Hello friends. Consider this an extension of our Thanksgiving offer from a few weeks ago. I originally intended to pick one Savage Grace wine for the mixed Thanksgiving pack, but I was tying myself in mental knots trying to choose and eventually decided the lineup deserves its own offer.
Tasting through Michael Savage’s lineup was a head-turning experience. It is rare to see such a coherent house style in such a young winery, and it is even more rare in Washington to have that house style focused on cool-climate wines. The focus, the consistency, the breathtaking purity of the lineup; I was wowed. I’m trying to think if anyone else in Washington is really trying to do what Michael is doing here. Perhaps Brian McCormick at Memaloose? That’s about it, really.
I first met Michael during a study session for one of my WSET Diploma exams (fortified wines, in case you’re interested). The fact that he’s pursuing the Diploma indicates a certain level of intellectual curiosity (aka obsession) about wine. At the time, his project was still nascent, and he said he was seeking out the coolest vineyards in Washington so that he could make old world styled, low-alc, high-acid, food-friendly wines.
It’s clear after tasting through his lineup that he has done exactly that. These are ringing bells of purity, and the commitment to a particular style is admirable. There’s no cheat in the lineup, no 14.5%-alc Cabernet Sauvignon as a concession to lovers of big red Washington wines. I think we all know that there are no shortage of outstanding Washington wineries for those of us who love richer new-world styles. But there’s certainly room for a countervailing point of view, especially one with wines as delicious as these:
No surprise, I suppose, that a winemaker looking to make cool-climate Washington wine would end up with several wines from the Columbia Gorge AVA, and more specifically, from the southern flanks of that wonderful extinct volcano Underwood Mountain. Jack Brady – former United Airlines pilot – farms Underwood Mountain Vineyard (located here), one of the most beautifully situated vineyards I’ve ever visited in Washington. It always seemed strange to me that there was no Riesling grown at Celilo, as this part of the Gorge seems perfectly suited to the noble grape of the Mosel. Here’s what Michael says: “The location of Underwood Mountain Vineyard, on a steep volcanic hillside high above the Columbia River Gorge, is the perfect climate for providing the Riesling grape’s intense flavors to develop, while not losing the acidity that’s core to the grape.”
This clocks in at 11.7% alc and 2.9% RS and offers a wonderfully pure nose of chalky minerals and soaring citrus: lime, tangerine, orange blossom. The texture is just right, with pinpoint sugar-acid balance. It drinks off-dry and is loaded with a palate-coating sense of dry extract. Totally mouthwatering, I love the rocks-and-fruit character here. It’s a fine expression of Underwood Mountain terroir.
Let’s stay on Underwood Mountain and move over to Celilo, the grand-daddy of the Gorge (located here). Celilo has been producing exquisite Chardonnay for years. Consider the fact that Rick Small is willing to go all the way to the Gorge to source Chardonnay for Woodward Canyon, and that begins to give you an idea of how beautiful the Chard from this site can be. Michael’s intro to this one: “This cool-climate chardonnay falls somewhere between a Chablis and more traditional white-burgundy. The mature fruit tones from the old-vine chardonnay used here (>30 years) and subtle oak-treatment provide a richness and smoothness, making for an unusually tasty and food-friendly chardonnay.”
Michael left himself a lot of options here. He did two picks, about a week apart, and he pressed 50% into tank and 50% into barrel, with the barrel portion going through malolactic conversion and weekly lees-stirring. After six months, he constructed his final blend, which comes in at 13.8% listed alc and offers a nose of creamy peaches and pears, stony minerals, and alluring leesy biscuits. This is a nervy live wire, pulsating across the palate with lemony acidity and lingering effortlessly on the finish. There is flesh to the fruit, but only a little; this is noteworthy for its citric-mineral lift, and it offers a singular take on Celilo Chardonnay at a reasonable tag.
Let’s remain in the Gorge for one more wine. What Michael says about this one: “I’m interested in making a Pinot that is delicious, food-friendly, uniquely Washington, and more specifically, Underwood Mountain Vineyards. I’m excited about the potential this vineyard has for producing great Pinot Noir for the state.” With each passing year, I’m growing more and more convinced that the Columbia Gorge is the only area in Washington with the potential to produce great Pinot Noir. I still hold out hope for Chelan. I still hold out hope for the Puget Sound AVA. But over the years, James Mantone at Syncline has already proven that both Celilo and Underwood Mountain can produce lovely, honest Pinot Noirs (not to mention fabulous sparkling wines), and now Michael Savage is following suit.
This spent just nine months in 20% new French oak, and it clocks in at 13.3% listed alc. Mineral tones seem to come through in every well-made wine from the Gorge, and that’s the case here, silty notes to balance deep red cherry and strawberry fruit and lovely topnotes of citrus peel. Brisk and airy on the palate, insistently earthy, this is a vin de soif with sneaky complexity, occupying a place somewhere between a Bourgogne Rouge and a Willamette Valley Pinot. A glorious red for the Thanksgiving table, without question.
The other place besides the Gorge where Michael went looking for vineyards was the higher, cooler sections of the Yakima Valley. At Copeland Vineyard, he found just that. I visited Copeland (located here) with Patrick Rawn of Two Mountain Winery for the Destination Wineries article for Seattle Magazine. The Rawns are third generation farmers in this part of the Yakima Valley, and they are doing brilliant work in the vineyard.
Michael embraces the high (1300ft), cool nature of this site, crafting a 13.2%-alc Cab Franc in what was an otherwise warm vintage. This has more in common with Chinon and Saumur than most other Washington Cab Francs, offering a compelling nose combining fresh brambly raspberry, Chambord, violet, and a wonderful grilled pepper note. It has for me just the right touch of green that only Cab Franc can bring to the table. That green-and-earthy note repeats on the palate, along with pollen-dusted red fruit. There’s such purity of fruit here. It was raised entirely in neutral oak, and only for seven months, so it’s really the beautiful Rattlesnake Hills fruit that’s on display here. With its structural emphasis on acid over tannin and its easy drinking nature, this is another easy choice for turkey day and beyond.