While the variety has been overshadowed by the rise of red wines in the state, it can be said that Chardonnay here has failed to establish its own identity, seemingly influenced too much by California styles. Late last year, the winery released a series of dazzling, single-vineyard Chardonnays among the most impressive and expensive the state has produced.
For the Sixth project, Smith and Leighton sought out higher elevation vineyards where they believed Chardonnay would thrive. “We’re trying to get extended time on the vines in the cooler part of the season so that we can retain acidity and get some of the flavor maturity that we’re looking for without elevating the alcohol level,” says Leighton.
Asian makes three single-vineyard Chardonnays as well as a cover, varying styles from neutral to all new French oak fermentation and aging. “People don’t realize we’re just as diverse up here as say California or France,” said Bob Bertha, head winemaker at Château Ste.
The profile in Washington tends to be more based on appellation, with warmer regions like Horse Heaven Hills producing ripe wines, with stone and even tropical fruit aromas and flavors. Cooler regions like the Columbia Gorge produce sleek, mineral-driven wines dominated by apple and citrus notes.
“The connecting thread is still the acidity,” says Bertha, noting that Washington’s hot summers and cool autumns differentiate it from other wine regions. A pale golden color, this offers intoxicating notes of candy corn, lemon curd, spice and stone fruit along with light toast accents (30% new French oak).
It’s rich, textured and full of intense, layered fruit and mineral flavors that carry through the long finish. It’s a rich, oily, nutty, buttery style to be sure, but also dense with ripe apple, pear and peach fruit.
This single-vineyard wine shows both the warmth of the vintage and the coolness of this site, boasting depth and richness to the fruit flavors while retaining good acidity. The stone fruit flavors are elegantly styled, showing a fine sense of restraint and balance that carries through the lingering finish.
This wine was crafted by two winemakers, with half of the fruit hailing from Rosa Hills (Brennan Leighton, Sixth) and the rest from La Reyna Blanca (Aryan Morel, Allegory). With their 2017 vintage, production director Rick Small and winemaker Kevin Mott have added to that legacy with a brilliant Chard sourced from their usual two sites: Cello Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge, and their own Woodward Canyon estate vineyard in the Wall Wall Valley.
Not so for winemaker Michael Savage, whose Cello Chard is a fine value, offering nervy acidity and a dry flavor profile that combines lemon curd, mineral and subtle spice notes. Whether the wine’s insistent generality comes from those rocks or is inherent to the grapes seems not to matter once it’s in the glass.
Pink debuted with the 2015 vintage, and in four short years has captured the imagination of Satellites and become one of the fuzziest roses released each spring. The fruit purity is exceptional here (strawberries and raspberries abound), and the texture is seamless and polished.
Vintners 2015 Rhone Blend Brushed Vineyard, Yakima Valley, $40 Winemaker Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen splits his time between W.T. Here he has crafted a blend of about one-third each of Grenade, Sarah and Mourned, all from a single hillside of Brushed Vineyard in the Yakima Valley.
This beautifully balances elements both fruity (blackberry) and savory (smoky bacon, briny olive), all on a supple, easy-drinking frame. Fermented with 50% whole clusters (stems and all) and then aged in a mix of large puncheons and small barrels, this wine revels in the funky, savory side of Sarah, with meaty smoked sausages and brackish seaweed complementing a core of blueberry fruit.
The blend of 65% Merlot and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon was aged entirely in new French oak, and it offers an appealing nose combining plummy fruit with dusty earth notes, mocha and rosemary. The palate features no shortage of Red Mountain’s signature power and tannin structure.
Honorable Mentions Beta Family 2016 Close de Betz Bordeaux Blend, Columbia Valley, $60 Ravenna 2016 Bravura Bordeaux Blend, Columbia Valley, $40 Cadence 2015 Bel Canto, Cara Mia Vineyard, Red Mountain, $60 Winemaker Andrew Trio, who splits his time between Wall Wall (where he works on Collins, Tranche and Secret Squirrel wines) and his home country of Australia, has put together a five-variety Bordeaux blend (39% Merlot, 26% Petite Vermont, 18% Male, 15% Cabernet Franc and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon) that over delivers for its $25 price point.
This Merlot includes 13% Cabernet Franc, and all the grapes come from Stillwater Creek Vineyard. Aged in French oak (60% new) for just shy of two years, this wine displays a pair of the characteristics that make Washington Merlot so compelling: complexity (in the form of earth and tomato-paste savory notes overlaying a core of cherry fruit) and structure (in the form of toothsome finishing tannins).
The BEST OTHER RED BLENDS Underground Wine Project 2015 Idle Hands Red Mountain, $30 Trey Busch and Mark McNally’s Underground Wine Project takes home a second prize this year (their Mr. That new American oak adds appealing notes of vanilla bean and cocoa powder to a wine bursting with cherry and raspberry richness.
Classic Cabernet notes of crème de cassis and cedar coexist with subtleties of beetroot and rhubarb, all on a supple, polished frame. BEST SPLURGE CABERNET SAUVIGNON Canvasback (by Duck horn) 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain, $40 In 2013, Napa Valley stalwart Duck horn purchased a 20-acre parcel of land on Red Mountain and launched Canvasback, its first foray into Washington state.
Industry veteran Brian Ruin is the local winemaker for Canvasback, and this is his first Cab that includes a portion of fruit from the estate vineyard, called Long winds. In total, this wine includes 13 Red Mountain vineyards, so it is a fine representative of the AVA as a whole, offering chewy, black-tea-flavored tannins aplenty as structural underpinnings for a wine bursting with black currant fruit and rose petal nuance.
BEST SPECIAL-OCCASION CABERNET SAUVIGNON Passing Time 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Horse Heaven Hills, $80 Washington native Damon Hard partnered with fellow quarterback Dan Marino to launch Woodinville-based Passing Time four years ago with the 2012 vintage. Their winemaker from the beginning has been Chris Peterson (Ravenna), and he works wonders with this Cabernet, primarily from a pair of special Horse Heaven Hills sites: Campus and Discovery.
The wine sees 21 months in French oak (80% new) and offers wonderful pencil-lead generality to complement a core of black currant fruit and smoky baking spice. Nominees that received the most votes in the categories of wineries, winemaker, vineyard and homelier were selected as winners.
The approximately 90 wines receiving the most votes in the varietal categories qualified as finalists for a blind tasting held on March 18. That tasting was conducted by a panel of three industry professionals (Paul Literally of Full Pull Wines, Mark Sakai of Metropolitan Market and Chris Horn of Heavy Restaurant Group) who evaluated the wines on the basis of appeal in regard to sight, smell and taste in order to come to a consensus on the winners within each category.
Also, a minimum of 95% of the grapes used in the production of the wine must be from a vineyard located within Washington state, or from one of the three federally recognized interstate Ava that include acreage in Washington state (Columbia Valley, Wall Wall Valley and the Columbia Gorge Ava). Winners in categories involving people, places and wine experiences also must be located in Washington.
From the flinty, restrained versions grown in cool-climate regions like Chablis in Burgundy to the richly fruited offerings from sunny, warm Australia, quality Chardonnays abound. Iterations include baked and unbaked styles that range from some of the most expensive wines in the world to some of the most accessibly priced.
Pyramid Valley 2016 Field of Fire Chardonnay (North Canterbury); $90, 96 points. Electric charges of minerals crackle with notes of lemon peel, bay leaf and fistfuls of freshly plucked wild herbs and flowers.
The palate is utterly beautiful with its sliced crystalline acidity that lifts flavors of limestone, citrus, salt, herbs and flowers. North Valley is the blended, mid-priced tier of the Voter portfolio, and it over delivers in every way.
This is a bright, spicy Chardonnay, with a jumble of pear and melon fruit highlighted with white flower aromas. The wine gains weight through the midpalate, with just a hint of barrel flavor from 6% new French oak.
Pale yellow, this wine shows notes of flint, salt and seashell along with tangerine, ginger and grapefruit. The palate is textually rich but is lifted by bright acidity and offers a balanced combo of tangy citrus fruit and toasty oak spice.
This is a rich style of Chardonnay that shows pear and apple aromas, with vanilla and butter flavors. This easygoing, fruity Chardonnay offers notes of stone fruit and lemon, with undertones of wool and ginger.
Crisp, crunchy acidity freshens the fruit on the palate, which is chalky in texture and medium. Chain 2017 Bain Acid Vineyard Chardonnay (Santa Maria Valley); $39, 96 points.
Extremely delicate and pure aromas of lemon, nectarine, gardenia and lily are soft and inviting on the nose of this bottling. The palate sizzles with acidity, offering focused but austere flavors of lemon zest and crushed gravel that surround an immensely chalky core.
The wood imprint is subtle and quiet, the wine having aged 10 months in neutral French oak. Rich yellow and white stone fruits are cut with steely acidity that shows the wine’s aging potential.
Coming from arguably the finest of the Grand CPU vineyards, the wine is still young. This is smoky, wood-aged wine comes from a walled vineyard next to the Château de Fuissé.
Produced from old vines, it has concentrated apple and pear flavors, a touch of spice as well as bright acidity. Half fermented in concrete with the rest in oak barrel before being aged in puncheons, aromas of toast, pineapple, lanolin, cream and spice lead to a full-bodied palate, with textured tropical-fruit flavors.