2010 Maison Anselmet, Henri Syrah, Valle d’Aosta
It would be natural to assume that this wine is from France, since “Henri” is a French name and Syrah a French grape, and that wouldn’t be exactly wrong. The wine comes from an Alpine region where French is the main language, the Vallee d’Aosta, but it happens to be Italy’s smallest wine region, in the extreme northwest, bordering France and Switzerland. The grapes come from the highest viticultural area in Europe, from vineyards so high in fact that there is usually snow on the ground during the harvest. The soils are mostly rocks deposited by retreating glaciers, and the vines are so old and dense that the yields are miniscule, with one plant yielding on average enough grapes for half a bottle of wine. In this unforgiving region, Giorgio and Bruna Anselmet farm their seven hectares using bio-dynamic methods, and have achieved quite a bit of fame in Italy for their efforts. In fact, this wine, named after their son Henri, won three glasses from the Gambero Rosso, the most reliable guide to Italian wine. Sourced entirely from one vineyard, Regiet in the commune of St. Pierre, the wine spends about a year in second or third passage oak barrels. Not surprisingly, it shows a lot of characteristics not dissimilar to the northern Rhone: aromas of violets, flavors of peppercorn, and hints of dried saddle leather. It would pair perfectly with New York strip steak, venison stew, or Fontina cheese. Only 200 cases were made, and we were able to get the last case from our friends at Small Vineyards for $60, down from the usual price of $75. You can enjoy it now, but, with the high acidity characteristic of mountain fruit, it would continue to develop another five years in the cellar.
2011 Côte Bonneville, DuBrul Vineyard Chardonnay, Yakima ValleyAlthough DuBrul
Vineyard was put on the map by single vineyard wines made by Owen Roe, the Côte Bonneville label is the personal project of the vineyard owners, Dr. Hugh and Kathy Shiels, who continue to do most of the cellar work themselves. The original winemaker was Stan Clarke, the founder of the Walla Walla Community College wine program and a true force in Washington wine. After Stan’s untimely death in November, 2007, there was definitely some concern about whether the high standards of the winery would be maintained. But we’re glad to report that the winemaking is now in the very capable hands of Kerry Shiels, Hugh and Kathy’s daughter and a pretty impressive force herself. Trained as an engineer, she worked for Fiat in Italy (learning Italian on the job) among other projects, until she came home to work with Stan and her family in the winery. The vineyard itself is one of the most impressive sites in Washington, towering 1375 feet over the Yakima Valley, and has a unique blend of exposed basalt rock mixed with sedimentary soils and volcanic ash. Unlike warmer areas, DuBrul Vineyard wines seem to retain marvelous acidity while producing intense, powerful wines. This Chardonnay is a wonderful example. The winemaking process and the results are described very well on the back label. The grapes were picked in three different passes through both blocks of the vineyards, carefully hand-sorted by Kerry and her mom, fermented in barrel with complete malolactic fermentation, and then aged on the lees for 17 months in French oak barrels, 57% of them new. The result is a terrific balance of crisp acidity and minerality from the cool climate, inviting aromas from the careful selection of grapes, creamy flavors from the malolactic fermentation, and toasty brioche notes from the oak. It’s probably the most complete Washington Chardonnay we’ve ever tasted, and it’s widely acclaimed by all the major wine writers, with Seattle Met Magazine proclaiming it as the best Chardonnay in Washington. It would pare well with just about any rich food, and, while beautiful now, it would develop for another three or four years, if you can wait that long. Compared to top California Chardonnay, it’s a good value at $49.75, and it’s still in decent supply.