House Blend

For the better part of 20 years, Allen Shoup was the 800-pound gorilla of Washington wine. But his reign as CEO of Stimson-Lane (Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest, and many more labels) was so benign, so downright collegial, that his departure from the company helm was all but universally regretted. Shoup regretted nothing; he relaxed, fished some of the finest trout streams of the world, and dreamed his dreams. Which turned out to be about wine. The dream was revealed three years ago, and it was as unprecedented as it was ambitious. Shoup announced that he was forming partnerships with some of the best-known winemakers of the world to create superpremium wines using Washington fruit. Since out-of-state wine consultants can't handle all the problems that come up in day-to-day winemaking, Shoup signed on Gilles Nicault, a rising French star then at Walla Walla's Woodward Canyon winery. The first wine by Shoup's firm, Long Shadows, an off-dry Columbia Valley riesling called Poet's Leap created with the help of German winemaker Armin Diehl, was released in the summer of 2004. The Long Shadows portfolio is now up to four: the riesling ($22); a California-style red blend dubbed Pirouette ($55); "Sequel" syrah ($55); and Chester-Kidder red ($50), the only one without a celebrity pedigree, put together by Nicault and Shoup for themselves as a labor of love. Two more reds remain in barrel for release in 2006, but among the wines already on the market, results have been mixed. Poet's Leap riesling drank agreeably last summer but is seeming a bit faded now, despite a substantial dash of enlivening acids. Pirouette is agreeable to drink, but hardly challenges its Napa Valley competitors, probably because a small proportion of syrah, unheard-of in Bordeaux-style blends, defocuses its impact. Shoup is proud of Sequel, crafted under the care of Australian superstar John Duval (late of Penfolds Grange), and so he should be. It's as pure an expression of the syrah grape as you'll find in this state, but compared to some of its rowdier competitors, it can seem a little underpowered. No doubt, Shoup would prefer that all the wines produced under his novel business plan win unqualified raves, but he has every reason to be delighted with his dark-horse, Chester-Kidder. You can taste the attention and love that went into every drop. Made in small lots and blended only from the top barrels, 27 months in French oak, this merlot-led blend (yes, there's syrah in this one, too) is a noble quaff indeed, to my taste at least topping the somewhat pricier Long Shadows reds, big-name winemakers and all. There's a lot to be said in this jet-addled world for keeping winemaking in the family and close to home.

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