Hello friends. I’m incredibly excited about today’s offering, which gives us all a unique opportunity to taste the passage of time. Perhaps no wine-drinking experience produces more breathless anticipation among wine lovers than vertical tastings (note: a wine vertical is a series of different vintages of the same wine; a mini-vertical is usually a two-year series and a regular vertical is three or more vintages). I take any chance I can get to participate in vertical tastings because they are so educational. It’s a little like algebra: you hold some variables constant in order to solve for the others.
To me, the most enlightening verticals are those made primarily from a single varietal and a single vineyard. Verticals of this nature reduce the variability to one factor – vintage – and afford us the uncommon opportunity to taste time in our glasses. Unfortunately, verticals are as rare as they are alluring. In most cases, you need a) the patience and space to purchase and cellar several vintages; or b) the good sense to make friends with people from group a). In this case, Mike and Karen Wade at Fielding Hills have agreed to dip into their limited library of back vintages, which allows us to eschew a) and b) in favor of instant gratification.
Those of you who pay close attention to Washington wine will know of Fielding Hills, but for our more casual readers, this might be the best Washington winery you have never heard of. The Wades have no tasting room at their Wenatchee winery. They are extremely selective about who sells their wine, so it only shows up in a few retail shops and restaurants (and disappears quickly thereafter). Much of their wine is sold directly through the winery, based on word-of-mouth praise and a scintillating series of scores and reviews.
Mike Wade had worked in agriculture for years before becoming a vigneron. (In fact, he is still involved with a company that owns apple and cherry orchards and packing warehouses, which makes harvest time extra lengthy and extra hectic in the Wade household.) After a period of increasing interest in winegrowing and winemaking, Mike took the plunge in 1998, tearing Red Delicious apples out of one of his orchards on the Wahluke Slope and planting Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Syrah. Riverbend Vineyard yielded its first commercial harvest in 2000. Two years later, Mike quietly sent his 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon to Wine Spectator, who scored it 91 pts (an exceptional review for third-lead fruit). And thus Fielding Hills was on its way.
In visiting with the Wades, one aspect of their winemaking that struck me is their attention to cleanliness. Mike estimates that he spends one-third of his time sterilizing equipment in preparation, one-third doing the actual work of winemaking, and one-third sterilizing equipment again for cleanup. Sterilization is certainly not the glamorous part of winemaking, but it’s that kind of attention to detail that elevates wine to greatness. And these are indeed great Merlots, showing the kind of heft, depth and complexity that is not frequently associated with this varietal:
The warmest vintage of the three, and it shows in the lushness of this wine. Nose of Junior Mints and cherries, with a silky palate bringing flavors of cherry liqueur and mocha.
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The coolest vintage of the three, especially around harvest time, leading to brighter acid across the state’s wines. This nose has more cocoa, with just a hint of mint and a new topsoil element emerging. The acid is lovely here, and this feels delightfully juicy in the mouth. The cherries are more of the pie-cherry variety, and there is an intriguing savory element here – toasted wheat?
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Generally considered an ideal vintage (and likely Washington’s best of the decade), the summer of 2007 was hot and steady, allowing for excellent ripening. Cooler conditions arrived in September and October, leading to outstanding flavor development without excessive alcohol.
Intriguing nose reminiscent of an excellent tawny port, with background notes of red fruit. This is the youngest of the three, and the barrel notes are most noticeable here, in the form of brown spices that overlay the rich cherry fruit. Although the review is as-yet unreleased, this wine is set to receive 93 pts from Wine Enthusiast.
As you can imagine, access to these older vintages makes this offering extremely limited. Please limit requests to 3 verticals (9 bottles total), and we will do our best to fulfill all requests. Those requesting full verticals will have priority access to this parcel, but if you’re interested in mini-verticals or single bottles, please e-mail me, and we will see what we can do. Fielding Hills is self-distributed, and I expect to meet the Wades to take possession of the verticals by December 13. At that point, the wine will be ready for pickup or shipping, just in time to make a wonderful gift for the holidays.