Food Republic’s Richard Martin and Chris Shott are two Brooklyn dads who like to drink good wine. Occasionally, they compare notes on what they’re drinking and post them here for proper sommeliers to ridicule. Follow them on Delectable: @richardmartin1, @chrisshott.
RM: So we’re headed to Washington wine country today? Walla Walla wut!
CS: Yakima, Columbia Valleys represent…
RM: Okay, first up, what are we sipping on?
CS: This is the Grapesmith & Crusher 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon from Columbia Valley. While I don’t always buy based on the label, this one seemed apt, given our purposes. There’s a typewriter on the front and another on the back getting doused with wine. Seems fitting for a wine-writing exercise. Even if these Mac keys sound nothing like the clack, clack, ding! machines of old.
RM: You’re so old-school! It lives up to my expectations of Washington wines: strong label, very grape-y.
CS: It’s downright purple!
RM: It’s like a wine version of Robitussin.
CS: It ain’t bad for the price: about $15 at this shop called Sip near Barclays Center in Brooklyn, conveniently located on my commute to work.
RM: Yeah, it’s pretty drinkable. So what other wines did you drink after putting the kids to bed (or maybe while putting them to bed)?
CS: Both! I’ve had at least a dozen Washington State wines over the past several weeks. Lots of cabernet, some Syrah, a few Rieslings. And some other grapes too.
RM: Yeah, me too.
CS: I didn’t realize until we started zeroing in on this stuff that Washington is the second-largest wine-producing state in the U.S. I just assumed it was Oregon.
RM: Yeah, it’s big — getting bigger.
CS: More than 900 wineries, according to industry figures, many of them small family-run operations.
RM: And what’s your overly general, blanket statement about Washington wine based on this experience?
CS: I’ve had some really great Washington wines over past few weeks, and some not so great. One thing that jumps out is the price tag: A lot of these really nice cabs are like, $59.
CS: Yeah, man — the nicer stuff.
RM: Okay, oddly specific, but if that’s your thing.
CS: Well, the one I had last night was $59.
RM: What was that?
CS: That’s one from our fellow Wine Dad, the actor Kyle MacLachlan. Pursued by Bear is the label: a collaboration with Walla Walla’s Dunham Cellars.
RM: Ah, you and your Twin Peaks.
CS: Damn good Cab indeed. I found it at this shop near New York University that has a whole “celebrity wine” section: stuff by Sting, the former adult-film star Savannah Samson and also Maynard James Keenan, the singer from the ’90s rock group Tool. Apparently, Keenan is one of the few celeb vintners who actually gets his hands dirty.
RM: Washington does have some celeb winemakers, not that it’s gonna rival Napa, but there’s Kyle and then there’s Drew Bledsoe’s Doubleback. I interviewed him about it years ago. Drew Bledsoe will forever be remembered in New England as the reliable Pro Bowl quarterback who led Patriots teams into the playoffs throughout the ’90s and helped set up the Tom Brady era. His were high-end, too.
CS: Kyle’s cab was one of the better ones. I also really liked Mark Ryan’s grenache, the Numbskull.
RM: Anyway, my super-generic assessment of Washington wines: The reds are jammy, deep and lacking complexity, though I tend to enjoy them. The Rieslings to me are fine, not spectacular. But yeah, getting more specific, we both really, really liked Mark Ryan’s namesake wines. I had his Dead Horse Cab Sauv Red Mountain 2013, and it was tailor-made for a steak pairing: Luscious, earthy, dark and even a bit brooding.
CS: That’s the thing about some of these wines: If I didn’t have steak to pair it with, I felt like I was missing out. I got a nice top sirloin last night for the MacLachlan wine.
RM: I also had his blend the Conjurer (60 percent cab sauv, 25 percent cab franc, 15 percent merlot), and it was good, but lacked the character promised by the magic-themed labeling. And I hear you on the steak!
CS: If there’s one thing they’re doing really great in Washington state, it’s the labeling: lots of great iconography, like this typewriter, for instance, and Charles Smith’s stuff.
RM: Yeah, so I know you didn’t like the Charles Smith wines I gave you, and he’s really great at branding. I like his wines for the most part, though I wouldn’t go out of my way for them necessarily.
CS: He seems like a cool guy, and I love the look of the stuff on the shelf. But the Boom Boom! for instance was more of a thud for me. My wife, a former Wine Spectator staffer and not a cheap date by a long shot, disavowed Washington state altogether after that one.
RM: Yeah, I feel like he’s known for his merlot and Riesling, and those to me are his least exciting, whereas his 2013 Chateau Smith cabernet sauvignon was really solid for 20 bucks.
CS: I had one of the Rieslings. the label was very compelling and made me hungry for Chinese food; the wine itself was okay. It was called Kungfu Girl. And there was a bowl of rice and chopsticks on the back.
RM: So the weirdest thing for me during the Washington wine drinking seshes was coming across a Petit Verdot from Walla Walla, Seven Hills McClellan Estate. It was like a gamay crossed with a Washington wine, so a bit lighter in color, and it had the most texture and personality of any that I drank. It goes for like $35 too. And back in my old ‘hood, my wine shop that I shall not name because the owner was not very gregarious and kind of annoyed me used to sell Snoqualmie Merlot for like 13 bucks a bottle, and my wife and I both liked that.
CS: Snoqualmie? How do you even pronounce that?
RM: Snow-qualm-mee. It got us through that sensitive financial time after you have your first baby and you realize that you’re about to be poor.
CS: How ’bout that sensitive time after baby no. 2 when you realize you’re about to be even poorer?
RM: Well, that’s when we started this column, right? Anyone out there wanna pay the Wine Dads a lot of money?
CS: We’re looking at you, Charles Smith!
RM: Ha. I am excited to check out his Jet City Winery in Seattle when I go out there at the end of the month.
CS: It’ll be a lot easier than driving to Walla Walla — that’s like a four-hour drive by car!
RM: I think that was the point of him doing it. That and he made boatloads of money from his wine. So did you have any Rieslings that you really enjoyed?
CS: Pacific Rim in Yakima Valley has a dry Riesling that really did the dry part nicely. I tried that with sushi, and it served its purpose well. I don’t really dig on the sweeter kind so much.
RM: Ooh, that sounds like a good pairing.
CS: I have my moments.
RM: So what’s next? WIll you continue to explore Washington wines?
CS: Yeah, I’m definitely more interested now than before. And it will be interesting to see how Washington wine changes. If you look at the timeline, the past three years have been crazy hot in that part of the world. I suspect that’s both good and bad.
RM: [Editor’s note: Shott lives in Park Slope, so he has to make global warming references in every Wine Dads column.]
CS: [Other editor’s note: How can we get Bernie Sanders into this?]
RM: Okay, so my takeaway: I always leaned on Washington wines as a drinkable and affordable option, but after this, I think I may try more ambitious and thus pricier efforts. Another great one I had was Maurice Cellars 2011 Estate Red Blend Night Owl. I like where Washington state is going with using cabernet franc in blends. You pay for it — this one retails for about $48 — but they’re still a bargain compared to their Cali counterparts. And I want to keep checking back in.
CS: Don’t forget the steak, man — at those prices, it’s a shame to feel like something is missing.
RM: I lived in Oregon and Washington, so I have a fondness for both wine countries, but Washington hasn’t been on my radar too much, whereas I’ve been really impressed with Willamette and Yamhill Valley wines. Let’s pledge to check back on Washington in a few months. Let’s really compare it to California as we start to explore the northern, central and southern regions there. You down?
CS: Twist. My. Arm. My “sinister hand,” as it were.