Before he started making his own wine—featured in last week's column—in 1998, Washington State winemaker Norm McKibben sold the highly prized grapes from his Pepper Bridge vineyard to other winemakers. His first customer was the L'Ecole No. 41 winery, so named because it is housed in the old Frenchtown School building in Lowden, and I recently tried—no, delighted in—a bottle of their stunning L'Ecole No. 41 Apogee, Pepper Bridge Vineyard 2005 ($50) made from just this fruit.
This is a red blend of primarily cabernet sauvignon and merlot and it well demonstrates how Washington State's innovative winemakers are breaking new ground and carving out a reputation for themselves despite having been around for barely a generation.
There are plenty of those delicious round, smoky, dark fruit flavors one wants in a high-class new-world red, but it manages at the same time to show pretty, floral elements, and to wrap up the package in a harmony of delicacy and finesse. Think Astaire rather than Kelly, elegant and light on its feet, and as such it is a connoisseur's wine, likely to be appreciated by those wine drinkers whose palates have become tired of fat, acid-free cocktail reds.
It's really all about fruit, you see, not oak. If you start out with great fruit, great fruit from the Pepper Bridge vineyard, the best thing the winemaker can do is to stand out of the way and let the magic of that fruit shine through, and this winemaker, Martin Clubb, has done it with stunning success—in wine-geek-speak he has made a vineyard wine, not a winery wine.
To find this wine near you, try www.wine-searcher.com.
When to Drink: Now and for the next five years.
Breathing/Decanting: A half-hour of breathing really helps.
Food Pairing: Richer red meat and pasta dishes.
Grapes: 45% cabernet sauvignon, 45% merlot, 7% malbec, 3% cabernet franc.
Appellation: Walla Walla Valley
Region: Washington State
Web Site: www.lecole.com
See more wines at www.nickonwine.com.