Hello friends. I continue to believe that some of the most exciting winegrowing and winemaking in the Pac-NW is taking place in the Columbia Gorge AVA. I wrote about this region for Seattle Magazine last summer, and really, if you haven’t visited yet, you should.
As I said in that article, the Gorge is tucked away in a cranny between the Columbia and Willamette valleys, a little wine-tasting paradise that looks more like Germany’s Mosel wine region than it does anyplace in the Northwest. The area is still better known as a destination for windsurfers and Lewis and Clark Trail buffs, but lovers of pure fruit, nervy acid and low alcohol are quickly discovering the Gorge’s cool-climate charms and natural beauty.
Let’s dig into the region today with one white and one red:
2012 Dowsett Family Gewurztraminer Celilo Vineyard
This is a Full Pull mainstay. We’ve offered every vintage of Chris Dowsett’s singular Gewurz since launching Full Pull (2008-2011), and now we’re back with the 2012, a terrific autumn wine in general, a terrific Thanksgiving wine in particular.
Chris has been making Gewurz in the northwest since 1996, and has been working with a 1984-planted block of Celilo fruit since 2003, making this 2012 his tenth vintage working with this site. Celilo is the vineyard that put the Gorge on the map. Set on the southern flanks of the extinct volcano Underwood Mountain (location here), it offers sweeping views down onto the rambling Columbia and is planted to a host of aromatic white varieties (and a little Pinot Noir, but that’s a tale for a different day).
Over the years, Chris has developed a winemaking style best suited to Celilo Gewurz fruit. He ferments to near-dryness, but avoids the bitter notes that Gewurz can produce at complete dryness. He ages in neutral barrels (as opposed to stainless steel) to add some richness and weight to the already-crisp juice. The 2012 is as plush a version as I can remember, but perhaps I’m swayed by tasting a warm vintage after the two cooler (2010, 11) vintages. Regardless, this is delicious juice, and it starts with a nose that only Gewurz can offer: roses, wet stone, and a host of exotic fruits (guava, lychee, green papaya, orange peel). Rich and plenty ripe, but drinking close to dry, this is a rocky, perfumed beauty.
Review of Washington Wines (Rand Sealey): “($24); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 19.5/20pts.”
2010 Memaloose Mistral Ranch Red (Syrah Blend)
Brian McCormick is a Columbia Gorge vigneron, and Memaloose is his label. A former philosophy major (a major that for whatever reason seems to lead regularly to winemaking), he graduated from the Masters program in Enology and Viticulture at UC-Davis (as prestigious a program as there is in the United States) and he picked the Gorge as a location to plant his vineyards, specifically because the climatic conditions would allow him to make Euro-styled wines. He saw the cooler, more marginal climate, the wilder swings in vintage not as negatives to be feared, but as positives to be embraced.
The entire McCormick family is nuts about food. Brian’s father Rob worked in the food industry for his entire career before “retiring” to help Brian launch his winery (his quasi-retirement involves serving as business manager, marketer, and cellar rat). Brian’s mother is a former chef, and Brian himself is a dedicated chef and baker, and he farms not only wine grapes, but also cherries and pears. The lesson here: food-crazy families make food-friendly wines.
There’s some Grenache and Counoise in the mix here, but the core of this (84%) is Syrah from Hogback Vineyard. I don’t have the exact location of the site, but I know it’s about eight miles south of the Dalles, so I’d place it here, among the undulating ridges of Mt. Hood’s many river valleys. Those east-west drainages have created a series of perfect, south-facing slopes, and I suspect Hogback is on one of them. Even with southern exposure, this is a cool part of the world, and 2010 was a cool vineyard: perfect for Brian, who has turned out a wine where my first note says “St. Joseph.”
It’s old-world styled to be sure: low in alcohol, high in acidity and vibrancy, with an emphasis on the non-fruity spectrum of Syrah. Look for a core that drinks something like steak au poivre, with plenty of meaty notes and peppery spice. There is some fruit here, a grace note of brambly red raspberry, but this is much more about meat and mineral and juicy energy. I haven’t had many northwest Syrahs that taste like this, and for those of us who love terroir expression in our Syrahs, this is a must-taste.
First come first served up to 12 bottles of each wine, 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.