On Monday I introduced what I was calling my “Greatest Hits Week”, what was going to be a series devoted to some of my favorite winery discoveries. I had planned on doing three articles, each one featuring a different “above and beyond” winery, but as I was writing these articles, I found that I needed to include one more than I’d originally planned. So I decided to break up the series, with the second part launching today, and the remaining two parts launching next week.
Today’s post covers a producer who I was first introduced to at this year’s Rhone Rangers event in Santa Monica. Located in Washington and specializing in wines made primarily from fruit grown in the famed Yakima Valley, Maison Bleue has been recognized by countless publications, critics, and wine lovers (myself included) as a stand out producer for exceptional quality. Their specialty is wine made using varietals native to France’s Rhone Valley. Today we will be talking about five of their wines, three whites and two reds. Each one is a single varietal bottling of a Rhone grape from single vineyards in Washington’s Yakima Valley.
Wine #1: Maison Bleue 2010 Yakima Valley “Arthur’s Vineyard” “Notre Vie” Viognier
Maison Bleue’s Viognier is sourced from a single vineyard, planted along a dry riverbed surrounded by small gravel boulders. These conditions are similar to those found in the iconic vineyards of Chateaneuf-du-Pape in France’s Rhone Valley. This wine was fermented in a combination of used French barrels and stainless steel, aged on its lees for just under a year, and partially malo-lactic fermented, each step giving it an incredible balance of purity and complexity.
Fascinating aromas of spiced orange rinds, almost reminiscent of Grand Marnier leap out of the glass. A little further exploration opens up notes of river stones, ripe peaches, and lemon zest, creating an extremely intriguing combination that makes this wine incredibly inviting.
Rich and supple at once, this wine shows the same spiced orange rind that appeared so prevalently on the aroma firmly at its core. Notes of lemon rind tossed in honey and brown sugar appear shortly after, leading into notes of peach and stone. A complex and refined wine with wonderful richness balanced by a fresh juiciness, this is a classic example of Viognier.
Worth Buying. 94 points.
Wine #2: Maison Bleue 2009 Yakima Valley “Olsen Vineyard” “Soleil” Roussanne
Soleil is a single vineyard Roussanne that was whole cluster pressed and fermented in French oak barrels, one fifth of which were new. It was aged on its lees in barrel, and was only partially allowed to go through malo-lactic fermentation, giving a creaminess while preserving the purity of the fruit.
Beeswax, mixed spices, and creamed honey introduce this wine’s aroma, while a spin in the glass reveals notes of vanilla custard and apples.
The palate has an impressive creamy richness about it that manages to still remain fresh and clean with a mouthwatering acidity. Dense notes of mixed citrus, orange particularly, peach, and crushed stones appear and last into a lengthy finish. A classic and refined take on the varietal.
Worth Trying. 92 points.
Wine #3: Maison Bleue 2010 Yakima Valley “Boushey Vineyard” “Petite Joie” Marsanne
Sourced from the same vineyard that the Grenache and Syrah that we are about to discuss come from, this Marsanne is fermented in French oak barrels, just under one third of them new, and remains there to age, just under a year.
The unique spiced citrus aroma of Maison Bleue’s Viognier reminds me almost exactly of Grand Marnier, while I am struck just as strongly by their Marsanne, except in this case, I am reminded of amaretto. Rich notes of almonds and marzipan endlessly unfold on the nose, while subtle stone fruit tones and expansive aromas of flower fields appear as well.
Amaretto, sliced almonds, and tones of peach and apricot introduce the palate. Although this wine is extraordinarily driven nutty tones, it is not the same nuttiness found in aged wines. This wine is incredibly fresh and youthful, and it is simply the signature characteristics of the Marsanne varietal that gives this wine its flavors. Complex and endlessly unique, balancing stone fruit, melon, and citrus tones with mounds and mounds of almond notes, this is an artistic take on the varietal and an experience that should not be missed.
Worth Buying. 94 points.
Wine #4: Maison Bleue 2009 Yakima Valley “Boushey Vineyard” “Le Midi” Grenache
As the Boushey Vineyard is well known for producing exceptional Syrah, Maison Bleue’s Grenache is actually a blend of 80% Grenache and 20% of this iconic Syrah. About one third of the fruit was whole berry fermented, giving this wine additional complexity while maintaining balance. It was then aged in used French barrels for just under a year.
The aroma of this wine is incredibly dark and dense, showing notes of ripe black plum, cold stones, plump blackberries, and violets.
The palate is just as rich and powerful as the nose leads you to expect it to be. Incredibly deep and smooth, this wine is like dark purple velvet. Black plums, a stony undertone, and deep notes of dark chocolate make up the core of the palate, while notes of pepper, leather, and caramel show on the edges. A complex, silky, and hedonistic wine, Maison Bleue’s Grenache combines classic elegance with a ripe and supple mouthfeel.
Worth Buying. 93 points.
Wine #5: Maison Bleue 2009 Yakima Valley “Boushey Vineyard” “Liberté” Syrah
Maison Bleue’s Syrah is a blend of two different Syrah clones from the same vineyard, one of Washington’s famed sites for the varietal. Like their Grenache, just under one third of the fruit was whole berry fermented, after which the wine was aged in French oak barrels, 20% of which were new, for just under a year.
Old World tones of tar and cracked black pepper show initially on the nose, while notes of herbs and violets seem to grow out of a solid core of black stone.
Amazingly deep and multidimensional on the palate, this wine spins with a constantly evolving flavor profile of dark fruits like pomegranate and blueberry, dark stone mineral notes, subtle dried floral tones, and a variety of earthy notes that appear and disappear playfully around the edges. This is a bold wine with lots of body and concentration, and although it’s fantastic now, it could cellar beautifully for many years into the future.
Worth Trying. 95 points.
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The Grapevine: What’s your favorite Rhone varietal?