As I blind-tasted through several hundred Washington wines this past spring, it seemed like every time I pulled off the bag from another 92-point wine it was one of Mike Januik's. That's only a small exaggeration. The quiet-spoken winemaker, responsible for both his own eponymous label and the wines of Novelty Hill, is clearly on a roll.
The 2008 Januik reds and 2009 whites, released this year, collectively are the best he has made under his own label. Some rate among the best in the state, and most of them fall into the $20 to $40 range, amazingly well-priced for the high quality. The Novelty Hill wines, priced a step lower, still sneak into the 90-plus range with some consistency.
Januik has always displayed a gentle touch with his wines, achieving clear flavor delineation without distracting levels of tannins or acidity (neither too much, which would make them harsh, nor too little, which would shorten the aging curve). He has a knack for putting together blends from vineyards scattered around the state's various viticultural areas that sing more sweetly in a chorus than they do individually. That was the case when he was the chief winemaker at Ste. Michelle Wine Estates (then known as Stimson Lane) before leaving in 1999 to start up Novelty Hill and his own label.
But these 2008s showed a suppleness and depth of flavor just a notch better than the wines that prompted me to profile him in a blog two years ago. What applied then still does, only more so.
The star of the show, so far, is the Januik Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2008 (94, $30), an astonishing wine for the price. Tightly wound, its blueberry, plum and crème brûlée flavors ride aristocratically over a layer of refined tannins. The finish persists and expands as it hints at mineral and wet earth. You don't expect that in an American wine at $30. At this point it upstages several single-vineyard bottlings.
The Syrahs are also compelling, similarly smooth in texture and complex and detailed in flavor. Among those not yet published, I especially like the one from Lewis Vineyard, with its hints of bay leaf and tomato leaf against blackberry and cassis flavors, and an especially vivid rendition from Ciel du Cheval Vineyard, like fresh blackberries and cherries accompanied by spice toast. Both are priced in the $30 to $35 range.
On a recent visit to Washington, I made it a point to stop by the sleek, modern Novelty Hill winery in Woodinville to taste through the wines coming next from these two labels. I wanted to grill Januik on what he was doing to up his game.
"Maybe I just started to figure it out," he laughed. "We follow the same approach we always have. For us, the most important part of the vintage is how we handle macerations." Macerating allowed to remain in contact with the grapes and skins to extract more color and flavor. It risks creating a rough texture, but when it's right it's magic. "Maybe we are figuring out how to treat the different vineyards just a little better in the winery," he added.
Whatever the reason, similar attributes showed up in the 2009s I tasted. They had just recently been bottled, but I found myself especially attracted to the Columbia Valley Cabernet again for its focused, pointed berry flavors and juicy balance, and the Cabernet Sauvignon from the venerable Weinbau Vineyard, with its transparency and hint of coffee and dusky spices around currant and wet earth flavors. There was also a nice hint of olive in the more supple Cabernet Sauvignon from Champoux Vineyard, another older site, spacious and clear in its flavor profile.
On the Novelty Hill side, of the wines recently released, I loved the Malbec Stillwater Creek Vineyard 2008 (91, $28), generous and mouthfilling without excess weight, with a mineral edge to the plum and coffee flavors. The 2009 tastes like a worthy followup, and the velvety Grenache, with its plum and rhubarb flavors, finishing with restraint, looks like a winner too.
Michael Neeley — Everett, WA — September 1, 2011 3:16pm ET
Sean Gilbert — Yakima, WA, USA — September 5, 2011 11:57am ET
Baroness Wines — Colorado — September 5, 2011 7:05pm ET
Jeff A Korcz — Seattle, wa — September 17, 2011 6:33pm ET
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions