Showing posts with label Rocks District. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rocks District. Show all posts

Monday, September 30, 2019

Rocks by Any Other Name

I first tasted wine from the Rocks in 2014, a year before there was a Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA. It was at a tasting hosted by Esquin, with a line-up of Washington great reds, that included Christophe Baron's Cayuse wines.

Cayuse and Quilceda Creek Tasting at Esquin
While he might not be the first to grow grapes in the Milton-Freewater area, the French winemaker was the one who brought that region to international fame. When Baron first set eyes on the terroir, he saw a field of cobblestones, that reminded him of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. He planted his first vineyard there in 1997 and named his winery Cayuse Vineyards, after the Native American tribe. Incidentally, the word "Cayuse" was derived from the French word for stones, cailloux.

Terroir or Wine Flaws?

Cayuse tasting room that is always closed
Baron was a controversial winemaker. While many absolutely adore his wines, he has his fair share of skeptics. Kori Voorhees of Wine Peeps wrote a compelling blog post in 2010 on whether Cayuse wine flavor profile was a reflection of a unique terroir or simply wine flaws. She even ran lab tests to prove that it was the latter.

I confess that I went into the Esquin tasting as a skeptic. Then I tasted four of his wines; Bionic Frog Syrah, Cailloux Syrah, Widowmaker Cabernet Sauvignon, and God Only Knows Grenache. It was not hard to pick up the unique flavor profile across the different varietals. What Voorhees would call pickle brine and cooked cabbage, I called kimchi. However, I found the umami in the wines oddly pleasing with a well-rounded complexity.

I was sold! (And yes, I love kimchi too.)

Rocks or Stones?

Fast forward five years from the tasting, the Rocks District was established as an AVA and continues to attract a lot of attention from both wine critics and wine collectors. The number of wineries that offer or increase wine offerings in the Rocks District AVA has also grown exponentially.

Sleight of Hand Cellars, for example, added two Syrahs from the Rocks District (Funk Vineyard's Funkadelic and Elevation Vineyard's Spider from Mars) to its popular Stoney Vine Vineyard's Psychedelic. All three single vineyard Syrahs are offered in the newly formed "For Those Who Love the Rocks" club.

Sleight of Hand Cellars' Single Vineyard Syrahs from the Rocks District
Interestingly, while others are cashing out on the Rocks District AVA branding, Baron did not jump on the bandwagon simply because he didn't like the name. (He prefers "Stones.") Truthfully, Baron didn't need to use the coveted AVA on the label. When people think of the Rocks District, people already think of Cayuse.

Regardless of the AVA listed on the label, the Rocks District produces beautiful wines. I want to share with you three from my cellar that I am super excited about.

Force Majeure's SJR, Rasa's Primus Inter Pares & Reynvaan's ITR Syrah
2016 Force Majeure's SJR Syrah is a departure from the winery's typical Red Mountain offerings. The project paid off when it received 100 points from Jeb Dunnuck of Wine Advocate. I tasted the SJR Vineyard Syrah the past spring at the Force Majeure winemaker's dinner before it was officially released. While every Force Majeure wine that night was incredible, the SJR was the most terroir-driven and interesting for me. It made such a lasting impression that I begged the winery to allocate a bottle to me.

2017 Rasa Primus Inter Pares Grenache is such a fun and fascinating wine. I tasted it during this past Spring Release in Walla Walla. Made with 100% Grenache from Monette's Vineyard, the wine is fruit-driven with cherries and berries and yet savory with the minerality that is typical of the region. International Wine Report gave it 95 points.

2016 Reynvaan Family Vineyards Syrah In the Rocks is just stunning. In fact, Baron sold the Reynvaans the parcel of land that would become the estate In the Rocks Vineyard. A protégé of Baron, winemaker Matt Reynvaan is a star producer of Rhône-style varietals. I tasted the Syrah also during the past Spring Release in Walla Walla. It has well-balanced layers of fruit, meatiness, and umami. Jeb Dunnuck gave it 97 points.

My Verdict: I have definitely been converted from a Cayuse skeptic to a big fan of the Rocks region.  I do not disagree with Voorhees' blog post about the lab test results, and I certainly do not think that the Rocks District wines taste anything like Châteauneuf-du-Pape. I do, however, have a different perspective of what constitutes wine flaws. After all, there is no accounting for taste. I would encourage anyone to keep an open mind and try a wine from the Rocks District. I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Wining and Dining with Force Majeure

In my previous post, I fondly recalled visiting Three Walla Walla Wineries in a Day and promised to share the finale of the trip. So here it is - the Force Majeure winemaker dinner!

Force Majeure Vineyards, a premium Washington winery, was founded 15 years ago with 2004 as the year of its first vintage. In 2014, it elevated its game by hiring Todd Alexander from Napa cult winery, Bryant Family, to be its head winemaker.

In recent years, Force Majeure has been expanding its repertoire of wines from a single focus on Red Mountain AVA to now include the coveted Rocks District and soon the North Fork area of Walla Walla Valley. At the time of our Walla Walla trip, Todd and his wife, Carrie, had just moved to Milton-Freewater to work on the new Force Majeure winery. So when our friends who know Todd and Carrie offered to arrange for a winemaker dinner, we said, "Yes, please!!"

Beautiful Walla Walla Valley

Dinner was catered by The Q Woodfired Grill, owned by a husband-and-wife team. Emry and Sandy Kleck had spent many years working on catering events in the California wine country before moving to Walla Walla. Having experience working with winemakers, the Q Grill team carefully curated the menu in collaboration with Todd and Carrie to ensure the perfect pairing.

Beautiful table setting with a perfectly curated menu

Originally planned to be hosted at Force Majeure's new tasting room, construction delay shifted the location to the winemaker's own home. We arrived promptly at the property to be greeted with aromas from the grill that made our stomachs rumble with anticipation. Thankfully, a generous spread of hor d'oeuvres was already set up welcoming us.

We started to mingle, devouring oysters and flatbread while sipping Viognier. We then proceeded to the beautifully set dinner table and were soon delighted with flawlessly prepared courses paired with carefully selected wines.

Todd shared passionately about each wine tasted

Dining and wining with the winemaker in an intimate setting is always a special experience. We were able to ask all sorts of questions about the wines and winemaking techniques, while Todd was gracious in satisfying our every curiosity. Carrie and Sandy kept the flow of delectable courses, wines, sparkling water, and homemade sourdough going throughout the night.

Wine line-up

The wine line-up was impeccable. The Force Majeure wines included Viognier, two Syrahs (SJR Vineyard in the Rocks District and Red Mountain Estate Vineyard) as well as Cabernet Sauvignon. Also included was Todd's own label, Holocene, that is all about Oregon Pinot Noir. It was a such a treat to taste Todd's second vintage with dinner. We ended the night sipping dessert wine from our friends' cellar - a late harvest Zinfandel from Paso Robles boutique winery, Locatelli.

My Verdict: Where there is good wine, there is often good food. It is hardly surprising that many thriving wine countries attract as many chefs as they do winemakers. Wining and dining with the winemaker simply elevates the experience further. The winemaker and the chef, through their art and passion, collaborate to indulge the senses of those who are fortunate to be there. The Force Majeure winemaker dinner definitely rang true for me, and it is probably one of the best winemaker dinners I have had the pleasure to enjoy. So, thank you, Todd, Carrie, Emry, and Sandy. Below is a peek of the magical evening.

Dinner Menu

Dinner by Q Woodfired Grill
First Course
Oysters Rockefeller 
Prosciutto, Caramelized Onions and Manchego Flatbread 
2017 Force Majeure Viognier

Second Course 
Roasted Seasonal Vegetable Salad 
2016 Holocene Memorialis Pinot Noir

Third Course
Duck Breast with a Huckleberry Demi Glace and Seasonal Wild Mushrooms 
2016 Force Majeure SJR Vineyard Syrah

Fourth Course
Lamb Lollipop with Lentils 
2016 Force Majeure Red Mountain Estate Syrah

Fifth Course 
Wagyu Beef and Cacio e Pepe Pasta 
2016 Force Majeure Estate Cabernet Sauvignon