03 November 2010

Middleton Family Wines

In the past month I've had the opportunity to taste nine wines produced by Middleton Family Wines. Since 1898 they've been involved in a variety of agricultural pursuits in the Pacific Northwest--starting with lumber, and then later in table grapes. Indeed, they remain a leading producer of the kind of big plump grapes that you buy at the grocery store. I don't think I've mentioned this here, but I'm descended from farmers on both sides of my family. These days it's mainly cotton, corn, and soybeans, and while important to our country, there's not a lot that I have to write about on the subject. If we got too much rain in southeast Missouri or too little in northwest Tennessee, it's a topic already known to the folks that are impacted by such news. Instead, I end up writing about processed fruit from around the world. Odd how things turn out.

In the past decade, the Middleton family has entered the wine business with ventures in Washington, California, and even Western Australia. Nearly everything that I've reviewed has been associated with the Clayhouse line. (See the recent Petite Sirah roundup for two red wines and a rare Petite Sirah Port-style wine.) With the exception of the Cadaretta SBS, all of the wines reviewed in this post are from California.

I had the pleasure of having dinner with Rusty and Andy of Middleton at Central BBQ during their recent visit to our fair River City. We spent about two hours shooting the breeze, talking about wine, and enjoying some great smoked pork, chicken, and even fried bologna over a few beers.

2009 Clayhouse Grenache Blanc
Red Cedar Vineyard, Paso Robles
13% abv.

Light aroma of cream and lime zest, like a Key Lime pie without the sweetness or toasted meringue. Soft and well rounded with good minerality. I could swear that this was from France based on the profile--a Côtes du Rhône Blanc or Provençal blend. The fact that the label has a big chunk missing out of the bottom is entirely my fault, trying to grip a chilled bottle and ripping off part of the paper with my thumbnail. Unfortunately, this one is a small production wine only available at the winery, but it's a real winner, and displays the skill and attention that the winemakers are paying toward their products.

2009 Clayhouse Sauvignon Blanc
Paso Robles
$14, 13% abv.

I've had a lot of Sauvignon Blanc this summer, and it's nice to try something that still surprises you. This one has aromas of grapefruit and orange with a touch of vanilla. Soft, not tart, with a short clean finish. Gentle and creamy. Lovely antidote if you're tired of sharp, acidic Sauvignon Blanc. Highly recommended with seafood like trout, salmon, or barramundi.

2009 Cadaretta SBS
Columbia Valley, Washington
$23, 13.4% abv.
78% Sauvignon Blanc, 22% Semillon

Honey, flowers, and just a touch of lemon. Light and delicate, elegant, and certainly enjoyable simply on its own during a quiet afternoon. I don't see a lot of white Bordeaux-style blends from the US, and this one is lovely. Serve this with your best roast chicken, French style, or some very simply grilled shellfish. Washington wines are becoming deservedly popular among many younger wine fans, and this is definitely one that you want to add to your wine rack. The SBS represents everything that is right about Washington.

And now it's time for the red wines...

2008 Clayhouse Malbec
Paso Robles
$15, 13.5% abv.

You don't see a lot of California Malbec--there are plantings throughout the state, but the grape as a single bottling tends to get overshadowed by Argentina and the odd bottle of Cahors. This Golden State Malbec combines elements of buttered toast, a hint of vanilla, deep blackberry jam aromas. Pair this one with game, buffalo, lamb, or any deeply flavored red meat, and I think you'll be happy with how it works.

2007 Clayhouse Cabernet Sauvignon
Paso Robles
90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Malbec, 4% Petite Verdot
$15, 13.5% abv.

Big cherry and black pepper aroma, with medium tannins. Affordable Cabernet Sauvignons are often terrible, but this is a notable exception. I thought that the wine paired very well with the flatiron steak fajitas I made, shown below. Marinated in spices for 24 hours, grilled to medium rare, sliced thin and served with a tangy salsa verde... That's some good eating.

2008 Clayhouse Adobe Red
Central Coast
40% Zinfandel, 17% Syrah, 13% Petite Sirah, 9% Malbec, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, 6% Tempranillo, 3% Merlot.
$15, 13.8% abv.

There are some heavy hitters in this blend, but overall it is soft and round with light tannins. In place is a big fruit character, dominated by plum and blackberry. With every sniff you get a little something different: ash, spice, jam, flowers, etc. Definitely a great wine for cookouts. Sometimes a diverse blend is just perfect for a situation with a dozen or more different dishes: you may discover that the Petit Verdot brings out the zing in the baked beans, or that the Tempranillo provides the necessary spice to complete Uncle Abner's homemade sausage.

Note: These wines were received as samples.


fredric koeppel said...

I love the Grenache Blanc. and we had the Adobe Red with pizza.

Benito said...


Along with a couple of Marsannes I had earlier this year, there's just something about a Rhone-style white that has elements of wet granite that just makes me happy, and stands out from the crowd. I'm glad you got to try it as well, and I look forward to reading your thoughts on it as well as the other Middleton wines.


Joe said...

I don't have an Uncle Abner. No wonder my present dearth of homemade sausages.

Looks like most of these delivered for around that $15 price range. Sounds good to me! I've seen the label, but never bit. Maybe I will bite now (not literally; that glass'll chip a tooth, son!)

Benito said...


They're pretty good bargains--true to the grape style, and these are all under 14% alcohol (the Petite Sirahs get a bit higher, but don't go crazy). Like Fredric suggested, try the Adobe Red with a pizza or something else casual. It's a great middle of the week wine.


Annie said...

We dig Clayhouse! But then, we're spoiled, the tasting room is a mile from our house. Great list of wines you got to try...we'll have to get back in there! Cheers!!!

Benito said...


Great wine, and you're lucky to be so close! I had a lot of fun tasting through their lineup.


Annie said...

Didn't realize that they make 40,000 cases (I think that's right) a year! They've got a good thing going there. We've got a ton of wineries around here...let us know if you ever get out to Paso! Now, we just need to find us an Uncle Abner...