Columbia Winery 2007 Lapis red wine

Another WAwineman classic, 1st posted on November 17, 2009:

And I thought Seattle had more smarts…a 25-year old fool was found by police, impaled through his butt with a metal spike believing he was a ninja and attempting to jump a 5-foot fence apparently chasing after a 41-year old man whom he rejected entrance into a sports bar, despite not being an employee of the bar. This is why I have flat-forehead syndrome. A 71-year old “Geezer Bandit” has held up five San Diego banks since summer. Let me understand this…no youthful bank employee decided to chase after a denture-ridden raisin in these holdups. And you wonder why the banks are in the mess they’re in. A Bridgeton, NJ clerk mistakenly gave the wrong scratch ticket to a customer and tried to chase after him to correct the mistake but he disappeared, until he came back an hour later with a winning $100k ticket. Uhh, when’s the next flight to Bridgeton?

Columbia Winery…what more needs to be said about the grand poo-bah of Washington wineries? Been around since 1962 as Associated Vintners started up by a conglomerate of Univ. of Washington professors out in what was a distant hideaway from Seattle. After a series of buyouts, Ascentia Wine Estates now owns the winery and is making some impressive changes, most notably in the remodeling of the wine room and infrastructure of the chateau, but less obvious in the types of wines now being produced by current lead winemaker, Kerry Norton. A little history, previous winemaker, David Lake MW, lifted this winery to its current status as one of the Washington wineries that people across the nation are familiar with. David’s 1979 Millenium cabernet is still drinking well, despite the poor vintage freeze year. Worth around $19 back in 1987, it would currently fetch ten times that on the market today. This from an unknown winery in a nascent wine industry in Washington.

Today, I found out from a wonderful visit to their winery that the priorities are correct and their wine club members are treated like majority stockholders. I am guilty to admit I previously thought of Columbia Winery as a good, low-end “value” producer with a solid lineup of sub-premium wines that threw up a few stars now-and-then (eg. gewurztraminer). That belief still stands true, that they produce quality wines above what the retail price is. Now, add to that, I discovered they are a genuine “player” in the premium and uber-premium categories as well. However, the only path to discovering these gems is to be enrolled in their three-tiered wine clubs. Thankfully, there’s still openings in their top tier “Club 1962” where the emphasis is on low-production, wine-club only, big-budget (per bottle) “exciters” such as the lineup of the “Stone Cutter Series”, of which this wine is one of the headliners.

Kerry’s other passion is lapidary, or “lapis”, stone-cutting and has a few finished gems on display in the wine room. Personally, when I heard “lapis”, I immediately thought of AudioQuest’s buku-bucks audio cables so there is some connotation of luxury built-in to that name. Smart marketing.

Lapis is a southern Rhone blend of 77% syrah, 11.5% grenache, and 11.5% mourvedre. Now, I can understand why winemakers are so hard up for Chateauneuf -du-Pape wines. This wine is leaning more right-bank (lighter and fruitier), but make no mistake, this is a full-bodied wine hitting all corners of the palate.

Tonight’s main event paired this with good ol’ semi-homemade spaghetti and meatballs. Nothing nouveau or foodie-licious, just a down-home pot of red-sauced noodles. You don’t have to be Italian to appreciate that, especially in this economy. The wine paired masterfully with the food. Mister Lake would be especially proud of this effort. There’s just enough of a peppery note to match the savory Ragu sauce, yet provide ample red and dark fruits to uplift what otherwise would have been a good plate of spag. And, the tannins were skillfully hidden and displayed only when called upon.

Of note, a question as to why such an outstanding wine as this is not more widely available? Is the winery (or any winery) benefiting from limiting their truly best efforts to their “financial backbone” wine clubbers, via small lots? Or, is this really a true incentive to keep their hardiest supporters challenged and content? Whatever the reasons, all I can say is this “fox” of a wine would headline practically every winery’s tasting room in Woodinville, and I can only hope that more folks experience this as they pass through the trendy parties that go on in this juicy adolescent city.

Color: opulent purple. Nose: herb garden, violets, French vanilla. Mouthfeel: Beijing silk. Tail trail: 7 seconds. Flavors: low-toned blackberries, black cherry, black pepper, evolving to white pepper, raspberries, burnt ancient forest, schoolground asphalt.

Vineyards: 77% Red Willow, 23% Oasis. Aged 16 months in French and American oak. Yakima Valley AVA. Alcohol: 13.5%. TA 0.59%. pH 3.57. 190 cases. Harvested Sept., 2007. Bottled June, 2009. Released Sept., 2009. Rated: 94. Retail: $36. Value: $50. Paid: $24. This is WAwineman… uncorked, uneducated but not uncouth.

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