Occasionally, Wine Press Northwest will conduct "terroir tastings."
These sessions focus on wines made with grapes from a particular appellation, or American Viticultural Area, and provide an opportunity for in-depth analysis of characteristics found in these wines. We look for how soil types, climate, vintage, viticulture and winemaking practices play out in the bottle.
In the past, our terroir tastings have included the Walla Walla Valley AVA and the six AVAs in the north Willamette Valley. This summer, winemakers in the newly established Lake Chelan AVA afforded us the opportunity to examine wines that could legally be labeled as being made from grapes in the appellation. Some winemakers joined us in the evaluations, but their opinions did not factor into the ratings.
The reviews were made easier by the purity of the fruit, the minimal exposure to oak, the brightness of the acidity, an underlying tone of minerality and the quality of the winemaking.
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Three panelists provided the reviews and ratings. They were Andy Perdue, editor-in-chief of Wine Press Northwest; Jay Drysdale of the British Columbia Wine Institute and a member of the Wine Press Northwest tasting panel and Eric Degerman, managing editor of Wine Press Northwest. Jackie Johnston, a freelance photographer and frequent contributor to Wine Press Northwest, facilitated the tasting, which was staged in The Lake House at Chelan.
If you believe we're easy graders, go and taste for yourself. That's the whole point to this magazine.
Tildio Winery 2008 Viognier, Columbia Valley, $18.
Katy Perry allows for an almost dizzying array of entry points into this alternative to Chardonnay. Orchard blossoms, peach, apricot, orange oil, apple box, lemon and a clip of artichoke fill the nostrils. It's front-loaded on the palate with sweet peach and pineapple. While a bit hedonistic with residual sugar (1.2%), there's a blast of amazing blood orange acidity on the midpalate and some natural bitterness on the finish. It's consumer friendly, and we suggest stuffed pork chops off the grill with wild mushroom risotto or butternut squash ravioli in a cream sauce. (14.1% alc., 96 cases)
Vin du Lac 2008 Lehm Sauvignon Blanc, Chelan County, $20.
This bottling by Larry Lehmbecker off Fallon Vineyard and the estate Michaela's Vineyard will have you reaching for shellfish. Aromas of lime, river rock, flannel and lemon grass wave you in. On the palate it's straight-forward with Limeade, Granny Smith apple, Thompson seedless table grapes, some lemon zest and more river rock minerality. Think of pan-seared scallops served with pineapple in a Grand Marnier finish. (13.6% alc., 175 cases)
Mellisoni Vineyards 2008 Gewurztraminer, Lake Chelan, $30.
What a debut for this fledgling southside operation, thanks in large part to the winemaking talents of Katy Perry across the lake in Manson. It is unmistakable Gewurz with aromas of pink grapefruit, apricots, peach, lychee, clove, orange rind and freshly folded linen. There's delicious sweetened grapefruit, lychee and fruit salad flavors with rewarding viscosity all the way through. It's Alsatian in style, and while it is a bit on the soft side (3.5% residual sugar), it nails the variety with classic rosewater and grapefruit rind bitterness in the finish. Chilling it down will tighten up the acidity. (12.3% alc., 57 cases)
Lake Chelan Winery 2008 Sweet Gewurztraminer, Chelan County, $18.
Don't let the "sweet" designation fool you because this is a serious wine. It sits in the glass with a slight pinkish hue as aromas of orange blossom, mock orange, alyssum, fresh pine nuts, honey and pie spices filter out. Lychee pops out on the palate, along with other nice tropical flavors of papaya and dried mango in a slightly oily texture, balanced by a bit of spritzy acidity to balance that 3.5% residual sugar. Licorice and basil add complexity to accent the lengthy farewell. Try with fresh oysters on the half shell, served with a squeeze of lime and a dash of Tabasco. (12.8% alc., 441 cases)
Tsillan Cellars 2007 Estate Dry Riesling, Columbia Valley, $20.
This earned gold at the L.A. International Wine Competition, and for good reason. A subtle complexity to the nose features hints of apples, cloves, almond oil, river rock, petrol and mint leaf. The entry also is a bit subdued, but lime and Granny Smith apple flavors pick up quickly with biting acidity. All the while its constant line of minerality makes for a classic Riesling that's right around 1% residual sugar. Bite into a brat smothered in sauerkraut, then cleanse. (13.4% alc., 885 cases)
Tildio Winery 2008 Estate Riesling, Columbia Valley, $18.
On the north side of the lake, near Manson, the Perrys strive for a Kabinett style with this, and that's why they brought in this crop on Sept. 27. That made for lower alcohol, a bit of residual sugar (1.8%) and cleansing acidity. Lemon defines the nose, which includes lime, mineral, diesel and lemon basil aromas. There's a purity of fruit on the palate with huge hit of fresh apple on the entry, fresh pear in the middle, a line of minerality straight through, and a spoonful of lemon sorbet in the finish. (12.8% alc., 136 cases)
Tunnel Hill Winery 2006 Pinot Noir, Columbia Valley, $25.
The Evans family, a four-generation farming operation on the south shore, flashes its skill as growers and winemakers with this bottling. It's a lighter color in the glass than most, and there's a brightness to the aromatics with strawberry freezer jam, cherry vanilla cola, caramel and cocoa powder. Get ready for an incredibly easy sip of juicy Bing cherries, root beer, cranberries and more cocoa. Food-friendly acidity makes this approachable from almost every angle. (13.7% alc., 100 cases)
Benson Vineyards Estate Winery 2006 Sangiovese, Chelan County, $25.
Scott Benson won gold with this Italian red at Indianapolis in June 2008, and it went Platinum for us in November 2008. Well, it's drinking just as well more than a year later. One gets the sense of its abundant acidity on first whiff with aromas of blood orange, cherry vanilla, crushed walnut and a turn of a pepper mill. There's deliciously bold acidity on the front with cranberry and currants, a remarkable absence of tannin on the palate and a bit of milk chocolate in the finish. Enjoy with tomato-based and oregano-influenced dishes. (13.4% alc., 509 cases)
Hard Row to Hoe 2006 Barbera, Chelan County, $35.
Judy Phelps excels with Italian varieties, and here's another example for the rest of the state to consider. This opens with hints of black cherries, blackberries, Girl Scout mint cookies, strawberry fruit leather, cola and tobacco. It's a mouth-filling drink of pie cherries and boysenberry juice that delivers a delicious dose of food-friendly acidity that hangs in the middle of the tongue, followed by finish of forest-floor mushrooms. That age-worthy acidity makes us want to revisit in five years, but enjoy it in the meantime paired with eggplant Parmesan. (13.5% alc., 75 cases)
Kludt Family Winery 2006 Cougar Ridge Reserve Syrah, Chelan County, $42.
One of the warmest sites on the north shore of Lake Chelan produces one of the valley's most expensive and expressive reds. It would seem to be no coincidence that this also exhibits some Côte-Rôtie qualities as cured meat aromas blend with notes of black raspberries, boysenberries, blueberries, cedar, oregano and coffee. There's a laser beam of flavors down the middle of the rich and rewarding palate with more of those dark raspberries and big blueberry acidity. A bit of heat and tannins come into play, but by that point you'll have a fork full of ribs in your mouth. (13.8% alc., 340 cases)
Wapato Point Cellars 2008 Harmony White Wine, Chelan County, $19.
Indeed, there's a pleasing melody to this blend, which starts with an aromatic chorus of ripe apricot, Juicy Fruit gum, starfruit, cantaloupe, unfiltered apple juice, some Cracker Jack, vanilla bean, green peppercorns and a whiff of sea mist. There's more Juicy Fruit on the bright palate with Granny Smith apples and melon. Jonathon Kludt left a touch of residual sugar (0.8%), and it carries the weight nicely with a gentle bit of spritzy acidity on the palate. Enjoy as a deck wine or with mustard-glazed chicken on a Tuesday night. (13.8% alc., 467 cases)
Tsillan Cellars 2006 Barrel Select Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $25.
This wine won its class at the 2008 Washington State Wine Competition and is doing nicely. Stone fruit, jicama, butter and lemon pepper aromas waft out alongside the medium French oak tones. It's well-balanced and lemony on the palate with an entry of dried pear and pineapple, backed with guava and minerality in the middle and Granny Smith apple peel in the finish. (13.4% alc., 403 cases)
Wapato Point Cellars 2008 Pinot Grigio, Columbia Valley, $22.
Estate fruit from the Home Vineyard on the lake's north shore helped produce an enjoyable fresh and bright nose filled with mandarin orange, pears, apple, pineapple and banana. Vibrant flavors swirl around yellow grapefruit, Bosc pear and freshly squeezed lime. The citrus turns into Golden Delicious apple on the back end. Serve alongside seared halibut with mango salsa. (13.8% alc., 280 cases)
Vin du Lac 2008 Lehm Pinot Gris, Chelan County, $20.
The French word for "exhilarating" is an apt description as there's a refreshing citrus tone throughout this blend of Fallon and estate Michaela's vineyards. Aromatics include cantaloupe, apricot and a minty herbaceousness. It's bright, tart and racy across the palate with more melon and a margarita mix finish. Enjoy as a hot weather wine or pair with sole in a lemon ver blanc sauce. (13% alc., 200 cases)
Benson Vineyards Estate Winery 2008 Viognier, Chelan County, $19.
Mouthwatering aromas of Chelan-grown peaches, orange Creamsicle, lemon meringue pie and a hint of orchard blossoms are matched on the palate. There's a line of lemon and minerality, then at the midpoint comes a forceful blast of acidity that whisks along undertones of Granny Smith apple and orange. One might confuse it for a Sauvignon Blanc because of the dryness and acidity. Food pairing ideas include pahd Thai or dishes based on halibut, salmon or shrimp. (14% alc., 320 cases)
Benson Vineyards 2008 Curious White Wine, Chelan County, $19.
The 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Viognier sold out rapidly, which is understandable. It's fresh and fragrant with pineapple, orange Creamsicle, honeydew melon, river rock, cotton candy and grassy aromas. It's hugely tropical and mighty tasty, akin to fruit salad in a glass, with lemon and minerality in the background. It's a sweet presentation (1.8% residual sugar), so chill it for hot tub action or serve with spicy Thai curry or lamb Vindaloo. (13% alc., 160 cases)
Tsillan Cellars 2007 Estate Gewurztraminer, Columbia Valley, $20.
Shane Collins captures the essence of this variety from start to finish with yellow grapefruit, apricot, dusty apple, clove and lychee aromas. It's soft and juicy on the entry, chased quickly with Texas pink grapefruit acidity. There's pleasing peach, apricot and lychee flavors on the palate, finished with a slice of orange and a bite of Honeycrisp apple. (13.7%, 686 cases)
Lake Chelan Winery 2007 Gewurztraminer, Chelan County, $18.
Ripe grapefruit, ground almonds, muskmelon and NECCO wafer dust aromas lead into more grapefruit on the entry to the palate. Secondary flavors of juicy mango, apricots, Jolly Rancher green apple candy, a fair bit of residual sugar (1.6%), ample acidity and the lack of varietal bitterness make this quite quaffable. Also enjoy it with chicken Kompow or a plate of fresh cheeses. (12.8% alc., 638 cases)
Tsillan Cellars 2007 Estate Riesling, Columbia Valley, $20.
Traditional aromas of mineral, apple, lime and petrol are joined by peaches, apricots, clove, candy corn and Wheat Thin crackers. Golden Delicious and Granny Smith apple flavors await with more cloves and pleasing minerality, all tied together with bracing acidity and finished with grapefruit pith. (13.7% alc., 861 cases)
Mellisoni Vineyard 2008 Riesling, Lake Chelan, $23.
Tildio vintner Katy Perry crafted the wines for this new south-shore vineyard, and the style is a bit different than others in the valley. Perfumy pear and honeydew melon aromas are joined by a dash of white pepper. Dried apple flavors lead to bright acidity on the entry, which transitions into a midpalate of lemon oil, some grassiness and sugar (2.7%), yielding to a return of honeydew. However, the flourish of pineapple at the finish keeps this going and going. (12.6% alc., 90 cases)
Tsillan Cellars 2008 Bocciolo di Rosa Estate Syrah Rose, Columbia Valley, $19.
Typically, we don't enjoy off-dry pinks, but here's an exception. Outside and in, the focus is on fruit, starting with aromas of fresh cherries, light strawberries, vanilla and cinnamon sugar. It's rather soft on the entry, but juicy and tasty with strawberries and cherries. Sweetness (1.95% residual sugar) rounds out the midpalate, and there's a bit of late tannin. Enjoy while chillin' in the hot tub. (12.7% alc., 151 cases)
Lake Chelan Winery 2007 Estate Pinot Noir, Columbia Valley, $28.
Ray Sandidge has been dealing with Pinot Noir in Washington state longer than most, and his experience shows here. Cherry cola aromas include violets, sandalwood, mincemeat, red peppercorn and forest floor tones. Its structure across the palate feels elegant from start to finish, starting with juicy black cherries and accented by pie cherry acidity. Moderate tannins impart impressive weight, and we'd enjoy seeing this in two to three years. (13.7% alc., 372 cases)
Wapato Point Cellars 2008 Chelan Nouveau Red Wine, Chelan County, $15.
From a youthful, fun-loving winemaker comes an unmistakable Beaujolais nouveau-style that's derived not from Gamay but from Pinot Noir. Jonathon Kludt showcases aromas of cherry cola, plums, lilac, violets, strawberry/rhubarb jam and orange oil. The lack of toasted oak shows again on the palate that's akin to plums packed in light syrup, more cherry cola and vanilla bean. Here's a bottle for those new to red wine, but nice acidity makes it a fun rather than mind-bending drink for the more experienced. (13.8% alc., 250 cases)
Benson Vineyards Estate Winery 2006 Estate Pinot Noir, Chelan County, $28.
We reviewed this wine during the spring, and it continues to evolve and improve. Rainier cherries, cranberry, cassis, Whopper malted milk balls, vanilla, lavender, oregano and cedar forest aromas charge at you. However, the entry is sublime and a bit darker with black currants, raspberries, blueberries, chocolate and sarsaparilla. There's a plushness on the midpalate that's tightened up with a tug of tannin before giving way to more currants. (13% alc., 256 cases)
Benson Vineyards Estate Winery 2006 Cabernet Franc, Chelan County, $30.
Francophiles appreciate and seek out Cab Francs with herbal qualities, and here's one to look for. Fresh-cut bell pepper aromas are trailed by stewed cherries, blueberry sauce, vanilla bean, coffee grounds, pepperoni, cracked black pepper and cedar. Black cherry jam and more bell pepper pour across the plush palate. The nice oak profile is framed by finely integrated and chocolaty tannins. Enjoy with black olive spaghettini or prime rib with a mushroom sauce. (13.8% alc., 184 cases)
Tildio Winery 2006 Tempranillo, Columbia Valley, $24.
A wine for the adventurer, this robust red from Spain appears to have adapted to living around Lake Chelan. Blueberries, Dr Pepper, milk chocolate, pepperoni, black olive and herbal aromas set the table for an entry of pomegranate juice, blackberries, black olives and black tea. Hefty tannins are met by notes of tobacco and tar. Serve up some bean and cheese enchiladas with chili powder. (13.8% alc., 225 cases)
Benson Vineyards Estate Winery 2006 Merlot, Chelan County, $25.
Here's a crowd-pleaser that starts with enchanting aromas that include black cherries, red currants, brown sugar and a walk through a mossy- floored Western Washington cedar forest. Inside, it's a rich entry of cherry cola and Muscovado sugar with chocolaty overtones, then finishes with some food-friendly leafiness. The family suggests pairing this with blackened New York strips or filet mignon. (14% alc., 321 cases)
Kludt Family Winery 2006 Cougar Ridge Reserve Merlot, Chelan County, $32.
This reserve tier of Lake Chelan Winery preserves the family name that bonded the county's first winery. There's a strong thread of richness throughout, opening with the nose of blackberry jam, chocolate syrup, sarsaparilla, caramel and spearmint. It features a round elegance on plummy entry with cherry cola in the midpalate and nice burst of acidity that pushes that tannins into the background. There's blackstrap molasses and caramel again in the finish that shows youthfulness. (13.8% alc., 243 cases)
Benson Vineyards Estate Winery 2006 Rhythm Red Wine, Chelan County, $26.
One might believe the Syrah (46%) has a higher stake than it does in this blend with Sangiovese (22%), Cabernet Sauvignon (18%) and Merlot. Black plums, blueberries, smoky bacon, black cherries, black pepper, leather and chocolate shavings swirl off the top of the liquid. Blackberries, black cherries and chocolate dominate in the fairly plump mouth feel, while the tannins start off smooth, then build with nice grip around the edges. (14% alc., 387 cases)
Wapato Point Cellars 2005 Syrah, Chelan County, $28.
The estate Home Vineyard has served as the building block for the Kludt family Syrahs, and this time it produces a wine brimming with aromas of Chukar Cherries, blueberries, huckleberries, cola, a hint of sausage and candied apple glaze. The ripeness of the fruit shows with flavors of cooked blueberries, Bing cherries and raspberry acidity. Tannins tug at the back end, where the drink leaves you with mocha and red licorice notes. (13.8% alc., 200 cases)
Benson Vineyards Estate Winery 2005 Syrah, Chelan County, $27.
It will be difficult to find a more alluring and intriguing Syrah than this lighter-styled release by Scott Benson. There's a long list of berry aromas - leading with raspberry, but also blueberries and strawberries - and then hints of bagged chocolate chip cookies, Root Beer Barrel candy, black licorice, mint leaf, orange rind and a freshly brewed mocha. On the entry, it's a fruit-forward blend of strawberry and raspberry jam with the seed. The elegant, rather than rich, approach is a nice departure. Pair it with something off the grill that includes mushrooms and fresh herbs. (14.8% alc., 442 cases)
Lake Chelan Winery 2007 Harding Estate Vineyard Syrah, Columbia Valley, $28.
This planting, nearly a decade old, bears the name of the old apple packing shed that is home to the winery. It's another site on the warmer north shore, and the wine shows classic blackberry and sizzling bacon aromas with cedar and vanilla in the background. One judge described its flavors as fascinating with a lean entry of blueberries, cherries, raspberries and pomegranate. The structure highlights bright acidity and chewy tannins with mint and vanilla cola in the finish. The Kludt clan suggests Asian food, smoked seafood or game meats. (13.7% alc., 303 cases)
Tsillan Cellars 2006 Estate Syrah, Columbia Valley, $28.
Competitions have served Shane Collins and this release quite well with gold medals this year at the Grand Harvest Awards and L.A. International. The nose is a vision of walking through a blackberry patch with crushed mint and blueberry aromas, joined by cream soda and saddle leather. Blackberries and blueberries return on the palate with a bite of the seed. Its well-cast structure is young and strapping with big acidity, broad shoulders from tannin and blue fruit leather in the finish. (14.57% alc., 520 cases)
Tsillan Cellars 2007 Estate Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $25.
Aromas of toasted oak involve vanilla and are followed by notes of pineapple, pear, starfruit and a slice of prosciutto. There's a nice, sweet and creamy entry that features more pears, some mango and baked pineapple with butterscotch in the midpalate and late acidity. Oak tones swing back on the finish with a hint of caramel. Enjoy with grilled prawns finished with a squeeze of lemon. (14.48% alc., 815 cases)
Lake Chelan Winery 2008 Pinot Grigio, Chelan County, $24.
Enticing florals elicit thoughts of homemade lemonade, perfumy rosewater, pineapple and fresh-cut celery. It's juicy, clean and lively on the palate, too, with more lemon and pink grapefruit, including the pith, and it finishes with a dose of spritzy acidity. (13.8% alc., 270 cases)
Nefarious Cellars 2008 Defiance Vineyard Viognier, Columbia Valley, $19.
This estate block, on the south side of Lake Chelan, allows Heather Neff to bring out the variety's tell-tale orange Creamsicle aromas, along with Meyer lemon, starfruit, jicama and fresh corn on the cob. There's more Creamsicle on the entry with some pineapple and honeydew melon on the midpalate. There, the acidity picks up with orange zest and pith accents in the finish. Drink this chilled for supreme enjoyment. (13.6% alc., 387 cases)
Vin du Lac 2008 Lehm Dry Riesling, Chelan County, $20.
One swirl releases a long list of aromas that include peaches, apples, lemon, petrol, mineral, cinnamon and marzipan. The palate is penetrating with tart lime, Granny Smith apple and lots of minerality. There's a cracked pepper note and hint of quinine in the finish. The estate Michaela's Vineyard (52%) and Tsillan Cellars Vineyard (48%) provided the grapes. (13.5% alc., 300 cases)
Tunnel Hill Winery 2007 Estate Riesling, Columbia Valley, $15.
Harvest came late in the season, Oct. 27, and helped produce aromatics of baked apple, dried apricots and drawn butter. Here's a softer, easy-drinking style (2% residual sugar) with tasty Asian pear, apple, 7Up and pink grapefruit flavors. (11% alc., 250 cases)
Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards 2008 Pinot Noir Rose, Chelan County, $16.
Cortelli Vineyard on south side of the lake shows the promise of Pinot Noir in the Lake Chelan AVA. Few in Washington make rose from Pinot Noir, but Judy Phelps showcases notes of dried strawberry, rose petal, peach, apricot, cinnamon and crushed hazelnuts. And while it's 1.1% residual sugar, it's dry in structure with cherry jam, cherry skin tannin and some toast with menthol in the finish. Enjoy during our Indian summer with a ham sandwich. (13.8% alc., 100 cases)
Tunnel Hill Winery 2006 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $30.
Here's the family's first estate-built Syrah, and it is more food-friendly than most around the state because of its low alcohol and lofty acidity. Aromas center on blue and red fruits - currants, raspberries and blueberries - joined by a hint of smoke, leather, cracked pepper and fresh-baked brioche. The palate seems focused on cranberry, racy acidity and orange pekoe tea tannin. Enjoy with braised meats or lamb. (13.2% alc., 50 cases)
Benson Vineyards Estate Winery 2006 Winemaker's Reserve Syrah, Chelan County, $33.
Deeper barrel tones show in this reserve-style as espresso and chocolate sauce splash over boysenberries, cedar and mint aromas. As with the 2005 Syrah, there are accents of chocolate chip and mint, but it's more blackberry and black cherry on the ripe and rich palate, with a finish of espresso grounds. That subtle structure will grow on you. (14.4% alc., 150 cases)
Nefarious Cellars 2007 Defiance Vineyard Estate Syrah, Columbia Valley, $27.
Dean Neff heads up the red program and this husband/wife operation, and he talked Heather out of Viognier (5%) for co-fermenting. The results in your glass are a beautiful shade of purple with aromas of cherry jam, blueberries and cream, blackberry jam and toasted oak from 18 months in French oak. On the palate, it's youthful and almost sybaritic with gobs of blackberry jam, cooked cherries and a rush of blueberries in the finish. It's a remarkable first production from this young vineyard, so allow it to mature and lift the veil again in a year. (14.1% alc., 259 cases)
Tildio Winery 2006 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $27.
Cherries, vanilla, Red Vines licorice, bacon and alfalfa tones come together in a young and yet integrated fashion. Enjoy with braised beef or rosemary-accented rack of lamb. (14% alc., 192 cases) e