Two from Buty

Hello friends. I originally had this offering lined up for late February/early March, but I recently learned that the February issue of Wine Enthusiast is set to include a strong review for one of the wines. Rather than wait and risk losing out, I’m going to shuffle the deck chairs… er, wait, that’s a Titanic reference, isn’t it? I mean I’m going to play a shell game… wait, that’s not it either. Abandoning all hope of metaphor, I’m going to rearrange the calendar so that we can access Caleb Foster’s lovely wines:

2009 Buty Columbia Rediviva (Cab-Syrah)

Caleb Foster founded Buty in the Walla Walla Valley in 2000 after many years working with Rick Small at Woodward Canyon. In the dozen years since, the winery has developed a reputation for consistent excellence, for focus, and for a house style that marries aching purity of fruit with nervy, tensile structure.

During Caleb’s time at Woodward, he worked regularly with fruit from Champoux Vineyard (and in fact still works with Champoux fruit at Buty). When it came time to establish estate vineyards for Buty, no surprise: Caleb looked to the Horse Heaven Hills, and settled on a Champoux neighbor: Phinny Hill (see location here).

Phinny – farmed by Dick Beightol, who helped plant Champoux in 1972 and has been growing grapes in this area for more than 40 years – is a bit higher up the slope than Champoux, a few feet that can make a big difference during frost events. The Thanksgiving 2010 frost that knocked out most of Champoux’s 2011 crop was much less damaging to Phinny. This part of Horse Heaven is warm and windy, so you get grapes that have ample physiological ripeness and thick skins, which lead to wines with delicious generosity of fruit and a wall of ripe grapeskin tannins.

Caleb was also among the pioneers in Washington for Cab-Syrah blends, establishing his Rediviva of the Stones (from the Walla Walla Valley) and this Columbia Rediviva (from Horse Heaven) to show off the power and grace these blends can display in Washington. In 2009, it is Cabernet in the ascendancy, at a full three-quarters of the blend. It’s a dense, juicy, palate-staining mouthful, with a core of cassis and raspberry fruit framed by lovely barrel notes of coffee and high-cacao chocolate. You could probably lay this down for a few years, but I find the ripe generosity of the 2009 vintage in fine form here, and I see no need to wait. A Buty red that presents immediate gratification? Yes please.

Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”

Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 19+/20pts.”

2011 Buty Semillon-Sauvignon-Muscadelle

The last time I visited Caleb Foster in Walla Walla, did we taste through the entire Buty lineup?

No we did not.

Instead, we tasted a blind flight of a half-dozen Bordeaux Blancs with several of Caleb’s friends and spent an hour discussing typicity in white Bordeaux.

Why did I love this? Let me count the ways:

1. I am a wine geek and enjoy being around my fellows. And only a wine geek would set up a Bordeaux Blanc tasting.

2. Nothing is more educational than tasting blind.

3. It is clear that Caleb is not making wine in a Washington vacuum. For his Semillon-Sauvignon-Muscadelle blend, it’s useful to explore the region that initiated these wines in the first place: Bordeaux. That’s not to say Caleb is looking to mimic white Bordeaux. On the contrary, I think he sees it as a jumping-off point. But still, to be able to put Washington winemaking into a world context is important, and this tasting displayed Caleb’s commitment to that ideal.

His SSM blend is, year in and year out, one of the best whites produced in Washington. I’ve only come to admire this wine more in the past few years, because I set aside a good chunk of our first Buty SSM offering (the 2008 vintage, way back in November 2009) for my personal stash and have been exploring it ever since. Let me say: age is kind to this wine. The 2008 is still on the ascendancy, picking up nuance and aromatic complexity. Most of us focus on reds for our collecting and holding, but whites can be extremely rewarding, because a) they typically cost less; and b) the aging windows can be considerably shorter. Going in on six bottles of this and opening one per year for the next half-dozen years would be a rewarding endeavor indeed.

If you decide to drink it young, you’ll find a lovely, vibrant mix of grass and clover, fig and honey, pear and peach. There are exotic notes to this that make me want to grab Thai takeout: something like lemongrass and Kaffir lime. It has the hallmark acidity of the 2011 vintage, and its aging in concrete allows the texture to pick up some weight without any overt oak influence. Instead, it’s the stunning fruit and mineral on full display.

Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar (Stephen Tanzer): “($25); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 90pts.”

Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “[REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 18.5/20pts.”

For the Columbia Rediviva, please limit order requests to 6 bottles, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The SSM is first come first served up to 12 bottles, and both wines should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.

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