Corliss Estates and Tranche Cellars: Livin’ Up to the Hype

By Kori ~ July 18th, 2011.

Corliss Estates and Tranche Cellars burst onto the scene a couple of years ago and almost immediately received high praise from the critics. Located in Walla Walla, Washington, Corliss’s critical acclaim has not been limited to the confines of Washington State. In fact, their goal is to be considered one of the “grand vins” of the world. While Corliss and Tranche have the same owners and winemaking team, they are completely separate wineries.

On a recent visit to Walla Walla, we had the pleasure to meet with Erik McLaughlin, Director of Wineries for Corliss Estates, and tour both the Corliss and Tranche facilities, their Blue Mountain Vineyard which is adjacent to Tranche, and taste through some of their current and upcoming releases. We have had some of their wines in the past but were glad to get an inside look at their operation.

Michael and Lauri Corliss bought the building in downtown Walla Walla in 1999 that is now home to Corliss Estates and started the winery in 2000. Their first wines were released in 2008 from the 2003 vintage. Corliss produces 1,500 cases annually. Great attention to detail goes into the production of these wines. Corliss believes in extended barrel and bottle aging. While the current red wine releases from most Washington wineries are the 2007 or 2008 vintages, Corliss’s current releases are from the 2005 and 2006 vintages and their 2006 Red Wine and Cabernet Sauvignon will be released this fall. The bottles used for Corliss wines feature a very deep punt, which has a unique wax seal that is applied immediately after bottling. Until the wines are labeled close to their release date, the only identifier is that wax seal. They choose to not label their wines at the time of bottling in order to prevent the labels from getting dirty or torn before they are released. After the wines are labeled, they are hand numbered to provide yet another extra touch.

In 2004, the Corlisses decided to start Tranche Cellars. Tranche moved into the former Nicholas Cole facility in 2008 and released their first wines in 2009. Producing 2,000 cases per year, Tranche is where the Corliss winemaking team indulges their fun side, experimenting with different varieties and styles.

The winemaking efforts at Corliss and Tranche truly are a team effort. The winemaking team includes owner Mike Corliss, Erik McLaughlin, on-site winemakers Andrew Trio from Australia and Griffin Frey from Napa, and consulting winemaker Philippe Melka. Corliss and Tranche source their fruit from some of the top vineyards in Washington State as well as their four estate vineyards, Blue Mountain Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley, Blackrock Vineyard in the Yakima Valley, and Red Mountain Vineyard and Corliss Vineyard on Red Mountain.

We tasted three Corliss wines and three Tranche wines. While we thought all six wines were very good, we were especially impressed with the 2006 Corliss Red Wine, a Bordeaux-style blend, which will be released in the fall. Since I am one to take high scores from the critics with a grain of salt, I am happy to see that Corliss is living up to the hype.

Corliss wines are offered to their registry list first. A limited number are also distributed. If you have not had a chance to try one of their wines, I encourage you to keep your eyes out for them on the shelf at your local wine shop or sign up for their registry. Corliss is not open to the public; they only open their doors twice a year for members of their registry. Tranche is open by appointment only.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the technical tasting room at the Corliss facility designed to provide the perfect tasting atmosphere. It is a temperature-controlled room, set at a cellar-worthy 65 degrees, which has a white table, white cabinets and countertops, a system to provide neutral air, and spitting/dumping receptacles with a constant flow of water. I would love to have a room like this in my own home.

Without further ado, let’s move on to the wines…

Corliss Estates:

2006 Corliss Red Wine (Columbia Valley, Washington): Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. Deep, bright red in color. Gorgeous nose with black cherry, blackberry, licorice, spice, leather, earth, and game aromas and flavors. Medium to full-bodied with good acidity and well-integrated, silky tannins. Well-balanced with good complexity and a long, smooth finish. Gets even better the longer it is open.
Quality: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 4 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Winery, $65 [to be released Fall 2011]

2006 Corliss Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley, Washington): Deep, bright red. Very aromatic with loads of spice up front as well as leather and ripe blackberry on the nose. Black cherry, spice, and mineral notes come through on the palate. Medium to full-bodied with crisp acidity, and smooth tannins. Well-balanced with a long finish.
Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 4 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Winery, $75 [to be released Fall 2011]

2005 Corliss Red Wine (Columbia Valley, Washington): 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 9% Malbec, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 7% Petit Verdot. Deep purplish red with slight browning. Very aromatic with black cherry, blackberry, spice, and floral notes on both the nose and palate. Medium to full-bodied with lively acidity and medium to high tannins. Well-balanced with a long finish.
Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 1 bang for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Winery, $65; Available elsewhere, $64 to $65

Tranche Cellars:

2007 Tranche Cabernet Franc (Walla Walla Valley, Washington): Deep red in color. Nice nose with aromas of earth, minerality, licorice, and vegetal notes. Earth, black fruits, and dusty notes. Medium-bodied with crisp acidity, and medium drying tannins. Well-balanced with a long, smooth finish.
Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 4 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Winery, $25

2006 Tranche Slice of Pape (Columbia Valley, Washington): Blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Cinsault. Medium red. Nose is a bit tight at first and then earth, spice, and black cherry aromas come through. Flavors of black cherry, leather, earth, and spice. Medium to full-bodied with lively acidity, medium tannins, and a long finish.
Quality: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 2 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Winery, $35

2008 Tranche Slice of Pape Blanc (Columbia Valley, Washington): 58% Roussanne and 42% Viognier. Light, straw yellow in color. Nice nose with pear and white peach aromas. More white peach and tropical fruit comes through on the palate. Light to medium-bodied with lively acidity, good mouthfeel, and a long, refreshing finish.
Quality: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 1 bang for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Winery, $30

Filed under: American Wine, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Wine, Vineyards, Washington State Wine, White Wine, Wines Over $25

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