The courageous and talented people at L'Ecole No. 41 sent the HoseMaster six bottles of their Walla Walla Valley wines for review. Man, it's like I'm a real wine blogger now. My initial idea was to taste them Vornography style--taste all six in nine minutes and give them a number. If it's good enough for the American Wine Blog Award's Best Wine Blog winner, it's good enough for me. But I didn't really have that much time to devote to the wines. Or I thought I should taste them and then try to think of what music went best with them. That's what people searching the Internet for wine recommendations really want. Wines just plain taste better with the appropriate music; and it's just plain laziness and lack of caring that keeps major wine critics from matching wine and music. It's not that it's stupid, it's not, it's not! Really. What would be stupid is matching wine with magic tricks, that would be stupid. Sangiovese and Sawing a Woman in Half. What goes better with wine from Abruzzo than 3-Card Montepulciano? Oh, they want to know what song to listen to, and what kind of closure the bottles have. I'm pretty sure all the L'Ecole wines had corks because when I tried to unscrew the tops I kept turning the bottle upside down and nothing came out! So I'm guessing there are corks involved. If you buy a bottle and it doesn't have a cork, it's probably a fake. If it's in a plastic container, you're probably confused and you've purchased L'Ecole slaw.
I have a long history with L'Ecole. I often put their wines on my wine list in my glory days as a sommelier and buyer (now I'm just another washed up wine guy with a blog--at a dime a dozen we are vastly overpriced). From the beginning, their wines have been very good. And I am of the opinion that Walla Walla is one of the great winegrowing regions in the world for the Bordeaux varieties, and, to a lesser extent, Syrah as well. As the vineyards mature, and as the very capable winemakers get to know them more intimately, though, please, wear a condom or you'll find out exactly why they call it "Pierce's disease," the wines of Walla Walla Valley will surely begin to rival the best wines of Napa Valley and Bordeaux. They're close now, and at the prices for which many of them are being offered, they are bargains.
L'Ecole 2008 Luminesce is a blend of 70% Semillon and 30% Sauvignon Blanc, which adds up to a perfect 100%! How do they do that? The Luminesce was my least favorite wine of the six. It was too much of a good thing. I liked the aroma of honeysuckle and beeswax that called Semillon immediately to mind (I know, mind my own beeswax). But I think the texture of the wine was a bit cloying for my palate, too much Rachel Ray, not enough Dorothy Parker. According to the notes, 30% of the wine went through malolactic fermentation and perhaps that's what I tasted; but in any event, it is well-made, even above-average wine that I think many folks, fans of a rich and oily style of white wine, will love. $20
L'Ecole 2007 Estate Syrah has far more in common with big, chewy California Syrah than anything you're likely to find in the Rhone Valley. I love Syrah, and I really love great Syrah. Great Syrah has something wild and untamed about it, like a woman you meet in a bar late at night who just can't keep her hands off you, who doesn't care if you understand her she just wants to be consumed by you, sniffed and swirled and spit out at the end, like you're judging her in a competition but can't stop sampling her, can't stop using your tongue to consume her, you can feel the hair on the back of your ears starting to tingle, the balls of your feet start to itch, that feeling you get when you watch Glenn Beck, the slight sickness of the stomach, she's really making your meat compass point due north...and then she's gone and you want her again. Damn, I have to stop reading Samantha Sans Dosage.
The L'Ecole '07 Syrah kept improving in my glass. At first it was a bit too much for me, a bit too rich and fat. But it sported Syrah's signature bacon and smoke aromas layered among dark red fruit, so I hung with it. By the end of the evening it had won me over. Had I only tasted it when it had just been opened, I would have dismissed it as the proverbial pig in lipstick--my high school prom date. But sitting with this wine over the course of a meal and the evening beyond, I was won over. It kept gaining richness and complexity, and it had admirable length the entire evening. This is not the wine for fans of the white pepper, cool climate Syrah, but it succeeds gracefully on its own level and promises to be fabulous in another six or seven years. $37
The L'Ecole 2007 Estate Merlot contains 81% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Cabernet Franc, once again hitting the amazing 100% mark! It's uncanny how they do this! But, really, why is it we need a damned math degree to understand wine? Anyway, now that my head has stopped spinning, I can still remember the fuss with which L'Ecole's Merlot was greeted when it first appeared on the scene. For a time there, back in the late 1980's, it was highly sought after, allocated Merlot. Of course, that was when Merlot was the cool wine to drink, the darling of restaurants and wine shops. Now it's the Meg Ryan of varieties. Used to be hot, now no one cares. But judging from this wine, L'Ecole still cares, and they still make wonderful Merlot. This wine gives me just what I want from Merlot. It's seamless and satisfying, with an array of black fruit flavors with just a bit of green olives and earth on the finish. Badmouth Merlot like it's your creepy aunt who smells like a urinal cake, go ahead, but in this case you'll be missing out on a delicious bottle of wine. $37
The L'Ecole 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon! OK, that seems like cheating. This is nice wine, but I actually liked the Merlot better. But, like all of the six L'Ecole wines I tasted, it hits the varietal nail on the head. So you get Cabernet Sauvignon's deep, dark, rich, black fruit with cassis and tobacco notes that stand up to the firm tannins. It was a bit understuffed, I thought, kind of clunky, like watching a white guy dance. And where the other reds all struck me as examples of how great Washington wine can be, the Cabernet is good, but not up to that level. So, to sum up, damn nice wine, but in this stellar lineup, it's the figure skater from Costa Rica. $40
The 2006 L'Ecole Apogee is 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot, 8% Malbec and 4% Cabernet Franc. Come on, you can add faster than that. Bingo! Damn, those folks at L'Ecole make it look easy. "Apogee" is the point in the orbit of the moon that is the greatest distance from the earth. That's what the tech sheet says. I was sure it was "Eatin' good in the neighborhood." Here's a wine that represents what I was talking about earlier, the astounding quality of the wines from Walla Walla Valley. This gorgeous wine has everything going for it--balance, integrity, intensity, mouthfeel, length. I don't' know why you wouldn't want to drink this wine. There's something about a great wine that taps you on the shoulder the minute you taste it and says, "Is this seat taken?" What the hell does that mean? I don't know, ask the Apogee. I just hear voices when I drink really interesting and wonderful wines, but that's because I'm off my meds. The '06 Apogee is dark and spicy, beautifully integrated and very supple. Yeah, I know few of us are drinking wines in this price range, but Apogee is one of the few wines I've had lately worth its price tag. $50
The L'Ecole 2006 Estate Perigee is 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc. That's 100%, folks. Can that just be coincidence? Amazing. Perigee is the closest point to the earth in the moon's orbit. Not that thing that's winking at you when someone moons you. It is also damned fine wine. What Our Moon has to do with wine, I don't know. Well, actually, it implies the sustainable vineyard practices at Seven Hills Vineyard which may include planting and harvesting by the appropriate phases of the moon. Like avoiding harvest during a full moon so as not to step on the grunion. Old timey wisdom like that. Well, it sure worked here. I loved this Perigee. Again, it would be hard to find a lot of Napa Valley Cabernets this good at this price point. But they're not making wines in Walla Walla to compare them to Napa Valley. That would be futile and foolish. They simply found a magnificent site for Bordeaux varieties and set out to see how those varieties expressed themselves along the Columbia River. And in the Perigee we taste proof of the pedigree and brilliance of Walla Walla Valley. Bold but balanced, rich and fabulously graceful, it overflows with cassis and dark berries tinged with a bit of classic Cabernet tobacco. And the finish goes on and on like this post. Dazzling and elegant. $50
I must say that it was a pleasure to drink each of the L'Ecole No. 41 wines. In all of the rush to discover the new in wine, it is a good thing to stop and spend some time with the classics.
After 19 years as a Sommelier in Los Angeles, twice named Sommelier of the Year by the Southern California Restaurant Writers' Association, I moved to Sonoma County to explore the other aspects of the wine business. I've spent, OK wasted, 35 years learning about and teaching about and swallowing wine. I am also a judge at the Sonoma Harvest Fair, San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and the San Francisco International Wine Competition--so I can spit like a rabid llama. I know more about wine than David Sedaris and I'm funnier than James Laube. Stay tuned for an informed but jaded view of everything wine and everything else.
I'm living proof that alcohol kills brain cells.
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