L’Ecole 41 is a third-generation, family-owned artisan winery. Most importantly, it is one of the most honored wineries in Washington state, and has generated national and international accolades over the years for producing superior quality wines. We’ve been fans of L’Ecole since we moved to Washington in 1999. As a result, we frequently visit their historic schoolhouse in Walla Walla, and know their talented winemakers Marty Clubb and Marcus Rafanelli, and their amazing wines. So, we were delighted to sample six L’Ecole 2023 releases. Once again, L’Ecole scored. These are the impressive wines we tasted: 2020 Ferguson Estate, 40th Anniversary Red, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc-Merlot; 2021 Sémillon, and 2022 Grenache Rosé.
L’Ecole 2023 Releases
Before we had a chance to try these standout new releases, we stopped by to see L’Ecole’s incredible winemaker, Marcus Rafanelli, at Taste Washington. First, he poured his baby, the latest vintage of Grenache Rosé. Next, we tasted the iconic 40th Anniversary Red, and 2020 Ferguson Estate. After the event, we sampled 2021 Sémillon, 2020 Cab Franc-Merlot, and 2020 Cab Sauv. It’s even more exciting because these are Marcus’ initial L’Ecole red wines to hit the market.
Grenache Rosé 2022, Alder Ridge Vineyard ($23)
We drink a lot of rosé, and this Grenache Rosé has consistently been a favorite. This 2022 vintage is the best one yet – 100% Grenache rosé, Provence-style, and also drier, not at all sweet, and lip-smacking delicious. This is not surprising because 1) Marcus is the winemaker and 2) L’Ecole grows Grenache specifically to produce rosé. They pick the fruit early to retain acidity and expressive aromatics. The grapes were harvested in the cool morning hours and promptly delivered to the winery.
Scents of strawberries, raspberries, pomegranate and hints of grapefruit lead into citrus and berry flavors. Fermented in stainless steel tanks, this rosé is clean, fresh and crisp with bright acidity. Pair it with shellfish, lean fish, spicy food or cheese boards. It makes us want to drink pink, regardless of the season. The only problem? It disappears very quickly!
Sémillon 2021, Stillwater Creek Vineyard, Royal Slope ($25)
How good is this Sémillon? After tasting it, the friends (with whom we shared this refreshing white wine) wanted to order a case, stat. This 100% single-vineyard Sémillon is rich, complex and elegant. On a high elevation site in the Royal Slope AVA, cool nights during the growing season and harvest period resulted in crisp natural acidity and pretty aromatics. Specifically, aromas of apricot, pears and lemon open into flavors of fig, melons and more citrus. This is a wonderful food-paring wine – think ahi tuna or lemongrass chicken. However, its outstanding quality means it also stands alone. In other words, you could enjoy it, without food, on the deck on a warm afternoon or evening.
L’Ecole 2023 Release: 40th Anniversary Red ($50)
Forty years ago, Jean and Baker Ferguson launched L’Ecole 41 – the third winery established in the Walla Walla Valley. In honor of this pioneering occasion, L’Ecole released its epic 40th Anniversary Red Wine this spring. And what a treat to see the original, historic label of the schoolhouse again. This gorgeous blend of Merlot (50%), Cabernet Sauvignon (30%) and Cabernet Franc (20%) properly honors 40 years of L’Ecole greatness since their initial vintage in 1983. In addition, the grapes are sourced from two of the earliest Walla Walla Vineyards – Estate Seven Hills (60%) and Pepper Bridge (40%). Both prestigious vineyards are Certified Sustainable and Certified Salmon Safe.
We found aromas of cherries, dark fruit, figs, espresso and cedar. We tasted dark chocolate and dark plums, along with hints of graphite. As mentioned, this stellar blend is Merlot-based. Why? As Marcus said with a smile when he poured it for us at Taste Washington, L’Ecole is recognized as one of Washington’s top producers of premium Merlot. Jean and Baker Ferguson’s first vintage of Merlot in 1983 won the only Gold Medal issued by the 1986 Pacific Northwest Enological Society.
Happy Anniversary, L’Ecole 41!
Cabernet Franc-Merlot Estate, Walla Walla Valley, 2020 ($42)
We adored previous vintages of this spectacular blend. Therefore, we quickly grabbed it and took it to share with friends. Unfortunately, in our haste, we forgot to take a photo. So, we cropped this one from the photo above of all the releases. Our friends loved this wine, by the way. Not surprisingly, so did we.
After all, this is a 50/50 split of Cabernet Franc and Merlot from two Estate vineyards, Ferguson and Seven Hills. Talk about symmetry! L’Ecole only produces this classic right-bank Bordeaux-style wine during exceptional vintages. All the more reason to order some bottles before it sells out.
Cabernet Franc is one of our favorite wines, and when combined equally with Merlot, the taste is magnificent. Aromas of strawberries, cherries and plums, along with herbs and coffee, mirror the palate. This superb red blend is delicious and rich, with concentrated flavors, lovely texture and a refined structure. That is to say, the structure and elegance of Seven Hills fruit marries the minerality and earthiness from Ferguson.
We paired this first-class blend with mouth-watering beef dip this year, but in previous vintages, we discovered it also is fantastic with grilled burgers.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, 2020 ($44)
Marty Clubb, L’Ecole’s owner and managing winemaker, officially became the winemaker in 1989. That year, he made his first addition to the L’Ecole lineup with Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley. In 1995, he crafted this standout 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Walla Walla Valley, which we’ve enjoyed since the 2001 vintage.
As always, L’Ecole sources its grapes from prestigious vineyard sites, representing four unique soil types in the Walla Walla Valley. As a result, its old-world structure and dense dark fruit flavors showcase the best of the region. Cab Sauv Walla Walla Valley 2020 is sophisticated, with notes of blackberries, blueberries, plums, dark chocolate, espresso and spices, with a thread of minerality.
Pair it with cool evenings around the fire pit or wait for summer barbecues. Be sure to decant for at least an hour before pouring or cellar it – this beauty has a long future.
Ferguson Estate Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley, 2020 ($70)
2020 Ferguson Estate is a complex and elegant blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (59%), Merlot (24%), Malbec (7%), Cab Franc (6%) and Petit Verdot (4%). Ferguson is L’Ecole’s pre-eminent Bordeaux blend, and this new vintage is as luscious and stunning as previous ones. The 2020 marks the 10th vintage since L’Ecole’s inaugural, award-winning 2011.
This excellent single-vineyard wine has a flavor profile influenced by its volcanic basalt soil. On the nose, we found mineral-laced aromas of blackberries, black cherries, blueberries, licorice and violets. Next, the palate featured layers of dark fruit, espresso, chocolate, graphite and hints of fig. As well, this beautiful blend offers crushed-stone minerality, influenced by that volcanic basalt soil.
What a head turner. This is an intoxicating wine. Open it now, or cellar it for up to 20 years. Yes, it’s built for aging.
Summary: L’Ecole 2023
In conclusion, you can’t go wrong with any of these L’Ecole 2023 releases. Each and every one of them is impressive.
Above all, with Earth Day around the corner, it’s important to note that L’Ecole 41 is a leader of the sustainable farming program in the Walla Walla Valley. All of L’Ecole’s estate wines are Certified Sustainable and Salmon Safe.
Margot and Dave