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Saturday, January 5, 2013 - Page updated at 10:30 a.m.
Tasting tests the aging of 5 Washington wines
By Paul Gregutt
Special to The Seattle Times
OVER THE holidays I had the chance to stage a wine tasting for friends visiting from the "other" Washington. Stage is the operative word here. I envisioned the tasting as a theatrical event, starring wine, with dramatic twists and turns that included a mysterious stranger and a surprise ending.
My guests arrived to find the table set with wineglasses, water pitcher, dump bucket, notepads and a basket of crackers. Six wines had been bagged and numbered, their capsules completely removed and their corks changed, so there would be no cheating! Although I had chosen the wines carefully — after all, this was my cast of actors — I had no idea which was which.
Our visitors had been busy exploring tasting rooms throughout the Walla Walla Valley for several days. I wanted to show them how Washington wines can age. The five Washington wines selected were all made from Bordeaux grapes — Cadence 2002 Bel Canto; Columbia Crest 2003 Reserve Cabernet; Fielding Hills 2004 Cabernet; Leonetti 2002 Reserve; and Walla Walla Vintners 2000 Merlot. And to add to the suspense, I threw in a Napa Valley ringer — the Beringer 2002 Private Reserve.
Choosing the wines was half the fun. All were wines I had cellared since their release and favorably reviewed at the time. At $95 (the price upon release), the Leonetti was the most expensive of the Washington wines. In contrast, the others were all in the $25 to $35 range. The Columbia Crest was selected because just two years later the 2005 version was named Wine of the Year by Wine Spectator magazine. The Cadence, Fielding Hills and Walla Walla Vintners wines were all personal favorites, and I hoped they would have aged as well as expected. My original scores for these wines were 90, 95 and 91 respectively; the Leonetti had gotten a 95, and the Columbia Crest an 89.
So I was as intrigued as my guests to see how they would perform. We tasted them one at a time. I asked everyone to rank their top three and encouraged them to take a guess at which was the California ringer. As I knew the identities of the six wines, I also took a stab at identifying them by name.
Once the votes were tallied, we revealed them, one by one. To everyone's surprise, the group favorite was the Columbia Crest. It just barely beat out the Walla Walla Vintners Merlot, the oldest wine and least expensive at $25. My personal favorite was the Cadence, followed by the Fielding Hills and then the Vintners. But there wasn't anything on the table that was less than impressive.
The show ended on a happy note. All the wines were drunk, and as the curtain fell, I led a round of applause for our marvelous Washington wines.
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