Archive for the ‘Washington State’Category

Mullan Road shows the grandeur of Walla Walla red

Dennis Cakebread having Mullan Road poured at Strip by Strega in Boston
Given that his family name is practically synonymous with Napa, it was a pretty good bet that when Dennis Cakebread started making wine near Walla Walla, Washington, he was going to call it something else. So he named his new winemaking venture for the historic wagon road across the Rockies from present-day Montana to present-day Walla Walla that was surveyed in 1854 and built 1859-60. We suspect that what appealed to Cakebread was that Lt. John Mullan was a pathfinder and a visionary. More than 150 years later, portions of I-15 and I-90 follow the same path that Mullan took over the Rockies. Cakebread is looking to pioneer a Washington red worth laying down in your cellar. His first Mullan Road Cellars red (2012) was released last fall.

As Cakebread looked into the Columbia River Valley for a possible expansion project, he was both impressed with the unusual soils and with the camaraderie of Walla Walla winemakers. Not that Cakebread has completely made up his mind exactly which terroir Mullan Road will attach itself to. “When you think you might move to a new city, you don’t just go out and buy a house,” he says. “You rent a while and see how you like the neighborhood.”

Mullan Road 2012Mullan Road Cellars purchases most of its grapes from other growers, most notably Seven Hills Vineyard on the south end of the Walla Walla Valley appellation and a number of vineyards in the area close to the Oregon border soon to be recognized as Royal Slope. Other parcels it leases on a three-year recurring lease program. Compared to many winemaking regions, eastern Washington is very dispersed, with miles of rough road between vineyards. “One thing you really need to make wine in Washington,” says Cakebread, “is a good truck.”

Leasing parcels also lets Mullan Road experiment. One year Mullan Road contained a small percentage of Malbec, but it wasn’t up to Cakebread’s standards or those of Washington native winemaker Aryn Morell. The next blend used cabernet franc to balance the merlot and cabernet sauvignon.

At this point, Mullan Road Cellars makes just one wine known as a Columbia Valley Red. It’s a Bordeaux blend carefully balanced to cellar well yet also drink fairly well while young. Cakebread calls it “balanced and robust,” and we have to agree. We enjoyed a bottle of the 2012 at Strip by Strega in Boston at a working lunch over a grilled pork dish and a steak. The wine held up well with both, showing a little cassis and dark berry fruits on the nose, supple tannins to grip the meat, and finished with a satisfying Bordeaux-style bittersweet note. We can barely wait for the 2013, due to hit the shelves in October.

Click here for more about Mullan Road Cellars.

06

07 2015

A fine homegrown single malt whiskey

Westland American Single Malt whiskey As a lover of good whiskey — whatever its Gaelic or hillbilly pedigree — I was pleasantly surprised to find a whole new category that’s just become available in the Northeast. Based on a tasting of Westland Distillery’s American Single Malt, the folks behind this Seattle distillery are visionaries. The Pacific Northwest has been, arguably, the source of some of the most exciting craft beer making in the last 15 years. Part of that is due to the great barley-growing areas of Washington State and Idaho, and the localized skill in creating specialty malts.

To my taste buds, though, it’s a big jump from craft beer to a sipping whiskey, and I’m pleased with the fruity, not-too-sweet Westland house style. I’m typically a bourbon drinker, and this single malt barley whiskey is frankly less assertive and less sweet than high-end corn-bred bourbons. But it’s a very civilized sip that picks up a lot of subtlety from the complex grain bill (Washington select pale malt, Munich malt, “extra-special” malt, pale chocolate malt, and brown malt). The mouth heat I’d normally associate with 92 proof is tamed by aggressive aging in new American oak for at least 24 months (with some mellowing in sherry casks and port pipes). The flavor starts as an assertive graham cracker sweetness, quickly mellows to caramel crystal (like crème brûlée), and gives an aftertaste full of white chocolate and toasted spice.

This is Westland’s first release in New England, and will be followed soon by a peated single malt with strong smoky phenolics. I’ll be happy to see how both styles fare with a little more time in the barrel before bottling, but to borrow from the film Casablanca, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Next time I’m in Seattle, I definitely plan to visit the distillery for a $10 tasting and tour (offered Wed.-Sat. at 11 a.m,, and 2, 4, and 6 p.m). The distillery is at 2931 First Avenue South, Suite B, Seattle (206-767-7250, westlanddistillery.com). Suggested retail for Westland American Single Malt is $79.

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09 2014