This year’s Open That Bottle Night was last Saturday, February 22. Open That Bottle Night, created by former Wall Street Journal wine columnists Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, is the one night a year that we are all encouraged to get out that bottle of wine that is so special that no occasion seems special enough to actually open it.
That’s exactly what the Wine Peeps team did when we sat down for dinner and opened not one, but two bottles of Washington wine that I’d been saving for just such a special occasion. Both wines were 2008 Bordeaux-style red blends, each with 69% Cabernet Sauvignon. I was the only one who knew the identity of the wines beforehand; they were tasted “blind” so the labels would not prejudice our critique of the wines.
As it turned out, wine bag #1 contained the 2008 Leonetti Reserve from the Walla Walla Valley and wine bag #2 contained the 2008 Rasa Creative Impulse from the Yakima Valley. The 2008 Creative Impulse had been Wine Peeps’ choice as Best Wine of 2011 the first time we tasted it. We had not previously tasted the 2008 vintage of the Leonetti Reserve.
Leonetti Cellar, located in Walla Walla, Washington, has a long and storied history for a Washington State winery. Founded by Gary and Nancy Figgins in 1977, Leonetti Cellar was the Walla Walla Valley’s first modern-day winery. Leonetti wines have been standard bearers for quality and consistency since their beginning and have achieved a cult following. It often takes years of waiting to make their allocation list. In 1996, Gary and Nancy’s son, Chris, joined them in the winery after graduating with a degree in Horticulture from Washington State University. While Gary is still actively involved in the winery, Chris now serves as CEO and Director of Winemaking. From early on, the Figgins family has worked on developing their own vineyards in order to achieve their goal of exclusively using estate-grown fruit from the Walla Walla Valley. Leonetti only produces three or four wines each year, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese, and in the best vintages, a Reserve like this one.
Even though they are a relative newcomer, founded in 2007 by brothers Pinto and Billo Naravane, Rasa Vineyards is already a bona fide Washington wine superstar. Billo serves as winemaker and Pinto as managing partner, but the brothers collaborate on every aspect of the business. They both have engineering and mathematical backgrounds and worked in the computer industry. As far as Wine Peeps’ ratings go, Rasa has been in a league of its own. We’ve found a “Wow!” wine (Quality rating of 5 stars) in every release they’ve had so far, which is unprecedented for us: 2007 Principia, 2008 Creative Impulse, 2009 Plus One, and 2010 QED. Also, the 2008 Vox Populi was the consensus winner in a Tasting Group tasting of Mourvedre from around the world. Rasa Vineyards offers their wines through their mailing list first. Only open by appointment, Rasa Vineyards is definitely a must-visit if you are in the Walla Walla area.
Once you have bottles like these two in the cellar, it is often difficult to decide when it’s the right occasion to drink them. Enter Open That Bottle Night. So this past weekend, we sat down to one of LaGayle’s wonderful dinners of mixed greens drizzled with tomato balsamic vinegar, steak frites, and a French macaroon for dessert, paired with these two special bottles that I had decanted for two hours. I’m happy to report that it did not disappoint!
2008 Leonetti Cellar Reserve (Walla Walla Valley, Washington): 69% Cabernet Sauvignon , 11% Merlot, 11% Petit Verdot, and 9% Cabernet Franc. Deep, dark purple. Outstanding nose of black cherry, earth, and leather. On the palate, it has an amazing set of complex flavors including black cherry, other black fruits, a spice box with cinnamon and black pepper, and even a yummy vegetal note. Full-bodied, almost creamy, with crisp acidity, a good, dry tannin level and an extremely long finish. A fabulous, well-balanced wine that should reward further cellaring. It was the better of these two outstanding wines from start to finish. Wow!
Quality: 5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 3 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Full Pull Wines (Seattle, Washington), $145; Available elsewhere, $160 to $200
2008 Rasa Vineyards Creative Impulse (DuBrul Vineyard, Yakima Valley, Washington): 69% Cabernet Sauvignon and 31% Merlot. Deep, dark purplish red. The nose features aromas of black cherry, black currant, and vanilla. Very fruity with more black cherry, black currant, some red fruits, and licorice on the palate. Medium-full bodied with lively acidity and silky, smooth tannins. Well-balanced and gets better the longer it is open. Has good complexity and a very long finish. While this is an excellent wine, this bottle on this day was not quite up to the Wow! Rating we gave this wine a couple of years ago.
Quality: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 3 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Winery, $95; Available elsewhere, $95 to $100
While our goal at Wine Peeps is to find excellent wines that are also excellent values, it sure can be fun to splurge every once in a while.
If you missed this year’s OTBN, go ahead and open your special bottle tonight (or this weekend) anyway. Or, mark your calendar for next year’s OTBN on Saturday, February 28, 2015 (always the last Saturday in February).