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Waitsburg Cellars wines a gift to the nose

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It shouldn’t really come as a surprise that a wine critic who has judged tens of thousands of bottles of wine over a long career could put together a selection of very fine wines of his own design.

No surprise, but rare. In Paul Gregutt’s case, he’s used his refined nose and palate to offer pure ambrosia in the form of five fine wines under his own Waitsburg Cellars label.

Gregutt, Northwest wine reviewer for Wine Enthusiast magazine and the Seattle Times who has authored a couple popular wine books, partnered with Precept Wines to launch his own label last month. Precept Wines is one of Washington's largest privately held wine companies. Its labels include Washington Hills, Waterbrook, Apex, Canoe Ridge, Sage Hills, Six Prong and many others. Some of its vineyards were planted 50 years ago.

Gregutt said he was able to select wines made from some of Washington's best vineyards and oldest vines to come up with an introductory group of five wines that showcase the fragrant bouquet, subtle character and detail of each grape variety.

With that goal in mind, he subtitled his quartet of white wines "The Aromatics, Old Vine Columbia Valley."

The single red wine in the group is actually made from three red grape varieties, from three vineyards and made by three different winemakers.

Gregutt was kind enough to send me samples of his wines, which I've enjoyed tasting with friends over the past week.

If bouquet was what he was after, he definitely nailed it in all of these wines.

I shared the two chenin blancs — the bone dry 2012 Cheniniéres and the slightly sweeter 2012 Chevray — with Barb Robertson. Co-owner with her husband Brett of Mission Street Bistro and The Wine Bin in Wenatchee, she writes wine reviews for Foothills magazine and is a judge for our North Central Washington Wine Awards.

We loved the flower fragrant aromas of both wines. "It's like walking through an apricot orchard in full bloom," Barb said. We sipped both wines back and forth, falling in love with first one, then the other.

The sweeter Chevray (3.7 grams per liter of residual sugar) was more fruity and round with its higher alcohol. It seemed to get better and better with each sip. Barb noted flavors of grapefruit, pineapple, guava, sugar cookie and those apricot blossoms with a slight note of stonefruit pit-like tannin.

The Cheniniéres seemed to explode with apple, pear, banana and papaya essences and full bloom floral fragrance, but it was also nicely grounded with an earthy minerality and a whiff of French oak. A perfect match for shellfish, Barb thought. Unfortunately, none were at hand.

I shared the elegant 2012 Pinot Gris and 2011 red blend Gregutt named "Three" with two other friends earlier in the week.

I've really come to like pinot gris simply because it's so darn versatile. It can be the most insipid thirst quencher or something quite marvelous like the cornucopia of flowers, orchard fruit and citrus aromas Gregutt provides.

This, I think was my favorite of the bunch, bursting with fresh pear, apple and honeysuckle flavors, sweet at first but with a nice balance of citrus that seemed to rim a calm oasis at its center. Just a really nice wine, not overwhelming or overpowering in any way, but a very drinkable, yet complex example of how interesting pinot gris can be.

We all loved the unique blend Three offered. A creative balance of 64 percent merlot, 20 percent malbec and 16 percent mourvédre, wines don't get much more interesting than this. Gregutt doesn't title this wine as part of the Aromatics group, but it literally pops with fresh fully ripe boysenberry aromas on pouring. A subtle symphony of cedar, leather and Virginia tobacco settles beneath the fruit. This is a medium bodied wine, quite easy to drink, but with a good dose of tannins that I would think will add more structure with a couple years in the cellar.

What I really liked about these wines is the clear definition of aromas, flavors and tastes. They're a lesson in wine appreciation as maybe only an experienced wine critic could present.

I opened the 2012 Old Vine Riesling a few days later and it didn't disappoint. It was less fragrant than the other whites, but deliciously loaded with caramel and creme brulee, a sumptuous dessert.

Good job Paul! These are exceptional wines for the price ($17 whites, $25 red), wines that will hopefully challenge other wineries as well as wine drinkers. They're available through Cavatappi distributors.