White Gold

The first time I tasted Buty Winery's 2003 sémillon–sauvignon blanc blend, I was impressed. Maybe overwhelmed would be a better word. The wine was notable, but it seemed a little over the top in several respects: a little too much acid, too much alcohol—too much flavor, even. My first note to myself: "going to be terrific in a year or so." So I bought a few bottles (at $22 apiece), planning to open one next about this time in 2006. But there was a group tasting coming up at the office, so I brought a bottle for others to sample, and a colleague then asked if he could get a couple bottles for himself. That did in my first self-allocation, so I ordered half a dozen more bottles. That was two weeks ago; yesterday I placed an order for a full case. It's the best kind of wine there is: the kind you want to share. I don't know for certain where my head and my palate were back at the beginning of my acquaintance with Caleb and Nina Foster Buty's little wonder, but I suspect my failure to fully appreciate the wine's quality was due to its quality. We're not used to white wine of such power and character in this state; we're not really used to it from elsewhere, either, except for the finest European chardonnays and rieslings. The dry white wines of Bordeaux, once the benchmark for blends like this one, have fallen on evil times, thanks to the vagaries of fashion and the marketplace. And if you're seeking a great wine made from sauvignon blanc, you naturally turn these days to New Zealand. As for sémillon . . . more on that in a moment. After Caleb's tour of duty as assistant winemaker at Walla Walla's Woodward Canyon, the Butys went to learn at the source about what makes New Zealand sauv blanc so special. "Most of those wines blend in some sémillon, but we always knew that when we came back, sémillon was going to be our focus," says Nina. "Washington is one of very few places in the world where sémillon is capable of producing great wine. We have used as much as 75 percent sémillon making this blend." The Butys are not the only winemakers getting stunning results with sémillon; Randy Clubb's L'Ecole No. 41 has been turning heads with the varietal for 20 years, and it's currently produced in four variations. At $15 a bottle, the 2003 "barrel-fermented" sémillon (13 percent sauv blanc) is a remarkable bargain. But Buty's bottling is the first I've tasted to suggest that one day, a Washington white may stand proudly side by side with, if not challenge, Bordeaux's Haut-Brion. rdowney@seattleweekly.com

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