The estate vineyard of Force Majeure winery is located in Washington State’s Red Mountain winegrowing region. The majority of Washington wine production comes out of the southeast end of the state—over the Cascade mountains and far from that booming city called Seattle where a few of the most well-known tech billionaires live. Vineyards here co-exist among the high desert, so the cliché of the Pacific Northwest—i.e., it’s a place that’s wet, cold and depressing—doesn’t necessarily apply here.
Climate-wise, Red Mountain—a relatively tiny AVA nestled among better-known Washington regions—is more similar to Los Angeles than Seattle. Sure, it can get really cold sometimes, but it’s relatively dry and typically the warmest area among the Washington regions. And its terroir—that word of choice that encapsulates all of the environmental elements of a grape-growing area—is fascinatingly complex. So, in other words, great wine can be made here.
Force Majeure’s winemaker, Todd Alexander, formerly of Napa Valley’s legendary Bryant Family Vineyard, describes the unique character of his vineyard. “Red Mountain is known for that power. Red Mountain fruit reminds me of [Napa Valley’s] Howell Mountain fruit. Thicker skins, more power, more structure in the wines. Fruit from the Napa Valley floor is softer. These vines on Red Mountain get a lot of wind, a lot of sun, a lot of exposure. They struggle, so we get small berries and high skin-to-juice ratio—so they’re powerful. Especially in ’14, which was a hot vintage.”
We’ve tasted through the entire lineup of Force Majeure wines for the current 2014 vintage release—including wines of the winery’s second label, called Parabellum—and power is certainly a commonality between all of them. Balance, richness and expressiveness are also words we would use freely and often to describe these wonderfully crafted wines. Although 2014 is only Todd’s first vintage with Force Majeure, hands-down you can count these wines among the finest of Washington.
58% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Franc, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot | $95 | 96 pts
Big, bold and righteous, its name is Epinette and its deep, dark soul is the blues. Super-richly concentrated in the luscious sweetness of black cherry and expressive notes of cassis, blueberry and dark chocolate, this is Bessie Smith or Billie Holiday standing next to a mahogany baby grand and singing their hearts out. Winemaker Todd Alexander says this 2014 vintage Right Bank Bordeaux-inspired blend reminds him of some of the warm 2010 vintage Right Banks he’s had. Velvety as heck texture, majestic weight of body, and exquisite balance adds tremendous sophistication to all that absolutely delicious flavor and boldness. But it’s not done—with repeat encores filling the glass, the wine’s fragrance captures the senses… its rusticity and gaminess but also flowers. Epinette is an enchantress and empress. Bluesy, soulful, elegant, dark and beautiful.
$70 | 96 pts
Luscious. Synonyms according to Google search: nubile, ravishing, gorgeous, seductive, alluring, sultry, beautiful, stunning. Yes, and yes—all appropriate descriptors for this Red Mountain Syrah. “For me the Syrah from Red Mountain is all about the salt, the minerality. There’s this liquid rock element. The wines are very powerful but they have nice minerality and nice balance to them as well,” says winemaker Todd Alexander. A striking nose of violets, blueberry and cured meats introduces the palate to the deep, powerful richness of black and blue fruit—this is definitely a hot 2014 vintage Syrah—albeit with the aforementioned exquisite sense of balance that makes all the difference when it comes to appreciating its beauty. Texture so silky, the presence of salinity that keeps driving the wine forward, vibrant acidity that lifts, minerality on the finish that’s assertive, black pepper on the finish that brings some attitude, and luxurious finesse along the whole ride—all of these things make for a blockbuster red that captures the essence of why great Washington Syrah is a singular experience.
Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
$95 | 95 pts
Washington gets more sunlight hours than California—summer days are longer—and in ’14 the heat was unrelenting, contracting the harvest season. These ripening conditions made for a knockout (15% ABV), glass-staining dark purple, quintessentially Washingtonian Cabernet. Fantastic richness of dark-toned cassis, blackberry and plum flavors with a note of cherry cola, this is a chewy wine with immense tannins but never brittle—rather, viscous and possessing both an oily mouthfeel and epically lengthy finish that heats up the insides of the chest. The Cab is a force majeure, an unstoppable force bursting with power. Fresh balance and earthy textures add complexities and distinction to a Cabernet Sauvignon that couldn’t be from anywhere else but Washington.
40% Mourvedre, 35% Syrah, 25% Grenache | $70 | 95 pts
An inspired blend of Rhone grape varietals that truly showcases what a distinctive site the winery’s Red Mountain vineyard is. The meticulous farming of the Force Majeure viticultural team shows through in the elegance of fruit and complexity of wine—there’s an enthralling wild and rustic quality vividly present. The brightness on the nose of fresh blackberry and dark plum transforms into darkly complex lushness on the palate, with added notes of dark mocha, thyme and Mediterranean spices, and finishing very lengthy on a note of pepper. “Red Mountain has a characteristic of rusticity,” says winemaker Todd Alexander. “It reminds me of the Rutherford dust or Howell Mountain.” Like the best of Napa Valley mountain wines, this Red Mountain blend has sophisticated structure—a tight, sleek backbone to support all that richness and high extraction. A splendid ode to Rhone, the Parvata’s got real panache and flair.
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Parabellum Rhone Blend 2014
61% Syrah, 39% Mourvedre | $45 | 92-93 pts
Starting with the wine’s inky, deep purple color, and then the voluptuous nose of black plum, boysenberry and violets with a black pepper accent, and then the rich depth of flavor of Syrah combined with full-bodied boldness—almost meaty quality—of Mourvedre… we find ourselves uttering that same mysterious line everyone who’s a fan of the now-classic cult series Lost knows: “Where are we… ?” This wine could be Cornas or Chateauneuf. Or are we in Paso Robles? This only matters because winemaker Todd Alexander is a huge fan of wines from these varied regions. And it shows: brawny, unctuous, ripe and outsized with a chalky minerality evident on the finish. But, there is that all-important sense of balance that prevents the wine from ever becoming truly lost. So solid, enjoyable and perhaps even hedonistic. A pleasure.
Parabellum Bordeaux Blend 2014
42% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Cabernet Franc | $55 | 93-94 pts
Considering “para bellum” translates to “prepare for war,” this has to be the wine pairing with an episode of Game of Thrones. (FYI, the winery brand name was inspired by the stamping of the word “Parabellum” on shell casings once found on the vineyard property.) This is a Bordeaux blend that packs plenty of firepower—firm tannins hit the palate and… bam! It explodes with big flavors of black and red cherry, dark raspberry, unsweetened chocolate and black olive. Hints of graphite, pepper and tar are revealed as one’s mouth is overtaken by the dark wine’s viscosity. The glory of this American Bordeaux, however, is its texture… dare we say devious and surreptitious in its smoothness and finesse. Tyrion Lannister says a lot of things about wine, some eloquent, some profane—we’ll have to agree with “Everything’s better with some wine in the belly.” Corkscrew this Parabellum for an epic evening of bloodlust and… well, lust.
[dropcap size=dropcap]H[/dropcap]olocene is Todd’s side project, which he started in 2015. Having his own wine label allows him the freedom to follow his muse—exploring different grape varieties and different wine regions. “Holocene” is a geological term meaning the time we’re living in now, encompassing all of modern civilization. “I thought it was a nice name for a wine label,” quips Todd.
Holocene “Memorialis” Pinot Noir 2015
Willamette Valley, Oregon | $49 | 93 pts
2015 was both the hottest year ever for Oregon’s Willamette Valley—an area known for its coolness and Burgundy-like climate—and also winemaker Todd Alexander’s first vintage working with Oregon grapes and Pinot Noir grapes. The marriage of circumstance results in a Pinot of grand opulence but also exquisite balance. Very pretty aromatics of wild flowers and rose petals meet generous flavors of red cherry and ripe strawberry—so expressive amidst a luxurious texture. With just the right touch of oak, 40% new French and 60% neutral oak, there’s weight and there’s elegance. What an impressive first effort.