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1999 Washington State Cabernet: Perspectives and Tasting Notes

199_cabs.jpgThis past weekend I had the opportunity to attend Taste Washington, the state's annual showcase of its wines. My ratings for the more than 200 Washington wines I tasted will take some time for me to transcribe and tabulate, and will be posted here on Vinography later this week. In the meantime, however, I thought I'd share my tasting notes from one the seminars I had the opportunity to attend during the first day of the festival, a look back at some top Washington Cabernets from 10 years ago, and a comparison with their recent 2006 vintage.

Moderated by Bob Betz, this panel featured wine writer Patrick Comiskey, sommelier Doug Frost, winemaker Tom Hedges of Hedges winery, wine educator Jorge Hernandez, winemaker Rick Small of Woodward Canyon, and winemaker Joshua Maloney from Chateau St. Michelle.

Each spoke a little bit about the changes that 10 years had brought to the Washington State wine industry, and all agreed that the industry had come a long way. There was also wide acknowledgement that the style of winemaking in the state had shifted to become more "California-like" which was explained as both being a good thing (in terms of quality) and a suspect thing (in terms of stylistic trends in winemaking). Rick Small was quite open about the fact that in the 10 years since he made his previous wine, he had changed what what he was trying to achieve with the wine, and was leaning a bit riper than before. Jorge Hernandez suggested that along with this trend, that the use of de-alching had become quite prevalent for many winemakers, and while Rick Small suggested he didn't care for it, Joshua Maloney made it clear that it is one the tools he uses to make wines that he believes taste better.

Comparing the 2006s to the 1999s the evolution towards a more fruit driven style was certainly evident, but perhaps with the perspective that comes from watching California go to extremes first, the wines were certainly not seriously over the top in style. They showed a bit more ripeness and at times, a little more oak, but at least this selection of wines was very well made and quite tasty.

The 1999's were remarkably dense in color for their ages, in fact, they were exactly as dense as the 2006's the only difference being their hues, which were leaning towards ruby and blood instead of the garnet with purple tinges of the 2006s.

Here are my tasting notes for the wines.


1999 Betz Family Winery "Père de Famille" Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley
Inky ruby in color, this wine has a nose of fennel seeds, wet wood, and hints of nutmeg and candied nuts with a little bit of smoky meats and leather that are a clear signature of Brettanomyces. In the mouth it is gorgeously aromatic, with bright herbal, and floral qualities that you expect in perfectly aged Cabernet. Lovely cherry flavors buoyed by fantastic acid, are still surprisingly juicy with cola and tobacco flavors, long finish with hints of green wood, leather and smoked meats that add a beautiful complexity to the finish. The Brett is there in the body of the wine and that will be a death knell to some, but to my taste it's not overtly objectionable. If you've got a bottle of this, though, you probably need to drink it soon. Score: between 9 and 9.5.

1999 Chateau Ste. Michelle "Cold Creek Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley
Inky ruby in color, this wine has an amazingly perfumed nose of sweet vanilla, cedar, and cherry, and wet stones. In the mouth it is quite smooth, and well balanced, with flavors of cherry and minerals. Powdery tannins and great acids keep the wine going for a while in the mouth, with hints of raisins as it tapers off. 10% Cabernet Franc. Score: around 9.

1999 Columbia Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley
Inky ruby in color, this wine has a nose of wet, green wood with hints of vegetal notes that I eventually decided were roasted artichokes. In the mouth it is full of tart cherry flavors with hints of green bell pepper. There's a nice tobacco quality to the wine, and hints of river mud on the finish. Pleasurable to drink because it shows its age, it is not, however, the finest example of the form. Score: around 8.5.

1999 Hedges Family Estate Red Mountain Reserve, Red Mountain
Inky ruby in color, this wine has a nose of cherry, cedar, and leather with hints of floral qualities. In the mouth the wine is robust and smooth, with an overall impression of being well-muscled. In the mouth there's a leathery quality to the flavors, with fruit that leans toward dried cherries and graphite. The tannins are drying, adding flavors of black tea and cocoa powder through the finish. 20% Merlot. This is the first red wine ever to be labeled with the Red Mountain appellation designation. Score: between 8.5 and 9.

1999 Woodward Canyon Winery "Artist Series" Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley
Inky ruby in color, this wine has a nose of roasted figs, dried cherries, dried herbs and a hint of black olives. In the mouth it is explosively aromatic with flavors of black olives, wet stones, dried cherries, dried apples, soy sauce... The wine has an amazing savory quality balanced by lovely fruit, fantastic acids, and lightly powdery tannins. A gorgeous finish with hints of cedar completes an intriguing package. Score: around 9.5.


2006 Betz Family Winery "Père de Famille" Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley
Inky garnet in color, this wine has a nose of black cherry and wet stone with hints of prunes. In the mouth it is rich and smooth with light sandpapery tannins but sort of falls off on the back palate, ends up a bit watery and vacant towards the finish despite being so lovely and delicious in the front of the mouth. This may improve over time, but is sort of surprising based on how the wine starts in the mouth. Delicious, but a little frustrating. Incomplete. Score: around 9. Cost: $65. Where to buy?

2006 Chateau Ste. Michelle "Cold Creek Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley
Inky garnet in color, this wine has a nose of black cherries and molasses, in the mouth it is round and full, with lush black cherry flavors, good acids, and powdery tannins that clearly tie this wine texturally to the 1999 I tasted of the same wine. Slightly hot through the finish, though, and not quite as that predecessor. The finish has a lightly muddy quality to it that is quite nice. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30 Where to buy?

2006 Columbia Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley
Inky garnet in color, this wine has a nose of cassis, blueberry, and black cherry aromas with a remarkable scent of blue flowers. In the mouth it is tight and round with leathery tannins and flavors of black cherry and black tea, with hints of old, wet wood. Tightly wound, the finish is shorter than I would like. 2% Syrah in this wine contributes heavily to the blueberry quality on the nose. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $??

2006 Hedges Family Estate Red Mountain Reserve, Red Mountain
Inky garnet in color, this wine has a nose of cassis, sweet pipe tobacco, and vanilla with notes of violets. In the mouth it is lush and smooth, silky and beautifully balanced. Great acids buoy up juicy flavors of black cherry, with hints of raisin and cassis. Has a nice finish that is airy. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $??

2006 Woodward Canyon Winery "Artist Series" Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine has a nose of pure black cherry, with hints of sweet pipe tobacco and cola and dark chocolate. In the mouth it is smooth and polished with rich black cherry and cola flavors. Silky, smooth, muscled and glassy in quality, with great acids, the tannins are quite smooth and subdued, showing only hints of themselves as the wine finishes nicely with leather notes of cocoa powder. 86% Cab, 13% Cabernet, 1% Merlot. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $45 Where to buy?

Comments (12)

Dylan wrote:
04.06.09 at 6:15 AM

Alder, when you taste through that many wines in one day do you use any methods to refresh your palette before going on to the next wine. Or, for that matter, do you find you even have a need to cleanse the palette before going on to the next wine?

PlantDrEMB wrote:
04.06.09 at 9:29 AM

Alder, Thank you for the detailed tasting notes. I hope you enjoyed our WA wines and your visit.

Alder wrote:
04.06.09 at 9:41 AM


I try to eat something every 20 or so wines, and drink a lot of water. I also alternate between red and white wines, which tends to cleanse the palate a bit.


Shea wrote:
04.06.09 at 9:21 PM

This is a really interesting comparison, and it's great to see the wines aging so well. You've convinced me I should head to the next Taste WA event.

rh wrote:
04.06.09 at 9:58 PM

thanks for covering the event. i used to live in seattle and can't find most of the washington wines i love in the bay area.

John wrote:
04.07.09 at 8:55 AM

Great job hosting the Winery-Less Wineries Seminar. I found it very enlightening to learn "the rest of the story" on these winemakers. And I find it very helpful when I taste their wines to understand how they got to this point. Thanks again! See you at the WBC.

Carl wrote:
04.07.09 at 9:00 PM

Alder, What is de-alching (3rd paragraph)?

Alder wrote:
04.07.09 at 9:08 PM

Carl, thanks for asking. I actually meant to go back and clarify that. De-alching, or De-alcoholization is a process of lowering the alcohol of a finished wine using a centrifuge or reverse-osmosis. When wine grapes are picked very ripe, they often lead to a wine having 15% or more alcohol by volume, which can produce a sense of imbalance at best, and at worst, a very hot feeling in the back of the throat. Some winemakers choose to de-alch their wines to a more "palatable" level down around 14.3% or so.

Allen wrote:
04.08.09 at 5:38 PM

Sorry for the quibble, but I don't believe Doug Frost is working as a sommelier these days. He's one of three Americans to achieve both the Master Sommelier and Master of Wine certificates, and would probably best be introduced in the article as MW.

Alder wrote:
04.08.09 at 8:21 PM


You are taking an extremely narrow view of the definition of a sommelier, methinks. You don't have to work in a restaurant to be one.


Dave wrote:
04.13.09 at 3:35 PM

Hi, Alder:

I very much enjoyed your article and the tasting notes and explanations.

Regarding the De-Alching of the wines, you mentioned the "palatable" level of approx. 14.3%. I was in Birmingham, AL on a job last year, and enjoyed a VERY nice Pinot, which I was told would be the last bottle that I would ever have there, because of a new state law that prohibited wines with alcohol levels beyond 13.5%. Is this a new trend, or just Alabama?

Thanks for your time in responding.

Alder wrote:
04.13.09 at 7:48 PM


I have no idea what the deal is with the law in Alabama. Some old world (i.e. European) winegrowing regions specify certain requirements about alcohol levels, and there are certain tax and labeling implications imposed by the US government based on alcohol levels, but this is the first I've heard of a state putting a cap on alcohol levels. Very odd.

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