Walla Walla Vintners' Cuvee a legendary blend

Wine Press NorthwestSeptember 15, 2011 

Editor's note: Bob Woehler, the dean of Northwest wine writers, passed away Aug. 24 after writing about wine for 35 years. This is the last article he wrote.

To call Myles Anderson a legend of Washington wines is putting it mildly.

Anderson, who co-owns Walla Walla Vintners and created the Institute for Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College, has helped more than 1,600 students to embrace Washington's burgeoning wine industry.

Anderson was honored as a Legend of Washington Wine on Aug. 12 at an annual awards ceremony in the new Walter Clore Wine Center in Prosser.

Anderson is in a unique position to be named a Washington wine legend. He helped create one of the earliest Walla Walla wineries and was a self-taught winemaker.

But what makes him unique is he used his educational background that included a doctorate in psychology to convince himself he could put together a curriculum at Walla Walla Community College to create one of the most acclaimed enology and viticultural programs in the country.

Today, he's semi-retired from both academia and winemaking.

He's in august company, joining Bill Preston, a Columbia Basin winery owner and grape grower; John and Ann Williams and Jim and Pat Holmes, pioneer Red Mountain grape growers; Stan Clarke, winemaker, wine writer and wine educator; John Anderson, a businessman who helped form the Washington Wine Commission; Bill Powers, first to be certified as producing organic wines; and David Lake, Master of Wine and longtime winemaker for Columbia Winery of Woodinville.

I hold Anderson in great esteem because of his vertical tasting of Walla Walla Vintners wines.

A vertical tasting includes several vintages of the same wine. Anderson has done it in the past with Merlot and Sangiovese. Earlier this year, he offer up 11 vintages of his highly regarded Cuvee, an expressive red blend.

Anderson and winery co-owner Gordy Venneni have put together vertical tastings because they are interested in the evolution of their winemaking and blending techniques.

"Is it a kitchen sink approach to blending or a measured calculation to obtain a style and goal?" Anderson asked.

It wasn't easy, as Walla Walla Vintners wanted a blend that was consistent even though the blends involved different grapes and a variety of vineyards from year to year.

"We are always fine tuning this blend," Anderson said.

Those of us who attended the vertical felt the fine tuning was working quite well.

"We focused on vineyards sources and terroir," Anderson said.

It started with the 1996 Cuvee, which was 55 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 40 percent Merlot and 5 percent Cabernet Franc from four non-Walla Walla Valley vineyards.

By the time the 2008 Cuvee was bottled, the blends came from eight vineyards that included Walla Walla Valley sources and seven different grapes.

Here are my notes from the vertical:

1996 Cuvee: Still showing excellent acidity and was one of the lighter-styled red blends in the tasting. Components included vanilla and cedar with raspberry and basil flavors.

Walla Walla Vintners didn't make a cuvee in 1997 and 1998 but brought it back after customers kept requesting it.

1999 Cuvee: Bright with dark huckleberries and milk chocolate. Most of the grapes were from the Walla Walla Valley.

2000 Cuvee: Called one of the most requested of the cuvees, this one came out big, offering chocolate and cigar box aromas and dried fruit and ripe blackberries flavors. At the time, it was called a blockbuster. Alas, it's faded a bit now.

2001 Cuvee: This is a Bordeaux-style blend, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and a dash of Petit Verdot. Creamy caramel and chocolate along with loganberries make this a tasty treat.

2002 Cuvee: All Walla Walla fruit is blended together, including grapes from Seven Hills and Spring Valley. It has developed an exotic spice box nose, which carries through into the flavors.

2003 Gordon Grove Cuvee, Yakima Valley: A break from the tradition of past cuvees, as this is from a Prosser vineyard that is one of Walla Walla Vintners' favorites. Made of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, it has enough chocolate characteristics to flavor vanilla ice cream.

2004 Cuvee: There are seven vineyards and five grape varieties in this blend, which includes 25 percent Cabernet Sauvignon from Cold Creek, Goose Ridge and Dwelley Jones. Vanilla bean nose, berry jam and a length finish distinguish this wine.

2005 Cuvee: Like the 2004, this contains Syrah and adds a touch of complexity with Malbec and Petit Verdot, as well as grapes from the Wahluke Slope. It's a heavyweight with exquisite flavors of fruit and spices.

2006 Cuvee: Termed smooth and seductive when first released, this blend of seven grapes includes Carmenere, an obscure Bordeaux variety mostly grown in Chile today. It offers deep color and a dark chocolate midpalate.

2007 Cuvee: This includes seven varieties from eight vineyards and includes a spicy mincemeat characteristic that would be a perfect match with Thanksgiving turkey.

2008 Cuvee: Like many of the earlier Cuvees, this one sells in the $28 range. It offers black currant aromas and flavors and finishes with rich, chocolate-covered cherries.

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