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Wine

L’Ecole No 41 ~ Walla Walla Wine ~ A Lesson in Washington State

There’s just  something so cool about saying Walla Walla Wine. It trips off the tongue.

Regarding “L’Ecole Nº 41,” I’m from Maine, where most people – when I was growing up there – were of French origin. Just think about it’s placement on the US map. It’s above the rest of the states, with the latitude being parallel to Canada. During my time in Maine, it was a manufacturing state, and immigrants from Canada were the norm.

My maternal grandparents’ last name was Bernier… Rhymes with Viognier.

So, receiving L’Ecole Nº 41 wines meant that I knew I was headed toward a lesson, as my French background served me well. L’Ecole is French for “The School.” I was off and running with The School Number 41, or L’Ecole Nº 41.

The Walla Walla AVA is located in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, in the southeastern corner of Washington. The elevation of Walla Walla is just shy of 1,000 feet above sea level (942 feet). This area begins the high desert of the West Coast. I’m most familiar with California, Nevada, Oregon, and Idaho’s high deserts. I would imagine, because I’ve not been in this part of Washington, that it would have a similar terroir (but a bit cooler, being more north) than these other states. My memory of these areas is scrub brush, something that I’ve not seen in other part of the US east of the Rocky Mountains.

From their Website:

L’Ecole Nº 41 is known for producing superior quality wines that are rich, flavorful and full-bodied. Our dedication to making premium varietal wines begins by obtaining the highest quality fruit. Recent vineyard investments and longstanding relationships with some of the most distinguished growers in the region have provided us with the viticultural management critical to fine winemaking. No less important—and instrumental to our success—is our philosophy of traditional hands-on winemaking. We believe in harvesting ripe fruit. Our gravity fed crusher and gentle press operations limit the use of abusive pumps. Flavor and tannin extraction are further controlled by hand punch-downs during fermentation. In combination, these techniques allow limited or no red wine fining and filtration. Our commitment to quality is exemplified by our membership in the Washington Wine Quality Alliance.

[Wine bottle shot is borrowed from L’Ecole’s Website.]

After having tasted these wines with Melanie Hoffman (Melanie was contributing Melanie’s Wednesday Wines to wine blog, because she’s got a super palate) I can honestly say that L’Ecole Nº 41 is producing wines that are every bit as good as their story states. The wines are rich and wonderful. Their body is substantive, the flavors are delicious. It was a real lesson in what is being produced by L’Ecole, and the potential and promise of other Washington State wines I’ve yet to taste. With each one, I’ve noted who said what about each wine.

Also, having sold California wine in Washington State (about ten years ago), a noticed a really interesting benefit that the state offers its wine producers. (I don’t know if this is still the same, but it was fascinating for me at the time.)

  • California is very California centric; i.e., on a store shelf in California, 5o percent of the wines were from this state. Another 40 percent were from the rest of the world. The final 10 percent were from Oregon (mostly), Washington, and a few other states.
  • Oregon had 50 percent California wines on their shelves, 25 percent Oregon, and about 20 percent Washington wines, with the other five percent from around the world.
  • Washington state protected their guys with about 50 percent of the wines coming from Washington, 25 percent from California, and the other 25 percent being from Oregon and from around the rest of the world.

This kind of loyalty in Washington plays really well for their vintners; both on the home front, and for anyone visiting to be introduced to their wines.

How did we enjoy the wines? We really did.

2008 Estate Luminesce – Seven Hills Vineyard- Walla Walla Valley: 70% Semillon, 30% Sauvignon Blanc: $19.00

Tart Lemon aromas, with star fruit and lite grapefruit on the palate. A beautiful olive oil viscosity rounded out the palate. This wine had all aromas and flavors come through on the finish, making this a very complex wine as a sipper. I felt that this wine was begging for great foods. I’m about to cook a roasted mushrooms, shallots, and fresh herb dish. I think this one would be a perfect wine for the flavors of the additional combination of added garlic, soy sauce, and sesame seeds (The recipe is in Food & Wine’s March 2010 issue, on page 46). — Jo

2007 Estate Merlot – Seven Hills Vineyard – Walla Walla Valley: 81% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc ~ $36.00

Beautiful bouquet opens with a smoky nature, added leather and vanilla continue with juicy boysenberry and a black licorice close. Nice chewy tannins and a generous mouthfeel of bright fruit; Bing cherry, raspberry and violets. Earthy finish with notes of white pepper and molasses. — Melanie

2007 Estate Syrah – Seven Hills Vineyard – Walla Walla Valley ~ 100% Syrah ~ $36.00

Bacon and raspberry fruit open the nose, added subtle oak, and blueberry jam develop with maple syrup and a touch of pine at the end of the bouquet. Medium body, balanced mouthfeel. Rich plum palate offers ample mesquite smoky nature, added cedar and dark chocolate round out the rich finish. — Melanie

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon – Columbia Valley ~ 100% Cabernet Sauvignon ~ $32.00 regularly, but is being offered as a sale item for $28.00 as of this writing.

Dark cocoa and vanilla bean aromas up front in the complex nose. Added strawberry jam, chili powder, roasted red bell pepper and a touch of eucalyptus at the back end of the bouquet. Soft, very accessible palate follows nose with more jammy fruit and savory flavors. Lingering finish. — Melanie

2006 Estate Perigee – Seven Hills Vineyard – Walla Walla Valley ~ 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc ~ $49.00

This Bordeaux-style blend was round and rich. The Cabernet Franc is always a plus for me… the more the better, as Cab Franc is one of my favorite red wines. I like the juicy components that it always brings to a blend. For me, Cabernet Sauvignon – by itself – is not dimensional enough for my palate. (It’s just my palate, I know. Other people find Cabs to be so luxurious. I don’t get it the same way.) This wine had dark cherries, cocoa powder, and coffee bean notes on the nose. On the palate, boysenberries and a hint of mint brought forth beautiful fruit. The finish lingered with black fruit and a hint of leather.

In moon cycles, Perigee is closer to earth, and heightens our emotions. If you don’t believe that, ask any police officer or ambulance driver what happens during a full moon when the moon is at Perigee. — Jo

2006 Apogee – Pepper Bridge Vineyard – Walla Walla Valley ~ 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot, 8% Malbec, 4% Cabernet Franc~ $49.00

This Bordeaux-style blend was a bit lighter than its counter part; although the Malbec did add its own flavors and intensity. A drier, more black fruit from start to finish, but didn’t get the same cocoa powder of richness of coffee beans… just more black fruit on the nose, palate, and finish. A beautiful wine, like the Perigee, but a different wine altogether.

In moon cycles, Apogee is farther away from earth, and our emotions during this kind of full moon are heightened, but not as much as when it’s at Perigee. My father owned an ambulance service, and for more years than I care to remember, we watched the full moon phases, and who was being picked up for what ailments, accidents, and abuses… with Apogee not being quite as intense. I can actually relate both words to these wines, interestingly. Remember, our bodies are made up of about 55-60 percent water; the earth is made up of 70 percent water. — Jo

From MoonConnection.com (Image is borrowed from this site to demonstrate size.)

The apogee and perigee of the moon have a definite affect on the weather and tides here on Earth. When the moon is at Apogee, the furthest distance from the Earth, it has less gravitational pull. Weather conditions can be more stable and the tides more predictable. When the moon is at perigee, closer to the Earth, there is much more gravitational pull and it can whip up the tides and cause weather to become more unstable.

I can see why two Bordeaux-style blends are being offered by L’Ecole Nº 41. They’re so different; each is unique.

It was a wonderful experience tasting and enjoying all of these wines. If you haven’t tried L’Ecole Nº 41, there’s no time like the present, the next time you’re out wondering “What to buy?”

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