Hello friends. We have the return today of one of the more buzzworthy Washington wineries going these days: Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen’s WT Vintners.
As I mentioned in our debut offer of Jeff’s wines last April, WT wines turn up on many of the most competitive restaurant lists in Seattle: Canlis. The Herbfarm. Wild Ginger. The Metropolitan Grill. Wineries beg, plead, cajole and give up significant margin to distributors in order to make inroads in places like these. So how did a self-distributed newbie make it into those accounts? The answer: because Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen has years of experience buying and selling wine for some of Seattle’s finest restaurants, and he’s now applying his formidable palate to WT Vintners.
By evening (and probably a good chunk of day), Jeff is the Wine Director at RN74 in Seattle, which means he basically tastes every important wine that comes into Seattle. That gig came after previous stints at Cascadia, Wild Ginger, and Café Juanita. He has a wickedly sharp palate, and a clear point of view, honed from tasting thousands of wines for his various restaurant gigs. To wit, here is an excerpt from Jeff’s winemaking philosophy:
From our inception I strive to be the conduit from which our vineyards speak. Minimal additions are made in the winery beyond yeast and the occasional racking off solids. I avoid the use of new oak in favor of used barrels, which add a bit of texture and little else. Foremost, I want our wines to serve as the champions of Washington’s extraordinary terroir. By utilizing whole clusters, versus just the berries, during fermentation I attempt to coax both greater structure and more savory flavors and aromas in our Syrah. With each vineyard we work closely with the vineyard’s manager and owner to reduce crop loads and find the optimal time to harvest, which is often weeks before our neighbors. By picking early I ensure the vineyard’s voice is heard and not lost to high alcohols and overtly fruity wines. Ultimately, I am attempting to make the wines I want to drink, wines of place, wines that complement a meal and wines that tell a story. I want them to be delicious as they are interesting.
Right now, the wines are sold almost exclusively through restaurant channels (check out their list; we’ll be happy to sidle on up next to our esteemed colleagues at McCarthy & Schiering as the only retailers listed). Stephen Tanzer has written positive press in the past, but WT remains a winery flying well under the mainstream radar. Not for much longer, I suspect.
You didn’t think one of our resident sommeliers was going to make a buttery Chardonnay did you? Jeff has zeroed in on probably the most exciting place in Washington for white wines: the Columbia Gorge (yes, Ancient Lakes can make a compelling argument too). Gruner Veltliner grown on the southern slopes of the extinct volcano Underwood Mountain is one of the hidden treasures of the northwest. Syncline and Savage Grace are the only other Washington wineries I’ve seen to vinify these grapes.
Here’s what JLT has to say: Drawing inspiration from Gruner’s homeland, the Wachau region of Austria, we divide the fermentation between stainless steel and a small amount of neutral oak barrels to coax the austere mineral and spicy elements from the steel and a weightier mid-palate from the permeable oak. Bursting with aromas of just ripe peach, melon, green pineapple, spicy arugula, lemon balm, & wet stone. Flavors of peach, honeydew melon, pineapple, white pepper, & struck flint complement the wine’s brisk acidity. Food Pairings: Dungeness crab tagliatelle, mussels steamed in white wine & garlic, sautéed asparagus.
His note – and especially the parts about green pineapple and spicy arugula – fights the good fight of trying to convey Gruner’s unique savory charms through the written word. It ain’t easy. My descriptor has notes like “hay” and “sweet pea.” Whatever it is, it’s this green, vegetal-in-the-best-way subtlety that is really rare among white wines, and deeply attractive to those of us who love it. This clocks in at 12.9% listed alc and is bright, nervy, and terrifically vibrant. Some lees contact has plumped up the mid-palate, but ultimately this is a laser-beam wine, beautiful for its purity and its complex mix of stone fruits and savory greenies.
Last year’s 2012 Dalliance from WT was extremely popular with our list members. This is the new vintage, but due to the threat of a trademark lawsuit (a plague in the wine trade), Jeff is just naming this by its vineyard sourcing going forward.
And what a vineyard! Stoney Vine is a terrific Dusted Valley-farmed site in the Rocks, and here is JLT on this particular patch of terroir: In 2012, W.T. Vintners formed a new partnership in one of the world’s most unique vineyard areas, the Walla Walla Valley’s sub-region known as “The Rocks.” Unlike the dominant soils of Washington’s flood affected vine growing areas, “The Rocks” are an ancient alluvial fan of river tumbled basalt cobblestones formed by the Walla Walla river. “The Rocks” area shares its soil structure with only a couple very rare and special regions, evoking visions of Chateauneuf-du-Pape in France’s Southern Rhone Valley or New Zealand’s Hawkes Bay sub-region known as the “Gimblett Gravels.” While Chateauneuf’s famous “galet roulés” are just surface stones, the Walla Walla Rocks are deep; well over 200 feet deep in some spots. The lower hanging fruit benefits from the radiant heat being absorbed by the cobblestones throughout the sunny days. More importantly, the heat that is absorbed by day continues warming the root system and assisting in ripening well into the night. The resulting flavors from the region are decidedly very different from anywhere else in Washington. Flavors and aromas of wild game, earth and deep heady fruits pervade the wines made from fruit grown in this small area, regardless of varietal. It is truly a special place and worthy of the critical honors the region’s wines continue to garner each year.
The 2013 is a blend of 53% Grenache, 37% Syrah, and 10% Mourvèdre, aged for 18 months in neutral barrels. “Definitely rocks,” begins my note, which goes on to a nose of great green Cerignola olives and smoky bacon nuance on a core of layered fruit: blueberries, cherries, and loads of stone fruits like peach and nectarine. Threads of smoke wind their way through the lovely palate, which is fruity and meaty and briny in turn. What a delicious swirling stew of Rocks goodness!
Jeff again: Explosive aromas of black cherry, wild strawberry, marionberry, raw steak, black pepper, smoke, espresso & tilled earth. Silky tannins envelop flavors of smoked game, bold Walla Walla “Rocks” minerality, star anise, white pepper, mocha & violets. Food Pairings: Cassoulet, BBQ ribs, Venison Loin with huckleberries.
As someone who divides the year into “summer” and “cassoulet season,” I heartily approve of that list of food pairings.
First come first served up to 24 bottles total (mix and match as you like), and the wines should arrive in the next few weeks, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.