AWG Correspondent

Denise Gangnes

Sparkman Tourist District Tasting Room Photos

Sparkman Tourist District Tasting Room Review

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

Reviewed: February 11, 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 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 Washington’s top 25 wines. I was eager to find out if the tasting rooms lived up to the juicy press the winery was enjoying.

The Place:  Sparkman’s tasting room in the southern end of town enjoys a prime location a stone’s throw from a dozen other established wineries, nestled in a small retail complex between a sushi restaurant and the new Mark Ryan tasting room, which was just opening their doors the day of our visit. Smaller than its warehouse-district counterpart, the room resembles an upscale townhouse, with sturdy timber posts supporting a stairway cradling a corner filled with toys – a reminder that in this winery, family comes first.

The space carries more reminders of the Sparkman brand than their northern tasting room: flames are embossed on the window fronts, and even the acid stained copper tasting bar gives the impression of being hot to the touch. I admire the large Persian rug that greets visitors, softening the cement floors that seem to be standard winery issue.

I am greeted by Larkin, an Idaho transplant who, despite her spudly upbringing, displays a rapier sharp knowledge of not just wines, but seemingly, everything Northwest. Larkin effortlessly describes to some German visitors the location of the vineyard for each varietal (and with 24 wines, that’s a lot to remember!) throwing in tidbits of information to keep even the worldly taster engaged. She explains that the Enlightenment Chardonnay was crafted from 35-year old grapes; a surprising statistic, but Chris Sparkman has parlayed his southern charm into some very prestigious vineyards. Larkin’s summary that "Wine shouldn’t be snobby. Good wine shouldn’t be a secret" certainly applies to this down-home establishment.

The Wines:  With a 2012 production just shy of 8700 cases and plenty of positive press fanning the flames of this Rising Star, bottle 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 limited quantities of the latter remain on the shelves; look for the 2011 release soon. Tastings generally start with the Lumiere, a balanced blend of Chardonnay with notes of apples and pear; those with sharper palates may also sense tropical fruits on the palate. Also under $30 is the Wilderness, a meritage of five wines from six different vineyards. The name of the wine is a clue that 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.

Larkin moved on to pour two blends: the Ruby Leigh (Merlot dominant) and Stella Mae (Cabernet dominant) named after the Sparkman’s young daughters; these bold and supple offerings remind me 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.

Insider's Tip:  Parking in the retail area is notoriously sparse, think about utilizing the lot in the Hollywood School House parking area or the parking area to the west near the baseball fields.

Address & Contact Information: 14473 Woodinville Redmond Road Woodinville, Washington 98072. Telephone: 425-398-1045, website: Tasting Hours: Thurs-Mon & Sat-Sun 1:00-6:00.

Overall Rating:  

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