Saturday, August 04, 2007

Perigee vs. Apogee - Washington State Terroir

A few weeks back the Walla Walla Woman introduced me to the world of wine from Washington State in WBW #34. While shopping for that event I discovered an interesting exercise in Washington State terroir, namely L'Ecole's Perigee and Apogee. L'Ecole No. 41's top Cuvees, these wines use a very similar blend of grapes, and the local shop had both bottlings from the same vintage, at a nearly identical price. For a science guy, this is was a fabulous idea for a controlled experiment in wine terroir.

2003 L'Ecole No. 41 Apogee (Pepper Ridge Vineyard)
(47% Cab Sauv, 45% Merlot, 5% Malbec, 3% Cab Franc)
2003 L'Ecole No. 41 Perigee (Seven Hills Vineyard)
(56% Cab Sauv, 37% Merlot, 7% Cab Franc)

Separated by only 10 miles in the Walla Walla Valley, these two vineyards use (according to the maker) nearly identical viticultural practices. For more details on the two vineyards, see L'Ecole's website (link above).

Apogee is usually associated with celestial orbits, but in this case the marketing folks were obviously seeking to convey a wine reaching great heights. A deep cherry red, the 2003 L'Ecole No. 41 Apogee was more sharp and peppery on the nose, with the alcohol quite noticeable. Scents of violet, raspberry, mint, toast, and a subtle hint of leather were envelopped in an earthy smell, only later showing some cocoa and vanilla. On the palate it was medium-bodied (lighter bodied than the Perigee) and peppery, with nice raspberry fruit and dry leathery tannins. More Bordeaux-like overall, the wine started a bit harsh and unbalanced, but softened over the evening. This wine had a lengthy finish and clearly needs some more time in the cellar. As a group, we felt this wine tasted like a more "Northern-climate" wine - less fruity, more structured.
13.9% alcohol
Score: 17.5/20
Price: C$62 (SAQ)

Perigee, another celestial term, refers to the point in the moon's orbit where it is closest to the center of the earth, so perhaps the marketing folk wish to convey that this is a wine that is "close to the earth"? Similar in hue to the Apogee, the 2003 L'Ecole No. 41 Perigee was very floral on the nose, with a wilder, more leathery aroma. Nice cherry fruit, it evolved nicley over the evening to show some truffles, cloves, pepper, cocoa, almonds and a very nice vegetal aroma. On the palate this was a full-bodied, muscular wine with firm tannins and nice acidity. More luscious than the Apogee, with an oily texture, dark cherry fruit and a hint of mint. A beautiful, substantial wine that demands more cellar time.
13.9% alcohol
Score: 18/20

Price: C$60 (SAQ)

From a terroir perspective, the Seven Hills Vineyard (Perigee) is supposedly warmer, with older vines, higher elevation, an earlier harvest and very little rain, which is conveyed through the wine in a very complex nose and luscious, ripe fruit. The Pepper Ridge Vineyard (Apogee) gets more rain in a cooler vineyard, which leads to a lighter-bodied more peppery and structured wine. Overall, these wines were an absolute pleasure. Their evolution over the evening, and nice tannins and acidity, hint to a wonderful future for these. I predict a re-match in five years.


Sonadora said...

Interesting experiment. And what a difference in only ten chalk one up for the proponents of terrior? Look forward to the 5-year rematch :)

Joe said...

Despite all the comments about terroir, it is actually challenging to line up such a distinct pairing - single vineyard wines often use different grapes or have limited availability.
They claim there is a big difference in soil, but I think I sensed climate more than soil. I have to go find that Perigee for a rematch - I only have a second bottle of the Apogee! Cheers!

Catie said...

I loved your experiment! I truly believe in terroir. Your senses are right on. After visiting various vineyards in the state of WA, it is more than the soil. Climate (wind, sun, rain, etc) plays an important part to terroir.

Joe said...

I believe in terroir, but I think it is difficult to tease it out with so much other 'noise'. That's the main reason I opened the wallet in this case - a really neat side by side experiment, that showed (I think) more than just the soil. I wish I new how the vineyard was situated (i.e. facing the sun). I will have to complain to l'Ecole! Cheers!

aniele said...

stupid :P hehe