Hello friends. I really wish there was a market where I could bet on future Wine Spectator Top 100 wines.
Okay, I just read that sentence over again and decided that would maybe not be such a good thing for me. As someone only two generations removed from a family member nicknamed Horsey because of his predilection for the racetrack, I’m probably best putting some serious distance between myself and any legalized gambling options.
That said, I think our long-time list members will agree that my crystal ball over the years has been pretty accurate when it comes to Spectator’s Top 100. Today we have what I would call the strongest candidate yet from Washington to end up on the 2015 list when it’s published later this year. And more interesting still: it comes from a new project.
Wine Spectator (Harvey Steiman): “[review text withheld] 92pts.”
A few years ago, when our list members began asking for more predictions about which northwest wines would wind up on Spectator’s list, I did what any applied-math-major-turned-wine-retailer would do: a proper statistical analysis. Since then, we’ve continued to update our database of Spectator Top 100 wines from the PacNW; it now covers 62 wines from 8 years. And yes, I realize this is nerdy. But it’s also fun; and fairly predictive!
So, Spectator is nice because they make their criteria for the Top 100 very clear: score, price, and production (there is also a fourth, qualitative, fudge factor, but until we can install someone on the inside – don’t doubt us! – we’ll have to ignore that one in favor of the quant factors). Looking at other 92pt northwest wines that have made the list over the years, we have a group of nine. Their prices range from $22-$48, and their production from 1519cs-5800cs.
Today’s Tenet Syrah is a (92pt | $25 | 8000cs) wine. That is historically significant, especially the production level, which easily exceeds previous entrants on the list. To wit: the other two 92pt | $25 wines to make the list were the 2005 Amavi Cabernet Sauvignon (#42 on the 2008 list) and the 2006 Novelty Hill Cabernet Sauvignon (#33 on the 2009 list), and their production levels were 4910cs and 3888cs respectively.
All of that makes me think this wine has a very good chance of ending up on the Top 100 list; a strong chance of ending up in the Top 25; and coinflip odds to land in the Top 10, which is rare indeed for a Washington wine.
Yikes. Eight paragraphs in and no explanation of the wine itself. I’ll try to keep the description brief. Tenet is a new collaborative project between Bob Berthau (Chateau Ste Michelle’s lead winemaker) and two Rhone Valley partners: winemaker Michel Gassier and enologist Phillipe Cambie. It sounds a little like the Long Shadows projects, and we know how well those have worked out. In this case, the three men share the belief (or tenet) that Washington can grow some of the finest Syrah in the world, and they’re setting out to prove their point. Here’s their stated stylistic goal: The goal with these wines is to exhibit the growing regions by letting the opulence and vibrancy of the varieties shine through while maintaining finesse and balance. Rhône Valley techniques for managing vine canopy and cluster size in the vineyard, and minimal use of new oak, delicate and precise handling of the fruit, fermentation with stems and extended maceration in the winery all help to accomplish this goal.
I’ll admit to a small amount of trepidation before tasting this one. I mean, I don’t have anything against the Chateau. In fact, they are fantastic ambassadors for the entire state of Washington. But we don’t work with them much. Because if you want to drink Ste Michelle, do you really need Full Pull to do it? Well, I have to say that on my very first sniff of this one, I immediately saw what got the Spectator editors so excited. This is a deeply compelling wine; one of the most thrilling Washington Syrahs I’ve tasted this year, especially factoring in price point. There is a tiny 1% Viognier co-ferment with the Syrah, and small (2-3%) splashes of Grenache and Mourvedre in the blend. The project holds its vineyard sources close to the vest (listed alc is 14.3%), but I suspect they’re working with some seriously excellent farmers here, and the profile seems very Yakima Valley to me, but who knows?
And ultimately, who cares, when the wine is this good. It pours inky purple-black into the glass, and kicks off with a wow nose: threads of woodsmoke wending through blueberry fruit, bacon fat, black olive tapenade, and lifted violet florals. It’s a multi-sniff, double-take nose; really glorious, expressive, complex. Texturally you know immediately you’re dealing with winemakers with a deft touch. Polished, velvety, and ultimately complex, it makes easy drinking of its mix of smoke and meat, mineral and fruit and flower. An old-world/new-world bridge wine, with real freshness and vivacity, I found this bottle to be knee-buckling seductive. What a marvelous debut!
First come first served up to 36 bottles, and the wine should arrive in a week or two, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.