In a word, Canvasback Cabernet and Syrah are exemplary. We adored six current releases. Different words describe them – from sophisticated to hedonistic, from appealing to killer, from polished to luscious, and much more. This is not surprising because Brian Rudin, Canvasback’s very talented winemaker, is known for making terroir-driven, structured wines with an unmistakable sense of place. Duckhorn pioneers Dan and Margaret Duckhorn founded the winery in 2012, and named it after the Canvasback duck, native to the Pacific Flyway. Read on for details.
Canvasback Cabernet and Syrah
As you might have seen in our Instagram posts, we weren’t sure if we were going to go to Taste Washington this year, because I just had knee replacement surgery. Each day, we discussed it and still could not decide, much as we wanted to attend this fantastic WA wine event. But that morning, we saw two Canvasback ducks swimming on our little lake. This rarely happens. So, we took this as a sign that we should go and visit Brian and try our favorite Canvasback Cabernet and Syrah.
Brian, Canvasback’s very talented winemaker, is an expert with Red Mountain fruit, and terroir-driven, structured wines. At Taste WA, we caught up with Brian and learned all about Canvasback’s new and current releases. And then he poured Canvasback Red Mountain 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon, Longwinds Vineyard. Wow. We appreciated it, and two other Cabernets and three Syrahs that we later sampled.
In 2011, the Duckhorns held blind tastings of Cabernet Sauvignon from Red Mountain and Napa Valley. They decided the Washington wines were exciting. Consequently, they started working with famed grower Dick Boushey, who helped them to cultivate relationships with the growers at some of Red Mountain’s most esteemed vineyards. Next, they debuted their first Canvasback vintage in 2012. These days, Canvasback has a reputation for luxury, single-vineyard and appellation-designated Cabernet Sauvignon. We sampled three of them.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain Washington State 2019 ($44)
Red Mountain is renowned for Cabernet Sauvignon, and this wine demonstrates why. Brian blended Cab Sauv (84%) with Merlot and Malbec (7% each), and Petit Verdot (2%). As a result, pretty aromas and flavors feature textured layers of dark berries, black cherries, licorice and allspice, with hints of crushed rocks, coffee and spices. Full-bodied, this is an appealing, alluring Cabernet Sauvignon that makes us want to either start up the grill or linger around a fire pit. Or both.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Longwinds Vineyard, 2019 ($74)
In 2014, Canvasback purchased Longwinds Vineyard, a 20-acre unplanted site on a coveted parcel of land near the top of Red Mountain. We previously tasted, and loved, the 2018 vintage, the initial bottling of a block-and-barrel selection of the vineyard’s finest estate fruit. The 2019 (99% Cab Sauv topped with 1% Merlot) is somehow even more poised and polished. Aromas of cherry pie, black licorice, herbs and floral notes lead into luscious flavors of wild strawberries, cherries and raspberries. This wine has the wow factor, and is an age-worthy wine.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Grand Passage 2019 ($88)
If you’re into luxurious, powerhouse wines, Red Mountain Grand Passage Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 is for you. One sip, and you know why it’s considered the pinnacle of Canvasback’s winemaking program. As mentioned, Brian is known for his talent of making terroir-driven, structured wines with an unmistakable sense of place. This is underscored in Grand Passage, in its third release, and the epitome of Red Mountain fruit.
Moreover, Grand Passage is sophisticated, concentrated, complex and killer. That is to say, this gorgeous wine embodies the essence, and the very best, of Red Mountain. We first tasted it last summer, and it is even more incredible now.
Scents of blackberries, licorice and dark chocolate entice, leading into lush flavors of dark berries, with savory notes and minerality. Of note, Canvasback also offers the new 2020 release of Grand Passage. We hope to taste it when we visit this summer.
In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon, Canvasback also produces a number of single-vineyard and appellation-designated Syrahs. We were impressed with some of them last year, and these current and new releases continued that trend. We sampled three of them and found each one amazing, but for different reasons.
Red Mountain Syrah 2020 ($56)
This 100% Syrah is a hedonistic yet elegant wine that showcases the power, depth and structure of Red Mountain’s best vineyards. Words that come to mind: plush, velvety, vibrant, luxurious and perhaps a bit indulgent. This Syrah offers creamy, textured layers of dark fruit and licorice, along with salinity, minerality and savory notes. What a mouthfeel! It’s absolutely drinkable now. However, you could also lay it down in the cellar to see even more outstanding flavors evolve.
Red Mountain Syrah, Red Heaven Vineyard, 2020 ($74)
This new release is also 100% Syrah, from plantings of the Joseph Phelps Syrah Clone in 2006 on Red Heaven Vineyard’s Block 17. The vineyard name is fitting since this wine is heaven in a glass. First, what a gorgeous nose! Aromas of violets, incense, earth and red berries echo the palate, along with flavors of black tea, cassis and pepper. We had never tasted this Syrah in the past, but we definitely see more in our future.
Walla Walla Syrah Funk Vineyard 2020 ($74)
This is a new release of 100% Syrah from our favorite Funk Vineyard. And both the aromas and flavors showcase Rocks Syrah. Whoa! Excuse us if we say this wine rocks. It sings. It hits all the fruit and savory notes, which fuse into a harmonious, melodious symphony, and we loved it. This is Canvasback’s third vintage of Syrah from Funk Vineyard, renowned for extraordinary Syrahs, including some beauties crafted by vineyard owner Richard Funk of Saviah Cellars. We found brooding, savory notes of dark fruit, olives, smoked meats, earthiness and of course, funk, laced with terroir-driven hints of crushed basalt and wet river rocks. However, if you have patience, we recommend cellaring this one for a few more years to see it truly reach its rock star potential.
Summary: Canvasback Cabernet and Syrah
In conclusion, Canvasback Cabernet and Syrah terroir-driven wines are amazing. Of note, their lineup also includes Rosé, Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.
This summer, we are planning to visit to Canvasback’s rustic, yet elegant, tasting room, located 15 minutes southwest of downtown Walla Walla. What a great location to experience their extensive wine portfolio.
Above all, thank you Brian, for introducing us to these examples of Canvasback Cabernet and Syrah. We will be adding more of these standout wines to our cellar in the future.
Margot and Dave