The Long Shadows winery in Walla Walla

The Long Shadows winery in Walla Walla

La Dolce Vita: Great idea, better execution

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As we drove through a vineyard along a tree-lined road to the ultra-modern winery, then entered a reception area filled with glass sculptures with world-renowned artist Dale Chihuly, it struck me that Long Shadows Vintners makes great promises. But could it deliver?

Long Shadows is the love child of Washington’s godfather of wine, Allen Shoup, who earned his reputation (and fortune) through wineries like Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest. A decade ago he lured Italy’s Piero Antinori and German’s Dr. Ernst Loosen to Washington to make wine with his home state’s grapes.

When Shoup retired, he took his dream even further. He created a multi-million dollar winemaking facility to the west of Walla Walla, then went about attracting world class vintners to invest in their own small businesses. Each “winery” within the facility, is individually owned and managed as a separate entity and each is partially owned by the winemaker.

Our tasting took us on a virtual tour of some of the world’s great wineries, each wine made in the winemaker’s style but using Washington grapes.

We started with Poet’s Leap, an off-dry Riesling made by acclaimed German winemaker Armin Diel. It had a perfect balance of acidity and burst with flavours of grapefruit, minerals and pear. I’m a big fan of Rieslings but I’d be hard pressed to name another that I liked better than this one.

Our small group (tastings are by appointment only) moved on to reds, with a Sangiovese-Cabernet Sauvignon blend called Saggi, the creation of Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari, father and son team from Tuscany. This elegant blend, in the style of Super Tuscans, spent 18 months in small oak barrels. The result is a wine high in tannins but with a cherry and raspberry flavours, a bit of smoke and nutmeg completed a very complex wine with a most satisfying mouth feel and finish.

Feather is a Cabernet Sauvignon made by Randy Dunn, one of Napa Valley’s best. Tasting notes provided by Long Shadows describe it as “an iron fist in a velvet glove.” Beautifully, and accurately, said.

By this point, we weren’t wondering if we would like the next wine. Our thoughts were more about just how good they could possibly get. And then came the 2007 Pirouette, a Bordeaux blend made by Bordeaux-educated Philippe Melka, who once worked at Petrus, and Agustin Huneeus Sr., who has more than 40 years of experience in Chile and California. Pirouette is a Petit Verdot-Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend that would be the envy of even the very best of Bordeaux winemakers. If I could only drink one wine from now on, this one would be my choice.

Chester-Kidder is the partnership of Shoup and Gilles Nicault, who made wines in Cotes du Rhone, Provence and Champagne before coming to North America. He now makes wine for Woodward Canyon. Chester-Kidder is a blend of Cab Sauv, Syrah, Petit Verdot and Cab Franc. Beautiful aroma, wonderful, complex flavours.

We thoroughly enjoyed Sequel, a Syrah made by the Australian John Duval, whose work helped make Penfold’s Grange one of the world’s great success stories. I love Syrah, especially ones from Washington and Sequel has everything I look for in these luscious, deep purple wines.

Our final red was Michel Rolland’s Pedestal. Rolland is renowned enologist from the Pomerol region of Bordeaux and he consults all around the world. Blueberries, plum, cedar and spices come to mind in this nicely balanced Merlot.

We completed our tasting with a sip of another Poet’s Leap, a botrytis affected wine that was named number 7 among Wine Enthusiast magazine’s top 100 wines in the world. It was a fitting finish for the best tasting of wines I have ever had at a single location.

As we made our way down the tree-lined road, my only regret was that, because I was driving, I had spit out each of the wines I sampled. The consolation was in a box in the trunk. I had purchased a collector’s set featuring each of the six red wines we had sampled. In a year or two or three, I have no doubt that when each of these bottles is opened we will be immediately transported back to that wonderful Saturday afternoon experience at Long Shadows, which truly did deliver what it promised.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.