This autumn, David Forsyth will complete the 30th harvest of his professional winemaking career, the last 27 in Washington. The normally mellow Forsyth has seen it all and doesn't get too keyed up about much.
But the head winemaker for Mercer Estates in Prosser is downright giddy -- well, for him -- about a young estate vineyard on the Columbia River called Spice Cabinet. It was planted in 2005, so these 2008 wines are just the second releases from the 18-acre vineyard.
"I've seen a marked increase in quality from years one, two and three," Forsyth said. "And the wine in barrel right now is superior to the previous vintage."
The vineyard name comes from the variety of exotic grapes being planted, including petit verdot, sangiovese, grenache, mourvédre, malbec and petite sirah. It also has some syrah and cabernet sauvignon.
The Mercers are no strangers to developing great vineyards. They planted Mercer Ranch Vineyards in 1972 a few miles from Spice Cabinet and sold the property to Paul Champoux in the mid-1990s. Today, Champoux Vineyards is considered one of the finest cabernet sauvignon plantings in the New World.
Forsyth came to the Yakima Valley in 1984 after working three vintages in Napa Valley. He was recruited to a new winery called Hogue Cellars. Hired as assistant winemaker, Forsyth took the reins as head winemaker in the early 1990s. In 2001, the Hogue family sold. Five years later, founder Mike Hogue teamed up with the Mercer family to launch Mercer Estates in 2007. It didn't take long for Mercer to lure Forsyth away from Hogue. Today, he produces 25,000 cases of wine a year.
So far, the Spice Cabinet wines have been sold through the tasting room and to wine club members, but a bit is getting out into the marketplace. However, so little is being made, those interested in getting these wines should go directly to the source.
Mercer Estates 2008 Spice Cabinet Vineyard malbec, Horse Heaven Hills, $33. Malbec is the new darling of the Northwest -- and there's a reason: It makes a great wine. Black plums, hickory smoke, Marionberries and chocolate tease the olfactory senses and give way to juicy flavors of bittersweet chocolate and black and purple fruit. It's a big, in-your-face wine with long, rich tannins that lead to a memorable farewell.
Mercer Estates 2008 Spice Cabinet Vineyard petit verdot, Horse Heaven Hills, $33. Aromas of black and purple fruit, including currants, Marionberries and pomegranates, lead the way, followed by a whisper of smoky thyme. On the palate, it is loaded with flavors of President plums, blueberries, bittersweet chocolate and tar. As expected, it's a big wine with assertive tannins, but all the fruit and oak stand up to it with ease.
Mercer Estates 2008 Spice Cabinet Vineyard sangiovese, Horse Heaven Hills, $33. In Chianti Classico and other regions of Tuscany, Sangiovese can be magical, but the red grape has had trouble translating to the New World. Yet this is of the finest Washington sangioveses we've come across. It opens with aromas of red peppercorns, spicy red fruit and a whiff of smoke. On the palate, it is hedonistic without being conspicuous, leading with flavors of red cherries and raspberries. Ample ripe fruit is backed with assertive tannins and bright acidity.
Mercer Estates 2008 Spice Cabinet Vineyard mourvédre, Horse Heaven Hills, $33. This Rhône variety opens with aromas of raspberry, strawberry jam, licorice, pomegranate and even a hint of flannel. It follows through on the palate with a delicious entry of raspberries, along with blueberries, pomegranates and cinnamon on the finish. It's a fruit-driven wine with mild oak, elegant tannins and ample acidity.
*Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, a website that provides news and information about the wines of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho.