2003 Bordeaux-Inspired Wines
2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Përe de Famille
Cabernet Sauvignon dominates this vintage in more than percentages would indicate: color, aroma, flavor and mouthfeel all identify this wine as Cabernet Sauvignon (77%). While it blends four of the classic Bordeaux varieties (Merlot 13%, Malbec 8% and Petit Verdot 3%) it still shouts Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Cabernet fraction is predominantly from Red Mountain, from the Ciel du Cheval and Klipsun Vineyards' rows that we have used for most all the past vintages. Their power and depth contributions are unmistakable. They also provide the tannic spine essential for our goals for this wine. Their muscular ways are tamed by a fraction of the Cabernet that comes from the Alder Ridge Vineyard, located in the Horse Heaven Hills: it provides length and complexity.
While the other two varieties are minor players, their contribution is distinctive: Malbec adding juiciness, and the Petit Verdot, with its black skin, adds color and a spicy/peppery fragrance.
Red Mountain depth dominates the blend of all varieties at 68%, followed by 24% from the Horse Heaven Hills and 8% from the Yakima Valley. And it shows. In the glass, the 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon has an opaque black/red core. A huge currant, black cherry aroma emerges, carrying along spice, minerals and leather. It's thick and rich, with plenty of youthful tannin, yet finishes with a ripe lushness and sweet black cherry, tobacco flavor. It evolves as it opens in the glass, a sign for this taster that it has years of evolution ahead of it in the cellar.
2003 Clos de Betz
Merlot showed the influence of the warm 2003 weather more so than any other variety in our cellar, and at 58% of this blend it boldly states its case. I find that in warm vintages like 2003 Merlot develops an even deeper chocolate richness on top of its black cherry fruit. That's true for the 2003 Clos de Betz where a Merlot "chocolatiness" mingles with black cherry, plum and leather aromas. There's also a hint of camphor and Asian spice in the aroma.
At this point of development, the 2003 is a fuller bodied wine than past vintages. It's inky-crimson, tannic and powerful, with rich layers of black fruit. Yet there is a vibrancy and vigor to its balance. Part of this textural vitality is due to less Cabernet Sauvignon (30%) and Cabernet Franc (6%) in the blend than last vintage. Petit Verdot at 6% deepens the color and spine.
Earlier bottling also contributes to this liveliness. Over the years we've moved up the bottling date of these wines a few months to mid March, after 16 months in barrel. This length of time in French barriques provides ample opportunity to marry wine elements, soften tannins and add the subtle complexities of vanilla and creamy oak flavors, without robbing the vigor and lushness of the younger fruit notes. We've been pleased with the results: the wines seem truer to their blends, with more vivid fruit definition.
The 2003 is enjoyable right now, but easily capable of 5-8 years of additional evolution in the cellar.
2003 Rhone-Inspired Wines
2003 Syrah La Serenne
The influence of a hot vintage shows in the 2003 La Serenne, despite it being from one of our cooler vineyards. Midseason temperatures at the Boushey Vineyard (where 100% of this fruit is grown) were among the highest of the previous five years creating a depth and ripeness not seen before in this wine. "Thick" is the word we used in the cellar right from the start to describe it. Throughout fermentation and barrel/bottle aging it never lost its density and black color.
The 2003 is true to its predecessors: this is the wild child in the cellar. Boushey Vineyard always seems to produce the most "Rhone-like" qualities for Syrah — meaty and smoky and a hint of wild spice. We picked it a full month later than the grapes for its sister wine, 2003 Syrah La Côte Rousse, and the cooler ripening month most likely generates these more undisciplined notes. I love them. We aged this vintage only 12 months in French barrels, about half new, and the wine acquired all the tannin suppleness and flavor development it needed. I wanted to make sure the fruit essence wasn't overshadowed by oak.
The flavor foundation is blackberry/black cherry with roasted coffee bean, smoke and minerals. A whiff of violets surfaced in the 2003, a note I often find in Northern Rhone Syrah. And then there's its silky mouthfeel, the result of very low yields (less than 2.5 tons/acre), concentration, high alcohol and seamless tannin. Yet it still is powerful and amply built for 3-6 years of additional cellaring.
345 cases made
2003 Syrah La Côte Rousse
It took us until 2003, but we finally achieved a long range goal for our Syrah La Côte Rousse, uniting the Syrah grapes from the two founders of Red Mountain, Scott Williams of Kiona Vineyard and Jim Holmes of Ciel du Cheval Vineyard. These two, along with Scott's dad, John Williams, made an uncommon commitment to the untested sagebrush slopes of Red Mountain back in the early '70s. In a short 30 years this area has become one of America's most respected appellations.
And justifiably so. The red wines made from the Red Mountain fruit are dense blockbusters, jammed with fruit essence and richness, and capable of some of the longest cellaring of any Washington reds.
Syrah La Côte Rousse has always been made from Scott's stunning Syrah, but, like all good things, it's limited. Jim Holmes' grapes have been used to craft some of the headiest Syrahs in Washington, but have never been available to us. Until now. The 2003 vintage is 60% from Scott's vineyard and 40% from Jim's.
And the blend met our expectations. It has the deepest black red color we've yet achieved with Syrah. There are profound blackberry, black cherry aromas, pure and penetrating. Syrah emerges as a roasted meat, violet, spice concerto that carries across to the flavor. Despite classic Red Mountain tannin levels everything is in remarkable harmony, with a fleshy, plump richness balanced by a notable spine of structure. With its concentration, verve and structure this one should do well in the cellar for many years.
370 cases made
Introducing the newest member of the family, Bésoleil (bay-so-lay), our Grenache-dominant red that brings immediate pleasure. Since the early 1970s we've been enjoying a range of wines made from Grenache regardless of origin: Spain, France, Sardinia, Australia and here in Washington. It carries many names and faces, but it's most famous creations are found in the Southern Rhone of France, where it's responsible for the biggest part of the blends of Chateauneuf du Pape. Sweetly scented, brilliantly flavored, these Grenache wines are seductive and have an absolute "drinkability" to them (we tasted our 2003 out of barrel at last year's Syrah release and most people wanted to take it home that day!)
Add to this Old World heritage Washington's success with the variety, albeit somewhat obscured by the darker reds so popular today. In the '70s and '80s Grenache grew to fame around here in the form of rosé made by Chateau Ste. Michelle: in several tastings it was ranked as the best rosé in America. Washington is well suited for Grenache: it loves the heat, dry soils and a late harvest. And by severely limiting the yield per vine we can achieve the concentration essential to great Grenache.
Our 2003 is made from grapes off one of our favorite sites: the Alder Ridge Vineyard. The vines are planted in a dry, south-facing bowl right on the river where they bake in the sun and yet enjoy a long hang time and later harvest because of the proximity to the Columbia River. During the growing season we dropped nearly half the fruit on the ground to achieve more concentration (just under 3 tons/acre). We fermented them gently and used one or two year old French oak barrels to mature the wine for about 12 months: the scents are so pure and sweet that I don't want new oak aromas to get in the way. Sixteen percent Red Mountain Syrah added nuance and substance to the final wine.
So here it is, all 3 barrels of our first Grenache: intense, ripe strawberry and blueberry fruit aromas, with notes of earth, leather and gravel. While not as black as our Syrahs as there's plenty of depth to round out the fruit, alcohol, tannin and body, finishing with a creamy sweet texture.
We're releasing this first vintage only to our mailing list as we made only 80 cases.