Hello friends. Canlis. The Herbfarm. Wild Ginger. The Metropolitan Grill. These are some of the most competitive restaurant wine lists in Seattle. Wineries beg, plead, cajole and give up significant margin to distributors in order to make inroads in places like these. So how did a self-distributed newbie make it into those accounts?
The answer: because Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen has years of experience buying and selling wine for some of Seattle’s finest restaurants, and he’s now applying his formidable palate to WT Vintners.
By evening (and probably a good chunk of day), Jeff is the Wine Director at RN74 in Seattle, which means he basically tastes every important wine that comes into Seattle. That gig came after previous stints at Cascadia, Wild Ginger, and Café Juanita. I’d also lay better than even odds that Jeff is going to be Seattle’s next wine pro to pass the Master Sommelier exam.
He has a wickedly sharp palate, and a clear point of view, honed from tasting thousands of wines for his various restaurant gigs. To wit, here is an excerpt from Jeff’s winemaking philosophy:
“From our inception I strive to be the conduit from which our vineyards speak. Minimal additions are made in the winery beyond yeast and the occasional racking off solids. I avoid the use of new oak in favor of used barrels, which add a bit of texture and little else. Foremost, I want our wines to serve as the champions of Washington’s extraordinary terroir. By utilizing whole clusters, versus just the berries, during fermentation I attempt to coax both greater structure and more savory flavors and aromas in our Syrah. With each vineyard we work closely with the vineyard’s manager and owner to reduce crop loads and find the optimal time to harvest, which is often weeks before our neighbors. By picking early I ensure the vineyard’s voice is heard and not lost to high alcohols and overtly fruity wines. Ultimately, I am attempting to make the wines I want to drink, wines of place, wines that complement a meal and wines that tell a story. I want them to be delicious as they are interesting.”
WT is a buzzworthy winery that is just starting to pick up momentum. They celebrated the grand opening of a new tasting room in Woodinville on April 5 and 6 with the release of four new wines (we’re offering two of them today). Right now, the wines are sold almost exclusively through restaurant channels (check out their list; we’ll be happy to sidle on up next to our esteemed colleagues at McCarthy & Schiering as the only retailers listed)
Stephen Tanzer has written some positive press in the past year, but this remains a winery flying well under the mainstream radar. For now.
2013 W.T. Vintners Gruner Veltliner Underwood Mountain Vineyard
What, did you think the sommelier was going to make a 15%-alc Viognier? Not bloody likely.
Jeff has zeroed in on probably the most exciting place in Washington for white wines: the Columbia Gorge (yes, Ancient Lakes can make a compelling argument too). Gruner Veltliner grown on the southern slopes of the extinct volcano Underwood Mountain is one of the hidden treasures of the northwest. Syncline is the only other Washington winery I’ve seen to vinify these grapes.
This clocks in at 13% listed alc, and it nails Gruner’s savory character that is so unusual for white grapes, with lovely green pea vine notes to go with lemony fruit. There’s a smoky/flinty character, too, almost reminiscent of Chablis, and awfully compelling. In the mouth, there’s Gruner’s signature lemony acid, savory green lentil notes, overt minerality, and plenty of dry extract. This is a balanced beauty, varietally correct and with plenty of rippin’ acid even in the warm 2013 vintage.
Here’s Jeff’s note: “Drawing inspiration from Gruner’s homeland, the Wachau region of Austria, we divide the fermentation between stainless steel and a small amount of neutral oak barrels to coax the austere mineral and spicy elements from the steel and a weightier mid-palate from the permeable oak. The end result is a Gruner Veltliner with medium body, brisk acidity and notes of green apple, meyer lemon, under-ripe peach, nectarine, spicy arugula and an undercurrent of minerality not often seen in new world wines.”
2012 W.T. Vintners “Dalliance” (Rhone Blend)
And here are Jeff’s notes on where this one comes from: “In 2012, W.T. Vintners formed a new partnership in one of the world’s most unique vineyard areas, the Walla Walla Valley’s sub-region known as ‘The Rocks.’ Unlike the dominant soils of Washington’s flood affected vine growing areas, ‘The Rocks’ are an ancient alluvial fan of river tumbled basalt cobblestones formed by the Walla Walla river. ‘The Rocks’ area shares it’s soil structure with only a couple very rare and special regions, evoking visions of Chateauneuf-du-Pape in France’s Southern Rhone Valley or New Zealand’s Hawkes Bay sub-region known as the ‘Gimblett Gravels.’ While Chateauneuf’s famous ‘galet roulés’ are just surface stones, the Walla Walla Rocks are deep; well over 200 feet deep in some spots. The lower hanging fruit benefits from the radiant heat being absorbed by the cobblestones throughout the sunny days. More importantly, the heat that is absorbed by day continues warming the root system and assisting in ripening well into the night. The resulting flavors from the region are decidedly very different from anywhere else in Washington. Flavors and aromas of wild game, earth and deep heady fruits pervade the wines made from fruit grown in this small area, regardless of varietal. It is truly a special place and worthy of the critical honors the region’s wines continue to garner each year.”
This is a 41/36/23 blend of Mourvedre/Syrah/Grenache, all from a single vineyard in the rocks (I’m not allowed to reveal, but I do know which one it is, and I can tell you: it’s a good one). The nose is very pretty, with lovely strawberry fruit lifted by cherry blossoms. The bass notes of briny olives and marine/kelpy funk help remind us that we can only be in one part of Washington. Perhaps most impressive for its fruit intensity, this possesses real purity to its mix of fruit, meat, and brine. Jeff says he likes to go for the savory side of Rhone varieties, and he nails it here. This is balanced and downright delicious.
Jeff’s note: “Dalliance exudes ‘The Rocks’ intensely aromatic wild cherry, black plum, boysenberry, white pepper and distinct earthy minerality. Flavors including smoked meat, stony earth, cherry, raspberry, lavender, violets and sage carry the long supple tannins through the persistent finish.”
First come first served up to 24 bottles total (mix and match as you like), and the wines should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.