Quilceda Creek Vinters
Create Your Own Cult
Washington has limited-production red wines worthy of anyone’s A’ list
The cabernet sauvignon is just one of three wines that Quilceda Creek produces each year. All are rich ripe reds fit for any hedonist’s cellar.

 


Quilceda's Cabernet Sauvignon
LIKE SO MANY trendy lifestyle products from California, where nothing succeeds like excess, certain wines have been elevated to “cult” status. By and large these are rare, cabernet-based wines, made in a full-throttle, highly-extracted style and produced in extremely limited quantities. Their ranks include Araujo “Eisele Vineyard,” Bryant Family, Colgin “Herb Lamb Vineyard,” Dalla Valle “Maya,” Grace Family, Harlan Estate and Screaming Eagle.

Though they are initially offered for sale (to mailing-list customers only) for $100 to $250 a bottle, the actual “street” prices for these wines are often many times that. At the 2000 Napa Valley Wine Auction, one bidder paid half a million dollars for a single bottle of Screaming Eagle Cabernet. (OK, it was six liters — equivalent to eight “regular” bottles — so the price was more like $62,500 a bottle. Deal!)

Is it any wonder that wine can sometimes be perceived as a ridiculously expensive and frivolous product? Such excesses suggest to the average consumer that only scarce wines are desirable, hence worthy of “cult” status. But instead of chasing after costly California curiosities, why not create your own list of cult wines? Wines that ring your personal bell — and don’t obliterate your wallet. Right here in Washington you can find wines every bit as good as those listed above, and — holy screwpull, Batman — they can be had!

Two names should be at the top of your Washington list: Leonetti Cellar and Quilceda Creek. They have a lot in common. Both are limited-production (roughly 4,500 to 5,500 cases annually) red-wine specialists. Both are family-owned, started by dedicated hobbyists in the late 1970s — Gary Figgins at Leonetti and Alex Golitzin at Quilceda Creek. And both have led the way in establishing Washington state as one of the world’s most blessed regions for creating long-lived, Bordeaux-style red wines.

Until fairly recently, you could buy these wines with little trouble for under $30. Now, admittedly, things have tightened up. No winery has felt the pressure of success more than Leonetti, whose seductive cabernets and merlots seamlessly blend unctuous fruit with layer upon layer of oak. The result: a rare combination of power and elegance.

When asked to explain the secret of his success, the low-key Figgins simply says, “Our philosophy is to present a wine to the consumers that gives the most pleasure for the longest period of time. That’s why people clamor over them; they can have them now and show them off to their friends, or they can keep them for 10 years.”

Restaurants such as Daniel’s Broiler, Café Juanita and the Metropolitan Grill feature Leonetti on their wine lists; but the winery’s own mailing list is the only one in Washington that is closed to new customers. Nonetheless, if you time things right, the new releases can be found in select wine shops. They come out in March, and many retailers start taking advance orders right about now. It’s worth calling around.

Dan McCarthy of Seattle’s McCarthy & Schiering Wine Merchants (2401-B Queen Anne Ave. N., 206-282-8500; 6500 Ravenna Ave. N.E., 206-524-9500) allocates a bottle or two of Leonetti to clients who have purchased in the past. But, he points out, people drop off that list every year, opening up spaces. The wonderful sangiovese is a particularly good buy, and more available.

Dave Woods, who owns Seattle Cellars (2505 Second Ave., 206-256-0850), says he makes Leonetti available to all his customers. “We get it in, price it, and it’s first come, first served. We don’t take lists, or limit purchases. My philosophy is I don’t want to hold people hostage.”

In terms of quality, consistency and intensity, Quilceda Creek’s exceptional red wines are peers to Leonetti. But perhaps because Alex and Paul Golitzin’s muscular, multi-dimensional cabernets and merlots are made in a style a bit more austere (and hence longer-lived) than the effusive Leonetti, they are not quite as scarce. Quilceda Creek makes just three wines; their current releases include a 1998 cabernet sauvignon ($70), a 1998 merlot ($55) and a 1998 red wine ($30) that is meant for near-term drinking.

About 2,500 cases of Quilceda Creek cabernet are made each year for distribution in 38 states and 10 foreign countries. Just 250 cases of the merlot are sold — to mailing-list customers exclusively. The mailing list remains open; for more information contact the winery at 360-568-2389, or visit the Web site at www.quilcedacreek.com.

While the wines of these two pioneers have become the template for excellence among Washington cabs and merlots, dozens of younger wineries have begun making their own limited production, Bordeaux-blend wines. But as Washington’s reputation grows (Wine Enthusiast magazine recently named it “Wine Region of the Year”), these wineries will inevitably cut down their allocations to the hometown crowd in order to promote themselves globally.

So if you’re a fan of rich, ripe, hedonistic red wines, now is the time and this is the place to create your own list of cult wineries.


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Paul Gregutt is the author of “Northwest Wines” and a contributing editor to Wine Enthusiast magazine. His e-mail address is indelible@aol.