AWG Correspondent

Denise Gangnes

Sparkman Cellars Photos

Sparkman Cellars Review

Regions: Puget Sound AVA, Woodinville, Woodinville Warehouse District, Washington

Reviewed: January 13, 2013 by Denise Gangnes
Published: March 2, 2013

A successful Seattle sommelier with his roots in the south, Chris “Sparky” Sparkman produced his first vintage in 2004 with the help of Mark McNelly of Mark Ryan Wines. Not surprisingly, the two recently were joined together again in the “Tourist” district, where Mark Ryan was settling in the retail space adjacent to his protégée.

The winery’s reputation is “on fire” for a relative newcomer; named as one of the Top 100 wineries in the world by Wine and Spirits magazine, the last several vintages have been prominently included on Wine Spectator’s top 100 , and Seattle Met magazine just named their Malbec-infused “Presposterous” one of the top 25 Washington wines. I was eager to find out if the tasting rooms lived up to the juicy press the winery was getting.

The Place:  It was a quiet and frosty January afternoon when we visited Sparkman Cellar’s headquarters in the Warehouse District. Most of the scattered tourists visiting the Cabernet catacombs sported Seahawks jerseys, mourning the morning’s loss to Atlanta and seeking solace in a sumptuous Syrah. Winery staff, also donned in football gear, were doing their best to lift the spirits of the tasters with some award-winning offerings from Chris Sparkman’s talented hands.

Visiting the warehouse tasting room is somewhat like peeling back layers of onions: the front room has an outdoorsy vibe; light from east-facing windows shines daylight on wire chairs and mosaic café tables in a patio setting. We make ourselves at home on black leather couches near the window. Behind the tasting bar, an oversized chalkboard conveys the tasting list. While sipping, I ponder the massive impressionist painting of a forest on the wall and almost forget that there are half dozen wineries within spitting distance of the door.

The winery’s congenial tasting manager, Bryan, stops by and offers to escort us to the back room to check out the malolactic fermentation that is bubbling in the farthest corners of the winery (where all the magic happens). He leads us through the window-paned sliding glass doors that open to join the tasting room with winemaking space and a barrel room. Inside, ceiling-high red velvet theatre drapes provide a striking visual break from the rows of wine barrels; I surmise that the dramatic interior and holiday lights on the ceiling lend a festive ambiance to release events and winemaker dinners. It’s a given that the owner’s past life as a sommelier at several renown U.S. restaurants guarantees some tasty culinary finger food in this theatrically decorated space. As we walked farther into the warehouse, Bryan gives a respectful nod to a bottle of moonshine on a shelf in the back room, explaining that it helps the workers get through the long days of crush in the fall. Southern roots run deep.

The Wines:  With a 2012 production just shy of 8700 cases and plenty of positive press fanning the flames of this Rising Star, wine prices are on the high end, starting at $28 for the Chardonnay (one of only four whites produced) and finishing with three $62 offerings: two cabs and the 100% Syrah Darkness. A 93 rating from Wine Spectator explains why its shelves are bare (look for the 2011 release soon). Tastings generally start with the Lumiere, a sprightly balanced blend of Chardonnay with notes of apples and pear; sharper palates may sense tropical fruits as well. Also under $30 is the Wilderness, a meritage of five wines from six different vineyards. The wine’s name is a clue that a portion of the proceeds from the sale of this licorice and vanilla-spiced blend support the Wilderness Society. That alone was a good enough reason for me to take home a bottle or two.

Two Bordeaux blends, the Ruby Leigh (Merlot dominant) and Stella Mae (Cabernet dominant) named after the Sparkman’s young daughters are bold and supple offerings. I am reminded of the two sisters in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew: Ruby being the feisty sister and Stella Mae the more restrained. Both exude black cherry and mocha, with essence of cassis and chocolate.

Eventually we get to the 2010 Rainmaker, an earthy and aromatic blend of 83% Cabernet and 17% Malbec. At $62, you may want to cellar this for a special occasion. Larkin explains that a Port-style wine will soon be offered to the public; only 5 acres of the traditional Touriga Nacional grape from Portugal are grown in the state of Washington, and I’m sure the press is already salivating.

Address & Contact Information: 19501 144th Avenue, Suite D-700 Woodinville, Washington 98072. Telephone: 425-398-1045, email:, website: Tasting Hours: Sat-Sun 1:00-5:00.

Overall Rating:  

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