellent/Exceptional) The winery’s first 100% Les Collines Vineyard Walla Walla Valley Syrah, it leaps up from the glass with violets, smoke, game, plum, and stemmy notes. The palate is sophisticated and elegant in style with a beautiful sense of balance and vibrancy. The mouthfeel is soft and supple with a lick of acid that draws out the finish. Some may find the style a bit too light; others will swoon. Expect it to flesh out with some additional time in the bottle. 100% Syrah. Les Collines Vineyard. Aged 18 months in French oak (18% new). 13% alcohol. 470 cases produced.
Gramercy Cellars Lower East Southern Blend Columbia Valley 2011 $32
(Excellent) An aromatically complex wine with a sprinkling of white pepper, an earthy funk, red raspberries, floral notes, and savory notes. The palate is lighter in style, almost Pinot like, elegant and graceful but with a beautiful texture. Deserving of a place at the dinner table. 59% Grenache, 34% Syrah, 7% Cinsault. 13.7% alcohol.
Gramercy Cellars The Third Man Columbia Valley 2011 $50
(Exceptional) The 2011 vintage of The Third Man adds Upland Vineyard to the mix, though it’s the Rocks fruit (SJR Vineyard) that really pops at present. There’s a lot of aromatic complexity here with an earthy funk, peppery spices, high toned herbs and other notes that play mainly in the savory realm, with the fruit a bit more dark fruit oriented than some recent vintages. The palate is plush and textured with soft, savory flavors that persist effortless on a long finish. 55% Grenache, 40% Syrah, 5% Mourvèdre. Olsen, Alder Ridge, Upland, Minick, and SJR vineyards. Aged 18 months in French oak (13% new). 14.1% alcohol. 630 cases produced.
Gramercy Cellars Lower East Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2011 $32
(Excellent) A delicious, distinctive expression of the variety with Cabernet’s herb and savory notes on full display along with cherry. There’s little apparent new oak influence providing a pure, vivid look at the variety backed by tart acidity. If you want to know what Washington Cabernet can be about, this is a one bottle primer that demands food alongside of it. 13.2% alcohol.
Gramercy Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2010 $48
(Excellent/Exceptional) Almost 100% varietal with all of the fruit coming from top-site Phinny Hill Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills, it brings high toned, very pretty aromas of dusty earth, savory notes, and pure, penetrating cherries. The palate has pure, lush cherry flavors, beautifully integrated tannins and bright acid. A thoroughly delicious wine made in a restrained style. 99% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Petit Verdot. Phinny Hill Vineyard. Aged 22 months in French oak (40% new). 13.9% alcohol. 450 cases produced.
Gramercy Cellars Syrah SJR Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2011 $NA
(Excellent/Exceptional) A winery club release from SJR Vineyard down in The Rocks, it’s a peppery, meaty, earthy, funky, savory wine with a pleasing citrus accent. The flavors are light, savory and delicious.
Woodward Canyon founder Rick Small says that some of the winery’s recent wines achieved a level of ripeness that he doesn’t prefer. “Sometimes you have to push it to see where the boundaries are,” he said. For Small, he believes they stepped over the boundary in 2009 and says that the intention is to dial back from that, which I believe is good news for all Woodward Canyon fans. “2009 we took ripeness into another zone,” he said. “We’re not going to do that anymore.”
The cool 2010 vintage provided the perfect opportunity for a change. “As winemakers, we didn’t get a chance to make wines like 2010 since 1993,” Small said, providing a perspective few winemakers in the state can. Looking just at labeled alcohol percentage, the result was a drop from 15.8% in the 2009 vintage down to 14.1% in 2010. “Woodward’s focus is still trying to make wines that complement food,” Small said. The 2010 releases more than ably succeed.
Woodward Canyon Estate Sauvignon Blanc Walla Walla Valley 2012 $26
(Good/Excellent) A moderately aromatic wine with gooseberry, melon, toasty spices, and herbs. The palate is ripe and rich while still retaining good acidity with the alcohol occasionally poking through and providing some distraction. 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Aged in neutral French oak. 14.3% alcohol. 355 cases produced.
Woodward Canyon Chardonnay Washington State 2012 $44
(Excellent/Exceptional) Draws you into the glass with pear, candy corn, apple, spicy barrel notes, and a light nuttiness. The palate is medium bodied with vibrant fruit flavors, a lot of texture and depth, a lick of lemony acidity and a drawn out finish. Almost criminal to drink without pairing with crab cakes. 100% Chardonnay. Woodward Canyon Estate (71%) and Celilo vineyards. Aged in French Burgundy barrels (approximately 20% new). 14.1% alcohol. 873 cases produced.
Nelms Road Merlot Washington State 2009 $25
(Good) A riper style with pencil shavings, dark fruit, and oak spices. The palate is full, rich and ripe with sultry dark fruit flavors, a plush feel, and chewy tannins. Not for the faint of heart. 82% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Grenache, 2% Barbera, 2% Syrah, and 1% Cabernet Franc. 16.1% alcohol. 2,988 cases produced.
Nelms Road Cabernet Sauvignon Washington State 2012 $25
(Excellent) A moderately aromatic wine with spicy barrel notes, pencil lead, blackberry, and cassis. The palate has velvety fruit flavors with a lot of depth and intensity with chewy tannins and a dry finish. 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Syrah, 4% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 2% Barbera, and 2% Petit Verdot. 14.1% alcohol. 5,380 cases produced.
Woodward Canyon Merlot Columbia Valley 2010 $44
(Excellent) Aromatically closed up with brooding notes of spicy oak, coffee, plum, chocolate, and red currant. The palate is exuberant with a mixture of cranberry, cherry, and red fruit with chewy tannins and fresh acid. Give two years. 98% Merlot, 2% Grenache. Weinbau (71%) and Woodward Canyon Estate vineyards. 14.9% alcohol. 619 cases produced.
Woodward Canyon Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon Washington State 2010 $54
(Excellent) A moderately aromatic wine with abundant up front barrel notes – chocolate, vanilla, and spice – along with dark fruit, earth, and graphite. The palate has fresh acid, a restrained feel and a pleasing grip of tannins. Give two years. 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot. Champoux (55%), Woodward Canyon Estate (24%), Sagemoor (17%), and Weinbau vineyards. 14.1% alcohol. 2,697 cases produced.
Woodward Canyon Estate Reserve Walla Walla Valley 2010 $79
(Excellent) A moderately aromatic wine with high toned spicy oak notes, cherry, chocolate, and moist dark soil. The palate is restrained with seamless fruit flavors, mixing grace and power, backed by a firm grip of tannins. Give time in the cellar to see it at its best. 41% Merlot, 31% Petit Verdot, 14% Cabernet Franc, and 14% Cabernet Sauvignon. 14.6% alcohol. 173 cases produced.
The 2010 vintage was a challenge to Washington’s winemakers, the majority of whom had never seen such a cool vintage in the state. As a result, vintners had to alter some of their practices.
“The main place we adjusted was in the vineyard,” said Rasa Vineyards winemaker Billo Naravane. Naravane noted that they dropped as much as 50-60% of their fruit in order to get the grapes to properly ripen.
“We were merciless in the vineyard,” Naravane said. “I don’t think we got anything over two tons per acre.” He noted that he also lowered the oak profile of some of the wines.
The result is a series of glorious wines that are true to the vintage while showing the precise craftsmanship and detail that the winery is known for. Of note, the winery’s 2010 QED Red Wine is perhaps its best yet.
Rasa Vineyards QED Red Wine Columbia Valley 2010 $50
(Exceptional) An aromatic tour de force with blueberry, garrigue, white pepper, crushed violets, smoked meat, chocolate, and earth. The palate shows great elegance and deftness with vivid, crystalline clarity, moving along gracefully to a long, extended finish. Perhaps the best QED yet. 79% Syrah (Les Collines, Seven Hills, Bacchus), 9% Mourvèdre (Monette’s Vineyard, Alder Ridge), 8% Grenache (Monette’s Vineyard), and 4% Viognier (Les Collines). Aged 24 months in French oak (20% new). 14.9% alcohol. 549 cases produced.
Rasa Vineyards Principia Reserve Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2010 $85
(Exceptional) Pops aromatically with a complex mixture of dark berries, violets, game, tar, dark chocolate, and peppery spice, showing great delineation and precision. The palate is elegant in style, vibrant and fresh with a long, lingering finish. 100% Syrah. Les Collines and Seven Hills vineyards. 100% Syrah. Aged 18 months in French oak (25% new). 14.4% alcohol. 120 cases produced.
Rasa Vineyards Plus One Cabernet Sauvignon Kiona Vineyard Red Mountain 2010 $75
(Excellent) A Cabernet Sauvignon prototype that explores the grape’s savory side with notes of tomato leaf, herbs, ash, and mineral. The palate is tart and elegant in style, finesse driven with abundant acidity stitching it all together. Those looking for a big, bold Cabernet look elsewhere but for those in search of a beautiful expression of the 2010 vintage in Washington, this one is for you. Aged in French oak (50% new). 13.4% alcohol. 182 cases produced.
Rasa Vineyards Creative Impulse Red Wine Yakima Valley 2010 $95
(Excellent/Exceptional) Draws you into the glass with cassis, herbs, chocolate box, and savory notes. The palate is all about elegance with deft fruit flavors and fine grained tannins, lingering effortlessly on the finish. 67.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32.5% Merlot. DuBrul Vineyard. Aged 28 months in French oak (60% new). 14.2% alcohol. 240 cases produced.
Rasa Vineyards In Order To Form a More Perfect Union Red Wine Columbia Valley 2010 $95
(Exceptional) Locked up aromatically at present with high toned notes of herbs, cherry, chocolate, pencil lead, and black olive. On the palate, it walks the tight rope exquisitely with elegantly styled yet concentrated fruit flavors that bring great depth without alcoholic weight. Give two years. 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot, and 16% Cabernet Franc. Echo Ridge, DuBrul, Kiona, Dionysus, and Weinbau vineyards. Aged in French oak (60% new). 13.9% alcohol. 303 cases produced.
Rasa Vineyards Dream Deferred Chardonnay Yakima Valley 2011 $45
(Good) A moderately aromatic wine with pear, white peach, mineral, and floral notes. The palate is lightly styled with notes of cream and a textured feel. 100% Chardonnay. Fermented in 60% oak (half new) and stainless steel. 13.5% alcohol. 84 cases produced.
Seven Hills Winery
While 2010 was a cool vintage, 2011 was even cooler – the coolest on record in Washington. Having tasted some disappointing early releases from the vintage, I walked into Seven Hills Winery somewhat skeptical about the prospects for 2011 red wines in terms of Bordeaux varieties. Casey McClellan’s wines immediately changed my mind.
The 2011 releases from Seven Hills show the best that the vintage has to offer – lower alcohol levels, vivid focus, and wines that explore the savory side without ever veering into the green. It was a good reminder that in tough vintages, good winemakers still make good wine. And few offer wines with greater cellaring potential than Seven Hills. On this visit I sampled a 1993 Oregon labeled Cabernet Sauvignon, which was still humming along.
Of note, no Pentad or Klipsun Cabernet Sauvignon was produced in 2011 with all of the fruit being declassified into the Columbia Valley Cabernet. This certainly elevated this beautiful expression of the vintage.
Seven Hills Winery Riesling Columbia Valley 2011 $17
(Good) Lightly herbal along with lime, green apple, and mineral notes. It’s off dry with a tart finish. 100% Riesling. Evergreen, Willard, and Snipes vineyards. Fermented and aged in stainless steel. 10% alcohol. 3,700 cases produced.
Seven Hills Winery Pinot Gris Oregon 2012 $17
(Good) Lightly aromatic but appealing with toasted grapenuts, vanilla, and pear. The palate is dry, medium bodied with a touch of spice and a clean finish. 100% Pinot Gris. Aged in stainless steel and French oak (10% new). 13.8% alcohol. 2,500 cases produced.
Seven Hills Winery Merlot Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2011 $35
(Excellent) A classic Merlot profile of ripe red fruits – red plum and currant – along with vanilla, clove, and spice. On the palate, the fruit flavors are plush with a pleasing interplay of acidic structure and chewy tannins with a low alcohol feel. Still needs time to fully develop. 100% Merlot. Aged 21 months in French oak (40% new). 13.5% alcohol. 260 cases produced.
Seven Hills Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2011 $30
(Excellent) A young wine that unabashedly explores Cabernet’s (and Carménère’s, 6%) leafier side with a medley of fresh herbs, whole green pepper, vanilla, cinnamon stick, and exotic spices. The palate is soft and supple, showing little alcoholic weight, a pleasing sense of tension with the acids, and a healthy – but in check – dose of tannins. If you’re looking for ripe dark fruit, turn the page. If you’re interested in a savory wine with a great mouthfeel, a lot of acid, precise winemaking, and a spotless window into this vintage, read on. 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Carmenere, 4% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot, and 5% Malbec. Aged 18 months in American and European oak (25% new). 13.5% alcohol. 3,000 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.
Seven Hills Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2011 $45
(Exceptional) Pure, penetrating fruit aromas of sweet red and black currant meld with barrel spices, high toned herbal notes, and pencil lead. The palate shows a beautiful balance of grace, depth, and structure. A flat out gorgeous, pure expression of Cabernet Sauvignon that has a long life ahead of it. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged 22 months in French oak (40% new). 13.7% alcohol. 923 cases produced.
Seven Hills Winery Ciel du Cheval Red Wine Red Mountain 2011 $45
(Excellent) An aromatically brooding wine with licorice, savory notes, barrel spices, and a cornucopia of berries. The palate is tart and fresh with a lively with a core of acid running through it and beautiful integration of tannins. A cellar worthy wine. 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 15% Petit Verdot, and 4% Cabernet Franc. Aged 21 months in French oak (40% new). 14.1% alcohol. 525 cases produced.
Seven Hills Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2010 $NA
(Excellent) An aromatically distinct wine with olive, savory spices, high toned herbs, cherry, and barrel notes. The fruit flavors and dense and expressive with abundant cherry notes. It’s a mouthful of a wine with brawny, big tannins mixed with rich fruit flavors. To be released in 2014. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Seven Hills and Fire Ridge vineyards. Aged 30 months in French oak (50% new). 82 cases produced.
Great writeup, Sean, of some of the Valley's stalwarts and some of its newer rockstars. I think tough vintages like 2011 can often be the true test of a winemaker's talents, allowing their attention to vineyards and technique to really shine. Great read.
Sean, I know Rulo does a nice varietal Grenache Blanc though I believe the fruit is from the Yakima Valley.
Tristan, didn't know that. Thanks for the heads up!
Brandon, wholeheartedly agree.
Rulo's Grenache Blanc is from Boushey Vineyard, another site where Rhone whites appear to have found a great home.
Clearly I need to try the Rulo Grenache Blanc! Haven't had the pleasure.
Cayuse is producing and releasing their viognier again. Another to add to the list. Thanks for the hard work, as usual!
Anon 4:08pm, indeed! I didn't get a chance to sit down with Christophe before he went on his annual trip to France but plan to catch up on the latest releases in the new year. Thank *you* for reading!
Always enjoy your write-ups. I have 4 bottles each of the Reynvaan '09 Unnamed, Contender, and In the Rocks Syrah. Haven't opened any yet. But was going to take one each to a Christmas dinner at the Metropolitan Grill. How best/when to open so we just don't "pop n pour" them at the table? Would be a shame not to enjoy the full potential.
Thanks Peter! Sounds like you are in for a fun Christmas dinner!
Honestly, I would consider giving them 30-60 minutes decanting, putting The Contender on the longer side of that but they should be more or less good to go from the start. They'll keep evolving as they open up (or lay down in the cellar) but I find that, particularly for the 2009s, they are quite accessible when first opened. 2010s are another matter! Have fun!