Wine tasting with Stephen Tanzer – 2012 edition

I’ve had the good fortune of attending the annual wine tasting with the wine reviewer, Stephen Tanzer (of International Wine Cellar and Winophilia). This is the fifth year running where David Hamilton organizes the event, curates the wine with Steve, and invites us wine nerds to a decadent and entertaining night of drinking the best that our region offers. Every year, I have an idea of what to expect, and every year, I come away with something unexpected. The 2012 edition was no different.

What was once a small intimate gathering of like-minded wine drinkers has now opened up to include winemakers and a few more guests. Thankfully, it’s as intimate as a whisper, but as fun as a party. The attendance of winemakers over the years has made for an interesting dynamic; on one hand, you get insight into the style of wine and how they arrive at their bottle destination. On the other hand, there can be some awkwardness when their wine is voted on by those in the room as the most and least favorite. Even in ultra-polite Seattle, sometimes a local winemaker gets some tough love. But what’s great about having the winemakers attend is that you can speak to them as fellow wine drinkers, chat about what excites them, and hear inside information you wouldn’t get from visiting their tasting rooms or reading about their wines. We were fortunate to sit with Sean Boyd of Woodinville Wine Cellars and had a blast while talking about wine, eating good food from the Tom Douglas Restaurant team at the Palace Ballroom, and soaking in the conversation in the room that typifies this annual event.

Over the years, the theme of the tasting has had a singular focus; in 2008, it was the best Washington Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah that Steve tasted during his annual tour of Washington’s wineries. 2009 again visited the best that Washington could do, but added the wrinkle of two international wines that Steve wanted to compare with the homegrown wine. 2010 highlighted the best Syrah the state could produce. 2011 put the 2005 vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon on stage. For 2012, the theme was “emerging wineries.” While some are relatively well known to us in Washington, in Steve’s eyes, the wines that we tasted were the best new releases he had tried. The wines were picked by Steve and our host, David Hamilton, from the perspective of being new wines, from new producers, and new labels. The ‘new’ provides excitement and helps the industry evolve and grow. We tasted 13 wines over the course of the evening and for a few of them, I’m definitely keeping my eye on their future releases.

Here are the wines that were tasted:

The wines were tasted in the order above in four separate flights. The differentiators to each flight were to group similar varietals and have wines of similar power and heft to be grouped together. Within each group, I had my favorites; but overall, I didn’t have one stand out wine. A major reason for this could be due to the many different styles of wines throughout the list. Could a bright acidic white wine and a bold and brash red be properly compared to one another? I say no; each wine is different from the other. It’s like comparing your favorite hip-hop artist to your favorite bluegrass band. My favorites in each flight were aMaurice’s Viognier, Woodinville Wine Cellars OMO, Gramercy Cellars Lagniappe Syrah, and the FIGGINS.

But within these wines, there were interesting takeaways and factoids presented by Steve and the winemakers. Such as, if your past life included going to Dave Matthews Band shows at the Gorge Amphitheater every summer, chances are you walked through the vineyard that EFESTE uses for their Riesling. That the Tranche Cellars ‘Slice of Pape’ is their homage to Chateauneuf de Pape. That Woodinville Wine Cellars’ Sean Boyd likes to use music analogies in winemaking and his OMO (Odd Man Out) is a rock & roll and jazz fusion. And that the relationship between Doubleback and FIGGINS is because Drew Bledsoe grew up with Chris Figgins. All interesting stuff.

An added bonus to this event is the opportunity to hear from Steve about the next wave of great wines coming from Washington. Although this event was about the ‘up-and’comers’, there is always something exciting to learn about wineries that capture the imagination of what’s next. As mentioned in previous posts, the tasting in 2008 was where we first learned about Corliss Estates. And the rest was history. In fact, some of the wineries we tasted that evening Steve referenced in past tastings as showing quite well (Den Hoed, EFESTE, and aMaurice amongst others). Here are some of the wineries that Steve said to keep an eye on: Chris Peterson’s Avennia, No Girls Wine (the Cayuse collaboration), Kevin White Winery, and WT Vintners (project from Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen of Seattle’s RN74).

This wine tasting is always a highlight of my summer. A chance to get a slice of what’s great with Washington wine. To learn from one of the very best wine critics in the world. To be around like-minded wine nerds. And most of all a memorable evening I look forward to year and after year. As always, thank you Steve Tanzer and David Hamilton.

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