Wining and dining with Stephen Tanzer

Last weekend, my friend Julie invited me to this really cool event a wine dude from Microsoft organized. It was an evening eating and drinking with acclaimed wine writer, Stephen Tanzer. The event was to taste 10 of the best Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah that Washington could produce. I knew I had to attend; how often do opportunities where you can drink great wine and learn a ton happen?

David Hamilton was the guy that organized this event, and it was awesome. It was located at the wonderful Art of the Table restaurant in Wallingford. I could go on and on about how great the food was, but I’ll save that for another time, as Chef Dustin Ronspies has some great themes ahead for dinner. I’m looking forward to going back for the Julia Childs’ dinner. Chef Dustin is a really cool guy and all the praise Art of the Table is getting is well deserved.

But yes, the wine and Steve. Every summer, Steve visits Washington to do some tastings and check out the pulse of the industry as he preps for his renowned wine articles. He tries a ton of stuff from all sorts of different producers. He wanted to have an event to taste the absolute best that Washington can produce, which brought us to that evening. Five Cabs and five Syrahs. All were excellent and with Steve’s expertise, we were able to understand the unique differences of these wines and the future of the Washington wine industry.

In tasting, Steve looks for two main things; aromatic complexity and definition of flavor. I thought this was cool. It’s easy to drink wine, but with tasting having a game plan helps out in appreciating wine. He also mentioned some exciting producers that he was surprised by. From Gramercy to Long Shadows, Trust to Va Piano, even our friends at aMaurice, these were all wineries to keep an eye on.

For the Cabernet, my personal favorite was the 2004 Leonetti Cellar Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. This was an utterly brilliant wine that felt like silk on my palate. From the full, lush nose, to the clean and long lasting finish. This was a wine that as Steve mentioned, ‘is a classic expression of Walla Walla.’ The wine was spicy, slightly acidic thus making it a great food wine. And the soft tannins made it easily drinkable. Here was a cool way that Steve mentioned accounting for tannins; think about them as grains. Are the grains fine? Smooth and elegant? Or are they granular? Chunky and bold? Things to consider.

The Leonetti was excellent. Not surprising as they have always been one of the finest purveyors of Washington Wine. Plus, winemaker Chris Figgins is a supersmart and talented dude.

I was really looking forward to the Syrah tasting. I haven’t drank as much Syrah as I used too. For a stretch it was the ‘in’ grape; much like how it used to be Merlot, now it is Pinot. So there were a ton of Syrah out there, and I slowly started to try other wines. But the Syrah that we drank were all great. Very different from the Syrah that I use to drink (or was I just drinking some inconsistent stuff?). A really cool thing that Steve mentioned is that the best is yet to come for Washington Syrah.

Of the Syrah’s we tasted, my personal favorite was the 2006 Betz La Serenne Columbia Valley Syrah. This was an excellent wine. Bob Betz always comes through with great wines and this was no exception. It had a smoky nose with hints of tobacco and meat. It rolls along the palate with a ton of body and finishes with a nice lushness that goes on and on. Couple this with the malolactic fermentation, this was a wine with a ton of mouthfeel. I really did love this wine, it reminded me of late summer. I don’t know how to quantify that, but it just felt like late summer, the enjoyment of looking back and the hope of looking forward.

Betz Family Winery is considered one of the best of Washington, and this Syrah proves that. Another cool thing is that Bob Betz has always been supportive of retail, in other words, it shouldn’t be too hard to find this wine, he always makes sure to allocate wine to his friends in retail.Here were the other wines on the menu, all were excellent:

  • 2005 Gramercy Cellars Walla Walla Valley Syrah
  • 2005 Waters Forgotten Hills Walla Walla Valley Syrah
  • 2005 K Vintners Wells Walla Walla Valley Syrah
  • 2004 Cayuse Cailloux Vineyard Walla Walla Valley Syrah
  • 2005 L’Ecole No. 41 Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2005 Abeja Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2005 Chateau Rollat Edouard de Rollat Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2004 Quilceda Creek Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

So yeah, we had a great time tasting some truly awesome wines. Thanks David for organizing. Thanks Julie for inviting me! And thanks Steve! For dropping the knowledge and teaching us the potential and greatness of Washington wine.

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