You gotta love that name: “Wind Rose”…Sounds very poetic and lyrical; like a Crosby, Stills and Nash song about sailing to the Far Tortugas or roaming the beaches at Big Sur. In fact, a “wine rose” is a gauge used by sailors to judge wind direction, so they could keep their ship off the rocks and make harbor safely. As often happens, what appears whimsical is actually rooted in practicality and necessity.
When David Volmut and his wife, Jennifer States, started Wind Rose, back in 2009, David was still working as assistant winemaker at Olsen Estates in Prosser. As Olson neared its demise, David moved on to Sun River Vintners in Kennewick. Deciding to start their own business wasn’t exactly whimsy but it contained real elements of fantasy, mostly due to the fact that they had no winery. The first two vintages of Wind Rose were produced at Olsen and Sun River and passed by with few ripples in the rapidly-expanding pool of Washington wineries. Upon moving to Sequim, a pretty, sleepy little town that straddles Washington State Route 101, due south of the world-famous Dungeness Bay, David and Jennifer set up a lovely, atmospheric tasting room on Sequim’s main drag, Washington Street.
Now…that’s all great and a real testament to the power of good ol’ American ingenuity and the bravery of a young couple with enough gumption and belief in their skills to start a new business but really…none of that would be anywhere close to enough to get me to write about Wind Rose, no matter how great a story it is. Sentimental as I am, I am strictly mercenary when it comes to The Pour Fool: if there is not a seriously interesting and innovative beverage or two involved, it ain’t gonna get mentioned here.
What David and Jennifer have begun to explore at Wind Rose Cellars is such a radical departure from the quotidian reality of the rest of the Washington wine culture that it made me do a literal double-take when I opened the box of samples that David sent to my office. I actually did, momentarily, think that some PR firm had accidentally gotten their labels switched with Wind Rose and sent to me by mistake. Inside this box from that staid, predictable, Bordeaux-rooted wine community on the Olympic Peninsula were…Italian varietals. Seeing a bottle of Sangiovese wasn’t that big of a shock; hell, we grow and vinify Sangiovese all over the state and probably 40 or more wineries release bottles each vintage. But laid in there, right next to the Sangio, was a Dolcetto. A Dolcetto! Wind Rose is hardly the first WA winery to issue one but I can count them all on one hand and there has never been so much as hint of anyone out in the far Western wine hinterlands who was even interested in trying it. I seized up like a six-buck pocket watch and stared stupidly at it. I would have been less surprised to open that box and find a unicorn.
Let me tell ya about Wind Rose Dolcetto 2012: it…is…immaculate. Dolcetto – Italian for “the little sweet one” – is one of those grapes whose reality as a wine is almost never as good as the image the name evokes. To start with, it’s rarely sweet. Italian Dolcetto – the stuff we get here, at least – is mostly dry and usually almost austere, showing a booming acidity and stony aloofness that makes it a great food wine, when paired with dishes that help fill in the holes in its flavor profile, but frequently a tart and forbidding sipper. Because Washington has proven to be such a profoundly receptive growing area for transplanted French, Spanish, and Italian grapes, (Sangiovese, Barbera, Primitivo, Albarino, Tempranillo, Grenache, Aglianico, Graciano, and Nebbiolo all grow magnificently here) I had expected Dolcetto from Washington to be the ultimate expression of what I had always expected out of the grape; the sweetness and expressiveness that the Piedmontese versions often lack. But I had been disappointed by every Washington Dolcetto I’ve ever tasted.
Wind Rose Dolcetto 2012 fulfills that promise in a bold and forthright profile that emphasizes the sweetness of those lovely little black berries, while retaining the crispness and food-friendly acidity that makes the Italians from Monferrato, Dogliani, Ovada and Diano d’Alba such a must-have pairing with Northern Italian cuisine. If this wine is a tad too big and a hair less astringently tannic than its Italian cousins…GOOD. Let’s not, any of us, go on pretending that there is no cultural
difference between Italians and Americans. Their tastes for wines with elevated acidity and death-grip tannins have 1,000 years of tradition behind them. We’re still firmly in – although possibly near graduating from – that wine adolescence that drives us to softer and less acidic wines with forward fruit. This wine is a perfect marriage of the two cultures. Sweet red berries and red plums are very much in evidence, graced prettily by mild baking spices, licorice, currants, dried cranberries, black cherries, sage, teaberry gum, almonds, rhubarb, and lovely, sweet minerals that register as a sort of saline tang on the back of palate. The tannins are supple and forgiving enough to promise modest aging but moderate enough to drink right now without welding your lips to your teeth. In texture, it is still, of course, Dolcetto, so it’s strictly light-to-medium bodied and as uncloying a summer-weight red as you’ll ever find.
But what really gets me about this wine is its price. I originally guessed, after looking at the bottle graphics and PR materials, that it would run somewhere between $26 and $32. And I would have considered that eminently reasonable.
It retails for about $18.99.
I can hardly overstate what a happy surprise this wine turned out to be. It finally(!) realized the promise I had always dreamed of for Dolcetto as grown in America and turned out to be a madly sippable, totally delicious treat, in a year that has, so far, produced far too few wine surprises. 94 Points
The Wind Rose Sangiovese was no less of a happy surprise. We’re starting to figure out how to vinify this prolific and universally-celebrated Tuscan grape, here in WA state, without either trying to make a Chianti clone (an idea doomed to failure, as we simply don’t have the terroir that booms out of every bottle of Italian Sangiovese) or using the varietal as though it were just another ton of Cabernet grapes. If you get a big, rich Sangio, you’ve gotten a monkeyed-with Sangio. Even in its Grosso Brunello form, Sangiovese is a LOT closer to Pinot in character than to a Cab, Merlot, or Malbec. There was a famously obscure bottle by the old Yakima River Winery that I gave to an Italian winemaker, back in ’05, to demonstrate what Washington Sangio tastes like. The guy opened it at his hotel that evening and immediately called me (at 10 p.m.) to gush about the “Chianti character” of the wine. Bottles from Eye of The Needle, Gino Cuneo’s Tre Nova Cellars, Russell Creek, and Milbrandt suggest that Tuscan character (more Maremma than Chianti, really) but still retain their “Washington-ness”. Wind Rose’s version may just be the template for what that cross-cultural expression should be.
Raspberries, strawberries, cranberries, red currants, Kirsch, anise, baking spices, crushed stones, vanilla, sweet herbs, and even a hint of roses(!) provide the interest but the star of the show, in this bottle, is a texture that somehow manages to be at once Italian and Washingtonian. The hallmark crispness and lightness is front and center but the feel of the wine in the mouth is much less assertively tart and edgy, as it is deliberately vinified in Italy, and much more seamless and balanced. The alcohol is completely undetectable and the overall palate is just more generous and fleshed-out than most Italians. This is Chianti Boys Go To Horse Heaven and a truly outstanding Northwest Sangiovese. 93 Points
The Wind Rose Pinot Grigio 2013 wears a very pretty colorful label that was painted by Washington resident and master harmonica wizard, Lee Oskar, whom classic rock fans will remember as the harp player for Eric Burden and War, his honey-thick tones slithering sinuously through the melody of “Cisco Kid” like a greased coral snake. Oskar, now retired from the frenzied touring of the War days, is also an accomplished painter whose label art here sets the mood perfectly for the lovely, light, tropical notes of this elegant little Grigio. Mango and pineapple register on the tip of the tongue, followed by almonds, over-ripe pears, pink grapefruit, coconut, lychi, and baked apples. The texture is silkier than the flood of Pinot Gris that pours across the border from Oregon but it retains that must-have crisp acidity and clean, pretty finish that make Pinot Gris/Grigio so popular in the US, where it is now the Number Two most purchased white wine, displacing the perennial Sauvignon Blanc behind Chardonnay. Out of the twenty-ish Washington Pinot Grigios I tasted in ’13 and into ’14, this was easily in the top five and, as a food wine, stands with any of them. We had it with a sauteed chicken green dinner salad and a wonderful time was had by all. 90 Points
A quick check of Wind Rose’s website shows a Nebbiolo and a Primitivo also in the catalog, both of which are among my favorite varietals and which I plan to taste just as soon as I can get to Sequim again. Included in the box was also a bottle of David’s “Bravo Rosso”, a blend of four grapes: 53% Barbera, 25% Dolcetto, 12% Primitivo and 10% Nebbiolo. After repeated tastings, I believe this bottle had become tainted, so I can’t review it here. This one, too, is on my job list for that trip to the Peninsula.
As someone who spent about half of his 22 years in Washington on the western side of Puget Sound, it’s a source of real delight to me that the beautiful, quaint, quirky Olympic Peninsula has a winery that’s not solely devoted to the same ol’-same ol’ Bordeaux varietals and blends. Wind Rose now gives all us contrarians with our off-beat wine tastes a place to visit and experience some transplanted Euro varietals as made by a winery that’s truly interested in them and is really making them in a way that breaks new ground while being completely respectful of the styles and traditions that made them great.
To Submit a Beverage to The Pour Fool:
Send samples to: Steve Body/The Pour Fool 2887 152nd Ave. NE Redmond, WA 98052