Wine Tasting with Stephen Tanzer – 2013 recap

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As has happened the last few summers, the esteemed wine writer, Stephen Tanzer of the International Wine Cellar, swings through Washington and there is an event where much wine was drank with him and a gaggle of other wine nerds. I did my duty to absorb as much information and vino as possible. Here now, is what happened that evening.

The Tanzer Tasting is always a highlight of my summer. The first year it happened, it was a fun experience to open my eyes to a higher bar of tasting wine.  As these tastings have occurred every summer since then, my confidence and comfort level have grown at each stage. I’m still on that journey to know as much about wine as I possibly can and now that we’re in the sixth year of the Tanzer Tasting, it’s morphed beyond a tasting event to a dinner party with fellow wine friends, winemakers,  Steve as our MC, and David Hamilton as our host.

Each summer, there is a theme to the tasting. That first summer was a focus on Washington Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Each tasting since has taken on a slight tweak, still beholden to Washington Syrah and/or Cab. This time, the tasting crosshairs were targeted on Syrah and the various styles that Washington can produce with a focus on the 2009 and 2010 vintage. Here is what we tasted:

Flight One – “Traditional Syrahs”

  • Gramercy Cellars 2010 Lagniappe Syrah Columbia Valley
  • Waters Winery 2010 Loess Syrah Walla Walla Valley
  • Maison Bleue Winery 2010 Liberte Boushey Vineyard Syrah Yakima Valley

Flight Two – “Modern Syrahs”

  • Avennia 2010 Arnaut Boushey Vineyard Syrah Yakima Valley
  • Corliss Estates 2009 Syrah Columbia Valley
  • Long Shadows Vintners Collection 2009 Sequel Syrah Columbia Valley

Flight Three – “Hot Vineyard Syrahs”

  • EFESTE Wines 2010 Ceidleigh Syrah Red Mountain
  • Force Majeure 2009 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Collaboration Series III Red Wine Red Mountain
  • Betz Family Winery 2010 La Cote Rousse Syrah Red Mountain

Flight Four – “Rocks Vineyard Syrahs”

  • Delmas 2010 SJR Vineyard Syrah Walla Walla Valley
  • Cayuse Vineyards 2009 En Chamberlin Vineyard Syrah Walla Walla Valley
  • Reynvaan Family Vineyards 2010 In The Rocks Estate Syrah Walla Walla Valley

As in year’s past, some of the winemakers were in attendance. They were:

We sat at the table with Bob Betz. The addition of the winemakers makes for a unique tasting experience as they tend to notice details that I haven’t or are able to articulate taste, given their expertise.

Among the many highlights and takeaways with this Tanzer Tasting, it was exciting to see how vibrant and unique the wine producers are at making Syrah. As noted by Tanzer in his recap, while other areas of the world are having challenges with Syrah at a $25+ price point, some Washington wine makers are thriving with theirs. Between the dozen wines we tasted, they all had a unifying line that was distinctly Syrah, with warm peppery notes and an animalistic hold on spice. Distinct flavor notes. Energetic and finessed. Now is a very exciting time to be a Syrah fan in Washington.

Of the wines we tasted, my favorites from each flight were the Maison Bleue, the Avennia, the Force Majeure, and the Reynvaan. The Maison Bleue exhibited a luscious mouthfeel dotted with black olives and acidity. The Avennia was an elegant wine with a light touch showing savory herbs and a lively mid-palate. This was my wine of the night. The Force Majeure had a unique balance with a long finish and a nose that leans to eucalyptus. The Reynvaan was thick and powerful with a bold finish. All of these wines were excellent and spoke to me that evening. It’ll be very exciting to revisit these wine as they mature.

Back to that Avennia. It was my wine of the night for a multitude of reasons. The elegance and nonchalance-ness that it exhibited was unlike most Syrahs that I have tasted. At most of these Tanzer tastings, my wines of the night have tended to be those that surprise me and this Avennia fit the bill. That the winemaker is Chris Peterson is no surprise as I enjoyed his wines when he was at DeLille Cellars. And the label design for the Avennia is beautiful. Very exciting to see what Avennia has in store.

Always a highlight of these tastings is when Tanzer tells of wineries that are on the up and up or have a particular vintage that is the best he’s tasted. Here they are with some of Tanzer’s comments: àMaurice (best set of releases), Two Vintners (best Washington Zinfandel), WT Vintners (for their Gruner Veltliner), Avennia (2011 lineup potentially better than the 2010), Alleromb (another wine from Aryn Morell), Tranche (good quality across the board), Reynvaan (getting better and better), Maison Bleue, and Lauren Ashton. Keep your eyes on these wines.

As summer comes to a close and we transition to fall. One of my favorite wine events of the summer provided a memorable experience to a wine that speaks particularly well to fall.

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