Yakima River 2004 cabernet sauvignon

Another WAwineman classic, 1st posted on July 28, 2010:

Damn Orygun, they keep lowering the standard… Oregon State Police have issued a missing cat alert after the feline crawled between the brake and accelerator of its owner’s moving SUV, causing the vehicle to roll and hit a tree, then ran away into a nearby forest. A Florida great-granny got her purse stolen at a gas station but bit the assailant then hung on to the getaway car until police caught up with the thieves. Think I’ll invest in some Polident next time I fill ‘er up. And, we made it to 100 days. One hon-nurd days of that lame oil spill out there in the Gulf of south Los Angeles. Think I’ll fire up the old 8-cylinder Ford Bronco to celebrate.

Well, this was an accidental milestone achieved by yours meekly. While a more focused loser could have done this in about 3 months (on the wineman’s clock), this took me exactly 2 and ½ years to accomplish. What is it? It’s the world’s first buy-‘bibe-and blog dude’s completion of the Washington Wines Alpha List. Yakima River, (Y), is the final letter to complete the alphabet, A to Z. From Abeja to Zero One Vintners, this bucko has completed the Washington Winery Alphabet. The more difficult letters were: I (Isenhower Cellars), Q (Quilceda Creek), U (Upland Estates), and X (XSV). If I was a betting man (and I yam), I would have put my money on the letter U since: (1) there’s only one winery occupying that space, and (2) up until this year, Upland Estates was only available in eastern WA. A special thanks goes out to Todd Newhouse, the father of the Snipes Mountain AVA, for giving his bottles to distributors so that Albertson’s supermarkets could fulfill my request.

Yakima River Winery is the oldest winery you have not ever heard about. The label was bonded in 1977, and is currently the fourth oldest WA winery in eastern WA, after National Wine Company aka Nawico aka Stimson Lane Vineyards and Estates (Chateau Ste. Michelle) est. 1934, Hinzerling Winery of Prosser (est. 1976), and Leonetti Cellar (est. 1977). YRW’s first wines debuted in 1978.

John and Louise Rauner have run the operation since its inception. John is “self-taught,” although he did take classes at Columbia Basin College and UC-Davis. Of controversy, John spent six years under the tutelage of Germany’s Helmut Becker, known by some as the “Father of the Washington Wine Industry.” John’s production of several thousand cases belies the technology used at the winery. An efficient layout, along with controlled fermentation tanks, computerized crusher and filtration equipment, keeps the fixed costs at a minimum so that his wines can reach more consumers.

John uses strictly Yakima Valley grapes under total management contracts. The vineyards are all above 1000 feet elevation and spread between Benton City and Grandview. He focuses on small berry development to provide the concentrated fruit characteristics his wines are known for. The winery’s only “estate” vineyard is a small experimental plot of petit verdot.

Along with strict fruit management, John also adheres to a rigid cooperage program, introducing 50-70% new barrels and the remainder being 2 year-old barrels. His wines typically see 3 years in barrel and 1 year in bottle. He uses Redoux as his French and Hungarian cooper along with Vogues, while preferring Minnesota and Wisconsin oak for the “coconut richness and brown spices.” He believes these specific oaks complement his wines to enhance the fruit by lengthening its flavors and contributing to its firm structure. His best customers have assisted with comments from their annual July 4th tasting at the winery. All the barrels are built from staves air-dried for 3 years and receive a medium toast.

Yakima River Winery’s current lineup offers a dolcetto rose, two ports, shiraz, malbec, cab-mer, petit verdot, and the flagship merlot. Yeah…shiraz, not syrah.

Sadly, Yakima River Winery’s wines have been disappearing from store shelves not due to demand, but from a lack of demand. Fred Meyer recently closed-out YRW’s merlots for a bargain-basement price of under $15 and this cabernet is the next to go. Why? Why are savvy wine consumers not supporting this winery? No vibe? Not paying-to-play? Too old? A good wine is a good wine, regardless of the name or the celebrity-factor, and why no one else is writing about the wines from this elder member of the WA winery community is a sobering reminder of how far we have yet to explore Washington’s wine history.

Tonight’s food pairing was a dandy from Pasta Nova in Woodinville. My dish was filled with Tim Blue’s (Adams Bench Winery) chicken cacciatore along with a red-sauced pasta, prefaced with the standard-but-done-oh-so-well salad and breadsticks. As expected, this 2004 cabernet was very tame but loaded with fruit and a touch of oak. A good pairing but the food probably would have been better served with Adams Bench ‘Ursula’ sangiovese.

Deeply extracted black purple colors (from spending 14 days on the lees) lead the senses to whiffs of mellow oak and black fruit aromas. Full-bodied with grippy flavors of nuanced oak, blackberries, black cherry, black plum, plush tannins, cloves and a hint of brown herbs. John states the terroir creates flavors of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. Tasted at 55-69 degrees on the IR temp gun over 2 and ½ hours.

Alcohol: 12.5% (amazing!). At harvest: 25.0 Brix, pH 3.4, TA 0.76. Aged 3 years in 50% French, 50% USA. At bottling: TA 0.70. Bottled June, 2007. RS 0%. First two digits of UPC code is 08 (USA/Canada). Strange dark residue in bottle. WWQA wine. Rated: 90. Value: $19. Paid: $16. Music pairing: “Love Is Strange” by Mickey and Sylvia. This is WAwineman…uncorked, uneducated but not uncouth.

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