Wine Tasting with Stephen Tanzer 2.0

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In late-July I had the fortunate opportunity to drink some of the best wines from Washington with one of the best wine critics in the industry; that’s right, the second year in a row to have an evening of drinking wine with Stephen Tanzer of International Wine Cellars.

I went to this event last year and loved every minute of it. Last summer it was at the brilliant Art of the Table and I remembered all of those details vividly. The wine, the food, the conversations; at the time, my wine knowledge was just starting to come into its own. I was like a giddy kid on his first day of college; excited to get started with this next chapter, but humbled enough to know I had plenty to learn.

Fast forward a year later, and I know a bit more, but there is still so much I can glean. That’s why I was just as excited for this year’s tasting with Steve. The event was at Tom Douglas’ Palace Ballroom, a bit more spacious and a few more people were able to attend. One of the cool things at this year’s tasting was that four winemakers were invited to the event; Bob Betz of Betz Family Winery, Mike Januik of Januik Winery, Ben Smith of Cadence Winery, and Andrew Rich of Andrew Rich Wines. I thought this was really cool because they were able to share their expertise, insight, and stories as their wines were poured.

I loved the perspectives that each of the winemakers and Steve brought to the tasting. We covered viniculture, viticulture, the characteristics and differences of the most-sourced vineyards, the local wine industry, how we differ from California, and the potential of our region. This information was timely and absorbed, we were an audience of wine geeks and we willingly gobbled it up.

The theme of this year again was to taste what Steve thought were the best of this year’s releases of Washington Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. These are two of the grape varietals that Washington excels, so it was exciting to see what Steve considers the pinnacle of these two wine types. Also, to throw a curveball into the tasting, Steve also brought out two of his favorite non-Washington CS and Syrah to add context to the tasting. I looked forward to drinking some wines that I know I wouldn’t be able to afford.

Here are the wines that were poured for the evening:

Cabernet Sauvignon-based

  • 2006 Cadence Tapteil Vineyard Red Mountain
  • 2006 Boekenhoutskloof Cabernet Sauvignon Franschhoek
  • 2006 Betz Pere de Famile Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley
  • 2005 Januik Cabernet Sauvignon Ciel du Cheval Red Mountain
  • 2004 Corliss Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley
  • 2004 Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley

Syrah

  • 2006 Gramercy Cellars Syrah Walla Wall Valley
  • 2006 Delas Saint-Joseph Sainte Epine
  • 2006 Andrew Rich Syrah Les Vignes en Face Columbia Valley
  • 2006 Abeja Syrah Walla Walla Valley
  • 2005 Long Shadows Sequel Syrah Columbia Valley
  • 2005 Cayuse Syrah Cailloux Vineyard Walla Walla Valley

My takeaways from the evening. Washington makes some awesome wine. But at the same time, I didn’t have the same magical wow moments that I had in last year’s tasting. All the wines were very, very good, some on the verge of great, but none of them gave me that euphoric moment where I go ‘holy crap, this is freaking awesome’.

Was it my own expectations that clouded this? Have I become a bit jaded, while unfairly comparing this event to last year? Instead of lauding the event on it’s own merits, I placed it in the company of it’s predecessor. Not exactly fair, but I still had an unbelievable time, drinking wines with some great people in the company of a wine reviewer whose words have much more weight than most in the industry. From this event, I knew that there was still opportunity for me and my curiosity and appetite for wine is as voracious as ever.

That said, I must say that some of the wines were delicious, interesting and had me going back to them over and over. My favorite Syrah was Gramercy Cellars 2006 Walla Walla Valley Syrah. Last year Steve was very impressed with the stuff that Greg Harrington was producing at Gramercy Cellars. Sourced from Walla Walla’s Les Collines vineyard, this was a nice wine; fresh and with great style. The nose was elegant with pie notes shining through. On the palate it was bright, with light acids; it was easy drinking and had a nice, smooth finish. I liked this wine because it had a story to tell. And I kept going back to it to see what it had to say.

For the Cabernet Sauvignon, my favorite was the 2006 Pere de Famille from Betz Family Winery. All of the evening’s Cabs were excellent and really close to each other in my eyes, but the push in this case was Bob Betz’ thorough his storytelling about the wine. He talked about it in a such a way that we were a part of the winemaking. We learned about the three vineyard sources for this wine (Ciel du Cheval, Kiona, and Klipsun) and the differences between each of the vineyards. This wine was lush; it started with kola nut on the nose, and it was brambly, earthy and easy-drinking.

Another thing I loved was the food that the Palace Ballroom team served. It perfectly complemented the power and weight of the wines we were tasting. I love good food and wine matching; generally there aren’t many ‘bad’ matches, but when there is food that can elevate the wine and vice-versa, that’s a pretty cool thing. This was the case tonight; the team at Tom Douglas Restaurants did a great job

Thanks David Hamilton for organizing this event, I do look forward to going again for next year. And I’ll still look forward to being blindsided by the brilliance of wine. I suppose that’s the point; to keep drinking and discovering that next great sip.

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