Thirtysomethings

Portraits of the winemakers as young artists.

While I much prefer Faces-era Rod Stewart to anything the singer did in his solo career, on the night of Saturday, Jan. 22, I couldn't stop the first verse of "Young Turks" from playing endlessly on my inner turntable. Waterfront Seafood Grill wasn't honoring my third-grade 45 collection; it was hosting a winemaker dinner with five of Washington's up-and-coming vintners. (Imagine if the Waterfront had chosen to showcase the winemakers from Baer Winery, Stevens Winery, Basel Cellars, Ross Andrew Winery,and Mark Ryan Winery by referencing Rod's biggest hit instead—I'd have been singing "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" all night.) Someone at the table next to mine did call Baer Winery's 2002 Ursa—a blend of merlot (44 percent), cabernet franc (31 percent), and cabernet sauvignon (25 percent)—sexy, so I suppose that song might have worked just fine for a theme, too. I'm dubious about calling any wine "sexy," but former DeLille Cellars assistant winemaker Lance Baer's blend is a direct yet incredibly smooth and silky sensation. Perfectly and subtly balanced with quiet, plumlike raspberries and hints of spicy coffee with cream, Ursa is a wine you immediately love even if you aren't the world's most experienced wine drinker. Baer, speaking briefly before we drank Ursa with a velvety black bean soup garnished with coriander-crusted prawns, said he aims for "immediate" wines. He doesn't want you to have to cellar his wines, he wants you to have to drink them, and you do have to drink Ursa—provided you're OK with shelling out $26 for it. Between courses and after dinner, I wasn't the only one at our table reaching for seconds and thirds, or clamoring to find an empty glass when Baer mentioned that he also had a few bottles of his '02 Arctos with him (both new releases will be available in March). BECAUSE ALL OF Saturday night's wines were supremely drinkable and approachable, I wouldn't be surprised to find wine newcomers becoming quick fans. None of these young Turks are necessarily targeting young Turk drinkers, but then again, even though his whiskey-textured red blend, '02 Long Haul, needs absolutely no gimmicks, Mark McNeilly (aka Mark Ryan) did make up a bunch of trucker hats—popular with the Paris Hilton–loving white trash–chic set—with his logo. "[Wine is just] rotten grape juice that would make itself," said McNeilly modestly. "I may as well have a good time." This is the kind of amiable attitude that the Canadians seated next to me must have been referring to when they explained why they make a two-hour drive across the border once or twice a month to meet Washington winemakers at tastings, and why they even lump the 100 percent markup tariff to take a few bottles home. "We've been to Napa, too," one of them explained, "but the wine here is better, and the winemakers are a lot more friendly. It's better to drink wine that you had fun buying." Some wine dinners are stuffy affairs that feel like Catholic school, but I have to agree with my Canadian friends that Washington winemakers are almost uniformly easygoing—and that went double with these young guns. While we were taking in the Waterfront's expansive, gorgeous nighttime views and equally lovely courses, they made their rounds and found time to laugh and talk with everyone. There were jokes about downloading Stryper songs, and Tim Stevens recalled the days when he and his fellow winemakers were just "cellar rats," while Basel's Trey Bush and I compared our favorite albums of the past year. It's true that you wouldn't want the good time in place of great craftsmanship and excellent wines, but it certainly doesn't hurt to have both. lcassidy@seattleweekly.com

 
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