05 Betz Family Winery, Columbia Valley Besoleil
I swear I recognize your face. I always feel that way with grenache--whether the juicy, dusty red is from Spain, Australia, southern France, or here in Columbia Valley, where I now have suspicion to believe the ground is made of marrow bones and the spirit of some ancient, possibly Aztec, god of cocoa beans. I'm not so sure we're at a place yet to say what Washington wine means--not so much as Oregon might be pinot noir, Germany riesling--and if the retail shops had their way, we'd probably peg it closest to rich, fruity cab. And we wouldn't be wrong. Some of Washington's truly best wines, including Bob Betz's own, are Bordeaux by any other name. If you searched a little harder, had enough geeky friends, you'd quickly be convinced from Charlie Smith, Christophe Baron, and, again, Bob Betz, really the whole point is syrah. Which is maybe why the Betz family has devoted almost its entire portfolio to Rhone-styled wines. But the 2005 Besoleil--young yet still easily the most beautifully aged grenache I've ever had (often the humble varietal goes flat, too grapey, rotten, or overwhelmed by creamy oak)--starts to make the case that Washington is made for grenache. I don't say that lightly, or without knowing what it is to drink cab and merlot from Dubrul, syrah from Cailloux. Instead, it's the terroir that Betz uses to power this fruit, grenache sourced largely from Horse Heaven Hills, Washington's largest and maybe most indicative AVA, that leaves me so convinced. The Besoleil, more than 80% grenache supported by mourvedre and syrah, has the dark, brambly, inspiring raspberry and blackberry fruit that makes me lust after this region. You'll know it well if you've ever been to a great restaurant. It smells like a Michelin kitchen, complex but focused. There's nothing in here we didn't mean. Yes, you smell coal and rosemary. It's because we roast our chickens underground and feed our ducks plums. All I can think of is Alinea. Of course, if you're from Columbia Valley, you just figure I'm some haughty, over-metaphorical writer who's clearly coming close to finishing the bottle already. Because to you, it doesn't smell like Alinea, Tru, or the back table by the service line at Bar Tartine. You probably smell the river, see the view looking out to Oregon. You hear the sweaty echo in the valley and whisper in the cool, stemmy nights through shin-sharpened grass. Haunting, familiar yet you can't seem to place it. But it's in us. Whatever the memory. High-end dinners, first kisses in France's lavendar countryside, the light purple taffy and royal icing you used to eat on your birthday. Whatever that memory, that's what Bob Betz has captured. That's what Washington wine stands for.