The Wine: Efeste Big Papa Old Block Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2009.
About the Wine: Efeste has been making the Big Papa—a 100 percent cab—since 2005; Brennon Leighton, has been making it for Efeste since 2007. The 2009 Big Papa is his third vintage of the wine, which earned 93 points in last year’s Seattle Met’s 100 Best Washington Wines in 2011.
This year’s Big Papa is different from past vintages in that while 2009 was cool early, then got lots of warmth in August and September, a mid-October freeze cut the season short, which made for a combo of big boldness but also restraint and high acid levels.
Tasting Notes: This is no juice bomb but rather a well-structured wine. In contrast to a different—albeit highly popular—rich, dense, high alcohol, fat bastard of a wine from elsewhere in Washington that I drank the night before, this wine is layered and has a sense of finesse to it.
On the Nose: The Big Papa was full of blackberry, black currant, black cherry and even a hint of plum, as well as some compelling non-fruit characteristics. There was a hint of dried blackberry vine there as well as a slight smokiness. Let the wine sit in the glass for a while and a bit of slight stewed fruit emerges, as well as a hint of baked green pepper, though it was ever so slight and not an indication that the wine was young or under-ripe.
What intrigued me most about the wine was that deep, deep in the glass there was a freshness, a scent reminiscent of the moment someone walks out of a snowstorm and into a warm room. That minerality—that sort of wet soil, wet rock essence—could be a result of the trace amounts of granite and basalt in the vineyards, though it’s one also typically associated with cooler vintages, which the 2009 was not. Except for the fact that there was an October freeze that year, which forced producers to pick mid-month.
That minerality is pretty deep in the glass though, and the moment is soon gone, at which point we’re back to those dark fruits again.
On the Palate: The Big Papa is ripe, with dark fruit—blackberry and black currant and black cherry—but without being overly ripe. This is not pie in a glass. This is not a big jam jar of stewed fruit with a stave of oak in the middle. In addition to the dark fruits and some planed tannins (which come from both the fruit and the wine being aged in 85 percent new French oak, but which are not so overwhelming you feel you’ll have to pry one side of your mouth from the other) there’s a hint of tobacco and cigarbox.
More importantly though, is the beautiful acidity in this wine. The wine deceives its 14.62-percent alcohol level with a rigorous amount of acid. We’re not talking tear-jerking, bracing acidity here, but we are talking the kind of acidity that comes as a result of Leighton’s use of old vines and old vineyards—the majority of which were planted in the early 1970s—and a season that ended early, all of which makes the 2009 Big Papa exceptionally balanced.
Don’t be surprised if you notice a slight siltiness to the wine. It hasn’t been fined so there may be sediment, the kind of thing that makes you think of volcanic dust, though the wine was raised on flood soils and sandy loam.
Drink This Wine If: You like Washington fruit with a complex but refined nature, yet still chomping at the bit. While buxom, this is no burlesque show, no trip to Deja Vu. Rather, the Big Papa is the lover who lets you undress her slowly and discover every curve. Also, this is a great wine to use as a means of introducing friends who only know the huge alcohol and jaminess of many New World wines to the more structured wines Washington can deliver.
Buy the Bottle: The Big Papa releases this Saturday. After that it can be found at Wine World Warehouse, McCarthy & Schiering, Pete’s in Eastlake and Bellevue, Esquin, and elsewhere.