(There’s fascinating pedigree here: The Politics are descendants of Prince LEV Sergeevich Palatine, who was an acclaimed winemaker for Russian Czar Nicholas II and dubbed “the creator of Russian champagne.” And yes, Tchelistcheff was Quilted Creek founder Alexander Holstein’s maternal uncle.) In addition to Quilted Creek, we’ve mined Washington state for Cabernet Avignon that go toe-to-toe with Napa’s best, yet offer variety of character from the king of reds.
Washington wine tends to fly under the radar of the average wine lover, but the state is doing some exciting things with both red and white varieties. We've recently been extremely impressed with Male and Sarah on the red side as well as white varieties like Pilot Gris and Chardonnay.
Columbia Valley covers 99% of the vineyard area in the state of Washington and offers a fascinating study in what wine geeks like to call “terror”. These conditions can include climate, soil type, and even unique plant characteristics.
In the Columbia Valley the terror includes conditions like 300 days of sunshine a year and a desert-like annual rainfall of just 6–10 inches. The area also boasts a 40 degree diurnal shift, which is the difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures.
Large differences in daytime and nighttime temperatures are wonderful for growing grapes. Columbia Valley also has extremely unique soil types caused by the Missoula Floods during the Ice Age 20,000 years ago.
These soils allow vines to thrive and also impart unique mineral characteristics to the grapes. Costco delivers a Red Mountain Cab at an unheard of price, the North Forty-Six Cabernet Sauvignon.
A sparkling rosé made from 100% Sarah from the Buckshot vineyard in … 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.
For wines to be eligible as a Washington wine for this competition, the producing winery must be licensed and located in Washington state or located within the boundaries of a federally recognized American Viticulture Area (AVA) that includes acreage in Washington. 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).
Sarah better than Cabernet Description Hot summer and cool harvest led to ripe flavors and moderate alcohols; some elevated tannins. Cabernet Sauvignon’s star is on the rise in Washington, as production has increased more than 50% in recent years and shows no signs of slowing down.
A series of warm vintages since 2013 have allowed growers to successfully ripen the grape in larger tonnages. The variety thrives in eastern Washington, where warm summers result in plush fruit flavors and cool fall nights help retain natural acidity.
While Washington has firmly established itself as Cabernet country, the state still remains somewhat under the radar as a wine region. Though growers and winemakers here have long hedged their bets on a number of varieties, many have now gone all in on Cabernet.
The Horse Heaven Hills appellation sits atop the state’s Cabernet pyramid, producing standout wines with polished tannins, plush fruit flavors and a compelling sense of overall structure. Close behind is Red Mountain, where the variety is known for its ripe fruit, firm tannins and long-term age ability.
While Washington has firmly established itself as Cabernet country, the state still remains somewhat under the radar as a wine region. The aromas draw you into the glass, evoking anise, blackberry, black raspberry, graphite and exotic spices.
The flavors show intense depth, richness and hedonism, and the finish seems endless. Its black currant, chassis, blackberry, graphite, scorched earth and herb notes intoxicate.
The aromas in this 100% varietal Cabernet Sauvignon from Cold Creek and Stone Tree vineyards rise out of the glass, suggesting scorched earth, dried herb, graphite, flint, chassis and cherry. It has bright but balanced acidity to support its fruit flavors, with green pepper and cherry notes that linger on the finish.
Nanook 2015 Campus Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Horse Heaven Hills); $55, 92 points. All coming from Hedges Estate Vineyard and aged in 100% new French oak, this wine has had a full five years to develop, and it’s made the best of it.
Aromas of spice box, dark fruit, vanilla and high-toned herb are followed by luscious black-fruit flavors that stretch out on the finish.