Back-to-school sales are just about wrapped up as our collective pride and joys trundle off to another year of academic pursuits. A summer full of relations, vacations, stay-cations, and Play Stations has come to a close, and, now, there's an empty house. Whew! It's time to enjoy a little back-to-school shopping of our own, and what better way to usher in the beginning of a new school year than with the offerings of L'Ecole No. 41, Walla Walla, Washington's, attractive, high quality winery?
L'Ecole No. 41 (distributed in Maryland by The Country Vintner) concentrates on classic French varietals like semillon, chardonnay, merlot, and syrah, all grapes that do well in Washington. It's appropriate, given that the winery's location was originally referred to as "Frenchtown," as it was largely populated by French Canadians in the 1800's. In general, the winery's style tends toward lavish, lush, full-bodied reds with plenty of ripeness and no small amount of oak. These are not traits your wine columnist normally lauds, but there is something about these wines that is truly irresistible as we move into cooler weather and richer foods.
The Semillon Columbia Valley 2007 ($20) is one such example. Drawing on the semillon grape's inherent richness and bolstering it with a dollop of oak, L'Ecole No. 41 offers a wine rich in waxy lanolin texture, appealing pear and lemon custard notes, and with a sustained finish. I first had this wine years ago with seared scallops served with a vanilla bean beurre blanc, and I won't forget that match.
A wine I had no trouble gulping down in large mouthfuls, the Recess Red 2006 ($22) is finished in used oak barrels and is therefore quite fruit-forward and light on its feet. It's made from the widows and orphans of all the winery's other red bottlings, and includes bits of syrah, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and other red varietals. Burbling with bright red fruit and buoyed by boisterous acidity, this is a simply delicious red wine that needs little more on the dinner table than a straw.
Not so with the Syrah "Seven Hills Vineyard" 2005 ($40). This bruiser demands a big main course, in the way that a stocky guy with a continental accent and a Gauloises Caporal dangling from his lower lip might. Brooding, dark notes of clove smoke, cherry, and wood polish swirl together like so many ice cubes in the bottom of a glass. I'm not sure what to serve with this, but I do know it had better be fleshy.