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A Good Night for Washington Wine

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Feb 11, 2008 11:44am ET

Every year I donate my presence, and wines from my cellar, to a dinner in San Francisco offered at the Central Coast Wine Auction. Wine collector Archie McLaren and I host the top bidder and friends at a restaurant of my choice. Last week we occupied a table for 10, one-fourth of the dining room, at the 40-seat Coi, Daniel Patterson's extraordinary place on the fringe of North Beach, and served a range of wines I've cellared from Washington.

We've done different wine themes over the years, including Burgundy, Italy and Australia, but this had to be the best wine lineup yet. All the wines showed well (except for one TCA-tainted bottle that was weeded out and never poured). What struck us all was how elegant and beautifully proportioned the wines were.

The oldest wines—Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon Seven Hills Reserve 1990 and Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 1998—proved, if it needed proving, that Washington reds can age magnificently.

After sommelier Paul Einbund decanted the Cabernets, he confided in my ear that the Leonetti would be the wine of the night. And it was elegant, with a distinct minty character dominating the aromatic profile. The fruit had subsided, but the balance and texture did a graceful dance, and in time the fruit started coming through as the wine sat in the glass. 95 points, non-blind.

When I tasted this wine young, I rated it 90 points and described it as "well-oaked, with a strong vanilla bean edge. Picks up gamy cherry and currant flavors that blend together well and are long on the finish. Tempting now, but ageworthy." It has transformed. The strong oak character of its youth has subsumed into the wine as a sort of earthy, meaty character, and the texture takes you on a perfect claret ride.

The Quilceda Creek 1998, a powerful wine from the start, filled the mouth with soft, round, meaty flavors. It may have tipped slightly into the gamy realm, but the fruit was so rich and the texture so velvety, it made me go back for another sip, and another. A big, elegant wine from a very ripe vintage. 94 points, non-blind.

I brought two Cayuse Syrahs from the 2000 vintage. We had to set aside one of them, the En Cerise Vineyard bottling that I had rated 94 points on release, because it was showing cork taint. Not a lot, but the aromas were clipped, the texture got papery and you could pick up that wet newspaper character on the finish. Drat!

The other wine, from Cailloux Vineyard, has become a delicate red wine, a truly refined Syrah. Its minerality and spiciness weave through floral, almost violet-like, berry flavors, and it finishes with elegance. 93 points, non-blind. (I gave it 92 on release.)

The other red was Spring Valley Uriah 2003, a Merlot-based Walla Walla blend with Cabernet Franc and a touch of Petit Verdot. I love this wine for its polished texture and pure blueberry and blackberry fruit. It is plush without being heavy, and it has picked up some mineral and earth notes to lead into a savory finish. It rated 94 points on release, and I would say the same, non-blind, today.

We started with Eroica 2002, the off-dry Riesling made at Chateau Ste. Michelle in a joint venture with Dr. Ernst Loosen of Germany. It seemed less sweet than it was when it was released in 2003, and it is fragrant with apricot and hot slate character. Extraordinarily balanced, it goes down real easy. 91 points, non-blind. In my original note, I suggested drinking though 2008. Now it feels like it can easily go another five years.

We followed with another Ste. Michelle wine, this one the Chardonnay Canoe Ridge 2004. I thought I had some older Woodward Canyon Chardonnays in my cellar, but I seem to have drunk them all. The CR impressed with its polished, creamy texture, and it seems to have developed more peppery spiciness to go with the grapefruit and pear flavors in the year since I reviewed it. 92 points, non-blind.

In Part II, I'll note how these wines meshed with Patterson's sensational menu.

Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  February 12, 2008 12:05am ET
Henry, I'm looking forward to your upcoming scores on the latest releases by QC and Cayuse. Thanks for sharing these aged wine notes in the meantime...
Brandon Redman
Seattle, WA —  February 12, 2008 12:31pm ET
Great blog, Harvey, and thanks for posting it. I love some of the better WA State wines with some decent age on them. Recently, a 1988 Leonetti Cab and a 1994 Matthews Cab-blend were top notch for me!
Ryan Margolis
Philadelphia PA —  February 13, 2008 11:51am ET
I just had a Sleight of Hand Cabernet that knocked my socks off.

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