Hello and welcome to my weekly dig through the pile of wine samples that show up asking to be tasted. I’m pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.
This past week included all sorts of treats, starting with the latest release from Domaine Carneros of their flagship Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs, which is one of California’s finest sparkling wines. I’m continually impressed with the richness of this wine without a single drop of it spending time in wood. It’s a delight.
Next up I’ve got a couple of Verdejos from Rueda, Spain, both of which are excellent values, with a slight preference on my part for the Protos bottling which at 12 bucks is a steal of a wine if you’re looking for something friendly and delicious.
Lang & Reed has been making Loire-inspired wines in California for a long time, and in recent years the brand has been doubling down on its commitment to Chenin Blanc. This is a perfect example of what treasures can be unearthed in California. Proprietor John Skupny found some older vines in Mendocino and boy are we lucky he did. This is a distinctive wine with great character.
There’s never a bad time to drink pink, which is why I’ve got four different Italian rosés for you, each a great value and a welcome antidote to anyone who’s been watching the price of those rosés from Provence climb in value. Why pay $100 for a bottle of refreshing citrus and berry brightness when you can pay $14? Don’t miss the “Torrerose” from Masseria li Veli, which proves why Negroamaro is one of the best grapes for making rosé.
Before we get out of rosé territory, it’s definitely worth noting the very rare pink bottling from Napa stalwart Smith-Madrone, which has only made a bottle of rosé twice before. This blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc might surprise you with its bright juicy cherry goodness.
For those who are still looking for reds to go with their grilled steaks this summer, I’ve got two options for you, a leaner, polished wine from Australia’s Wynns Coonawarra Estate, which has a real elegance to it, as well as a Cabernet from Tierra Roja in Napa which expresses some more typical Napa richness.
That’s all for this week. Notes on all these wines below.
2014 Domaine Carneros “Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs” Chardonnay, Sonoma, California
Pale gold in the glass with a hint of green and moderately fine bubbles, this wine smells of yeasty bread, lemon zest, and lemon pith. In the mouth, a soft mousse delivers wonderfully balanced flavors of lemon curd, roasted nuts, lemon oil, toasted sourdough, and a faint salinity that keeps the salivary glands gushing. Crisp and bright with excellent acidity, this is a lovely mouthful. 11.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $ . click to buy.
2020 Buil & Gine “Nosis” Verdejo, Rueda, Spain
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of Meyer lemon curd and white flowers. In the mouth, bright lemon curd, grapefruit, and peach flavors have decent acidity and a faint chalky texture to them. Bright and cheerful. 14.1% alcohol. Closed with a plastic cork. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $15. click to buy.
2021 Protos Verdejo, Rueda, Spain
Pale yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of candied lemon and white flowers. In the mouth, bright lemon, citrus pith, and grapefruit flavors have a cheery, sunny disposition, with a hint of peach emerging on the finish. Very good acidity. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $12. click to buy.
2020 Lang & Reed “Talmage” Chenin Blanc, Mendocino County, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of quince paste, grapefruit pith, and vanilla. In the mouth, flavors of quince and grapefruit mix with creme anglaise and a faint nutmeg quality that is as compelling as it is surprising. Very good acidity, which I wish were slightly more aggressive, but that’s a quibble. The wine has a pretty, silky texture. 40-year-old vines grown on the Talmage Bench in Mendocino. Spends 14 months in barrel. 13.5% alcohol. 50 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2021 Fattoria La Valentina Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, Abruzzo, Italy
Light ruby in the glass, this wine smells of cherries and orange peel. In the mouth, juicy cherry and red plum flavors mix with orange zest, which lingers with a faint hint of bitterness in the finish. A note of dried fennel creeps in as well. Excellent acidity. 13% alcohol. 100% Montepulciano. Closed with a screwcap. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $14. click to buy.
2021 Tenuta Sant’Antonio “Scaia” Rosato, Veneto, Italy
Pale peachy pink in color, this wine smells of strawberries and citrus peel. In the mouth, silky flavors of strawberry, watermelon, and redcurrant have a wonderfully tangy bright acidity to them and a clean, aromatic finish. Very tasty. 12.5% alcohol. Closed with a Vinolok glass stopper. Score: around 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.
2021 Garafoli “Kòmaros” Rosé Blend, Marche, Italy
Palest baby pink in color, this wine smells of strawberries and cream. In the mouth, strawberries, vanilla, and white floral notes have a silky texture and juicy brightness. A hint of citrus peel lingers in the finish. Perhaps not quite as snappy as I would like, but the flavors are hard to argue with. 100% Montepulciano. 13% alcohol. Closed with a plastic cork. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $13. click to buy.
2021 Masseria li Veli “Torrerose” Negroamaro Rosé, Salento, Puglia, Italy
Palest peachy pink in color, this wine smells of peaches and watermelon rind and white flowers. In the mouth, flavors of watermelon rind, peach, redcurrant, and citrus peel have a nice, crisp acidity and wonderful balance, with notes of orange zest lingering through a long finish. Excellent. 12.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $14. click to buy.
2021 Smith-Madrone Rosé, Spring Mountain District, Napa, California
A pale ruby in color with bluish highlights, this wine smells of cherries and plum skin. In the mouth, bright cherry and sour cherry flavors have a juicy tartness and a faint tannic grip, as fantastic acidity keeps the saliva flowing through a long finish. A blend of 33% Merlot and 67% Cabernet Franc that is co-fermented in stainless steel. 14.1% alcohol. 165 cases made. This is only the third time in its history that Smith-Madrone has made a rosé. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2019 Wynns Coonawarra Estate “John Riddock Limited Release” Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, chocolate, and minty pine oil. In the mouth, juicy black cherry, cassis, and black plum flavors have a wonderful elegance thanks to excellent acidity. Barely perceptible tannins hang wispy and ghost-like in the background letting the silky fruit do its thing on the palate before they stiffen slightly in the finish. Very pretty. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $100. click to buy.
2019 Tierra Roja Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa, California
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry and sweet tobacco. In the mouth, rich, somewhat sweetish flavors of black cherry, licorice, and cassis are tinged with cocoa powder and a touch of espresso. Good acidity, but comes across as fairly ripe and sweet. Barrel fermented and then aged in new French oak for 30 months before bottling. 14.8% alcohol. 250 cases made. Comes in a somewhat heavier bottle than it needs to, weighing 1.65kg when full. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $175. click to buy.
Mark my words: the greatest wines Washington State has ever produced will come from one of the most ambitious vineyard projects I have ever seen in the United States. And when I say “will come,” what I mean is now is the time to get on the mailing lists for these wines (or go find them at your local specialty retailer) because they’re about to become some of the most sought-after wines made in Washington State, and perhaps the country.
Last November, I paid a visit to the Red Mountain AVA, where I spent some time exploring (for the first time) a place that I had written about several times previously. Most notably, I did a rather comprehensive, 2-part writeup on the region and its wines for Jancis Robinson’s website about 2 years ago.
While I was doing research for those articles, I got wind (pun intended) of a vineyard under development high up on the ridge of Red Mountain, and so when I finally made it to the region in person, I made sure to spend an afternoon exploring a vineyard project called WeatherEye.
But before I get to this project and its wines, let’s do a quick overview of the Red Mountain AVA.
Red Mountain sits in the Yakima Valley region of Washington State which is itself within the greater Columbia Valley. This region of eastern Washington falls in the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains, giving it a warm high-desert climate—one that gets one inch less rain each year on average than the Gobi Desert.
The geology of the region has been shaped by two incredibly dynamic and important forces. The first was the creation, 15 million years ago, of the entire Columbia Basin, which occurred when lava flows covered more than 210,000 square kilometers so deeply (up to 4 km deep in some places) that their combined weight created a massive, basalt-filled depression in the earth.
The second was the cataclysmic series of events from about 15,000 years ago, known as the Missoula Floods, in which ice-age glacial dams gave way, sending 900-foot-high walls of water and glacial sediments (and icebergs and car-sized boulders) rushing at 60 miles per hour across the northwest part of the United States. In the Yakima Valley region, these floodwaters were dammed up by a mountainous ridge with only a narrow opening (known as the Wallula Gap) creating a wide lake in which much of the sediment carried by these waters would settle.
The Red Mountain AVA then is 4040 acres of southwest-facing hillside descending from a ridge of Columbia Basin basalt, surrounded and covered with fine silt soils leftover from the Missoula Floods.
These soils have a very high calcium content, which over time has led to thin, calcareous encrustations known as caliche that coat most of the rocks in the area. The farther away from the ridge, the deeper the silty soils get, and the farther up you go on the ridge, the more you’re dealing with pure, volcanic, fractured basalt, as well as the fierce winds that whip across this desert landscape.
The Quieter Brother
The last name Myhrvold tends to mean something to anyone in the technology world and to anyone who considers themselves a really serious foodie. Both of those groups know Nathan Myhrvold, who was Chief Technology Officer for Microsoft between 1996 and 2000, after Bill Gates bought his software company for $1.5 million in Microsoft stock (you can do the math on present value).
Nathan was one of the most visionary thinkers of his time when it came to information technology, but would also go on to get a culinary degree and create a famous and groundbreaking set of books entitled Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking, which instantly became the bible of the molecular gastronomy movement.
But fewer of those who know Myhrvold’s name and fame would register the name of his brother. Cameron Myhrvold helped his brother found the company that Microsoft purchased, and would go on to found several others (including the well-known venture capital firm Ignition Partners) after his tenure at Microsoft. But he has kept a much lower profile (notably, he has no Wikipedia page), despite being as savvy and successful as his brother.
Cameron Myhrvold does seem to share his brother’s interest in flavor, however, and specifically in wine. As long-time fan of Washington state wines, Myhrvold jumped at the chance to buy 360 acres of land high up on Red Mountain in 2004 when it came onto the market.
There was only one problem. The vast majority of the acreage was far above what most people considered the ideal plantable zone for grapevines, and part of the property even fell outside the boundaries of the Red Mountain AVA.
So for 10 years, nothing happened.
The Eye of the Storm
Eventually, Myhrvold connected with viticulturist Ryan Johnson, whose previous pedigree included the famed Ciel du Cheval Vineyard, Cadence Winery, and Force Majeure.
In 2014, Myhrvold hired Johnson as a consultant and sent him up on the hill to answer one simple question: how much of the property is actually plantable?
“After six months I put a report together,” says Johnson, “saying that if you were really ambitious maybe 25 acres could go under vine, but the thing to do would be to start with just a few fantastic acres and get a sense of what works, and what doesn’t.”
Johnson presented his report to Myhrvold in a meeting along with geologist Dr. Alan Busacca, whom he had brought in to help with soil analysis. Myhrvold listened to the presentation, said he liked Johnson’s approach and said he wanted to do it, but he just needed to find someone to manage the project.
“Then Busacca chimed in,” laughs Johnson, “and told Cam, ‘there’s only one guy in the state who can pull this off, and he’s sitting right there,’ and he pointed at me.”
And WeatherEye was born.
For a full year, Johnson wandered the hillside by himself, mapping out sites and making plans for what he increasingly believed would be a very special site, and one that might, with the right approach, allow for more plantings than he or anyone else might have thought possible.
Starting in 2016, Johnson began calling the most competent, dedicated, and daring folks he had worked with over the course of his career, asking them if they wouldn’t mind coming for a tour up a steep hillside of cheatgrass, yarrow, and sagebrush to the crest of a hill strewn with chunks of basalt.
Along the way, Johnson would paint a vision of what he wanted to achieve, and those who didn’t run screaming from the sheer insanity of the project saw a chance to create something magical.
With their help and a through a staggering amount of work, Johnson has now planted a total of 33 acres of vines on the hill across several locations, each with a different exposure, geology, and varietal mix, most on parts of the mountain everyone would have said was unplantable.
Changing the Planting Game
A significant amount of the acreage is planted to Rhône grape varieties, many of which, especially the Syrah and Grenache, are head-trained vertically along a stake in the en echalas style, and planted with meter-by-meter density, resulting in roughly 4000 vines per acre. Others are planted as head-trained bush vines.
Johnson meticulously oriented the vine rows based on the most accurate solar radiation data he could get his hands on.
“These echalas plantings are honestly a game changer up here,” says Johnson. “The vines shade themselves, preserve humidity, manage crop load, make better cluster placement, and manage the heat extremely well.”
Johnson has left open corridors running through the vines that remain populated with the native high-desert scrub, wildflowers, and grasses, with sagebrush in, around, and between everything (as seen in the image at top).
“Sage is one of the most beneficial homes for good insects, and its volatile oils also help protect against some disease pressure,” says Johnson, who is taking a very holistic approach to managing vineyard health. He has additionally planted 3000 lavender bushes on the property and expects to plant more.
Across the 33 acres, Johnson has planted Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, Grenache Noir, Syrah, Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Graciano, Tempranillo, and Mourvédre.
“Our clonal diversity is our house secret,” says Johnson with a smile. “We’re using all the best clones and we don’t have a single monoclonal block on the property.”
Battling the Elements
Of all the plantings that Johnson has done thus far, nothing comes close to matching what he calls the “mountain monster” of his Mourvedre.
At the very crest of Red Mountain, taking a page from the otherworldly vineyards in the Azores and Canary Islands, Johnson has broken up the solid volcanic rock into cobbles varying from softball-sized to basketball-sized and scraped them up (with what little soil exists on the ridge) into hundreds of windbreaks, each sheltering an individual grapevine.
This was a preposterous amount of work for just a few hundred vines.
But there’s no doubt that such an extreme approach would be required to grow grapes on the crest of the mountain, where fierce winds rip across the ridge throughout the year.
The wind joins frosts, winter freezes, scorching heat, and various natural pests to make for what by any measure might be described as extreme viticulture.
“Great terroir should put up a fight,” says Johnson, when I ask him to sum up his feelings about farming in these conditions. Johnson’s farming regimen doesn’t necessarily fit any common label in terms of its approach.
“Cam calls it ‘Ryannic,'” jokes Johnson. “We incorporate many aspects of organic farming, but don’t limit ourselves to one set of tools. Our farming decisions must always consider the safety and well-being of our vineyard team as well as the long-term health and performance of the vineyard. Common sense (combined with experience) is key.”
The Fruits of Creativity
Exploring WeatherEye with Johnson is like touring a treehouse with the 10-year-old that built it. He can’t hide the passion, conviction, and pride in what he and his team of believers have created over the past 5 years.
“Things that were thought impossible, are now possible,” says Johhson. “Cam has allowed me to exercise my creativity with this project. This is 90% art, 10% science, and some experimentation thrown in there too.”
Not only has the team proven that grapes can be grown in places no one thought possible on Red Mountain, they have demonstrated that they can do so with spectacular results.
“Cam had enough confidence to keep pushing me along,” says Johnson, “with the belief that Field of Dreams-style, we’d be able to sell the fruit if we got it planted. My marching orders were simply to grow the best grapes in the world.”
Johnson seems well on the way to succeeding at that goal, according to my palate. Some of the first wines made from WeatherEye Vineyard are easily among the best wines I’ve ever tasted from Washington State. They possess a vibrancy of fruit, an intensity of perfume, a stony, volcanic depth that is frankly, breathtaking.
My first taste of these wines came after a day of tasting wines from some of the top producers on Red Mountain. My palate was properly calibrated to the wonderful qualities that this hillside can coax out of Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah.
But then I put some WeatherEye wines in my mouth, and they knocked me back in my chair with their power, finesse, and depth. No one can have a handle yet on what this site might be capable of from a winemaking perspective—it’s too soon. But if the wines below are what this place is producing in its youth, I shudder to think what might be possible in 5 or 10 years, as both the vines and the winemakers more deeply express the mountain.
And who knows what Johnson might plant next? He now laughs at his original estimate of only 25 plantable acres for the site.
“In my defense, that estimate was made when the conventional wisdom was that it was impossible to plant the top of Red Mountain. Based on what we’ve learned (hard-fought, of course), we feel we could now develop double that acreage or more at WeatherEye. But I would need to take a very long vacation first!”
If he can manage to tear himself away from his magnum opus, Johnson certainly deserves it. But it’s pretty hard to improve on the local views:
In addition to the wines and wineries represented by the tasting notes below, WeatherEye Vineyards sells fruit to Devium Wines, Dillon Cellars, Sleight of Hand, Kevin White Winery, and Upside Down Wines. A number of these wineries have not yet released their inaugural wines from WeatherEye and weren’t able to provide me with samples. In addition, Johnson and Myhrvold have launched a WeatherEye Vineyards estate brand, with the wines made by Todd Alexander (of Force Majeure fame). They have recently released their first two wines.
Betz Family Winery
Bob Betz MW is a well-known figure in the Washington wine scene. He spent 28 years at Chateau St. Michelle in various winemaking and executive capacities, helping to steer Washington’s largest and most important wine producer. In 1997 Betz and his wife Cathy started Betz Family Winery, which has been a standard-bearer for Washington State wines ever since. Bob and Cathy sold the winery in 2011 to Steve and Bridgit Griessel, but Bob remains the consulting winemaker for with full-time winemaker Louis Skinner. The Betz Family Winery has been a long-time supporter of the Red Mountain AVA, and has made a vineyard-designated wine from the region for many vintages.
2019 Betz Family Winery “La Côte Rousse – WeatherEye Vineyard” Syrah, Red Mountain, Columbia Valley, Washington
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of wet earth, green herbs, and blackberries. In the mouth, powdery, stony tannins wrap around a core of blackberry and black cherry fruit that is shot through with pulverized stones even as floral notes drift across the palate. Excellent acidity, outstanding minerality. Fantastic. 14.1% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $ . click to buy.
The Bujanda Family has been growing and making wine in the Rioja region of Spain for five generations at their family estate known as Bodegas Valdemar. In 2019, the family opened Valdemar Estates, what they say is “the first internationally owned winery in Washington State.” The Walla Walla-based winery produces a number of different bottlings from around the state, including some single-vineyard wines from some of the state’s most legendary vineyards.
2020 Valdemar Estates “WeatherEye Vineyard Barrel Sample Trial 020-A” Grenache, Columbia Valley, Washington
Light to medium garnet in color, this barrel sample smells of strawberries, crushed stones, and dried herbs. In the mouth, bright strawberry and herbal notes are shot through with a lovely pulverized stone quality. Excellent acidity and basically imperceptible tannins round out the package. Notes of dried herbs emerge in the finish. Excellent. 14.3% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Note that this sample does NOT represent the final wine that will be released, but it was quite encouraging.
Andrew Latta got his start in wine as a sommelier working in Thailand. His passion for wine drove him to Washington State where he worked as a harvest intern and cellar hand, confirming that what he really wanted to do for the rest of his life was make wine. For the next 15 years, he worked his way up to the position of winemaker at Charles Smith Wines. In 2011 he started his own label, Latta Wines, where he makes small batches of wines from vineyard sites around the state.
I tasted two barrel samples of Syrah from Latta Wines that the winery later decided didn’t represent what they were planning to release to the public, so I’m not going to offer tasting notes for these barrel samples, but I certainly can characterize them as wonderfully deep and powerful but without being too sweet or rich. They offered what I’ve now come to expect from WeatherEye fruit: namely a combination of stony power, richness, but also elegance. Look out for Latta’s interpretation of this site whenever he decides he’s ready to release something.
In 2007 young winemaker Morgan Lee teamed up with David and Cindy Lawson, the owners of Covington Cellars to form a new wine label that they called Two Vintners. Their initial wines were the (at the time) horribly unfashionable varieties of Merlot and Syrah, but their efforts converted many skeptics to these varieties. These days the brand has a heavy focus on Rhône varieties (with a little White Zinfandel thrown in!?) sourced from around Washington State.
2019 Two Vintners “Oliver” Red Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of struck match, bacon fat, and a hint of black ad blue fruit. In the mouth, faint tannins wrap wispily around a core of blackberry, black cherry, and strawberry that have a slightly smoky aspect. A distinctly stony quality emerges in the finish. A blend of 70% Weather Eye Grenache, 20% Syrah, 5% Petite Sirah, and 5% Cinsault all from the Olsen Vineyard. 14.7% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $ . click to buy.
2019 Two Vintners “Weather Eye” Grenache Blanc, Columbia Valley, Washington
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon rind, Asian pear, chamomile, and a touch of summer squash. In the mouth, intensely bright and vibrant lemon, golden apple, and yellow herb flavors are juicy with fantastic acidity. Stony notes linger underneath the citrusy lean fruit that has a touch of bee pollen to it. Excellent. 14.4% alcohol. 100 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $ . click to buy.
2020 Two Vintners “Weather Eye” Grenache Blanc, Columbia Valley, Washington
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of white flowers, melon, golden apple, and citrus peel. In the mouth, intense apple and lemon peel flavors are bright with excellent acidity. There’s a faint salinity to the wine which makes it quite mouthwatering. A hint of herbal bitterness emerges on the finish. 14.4% alcohol. 110 cases made. Score: around 9. Cost: $ . click to buy.
Young winemaker Travis Allen and his wife Mario Kobayashi have been making tiny amounts of wine under their own label since 2014, all while he holds down a day job in the medical industry to pay the bills and help finance his passion for his “night job.” At Kobayashi Wines, Allen takes a decidedly non-interventionalist approach to winemaking, one which he says was heavily influenced by the late Sean Thackrey. He is highly focused on making individualistic, unique wines that stand apart from what he sees as the conventional approach to wine in Washington State. With input and advice from Rhône master winemaker Yves Gangloff, Allen’s micro-production, artisan wines have become something of an insider secret amongst the Washington wine industry.
2020 Kobayashi Winery “WeatherEye Vineyard” Viognier, Columbia Valley, Washington
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers, peaches and apricots. In the mouth, wonderful peach and white floral notes mix with lemon curd and grapefruit for a mouthwatering package, juicy and bright. Quite delicious. 14% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $65. click to buy.
2019 Kobayashi Winery “WeatherEye Vineyard” Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington
Inky garnet in color, this wine smells of blueberries and blackberries. In the mouth, powerful flavors of blackberry, cassis and woodsmoke mix with tangy sour cherry and tight, muscular, fine-grained tannins. Excellent acidity and length. But young and needs some time to relax. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $85. click to buy.
2019 Kobayashi Winery “Sans Soufre – WeatherEye Vineyard” Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of dried flowers, cassis, and black cherry. In the mouth, powdery tannins coat the mouth and surround a core of black cherry, sour cherry, and blackcurrant that is vibrant with excellent acidity and deeply stony in quality. The tannins flex their muscles as the wine finishes, with bright juiciness. 100% whole cluster fermented with native yeasts and aged in an old puncheon. 14% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $85. click to buy.
Some of my favorite Washington State wines have long been made by Chris Peterson at his brand Avennia Wines, which is a partnership between himself and Marty Taucher, a former Microsoft executive who teamed up with Peterson in 2009 to launch Avennia. With their brand well established and highly celebrated, Peterson and Taucher were beginning to explore the question “what’s next?” when they got an invitation to come take a look at a new vineyard site high on Red Mountain.
What started as the possibility of a new fruit source immediately turned into an obsession.
“We talked about it the whole three-hour drive back to Seattle,” recalls Peterson. “There was immediately this sense that it had to be its own project. It was unproven, of course, but we had a feeling that it would be worth it.”
Liminal Wines immediately became WeatherEye’s first and largest customer, establishing a joint venture that reunited Taucher and Myhrvold, who knew each other from the Microsoft days, and combining the prodigious talents of Peterson and Johnson, who are working together for the first time, having crossed paths for more than two decades in the upper echelons of the Washington wine scene.
2019 Liminal Wines “Weathereye Vineyard – High Canyon Series” Viognier, Red Mountain, Yakima Valley, Washington
Pale straw in color, this wine smells of apricots and unripe peaches. In the mouth, the wine has remarkable acidity for a Viognier, with lean and bright flavors of unripe peaches, golden apple and citrus pith. Juicy, and mouthwatering. With a hint of a savory note on the finish. One of my favorite new world Viognier interpretations to date. Native yeast fermentation in neutral barrels. Aged for about 9 months before bottling. 14% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2018 Liminal Wines “Weathereye Vineyard – Vineyard Series – GSM” Red Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of boysenberries and cherries with a hint of road dust and dried herbs. In the mouth, boysenberry, cherry, and herbal/floral notes are swirling with bright acidity under a very faint gauze of tannins. Fantastically savory, dusty road and sagebrush flavors mix with the slight brambly character that lingers in the finish. A blend of 42% Grenache, 20% Syrah, and 38% Mourvèdre. Fantastic. 14.9% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2018 Liminal Wines “Weathereye Vineyard – High Canyon Series” Grenache, Red Mountain, Yakima Valley, Washington
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright strawberry and boysenberry fruit. In the mouth, silky, bright, and juicy strawberry and boysenberry flavors have a faint dusty tannin to them and lovely dried herb characteristics that linger in a long finish. Outstanding acidity and just the faintest bit of heat hinting at that 15% alcohol. Totally delicious with floral notes in the finish. Native yeast fermentation, about 15% whole cluster, both fermented and aged in a neutral puncheon. Outstanding. 15% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $80. click to buy.
2018 Liminal Wines “Weathereye Vineyard – Block 16” Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of incredibly floral cassis and blackberry fruit. In the mouth, deep blackberry and cassis flavors are bursting with acidity and shot through with dried herbs and just the faintest touch of white pepper. Faint, cotton-ball tannins buff the edges of the palate. Sumptuous, dark, and gorgeous, with a hint of iodine in the finish. Fantastic and compelling. Comes from the highest planting on Red Mountain, but it is just outside the boundary of the AVA, so it gets labeled as Columbia Valley. A small north-facing block, densely planted, with en echalas training, picked on September 18th. Fermented in steel with native yeasts, and then put into an old puncheon, a new barrique, and a used barrique, yielding about 20% new wood. Includes about 15% whole cluster. 14.8% alcohol. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2019 Liminal Wines “Weathereye Vineyard – Block 10” Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, Washington
Inky garnet in color, this wine smells of black plum and black cherry with a hint of Nutella. In the mouth, juicy bright black plum and black cherry fruit have incredible acidity that almost gives some structure to the wine along with fine tannins. The tiniest hint of dried herbs dances around the dense dark fruit with some crushed hazelnut in the finish. Sees about 65% new oak. 14.8% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $90. click to buy.
2019 Liminal Wines “Weathereye Vineyard – Block 47” Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington
Inky opaque purple in the glass, this wine smells of incredibly floral black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, deep and powerful flavors of black cherry, cassis, cola, and dried flowers are grasped firmly in a suede fist of supple tannins. Excellent acidity and depth, this is a monster of a wine that can compete with the absolute top tier of Napa’s cult projects. This has some structure to it, to be sure, so give it 3 or 4 years for prime experience, but honestly, it’s delicious now if you’re into big-boned Cabernet. Fermented in upright barrels and then aged in 100% new French oak. “All the fanciest shit we can throw at it,” says winemaker Chris Peterson. Phenomenal. 14.8% alcohol. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $125. click to buy.
2019 Liminal Wines “Weathereye Vineyard – High Canyon Series” Syrah, Red Mountain, Yakima Valley, Washington
Dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of cassis and flowers. In the mouth, incredibly juicy flavors of blackberry, cassis, candied violets, and white flowers soar on and on. Faint herbal notes creep into the finish along with the texture of faint, powdery tannins that just barely tighten at the edges of the mouth. Contains 3% Viognier and the whole package is co-fermented in concrete. Stunning in its depth and profound aromatics. A showstopper of a wine. 14.9% alcohol. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $80. click to buy.
2019 Liminal Wines “Weathereye Vineyard – Vineyard Series – GSM” Red Blend, Red Mountain, Columbia Valley, Washington
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of boysenberry and blueberries, and strawberries. In the mouth, stunningly juicy flavors of boysenberry and strawberry fruit mix with dusty roads and dried herbs including a dollop of sage. Incredibly fresh, bright, and juicy with fantastic dried herbs lingering in the finish. A stunning wine that I defy anyone to dislike. A blend of 38% Grenache, 36% Syrah, 26% Mourvèdre. A mix of concrete and steel fermentation. Native yeasts. 15% alcohol. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $60. click to buy.
In addition to the above wines, I was also able to taste two of the 2020 barrel samples, both of which were outstanding.
2020 Liminal Wines “Weathereye Vineyard – Barrel Sample – Block 47 ” Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, Yakima Valley, Washington
Inky, opaque purple in the glass, this barrel sample smells deeply of boysenberry and cassis fruit, with intense, supple tannins. Quite floral and bright, and powerful. Still has 9 months or so left in the barrel. Excellent acidity. Truly outstanding. Score: around 9.5.
2020 Liminal Wines “Weathereye Vineyard – Barrel Sample – High Canyon Series” Syrah, Red Mountain, Yakima Valley, Washington
Very dark purple in the glass, this barrel sample smells of cassis and blackberries. Excellent acidity, thicker, putty-like tannins. A faint smoky violet note lingers on the finish. Intense, complex, and delicious. Score: around 9.5.
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