The established and iconic Napa vintner recently began making a Bordeaux-style red blend from Walla Walla, Washington. The well-balanced wine is extremely versatile and not only goes exceptionally with steak, but lighter dishes as well. Additionally, the story behind the historic name makes it particularly appropriate for this time of year, and so, for the patriotic month of July, Mullan Road Cellars will be the specially featured wine at Swift & Sons.
The last time I was in Washington State was to climb Mount Rainier. Walla Walla, where the wine is made, is much further east, situated next to the Oregon border. The grapes are grown within the huge Columbia Valley AVA. This growing area, which was carved out by the mighty Missoula floods centuries ago, is celebrated for its complex soils and basalt bedrock, as well as diurnal temperature swings and arid climate. The sub-regions include: Ancient Lakes AVA, Horse Heaven Hills AVA, Rattlesnake Hills AVA, Red Mountain AVA, The Rocks AVA, Wahluke Slope AVA, Walla Walla Valley AVA and Yakima Valley AVA.
Dennis Cakebread explained that he is trying to source from the best vineyards. However, he is learning about the region and dealing with weather issues you don’t see in the Napa Valley like hail. He sources from three vineyards: Seven Hills Vineyard (Walla Walla AVA), Stillwater Creek Vineyard (Ancient Lakes AVA) that is on the Royal Slope of the Frenchmen Hills (This area is looming as the soon to be named newest AVA in the state due to its fractured rock terroir),
and Lawrence Vineyards on the Corfu Crossing site on the Frenchman Hills overlooking the Saddle Mountains (Ancient Lakes AVA). His winemaker, Aryn Morell has worked at wineries in the area including Matthews winery and Gard Vintners that is the estate winery for Lawrence Vineyards.
The name of the wine is an homage to the first overland wagon road, Mullan Road to cross the rocky mountains from Montana into Idaho and then to Washington State built between the spring of 1859 and summer 1860. The road connected Fort Benton in Montana to Fort Walla Walla in Washington and the project was overseen by Lieutenant John Mullan. The road previewed the route approximately followed of modern-day Interstate 15 and Interstate 90 through present-day Montana, Idaho, and Washington.
Now on to the delicious food and wine pairings:
This was followed by roast chicken, succotash and bacon lardon paired with Cakebread’s 2014 Two Creeks Pinot Noir. The grapes are grown in the Anderson Valley in California’s Mendocino County. The chicken was my favorite dish of the day.
Finally, we had a side by side tasting of the 2012 and 2013 Mullan Road Red Blends paired with sliced rib roast, chanterelle mushrooms and a bordelaise sauce. The sauce being quite appropriate since the blend of the wine included cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. The 2013 had a touch of malbec but Dennis Cakebread said they would not include malbec in their next vintage.
This dessert was as decadent as it looks. Black Bottom Pudding: black cocoa crumble, baked dark chocolate mousse, milk chocolate pudding, white chocolate sorbet.
I think patrons will be quite happy with the Mullan Road offerings. The wines are well-balanced and polished with finely integrated tannins which is a crowd pleaser, particularly, in the midwest. Notes of black fruits, blackberry, licorice and plum with herbal aromas and a touch of jalapeño pepper. This wine will be fun to come back to and try their next vintages because I think with their wine expertise and increased familiarity with the growing area, the wines will only get better.
The restaurant is an immense space. The name is a homage itself to the meat packer, Gustavus Franklin Swift, who invented the refrigerated rail car in the 1850’s. To come full circle, this was the same period during which Lieutenant Mullan was building his road. So between the food and wine pairings and the nod to history it seems quite appropriate that Mullan Road be served at the restaurant. Cheers!