Three from Olsen Estates

Hello friends. The Olsen Family is into its fourth decade of growing grapes in the Yakima Valley. Sadly, its winery only lasted four years.

Olsen Estate Vineyard is high-quality indeed, a source for some of Washington’s finest winemakers (Bob Betz of Betz Family Winery, Jon Martinez of Maison Bleue). And the winemaking, which started with the 2006 vintage and ended with the 2009 vintage, was strong as well. The winery never lacked for positive reviews.

As Paul Gregutt’s blog from January points out, the problem was never with grapegrowing or winemaking; it was with selling. Entering a competitive market, in a recession, without a distributor, proved to be too great a challenge to overcome.

But PaulG ended that blog on an optimistic note: “Nonetheless, there is some good news to be shared. The Olsen vineyards – some 800 acres in all – will continue, and there are good contracts for the fruit. The 2008 and 2009 wines will be released into the market over the next year or so, and among them are some outstanding wines, which will reward your efforts to find them.”

Back in February, we offered the first round of five wines from the dearly departed Olsen Estates. Today, we have three more: all deeply-discounted, all exceptional values at their tariffs:

2009 Olsen Estates Blanc des Coteaux

The 2008 vintage of this wine was part of that February offering, and it spawned reorder requests well into the summer. Formerly a $21 wine, that vintage received 91pts from both Paul Gregutt in Wine Enthusiast, and Jay Miller in Wine Advocate. This vintage may be even better:

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92pts.”

For me, aromas and flavors combined stone fruits (nectarine mostly) with nutty notes (almond, marzipan). It’s a winter white to be sure: plump, rich, and viscous. You could take this bottle into your hibernation cave and not emerge until springtime.

2008 Olsen Estates Red Wine (Rhone Blend)

When I see “Red Wine” at this price point, I expect something more like our Bookmark offering from a few weeks ago: maybe non-vintage, maybe with some “other varietals” in the mix. What I don’t expect is a single-vineyard, estate-grown, vintage blend of 70% Syrah, 12% Mourvedre, 12% Cinsault, 5% Grenache, and 1% Counoise, in 100% French oak (55% new). That doesn’t look like $11 “Red Wine.” That looks like a classy Cotes-du-Rhone ringer.

I have a theory. It’s based on no inside information, just a little detective work. The 2007 vintage saw 600 cases of Estate Syrah and 700 cases of Rouge des Coteaux (both priced in the $20s, both with positive reviews, by the way). The 2008 vintage saw no Estate Syrah and 228 cases of Rouge des Coteaux.

My conclusion: I think most of this was originally destined for 2008 Syrah and 2008 Rouge des Coteaux.

I think by the time this came out of barrel (which, judging from the tech sheet, must have been around April 2010), it was clear that the winery was going out of business (they didn’t crush any grapes in 2010, so we know the decision was made no later than September 2010). I wouldn’t be surprised if the distributor who ended up buying all the remaining Olsen stock asked them to blend everything together into a lower price point, which would be easier to move through the marketplace.

I could be right or I could be wrong. Doesn’t really matter, I suppose. What remains, regardless, is a great Rhone blend at a silly price point. This is chock full of character, with deep berry flavors and coffee grounds scattered throughout. Brambly nuance; seamless texture; fine balance: all unheard of at this tariff.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 91pts.”

2008 Olsen Estates Chardonnay

Despite the higher tag, this might be the best value. The 2006 vintage ($28) received 90pts Gregutt. The 2007 ($25) received 91pts Gregutt. As for 2008:

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92pts.”

This wine received the luxury treatment: 100% French oak, of which 74% were new barrels, for 16 months. With that much new wood, it’s nice that this has had a few years to integrate. That integrated oak imparts nutty, smoky, malty nuance to the core of leesy stone/tropical fruit. The texture is buttery and full (14.2% alc), a throwback to a style that was in full ascendancy 5-10 years ago. I’d love to see this in a blind tasting with some California Chardonnays, because it’s a stylistic fit, and the winemaking is rock-solid. The price, however, doesn’t even approach luxury California Chardonnay. For those who think the pendulum has swung too far towards stainless, acidic, Chard-as-Sauvignon-Blanc, this is a reminder of the unique generosity of well-made, full-bodied Chardonnay.

First come first served up to 72 bottles total (mix and match as you see fit), and the wines should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping.

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