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Wine Tasting - Great Washington State Reds

In March of 2003, we held the sixth of an ongoing series of wine tasting events. We started with a small group of just six couples interested in wine but with varying levels of wine knowledge -- it was more important that we would have fun that really be able to identify the wines. The group was formed with the following guidelines:

Two books that I've used to guide our tasting efforts are:
How to Taste: A Guide to Enjoying Wine by Jancis Robinson
The Wine-Tasting Class Notebook: Expertise in 12 Tastings by Judy Ridgway

We will have a blind tasting and casual dinner roughly every other month so that we rotate through the entire group once a year. The host couple may, at their discretion, invite more people to join the fun. The evening's host selects the theme for the evening such as: "Napa Cabernet under $50", "Single vineyard Pinot Noir from Oregon", "'Second wines' of Bordeaux", "Australian Shiraz over $30", or whatever. Each couple brings one bottle that fits the theme. The labels are hidden with paper bags so that this becomes a blind tasting. Everyone tastes each wine before dinner and selects their top three wines so we can have a consensus favorite. At dinner, we can finish the tasting wines or raid the host's cellar assuming, of course, that the host consents. And we should have fun doing this.

In this gathering, our host chose red wines of Washington State as the overall theme. Given that we live in Seattle, this gave us a bunch of choices. Washington State has historically been dominated by two grapes (cabernet sauvignon and merlot) that make the majority of red wines on the eastern part of the state although, in the last five years, a huge amount of syrah has been planted. Indeed our wines for this tasting were almost all cabernets, or wines dominated by cabernet, in addition to a couple of bottles of syrah.

The wines were opened roughly thirty minutes before tasting and were not decanted. The wines were tasted blind. We gave each member of the party a scorecard so that they could make notes on what they thought of each wine. Our scorecard will be simplified for the next tasting; although I really like this format, it was clear from the partial notes on the completed forms that I collected that it was probably a bit too complex for most people to follow.

After the tasting, we also asked everyone to list their favorites. The table below lists the wines in order of the consensus favorites. This was a fairly consistent set of results as four bottles received 85% of the votes for favorites.

Winery Varietal Vintage Favorite
Scores Consensus Comments
Betz Family Cellars
'Pere de Familie'
Cabernet 2000 10 91 (Tanzer) Best of tasting, consensus favorite. Good balance, long finish. Opened up and got more complex with time.
Cayuse Vineyards
'Walla Walla Cuvee'
Syrah 1998 7 92 (Wine Spectator) Lots of berries and fruit in this wine with a little bit of pepper and spice. Long finish.
Leonetti Cabernet 1995 5 89 (Wine Advocate) Lively wine, with lots of acidity and tannins. It's owners, unabashedly, were nearly orgasmic.
L'Ecole 41 Cabernet 1999 5 92 (Wine Spectator) Another classic wine, well, balanced. Probably one of the best values of the tasting.
Andrew Will
'Ciel de Cheval'
Cabernet 2000 2   Classic, elegant with balanced tannins. This was my best of tasting but the rest of the group didn't quite put it there.
Grgich Hills Cabernet 1992 2   Chewy, fruity wine with some spice. Right at its peak. For me, tied as best of tasting.
Quilceda Creek Cabernet 1999 1 97 (Wine Advocate) There was something bland about this wine. With one exception, it never clicked with the group. This one may have been corked.
Pepper Bridge Cabernet 2000 1   Lots of fruit and berries, even a bit jammy.
Betz Family Cellars
'Pere de Familie'
Cabernet 2000   91 (Tanzer) Same as the winner but it didn't garner a single vote. Either everyone lumped their votes with the winner or palate fatigue had set in since this was the last of eleven wines.
DeLille Cellars
'Chaleur Estate'
Meritage 1992   90 (Parker) Very smooth, classic but probably a bit past its prime as it was no longer fruit-forward.
Spring Valley
'Gina Lee'
Syrah 2000   90 (Wine Spectator) Finish was of 'eau de bubble gum'. Seriously, we believe that this one was corked too.

Overall, in a bit of a surprise, Betz Family Winery came out on top. Although I didn't bring the Betz, it has been a wine that I've enjoyed ever since I volunteered one day to bottle wines and found myself putting capsules on the Clos de Betz. We've been buying a case or so every year since. In terms of the tasting, it was the fourth wine we tasted and so it may have benefited from being the first classic wine we tasted and before people's palates became jaded. Although a bit of surprise, the Cayuse Vineyards syrah also scored very well -- perhaps because it was fruity and lively. The Leonetti also showed well.

Following the tasting, we sat down to dinner with the remaining wine from the tasting. The dinner was coordinated to complement the red wines.

Dinner Menu

bulletAppetizers, served with champagne or white wine:
bulletCrostini with roasted apples
bulletRoasted mushrooms filled with crab
bulletSoup: Cream of Asparagus
bulletMain Course
bulletRack of lamb
bulletMixed green vegetables
bulletDessert: Apple pie

Next tasting - Several couples are arm wrestling to host the next one. Stay tuned.

Click here to give us some ideas!


Other Wine Tastings

bulletDuckhorn Vertical from the 1980s
bulletWines from the Southern Rhone
bulletRed Wines of Piedmont
bulletMature California Cabernets -- 1990 and older
bulletCalifornia cabernet maturity comparisons
bulletSouth American Red Wines
bullet Red Wines of Washington State
bullet Anything with Sangiovese




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Finally, for great deals, don't forget to check out the clearance items and the Wine Cellar Outlet Store areas.


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