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A Beauty of a Walla Walla White
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 16, 2013
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Buty Winery, Columbia Valley (Washington State) Sémillon- Sauvignon- Muscadelle 2011 ($25):  When I taste through a line-up from a winery in Walla Walla, Washington, I expect to be impressed by the red wines, especially the Cabs but also the Syrahs, and the Merlots, too.  But twice now I have tasted the wines of Buty Winery and have been particularly struck by the quality of the whites.  Not that the reds are not impressive -- but the whites are surprisingly fine.

Buty is a small, family Washington winery founded in 2000 by Nina Buty and winemaker Caleb Foster.  Today Chris Dowsett runs the winemaking, with Zelma Long consulting.  Dowsett studied in Oregon and at Roseworthy Agricultural College in Adelaide, Australia, before taking positions in various noteworthy Napa Valley wineries and serving as assistant winemaker at Canoe Ridge Vineyards in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills district, among other positions.  He joined Buty Winery in 2008.

“White wine at our winery is very serious stuff,” Caleb Foster commented to me when I first tasted the Buty wines two years ago and he was still involved in the company.  (He no longer is.)  White wine represents 40 percent of the company’s production.  In addition to the blended white that is the main focus of this column, Buty Winery also produces a dry Riesling called “Sphinx” under its Beast label, and a terrific unblended Buty Chardonnay from Connor Lee Vineyard, which sits at 2000 feet elevation in the Columbia Valley AVA.

This blended white derives 60 percent from Semillon, 19 percent from Sauvignon Blanc and 21 percent from Muscadelle.  The combination of these three grapes is traditional in France’s Bordeaux region (although Muscadelle is the least used of the three in Bordeaux), but Buty is the only winery in Washington combining these three varieties.  The Muscadelle for the Buty blend comes from Lonesome Spring Ranch in Yakima Valley, which is reportedly one of only two vineyards in the state growing Muscadelle.

Caleb Foster remarked that Semillon gives the wine roundness, richness and viscosity while both Muscadelle and Sauvignon contribute aromatics and Muscadelle also provides the “tip and tail” of the wine’s taste.  For the 2011 vintage, Nina Buty and Chris Dowsett increased the Muscadelle to 21 percent -- up from 8 percent in 2009 and 18 percent in 2010 -- to “enhance the wine’s high-tone fruit and floral elements.”

When you smell the 2011 Buty Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc-Muscadelle, you’ll catch a whiff of lemon, lime, fresh apricot and flowers.  In your mouth, the wine is dry and full-bodied with strong acidity that counterbalances the wine’s weight, even as the viscous, slightly waxy texture reminds you how rich the wine actually is.  The wine has broad elements -- noticeable as a mineral note on the nose and as a structural aspect in the mouth -- which befits the old vine Semillon.  But the acidity of the Sauvignon and the floral and fruity notes of the Muscadelle carry the wine beyond the earthbound plane.  The wine’s flavors themselves are fresh and vivid -- lemon, fig, orange, peach -- and they linger long on the finish.

Winemaking involved a cold soak for the Semillon, and whole cluster fermentation for the other two varieties.  All the fermentations were done with ambient yeasts, in concrete tanks and old barrels of French oak, with aging on the lees.  The final blend represents half concrete aging and half barrel aging.

I suspect that this wine is teasing us now, tasting so delicious that we will drink it young, only to realize that it has become even richer and more compelling, if less fresh and vibrant, with a few years of aging.

92 Points