Saturday, July 2, 2011

Chaleur Estate's "Serious" Blanc

That's Jay Soloff with the bottle of Chaleur Estate's sauvignon-sémillon blend at this weekend's "Pour on the Plaza," a charity fundraiser held at El Gaucho in Bellevue. (Does he look familiar? We wrote about him doing a turn at El Gaucho in Belltown  back in 2008.) Soloff was the sommelier there over 30 years ago, left to start a wine brokerage, and is now a partner and Exec VP for marketing for DeLille Cellars. Chaleur Estate Blanc is one of thier labels, and arguably the most serious white wine produced in Washington State.

It's the fifth vintage of this blend, roughly a third sémillon from Boushey Vineyards, the rest, sauvignon blanc, from Boushey, Klipsun and Sagemoor. It was a warm, abundant vintage, but there's less of it than there was, from the same sources, in 2008 because DeLille's wine maker, Chris Upchurch, treats the grapes as if they were ingredients in a premium red wine: low crop levels (three tons to the acre), whole berry fermentation with native yeasts, moderate use of French oak. Most white wines get little respect because they're based on high yields and quick-and-dirty winemaking; they sell at low prices because the wine makers don't make much of an effort at quality. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The proof of Chaleur Estate Blanc's quality is in the glass, and here the wine writers are having a field day. Dried apricots, figs, grapefruit, gooseberies, lemon, lime, hazelnuts, grilled bread, toasted straw, flint. No question that it has a rich and silky mouthfeel, and a lingering, nutty finish. At $34 a bottle, it's hardly a wine for casual drinking. Rather, it's as good as the white Bordeaux blends it emulates (names like Domaine du Chevalier, Château Smith Haut Lafitte, or Château Carbonnieux), yet it's only half their price.

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