From the folks who brought you one of Washington’s most sought-after wines comes beef they hope will stir up just as much excitement. Like the wine, it will be sold only on a mailing list, and it is not quite like anything else.
The wine is Leonetti Cellars. Started by Gary and Nancy Figgins in 1978, it quickly established itself as the early cult favorite in Washington. Gary tirelessly experimented with growing locations, winemaking techniques and barrel sources to create a unique style for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that, over time, became the standard for Walla Walla. Rich but supple, with a noticeable spiciness from the oak, it was a hit from the beginning.
Today, the wines are still sold entirely to a mailing list, even as Gary has handed over the winemaking reins to his son, Chris. Not one to let things stay in one place, but unwilling to make Leonetti something it is not, Chris has added a second vineyard and winery of his own. Called simply Figgins, the first vintage, 2008, is due out in 2011. People are already signing up for the mailing list.
Chris has also added a cattle ranch. Good beef would seem to make a perfect adjunct to Cabernet and Merlot. Why didn’t anyone think of it before?
The idea for Lostine Cattle Co. came up when Chris met veterinarian Dan Skow when he was studying viticulture at Washington State University. “He demonstrated that the same biological farming methods we use in our vineyards can have astonishing results with pasture-raised livestock,” Chris recalls. When Chris and his father bought a cattle ranch in Oregon’s Wallowa Valley, just over the Blue Mountains from Walla Walla, they decided to get into the beef business in the same quirky way they pioneered wine in Walla Walla.
The animals roam free over the ranch alongside the Lostine River. They eat only grass, never grains in a feed lot. In the past few years I have become a big fan of grass-fed beef. It has the kind of pure flavor I like in a steak or roast without the sweetness that you get from grain-fed animals. It is much lower in fat, too. It can be chewier in texture, but good grass-fed beef can be perfectly tender.
In advance of the commercial introduction of this beef, expected to start this fall, Chris sent some samples and a bottle of Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 to try with them. I grilled some hamburgers for lunch and two kinds of steak for dinner—tenderloin and bavette. I seasoned them only with salt, with no marinating or sauce, the better to get the straight flavor of the beef itself.
I was impressed. The textures were juicy, the flavors pure and intense. My wife said it was the best hamburger she’s had in years. I loved the rich flavor of the steaks without the greasiness of extravagant marbling. If this stuff isn’t too expensive (prices have not been announced and won’t be until the first offering this fall), I’m all in.
How did the meat do with the wine? Cabernet and steak is a no-brainer, of course, but the beef did seem to bring out extra layers of flavor in the wine, and polish up the texture. In all fairness, it also tasted great with an Australian Shiraz that was left over from the previous night’s dinner and a Pinot Noir from my blind tasting earlier in the day.
Igor Ostrovsky — Boston, MA — May 6, 2010 1:16pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — May 6, 2010 1:28pm ET
Gary Cohn — Cardiff by the Sea, Calif. — May 6, 2010 4:20pm ET
Andrew J Walter — Sacramento, CA — May 6, 2010 5:06pm ET
Lorenzo Erlic — victoria canada — May 7, 2010 11:42am ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — May 7, 2010 12:24pm ET
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