By Celia Strong
So, I guess from the little picture you can see the name of our wine for this week. Sometimes, it’s just so much fun thinking of a title for our weekly discussion. And, then, I think what a really fun time “they” must have at a winery when they’re naming some of their wines. I’m sure many of us can remember back to when “Fat Bastard” wines first came onto our shelves and kitchen counters. For some of us, it was just a funny name. For some of us it was the birthday present of choice, more than once. For some of us it was “Oh, no. What next?” As sacred as the French have always held their wines, that one, meaning “Fat Bastard,” is on them.
Anyhow, more fun later with the name thing. Now, we might as well start our lesson. Both our wines, a white and a red, come from Washington State. They’re from the Columbia Valley to be exact. Columbia Valley is the biggest and probably best known of the AVAs in Washington. In fact, it includes ninety-nine percent of all the vineyards planted in Washington. This AVA was established in 1984 and includes the drainage basin of the Columbia River and its tributaries throughout most of the state, and also a small area in neighboring Oregon. The AVA includes over eleven million acres, over half of which is planted with vines. Besides the “vitis vinifera” varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Riesling, Syrah and Pinot Gris, some “vitis labrusca” grapes like Concord are grown here. There is a unique climate in the Columbia Valley that lets the grape grown here make wines that are both fruit-forward and balanced and structured. In everyday terms that means the wines from here are sort of a combination of California style and European style.
This climate is due in large part to the Cascade Mountains that are the western side of the area. These mountains block much of the cold wind and rain coming off the Pacific. The valley is located between the forty-sixth and forty-seventh parallels – almost exactly the same as the Bordeaux and Burgundy regions of France. Since this is a more northern latitude, the vineyards here get about two more hours of daylight during the summer than those in California. More daylight, more sun, more warmth – all before the cooling nights. The up and down, within limits, of the temperature keeps the grapes’ ripening process at a slower rate and leads to more flavors in the grapes. And more texture compounds too. California and Europe together again. The valley’s soil also helps make its wines what they are. Duh! Sandy loam and volcanic soil give the vines good drainage but not many nutrients. That means what they do get from the soil, the vines concentrate into their grape bunches. Most of the vines are planted on south-facing slopes, again to maximize their exposure to the sun. The growing season runs from one hundred eighty days to tow hundred. The first grape growers, “vinifera” grapes I mean, must have seen a rosy future for themselves in the Columbia Valley.
So, onto our winery and wines. Thorny Rose is the name. Most of the wines from them do come from Washington State. (For their Sauvignon Blanc they use grapes from New Zealand.) Some of their grapes come from other parts of Washington, like the Yakima Valley, Horse Heaven Hills and Wahluke Slope. But our two wines both come mostly from the Columbia Valley. And that means we’re almost done with our lesson. Almost. Like assorted other “wineries” that are coming into the wine business these days, Thorny Rose does have an address in Washington State, but it’s not like a “real” winery.” They buy most of their grapes instead of growing them themselves. But, as we’ll see in a bit, by buying large quantities and not incurring the expenses of owning the land and growing themselves, the cost of their wines can stay very reasonable. Another rosy future? And, further, Thorny Rose has a team of winemakers with over twenty-five years of experience between them. Their director of winemaking in Washington, Co Dinn, is one of the most awarded winemakers in the state, with more than fifteen wines rated ninety and higher in the “Wine Spectator.”
Thorny Rose Pinot Grigio is our white wine. This is where I have to tell you about the first time I tasted this wine. I was shown the label, so I knew it was from the Columbia Valley. That tidbit of information on its own led me to believe it was going to be a ten to twelve dollar bottle. At least. Remember, the more specific the appellation, the smaller the area the grapes are sourced from, the fewer grapes there are, so the higher the price of the wine goes. “Columbia Valley,” while good information on the label, and a clue to what would probably be a good wine, did not excite me about what the cost would probably be. Also, it told me that it would be different from California Pinot Grigios because of the cooler climate. Overall, a good attitude to go with my first sip. And very nice it was. Clean and crisp acidity. Nice balance. Peach, melon and lemon zest flavors. A slight creaminess in the texture. Ad, somewhere, way in the back, a small kick of spiciness. A blend of eighty-five percent Pinit Grigio, nine percent Sauvignon Blanc, three percent Gewurztraminer, two percent Semillon and one percent Pinot Blanc. Truly, a very good Pinot Grigio!
Quickly, after the Pinot Grigio, I was moved on to the red Thorny Rose. This wine is labeled as a “Red Blend,” also from the Columbia Valley. From the label, I knew the wine wasn’t made from at least seventy-five percent of any one grape. But I like blends, and having just tasted and gotten a good surprise with the Thorny Rose Pinot Griogio, I was prepared for another happy sip. And I got it. A great happy sip. Yay! Once more, I was thinking it was a really good wine for ten to twelve dollars. This red wine is medium-full bodied with black cherry, dark plum, chocolate and mocha flavors. Hints of vanilla too. And, mellow tannins – enough for lean red meats but not too much for seafood and poultry. Boy, everything is coming up roses. The Red Blend is made from forty-eight percent Merlot, forty-eight percent Cabernet Sauvignon, three percent Malbec and one percent Syrah. It is aged for eighteen months in American oak barrels with medium toast. Hello vanilla!
So, now I have two new wines. To share with you. Two roses for a small arrangement, if you will. But, the biggest surprise with these Thorny Rose wines? I was a little off in my guessing of their prices. Sorry. But, at least I was off in your favor. They’re priced so you can collect a whole bunch of them and make yourself a massive bouquet. $5.99! Some days a rose is a rose is a rose. Today, with Thorny Rose wines, a rose, red or white, is a whole lot more! And, before we all rush off to buy some, what other fun titles were thought of for this discussion? Tell you when you come get your Thorny Roses. Enjoy.