Friday, June 5, 2009

Basel Cellars


Do the words "Wine Country Resort" make you salivate to visit yet cringe at the thought of either buying luxury wines that offer standard quality or, worse, clearly substandard wines that sell only because of the location. Banish that thought. This is a winery, first and foremost, and a producer of relatively value-oriented but high quality wine. The somewhat lackluster mention of value comes with the reminder that we are discussing the Northwest in general, and Walla Walla in particular. Forget about screaming deals like $8 Grenache, but I find that Basel Cellars offers excellent bang for the buck compared to many of their neighbors.
Their estate vineyards were planted in 1997 and production began with the harvest of 2002. Although I have not visited, the grounds look fantastic and guestrooms are available. One of my biggest regrets from my all too brief stay in Portland was that I never made it to Walla Walla. Although I find too much extraction, expense, and oak, for my palate, all too often from that part of the world, there are some gems available.
All things point to this winery being a vanity project. A huge estate with guest rooms designed to host large events coupled with the face of the winery sharing the name of the estate and having no other history in the wine business, yet crafting the wines. Justin Basel grew up around the vines on the estate, appears to have no other experience, other than "education" on his bio, but clearly has a good hand in the cellar.
Notes are from a tasting in early March in Portland, Oregon.
Forget-Me-Not 2007 - Made from 75% Sauvignon Blanc with the balance being Semillon; the wine spends one month in new French oak before returning to stainless steel. Partial Malolactic fermentation follows; the difference between this and their Sauvignon Blanc (same blend) may be sourcing, but the Sauvignon Blanc sees no new oak. I found decent weight, with lots of Sauvignon Blanc character on the back end. The wine is very dry on the finish and proved to be tasty but not riveting. I prefer their Sauvignon Blanc, but would be happy to drink this if you bring a bottle. Even the short time in new oak makes a difference in pairing; this would be delightful with shrimp, or some baked Dover Sole stuffed with crabmeat, or paneed pork chop with lemon and capers. $18
Claret 2006 - It is a rare occurrence indeed when a winery's flagship wine offers consistent quality, enough production that you can find it (and get what you want), and a very reasonable price for the quality. I loved the 2004 vintage, thought the 2005 was perhaps a bit light for the tannin level, but had confidence that it would come around with patience. The 2006, however, blew me away. The wine is round and juicy with a remarkable feel, and taste, reminiscent of Pauillac for twice the price. There is spicy tannin and deep structured fruit but the wine is not overdone. It is made, mostly, from press juice, not free run, with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Syrah and spent 18 months in American and French oak. I found it fantastic and want more, I'm down to my last bottle. If you can get hold of this buy at least one bottle immediately. Okay to drink now, but it will last for three more years. The perfect match may be lamb, but I see this with some sopressata and manchego before dinner or with hamburgers topped with swiss and bacon (grilled Portobellos for you non-meat types). $20
Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 - This is 100% Cabernet from the estate Pheasant Run Vineyard. Aging is in 100% new oak, 68% of which is French the rest is American. The new oak gives this a deep, lush aroma and feel but does not dominate the fruit. In fact, I would never have guessed it to be 100% new oak. I assume this to be all free run juice which would help explain the balance. Deep plum notes, nearly currant level of intensity, with tannin on the tongue. To me, tannin on the tongue is fruit tannin which will integrate wonderfully with some time in bottle, while the more intense tannin on the sides of the mouth, especially near the molars, is wood tannin which is harder to integrate and rougher. Though the tannin in this Cabernet is noticeable, it is not rough anywhere in the mouth and, while I like the Claret more right now, this will be a gem in another year or two and should last for four to six years. I envision this as a great match to red meat with port and mushroom sauce. $36
Syrah 2005 - Some quick stats, 100% French oak, 18% new, 100% Syrah from Pheasant Run (74%) and Lewis Vineyard (24%). Deep, dark fruit on the nose with a hint of smokiness leads to a mid-palate that seemed a bit flat, but the finish intensified dramatically with spicy tannin. There was no real pepper to note, just a hint of black on the finish mingling with other spice. This is not a sipping wine, but it will perform wonderfully with all manner of grilled meats. I can see this being a great match with strip steak, sausages (not spicy though, could be too much on the finish), and ribs, ribs, ribs! $28
Basel Cellars is growing and may be coming soon to a city near you. Yay!

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