We have had the privilege of working with L’Ecole No. 41 this past year. They kindly sent us samples of many of their wines to taste and pair and this month we reach the Apex of their tasting line up, the Perigee.
* These wines were received as media samples, no other compensation was received and all opinions remain our own.
Perigee means the point in the orbit of an object orbiting the earth where it is closest to the center of the earth. L’Ecole leaned into the idea of being close to the earth.
We were lucky enough to chat via Zoom with Marty Clubb the Managing Winemaker and Co-owner of L’Ecole No. 41 and get some insights into the winery, this vineyard, and the Perigee.
The fruit for this wine comes from their Seven Hills Estate Vineyard a vineyard that was named on the top 10 vineyards in the world in 2004 by Wine and Spirits magazine. This vineyard has been sustainable for 2 decades and they do not use herbicides.
Marty planted these vines which are now in their 23rd and 24th leaf and the quality of the fruit keeps increasing. We visited the vineyard this last summer and got a peek at the Merlot grown there.
An interesting fact on Washington grapes
Before we get into the specific wines, I want to share with you an interesting fact that Marty shared with us. The grapes grown in Washington are 20% smaller in Washington than in Bordeaux. . Marty got this factoid from a study conducted by Pepper Bridge winemaker Jean-François Pellet. Let me break down why this is so fascinating and how it speaks to what you taste in the wine.
First, why would you want a smaller berry?
I know in most cases with things you grow bigger is better, but with wine, the concentration of flavor is in the skin of the grape. So, if you have smaller berries, it gives you a greater “skin to pulp ratio”, which means more flavor when the grape is crushed.
Why are the berries in Washington smaller than Bordeaux?
This has much to do with climate. Bordeaux is on the western coast of France and is a maritime climate where you get fog from the ocean and they get about 25 inches of rain each year. The Seven Hills vineyard sees about 7-8 inches of rain each year and that is typically outside of the growing season. That 7-8 inches is not enough to keep the vines going and they must be irrigated. Here’s the thing, this gives them the control over how much water each vine receives, so they use what is known as “deficit irrigation” to do things like, control shoot growth, canopy growth, and once the berry clusters are set to control berry size.
What does this mean in the glass?
Well, we are about to begin talking about aging wines and the things wines need to age gracefully are acids and tannins. Tannins are contained in the skin (which as we mentioned, they get more of here in Washington) and acid comes from the pulp. Keeping acidity high in a wine requires a long hang time (the time from veraison when the berries change color until they are ripe). Here in Washington they often get that, as well as large diurnal shifts (the difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures) that help the grapes to hold on to their acid.
Let’s get on to the wines
We received two bottles of the Perigee Wine, which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec.
We compared the 2018 Perigee, which is their current release, to the 2015 Perigee. Here is the interesting thing, the 2015 immediately came across as more fruit-forward and approachable. It felt young and vibrant! The 2018 was delicious, don’t get me wrong, but the 2015 with time in the bottle had softened and integrated the tannins letting the fruit shine through. Considering that, and that you still had great structured tannins and good acidity in this wine, it is likely to continue aging for a while. It will evolve in the bottle and continue to change and become more nuanced.
They are sold out of this wine, at least on the website. If you call you might be able to grab a couple of these library bottles. So why am I telling you about this wine that is so delicious, if you can’t get it? To show you how a wine can evolve. Grab some of the 2018 now and open a bottle now and then to watch it evolve.
2015 Estate Perigee – Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley
This wine is 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot and 7% Malbec.
1,425 cases produced – 14.5% abv
The 2015 hit my nose with red currant, black cherry, and a bit of menthol followed by vanilla, nutmeg, cedar, and a jamminess that continued to blossom in the glass. Cocoa notes build as it opens. In my mouth, it was all big juicy blackberry with pomegranate, black plum, cocoa, coffee, vanilla, nutmeg, and red cherry, still with that bit of tobacco leaf. It had a beautiful lush long finish. This wine feels like it is just hitting its prime and will continue to age for another 15 years.
2015 was the warmest vintage on record, until 2021. Budbreak was early and they had more excessive heat days than is normal. They had some sunburn and some of the vines shut down due to the heat in July. Then mid-August, fall kicked in and gave them lots of hangtime for ripening. The 2015 is a little sneak peek into the future of what they expect to see in the 2021 vintage Perigee.
2018 Estate Perigee – Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley
The 2018 is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc, 9% Petit Verdot and 9% Malbec
1,200 cases produced – 14.5% abv
The nose had notes of cranberry, red currant, blackberry, black cherry, and baked cherries with vanilla, clove, nutmeg, cedar, and cocoa plus some dried blackberry, tobacco, and forest floor. In my mouth I got tart structure (maybe a little uptight) fruit think cranberries and currants. Then there were the clove and nutmeg notes, cocoa and tobacco, and forest floor again.
Both of these wines are grown in mineral-rich windblown loess, and both are crushed in 1.5 to 5-ton open-top fermenters. They get hand punch downs and are racked into small oak barrels (40% new). They rack them 5 times over 22 months.
While we were visiting the winery this past summer we were able to taste the 2013 and the 2017 Perigees with Constance. Both were also delicious. Marty typically likes to make wines that are easy drinking and approachable, something you can drink right away and enjoy. The Perigee, while it is delicious right away, is a wine that is worth giving a bit of time to age and build its complexity. You might want to order a case, put it somewhere cool and forget about it for a few years.
What to pair?
These wines tend to have notes of cedar, with cranberry, red currant, blackberry, black cherry, vanilla, cloves, nutmeg, cocoa, tobacco & forest floor. While these wines would be able to stand up to bold flavors, I wanted to play to the elegance a bit. We did a pork loin in blackberry, black cherry bbq sauce that we grilled on a cedar plank. The pork would absorb that cedar smoke to pair with the wine in a way that red meat just wouldn’t do. The BBQ sauce was homemade incorporating ground star anise and nutmeg.
We tossed this on the grill, which while it was set to 425°F, never got there. We just continued basting and checking the internal temp until we hit 147°F. The meat stayed juicy and we drizzled and served it with more of the homemade BBQ sauce
We did a side of roasted vegetables, with Brussel sprouts and butternut squash with fennel seeds.
The recipe card for the pork loin is below.
The pork tenderloin will soak up the smoky flavor of the cedar plank and it stays so juicy. Glazed and then served with a berry bbq sauce, this makes a perfect pairing with an elegant Bordeaux style blend wine, like the L'Ecole No. 41 Perigee that we paired it with.
- 1 lb pork loin
- 2 tbs olive oil
- 1/4 cup of water or stock
- 2 tbs blackberry jam
- 2 tbs cherry jam
- 3 tbs tomato paste
- 1 tbs balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp Worchestershire sauce
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 tsp ground star anise
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp white pepper
- Soak your plank according to the directions on the package. Some suggest soaking for 12 hrs, mine only suggested 1 hour some recipes say just 15 minutes. You just want to soak it so that it will not catch fire and so that it will create enough steam to flavor your food. You can soak the plank in plain water, salted water or juice, or wine.
- Heat your grill.
- Make the BBQ sauce
- Place the water or stock in a small pot, add the jams, tomato paste, Balsamic Vinegar, Worchestershire sauce, Brown sugar, ground star anise, salt, and white pepper.
- Heat over medium and stir until well combined and the tomato paste is integrated and cooked. (about 10 minutes).
- Rub the pork loin with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
- Place 3 or 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary on the plank and lay the pork loins on top of that.
- Separate your BBQ sauce in half, (Half for basting, half for serving)
- Brush the loin (or loins) with the basting bbq sauce.
- Place the plank directly on the grill rack. Cook for 10-20 minutes (depending on your grill and the heat) You want the internal temperature to come to at least 145 degrees F. Baste with the bbq sauce every 10 minutes while cooking.
- Let the loin rest under tented aluminum foil for 5 minutes.
- Slice and serve drizzled with the serving bbq sauce.
The pork loin I picked up at the market was a 1.5 lb pack of 2 pork loins. I seasoned both and cooked them together on the plank.
My grill struggled to get to temperature and settled in at about 375, rather than the 425 I was hoping for. It's not a big deal. Just keep an instant-read thermometer and watch for the temp to get to 145 degrees at the thickest part of the loin.
Keeping the basting and serving sauce separate is important. Remember you are basting and touching raw meat, you don't want that to be the same sauce that you serve at the table.
You can also cook this in the oven! Heat the oven to 425 degrees, place the plank on the center rack, and put a large sheet pan below it to catch drippings and keep your oven from being a mess.
Amount Per Serving Calories 413Total Fat 18gSaturated Fat 4gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 11gCholesterol 93mgSodium 308mgCarbohydrates 30gFiber 1gSugar 24gProtein 32g
Nutrition information isn’t always accurate.
More on L’Ecole No. 41 and Washington Wines from Crushed Grape Chronicles
- Washington Merlots from L’Ecole No. 41 paired with Fig and Shallot stuffed pork loin
- Cabernet Franc Merlot a limited rare gem from L’Ecole No 41 in Walla Walla Washington
- Mike Sauer and the stories of Washington’s Legendary Red Willow Vineyard
- Armstrong Family Winery, Sourcing grapes across Washington
- Hedges Family Estate – Red Mountain Washington – the history
- Eleanor – an homage to family by Caprio Cellars
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.