Friday, February 19, 2010

What's the HoseMaster Drinking?

Special Edition: L'Ecole No. 41

L'Ecole No. 41 Estate Luminesce Seven Hills Vineyard
L'Ecole No. 41 Estate Syrah Seven Hills Vineyard
L'Ecole No. 41 Estate Merlot Seven Hills Vineyard
L'Ecole No. 41 Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley
L'Ecole No. 41 Apogee Pepper Bridge Vineyard
L'Ecole No. 41 Estate Perigee Seven Hills Vineyard

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.

The HoseMaster Scores: L'Ecole No. 41

Luminesce 2008
Syrah 2007
854,654 Points
Merlot 2007
Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
Apogee 2006
Perigee 2006


You can order these beauties here.

Disclaimer: I'm 86% dead certain, 9% pretty sure, and 4% sober. Dammit! Just missed!


Thomas said...

But did you get the wine for free or did you have to bribe L'Ecole just for the run of the extended joke?

Your points system sucks. Everyone knows that wine can't be scored under a cool million--oh, wait; that's the new price point.

I get confused at mid day because I don't start drinking wine until 5 pm; then, everything becomes so clear to me.

Nice notes.

Samantha Dugan said...

I was reading along thinking, "damn that Syrah sounds sexy" then you go blaming me? Come now Baby, you know that was all you...okay, the picture might be a little me. Careful kid, I might be growing on ya...

Marcia Macomber said...

Wow! For “L’Ecole” we got math lessons (who knew those blends would always total 100%?), and science lessons (do they name a blend after the mid-point of a moon orbit distance?), and safety lessons (Pierce’s Disease). It’s so refreshing to read wine reviews in a blog that double as such great educational tools as well! ;-)

(All this and then Google Blogger pops up with a lisping word verification for comments: “thaster.” Kinda deflates the reading excitement, ya know?...)

Ron Washam said...


Of course I got the wine for free, I'm a Blogger, damn it! And I'm sure all of the other Washington wineries will soon be giving my UPS guy a nasty hernia.

Oh, MY point system sucks. The other ones are fine? Fine, I'm going to the Million Puff scale next.

My Gorgeous Samantha,

Ah, was but a lukewarm impression of the Mistress of Wine Writing. And, for the record, that's crabgrass growing on me.

I adore you!

Eric V. Orange said...

Oh dandy! Now you're doing WINE REVIEWS??
What's next, cheeseball interviews??

Waiter... check please...


Thomas said...


You are one in a million--that's the point...

To be serious for a minute--God, how mundane--I did like the way you handled the notes. But if you insist on not extending your metaphors you might find the supply of free wine dry up, and you'll never get a gig writing for back labels.

Samantha Dugan said...

The Cheeseball! I knew I had forgotten somebody, thanks Eric.


If you're gonna taste L'Ecole wines, don't you have to be addressed now as the Headmaster ?

After all, many wine bloggers are head cases.

Thanks for cluing us in about periapsis and other cosmological stuff...I guess that's why these wines have such astronomical scores.
Shouldn't a wine labeled "Apogee" have a higher score, though, than one labeled Perigee?


The Hosemaster eclipses loads of wine blogs and this explains why so many eno-bloggers are perturbed by these postings. Theirs are often black holes of wine knowledge, while the Hosemeteor is a star of far greater magnitude (and light years ahead of Vornographers).


Ron Washam, HMW said...


Hey, you never commented on the last MS Conspiracy! I was crushed. Really heartbroken. You know I love you, don't abandon me like that!

But welcome home.

Eric V. Orange said...

You know I'm just harsh'n ya Sans, cause you haven't interviewed Ron.

Now you've been scooped by the Chronicle and he is somebody.


Samantha Dugan said...


I know right? Here I was refusing to interview and some fancy pants paper nabs him.....wonder if he will remember me when?

Marcia Macomber said...

Never abandonment! I know, Ron… I didn’t comment on the last MS Conspiracy chapter ‘cuz …well… it seemed more like a chapterette. ...Didn't know what to say. It was mostly HMW, PI’s stream of consciousness (or maybe unconsciousness considering the central action in the scene was the phone ringing at the end).

What does Avril really have back at the morgue, and do we really wanna know? The zemblanity of it all makes me wish for new direction…. Whassup with Veronica???

You're on a roll though with the Judd's Hill episode and SFGate story! :-)

Thomas said...

SFC wrote about Ron? Where can I read it?

Did they say anything worthwhile about the master? Or about his hose?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,

You had your chance at the interview. But, well, for you I am always available. I'm just a pushover for you, Love. And the SF Chronicle may have written about me, but you are far more interesting and talented.

I adore you!

Marcia Love,

You are one tough literary critic. The MS Conspiracy is my exercise in improvisation with myself. I allow my febrile subconscious to take it whatever direction it feels like that day and I do not try to control it. So it comes out very scattershot and incoherent at times, certainly unfocused. I like it that way. Try to keep your expectations down, as well as your lunch, when reading it.

I have no idea what Avril wants to tell the HoseMaster. What makes you think he's going to see her?


I almost said No to Derrick Schneider when he asked to interview me for the Chronicle. Unlike the "monetizing" maniacs at Wine Blogger Conferences, I just do this for fun and realize there is only community to be had here, not much, if any, money, and even less fame. Not for what I do. And when it stops being fun the HoseMaster will go gently into that good night. Now there's something for everyone to look forward to.

Samantha Dugan said...

Well don't I feel like the teachers pet. Now let me see, how many innuendos can I toss in here:

1) Want me to fetch your bone?
2) Want to chace my tail?
3) Care to hear me purr as you stroke my underside?
4) I sometimes piddle when excited...wait that doesn't fit.
5)I sometimes bathe myself...with my tongue, wanna watch?

Okay I give everything else was a tad too "saucy" even for me.

Thomas said...

So Ron, you are stealing lines from famous dead writers...

Anyway, now that you've been interviewed in a major outlet, I'm going to monitor your every satire. As soon as I detect a sell out, I'll send you a gift. It will mean that you have joined the club of regular guys and can finally stake your claim as a bona fide wine blogger.

In fact, I haven't made a blog entry in weeks. Can't seem to muster the energy to come up with a subject that needs going over, as I think every damned thing that can be said about wine and the wine world has been said ad-nauseum et inperpetuity!

Thinking maybe to change my blog to fidofictions and just write about my dog, Oliver, who yesterday helped me paint the dining room with his head.

Charlie Olken said...

Nice interview with Derrick.

I met him at the Wine Writers Symposium, and as you now realize, he is an easy-going, down-to-earth guy. My guess is that he will be around writing about food and wine long after many other bloggers go quietly, or not so quietly, into that good night.

As for the one-million puffs scale, you are welcome to it. We are all going to need abacuses to follow you wine reviews.

Samantha Dugan said...

(sighing) Missing You....missing this. Thank you for leaving these up for those of us that feel a need to revisit and marinate in your particular brand of brilliance...