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An Exemplary Trio from Washington
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jan 3, 2017
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Buty Winery, Horse Heaven Hills (Washington State) “Columbia Rediviva” Phinney Hill Vineyard, 2013 ($50):  As Washington wines gained acclaim over the past three decades or so, the state’s exciting red grape variety progressed from Merlot to Cabernet Sauvignon to Syrah.  Today, we know that all three varieties produce world-class red wines in Washington.  As a point of fact, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot dominate with 39 and 34 percent of red grape production respectively, while Syrah ranks third with just 14 percent of production -- but each variety seems equally capable of greatness.

An impressive trio of new releases from Buty Winery underscores the diversity and potential of the three varieties.  One wine, the 2014 Connor Lee Vineyard from Columbia Valley ($45) combines Merlot with Cabernet Franc in a 63-37 ratio. In another wine, the 2013 “Columbia Rediviva” from Horse Heaven Hills, Cabernet Sauvignon dominates with 15 percent Syrah in the blend.  The third wine, 2013 “Rediviva of the Stones” ($60) from the winery’s Rockgarden Estate in Walla Walla Valley, is 80 percent Syrah; Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvedre account for the balance, at 14 and 6 percent respectively.  All three are fine wines that truly represent their dominant grape varieties.

A taster’s preference among the three wines is likely to depend on that person’s inclination to the three grape varieties -- lush, blue-fruit Merlot vs. lean, cassis- and tobacco-scented Cabernet vs. complexly aromatic, generous and silky Syrah.  Apart from personal preferences, the Syrah-dominant Rediviva of the Stones is the most remarkable of the three wines, but my choice was to spotlight Columbia Redivia, the Cabernet Sauvignon, because it is the wine that most suits my own taste.

What intrigues me about this Cabernet is the interplay between classic Cabernet characteristics -- lean structure, firm tannin, flavors of dark berries and tobacco leaf -- and the characteristics of the wine’s minor player, Syrah (raspberry and cherry aromas, aromatic intensity and some silkiness of texture).  Altogether, it is a dry, full-bodied but rather light-footed wine with a lean structure defined by its firm but not aggressive tannin, as well as a sleek, complex middle that’s rich in flavor.  The wine’s long finish echoes the flavor richness of the palate. 

In Rediviva of the Stones, the Syrah takes center stage to such an extent that I cannot particularly perceive the Cabernet Sauvignon or Mourvedre.  Many classic styles of Syrah exist; this wine, to me, verges toward the Côte Rôtie model because of its amazing range of aromas and flavors, from game to smoked meat to attractive vegetal notes, to black pepper, raspberry fruit, and olives.  In the same model, it is also silky and seamless, its tannin submerged within its other textural elements.  The overt fruitiness of this wine is a New World signature, however. It is a fabulous expression of Washington Syrah.

Merlot lovers, on the other hand, will delight in the Conner Lee Vineyard blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  As in the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant wine, here the distinct personalities of the two varieties are evident: the ampleness and richness of fully ripe Merlot, its texture velvety and almost chewy with ripe tannin and its flavors dark-plummy and chocolatey; and the vibrant energy of Cabernet Franc, along with its savory, red-fruit and floral notes.  The two varieties grow at an elevation of more than 1100 feet in a cool site within a warm and sunny region and, in the case of 2014, a relatively warm vintage.  The wine reflects both the warmth (in its richness) and the cool (in its freshness).  It is still youthful, and in fact improved overnight in a refrigerated half-full bottle.

All three wines were produced in limited quantities, fewer than 400 cases.  If you are a red wine lover and not familiar with Buty Winery, the varietal signatures of these three wines can direct you to your best choice.  Every one of the three wines is exemplary.

“Columbia Rediviva,” 91 Points