All the Avennia Syrah had going for it was it was the best wine on the table.
Peterson, formerly co-winemaker at DeLille, was lucky to get the grapes for his inaugural vintage from one of Yakima Valley's best growers, Dick Boushey. "I like Chris. He's very serious, and he's very low-key," Boushey says.
That's true. I was one of the presenters, I sat next to Peterson, and he said the least of anyone on stage.
Me, I talked about ratings and value. 2000 Leoville Las Cases got 100 points from Spectator, 98 points from Parker, costs $350 online, and it was a simple dark fruit wine with a short finish. I'm not sure I could pick it out of a lineup of $15 Bordeaux Superieur. One woman in the audience pointed out that the wine was tight and might be delicious in 20 years. OK, but is that what one expects from a 100-point wine: hopes and excuses? I asked for a show of hands from people who thought it was worthy of 100 points: zero.
|Why is this bottle empty? Because it was great|
Sorry, I digress, like I did on stage. Back to the great Avennia Syrah, the find of the day.
Avennia "Arnaut" Bouchey Vineyard Yakima Valley Syrah ($45) has strong spiciness in the aroma, thick yet smooth tannins, a graceful mouthfeel, pretty floral notes and plenty of red plum fruit. It was strange at first to see Peterson on the panel with three of the longtime superstars of Washington wine -- Bob Betz, Alex Golitzin of Quilceda Creek, Rick Small of Woodward Canyon. But the wine belonged.
Peterson left DeLille in 2011 after 8 years to found Avennia. He sources his grapes from the cooler parts of Yakima Valley because, he says, "I'm trying to de-emphasize fruit and emphasize mineral flavors. I want to show what Washington has in the Earth."
His flagship wine, "Sestina," ($50) is a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant Bordeaux blend with great length and freshness, bright fruit and the characteristic fresh herbs of Cabernet that most winemakers in Napa Valley spend thousands of dollars to avoid. I liked the 2010 a lot, much more than the same vintage of his 2nd wine "Gravura" ($35), a Bordeaux blend that had good freshness and well-managed tannins but was a little too herbal for me. Both wines are 14.5% alcohol.
I said to Peterson, "You're not afraid of herbaceousness." He said, "No. The Red Willow (region fruit) brings that out. After eight years at DeLille with Red Mountain (fruit) and 100% new oak, I was ready for some subtlety."
My favorite of DeLille's wines is the Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon blend called "Chaleur Estate blanc," which does give plenty of French oak flavor, but nicely balances intensity and refinement. Peterson is buying some of the same Sauvignon Blanc and making it without the Semillon for Avennia, and I miss the Semillon: it's almost too intense, with strong green fruit and none of the moderating richness of mouthfeel Semillon brings. It's interesting: with his red wines, it's as if he frees their character from restraint, and they are fully realized at last, but with the white, I want the restraints clamped back on. Peterson says the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc ($25, 12.5% alcohol) might just need more time to blossom.
"I love the potential of Sauvignon Blanc in Washington," he says. "But we're going to have to train people that Sauvignon Blanc can be serious."
Avennia, which made 2250 cases of wine in 2012, has no distribution currently and is sold only by mailing list. That sounded like a bad situation to me, until Peterson told me they have 1400 people on the mailing list, all of it from word of mouth, as they have no tasting room. I'm sorry to say that the Syrah that blew away the 100-point wines is already sold out, but the Sestina is well worth trying, and the 2011 vintage of Syrah is due in the next few months. After his impressive first vintage, I can't wait to taste what he does next. You can have the 100-point wines; I'll take the wines that taste better.