There are more than a few reasons wine lovers always mention L’Ecole No. 41 when talking about wines from Washington State. The wines are classic examples of the unique terroir of their Walla Walla vineyards as well as the prime fruit sourced from sub-appellations within the Columbia Valley. This past weekend, I tasted L’Ecole No. 41 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley ($30), sent as a sample. Since then, I haven’t stopped raving.
L’Ecole No. 41 is a third-generation family-owned winery located in the historic Frenchtown School, as shown on the label. Established in 1983 by Jean and Baker Ferguson, it was the third winery in Walla Walla Valley and 20th in the state. Now, Marty Clubb is Managing Winemaker and Co-Owner of L’Ecole No 41 with his wife Megan (the Ferguson’s daughter) and children, Riley and Rebecca. Winemaker Marcus Rafanelli joined the team in 2019.
Since its inception, L’Ecole No. 41 has received a multitude of national and international accolades and is now one of the most “prominent and visible Walla Walla wineries.” Not only has the family continued to invest in their estate vineyards, they have succeeded in maintaining positive, long-term relationships with many well-known vineyards in Washington.
Tonight’s wine? Of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from key Columbia Valley vineyards (Candy Mountain, Estate Seven Hills, Alder Ridge, Klipsun, Summit View, Bacchus & Dionysus, Pepper Bridge, Stone Tree, Loess, Yellow Jacket, Estate Ferguson, Stone Valley), the palate profile of the L’Ecole No. 41 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley proves that good relationships with the oldest and most reliable vineyards in Columbia Valley, the largest appellation in eastern Washington, can result in a stupendous bottle of wine.
A near perfect vintage year didn’t hurt either! The 2017 growing year offered a cool, wet spring that delayed bud break and the vines recovered after a brutal winter. Early June saw bloom and by July and early August, the temperatures were slightly warmer than in other years – berry growth and yields stopped. By late September, the cool air slowed fruit maturation and harvest began in October, a month when abundant sunshine and an Indian summer provided warm days and cool nights. The result? “An ideal balance of flavor development, acid retention and mineral notes in the majority of wines.”
And let’s not forget the skill of the winemaker, Marcus Rafanelli, who let the glorious fruit “do the talking.” Decanted for about 30 minutes prior to the first sip (per Marcus’ suggestion), I found a wine that was both fruit-forward and easy drinking. Aromas of bright cherries, cloves, allspice, cinnamon, and cocoa led to expressive flavors of black cherries, dark plums, cassis, milk chocolate, earth and herbs on the palate, framed by vibrant acidity and firm tannins. Earth and mineral notes offered a brilliant finale. Cultivated on vines that are over 30 years old, the wine, released in June 2020, was racked to small oak barrels (French, American, and Hungarian) with four more rackings over 22 months.
Although I could have easily paired the L’Ecole No. 41 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley with chili mac & cheese, pot roast, dishes including lentils as an ingredient, osso bucco, or mushroom risotto, I decided upon a dish just as classic as the wine: blue cheese-crusted sirloin steak. Perfection. Wine tonight? You know what to choose.
Cheers! ~ Cindy
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