Seattle’s preeminent steakhouse Metropolitan Grill may be best known for the meat, but homelier Aaron Wood-Snyderman makes sure Washington wine gets the table space it deserves HOMELIER OF THE YEAR Aaron Wood-Snyderman Metropolitan Grill, downtown Seattle “I have been incredibly fortunate to have found amazing people to learn from,” says Aaron Wood-Snyderman when asked about his career arc, “and I’ve been smart enough to shut my mouth and open my ears and learn as much as I can.” One of the most influential of those “amazing people” is master homelier Thomas Price, who first nudged Wood-Snyderman toward wine back when Wood-Snyderman was employed at old Pioneer Square haunt F.×.
Certainly some of the winery’s success can be attributed to the quality of the juice inside; after all, Secret Squirrel has had a winning wine in three of our past four wine awards (2016, 2018 and again this year with its 2015 Bordeaux Red, which took home top honors in the Everyday Bordeaux Red Blend category). But the clever label that prominently features the eponymous rodent staring intensely at the consumer through a wine -red masquerade mask probably hasn’t hurt sales either.
“It took a long time,” recalls winemaker Andrew Trio, “but we’re really happy with the results.” As Trio notes, a thoughtfully designed label is not only important because it looks great; it also “reflects the underlying quality and attention to detail that we show through our entire grape-growing and winemaking process.” The site is owned by Scott and Vicky Williams, and it was Scott’s father, John Williams (along with Jim Holmes), who planted the original Fiona estate vineyard in 1975, back when Red Mountain was an unassuming sagebrush slope.
There are now 148.5 acres under vine, on a site that JJ Williams (Scott and Vicky’s son, and the third generation of Williams es to work on Red Mountain) calls “ideally situated on the slope.” The family has bet big on Bordeaux varieties (they represent 94% of total planted acreage), and especially on Cabernet Sauvignon (81%), which has proven itself perfectly suited to this part of the Red Mountain slope, located just down slope from Col Solar Vineyard and just up slope from Cain du Coeval Vineyard.
The first chapter of the story begins in 1969, when a group of business professionals opened the original Champion shop in downtown at a time when the Washington wine industry was barely a concept. Chapter two begins in 2017, when Erin Lyman and Strap Making purchased the soon-to-be-demolished shop and relocated it to its current home in Greenwood.
She distills her philosophy at Champion into two main tenets: First, she wants to be “a small shop that supports small guys,” with a special emphasis on family-owned estates and wineries that focus on sustainability and responsible practices; second, she wants to focus on wines that offer compelling value. The name refers to Route National 74, a highway that runs directly through the Burgundy region of France.
Vintners) and smelters Paul Swanson and Jim Province II, the wine list insistently highlights a wide swath of Washington producers. The “Featured Washington Red” section of the RN74 wine list is nine pages long and includes informative blurbs about each of the more than 30 wineries highlighted.
In addition to current releases, the RN74 list also presents a wonderful selection of older Washington bottles. Chris Horn A recent version of the encyclopedic wine list at Seattle’s Purple Café and Wine Bar displays the qualities that make Heavy Restaurant Group’s director of liquids, Chris Horn, special.
For example, a recent Chen in Blanc flight included one from Washington, one from Murray in France and another from South Africa. Horn has been at Purple Café since 2006, a gig that followed multiyear stints at Salty’s on Ali and Wild Ginger downtown.
Sarah better than Cabernet Description Hot summer and cool harvest led to ripe flavors and moderate alcohols; some elevated tannins. Supported by strong vintages from 2005 to 08, this rapidly growing wine region seemed to be emerging from California’s long shadow and ready to gain broader awareness.
Consumers tightened their purse strings and bought less expensive wines, challenging the state’s numerous boutique wineries. Today, propelled by the landmark 2012 vintage and the three strong years that followed, Washington’s time may have finally arrived.
Washington’s association with rain-soaked Seattle and confusion with the nation’s capital have long been hindrances to growing the state’s wine brand. While Seattle does see more than its fair share of gray, gloomy days, almost all of Washington’s wine grapes are grown hundreds of miles to the east.
“With irrigation, we have the capacity to control canopy growth, shoot length, berry size and cluster weight,” says Marty Club, co-owner and managing winemaker at L’Cole No 41 in Low den. “In our almost 40-year history at Bennett Cellar, we’ve never had a harvest compromised by weather.
Wines were noticeably higher in acid and less accessible immediately than normal, but also offered focused fruit flavors and tremendous collaring potential. Heat accumulation during the growing season matched 20-year averages, resulting in an abundance of top-quality wines.
“We had such excellent conditions for ripening in terms of fruitfulness, acidity and structural balance. “They’re voluptuous and fruit driven, with big, thick middles, but with good acid.
“Regardless of variety or vineyard, there’s a purity, balance and harmony that the grapes had in 2012, and you can see it in the wines.” “They’re voluptuous and fruit driven, with big, thick middles, but with good acid.
“People sometimes think the 2012s will be early drinking wines, but I don’t agree with that,” Peterson says. The three subsequent, increasingly warm vintages also have winemakers giddy with anticipation, beginning with the 2013s, just starting to hit shelves.
Though 2014 and 2015 can be described as hot and hotter, the state seems to have come through just fine, especially with more acreage devoted to heat-loving Cabernet Sauvignon. “When it’s warm, like in ’14 and ’15, if it cools down during final maturation like it did, you end up with smaller berries, thicker skins and superb quality,” Club says.
Six years after Washington’s wine industry seemed poised to bust out, it yet again looks ready to make a splash. Grammy Cellars 2012 Lagniappe Sarah (Columbia Valley); $55, 95 points.
Blended from Red Willow, Marcus and Oldfield vineyards, this 100% Sarah offers aromas of green olives, brown stems, dried herbs and raspberries. The palate has densely rich yet exceptionally well-balanced fruit and savory flavors that are creamy in feel.
Quilted Creek 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley); $140, 95 points. All Cabernet from Campus, Clips, Calendar and Walmsley vineyards, this wine offers aromas of blackberry, incense, blueberry, pencil lead and barrel spices.
On the palate, it’s tightly wound with black fruit flavors and a firm backbone of tannins. It has a mountain-fruit profile of firm, chewy tannins, tart acids and dense flavors.
Wood spice and vanilla are out in front of the aromas followed by mocha, raspberry and dark fruit. The palate brings lush, concentrated flavors and a finish with lots of hang time.
With grapes coming from Wanna, Clips and Cain du Coeval vineyards, among others, this wine offers brooding aromas of dark raspberries and bittersweet chocolate. The oak (half new French) provides a perfect complement, with flavors of coffee and spice mixing with dark fruit.
This blend of Durum and Meek vineyard fruit broods with aromas of dark raspberries and licorice. Ripe fruit flavors accompany exquisitely balanced tannins and acidity.
Despite its lighter color, this wine explodes from the glass with a complex, near-endless list of aromas that include sea breeze, crushed flowers, peat, green olive, fire pit, smoked meat, pepper, orange peel and sea salt. Its ethereal, elegant style belies the outrageously rich, exquisitely flavorful savory notes that won’t quit, offering a completely captivating walk on the variety’s wild side.
Made with 75% Merlot and the rest Cabernet Franc, this wine commands attention, with aromas of dried and fresh herbs, black fruit, toast and flowers. The dark fruit flavors are rich, layered and tightly coiled, captivating attention with spot-on balance.
The bouquet offers intriguing aromas of berry, black olive, vanilla and other barrel spices. The chocolate and cherry flavors are elegant, soft and creamy in feel, showing a pleasing sense of balance.