Washington wine snappers: A red grape that redefined what red wine was supposed to be

DARK & light twisted in the hills of the Jura valley, where bright-red wines boomed in the decades after World War II. Those reds grew on pinot noir, grenache and mourvedre vines planted there since the 1950s by the famous Jura winemakers Christian Dessay and Claude Jeanling.

Unfortunately, for most Jura wines, dark and light are rarely going to mix. The hills just up the valley from the Montétray are home to a severely acidic climate, putting a premium on temperature and minimal acidity.

Can a winemaker grow reds in that environment? The answer, at least for the world of red wine, is clear — yes, but not in the way the Jura wine-makers always intended. The wines need to be very, very young — and they need to be promoted to a style that much younger consumers may find attractive. This is what brings us to Toto L’Ovame-dire – Cité Blanche, the wine produced by Domaine des Trappiches.

There were some intense swirls around Washington’s inaugural wine fest, brought to you by the Washington Research Foundation. (And by Palisades, too!)

It had something of a vintage, and it was made to be drunk very young. The five years of oak aging on the Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot grapes (the tannins take more than four years) were applied just right — balanced and always just slightly above average. The 2010 was recently rated 94 points by Wine Spectator and high in all of the national and international rankings.

Sometimes a specific area needs to be manipulated just enough to bring it on a higher plateau. This region has been working very hard to make wines that appeal to an older and different clientele.

The winemaker of Domaine des Trappiches is Thierry Lévesque, who has made this region famous for its dessert wines. Maybe most famous in the world of red wine is Domaine des Cotonnes, where Bertrand Dulong made “Pour Hermitage.” Hermitage, the splendidly rare and aged variety prized by the French, is not hard to find in Washington, but it is not easy to find a blend with lots of it. Not every Jura winemaker makes hermitage.

His 2010 de Cotonnes “Virinac” was recently named “Best Carignan” by the Associazione Italiana Wines of America, a prestigious international group of Italian wine experts and members.

Older consumers may remember, more recently, that Dr. Zin poured from barrels much like those at Domaine des Terroirs. It’s a big Carignan and its sexiness comes from the high pH and high acidity. There is little sugar, perhaps because it’s an older wine.

Older consumers remember that he also produced a more mass-market wine called Grand Marnier Amarone. It had plenty of lemon zest, and a generous measure of whiskey. It was the best damn Amarone that Americans had tasted.

The 2010 UG wine at Fabre de Terroirs was a bold, ruby red. It ended up with 12 years of barrel aging, the wood holding in some body. There was plenty of oak, and it didn’t take very long to realize that it was too potent for a picnic. All of that concentration should have been kept to something more mellow. It was aged with violet-infused rice. The wine was aged the year before.

A few years ago a winemaker from Valenciennes, France, looked around at his district and asked his landowner, “Why can’t I make wine for the customer that we send?”

That question, albeit rhetorical, has been answered with a resounding resounding “Aha!” in Jura country. Thierry Lévesque has combined his expertise as a dessert wine pioneer with his palate and some pretty old vines and made a huge impact on the marketplace.

Toto L’Ovame-dire – Cité Blanche, a red blend of Cabernet, Petit Verdot and Grenache, is available in “limited quantities.”

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