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Monday, Dec. 15, 2008

A fitting tribute to Walter Clore

Columbia Crest's Walter Clore Private Reserve is one of those wines that's richly made yet is a veritable bargain for such a classic Bordeaux-style blend.

It's an equal of any preminum red in the land - regardless of cost.

Priced at $35, this award-winning red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and sometimes a bit of Cabernet Franc can knock the socks off judges as it gains top awards around the country.

The 2001 vintage earned a Platinum at the 2004 Wine Press Northwest Platinum Judging of gold-medal-winning wines. The 2005 vintage was voted best of class at the 2008 Tri-Cities Wine Festival judging.

The Walter Clore often comes out on top of wines that cost $20 to $100 more, and it deserves to be one of those wines you lovingly stash in your wine cellar.

The wine was introduced in 2002 when Doug Gore, vice president of wine operations at Columbia Crest, rechristened what had been known simply as the "Reserve Red." A celebration was held on a sunny October day at the Paterson, Wash., winery, attended by Walter Clore, the man hailed as the "father of Washington wine" for the work he did to promote wine grapes in Eastern Washington beginning soon after he arrived at WSU's Prosser research station in the late 1930s.

Clore passed away just a few months later. I have a coveted bottled signed by him and Gore.

Since then, there have been five more vintages, each an award winner in its own right.

Back in 2002 at the wine unveiling event, Clore said he was pleased with the honor and happened to notice what a bargain the new wine is for consumers.

"I read in a recent edition of Wine Spectator magazine that Opus One (the famous red blend collaboration of Robert Mondavi and the Rothschild family of France) earned a 93-point rating (out of 100) and was priced at $150," Clore said. "I also read that the Columbia Crest Walter Clore Reserve Red wine received a 92 rating (in the same edition of the magazine) and was priced at below $30 a bottle," he added.

His point continues to hold true. Washington and the rest of Pacific Northwest make world-class wines at bargain prices.

Clore made lasting contributions to the state's wine industry during his long life, so it seemed appropriate to immortalize his name on a bottle of Columbia Crest's top wine.

He worked 40 years at the Prosser research station and helped convince Eastern Washington farmers they could grow the grapes to produce world-class wines.

Columbia Crest also has honored Clore by naming the area where the reserve wines are aged as the Walter Clore Barrel Room.

When Columbia Crest, the Pacific Northwest's largest winery, celebrated its 25th anniversary at its giant Paterson headquarters last summer, it offered a vertical tasting of the Walter Clore lineup.

Recently, I was afforded the opportunity to revisit the 2000 to 2004 vintages. In November, I got the chance - along with several hundred patrons at the Tri-Cities Wine Festival - to taste the 2005 edition. I didn't get to taste the 1999 other than when it was first released, but I'll do that from memory.

Ray Einberger, who succeeded Gore as head winemaker for Columbia Crest and makes the Walter Clore red, described the award-winning red blend.

"The finest hand-picked grapes were used in this blend of classic Bordeaux varieties," he said. "Aging for two years in custom French barrels adds tremendous balance and length of finish. Aging occurs in the 'Le Petit Chais,' a cellar honoring the traditional winemaking techniques of Bordeaux used in crafting this wine."

It is a limited-production wine for Columbia Crest at 6,000 cases annually.

The blend changes a bit from year to year, but the quality is constant. Furthermore, all of the wines are holding up quite well and should last a few more years.

1999 Walter Clore Private Reserve, Columbia Valley: In 2002, I wrote, "Black currants and hints of cedar aromas. The flavors are delicate with touches of milk chocolate, and the finish is extremely smooth." 

2000 Walter Clore Private Reserve, Columbia Valley: Still a rich wine with lovely silky mouthfeel, blueberries and some nice cocoa.

2001 Walter Clore Private Reserve, Columbia Valley: Tasty cherry and blackberry flavors with aromas of cinnamon and chocolate. 

2002 Walter Clore Private Reserve, Columbia Valley: This one has a bit more Cabernet Sauvignon than most and shows a nice oak beginning with perfectly balanced berry flavors.

2003 Walter Clore Private Reserve, Columbia Valley: Big and chewy and has a wee bit of Cabernet Franc. A touch of coconut and slight minty aromas. Cherry/berry flavors with big tannins lead to a lingering finish.

2004 Walter Clore Private Reserve, Columbia Valley, $35: Still available at the winery. A complex mix of chocolate, cherries and blackberries form a lush combo of a delightful Bordeaux-styled wine.

2005 Walter Clore Private Reserve, Columbia Valley, $35: Opulent best describes this tasty red with a balanced oak beginning, smooth berry flavors and a rich tannin finish. A keeper.

BOB WOEHLER is Wine Press Northwest's tasting editor. He has been writing about Northwest wine since 1976.