By CELIA STRONG
The road less traveled… meaning, the wine less known.
And although the wine may be less known, its producer is definitely well known. So, once again, a family business, making wines from various sources, gives us a pedigree dependable for high quality, even if it’s less known.
Cakebread Cellars is a well known, high quality Napa Valley wine producer. Dennis Cakebread, established that winery in 1973 and is a 40-year veteran there.
A family “planning session,” in 1992 included discussions about new wines that they could make, just not from Napa. In 2010, Dennis made his first trip to Washington State. He already had some contacts there, and made some new ones.
And soon, Mullan Road Cellars was born – named for the winery location on historic Mullan Road, the first highways across the Rocky Mountains, built by the U.S. Army in the mid-19th century. Lt. John Mullan was in charge of the building.)
Originating in the Columbia Valley in Washington, Mullan Road’s Red Blend is a Bordeaux style wine, made from grapes grown on three sites.
Seven Hills Vineyard has excellent soil and drainage. And it is more technologically advanced than most other sites. Its grapes, grown at 850 to 1,050 feet elevation, tend to have uniform ripeness.
Lawrence Vineyard is about 300 to 500 feet higher. The soil here has very good drainage which allows the growers to better control how much moisture gets to the grapes. And grapes that work harder to grow well have better flavors and textures.
And Stillwater Vineyard has fractured rock soils and an extreme southern exposure. Excellent for Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah. A blend of 51 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 29 percent Merlot and 20 percent Cabernet Franc, from these three vineyards, makes the 2016 Mullan Road Red.
Its appellation is Columbia Valley and Walla Walla Valley. Mullan Road’s winemaker is Aryn Morell, who has previously made wines at Joseph Phelps, Quintessa, Chimney Rock, Chappellet and Silver Oak.
The 2016 growing season in Washington started warm. There were heat spikes as early as April. Through the whole spring and into the summer, warm and even hot weather continued.
The grapes ripened very well. Fall that year was mild, with a cooler October. Great color and tannins in the grapes. The wine has vibrant black fruit notes, blackberries, black currants, dark cherries, baking spices and dark plums. Plus notes of dried herbs, tea leaves, potpourri, licorice, raspberries, hints of smoke and more.
All the aromas and flavors are intense and complex. And the textures are too. Smooth, elegant, rich, polished and concentrated with balanced tannins and a lingering finish.
This wine can be aged but is excellent now as well. With red meats, pork, strong cheeses and Christmas trees. The Cakebread reputation has expanded, from Napa to Washington State.
Mullan Road will be a well traveled road. For $39.98 at Bill’s Liquors. Enjoy.
Celia Strong works at Bill’s Liquor & Fine Wines on Lady’s Island.