Catie at ~Through the Walla Walla Grapevine~ came up with a great topic for this months WBW. Its an area that Ive had a soft spot for, for quite a while. But its an area that frustrates the hell out of me, because I cant find many wines from there here in the UK.
My first experience of a Washington wine was many years ago when I worked at Amaryllis. I was invited down to London to get together with the other Ramsay sommelier at their weekly tasting sessions in Petrus. James Hocking from the Vineyard Cellars had come across to show some of his wines to the assembled sommeliers. As their portfolio is of course predominantly Californian we ploughed our way through numerous Californian chards and then cabs before moving on to a few Oregon Pinots - (Beaux Freres, Ken Wright - yum yum!!) before we hit the motherlode. It was a Woodward Canyon Old Vines Cabernet 1998, and it struck me like a thunderbolt. Darkly intense fruit flavours, soft supple vanilla flavours more typical of French oak than the usual coconutty character often found from American oak. It tasted expensive! And it was in fact bloody expensive, coming in to the trade at over £30 a bottle. Ronan allowed me to get six bottles for the restaurant and I think I only ever sold two of them. Ive had a natural affection for the wines of the Pacific Northwest ever since then, subscribing to Winepress Northwest for a number of years, dreaming of the days when these great wines that I read about would be readily available in the UK. Im still waiting. About two years ago the Vineyard Cellars dropped their Washington agencies after the price hikes became unworkable. And there lies the fundamental problem for me.
Compared to California the wine industry in Washington is in its infancy, there are some phenominally good producers out there making some great wines. But they arent making anywhere near the quantities of the Californian winemakers, and coupled with a strong local market, there is no financial need to export. This means that the few wines that do make it to our shores tend to be very expensive. I look with envy at the Herbfarms winelist (http://www.theherbfarm.com/WineListPDF/HFWineList0606.PDF) chock full of great wines that Ive read about and may probably never get to taste, unless I can blag a trip out there!! But there is some sunshine on the horizon. Morris and Verdun supply the superb wines of Andrew Will, made by Chris Camarda, sourcing fruit from some of the best vineyards in the state. Unfortunately I could get my hands on any of it for this WBW.
So what am I going to post about. Well Ive completely failed to get hold of a Walla Walla Cabernet, so Im going to cheat a bit and blog about Canoe Ridge Merlot, from the Columbia Valley. Canoe Ridge is part of the Diageo portfolio and is apparently the largest single estate vineyard in Washington. The 2002 was quite a challenging vintage, very dry and warm, which had to be kept under control by drip irrigation to prevent the sugars from accumulating too much. On the nose it starts off a bit dull before opening up a bit with mulberry, redcurrants and I think im getting tomato leaf too. There is obvious oak influence with vanilla and a touch of toasted coconut flavours before a tobacco like richness takes over. On the palate it was more soft red fruits - perhaps slightly underripe raspberries and mulberry, with a rich victoria plum flavour in there too. The tannins are quite restrained with a touch of greenness about them at the finish. The length is somewhat short really and the wines finishes quite weakly. I have to say that for a new world merlot Im a bit disappointed really, I would expect a bit better. It wasnt cheap either, coming in at nearly £10 trade price.
I had hoped to do somewhat better for this edition of WBW, but alas thems the breaks.