Sunday, November 22, 2009

Seven Hills Winery

The state of Washington's been pretty good to me lately. Not long after putting together my reviews for Maryhill Winery, I got a request from Emily Gordon at J.A.M. Public Relations, who was good enough to offer me the opportunity to sample the new vintages from Seven Hills Winery, one of the older wineries in the Walla Walla vinicultural area in Washington State. Now, by "older," I mean 1988 -- but still...

Seven Hills native operation focuses largely on the major Bordeaux varietals -- Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot especially -- but they've also included some other interesting blends and varietals. Winemakers Casey and Vicky McClellan also source grapes from select areas all over the region, including the Columbia Valley in Washington and some areas of Oregon. They've also experimented with some other single varietals such as Malbec and Tempranillo. (The former of which I had the opportunity to sample, the latter, sadly, I did not...)

Emily and her co-conspirator Michelle Armour sent me seven bottles to sample. So, without further adieu:

Seven Hills 2007 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Wine -- The Sweet Partner in Crime and I had had a long, tiring week. We wanted to kick back and relax on a Friday evening, so that morning we put a beef stew in the slow cooker and cracked this bad boy when it was time for dinner. This is Seven Hills' true "Bordeaux blend" -- a little over 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with the rest Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Big French-style red and beef stew is a reliable pairing, so we figured this was right in the wheelhouse and we were right. The wine itself is a wonderfully balanced concoction. Once it opens and the alcohol burns off a bit, you're met with a forward nose of plums and vanilla. It's certainly a big wine, but wonderfully balanced. The tannins are firm, but even holding it in our mouths, it wasn't a "puckerer." Plenty of good, balanced fruit that slides straight into a finish that easily lasts over a minute of vanilla and dark chocolate. With the stew, it was an excellent pairing, although the finish started a bit sharp. ($32)

Seven Hills 2006 Malbec -- One of the wine terms that I've had the hardest time deciphering is "masculine" vs. "feminine" styled wines. I've seen this term pop up more and more in the literature, and I've not really understood the context. I've assumed that masculine wines are more fruit-forward, more powerful; while feminine wines would be delicate. I get that, but within a varietal? Malbec that I've tried has certainly been masculine -- big, tannic, strong. This Malbec, at least to me, shows a wonderful contrast, and I'll officially call this a "feminine Malbec." The nose, after a couple of hours to open, is very delicate and almost candylike. Plenty of full fruit on the tongue, but balanced well so that it never becomes overwhelming. The finish is a wash of fruit and a bit of sour cherry. I opened this one night when I had the grill to myself. With a steak...what can I say? This lady likes her steak medium-rare. And I concur. ($32)

Seven Hills 2008 Pinot Gris -- So, perhaps they can produce good pinot gris in the Pacific Northwest after all. The trick is to look in Oregon, where these particular grapes are sourced. Many domestic pinot gris end up light and watery or simply acidic, which works well if you've got food or if you're slugging on a hot day. I guess it just takes some care in the production phase to bring more out of this grape. The winemaking process is interesting -- 90% of the wine is fermented in stainless steel, with 10% in oak, giving this wine a little more body. It's a lovely smelling wine with a pronounced flowery nose. There's good balance in the flavor here -- it's citrusy, of course, but there's a nice creaminess to it. The finish is crisp and acidic, but not overly so. It's an elegant aperitif and would be nice with light dishes as well. ($16)

Seven Hills 2008 Riesling -- Washington's long been known for Riesling production, and Seven Hills is no exception. Made from grapes grown across the Columbia Valley, this is a Riesling of solid structure and taste. When first opened, the finish on this wine had a bit of a peppery bite, almost like a gewürztraminer. However, after a little air, the wine smoothed out nicely. The nose is very light and green apple-y. The taste starts like a classic Pacific Northwest Riesling, with honey covered apples, but there's a minerality to this wine that's lacking in many other slightly less expensive, Washington wines. The finish is the big difference. The finish is almost delicate, with a nice balance between sweetness and acidity. An extremely pleasant wine. We had this with scallops & salmon in a light cream sauce over roasted sweet potatoes. The wine performed well, and the fruit stood out, counterpointing the other flavors well. A little more expensive than many of the Rieslings I've seen from there -- but worth the extra couple of bucks. ($14)

Seven Hills 2007 Walla Walla Valley Merlot -- I was really looking forward to trying this wine, since some of my favorite Merlots are from the Pacific Northwest. If you try this wine, you'll understand why. The nose is, as the SPinC described it, "white and milk chocolate swirl-covered bacon...with a hint of blueberries." (Come on...just work with me, here.) The taste is extremely smooth, medium bodied, with some complex tarry fruit. The finish is smoky (more bacon!) with nicely smoothed out tannins, especially for a three year old wine. The pairing we had this with was absolutely exceptional. Braised pork loin chops and wild rice topped with an onion, mushroom & rosemary sauce. Interestingly, this was the "grown up" version of the SPinC's favorite meal when she was a kid. The combination of the earth, herb, wine & spice was heaven. And what doesn't go better with bacon? ($28)

Seven Hills 2006 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon -- One of the last adjectives I'd expect to use on an American cabernet sauvignon is "delicate," and yet -- here we are. I tried this wine and imagined a winemaker in Bordeaux visiting his cousin in Burgundy and thinking, "Hmm...let me try to make something like that..." It's about 80% cabernet with the rest a blend of merlot and petit verdot. What we found here was a lovely vanilla and violet scented wine that's about as light-bodied a Cab as you'll find Stateside. Again, a very "feminine" wine. The body's light but firm, with fruit that leans more towards cherry than the darker fruits. I clocked the finish on this wine as well over two lingering minutes of fruit and very mild tannin. Really, really nice to put it simply. Dinner with this was a braised beef chuck with porcini mashed potatoes. (We ended up calling an audible on the sauce after I accidentally scorched the onions I was trying to caramelize...) While feminine, there was enough backbone to stand up to such an earthy pairing. Just an excellent all-around wine. ($25)

Seven Hills 2006 Klipsun Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon -- After the Columbia Valley, I was interested to try their single-vineyard Cabernet, which is a 100% cabernet. The nose is vanilla and an interesting fruit about halfway between raspberry & blackberry. It had full fruit without being fruit forward, if that makes any sense -- firm plummy flavors and leather with an undertone of smoke and tannin. I thought the finish was fascinating. Like a wave of balanced tannin that starts with a little burst of tartness, then gradually builds a bit of dry. I could taste the tannin all the way across my tongue and down my throat, seemed like. The finish was long and luxurious. It's a wonderful wine for sitting, enjoying, and contemplating the complexities. If you like to explore the depths of cabernet on its own, especially if you want to compare it to a California cab to see the marked contrast, it's an interesting experiment. (With food, however, it didn't hold up quite as well. Both a grilled filet with mushrooms and a side of green beans and carrots made it taste a little thin, and our usual dark chocolate test ended up just OK.) According to the tasting notes, this wine could cellar for 10-15 years "beautifully." I'd like to have the patience to wait that long. ($32)

Seven Hills wines are also available across the country, so they're at least obtainable wherever you might be. I thought these wines were excellent values if you're looking for "good bottles" for just about any occasion -- especially the reds.

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