Category Archives: Other NW Wine Recommendations

Washington Wine of the Week – Selections for Fall, 2015

For the week of November 8, 2015: Robert Ramsay Cellars 2012 La Previa – Woodinville winemaker Bob Harris has crafted a completely over-the-top red blend comprised of Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Counoise. There’s a seductive quality to this wine, with luscious black cherry fruit that’s beautifully balanced with minerality and acidity along with a velvety texture and spicy accents on the finish. This wine truly is the complete package and probably one of the best wines I’ve tasted in 2015.

For the week of November 1, 2015: Dunham Cellars 2012 Trutina – According to the label, nullTrutina is Latin for “balance,” and that easily sums up this tremendous effort from the Walla Walla winery. Juicy blackberry and cherry fruit, undertones of toasted caramel and a hint of herbaceousness round out this stunning blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Syrah and Petit Verdot.

For the week of October 26, 2015: Kiona Vineyards and Winery 2103 Chardonnay – Need a nice, reliable middle-of-the-road Chardonnay? Try this affordable option from Red Mountain’s Kiona Winery. Gentle apple flavors with a touch of oak and just enough brightness on the finish make this an almost-certain crowd pleaser. Try it with a creamy, roasted pumpkin soup for a perfect autumnal combination.

For the week of October 19, 2015: J Bookwalter Wines 2013 Subplot No. 30 – This long-time Washington winery based in Richland (with a second tasting studio in Woodinville) has a history of producing some stellar blends and this current release is no exception. Nicely complex with red berry and plum fruit, the finish hints at roasted coffee with a touch of vanilla. It’s a nicely-priced combination of five red varietals that should keep virtually everyone happy.

For the week of October 12, 2015: Mount Baker Vineyards 2014 Muller Thurgau – The Puget Sound region produces a number of cooler climate grapes that are unique to the Western portion of the state…and here’s a great example. Imagine biting into a crisp, Fuji apple and you’ll set the backdrop for this vibrant, flavorful white wine.null Its mild sweetness is perfectly balanced with brisk acidity, making it a natural to pair with shellfish or seafood.

For the week of October 5, 2015: Cougar Crest Winery 2009 Merlot – This gorgeous Merlot from the Walla Walla Valley is a fine representation of a varietal many feel the state does best. Beautiful dark cherry and black plum aromas and flavors melt into a velvety soft finish. Perfect for sipping on its own during a cool, autumn day.

Washington Wine of the Week – Selections for Summer, 2015

For the week of September 21, 2015: Bonair Winery 2013 Yakima Valley Chardonnay – This nice little Chardonnay from the Zillah winery has everything you’d expect from this varietal: Gentle apple and tropical fruit flavors, a touch of toasted oak and a very reasonable $12-a-bottle or so price. Need an affordable, solid everyday white wine? This one should fit the bill.

For the week of September 14, 2015: VanArnam Vineyards 2013 Malbec – Kent VanArnam provides the Yakima Valley with another stellar winery, this one located just north of Zillah with sweeping views of the valley. This gorgeous Malbec displays true-to-the-varietal characteristics, with lovely violet aromatics, understated spicy berries on the palate, good acidity, and just the right amount of tannic structure. There’s an almost elegant quality to this wine that make it worth purchasing and worth savoring.

For the week of September 7, 2015: La Chanterelle Winery 2012 Syrah – The epitome of micro-boutique wineries, 120 case-per-year La Chanterelle in Bellingham is off to a great start. Winemakers Donatas Pocus and Lotte Freeman have crafted a beautiful, full-bodied wine with intense blueberry flavors, hints of cedar and spice on the finish, and sturdy tannins that suggest a bit more cellaring…if you can contain yourself from enjoying the wine now.

For the week of August 31, 2015: Cairdeas Winery 2012 Counoise – This sparingly used Rhone varietal is beginning to make it’s way into Washington wine glasses, and winemaker Charlie Lybecker knocks it out of the park with his current interpretation. Blended with 25% Petit Sirah for added structure, this stunning red displays subtle blackberry fruits with a beautiful spritz of black pepper on the finish. I once termed Charlie as one of Chelan’s “up-and-coming winemakers” but I can’t say that anymore…because he’s there. His wines are almost reason alone to pay a visit to this picturesque Washington AVA.

For the week of August 24, 2015: Nefarious Cellars 2014 Consequence – Dean and Heather Neff do a terrific job with Chelan AVA wines and this blend of Roussanne, Sauvignon Blanc, and Marsanne is a perfect example. Baked pear aromas and flavors fill the glass, with a zingy finish of citrus/key lime that’s tempered by slightly peachy accents. It’s delicious when served lightly chilled and should pair well with lighter seafood dishes.

For the week of August 17, 2015: Hyatt Vineyards 2013 Riesling – From one of the State’s long-standing wineries in Zillah, Hyatt offers another solid white wine at a budget-friendly $10 price. This is classic, old school Washington Riesling, with a bit of tropical fruit, a bit of citrus and some crisp Fuji apple on the finish to balance the 4.5% residual sugar content. It’s a natural wine to serve as a contrast with the spicy elements of take-out Chinese or Thai food.

nullFor the week of August 10, 2015: Thurston Wolfe 2012 Howling Wolfe Zinfandel – There’s not enough descriptors to cover this excellent Wade Wolfe (at left) wine, easily the benchmark by which all Washington Zins (at the highly affordable $20-a-bottle price point) should be measured. Rum raisin on the nose, slightly peppery for openers and then some gorgeous black cherry flavors with a finish that hints at chocolate/caramel. Enjoy now or within the next two to three years.

For the week of August 3, 2015: Tamarack Cellars 2014 Rose of Mourvedre – This long-standing Walla Walla winery gives us a tasty rose sourced from the Wahluke Slope. The Mourvedre grapes used in this wine are so dark, they don’t even require any skin contact after pressing…the juice is simply pumped off and fermented in stainless steel. Strawberry/rhubard aromas start you off with ruby red grapefruit and granny smith apple flavors on the palate and a crisp, vibrant finish.

For the week of July 27, 2015: Milbrandt Vineyards “The Estates” 2012 Malbec – Looking for a quiet, reserved red wine? You’ve come to the wrong place with this Malbec from the Prosser-based winery! Big, juicy blackberry aromas and flavors are backed with an semi-smooth finish that belies the eye-popping 15.5% alcohol content. A prime candidate for anything beef, especially when it comes off the grill.

For the week of July 20, 2015: L’Ecole No. 41 2013 Semillon – Why this varietal isn’t more popular is beyond me. This Washington Semillon has plenty to offer: gentle honeysuckle and clover aromatics, soft pear and peach flavors and finish of lemon crème. Walla Walla winemaker Marty Clubb has been producing this wine for many years with great success and this vintage is no exception. Well-priced to boot, this wine should be on your must-try list.

nullFor the week of July 13, 2015: Whidbey Island Winery 2013 Siegerrebe – Western Washington pioneer winemaker Greg Osenbach has the vineyard and the experience to craft this cool-climate grape into a beautiful wine. Pear, litchee, and fragrant spices fill the glass and a touch of residual sugar is impeccably balanced with bracing acidity. The 2014 vintage is also scheduled for release in July of 2015.

For the week of July 6, 2015: Arbor Crest Non-Vintage Cliff House White – An amazing blend of 75% Sauvignon Blanc and 25% Chardonnay, this ultra-impressive white wine is loaded with stone fruit aromas of peach, nectarine, and apricot that carry over to the initial taste. As the wine progress, the Sauv Blanc really kicks in, with a herbaceous, citrus flavor profile and crisp finishing notes. At only around $10 a bottle, skillful winemaker Kristina van Loben Sels deserves a hearty round of applause for serving up a stellar wine that won’t break the bank.

For the week of June 29, 2015: Palencia Wine Company 2014 Albarino – This newer Washington varietal is gaining momentum and Victor Palencia gives us reason to want this wine even more. It’s wonderfully complex, with ambrosia and stone fruit aromatics and flavors of spiced apple, pear and citrus on the palate. The finish is bone dry, with a nice slate-like/minerality quality that suggests a pairing with fresh shellfish.

For the week of June 22, 2015: Barnard Griffin 2014 Rose of Sangiovese – Another smashing success from Richland winemaker Rob Griffin, this rose is a subtle explosion of strawberry, red currant, and watermelon fruit flavors. Bracing acidity tops things off and makes this an ideal sipping wine for the summer when served well chilled.

For the week of June 15, 2015: Seven Hills Winery 2012 Merlot (Seven Hills Vineyard) – This is a big, powerful Merlot, with slightly smoky aromatics, understated dark fruit flavors, and still with enough finesse from Walla Walla winemaker Casey McClellan to make this readily enjoyable…as well as a candidate for the cellar for years to come.

For the week of June 8, 2015: J Wrigley Vineyards 2013 MAC Cuvee Pinot Noir – John and Jody Wrigley have produced a stellar Pinot Noir from three vineyards in Oregon’s McMinnville AVA. This wine has all the classic Pinot characteristics; slightly earthy aromatics, bright red cherry flavors and great acidity. There’s also a plush, almost elegant finishing note to this wine that will allow it to pair perfectly with salmon, duck or roast poultry.

For the week of June 1, 2015: Dynasty Cellars 2012 Malbec – Sourced from Walla Walla’s Les Collines Vineyard, this Malbec opens with beautiful berry aromatics followed by generous blueberry and blackberry flavors on the palate. With surprisingly good acidity at its core, this red wine promises only to get better with additional aging. A fine effort from Bellingham winemaker Peter Osvaldik.

Pair of Spokane Boutique Wineries Focus on Red Wines

During a trip to Spokane in April I had the opportunity to visit a couple of smaller, “boutique” wineries; boutique being defined as those with annual production of around 1,000 cases or less.

nullFirst up is Nodland Cellars, where winemaker Tim Nodland (pictured at left) has taken a checkered career path from 1980’s big-haired rocker (with the photos to prove it) to still-practicing attorney, to jazz musician, to winemaker.

His tasting room is currently a bit off the beaten path in an industrial park in the city of Spokane Valley. But plans are in the works to keep that space as a production facility and move the tasting room to downtown Spokane by the fall of 2015.

Nodland impressed me with his ability to offer extremely reasonably priced wines while sourcing his fruit from some of the state’s finest vineyards including Seven Hills, Pepper Bridge, Gamache, and Kiona. His current releases are all drinking nicely and deserve a “must-try” recommendation.

The Bebop Dry Riesling (about $16) is the winery’s only white, and it shines with vibrant green apple and citrus flavors that conclude in a crisp, dry finish.

Two red Bordeaux blends are completely off the charts: the overachieving, underpriced 2012 Bad Attitude (about $15), with white pepper aromatics, red currant and cherry flavors and a twist of pepper and vanilla on the finish; and the 2008 Private Blend (about $28), an explosion of black currant, lardo, and smoky bacon aromas and flavors.

Other notable reds: the 2011 Avant Garde (about $28), a 100% carménère with dark fruits, black pepper accents, and a big mouthfeel that demands a steak entrée; and the 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (about $38) with elegant black plum flavors, finely integrated tannins and hints of toast and black olive on the finish.

nullFurther east of Spokane you’ll find Liberty Lake Wine Cellars, where husband and wife proprietors Doug and Shelly Smith admittedly let their hobby for making red wines get out of control to become a full-fledged winery that opened in 2008.

Located in a residential area south of I-90, their tasting room offers spectacular views of Mount Spokane and Liberty Lake and also provides a kitchen, seating area and outdoor deck that beckons visitors to lingering over a glass of wine.

My favorite current release is the 2008 Legacy (about $20), a gorgeous blend of merlot, cabernet franc and syrah from Red Mountain that displays big, round blackberry fruit and a touch of sweet cedar on the finish.

Also notable is the 2009 Syrah (about $25) with spicy persimmon aromas, dark fruit flavors, good tannic structure, and a dusting of cocoa powder; and a lighter-in-body 2011 Tempranillo (about $25), with strong earthy notes and strawberry and raspberry flavors that conclude in a bright, vibrant finish.

Barbequing? Don’t Forget the Red Wines!

The Memorial Day holiday is coming up this weekend…really. For many, it’s the unofficial start of barbequing season, although, if you’re like me, you’ve probably jumped the gun and been cooking outdoors on the grill for weeks.

No matter what your time frame, having a good selection of red wines on hand to pair with your barbequed and grilled foods is a must.

Red wines make good pairing partners because many of them complement the smoky, charred quality that meats and vegetables pick up after they’ve been on the grill. Malbec, cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, syrah, and petite syrah are all good examples of red wines for you to consider and even mid-range varietals such as tempranillo, grenache, cabernet franc and sangiovese can go well with grilled foods.

My only note of caution is to go easy on any accompanying sauces and spices in your cooking. These might drown out the flavors of your wine if used to excess.

nullHere are a few suggestions of red wines I’ve enjoyed as of late that are worth a try:

From Chile’s Colchagua Valley, the Montes Alpha Dry Farmed 2012 Carmenère and 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $18 to $24 each) were produced from grapes grown utilizing a farming method with virtually no irrigation.

This decreases water usage by up to 65% and results in smaller grapes with more of a dense, concentrated flavor profile.

The Montes Carmenère is outstanding, with a whiff of white pepper to begin, ultra-dark blueberry and black currant flavors, and a spritz of pepper and dried herbs on an elegant finish. The Montes Cabernet displays more red plum and cherry fruits and a bit more grippy tannins. Both should pair nicely with steak, lamb or pork.

The Tenuta Frescobaldi di Castiglioni 2011 (about $25) is a cabernet sauvignon-based red with merlot, cabernet franc, and sangiovese blended in. Bright fruits of red currant, pie cherry, and field berries lead off, with a slightly spicy finish and firm tannins. Try it with grilled vegetables basted in butter, roast chicken or pork tenderloin.

From Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills Appellation, the Double Canyon 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $25) is a must-try red. Big blackberry and dark cherry flavors fill the glass, with a dusting of baking spice for starters. As the wine progresses, brighter red fruits come through on the finish with a trailing note of licorice root and black pepper. Excellent!

Sourced from Yakima Valley grapes, the Palencia Wine Company 2012 Casa Amarilla GSM (about $36) is a 60/30/10 combination of grenache, syrah, and mourvedre. The grenache really shines through with its vibrant red cherry flavors; then there’s just the right balance of tannic structure and a bit of spicy smokiness on the finish. Perfect with barbeque pork or beef brisket.

Spokane’s Latah Creek Winery a Model of Consistency

Keeping a winery up and running with a consistent product year after year is no small feat. The fact that Mike and Ellena Conway of Latah Creek Wine Cellars have been doing just that since 1980 is nothing short of amazing.

When the Conways started their winery in Spokane nearly 35 years ago there were only 17 others in Washington. Since that time, the state’s winery count has swelled to 850-plus.

What’s the their secret? Certainly their commitment to affordably priced wines in a relaxed atmosphere has to be a consideration. The tasting room, located just off Interstate 90 a few miles east of downtown Spokane, is as unpretentious as they come, with an unabashedly kitschy retail inventory that engulfs the tasting bar.

nullWhile this might be off-putting to some, those with more of a laid-back, casual approach to tasting wines will probably feel right at home.

That’s likely what the Conways envisioned while nurturing this mainstay Washington winery to its current annual production level of around 15,000 cases. And to insure this sense of family continues, their daughter, Natalie Barnes, joined the winery in 2004 and now shares winemaking duties.

Here are my tasting notes on some current releases I sampled during a visit to Spokane last month:

2013 Riesling (about $10) – Gentle floral aromas lead off, with juicy melon and tropical fruit flavors. Steely acidity balances out the sweetness that comes through as a whisper of honeycomb on the finish.

2012 Chardonnay (about $12) – This biannually produced chardonnay bears some nice minerality from the Ancient Lakes region’s terrior along with Golden Delicious apple and pear flavors. There’s a touch of citrus in the latter stages along with a hint of toasted oak.

2014 Moscato (about $15) – Mike Conway believes that muscat is one of the state’s most underappreciated grapes and his interpretation of the varietal offers a nice balance of fruit, acidity, and sweetness. White flower aromatics, lychee and pineapple flavors, and a finish of subtle spices highlight this aperitif-style wine.

2012 Ellena’s Sangiovese (about $18) – Bright red fruit flavors of cherry and currant melt into a slightly smoky finish with grippy tannins in the background. A pairing with pasta and marinara sauce immediately comes to mind.

Non-Vintage Monarch Red (pictured above, about $20) – This complex blend of merlot, tempranillo, malbec, and syrah is drinking beautifully. Delicious plum, dark cherry and black currant flavors melt into layered finishing notes of espresso and mocha.

2010 Natalie’s Nectar (about $15) – This blend of finished and unfiltered juice from syrah grapes displays a mouthful of dried cherry flavors and slightly sweet finish. It’s truly a one-of-a-kind red wine that pairs well with dark chocolate.

Latah Creek Wine Cellars’ tasting room is open daily from 9am to 5pm. Order online at