Wine Enthusiast November 2016

Rotie Cellars was awarded some very high scores in the November 2016 Wine Enthusiast, including a lofty 94 points for the 2014 Northern Blend

Rotie Cellars was awarded some outstanding scores in the November 2016 Wine Enthusiast, including a lofty 94 points for the 2014 Northern Blend. We are honored.

94 2014 Northern Blend Editors’ Choice
93 2014 Southern Blend Editors’ Choice
91 2015 Southern White Editors’ Choice

Washington Wine Report- Wines of the Month, October 2016

Sean Sullivan, October 25, 2016

Rotie Cellars Northern Blend Washington State 2014 $48
This wine is a big time winner from Rotie. Aromas of green olive, flowers, blue fruit and earth are followed by rich fruit and earth flavors. It’s as much about feel as flavor.

Rotie Cellars Southern Blend Washington State 2014 $48
Grenaches is out front on this GSM blend. It offers aromas of green herbs and raspberries that lead to ripe, dazzlingly pure fruit and herb flavors.

Wine Spectator- October 15, 2016

Sleek and Polished

A very nice review and score from Harvey Steinman at Wine Spectator

Sleek and polished, with a spicy apricot edge adding depth to the blackberry and floral flavors, coming together smoothly and showing transparency on the long and expressive finish. Syrah and Viognier. Drink now through 2022. -HS

Letter From Sean

2016 brings many beautiful changes to Rotie Cellars: new plantings, new staff, new SoDo tasting room.

2016 brings many beautiful changes to Rotie Cellars: new plantings, new staff, new SoDo tasting room. 

We are pleased to announce that eight acres of Syrah have now come online from our estate vineyard in The Rocks district of Milton Freewater, one of Washington’s newest and most distinct AVA’s. This past fall we harvested 4th leaf Syrah and now have a clear path to the future. The Northern blend will be 100% from the Rocks District in 2016, expressing this unique site. 

We are planting seven acres of Grenache on the remaining estate property this year, so will have to be patient another four years before the vineyard is fully up and running. Both these vineyard plantings are not your traditional plantings. We are implementing a hybrid head training system, best described as the Goblet. It offers numerous key advantages including frost-hardiness, better sap health, and energy from the rocks. This training style currently makes up less than 200 acres planted in our state.

Imagine a head of a vine 6-8 inches above the rocks. Much like a tree we are picking the best, healthiest canes to use every year. At the end of the season we cut back to two buds which creates a head that is more representative of a tree than a vine. Each vine has to be pruned independently as no two are the same. Keeping this head close to the ground focuses the energy of the plant through a short and direct route to the fruit zones. Thus creating what quality and consistency truly are. Also over the winter months we can bury each “head” to protect against a major freeze. To say I’m excited is the understatement of the decade!

Now on to our team! My good friend Kevin Masterman and I have crossed paths a couple times. Kevin has run harvests at a couple wineries you may have heard of such as Abeja, Corliss, and Ramey, and a couple you have never heard of out of Australia. I seized the opportunity to hire Kevin to help with all aspects of wine making for Rotie and Proletariat which are produced out of the same facility. His passion, work ethic, palate, and friendship are hard to quantify and I’m pleased to introduce him to you all. We're lucky to have him on board.

Many of you have met Tioni Healy in our Walla Walla tasting room. Tioni has a character that brightens any room. What you may not know about her is that she is one of the best chefs in Walla Walla, perhaps the northwest. Tioni has agreed to manage our SoDo tasting room and help us share our commitment to creating the best Rhone blends possible from Walla Walla fruit with a broader audience. Tioni will bring all that you love about visiting Rotie in Walla Walla and create an experience with some local Seattle soul in our new tasting room. 

Which brings us to the Rotie Cellars SoDo Tasting Room opening April 1, 2016. We are in good company in SoDo, setting up shop in the same complex as Kerloo and Schooner Exact. The space is naturally lit with big windows, high ceilings, and a friendly patio, and centrally located to downtown at 4001 South 1st Avenue. 

We like to see our wines on shelves, but we prefer putting wines in the hands of our customers directly.The whole idea of our Rotiesian club has been to give back to the crew who has supported us from the beginning. We hope this is felt by our members in our lifetime pricing policy, advance access and special pricing on Homage, Dre, Little g, and VdP. Not to mention a couple kick ass parties each year.

Rotie Cellars is growing into the brand I hoped it could be. Our commitment to you is to continue planting and growing in the right areas specific to the strength of each varietal, to to make structured and balanced Rhone Blends based on the vines’ terroir to the best of our abilities.

This is what drives us and I’m extremely excited for our future. 

Thank you for supporting us this far in my vision– I am so pleased you can join us on this ride.

The State of Washington's Wines

"...Syrah stars in wines such as Rôtie Cellars' Northern Blend Walla Walla Valley 2013 (92, $48), winemaker Sean Boyd's homage to the Côte-Rôtie model of Syrah cofermented with Viognier."

Issue: December 31, 2015

Washington has seen a succession of wines come to the fore since the state first earned recognition in the 1980s for Merlot. By the 1990s, Cabernet Sauvignons and Cabernet blends began finding their way into Wine Spectator's annual Top 10 lists. In recent vintages, the biggest success story has been Syrah, which this year accounts for eight of the 14 wines earning classic ratings of 95 points or higher on Wine Spectator's 100-point scale.

Cabernet Sauvignon remains a major presence along with Syrah. Both categories teem with fruit-forward wines that receive a consistent lift from acidity and brightness in their flavor profiles. Since my previous report ("Washington's Sleek New Whites," Dec. 15, 2014), I have tasted nearly 950 wines from the Evergreen State in our Napa office, more than 400 of them earning scores of 90 points or higher. Cabernet and Cabernet blends account for 160 of these outstanding wines, Syrah and Syrah-based blends for another 115. (A free alphabetical list of scores and prices for all wines tasted is available.)

While Cabernet and Syrah remain strong, several other wine types are on the rise as well, producing enough compelling bottlings to make their categories worth seeking out, especially for adventurous wine drinkers. Malbec and Cabernet Franc, for years used mainly to add depth and texture to blends dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, are now emerging to star on their own.

On the value side, the perennial champ is Riesling. More than a dozen Rieslings in this report rate 88 points or higher and cost $20 or less, including Charles Smith's $12 Kung Fu Girl Evergreen 2014 at 89 points. At an even lower price point, Chateau Ste. Michelle scored a respectable 85 points for its $9 Columbia Valley 2014, of which more than a million cases were made.

Good luck trying to pigeonhole Washington the way New Zealand has been linked to citrusy Sauvignon Blanc, Australia to ripe Shiraz and Napa Valley to cult Cabernet. All of those regions do other things well, but none can match what Washington's vintners have achieved in terms of high quality across a range of grapes and styles.

Since nearly all of the state's grapes grow to the east of the Cascade Range, rainstorms from the west seldom interrupt the growing season and harvest. This decade in particular has seen a series of ideal or near-ideal vintages, so there's little risk right now in selecting one recent vintage over another. 

Syrah is thriving in every winegrowing region in Washington. The standout AVA is Walla Walla Valley, particularly its subregion known as The Rocks, which comprises less than 300 of Walla Walla's nearly 3,000 acres. Although Walla Walla's total vineyard acreage is but a fraction of the 52,000 acres planted statewide, all eight classic-rated Syrahs in this report, along with seven of the 10 Syrahs at 94 points, come from sites in Walla Walla, a number of them from vineyards on the stones. 

The geographic and geologic makeup of Walla Walla yields something distinctive. The Rocks district, an ancient riverbed strewn with baseball-sized stones, limits yields naturally, making for wines of intense flavor but moderate alcohol levels. The flavor profile often has a noticeable black olive note, and the wines typically show mineral character. The surrounding hills lie at elevations that are high enough (many of them above 1,500 feet) to preserve natural acidity and minerality while attaining ripe blue fruit flavors.

Two top-rated wines by Charles Smith's K Vintners make an apt comparison. The K Syrah Walla Walla Valley Rock Garden 2012 (97 points, $60) is dense, rich, ripe and expressive, offering a feast of plum and black currant flavors, with ripe pear, honey and floral overtones, while the K Syrah Walla Walla Valley Morrison Lane 2012 (96, $45), a higher elevation vineyard, brims with distinct wet stone and salty overtones to its rich core of plum and blackberry fruit.

Other than wines from K and Cayuse, head-turning bottlings from Walla Walla vineyards include wines from àMaurice, Gramercy, Proper, Reynvaan and Saviah, along with Cayuse proprietor Christophe Baron's two other labels, Horsepower and No Girls. Among the top-rated Syrahs from the rest of the state are the sleek Syncline Syrah Yakima Valley Boushey Vineyards 2013 (94, $35) and the broad-shouldered Dunham MacLachlan Syrah Columbia Valley Baby Bear 2011 (94, $54).

Among Syrahs produced in larger quantities, look for the Spring Valley Syrah Walla Walla Valley Nina Lee 2012 (93, $50), ripe with black plum, blueberry, apricot and smoke notes, and the Va Piano Syrah Walla Walla Valley Les Collines Vineyard 2013 (92, $65), with licorice-scented black fruit flavors. For value-seekers, Saviah's Syrah Columbia Valley The Jack 2012 (90, $18) and Hogue's Syrah Columbia Valley Genesis 2012 (89, $16) are examples of how good more modestly priced Syrah can be in Washington.

As a blending component Syrah stars in wines such as Rôtie Cellars' Northern Blend Walla Walla Valley 2013 (92, $48), winemaker Sean Boyd's homage to the Côte-Rôtie model of Syrah cofermented with Viognier. This polished style unfurls its ripe boysenberry, red plum, apricot and spice flavors without haste, coming together harmoniously on the finish. 

The Guardian The Informant Wahluke Slope 2012 (92, $30), another Syrah cofermented with Viognier, delivers a core of ripe blackberry and currant fruit, while the Syncline Subduction Red Columbia Valley 2013 (90, $20) uses six different Southern Rhône varieties to produce a fleshy impersonation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, brimming with flavors of blueberry, plum and white pepper. The Betz Bésoleil Columbia Valley 2012 (91, $45) is a sleek Grenache-based version along the same lines, with blackberry, floral and mineral notes.

Cabernet Sauvignon is still a driving force in Washington. Prices can be formidable for in-demand bottlings from standard-bearers such as Quilceda Creek, Leonetti, Cadence and Andrew Will, yet less-established labels offer an alternative, among them Native Sun, Andrew Januik and Avennia. Two exemplary labels from a pair of ex-NFL quarterbacks, Drew Bledsoe's Doubleback and Dan Marino's Passing Time, are also generating excitement at the high end.

Good examples of Cabernet at more moderate prices include standbys such as Canoe Ridge, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest and Waterbook, which all produce outstanding versions at $25 or less. Columbia has returned to form under new ownership since being purchased by Gallo in 2012, and a handful of new labels such as Luke and Eight Bells are also worth seeking out. 

Beyond Cabernet and Syrah, Malbec and Malbec-based blends may be the most intriguing category, with nearly half of the 40 wines reviewed scoring 90 or more points. Across the board, Washington Malbec offers polished tannins and satiny textures, with flavors centering on black cherry, plum and currant, while hints of cocoa, black pepper, wet earth and tar add complexity. The plushness achieves a sense of balance that makes the wines less weighty than many serious Washington reds. The best of them show greater transparency as well. 

Among the standouts, the Columbia Crest Malbec Horse Heaven Hills Reserve 2012 (92, $35) ticks off all the boxes. Supple, silky and expressive, the wine is rich in texture and blooming with black cherry, blackberry, floral and tar flavors. At the value end, a shot of raspberry flavor in Waterbrook's polished Malbec Columbia Valley 2013 (89, $14) pushes through the core of tar and spice.

State agricultural reports show that wineries pay growers more per ton for Malbec than any other grape except Grenache. Malbec produced 2,200 tons statewide in 2014, fifth among red grapes, a figure that has more than doubled in the past five years. Cabernet Sauvignon tops the list, followed by Merlot and Syrah, yet Malbec now stands just behind Cabernet Franc and ahead of Sangiovese, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir and Grenache. Today Washington makes more Malbec than it does Viognier, Sémillon and Chenin Blanc.

Baer Winery has used Malbec as a blending grape in many of its wines, including its perennially outstanding Ursa bottling (2012: 94, $39), and plans to bottle a varietal Malbec from the 2014 vintage, its first non-blended red. A barrel sample I tasted at the winery showed an open texture and persistence on a harmonious finish. "We like the way Malbec's savory herb character integrates with the fruit," says winemaker Erica Orr. "We always put a little into Ursa, but we had more than we needed in 2014." The wine is due out in 2017.

Cabernet Franc and its attendant blends continue to impress as well, with 14 wines scoring 90-plus out of 26 reviewed. Either on its own or in a blend, the grape shows distinctive floral character and lighter texture. An outstanding example is the supple OS Cabernet Franc Yakima Valley Sonas 2013 (92, $25), with floral black cherry and blackberry notes. More widely available, Columbia Crest Gold Grand Estates Limited Release Columbia Valley 2013 (90, $12), a Cabernet Franc-Merlot blend, shows polish to its ripe black cherry and licorice flavors.

Grenache and Grenache-led blends put up similarly strong numbers this year, as 13 of 28 wines reviewed rated outstanding. The style offers a contrast to the state's beefy Syrahs. Oak plays less of a role, and the grape can achieve a more lilting style. This report's most stunning bottlings come from Christophe Baron, whose top-scoring Horsepower Grenache Walla Walla Valley Sur Echalas Vineyard 2012 (96, $115) is dark and dense yet light on its feet, layering chalk and wet rock minerality through ripe, meaty cherry and clotted cream flavors.

As Baron plants additional vineyards in his home region of The Rocks, in Walla Walla, Grenache is getting equal treatment to Syrah. "Grenache out of Sur Echalas is more in a Pinot Noir style," Baron says. "I like that. We need to plant more."

The Tenet GSM Columbia Valley 2013 (93, $70) is a bit easier to find. The joint venture between Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and Michel Gassier, the owner of Château de Nages in France's Costière de Nîmes, makes its debut with this signature blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, delivering a lithe and agile mouthful of blackberry, black cherry and licorice flavors.

Among the white wines from the Evergreen State, there's growing diversity as well. Chardonnay continues to account for the largest number of bottlings-about 40 percent of the 200 whites in this report-followed by Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and others. Refreshing in style, especially in the less-than-$20 range, Washington Chardonnay consistently offers good value. 

Efforts are gaining traction to upgrade specificity and depth of character in the best examples. (See last year's report for more detail on winemakers aiming for greater expressiveness and harmony in Chardonnay.)

The first wines from Sixto—a partnership between Charles Smith and his two winemakers, Brennon Leighton and Andrew Latta—are real eye-openers. Cool-climate vineyards provide acidity to balance the ripeness. The Chardonnay Washington Roza Hills 2012 (94, $55) starts off spicy, then morphs into lime, pear and quince flavors, and the Chardonnay Washington Moxee Vineyard 2012 (93, $55) brings spicy pear and citrus flavors together with finesse on the harmonious finish. Other top bottlings include Chris Gorman's Ashan Chardonnay Yakima Valley Kestrel Vineyard 2013 (93, $45), which offers great presence, with pear, pineapple and green guava flavors on a silky frame, and Woodward Canyon's Chardonnay Washington 2013 (92, $44), glistening with flickers of lemon curd and guava around a core of pear and pineapple.

At less than $20, the Waterbrook Chardonnay Columbia Valley Reserve 2013 (90, $17) shows nutmeg and caramel overtones around a core of pear fruit, and the Charles Smith Chardonnay Washington Eve 2013 (89, $12) delivers fresh, appealing apple, pear and cinnamon spice through its lively finish.

Viognier was originally planted in Washington to coferment with Syrah, simultaneously brightening the flavor profile and darkening the color. (Rôtie Cellars' Northern Blend, mentioned above, is one example; Cayuse's Syrah Cailloux Vineyard 2012 (95, $80), containing 5 percent Viognier, is another.) Now Washington producers are using the grape to make white wines of crispness and detail. The Alexandria Nicole Viognier Columbia Valley Crawford 2014 (90, $20), for example, delivers classic Viognier flavors of spice and pear on a fresh and vibrant frame.

Second only to California in total production volume among U.S. states, Washington remains ahead of the pack in terms of making outstanding wines at affordable prices. As the range of options from the state keeps widening, the best bottles are becoming ever more distinctive. Washington wine is still gaining momentum.

Editor at large Harvey Steiman is Wine Spectator's lead taster on the wines of Washington.

In the Spirit: Thanksgiving Wine Pairings Dish by Dish

This classic French Rhone style is done beautifully in the Pacific Northwest's Washington State.

by Kristen Siebecker
Wednesday Nov 18, 2015

Next to the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving is one of the quintessential American holidays. It is also one of the only food centric holidays that bring together tradition along with acceptable excess in eating and drinking.

When thinking about your wine selections, there are many terrific pairings with Thanksgiving fare. This year make it extra exceptional and go for all-American wines for your Thanksgiving spread. The timeless turkey has its centerpiece at the table, but there are so many other classic food flavors that have a perfect wine pairing. Let's travel around these United States to several different quality winemaking regions to pair with your characteristic dishes.

While all of these wines could take you from passed appetizers to pie, EDGE is here to guide you through the whole meal - sides included - with wine pairings to make it an unforgettable Thanksgiving feast:

Lutum Bien Nacido Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, California, $50

The classic stalwart lean poultry is delightful with a lighter style red wine that won't overpower this mild flavored main dish. Check out this brilliant Pinot Noir from one of the best vineyards in the country located in the Santa Maria Valley of Southern California. Its fresh fruited, cherry nose and palate will sing when paired with the bird.

Rôtie Cellars, Northern Blend, Washington State, $48

Sometimes the turkey is just the vessel used to deliver the delicious gravy and with more robust flavors you need a bigger wine. Try something that has a bit more intensity and extraction like a plummy, dark fruited Syrah (with Viognier). This classic French Rhone style is done beautifully in the Pacific Northwest's Washington State.

Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley, Sauvignon Blanc, California, $32 

Veggies are notoriously challenging to pair with wine, but if you get something that is light enough with balanced acidity to match the herbal quality of the vegetable, you can have a blissful match. In northern California we have an esteemed Sauvignon Blanc from one of the best producers in the Russian River Valley. It showcases a light, airy citrus with just the right sensible composition of fruit to match your beans. 

Ravines, Finger Lakes, Dry Riesling, New York, $18 

Casseroles of any kind conjure comfort and the wine should do the same with this archetypal dish. You want something with a little more boldness to match the more scrumptious yams but the wine should remain on the dry side because this is still considered a savory dish. The heightened acidity in this wine is what will elevate the casserole and also complement the sugars and starch from the sweet potato.

Paumanok, Cabernet Franc, Long Island, New York, $20

This dish is controversial to some and evokes coziness to others but there's no doubt it is a classic flavor of the season. For this slightly sour fruit we need something that again will tame it without hiding the tart cranberry nature. The grape Cabernet Franc is a parent of Cabernet Sauvignon, but it's leaner, not as bold, and has a bit of that fresh red fruit essence.

Gruet Blanc de Noirs, Sparkling Wine, New Mexico, $15

The obligatory bread, homemade fresh from the oven or heated up from the store, also has a flawless pairing on the table: bubbles! Surprisingly this wine is made in New Mexico and uses the same grapes and winemaking method as true Champagne, but it is grown in the hot sunny days and cool desert nights of the Southwest.

Flowers Winery, Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, California, $45

Another textbook side on many a Thanksgiving table is the mashed potato. Specifically, mashed potatoes generally have a buttery flavor and need a softer, gentle wine like an easy-going Chardonnay with that touch of oak to match the melting in your mouth. The Sonoma Coast is the birthplace of this balanced and consistently delicious Chardonnay.

Adelsheim, Pinot Gris, Oregon, $19

Classic stuffing has the flavors of toast and herbs so let's put it together with an aromatic American white wine from Oregon. No oak here, just bright yellow fruits like pear in this timeless and poised Pinot Gris from the terrific producer Adelsheim. They also make marvelous Pinot Noir.

Newhall Farm, Ice Apple Cider, Vermont, $23

Dessert is here! Now we are ready to dial up the sweet. The rule of thumb for dessert is that you want your wine to be as sweet (or sweeter) than the dessert; otherwise the dessert will destroy the wine flavor. But have no fear, Vermont Ice Cider is here! Newhall produces this ice cider from Vermont apples and while sweet, is not cloying, and will match your pies with perfection.


Rotie Wines excel in Seattle Met Top 100

Seattle Met's Top 100 Wines for 2015 have been named and Rotie Cellars was honored with two wines making top 15; Little g at #3 for grenache and Northern Blend at #15 for Syrah.

2013 Little g (#3 Grenache)

A fresh, lively grenache saw no new oak, this wine puts the focus squarely on the fruit. It's almost pinotlike in delicacy and purity, with generous raspberry and other red fruit notes along with herb accents.

2013 Northern Blend (#15 Syrah)

A tribute to the wines of the northern region of the Rhone Valley, this offering is syrah with a pinch of viognier. It's brightly aromatic with notes of plum and orange peelthat lead to silky fruit and savory flavors.

—Sean Sullivan

The Wine Advocate: A Wealth of Riches

Robert Parker

Jeb Dunnuck's scores for Washington are released and Rotie Cellars is honored with some vert nice scores.

2010 Northern Blend 92 points
2013 Southern Blend 92 points
2013 Little g 93 points
2014 Southern White 91 points
2014 Grenache Blanc 90 points

2013 Northern Blend (92 Points)

Incorporating 5% Viognier, the Syrah dominated 2013 Northern Blend comes all from the Walla Walla Valley in 2013 and saw the same 14-16 months in older barrels that all the reds saw here. It has a similar savory herb character found in the southern blend, with lots of dried garrigue, olive, smoked meats, mulled blackberries and pepper emerging from the glass. On the palate, it's medium to full-bodied, elegant and supple, with bright, yet nicely integrated acidity, plenty of texture and a clean, dry finish. Drink it anytime over the coming decade.

2013 Southern Blend (92 Points)

Sean's Grenache dominated cuvee, the 2013 Southern Blend checks in as a mix of 75% Grenache, 15% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre that was aged 14-16 months in 2nd and 3rd-fill barrels. It's ruby/semi-opaque color is followed by lively, complex bouquet of kirsch, blackberries, dried herbs and pepper. Savory, medium to full-bodied, supple and beautifully made, it's already complex and approachable, yet will evolve nicely through 2023.

2013 Little g (93 Points)

Made from 100% Grenache from the Alder Ridge and Gunkle vineyards, the 2013 Grenache Little G spent 14-16 months in 2nd and 3rd fill barrels. It offers lots of peppery herbs, Provencal garrigue, dried earth and mulled black and red fruits to go with a medium-bodied, rounded, nicely textured feel on the palate. Showing more kirsch and spice with time in the glass, it has solid complexity, plenty of charm and depth on the palate, and a great finish. Drink it anytime over the coming 7-8 years. 2014 Southern White (91 Points) A blend of 50% Viognier, 25% Roussanne and 25% Marsanne, the 2014 Southern White is another lively and crisp white that lots of green citrus, apple and butter citrus in a medium-bodied, lively, pretty style. Possessing racy acidity, it has plenty of texture and a balance, refreshing style. Drink it over the coming 2-3 years.

2014 Grenache Blanc (90 Points)

A blend of 100% Grenache Blanc that was brought up all in stainless steel, with no malolactic fermentation, the 2014 Grenache Blanc carries a light gold color to go with beautiful and classic notes of crisp apple, citrus blossom, honeysuckle and mint. Medium to full-bodied, ripe and layered, yet with vibrant acidity, it's a terrific white from Washington to drink over the coming 2-3 years, although I suspect it will evolve similar to a Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc and have a decade or more of interesting evolution.

A Wealth of Riches

Coming off the difficult and cool 2011 vintage, Washington was dealt a trio of brilliant vintages in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Looking first at the 2012s, which make up the bulk of this report, this is a truly spectacular vintage that was consistently warm, had no significant heat spikes or rain events, and finished with a long, Indian summer that allowed producers to harvest at will. The wines are reminiscent of the decadent and voluptuous 2007s, yet are slightly more focused, streamlined and shaped by more tannic structure.

The top wines have sensational levels of fruit and are already showing beautifully. Yet the surprise is their incredible concentration (2012 has more dry extract than 2010 and 2013) and tannin levels. These are sensational, exuberant and voluptuous wines that will deliver incredible pleasure in a few years, yet also will evolve gracefully. This is certainly the greatest vintage since 2007, and one of the top vintages in the State in the past two decades. Both the Bordeaux and Rhône varieties excelled.

At the end of the day, the biggest problem for 2013 might be that it's sandwiched between the 2012 and 2014 vintages, two vintages that readily express exuberant, fruit-loaded personalities. The 2013 vintage was hotter and less even regarding heat accumulation. As a result, the wines have slightly less phenolic ripeness (I think due to the vines shutting down during the heat spikes), lower pHs, higher acidities and more focused, restrained profiles. Nevertheless, make no mistake; these are still big, powerful and structured wines that possess beautiful freshness and purity of fruit. Most don't have the depth or sheer wealth of material found in the top 2012s, yet some certainly come close to rivaling what was accomplished in 2012, 2010 and 2007.

Most of the wines are still in barrel, and short-term cellaring will be the name of the game for the top-end wines. One downside to 2013 is the quality of the whites; Chardonnay in particular struggled in this vintage. All in, I continue to be disappointed in the whites and roses from this region. A record-breaking vintage regarding heat, 2014 was a scorching hot year that some compared to 2009.Yet I think the wines show more freshness and purity, with surprising acid levels coupled with massive amounts of fruit.

My sample set is small, but this will certainly be a terrific vintage. I'll delve more into these wines next year. All the following wines were tasted between March, 2015 and May, 2015, in larger appellation tastings, domaine visits and tastings at my office in Colorado. As is becoming more common, I wasn't able to get all of the wines tasted into the report, but did my best to report on all of the top producers, as well as any up-and-coming winemakers you should have on your radar.

—Jeb Dunnuck

Review Of Washington Wines: June 2015

Rand Sealey reviews the new vintages of the Northern & Southern Blends

2013 Rotie Cellars Southern Blend, Washington State ($48)

Here, Sean Boyd has upped the Grenache to 75%, with 15% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre. It possesses a deep ruby color and enticing aromas of wild raspberries, blueberries, pomegranates, black currants, crushed red roses, mulberry, sweet tobacco, orange peel, anise and violets. On the palate, the red and blue fruit flavors are deliciously ripe and generous, intermixed with licorice, cocoa powder, and minerally earth. On the back, the wine turns thick and chewy, yet svelte, with notes of roasted berries and nuts, recurring dried orange peel, framboise and cassis liqueurs, followed by a burst of pomegranate juice on the lingering ripe tannin finish. Delicious from beginning to end. 19+/20 points.


2013 Rotie Cellars Northern Blend, Washington State ($48)

This vintage is co-fermented 95% Syrah and 5% Viognier. It exhibits a brilliant crimson color and an intoxicating, perfumed nose of wild blackberries, blueberries and cassis, with scents of crushed roses, bayberry, brambles, sweet tobacco, jasmine, violets, and spiced incense. The flavors are as seductive as the aromas, with rich, velvety, ripe fruits that are laced with licorice, cocoa powder, black tea, and “Rocks” minerals and earth. The back reveals sensations of pressed dark fruits, toasted nuts, framboise liqueur, and crème de cassis, all gliding effortlessly into a lingering bright fruit acid and satiny, ripe tannin finish. The vividness is extraordinary. 19.5/20 points.

Seattle Magazine: 6 Emerging Washington White Wines

A growing number of uncommon grape varieties in Washington are transforming our white wine palate

Paul Zitarelli |   May 2015

Chardonnay and Riesling together make up nearly 80 percent of white wine grapes harvested each year in Washington. Include the next six varieties—Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Viognier, Chenin Blanc and Semillon—and the number rises to 98.7 percent. That leaves just 1.3 percent for the whole splendid mess of Earth’s other white grapes. (To put that into perspective: In a 400-page novel, 1.3 percent is only five pages.) But these miniscule margins are also the frontiers, where some of the most exciting wines in the state are being produced.

Perhaps no winery is farther out on the frontier of white winemaking than Syncline Cellars. Run by husband-and-wife team James and Poppie Mantone in the impossibly beautiful, off-the-beaten-track town of Lyle in the Columbia Gorge, Syncline produces a range of red wines, a handful of sparkling wines and exactly three whites: a Grenache Blanc, a Grüner Veltliner and a Picpoul. What those three grapes share (other than their obscurity) is a potential for making bright, lively, food-friendly white wines.

“Washington has a very generous climate,” says James Mantone, which is a gentle way of saying that much of eastern Washington is too darned hot to make compelling white wines, which thrive on cooler climates, keeping alcohols moderate and acidity bright and fresh. So Syncline sought out cooler vineyard sites. Beginning with the 2008 vintage, it made Washington’s first Grüner Veltliner, the fruit coming from Underwood Mountain Vineyards in the chilly Gorge. Soon after followed Grenache Blanc (2011) and Picpoul (2012) from Boushey Vineyard in a cool pocket of the Yakima Valley. 

Syncline is hardly the only Washington winery taking the road less traveled when it comes to white wines. These extended tasting notes reveal a cadre of Washington winemakers joyfully exploring lesser-known vinifera and offering a tremendous diversity of tasting experiences, if we know where to look.

Paul’s Picks for Emerging Whites

2014 Syncline Grüner Veltliner, $20; 2014 Syncline Picpoul, $20; 2014 Syncline Grenache Blanc, $25  

May 1 marks the release of all three of Syncline’s 2014 vintage whites (2013 is shown at left), and James Mantone describes each grape’s individual charms as such: Grüner Veltliner, whose ancestral home is Austria, is “the funky white: fresh and bright, yet savory, earthy, herbal.” Grenache Blanc, best known in the Rhône Valley in France, is “a balance of rich ripeness matched with tangy freshness; rich and tart, opposites-attract crazy goodness.” Picpoul, also best known in the Rhône Valley as well as the Languedoc region of France is “fresh, lemony, juicy goodness; it’s lip-smacking, eat-another-bite-of-shellfish, summer-is-never-going-to-end white wine.” pairING: May is the season of the ephemeral spot prawn, so let’s pair Syncline’s trio with spot prawns prepared three ways: Picpoul with a limey spot prawn ceviche; Grenache Blanc for spot prawns sautéed (in the shell) with butter and saffron; and Grüner with a simple chowder made of leftover chopped spot prawns, celery and leeks, shrimp stock and cream. (Read more about spot prawns in Langdon Cook’s column here.)

2013 Idilico Albariño, $15
Woodinville winemaker Javier Alfonso believes it is up to winemakers to push the envelope of Washington viticulture. “I’m an aggressive poker player, so I’m always up for some experimenting and risk taking,” he explains. The native Spaniard placed his bets on Albariño, from Rias Baixas in Spain’s northwest corner on the Atlantic, and the results have been outstanding. “I love Albariño,” enthuses Alfonso, “for its ability to produce great, steely, high-acid, food-friendly wines: white wine for everyday drinking.” Bone-dry, ultra-vibrant, awash in lemon-lime fruit and mineral, this pulsates across the palate. PAIRING: Be a risk taker like Alfonso and try to make a tangerine beurre blanc at home to top the first halibut of the season. If the sauce fails, pour yourself an extra glass for the effort.

2014 W.T. Vintners Grüner Veltliner, $20 
Syncline is not the only winery to see the potential for Grüner in the Gorge. Leave it to RN74 lead sommelier and Woodinville-based W.T. Vintners winemaker Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen, who noticed that “the western Columbia Gorge’s cool, windy climate and its soils mirror Austria’s Kremstal region with deep loess, sandy loam and rock-laden soils.” The goal of W.T. Vintners is “to craft wines of place that have synergy with food,” notes Lindsay-Thorsen. W.T.’s version nails Grüner’s savory character, so unusual for white grapes, with lovely green pea vine and smoky/flinty notes to go with a core of lemony fruit. PAIRING: Grüner’s earthy greenness is just right for a warm French green lentil salad—maybe topped with a perfectly seared scallop or a paper-thin sheet of prosciutto.

2014 Two Vintners Roussanne, $25
Roussanne is another Rhône Valley stalwart, and this particular Washington version by Woodinville winemaker Morgan Lee comes entirely from Olsen Estate Vineyard. The grape’s inherent richness—here in the form of peach preserves and marzipan—is well balanced by a sturdy mineral-acid spine, and there’s a terrifically appetizing green grace note, something like celery salt. PAIRING: A luscious crab bisque, best made with double the sherry called for in your recipe to bring out Roussanne’s wonderful nutty qualities. 

2013 Perennial Vintners Melon de Bourgogne, $28
Mike Lempriere’s quest to grow Melon de Bourgogne (the grape of Muscadet in the western Loire Valley of France) on Bainbridge Island may be the most romantic, quixotic winegrowing venture in Washington. Lempriere fell in love with the “austere mineral quality [Melon] tends to express,” and he connected the climatic dots, noticing that the western Loire is “quite similar to our Puget Sound AVA: a cool maritime climate.” The vines were planted in 2004, and as they complete their first decade, they’re yielding wines with wonderful salty-mineral tang paired with austere, citrus-tinged fruit. PAIRING: Melon is all about subtlety, and so it goes well with oysters, that most subtle and salty of foods. To up your bivalve street cred, pair with an indigenous Olympia oyster. Raw, natch, and if you’re adding anything more than a few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice, you’re blaspheming. 

2013 Rotie Cellars Northern White, $32
Although the name of the wine doesn’t mention it, this is 100 percent Marsanne, a grape frequently bottled on its own in the northern Rhône Valley. It combines lovely layers of fruit—pear and melon, nectarine and lemon—with floral top notes and exotic spices such as cardamom. PAIRING: Sake no shioyaki (salt-grilled salmon). This simple, umami-soaked method is explained in mouthwatering detail in Dylan Tomine’s wonderful book of Northwest living and eating, Closer to the Ground. For salmon stripped to bare essentials, the traditional Pinot Noir pairing is inferior to a nice plump white like this Marsanne, which possesses both a perfect textural match for fatty salmon and a subtle flavor profile that allows the fish to remain the star of the show. The gobsmacking combination is springtime in the Puget Sound region at its very best.

Wine Enthusiast: March 2015

Four Rotie Cellars wines were honored byWine Enthusiast, Including a 94 for the 2012 Northern Blend which garnered an "Editor's Choice". That Vintage's Southern Blend and Dre also took top honors with a 93 and 92. 

2012 Northern Blend (94 points)

Editor's Choice. Don’t let the Washington State label fool you. This Walla Walla Valley Rocks-region wine shows complex notes of roasted meat, blue fruit, earth, mineral, smoke and herbs. It’s full bodied and rich with a dazzlingly polished feel to the fruit and savory flavors capped off by a long, meat-filled finish—beautiful stuff. — S.S. (3/1/2015)

2012 Dre Mourvèdre (93 points)

This 100% varietal bottling brings complex notes of smoked meat, cranberry, herbes de Provence, white pepper and chocolate. It’s full bodied and quite supple in feel, with palate-coating fruit and savory flavors that lead to a hyperextended finish.— S.S. (3/1/2015)

2012 Southern Blend Red (92 points)

A blend of Grenache (65%), Mourvèdre (25%) and Syrah, this suggests peppery spices, stewed raspberries, game and high-toned spices. The palate is the star, full bodied, textured and richly flavored. An orange peel accent leads to a warm finish.— S.S. (3/1/2015)

2013 Southern White (90 points)

A blend of Viognier (60%), Roussanne (25%) and Marsanne, this wine is moderately aromatic with notes of pear, melon, apricot and flowers. It’s medium bodied with abundant stone fruit flavors, quite reserved considering the warmth of the vintage. — S.S.  (3/1/2015)

Stephen Tanzer: Washington Wines 12/2014

Two Rotie Cellars Releases from the most recent vintage received excellent scores in Stephen Tanzer's most recent review of Washinton wines. The Southern and Northern blends weighing in at 92 and 91 respectively.

2012 Southern Blend

Medium red. Very ripe aromas and flavors of raspberry liqueur, red cherry and game accented by crushed wild herbs. Suave and seamless, offering a sweeter, more southern impression to the mid-palate. A very successful blend with a lot of personality. Really echoes on the sweet, long, ripely tannic, somewhat warm finish, which will require a year of aging to round into form. 92 points

2012 Northern Blend

Healthy dark red. Shy aromas of musky redcurrant, cocoa powder and flint, lifted by rose petal and black pepper. Then surprisingly supple and creamy on the palate, offering a seamless blend of dark fruits, earth and smoky minerals. Finishes firm and sweet, with suave tannins and good grip and length. 91 points

Seattle Met: Top 100 Washington Wines

Ranked #9 in the top 100. “It's a showstopper of a wine, that keeps you coming back” -Sean Sullivan

Rotie ranks #9 Overall, #8 in the Whites

It's a good day at the office, when people appreciate what you do. So when we were honored this week with two top ten rankings in Sean Sullivan's Top 100 Washington Wines, we were thrilled. The 2012 Northern Blend Scored #9 overall in some very lofty company, while The 2012 Southern White ranked #8 amongst the top 10 white wines. Here are excerpts from the October Issue of Seattle Met Magazine...

2013 Southern White

"This blend of viognier, roussanne and marsanne is the best the winery has produced to date, with vibrant notes of honeysuckle, pear and peach, sweet fruit flavors and a dry finish. Drink This For an excellent example of the emerging category of Rhône-style whites in Washington."

2012 Northern Blend

"Don't let the label fool you, this is Walla Walla Valley syrah cofermented with a pinch of viognier and shows all the vintage's expressiveness with rich, flavored notes of peppery spices, smoked meat and blue fruit. It's a showstopper of a wine that keeps you coming back for more til the very last drop. Drink This For a textbook example of the beauty of Washingtons's 2012 vintage."

Introducing the 2013 Top 10 Hot Brands– Rôtie Cellars

Boyd has a clear point of view for his wines, looking for bright, red fruit flavors made in a minimalist style. To this end, he avoids racking, leaving the wine on the lees for up to 16 months. He also avoids additions, fining or filtration unless absolutely necessary. “We’re not trying to chase fads here; we’re just trying to make wines that we want to drink,” he said.

January 24, 2014

Mary-Colleen Tinney

When Wine Business Monthly creates its annual Hot Brands list, we aim to celebrate the breadth and diversity of our industry. We seek out wineries that have superior wines, creative techniques, unique sites or heartfelt philosophies behind their brands. We look for winemakers that are willing to take risks and commit to their vision regardless of the whims of the market. We like wineries and winemakers that love what they do and want to honor that love with well-developed, meaningful wines.

This year we have 10 wineries from four states and six different regions in California, and virtually all of our Hot Brands are dedicated to sustainable, organic or Biodynamic practices, and several to natural or hands-off winemaking techniques.

We are releasing the Top 10 Hot Brands in alphabetical order, one per day, leading up to the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium (plan your walk on the trade show floor here). Wine Business Monthly will be serving these wines to winemakers, grape growers and industry members at our annual gathering Bottle Bash during Unified on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 5:00-8:30pm at cafeteria 15L (1116 15th Street, Sacramento).

Rôtie Cellars

2011 Southern Blend (Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Cinsault), Walla Walla, Washington
Complex Rhône Wines Showcasing Washington Fruit Made in a Minimalist Style

For Rôtie Cellars’ winemaker-proprietor Sean Boyd, the wine industry was a welcome respite from a successful, if arduous, career as a geologist. “I was just chasing a paycheck, and it was soulless,” Boyd said of the job that had him spending eight-month stretches at a time away from home. Needing to wait out a two-year, non-compete agreement that paused his life as a geologist, the Tacoma, Washington native and his family arrived in Walla Walla in 2004 with plans to learn the winemaking craft.

Within days of arriving and working in the shared cellar of two local wineries, Boyd said he fell in love with the industry. “When I got out here, I was just blown away by how open all the winemakers were,” he said. “I came out with a buddy who had been making wine for about two years. I went to a barbeque, and there were three or four other winemakers sitting around a fire, roasting a large animal and talking about what they did. I knew then that this was the right step. You could feel that buzz that was happening. There was definitely a switch going off, and Washington was getting on the map. For me, I wanted to get on this before it’s too late.”

Though Boyd concedes that his geology background perhaps gives him some insight into the soils of Washington’s wine regions, “my expense reports back in the geology days probably helped me the most,” he laughed. “That’s the main leg up: you try all of these wines and make your own opinion of what wine is. I’m not into a super-modern style of super-ripe with a lot of oak on it. I think that butchers it. I look for more subtleties and nuances.”

Taking its name from the Côte-Rôtie in northern Rhône, Rôtie Cellars is an obvious homage to the Rhône varieties and style that Boyd has always preferred. The brand was launched in 2007 with two Rhône-style blends: the Northern Blend (Syrah co-fermented with Viognier, as is traditional in the Côte-Rôtie) and the Southern Blend (a Grenache-based blend: the 2011 version is 65 percent Grenache, 23 percent Mourvédre, 6 percent Syrah and 6 percent Cinsault). Though Rôtie Cellars has expanded to about 3,000 cases, these two blends still account for nearly two-thirds of production.

Boyd has a clear point of view for his wines, looking for bright, red fruit flavors made in a minimalist style. To this end, he avoids racking, leaving the wine on the lees for up to 16 months. He also avoids additions, fining or filtration unless absolutely necessary. “We’re not trying to chase fads here; we’re just trying to make wines that we want to drink,” he said.

International Wine Cellar Reviews Nov/Dec 2013

This summer Stephen Tanzer reviewed our 2010 Northern and Southern Blends, as well as our 2012 Northern White. Read here his thoughtful reviews and kind words about all three wines. He enjoyed the Northern White in particular, stating, "I can't recall ever tasting a more impressive 100% marsanne bottling from Washington."

By Stephen Tanzer

2012 Northern White (91 Points)

Good full yellow. Yellow fruits, wild herbs and honey on the nose, lifted by floral and spicy high notes and complicated by a toasty leesy quality. Intensely flavored, vibrant and classically dry, boasting terrific grip and lift to its slightly candied flavors of lemon drop and vanilla. Finishes juicy and brisk, with palate-staining length. This boasts a lot of personality and flavor appeal, not to mention volume and cut: I can't recall ever tasting a more impressive 100% marsanne bottling from Washington.

2010 Southern Blend (91 Points)

(75% grenache, 15% syrah and 10% mourvedre)
Good bright red-ruby. Complex, musky aromas of raspberry, redcurrant, mocha, olive and smoked meat, plus a superripe candied note. Supple and fine-grained; tactile yet smooth, with a restrained sweetness to the red fruit and spice flavors. Finishes with suave tannins, and subtle lingering perfume. Nothing out of place here.

2010 Northern Blend (91 Points)

(95% syrah with 5% viognier):
Medium-deep red. Enticing high tones to the aromas of cherry and smoke. Supple and sweet on the palate, with lovely inner-mouth perfume to the red fruit and spice flavors. Finishes with suave tannins and sweet but cool notes of raspberry and garrigue. (Another sample of this wine was considerable drier and more reduced, with its sweet fruit in deep retreat; my score is obviously for the first bottle.)

Seattle Weekly ~ Oct 22, 2013

Leading that charge is Sean Boyd of Rotie Cellars. Boyd has consciously broken with that tradition, making complex, elegant, high-acid red wines that are wonderfully food-friendly.

Washington state’s syrahs and grenaches may become its standout wines.

At a recent dinner event, I got into a conversation with several members of the Washington Wine Commission. One topic we discussed was how, unlike our West Coast neighbors, Washington has yet to find those few grapes that define the region—you know, the way that pinot noir does the Willamette Valley or cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay do Napa Valley. Instead, Washington growers seem more interested in experimenting with just about any grape variety they can get their hands on. While it’s interesting to see how the local terroir handles barbera or tempranillo or auxerrois, one of the most exciting discoveries has been that Washington can make some really amazing wines modeled on those of France’s Rhone Valley.

Leading that charge is Sean Boyd of Rotie Cellars. The name hints at the kind of wines he’s making: The Cote Rotie is a small region in the northern Rhone Valley known for its syrah-based wines, and indeed Boyd makes his Northern Blend in the classic Cote Rotie style, adding a small amount of viognier (yes, a white grape) to enhance the aromatics and, paradoxically, darken the color.

A quick word about the Rhone: It’s generally divided into north and south, with different grapes pre-eminent based on where you are. In the north, red wines are largely or totally made from syrah, while the whites are largely viognier. The best-known appellations are Cote Rotie, St. Joseph, and Hermitage. Down south, grenache is the dominant red grape, but plenty of syrah and mourvedre are grown as well, while roussanne and marsanne are the central white grapes, with viognier factoring in too. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the best-known region in the southern Rhone, but wines from Vacqueyras and Gigondas are similar in style and often match in quality.

Both Rotie’s whites are aromatically expressive and bright, but with a nice backbone of acidity and minerality that reins in the fruitiness inherent in Rhone varietals. In particular, the Northern White Blend is the best Washington viognier I’ve tried, showing fragrant white flowers and luscious stone fruits on the nose, but delivering a balanced and complex taste with a refreshing zing of acidity on the finish. It’s that devotion to balance and acidity that defines all Rotie’s wines.

When it comes to reds, syrah has a long history in Washington, but it’s typically made into rich, jammy, fruit-forward, high-alcohol wines that have more in common with Australian shirazes than the wines of France. Boyd has consciously broken with that tradition, making complex, elegant, high-acid red wines that are wonderfully food-friendly. His Northern Blend showcases Washington’s ability to achieve a wonderful ripeness without sacrificing acidity and complexity, with notes of blackberry, bacon fat, and chocolate leavened with a nice dose of spices and a bracing hit of rocky minerality.

Even more exciting to me than well-made Washington syrah is the potential of grenache. While it has until now gone largely unnoticed in this state, grenache is currently being buzzed about as a potential “grape of the future.” As a counterpoint to the rich and luscious fruits of the Northern Blend, Rotie’s Southern Blend shows brighter red fruits coupled with dusty, leathery, and briny notes which would be right at home in the southern Rhone. With those flavor components, it’s one of my favorite reds for grilled meats, especially lamb.

Beyond bringing Rhone varietals into focus, Boyd is one of the founders of Proletariat Wines, one of the local pioneers in keg wines. These allow bars and restaurants to avoid one of the traditional perils of glass-pour wines: An opened bottle of wine goes bad really quickly. Keg wines are kept fresh with inert nitrogen, so the wine can be served for weeks on end without any spoilage or waste.

In short, it’s winemakers like Boyd who push forward the frontiers of Washington wine. Paradoxically, this is sometimes done by looking back at Old World wines and figuring out how they can be recreated locally. Of course, the goal isn’t to make a perfect clone of a Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but to understand what makes those wines great, and then to apply those grapes, materials, and techniques to the outstanding and unique local conditions of eastern Washington.

The Oregonian: Rhône Wave Breaking...

If anyone in Walla Walla is obsessed with the Rhône, it's Sean Boyd, owner/winemaker at Rôtie. Boyd makes four red and white blends, designated "Northern" or "Southern" depending on the grape blend... My notes for his Southern Red blend say: "Ripe strawberry drizzled with balsamic and sprinkled with white pepper; I just want to crawl into the glass."


The following is an excerpt from the Oregonian (September 2, 2013)  read the full article »

Rotie Cellars

If anyone in Walla Walla is obsessed with the Rhône, it's Sean Boyd, owner/winemaker at Rôtie. Boyd makes four red and white blends, designated "Northern" or "Southern" depending on the grape blend. His 2011 "Northern Blend" Washington State Red ($40), for example, is styled after a red from the northern Rhône's Côte-Rôtie, where syrah is co-fermented with a bit of white viognier to bring freshness to the aroma. It's a wine that needs decanting to open up, and then reveals gorgeous raspberry and red current notes and will take on more black-olive notes with age. My notes for his Southern Red ($40) blend say: "Ripe strawberry drizzled with balsamic and sprinkled with white pepper; I just want to crawl into the glass."


Wine Advocate ~ Issue #207

Robert Parker

“These knockout wines are made by Sean Boyd and offer classic, fresh profiles that deliver brilliant levels of fruit and texture. During my tastings with Sean, he also opened bottles of his 2007 Southern and Northern Blends, both of which were aging beautifully and showed youthful, still fresh fruit.”

2010 Dre 94+ points
2010 Little g 95 points
2011 Little g 93 points
2010 Homage 95+ points
2010 Northern Blend 94 points
2011 Northern Blend 92 points
2010 Southern Blend 92+ points
2011 Southern Blend 90 points
2011 Southern White 92 points
2012 Southern White 92 points
2010 Swordfight 94 points

“These knockout wines are made by Sean Boyd and offer classic, fresh profiles that deliver brilliant levels of fruit and texture. During my tastings with Sean, he also opened bottles of his 2007 Southern and Northern Blends, both of which were aging beautifully and showed youthful, still fresh fruit.” -Jeb Dunnuck

2010 Dre (94+ points)

More reserved than the Homage, the 2010 Mourvedre Dre is a 100% Mourvedre that was aged in neutral oak for 12-16 months. It exhibits a thrilling array of blackberry and blueberry styled fruit to go with notions of ground pepper, wild herbs, roasted meat, licorice and pan drippings on the nose. This is followed up by a full-bodied, concentrated wine that has a seamless, elegant texture, racy acidity and fine, polished tannin that doesn’t emerge until the finish. Like the Homage, this isn’t for those lacking in patience and needs 3-5 years of bottle age. I believe it will be very long lived and, as with the Homage, 12 to 15 years or more of evolution is not out of the question. If drinking anytime soon, a lengthy decant is recommended, as this didn’t start to fully shine until the second day. Drink 2015-2025.

2010 Little g (95 points)

Also silky and almost Pinot Noir-like in its elegance and texture, the 100% Grenache 2010 Grenache Little g is loaded with juicy, wild berry and kirsch-like qualities that are intermixed with lovely white pepper, freshly snipped flowers, red licorice and underbrush on the nose. Pure silk on the palate, with a medium-bodied, seamless texture, juicy acidity, sweet fruit and fine tannin on the finish, this perfectly proportioned 2010 should be given 2-3 years of bottle age and then consumed over the following decade. Elegance and seamlessness are the buzzwords here. Drink 2015-2025.

2011 Little g (93 points)

More open-knit than the 2010, with a sexy, supple profile, the 2011 Grenache Little g had just been bottled at the time of this tasting. Made from 100% Grenache and possessing a light ruby, transparent color, it offers up lovely kirsch, rose petal, licorice and underbrush to go with a medium-bodied, voluptuous and sweetly fruited palate that has no hard edges, building richness and a seamless, elegant finish. Already superb, it should drink nicely for 7-8 years. Drink now-2019.

2010 Homage (95+ points)

The ripest of the lot is the 2010 Homage. A blend of 70% Mourvedre, 20% Cinsault and 10% Grenache, it displays a bright, lifted array of bramble-laced black and blue fruits, leather, sappy underbrush, peppered meats and licorice on the nose. Up-front and gorgeously fruited on the palate, it has loads of texture, yet manages to stay fresh and elegant, with juicy acidity, very fine, silky tannin and a brilliant finish that certainly doesn’t lack for length. This needs a long decant if drinking anytime soon and should have 15-20 years or more of longevity. Drink 2016-2025.

2010 Northern Blend (94 points)

Stepping things up a notch in concentration and richness, yet still holding onto the polish and elegance shown by all of Sean’s wines, the 2010 Northern Blend is a co-fermented blend of 95% Syrah and 5% Viognier that was aged mostly in neutral barrel before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. Deep ruby/purple, it is deep and dense aromatically, with smoky black fruits, bacon fat, dark chocolate, wild herbs and crushed rock-like minerality all emerging from the glass. Medium to full-bodied on the palate and simply impeccably put together, with a concentrated, rich palate weight that’s carried by a seamless texture and a lively, energetic feel, this thrilling, age-worthy Syrah should be given 3-4 years in the cellar and then consumed over the following 10-12 years. Drink 2016-2025.

2011 Northern Blend (92 points)

Similarly styled, with a firm feel, the 2011 Northern Blend (95% Syrah and 5% Viognier) opens with beautiful black and red raspberry styled fruit, pepper, game, sappy underbrush and assorted floral qualities to go with a medium-bodied, pure and oh so precise texture on the palate. Detailed, energetic and lively, it makes the most of the cool vintage and is perfectly balanced and a superb drink. It will benefit from 1-2 years of bottle age and shine for 7-8 years, possibly longer given its overall harmony. Drink 2015-2021.

2010 Southern Blend (92+ points)

Coming from the sandy soils of the southern slopes of Horse Heaven Hills, the 2010 Southern Blend is a blend of 75% Grenache, 15% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre aged in used French oak barrels. Deep ruby in color and almost opaque, it displays superb Grenache flair with loads of kirsch, licorice, white and black pepper, exotic spices and floral qualities that give way to a medium-bodied, fresh, focused palate. Very lively, energetic and elegant, with integrated acidity, solid concentration and ripe tannin, this knockout southern Rhone blend can be enjoyed now, or cellared for 5-7 years. Drink now-2020.

2011 Southern Blend (90 points)

Looking at Sean’s 2011s, the 2011 Southern Blend is a blend of 65% Grenache, 23% Mourvedre and the balance Syrah and Cinsault. Showing the cooler nature of the vintage, it has fresh, almost crunchy styled characteristics of mulberry, raspberry, white pepper and sappy flowers to go with a medium-bodied, racy and firm feel in the mouth. Certainly on the leaner side of the spectrum, it nevertheless has beautiful purity of fruit and the acidity stays nicely integrated. Enjoy it over the coming 5-7 years. Drink now-2020.

2011 Southern White (92 points)

Incredibly perfumed and fragrant, the 2011 Southern White, a tank fermented blend of 50% Viognier, 30% Roussanne and 20% Marsanne (no malo), is light gold in color and exhibits a great bouquet of ripe pear, mango, exotic flowers and striking minerality. There’s big fruit here, and it shows its Viognier component at first, yet it turns more citrus and mineral driven with air. Full and fleshy on the palate, with a mouth-filling, voluptuous texture, outstanding balance and a clean, beautifully fresh finish, this straight-up delicious white will be versatile on the dinner table and drink well for 2-3 years, possibly longer. Drink now-2016.

2012 Southern White (92 points)

More soft and supple, yet no less pure, the 2012 Southern White is comprised of 70% Viognier, 15% Roussanne and 15% Marsanne. Beautifully pure white peach, honeysuckle, white flowers and vanilla cream-like characteristics all emerge from the glass. On the palate it is medium-bodied, perfectly balanced and has no hard edges. It has the acidity to evolve gracefully, yet I’d still lean towards drinking bottles over the coming year. Drink now-2014.

2010 Swordfight (94 points)

Available only as a 3-pack and a collaboration between Spencer Sievers and Sean Boyd, the 2010 Swordfight is a blend of 75% Syrah and 25% Mourvedre that comes half from Phinny Hill Vineyard (Horse Heaven Hills AVA), 25% from Alder Ridge Vineyard (Horse Heaven Hills AVA) and 25% from the SJR Vineyard (Walla Walla Valley AVA). Deep, rich and layered, with notions of black fruits, melted licorice, smoked herbs and pepper, it is a medium to full-bodied, serious effort that’s loaded with fruit, has gorgeous mid-palate depth and a firm, lengthy finish. Give it 2-3 years of bottle age and enjoy over the following decade. Drink 2015-2025.



Wine Advocate ~ Issue #204

Robert Parker

We were both honored and blown away by Wine Advocate's review of the 2010 Rotie Cellars Lineup. The top score received was 94 points for the Northern Blend; "...tasting this open, elegant beauty immediately put me in mind of one of the great, old Cote Blonde Cote Roties of Pierre Gallet."

2010 Northern Blend 94 points
2010 Southern Blend 91 points
2010 Little g 93 points
2010 Dre 92 points
2010 Homage 92 points

Trained as a geologist, Seattle native Sean Boyd became involved in the Walla Walla wine scene while waiting-out the non-compete clause in a severance contract, before – as he envisioned – returning to the oil business. But love of Rhone reds, coupled with the realization that he could render genuinely inspiring wines of his own, led to the founding in 2007 of Rotie Cellars, whose aim he tries to capture, with some justification, in the motto “Old World Wines from New World Vines.”

He has a sales facility in the picturesquely turn-of-the-century center of Walla Walla and shares a production facility at the winery-crowded former Walla Walla airport, but hopes to break ground on his own cellars next year on a hillside he has purchased and plans to plant south of Waitsburg, at the northern extreme of the A.V.A. (In sympathy with the comments I made in the introduction to this report, Boyd is one of those who tends to believe that many of Washington’s potentially best vineyard sites are in higher-elevations with slightly more rainfall that haven’t been planted yet.) Total Rotie Cellars production, though, has only a little way to go before it reaches the 3,000 cases at which Boyd says he wants to cap it.

Oenologist Claude Gros (familiar to readers of my reports from the Languedoc) serves as a consultant here. Boyd puts great stock in crushing fruit cold – toward which end he retains a refrigerated box truck – and says he neither waters nor acidulates. Where volumes of black grapes permit, he will divide a picking into several lots destemmed to varying degrees so as to permit eventual blending for greater complexity. Fermentation – in small open-top stainless steel tanks with pigeage – is generally by inoculation, with a range of yeasts tailored to cepage and circumstance, and chilling often plays a significant role here, too, as Boyd prefers long, slow ferments and stays on the lees. Boyd presses only at dryness and settles minimally to insure plenty of fine lees. All of the wines are un-racked during an elevage in used barriques, and un-fined. “I believe that with the least manipulation possible you’ll get the greatest longevity. If things go wrong in barrel, then you cross-flow (filter) to clean it up and you sell it off in the bulk market. I have about a 70% hit-rate,” he concludes with disarming modesty.

Incidentally, far be it from me to shill, but Boyd offers a rather unusual lifetime subscription to his releases, and judging by what I tasted this July, savvy lovers of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre would do well to consider that option for acquiring what strike me as already some of Washington State’s best red wine values. (He does distribute, but right now Seattle and Montreal – “my New York,” Boyd calls it – plus to a lesser extent the genuine New York, are apparently his only significant restaurant or retailer markets.)

2010 Rotie Cellars Dre (92 points)

Originating in his preferred block overlooking the Columbia at Alder Ridge, Boyd’s hundred-case lot of 100% Mourvedre labeled 2010 dre leads with the sort of saline and alkaline sea breeze notes that in Bandol lead critics to postulate the influence of the briny Mediterranean. (Guess not, here – it must be the cepage itself!) Ripe purple plum, fennel, bay laurel, black tea and game are also prominent not to mention varietally typical. “Alcohol crept up on me,” says Boyd about the, for him, high 15% reached in what is always some of his latest-picked fruit, but I detect not a trace of resulting heat or roughness; indeed this still displays some of the lift and textural refinement – if less strikingly – that characterize his other reds. Bitter chocolate mingles with the plum, herbs, game, and mineral matter in a mouthwateringly sustained finish. This should not only be worth following for a half dozen or more years, it probably needs a couple of years in bottle to show its real stuff.

2010 Rotie Cellars Little g (93 points)

Comprising what he considered the four best barrels of Grenache in his cellar this vintage – all from Gunkle Vineyards in the Columbia Gorge – Boyd’s 2010 g (a.k.a. “little g” on account of that letter’s lower-case inscription on the label) is dominated by fresh and distilled strawberry and red raspberry, delectably accented by mint, rose, lavender, and toasted nuts. Silken in texture, this finishes gorgeously soothing, surprisingly buoyant and mouthwateringly persistent. It ought to be worth following for at least 6-8 years, but probably much longer.

2010 Rotie Cellars Homage (92 points)

Assembled from selected barrels that were initially intended for other bottlings but in Boyd’s estimation showed special promise, his diversely-sourced 2010 Homage – 70% Mourvedre, 20% Cinsault and 10% Grenache – is, he says, vinified along very similar lines to his 100% Mourvedre bottling, and also reached a level of alcohol high by this winery’s standards, specifically 15.5%. Sea-breeze salinity, beech plum, blueberry, and bay in the nose migrate to a full, finely-tannic palate where the bitterness of huckleberry and herbal concentrates along with the smokiness of black tea serve for invigorating counterpoint, leading to a finish whose sense of levity and lip-smacking primary juiciness are remarkable considering the wine’s alcoholic weight. Like the corresponding pure Mourvedre, this exhibits a bit less textural allure – for now, at least – than the best of Rotie Cellars’ 2010s, but will merit at least half a dozen years’ attention.

2010 Rotie Cellars Northern Blend (94 points)

Boyd’s 2010 Northern Blend – its Syrah co-fermented with 5% Viognier – is all Walla Walla (half from the cobbles of Milton-Freewater), but he still utilizes the Washington State appellation because he wants the label of this flagship bottling to remain unchanged and wishes to retain open options to source from any part of the state. Scents of bacon; fresh cherry and red raspberry shadowed by their distilled counterparts; violet, honeysuckle, and acacia; musk; lavender and other resinous herbs; along with pungently bittersweet citrus oils, all capture one’s attention. Their counterparts on an infectiously juicy, fine-grained and strikingly buoyant palate are mingled with veal stock and mouthwateringly savory pan drippings. Cardamom and black pepper add yet greater complexity. The clean, marrow-like meatiness that extends all the way through this Syrah’s lusciously long finish is anything but gamey. While I generally turn a skeptical eye toward associations of New World wines with Old World icons, I have to say that tasting this open, elegant beauty immediately put me in mind of one of the great, old Cote Blonde Cote Roties of Pierre Gallet. And while I wouldn’t – absent a track record – predict a two decade life span for this Walla Walla Syrah, neither would it shock me if it were to achieve that. In any event, one ought to at least plan on following this terrific value for the better part of a decade. “For us, 2010 was great for Syrah,” comments Boyd, “but there were huge powdery mildew issues in many valleys as well as frost. So you had to be in the right location, especially on hillsides, with wind flow” to ward off both fungus and rot. “As long as you have that, your grapes are going to ripen eventually. This one we picked on November 3.”

2010 Rotie Cellars Southern Blend (91 points)

Comprising 75% Grenache, 15% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre – sourced from the Horse Heaven Hills and a nearby portion of the Columbia Gorge A.V.A., Rotie Cellars’ 2010 Southern Blend delightfully captures the mint and basil high-tones with fresh strawberry and red raspberry of its principle grape, as well as the bay laurel typical of Mourvedre, with smoky black tea added to the inner-mouth perfume that accompanies persistent berry juiciness. The Syrah here seems to principally supply some fine-grained tannin and peppy sense of acidity, both especially noticeable in a quite gripping as well as buoyant and persistently juicy, satisfying finish, to which hints of star anise, toasted pecan and black pepper add further complexity. This ought to merit following for at least half a dozen years.

-David Schildknecht