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WTN /Wine Advisor: School's out! (L'Ecole No. 41 "Recess Red")

by Robin Garr » Fri Jul 27, 2007 1:12 pm

School's out!

For many of us who live east of the Mississippi, wines from Washington State rank right up there on the mythology scale with Santa Claus, Jack Frost and the Tooth Fairy, not to mention wine from British Columbia: We're told that they exist, but we don't see much evidence to support it.

We do get some few large, corporate brands making decent wines that are, however, indistinguishable from their industrial-strength counterparts in neighboring California. But artisanal and small-winery bottlings from Washington are thin on the ground in the Eastern U.S. and beyond.

Happily, a few smaller producers are making an effort to break out of the Pacific Northwest and offer wine lovers around the rest of the world at least an occasional taste.

One of my favorites is L'Ecole No. 41, a producer that's pushing its way from small to middle-size with production around 30,000 twelve-bottle cases annually. Focusing primarily on Merlot and Semillon, along with the other Bordeaux grapes and Syrah - it draws its name (translated, "The School No. 41") and its colorful label from the winery building, the 92-year-old "Frenchtown School" in Lowden, Washington, in the heart of the wine-producing Walla Walla Valley.

L'Ecole No 41 was founded in 1983 by Jean and Baker Ferguson, and is owned and operated today by the Fergusons' daughter and son-in-law, Megan and Martin Clubb.

I've been a fan of their Merlot over the years, a very serious wine that even the Merlot-hating character Miles in the movie "Sideways" probably would have liked; but its pricing starts around $30 and upward in this part of the world, moving it into "special occasion" territory for me.

Accordingly, I was delighted to spot a couple of new L'Ecole bottlings priced in the middle teens: an intriguing Chenin Blanc that I'm looking forward to opening soon, and today's featured wine, an offbeat blend of five Bordeaux red varieties plus a substantial glug of Syrah. Titles "Recess Red" to carry on L'Ecole's scholastic theme, it's $17 at the winery and in stock locally at $15.

<table border="0" align="right" width="140"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/leco0725.jpg" border="1" align="right"></td></tr></table>L'Ecole No. 41 2005 Columbia Valley "Recess Red" ($14.99)

Very dark blackish-purple with glints of garnet. Black fruit and aromatic oak aromas of dark chocolate and oaky vanilla. Big, mouth-filling fruit flavors, structured and appropriately acidic; substantial tannins and hefty 14.1% alcohol. Distinctly a New World style, a whack of oak, and yet the flavors come together in a pleasant way. Juicy black fruit stands up to the acidic structure and tannins without knocking the wine out of balance, and the sweet oak doesn't overwhelm the fruit. A blend of 42% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Syrah, 11% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, 1% Carmenère. (July 25, 2007)

<B>FOOD MATCH:</b> This hearty, tannic red wine goes best with red meat. It was perfectly matched with a Fiedler Familiy Farms Indiana grass-fed steak crusted with black pepper and pan-seared medium-rare. Try seeking out local natural beef if you can; the environment and your taste buds will thank you.

<B>VALUE:</B> This fine, New World-style Washington State red blend offers excellent value at this price point. Listed for $17 at the winery, it turns up across a surprising range of prices at retail, from the middle teens to the low $20s.

<B>WHEN TO DRINK:</B> Although it's made to enjoy without waiting, its structure and tannins suggest that it should cellar well for five years or more.

<B>WEB LINKS:</B>
The L'Ecole No. 41 Website includes a lot of information about the winery and its wines and even about the family competition that yielded its familiar label, designed by a young cousin.
http://www.lecole.com

<B>FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:</B>
For direct purchases from the winery online shop, click
http://www.lecole.com/products.php?cPath=135
Compare prices and find additional vendors for L'Ecole No. 41 Recess Red on Wine-Searcher.com:
[url=http://www.wine-searcher.com/find/Ecole%2bRecess/-/-/USD/A?referring_site=WLP]http://www.wine-searcher.com/
find/Ecole%2bRecess/-/-/USD/A?referring_site=WLP[/url]

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Re: WTN /Wine Advisor: School's out! (L'Ecole No. 41 "Recess Red")

by Jenise » Fri Jul 27, 2007 2:52 pm

Robin, you've discovered a wine that's of a very specific category of Washington state wine that it took a year or three of living here to realize exists, for it's not a custom I've seen elsewhere: the under $20 red blend. Typically priced at $13-17, almost every winery of note makes one, and it seems to be a hodge podge of leftover juice, immature vine product or demoted barrels that didn't end up elsewhere, so the blend from year to year is anything but cast in stone. The wines are either called Red Table Wine or given a whimsical proprietary name. I remember you publishing a note on Eric Dunham's Three Legged Red--that's another one.

Not earth-shattering information, but perhaps of use to you in the future.
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Re: WTN /Wine Advisor: School's out! (L'Ecole No. 41 "Recess Red")

by Gary Barlettano » Fri Jul 27, 2007 4:51 pm

Robin Garr wrote:We do get some few large, corporate brands making decent wines that are, however, indistinguishable from their industrial-strength counterparts in neighboring California. But artisanal and small-winery bottlings from Washington are thin on the ground in the Eastern U.S. and beyond.


Did Arnold annex Oregon and not tell us? :twisted:
And now what?
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Re: WTN /Wine Advisor: School's out! (L'Ecole No. 41 "Recess Red")

by James Roscoe » Fri Jul 27, 2007 5:26 pm

Gary Barlettano wrote:
Robin Garr wrote:We do get some few large, corporate brands making decent wines that are, however, indistinguishable from their industrial-strength counterparts in neighboring California. But artisanal and small-winery bottlings from Washington are thin on the ground in the Eastern U.S. and beyond.


Did Arnold annex Oregon and not tell us? :twisted:


Oregon A.K.A. Northern California?
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Re: WTN /Wine Advisor: School's out! (L'Ecole No. 41 "Recess Red")

by Robin Garr » Fri Jul 27, 2007 5:36 pm

Gary Barlettano wrote:Did Arnold annex Oregon and not tell us? :twisted:


:roll:

Is not your neighbor two doors down still your neighbor?
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Re: WTN /Wine Advisor: School's out! (L'Ecole No. 41 "Recess Red")

by Carl Eppig » Fri Jul 27, 2007 5:47 pm

It kind of reminds me of Toad Hollow Eric's The Red that can be made in any year out of any combination of eighteen different grapes, and carries an NV designation so you don't what year it is!

Do like their Chardonnay.
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Re: WTN /Wine Advisor: School's out! (L'Ecole No. 41 "Recess Red")

by Robin Garr » Fri Jul 27, 2007 6:07 pm

Carl Eppig wrote:It kind of reminds me of Toad Hollow Eric's The Red that can be made in any year out of any combination of eighteen different grapes, and carries an NV designation so you don't what year it is!


I take your point, and would note that there are quite a few California/West Coast wines of that type, either actual field blends or blends that emulate field blends. Laurel Glen REDS is another, and I think Cline Red Truck.

"Recess Red" seems a little more thought-out and not quite as randomly blended though. Look past the long list of names, and basically you've got a wine that's 4/5 Bordeaux blend and 1/5 Syrah. That's not as wacky as it seems when we think in terms of the long Australian tradition of Cabernet/Syrah blends.
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Re: WTN /Wine Advisor: School's out! (L'Ecole No. 41 "Recess Red")

by Robin Garr » Fri Jul 27, 2007 6:10 pm

Jenise wrote:Robin, you've discovered a wine that's of a very specific category of Washington state wine that it took a year or three of living here to realize exists, for it's not a custom I've seen elsewhere: the under $20 red blend. Typically priced at $13-17, almost every winery of note makes one, and it seems to be a hodge podge of leftover juice, immature vine product or demoted barrels that didn't end up elsewhere, so the blend from year to year is anything but cast in stone. The wines are either called Red Table Wine or given a whimsical proprietary name. I remember you publishing a note on Eric Dunham's Three Legged Red--that's another one.


Very interesting, Jenise! I had forgotten about Three Legged Red until you mentioned it. Gotta say, if this one was made up of throw-out batches or demotions, it turned out pretty well, albeit perceptibly oaky (but then, L'Ecole's wines usually are pretty aggressively yet well oaked to my taste buds.) I'm generally much less offended by chocolate and vanilla than I am by "freshly sanded wooden floor" or even "weedy dill."
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Re: WTN /Wine Advisor: School's out! (L'Ecole No. 41 "Recess Red")

by Jenise » Fri Jul 27, 2007 7:06 pm

Robin, I agree about the oak on L'Ecole's wines. It manages to be in balance, and with time it integrates nicely.
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Re: WTN /Wine Advisor: School's out! (L'Ecole No. 41 "Recess Red")

by Gary Barlettano » Fri Jul 27, 2007 7:09 pm

Robin Garr wrote:
Gary Barlettano wrote:Did Arnold annex Oregon and not tell us? :twisted:


:roll:

Is not your neighbor two doors down still your neighbor?


Sounds almost biblical!! Nope, he's the guy two doors down ... albeit still in the neighborhood. :roll:
And now what?
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Re: WTN /Wine Advisor: School's out! (L'Ecole No. 41 "Recess Red")

by Isaac » Fri Jul 27, 2007 8:34 pm

James Roscoe wrote:Oregon A.K.A. Northern California?

I don't think so, Jim!
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Re: WTN /Wine Advisor: School's out! (L'Ecole No. 41 "Recess Red")

by James Roscoe » Fri Jul 27, 2007 9:32 pm

Isaac wrote:
James Roscoe wrote:Oregon A.K.A. Northern California?

I don't think so, Jim!


I was just following Robin's "logic". (It's James! :lol:)
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Re: WTN /Wine Advisor: School's out! (L'Ecole No. 41 "Recess Red")

by Clint Hall » Fri Jul 27, 2007 10:19 pm

Jenise wrote:Robin, you've discovered a wine that's of a very specific category of Washington state wine that it took a year or three of living here to realize exists, for it's not a custom I've seen elsewhere: the under $20 red blend. Typically priced at $13-17, almost every winery of note makes one, and it seems to be a hodge podge of leftover juice, immature vine product or demoted barrels that didn't end up elsewhere, so the blend from year to year is anything but cast in stone. The wines are either called Red Table Wine or given a whimsical proprietary name. I remember you publishing a note on Eric Dunham's Three Legged Red--that's another one.


That's a pretty accurate generalization. I was about to write that there are a number of luscious WA Red Wine/Whimsical Name bottom-of-the-line blends a bit under $20, but a quick check of my cellar indicates that the dividing line between plonk and paradise is usually just about that -- $20. A case at point is the juicy and even a tad complex Cadence "Coda," an admirable 80 percent Cab Franc 20 percent Cab Sauvignon blend that was released this spring, which after discount set me back per bottle a modest twenty bucks...and seventy five cents.
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Re: WTN /Wine Advisor: School's out! (L'Ecole No. 41 "Recess Red")

by Robin Garr » Sat Jul 28, 2007 12:10 am

Clint Hall wrote:the dividing line between plonk and paradise is usually just about that -- $20.


So would you rate Recess Red as plonk then, Clint? I thought it was pretty good, but as noted, I don't get to taste much Washington State wine, and I do have some affection for Ecole.
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Re: WTN /Wine Advisor: School's out! (L'Ecole No. 41 "Recess Red")

by Clint Hall » Sat Jul 28, 2007 3:46 am

Robin Garr wrote:
Clint Hall wrote:the dividing line between plonk and paradise is usually just about that -- $20.


So would you rate Recess Red as plonk then, Clint? I thought it was pretty good, but as noted, I don't get to taste much Washington State wine, and I do have some affection for Ecole.


Robin, I don't recall tasting Recess Red, and I agree L'Ecole is a good winery, always one of our stops on the road to Walla Walla.
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Re: WTN /Wine Advisor: School's out! (L'Ecole No. 41 "Recess Red")

by Carl Eppig » Sat Jul 28, 2007 9:25 am

Clint Hall wrote: the dividing line between plonk and paradise is usually just about that -- $20.


Since we rarely spend $20 or more on wine, I guess we drink a lot of plonk.

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Re: WTN /Wine Advisor: School's out! (L'Ecole No. 41 "Recess Red")

by Robin Garr » Sat Jul 28, 2007 9:46 am

Carl Eppig wrote:Since we rarely spend $20 or more on wine, I guess we drink a lot of plonk.


Me too, although I might say "seldom" rather than "rarely."

To clarify, though, I believe Clint was talking specifically about the niche of Washington State red blends, not about under-$20 wine in general.
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Re: WTN /Wine Advisor: School's out! (L'Ecole No. 41 "Recess Red")

by Jenise » Sun Jul 29, 2007 8:07 pm

Clint commented:
which after discount set me back per bottle a modest twenty bucks...and seventy five cents.


I'm in somewhat the same boat. Best one I've had was a 2001 Stella Maris RTW several months ago--paid in the high 20's for it. Other experiences have been spotty--like I remember liking a Saviah Jack but when I bought an additional bottle, it bore no resemblance to the first. Same thing happened with a Fidelitas. I guess that's another luxury allowed by the red table wine classification--bottling as you go from various lots.
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Re: WTN /Wine Advisor: School's out! (L'Ecole No. 41 "Recess Red")

by Clint Hall » Sun Jul 29, 2007 8:59 pm

Robin Garr wrote:
Carl Eppig wrote:Since we rarely spend $20 or more on wine, I guess we drink a lot of plonk.


Me too, although I might say "seldom" rather than "rarely."

To clarify, though, I believe Clint was talking specifically about the niche of Washington State red blends, not about under-$20 wine in general.


If somebody stole all my uner-$20 Loire whites my cellar would have an awful lot of empty bins. Call them plonk and I'll report you to Joe Dressner.

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