Friday, February 19, 2010

In the Glass: The Wines of Abeja, Washington State

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Abeja Wine Maker John Abbott

John Abbott, winemaker at and co-owner of Washington State’s Abeja winery presented his wines in the greater Washington DC area this week, including at Out-of-Site Wines in Vienna, Virginia.

About half a century ago, there was basically no wine industry in Washington State. And if wine was made, it was not with the noble European vinifera grapes. But the American wine boom that had its origin in California moved to the north, first to Oregon and then it also reached Washington State.

In 1980, four years after Californian wines had out shined the French wines at the famous tasting in Paris, there were about 20 wineries in Washington State that were producing high-quality wines with European vinifera grapes. Today, there are more that 650 wineries. More than half of the wine produced in Washington comes from wineries owned by Chateau Ste. Michelle.

One of the wines is Eroica, which is made in collaboration with Dr. Ernst Loosen, the eminent Riesling producer from the Mosel region of Germany. Eroica was launched in 1999. Named for Beethoven’s Third Symphony, Eroica is supposed to reflect not only its variety and site, but also its heritage: bold and forward from its Washington roots, elegant and refined from German inspiration. They make three kinds of the Eroica, the regular, dry Eroica, an ice wine and a Single Berry Selection. The latter is made in the traditional German Trockenbeerenauslese style, for which the Mosel valley is so famous. See here.

Another of the Chateau Ste. Michelle wines is the Columbia Crest 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, which the Wine Spectator magazine, one of the most influential wine publications in the world, has named as the No. 1 Wine in the World for 2009. See here.

Picture: Washington State's Wine Regions

The remainder - about 40 percent - of Washington State wine is produced by the other 600 wineries, which are mostly small artisanal family enterprises typically producing 2000-3000 cases, in some cases up to 20,000 cases or more.

The Seattle Wine Blog has just released its fourth unofficial ranking of the top Washington State Wineries, following the example of the Bordeaux Classification of 1855 with 5 groupings. In the top grouping - First Growth – you find three wineries (Cayuse, Leonetti, Quilceda Creek); in the second grouping – Second Growth - there are 8 wineries (Andrew Will, Betz, Cadence, DeLille, Januik, Long Shadow, Pepper Bridge); in the third grouping – Third Growth – you find Abeja with about twenty other wineries. The Fourth and Fifth Growth groupings contain another 70 wineries. See here.

Abeja is located in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, four miles east of the City of Walla Walla. The focus of Abeja is Cabernet Sauvignon, which accounts for 70 percent, but Abeja produces also small amounts of Merlot, Chardonnay and estate grown Viognier and Syrah. John said that at this point Abeja is not considering to produce Riesling wines, although there is a Riesling boom in Washington State at the moment. Production is quite small at 4,000 cases currently

It all began 35 years ago, when Ken and Ginger Harrison from Portland, Oregon, decided to embark upon a new adventure. John Abott and his companion in life and work Molly Galt joined the Harrisons in 2002. John began his career in the Napa Valley, when, as a new college graduate, he went to work first for Pine Ridge and later for Acacia Winery. In 1994, he and Molly moved to Walla Walla to begin Canoe Ridge Vineyard.

Picture: Abeja's Wine Maker John Abbott and Out-of-Sight on-site owner Steve.

In general, if California’s wines are rich and powerful, Washington State’s wines are more crisp and delicate, reflecting its location much more up in the North. The Abeja wines reminded me a lot of the wines I know from Germany and France. The wines were light and elegant, not big, dense and concentrated as those from warmer regions.

Here are my tasting notes:

2008 Abeja Charonnay $ 45

Three different strains of yeasts are used during barrel fermentation. The wood is half new and half on-year-old French oak. Aging sur lie for 10 months, 13.8% alc.

Medium straw color in the glass with nice legs, hints of vanilla, cucumber, celery and muskat on the nose, a full-bodied wine, lots of eucalyptus and tee leafs on the palate, coupled with lychee and white peach aromas, the finish is long and bright with wet stone lingering on the palate, an elegant and feminine Chardonnay.

2007 Abeja Merlot $ 40

Aged for 16 months in 90% French, 5% Central European and 5% American oak, of which 60% is new oak. 91% Merlot and 9% Cabernet Franc. 14.6 % alc.

A brilliant medium light red color in the glass, with thick legs, the nose is Old World style with maraschino cherries, plums and fruitcake aromas, a full-bodied wine, dark chocolate and more maraschino cherries on the palate, with some Madagascar vanilla, long lasting finish with silky tannins and a hint of tobacco.

2006 Abeja Cabernet Sauvignon $50

All French, medium toast oak, with 60% new oak. 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22 months barrel aging. 14.9% alc.

Medium-dark in the glass with thick legs, nose of dark berry fruits, earth, spice and herbs, a full bodied wine, with dark chocolate, pain grille and plum on the palate , long balanced finish with modest tannins, wood is not telling the story of this wine.

2007 Abeja Syrah $ 40

97% Syrah and 3% Viognier, 50% French, 40% Hungarian and 10% American oak, of which 20% new. 13 months aging in large barrels. 14.5% alc.

Medium dark ruby color in the glass, with convincing legs, attack of dens black cherries, coupled with smoked meats on the nose, a full-bodied wine, in the mouth a sensation of dried flowers, floral lavender blossoms and wet stone, a complex and balanced wine reminding me of the classic Northern Rhone wines, different from the wines of warmer regions.


2014 Mill Creek Road
Walla Walla WA 99362

Out-of-Site Wines

214 Dominion Road NE
Vienna, VA, 22180

Schiller Wine - Related Postings

Drinking Wine in Vancouver during the Olympic Winter Games: Why not go South to Washington State

In the Glass: Columbia Crest 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon - #1 Top 100 Wine Spectator 2009

Wine Ratings: Two American/German Wines - Eroica and Poet's Leap - on Top 100 List of Washington States Wines in 2009

Wine Tasting: Soter Wines from Oregon at Out-of-Site Wines, Virginia

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