November is one of my favorite months of the year, when the cooler temperatures herald my wine club FedEx shipments from Washington State.
I look forward to the latest vintages from Doubleback, Long Shadows Winery and L’Ecole– all from the Walla Walla region.
The wines are unique, limited in quantity, and high in quality. Most are offered exclusively to club members making it rare for any of these wines to turn up on store shelves.
Don’t get the wrong impression. I am not rich. Each wine club has several membership options, and I subscribe to the lowest or middle tier. I get between six and 12 bottles annually from each winery.
So why would I write a column about these wines if they’re not readily available to consumers? Simple. To tell you what you and your friends are missing. These low-production wineries are family run and depend on local workers. They excel at what they do, and are flattered by new customer inquiries. In some instances, they don’t have vacancies on their members’ allocation list (they only have so much wine to go around), so potential customers are placed on a waiting list (I waited three years for my Long Shadows’ membership). If you’re lucky to get a spot, you can join with friends and share the cost.
So here’s a sampling of what I will enjoy over the next year or two.
* Doubleback Winery — This shipment was greatly anticipated, since it included the debut vintages of Drew and Maura Bledsoe’s Elizabeth Chardonnay (2016) and Flying B Cabernet Sauvignon (2015) as well as its stalwart Stolen Horse Syrah (2015). The Wine Goddess — my wife Mary Lee — saw the Chardonnay, which is named after Drew’s great-grandmother, chilled it and made a sumptuous chicken dish. Elizabeth features fresh apple fruit, lemon zest, an elegant creamy texture and a touch of vanilla. Flying B Cab is named after Drew’s great-grandfather’s cattle ranch and its sturdy and savory. It costs $48 a bottle, half the cost of Doubleback’s highly acclaimed premium Cabernet. Stolen Horse Syrah remains a favorite, capturing the full-bodied, spicy flavors of Wall Walla Valley’s beautiful, ripe fruit. A 5 percent touch of Viognier adds fragrance and refinement. Winemaker Josh McDaniel is precise in all the details with these three selections.
* Long Shadows Vintners — Allen Shoup’s boutique winery makes six fabulous wines, each crafted by a separate world-renowned winemaker. My six-pack fall shipment included two bottles each of the 2014 Sequel Syrah, Saggi and Chester-Kidder. Here’s the lowdown: Winemaker John Duval, formerly of Australia’s Penfolds’ Grange, terms Sequel a “sexy beast” packed with “vibrant blackberry and cherry flavors that combine with delicious hints of roasted meats and black olive tapenade.” Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker rated the vintage 94 points. Only 1,840 cases were produced.
Saggi is crafted by Tuscany’s Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari and is a blend of Sangiovese (52 percent), Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. It offers layers of dark fruit complexity and spice. Think of a silky Super Tuscan from the Columbia Valley. It’s been aged for 18 months prior to release. Only 1,828 cases made. Parker gave it 94 points.
Chester Kidder is French winemaker Gilles Nicault’s blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Verdot with grapes sourced from Red Mountain, Walla Walla Valley, and Wahluke Slope. “Brimming with expressive aromas and flavors of black cherries, violets, oak spice … its rich texture and firm yet refined tannins linger across a lengthy finish. 1,815 cases made. The 2014 vintage is unrated; The 2013 garnered 94 points from Parker.
* L’Ecole No. 41 — Marty Clubb’s winery was nominated as Wine Enthusiast’s American Winery of the Year, a great way to celebrate L’Ecole’s 35th harvest in Walla Walla. Several L’Ecole wines are now sold in New Hampshire outlets, including these two gems — 2014 Estate Perigree and 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon. Perigree is a Bordeaux-style blend featuring grapes from the prestigious Seven Hills Vineyard. It delivers blueberry, cigar and lavendar aromatics with thick black cherry, earthy flavors. It’s velvety smooth. It sells for $50. Just 1,450 cases were produced. Its ratings are off the charts: Decanter 95 points; Wine Advocate 94 points; Wine Enthusiast, 92 points. L’Ecole’s Cabernet Sauvignon, priced at $31 (2,300 cases), is rich in plum, black currant, and cocoa.