Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Laurelhurst Cellars

Laurelhurst Cellars is another in a long string of new Washington wineries. Some people say that a new winery is bonded in Washington every week, some say every couple of days. Whatever the case, there is a glut of new producers in the state. Whether this is a good thing or a bad one is a matter open to debate. I'm of the position that it is a positive trend; while some might say that the average quality of Washington wine is being brought down as a result, I believe that a heavy infusion of new blood helps to bring innovation and dynamism to the industry. I predict that many of these new wineries will not survive beyond their first or second release, and that is well- the wheat shall be separated from the chaff, and quality shall rise to the surface and survive, hopefully. After all, the Washington wine industry cannot survive on Ste Michelle Wine Estates alone.

But I digress. Laurelhurst Cellars is a new Washington winery, now selling their second vintage (2006 reds). Their self-description on their Facebook page: "Laurelhurst Cellars. Established in 2004 by Greg Smallwood, Gabe Warner & Dave Halbgewachs in the Laurelhurst Neighborhood. Producing Premium Wines from Washington State." Pretty straightforward. Three guys, Washington wine. They've actually relocated from Laurelhurst to Georgetown, an area burgeoning with wineries these days (six or so?). I recently had the opportunity to taste their wines. Here are my notes:

1. 2005 Azorica Red Blend. Columbia Valley. $26.99. 34% Cabernet, 28% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Franc, 16% Syrah. Boushey, Patch of Blue, and Kiona vineyards. 22 months in 100% new French oak. 52 cases produced.
Dark, opaque ruby. A nose of sweet fruit, raspberry, blackberry, vanilla, sweet wood. The wine is big and juicy, but surprisingly not over the top. The tannins are firm and gripping. Given the oak exposure, this wine is appreciably not too woody; it's there in the form of a pleasant spiciness, but not obnoxious like so many Washington reds. Nice! 6.5/10

2. 2005 Petite Syrah, Yakima Valley. 20 months new French oak, 25 cases produced. $28.99
Very dark purple, quite opaque. The nose is a little more restrained than the first wine, showing wood spice and pencil shavings along with hints of dark sweet fruit. The palate is brambly and a little spicy, with blackberry and plums. The wine is juicy, and has nice acidity in a tight, focused style. Again, not over the top. 6/10

3. 2005 Boushey Vineyard Cabernet Franc. 22 months in 100% new French oak. 28 cases produced. $34.99
Medium ruby color, somewhat transparent. Brett on the nose, stinky, horsey, and a little pleasant vegetal note. The wine is medium bodied and has very smooth, round tannins. A little wood, a little vegetal. I would like this wine a lot more without the bretty aspect, but that's something of a personal thing (I hate horsey-smelling brett). Some of my coworkers thought this was the best wine. 5/10

4. 2006 Laurus Nobilis Red Blend. 61% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot. Boushey, Klipsun, and Kiona Vineyard. $26.99. 160 cases produced.
Bright translucent ruby. Very juicy nose, red berries, sweet fruit, Chinese spices. Big and rich on the palate (my notes say "Whoa!"). Firm tannins, really tasty. 10-15 seconds of length. Great wine from a true Bordeaux blend, but not Bordeaux in style. 6.5/10

5. 2005 Boushey Vineyard Syrah. Aged 22 months in 100% new French oak (shocker). 23 cases produced. $36.99.
Opaque purple/ruby. A nose of blueberries and spice, a little tarry, mostly just juicy, ripe and woody (but not obnoxiously woody). Jammy on the palate, but with a nice backbone of acidity. Tarry and brambly. The tannins are supple, and balance well with the acidity and ripe fruit. Very subtly barnyardy (I predict that will increase with bottle age). 6/10

6. 2006 Red Mountain Cabernet. Klipsun and Kiona Vineyards. $36.99. 52 cases produced. Aged, again, for 22 months in 100% new French oak.
Medium ruby color, translucent. Bright and juicy nose, again, with sweet wood, vanilla, baking spice, black cherry, and ripe raspberry. Surprisingly medium-bodied on the palate. Quite smooth. Oaky, and without enough length. For their top-end wine, I would've expected something more; I like their less-expensive red blends more. 5/10

Conclusion:
These guys are definitely making Washington wine. The wines are ripe and approachable, in a big, juicy style. I like their wines, but I do wish that they'd lay off of the 100% new French oak a little bit. I also wish they weren't quite so ripe, but that's what practically all Washington wines are like these days. I didn't have their alcohol contents in front of me, but since they're Washington producers, and given the ripeness of the fruit, I'd have to expect that they all fall in the 14%-15.5% range. Remarkably, and to their credit, I didn't find the alcohol to be obnoxious on any of their wines. I don't have any idea how long the bottles had been open.

Regarding their prices, I think they're gutsy but not entirely unreasonable. The wines are good, and the prices never get into that $40-$50 price range that so many producers fall into (Mark Ryan, Chris Gorman, Longshadows, Boudreaux, ad infinitum). Who knows what a little press recognition might bring on that front, though.

I like the wines, I want to see more from this producer, and I hope they start picking their fruit earlier and laying off the new oak.

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