Best Washington State Zinfandel

Earl Hamilton
• Sunday, 06 December, 2020
• 8 min read

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.

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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”. Terror is a French term associated with wine that means a “sense of place”.

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. 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.

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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.

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(Source: www.haskells.com)

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.

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(Source: thebestwinestore.com)

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).

The climate, unique mix of soils and 70 different grape varieties, not forgetting the skill of the 1,000-odd winemakers, makes for an Aladdin’s cave for the wine aficionado. Fresh from a trip to the Evergreen State, Erode selects the 10 best Washington wines that should be on your buying radar and, most importantly, where you can find them.

zinfandel california
(Source: www.windsorvineyards.com)

Hedges Family Estate, ‘Descendants Lieges Dupont’ Sarah, 2010 Dense, dark and fascinating, with foraged blackberry, violets and juicy purple plum, cinnamon, toasted clove and chewy red licorice.

Biodynamically farmed, this is a complex feast, with a gentle touch and a distinctive varietal signature. Gooseberry and green pepper aromas lead, with fennel and mixed fresh herbs.

From an up-and-coming Sarah specialist, the plot is a dried-up river bed containing large rocks reminiscent of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. 95% Sarah and 5% Pioneer, with blackberry, cracked black pepper, burnt orange and smoky bacon, a fantastically balanced wine with a delicious mineral streak through to the finish.

Beta Family Winery, ‘La Cote Patriarch Sarah, 2016 Black pepper, blackberry and peppered salami lead into a surprisingly fresh, delicate wine, with red cherries and blueberries dancing around an enticingly wild core.

A really unusual, fresh, aromatic wine, with grapefruit pith, citrus blossom and notes of raw almond. Made by a top Manhattan Sommelier-turned-Walla-Walla-winemaker, Greg Harrington, this Mourned is something of a drag queen: pretty and floral on the nose, fruity and fun, but with real muscle underneath.

(Source: www.2plankvineyards.com)

From a partnership between the mighty Ste Michelle and Germany’s Ernst Loosen, a speak, elegant wine with zippy lime sherbet, tinned mandarins and wet pebbles, the robust acidity giving an assertive spine of freshness. From the Columbia Crest winery, a division of Ste Michelle (yep, them again), a relatively new wine from a vineyard region known as ‘The Burn’, a contender for AVA status sometime soon.

I found quite a few Washington Cabernet's too big, too extracted, but this bucks that trend. Bright, with pencil lead, fresh red cherries and blueberries, this is good value at around $24.

Elegant and restrained, with fresh citrus, Asian pear and green apple, with a smattering of spice from very well integrated new French oak. Majority Cabernet Franc, we were bowled over by this lovely wine.

Washington’s history of grape growing dates back to 1825, when the Hudson’s Bay Company planted vines at Fort Vancouver (now a National Historic Site, set across the river from Portland in vineyard-heavy Oregon). By the time an early Prohibition struck the Evergreen State in 1916, Washington had already nursed a burgeoning wine industry, supported by its sizeable population of European immigrants, many from wine-loving countries like Italy, France, and Germany.

Many Washington wineries offer tastings on site, but several have also set up shop in the town of Joinville, part of the Puget Sound viticulture area, roughly 30 minutes northeast of Seattle. An easy trek from the city by car, Joinville offers the opportunity to taste wines from across the state (including its most remote locales), all in one compact town.

zinfandel wine
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In 2003, Allen Shop began the Long Shadows project, in which iconic winemakers from around the globe focus on their signature grape varieties, as produced with Washington fruit. Accordingly, the Long Shadows portfolio offers seven wines, made by seven different winemakers hailing from the Napa Valley to Tuscany, Australia to Bordeaux.

The Pedestal Merlot, crafted by Bordellos legend Michel Rolland, demonstrates remarkable polish, with its velvety, plummy warmth. It was through visits with his uncle that Alex Holstein learned his craft and attained the encouragement to launch his own project, which would go on to become one of Washington’s most highly sought after sources of cabernet sauvignon.

Quilted Creek is open for visits by appointment, which includes a tour of its Columbia Valley property, followed by a tasting in its lodge. What to Drink: You don’t want to leave Quilted Creek without tasting the iconic Columbia Valley cabernet sauvignon, a fleshy, hedonistically dark-fruited expression of the grape.

Bravura, a predominately cabernet sauvignon and Merlot blend, is silkily textured, tasting of anise, chassis, and blackberry liqueur. Charles Smith (both the name of the winemaker and of his umbrella winery, under which several labels are turned out) makes a tremendous variety of wines and across all price ranges.

Its cabernet sauvignon is exceptional, striking a balance between a taut line of rocky tannins and fleshier smoked cherry and violet pastille flavors.

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(Source: tastessence.com)

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