Hello friends. Of Washington’s twelve AVAs, there are three I consider emerging: Snipes Mountain, Columbia Gorge, and Lake Chelan. Each of the three has a flagship winery, exploring the capabilities of the neighboring terroir and attracting other wineries to set up shop through the quality displayed. On Snipes Mountain, it’s Upland Estate. In the Columbia Gorge, it’s Syncline. And in Chelan, it’s Nefarious Cellars:
2009 Nefarious Cellars Syrah Defiance Vineyard
Nefarious Cellars is my first stop on any visit to Chelan. They are beautifully situated, with a tasting deck that looks right out onto the lake. But more importantly, their wines are outstanding. Heather Neff makes the white wines. Dean Neff makes the reds. And Lucy (the golden retriever) does the greeting. And the barrel-bung chasing.
Heather and Dean have two estate vineyards. One of these vineyards sits at the mouth of the Methow Valley (see location here), north of Chelan and currently part of the greater Columbia Valley AVA. This site, about as far north as you get in Washington vineyards, contains the Rocky Mother Syrah block and the Stones Throw Riesling block.
Defiance Vineyard, planted in 2005, is onsite at the winery (see location here), on the southwest shore of Lake Chelan. The block closest to the lake is planted to Viognier, and the slope as you move away from the lake is planted to Syrah. We offered the Viognier back in April, and today it’s time to jump into the Syrah (cofermented with 5% of that Viognier, actually, so we’re really getting a taste of the entire vineyard here).
Washington Wine Report (Sean Sullivan): “($28); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Rating: ****/***** (Excellent/Exceptional).” [Note: Sean Sullivan has shifted his ratings to a simple, 5-star system for 2012]
Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($28); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Cellar Selection. 92pts.”
That review will appear in the February issue of Wine Enthusiast, and friends, I actually think PaulG scored this a few points low. For me, this was a stunning wine, one of the first “wow” wines I have tasted in 2012. It dramatically exceeded my expectations and represents incredible value at this price point. Perhaps it’s because I’m tasting a few months later than PaulG, but when I popped and poured, this was not reticent in the least.
What a treat, as these vines age, to begin to experience Chelan lakeshore terroir. With just 30% new French oak, the fruit is allowed to shine here, and shine it does. Stylistically, this is reminiscent of the Gramercy/Waters/Rotie camp. Soaring floral aromatics (candied violet) float over a core of blue fruit. High toned, with wonderful energy, citrusy complexities, and strong inner-mouth perfume contributing to a seamless mouthfeel. It’s a benchmark wine for the Chelan AVA: the finest wine I have experienced from grapes grown in this burgeoning region. Don’t miss this one.
2009 Nefarious Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Riverbend Vineyard
Most of the fruit Mike Wade grows at Riverbend Vineyard (location here) on the Wahluke Slope goes into his own Fielding Hills wines. But he does sell a little fruit to select vintners, and Dean Neff is one of those (only enough to make about 200 cases of this). It’s always a fun intellectual exercise to see what different winemakers can do with similar fruit, so those of you who have enjoyed Fielding Hills Cabernets in the past should pay close attention here.
This gets the luxury treatment: all new French oak for 18 months, adding a sultry smokiness to the aromatics of crème de cassis, beetroot, and cherry preserves. This smells riper than it tastes, and the palate surprises with a strong graphite core, surrounded by blackcurrant and bark. The finishing lick is one of chewy green-tea tannins.
This review too will appear in the February Enthusiast:
Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($30); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. Editor’s Choice. 93pts.”