Thomas Cottrell is Bellevue Club’s contributing wine columnist and the owner of La Cantina Wine Merchants.
So what happens when you gather 11 of the state’s best red wines, put them in brown paper bags, and let an experienced group of 10 tasters evaluate them? Some surprises and some things that are rather more expected. Of course, the great pleasure of such a tasting is that each and every wine is outstanding. They came from producers that have earned their reputations in vintages past. That’s why we wanted to taste them side-by-side, just to see how they compared. One point to emphasize: I’m listing the wines in order of the group’s preference, not as winners and losers—every one of the wines here is a winner. But on this one night, this particular group of 10 tasters preferred a few outstanding wines to a few other
outstanding wines. I’ll list them from last to first.
Another note: we limited the wines to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and blends thereof. Washington’s other great red, Syrah, will have to wait for another tasting.
2004 Andrew Will “Ciel du Cheval” (Red Mountain, $56)—This Bordeaux-style blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot comes from one of the state’s most famous vineyards. The rich fruit, full body, and noticeable alcohol all attest to the hot Red Mountain source for the grapes.
2003 Chaleur Estate (Red Mountain, $70)—The Red Mountain qualities come through here again—sweet and full, with a hint of mint and rich body. This time the blend of grapes is Cabernet Sauvignon dominant, with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petite Verdot completing the picture.
2004 Betz “Pere de Famille” (Columbia Valley, $49)—Another Bordeaux blend, again with the emphasis on Cab Sauv. The style is oaky and toasty, with a ripe, gamy character that’s showy and pleasing.
2004 Chester-Kidder (Columbia Valley, $50)—Part of the Long Shadows group of wines, this blend of Bordeaux types has a hefty touch of Syrah (29 percent) just for interest. It’s one of the best-balanced wines here, smooth and polished, even elegant.
2005 Buty 61% Merlot/39% Cabernet Franc (Columbia Valley, $36)—This wine is full of fruit, with hints of chocolate and eucalyptus and silken texture. It is tasty and perhaps the best value in the tasting.
2003 Pepper Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon (Walla Walla, $53)—Ripe and boldly fruited, with generous oak notes and a noticeable chocolate element, this one is classic “Walla Walla style.” The finish showed a bit of heat.
Photo courtesy of Woodward Canyon
2003 Dunham Cabernet Sauvignon “IX” (Columbia Valley, $45)—Similar to the Pepper Bridge in style, but this time the sweet fruit/oak combo is backed by an attractive leafiness. Again, a bit hot in the finish.
2005 Leonetti Merlot (Columbia Valley, $75)—As always, showy and rich: smoky oak, ripe fruit that offers up berries, chocolate and a hint of dried dill. The long, supple finish shows a bit of heat.
2002 GLM “Deluge” (Yakima Valley, $40)—This was included as a “ringer” and did very well. GLM stands for Glacial Lake Missoula, whose continual flooding carved out the Columbia and Yakima Valleys thousands of years ago. A blend of 65 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 39 percent Merlot and 5 percent Cabernet Franc, it was impressive in this fine company: sweet fruit with a hint of eucalyptus. It’s balanced and intense, with a firm structure that promises good aging.
2004 Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley, $85)—Exceptionally dark color, rich and ripe, sweet from the fruit and from the oak. I picked up a hint of mint that reminded me of some Napa Valley Cabs. It was long and lush in the finish, with a slightly hot note.
2003 Woodward Canyon “Charbonneau” (Columbia Valley, $58)—This blend of 56 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 39 percent Merlot and 5 percent Cabernet Franc impressed with its balance as well as its concentration: toasty oak, ripe fruit, fleshy texture, supple finish. It is a lovely wine.
It was a rare treat to taste all these beauties at one sitting; it would be a treat to have any one of them on your table.