Hello friends, and happy new year! I hope you all had a festive, restful, rejuvenating couple of weeks. As usual, I thoroughly enjoyed a little time away from the e-mail machine, but as the calendar ticked over from December to January, I began to get the itch. The itch that can only be scratched by writing about wine; by trying to figure out what is new and interesting (or classic and outstanding) and bringing it to our list members.
So I’m happy to be welcomed back into your inboxes, and for our first offer of the year, I want to expand on a category that we debuted in 2016: the 3L bag-in-box. We offered two of them in 2016: both rosés, both imports. I was thrilled with our list’s response to each offer, because I am a big proponent of this format. It keeps the wine fresh for three weeks after opening. It’s also waaaaaay light-weight compared to glass bottles, which makes it more portable and more environmentally-friendly.
I see this packaging facing some of the same challenges screwcaps did a decade ago – perception that the wine inside is cheap and/or awful – and I suspect it will eventually overcome that in much the way screwcaps subsequently have. The positives are just way too positive.
What’s exciting to me about today’s offer is that it comes not from some progressive European nation, but right from our own backyard, from a terrific Washington winery we’ve worked with on numerous occasions: Powers.
Before we get into our two box wines, please note: we’ll also have a last-call reoffer below on a well-priced 2012 Powers Champoux Cab.
[Please note: this is a 3-liter bag-in-box, so it’s the equivalent of four 750ml bottles of wine at $5/bottle. Please also note: because of our uniform shipping boxes, we will not be able to fulfill any shipping orders for this wine; these will be pickup-only.]
When I tasted this out of box back in December, I just sort of shook my head and chuckled, because I knew right away it would be our 2017 debutante. Having tasted more Chardonnays from box than I’d care to admit, I can say that most of them are adulterated with a) oak powder; b) residual sugar; or c) technical issues. It’s clear that many producers still see this format as a destination for deeply flawed juice.
Fortunately, Powers has gone the complete opposite route, putting a clean, fresh, honest Chardonnay into box. I was pleased right from the first sniff: apple and plantain and melon fruit, light apple blossom florals: expressive and unadulterated Chard. The palate continues the theme: this is clean, easygoing, fruit-driven Chardonnay, with zero oak influence, but with plenty of flesh (13% listed alc) balanced by lemony acidity and leesy nuance. You don’t really expect palate presence from a $20 bag-in-box, but there you have it.
And when I learned a little more about the wine, its quality made even more sense. A full 80% of the grapes for this bottling (boxing?) come from the excellent Goose Ridge Vineyard; the remainder from Champoux (!), Nine Canyon, and Arete. All fermented and aged in stainless steel. These are experienced winemakers who know what they’re doing putting good unfussy Chardonnay in a big old box. Seems like a beachhead to me.
This time I’ll start with the vineyard and technical information. Again it paints a picture of purpose-made wine, not cast-off juice. The vineyard material again begins with Goose Ridge, here making up 50% of the blend (note: Goose Ridge is also the main source behind Charles Smith’s Substance Cs Cab, so those of you who liked that wine might pay attention here). The remainder comes from Sheridan (can I use another exclamation point?), as well as three fine Wahluke Slope sites: Coyote, Clifton Bluff, and Katherine Leone. Not a dud in the mix. All that good Cabernet juice (and this is indeed 100% Cab) gets 14 months in 2- and 3-year old French oak. French freaking oak! How this wine costs what it does is beyond me.
It begins with a lovely Cabernet nose: redcurrant and fig fruit, earth tones of soil and beetroot, and an herbal anise kick of tarragon. Juicy and pure in the mouth, this begins with a supple attack but picks up some medium-grained tannins in the mid-palate that carry through to the finish. There is just nothing spoofy or questionable about these wines. Pardon me my low expectations, I suppose, but both boxes way over-performed my preconceived notions. I would like to believe that if you served this wine to me blind, I would easily call it out as Cab based on both flavor and structure profiles. That’s high praise for a wine that essentially costs five bucks a bottle.
Excerpts from the original: Four Washington wineries have ownership stakes in Champoux Vineyard, undeniably one of Washington’s cru Cabernet sites, in the heart of the Horse Heaven Hills. Those four wineries naturally have access to the filet of the vineyard. Quilceda Creek’s Cabernet Sauvignon ($140) and Woodward Canyon’s Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon ($110) both contain a backbone of Champoux Cab. Andrew Will’s Sorella ($83) comes entirely from Block One Champoux fruit. Today’s wine comes from the fourth partner: Powers.
Powers is now in its second generation, with Greg Powers taking over the main winemaking role from his father Bill. Greg was in his late teens when he helped his dad plant their 80-acre family estate, Badger Mountain Vineyard. They were visionaries when it came to organic viticulture, becoming the first Certified Organic vineyard in Washington State in 1990, waaaaay before the notion of organics was trendy.
In 1992 they launched Powers Winery, and in 1996 they formed the partnership that purchased Champoux (then called Mercer Ranch). They’ve been working with Champoux fruit for more than two decades, and it shows. This particular bottling is 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, rounded out with 5% each Merlot and Petit Verdot. It spent 30 months in French oak, 75% new, and clocks in at 14% listed alc. The fruit source, the classy barrels, the length of time in oak: all suggest a Cabernet that could command a considerably higher price. That it comes from perhaps the best Washington vintage of the new millennium is the capstone.
This offers an unmistakable Champoux nose, its wonderful graphitic minerality weaving through blackcurrant fruit and smoke and cedar. The balance is pinpoint, with just-right acidity and tannin structure to frame a core of delicious, mineral-tinged black fruit. There’s even a light note of black olive to ramp up the complexity a little further. After a plush mid-palate, this moves into a serious, grippy, toothsome finish, very true to Cabernet in texture. This is classy, classy juice, punching well above its price class, and it is a textbook introduction to an important Washington vineyard.
First come first served up to 36 bottles/boxes total (mix and match as you like), and the wines should arrive in a week or two, at which point they will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.