Saturday, January 23, 2010

Washington Reds From Cadence, Mark Ryan

This posting considers two merlot-focused red wine blends from the state of Washington. They are a:

Cadence 2005 "Klipsun Vineyard" Red Wine ($40) and a
Mark Ryan Winery 2005 "Water Witch" Red Wine ($47).

Here's the quick bottom line: these are very, very similar offerings, which is not surprising since they both are made from grapes grown in the Klipsun Vineyard and contain almost identical proportions of merlot and cabernet sauvignon. If you like this style and don't mind the rather steep prices, both are Worth Considering.

The Klipsun Vineyard is located in Washington's Red Mountain appellation, which can be found in the south central part of the state.

Virtually all of Washington's vineyards are located east of the Cascade Mountains in desert-like conditions. Unlike the state's maritine coastal region, where the weather is gray and damp for most of the year, eastern Washingon is characterized by ambundant sunshine and very little rain. As a result, irrigation is the norm and crop quality doesn't vary as much from year to year as it does in regions where vineyards aren't irrigated and where rainfall can arrive at inopportune times, such as during the harvest.

Wines along the lines of the two offerings reviewed here are often identified in Washington State as "Bordeaux blends" -- terminology I don't particularly care for even though I have used it from time to time in other postings. The reason I don't like it is because the phrase suggests these wines might be a substitute for red wines actually made in Bordeaux and they really aren't. Moreover, some Washington "Bordeaux" blends contain small amounts of syrah, which isn't grown in Bordeaux. It is a grape associated with the Rhone region of France.

Red Bordeaux wines from France tend to be lighter in body than Washington wines made from the same grape varieties, less alcoholic, less overtly oaky and, in good years, better balanced between fruit and non-fruit flavors.

Having said that, I should quickly add that many consumers like the bigger, fruitier Washington State reds. If this is what you are used to, a "real" Bordeaux can taste a little peculiar.

Our lastest two-person panel sampled the Cadence and Mark Ryan blends over the course of three dinners, re-sealing the partically consumed bottles in the interim. This allowed us to see how these wines would develop when exposed to more and more oxygen.

Straight out of the bottle, both of these wines smelled and tasted rather overtly oaky. On the palate, they came across as fruity (in a good way), soft, round and mouthfilling. Both featured surprisingly spicy finishes -- much spicier than any Brodeaux I have ever tasted. My guess is that most of the spice is attributable to the oak. The first-day bottom line: too oaky, too spicy.

Things were better on the second day. Flavors associated with the oak seemed better integrated with the dark red flavors of the fruit and the finish of both of the wines had calmed down. This was probably when these two wines were at their best. On the third day, after more exposure to oxygen, both wines were fundamentally still in good shape, but they were starting to taste just a little bit "flat."

OK, this is splitting hairs, but we both liked the Cadence best. It was a touch more elegant when at its best and just a touch more complex in the flavor department. Another difference: over time, the Mark Ryan blend displayed a bit more in the way of noticeable tannin than was the case with the Cadence.

Recommendation: open either one of these wines several hours before you plan to consume it and consider decanting this wine. Both will best accompany full-flavored, robust fare.

The Cadence is 82% merlot, 18 % cabernet sauvignon while the Mark Ryan is 80% merlot, 20% cabernet. The difference doesn't seem significant, but perhaps the extra cabernet in the Mark Ryan offering accounts for the slighly more tannic nature of that wine. As for alcohol content, the Cadence is listed as being 14.4% while the Mark Ryan is said to be 14.3%. Since actual alcohol content can vary from the listed amounts, the different is not significant.

These are expensive wines -- perhaps even expensive for what you get. Consumers interested in Washington red wine blends should compare low-production, artisanal wines such as these with similar or indentitical blends produced in larger volume and offered at significantly lower prices to see if it really is worth paying more.

At present, I don't have enough experience with these wines to make that call.



Mark Ryan Winery


I have met both Ben Smith, the winemaker at Cadence (so named because Ben is a musician) and Mark Ryan McNeilly, who makes Mark Ryan wines, more than once at local wine tasting events. Both are exceptionally engaging individuals and will patiently answer, with commendable candor, as many questions as one cares to ask.

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