Maryhill Evolves Into More Than Just a Destination Winery

February 3rd, 2015

There’s a lot to like about Maryhill Winery: a tasting room facility on the Columbia Gorge with some of the most spectacular views of any winery I’ve visited; an on-site, 4,000-seat amphitheater for outdoor concerts; and a huge portfolio of wines that’s certain to satisfy virtually any taste preference or budget.

In 2007 I wrote, “Warning: wines from Maryhill Winery are not for the faint of heart. (They’re) big and bold with complex, massive fruit flavors…”

Things have certainly changed since then. The Maryhill wines I recently tasted seemed to place much less emphasis on the high fruit and alcohol content. The result: wines that display superior balance, more character, and far better food-pairing capability.

nullIt’s probably no mystery that this evolution of Maryhill wines coincides with the hiring of Richard Batchelor as winemaker.

Originally from New Zealand, Batchelor came on board with Maryhill in 2009, and the number of awards his wines have earned since that time is staggering…including seven platinums at Wine Press Northwest magazine’s Best of the Best in the Pacific Northwest Competition last year.

Today’s recommendations include several choices nicely priced in the under-$20-a-bottle category. These wines are well distributed and easy to find in local grocers and wine shops, including Seifert & Jones Wine Merchants in Bellingham.

2012 Winemaker’s White (about $11) – This tasty blend of chardonnay, viognier, semillon, pinot gris and sauvignon blanc has just the right balance between viscous and crispness with flavors of granny smith apple, pear, and lemon tart. Prefer red blends instead? A 2012 Winemaker’s Red is also currently available for about $15.

2013 Rosé of Sangiovese (about $11) – Batchelor hits a grand slam with this pretty-in-pink, gem of a wine. Wild strawberry aromatics and flavors fill the glass from start to finish, with a closing note of red currant and beautiful, bracing acidity. Outstanding!

2013 Viognier (about $13) – Flavor profile-wise, there’s a bit of a throwback to the Maryhill of old with this full-bodied white wine. Toasted marshmallow on the nose, a mouthful of tropical fruit and baked apple flavors and a creamy texture with great mouthfeel all add up to this somewhat guilty pleasure.

2009 Zinfandel (about $18) – Spicy aromas and tastes predominate, with understated flavors of raspberry and crabapple and a faintly peppery finish. With the fruit, alcohol and acidity in check, this makes an excellent red to serve with roast beef or pork tenderloin.

2011 Sangiovese (about $18) – Lovely caramel and red cherry aromas start you off along with a hint of smokiness that carries through to the palate. Pie cherry, pomegranate and cranberry flavors are perfectly balanced with nice acidity and salmon or duck come to mind as food-pairing options.

Washington Wines: Big on Quality and Variety

January 27th, 2015

Last week I ventured outside the state to feature several international wine recommendations for you to consider. Today we return to Washington, with a number of terrific wines that are equally certain to please.

As I tasted these wines, it struck me how diverse Washington has become in the number of varietals we now produce.

The key to all of this is our climate in the eastern half of the state, where nearly all of our wine grapes are grown.

Long summer days, abundant sunshine, and cool autumn evenings that allow the grapes to maintain high acidity levels with extended hang times all play a part in why we do wines so well in this part of the world.

For today’s column, there’s no particular regional or varietal theme, just more recommendations that showcase a few of the increasingly varied choices that wine enthusiasts have when considering Washington wines.

L’Ecole No. 41 2013 Semillon (about $15) – This is one of my favorite white varietals, and although it can be difficult to find, winemaker Marty Clubb has, thankfully, been making it for as long as I can remember. The wine’s nicely reserved layer of pineapple and tropical fruit is also underscored with stone fruit, lemon chiffon and floral accents. An excellent wine at an incredibly reasonable price.

Otis Kenyon 2013 Riesling (about $18) – Up until a few years ago, this Walla Walla winery only made red wines; but they’ve expanded their current releases to include this refreshing white. Racy, vibrant flavors of lemon and lime zest are capped by a clean, bone-dry finish. It’s quite possibly the perfect wine to pair with oysters on the half-shell.

nullFoxy Roxy Wines 2008 Vixen Red (about $22) – A gorgeous Bordeaux blend of estate-grown cabernet sauvignon, malbec, and carménerè, this opulent red is brimming with cola, black cherry and blackberry fruit that melt into a plush, lengthy finish. The winery is located in the middle of nowhere between the towns of Royal City and Othello, but the wines, fortunately, can be purchased on line.

Rulo Winery 2013 Sundance Chardonnay (about $25) – Honeysuckle, sweet pea and clover aromatics lead to generous flavors of Macintosh apple and green melon. The finish is textured with a slightly crisp trailing note. Another stunning wine from Kurt and Vicki Schlicker, who continue to do a remarkable job at their Walla Walla winery.

Coach House Cellars 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $30) – Produced by Bellingham winemakers Scott Whitman and Paxton Rembert, this current release doesn’t have quite the power and depth of their 2010 cab, but it’s still a fine effort. Black plum, roasted coffee, some nice acidity and supple tannins combine in a well-balanced red that can be enjoyed now or cellared three to five years for future enjoyment.

Jones of Washington Provides Solid, Affordable Wines

January 13th, 2015

Even though it was just a few short weeks ago, Christmas, 2014 seems likes a distant memory. Well, at least it does until we receive those credit card bills in the mail to remind us of our weak-moment (but almost certainly justified), holiday spending binges.

That’s why January always seems like a fitting time to talk about wines for those trying to be a bit more cost-conscious. A winery with solid, consistently good wines that are affordably priced is a must, and Jones of Washington is one that delivers on all counts.

nullThis isn’t to suggest that Jones wines should be limited to those on a budget. On the contrary, these wines should be enjoyed year-round, with plenty of choices at both the lower and mid-range price points and overachieving quality on every level.

Here are a number of recommendations of current releases to get you started:

2013 Estate Riesling (about $12) – Refreshing pear and honeydew melon flavors lead off with a whisper of spicy, lychee fruit on the extreme finish. Winemaker Victor Palencia seems to have used a bit of a lighter touch with this riesling, and it earned the winery a coveted double platinum award from Wine Press Northwest magazine.

2013 Chardonnay (about $15) – Ambrosia-like aromatics fill the glass, followed by a mouthful of tropical pineapple, papaya and banana fruit flavors. As it warms, Golden Delicious apple and touches of peach shine through on the finish. This is a big, fruit-forward chardonnay that’s certain to put a smile on your face.

2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (about $15) – Delicious cherry and berry flavors, a touch of toasted oak, and slightly chewy tannins highlight this nicely balanced red wine. It’s an absolute steal at this price and perfect for everyday enjoyment or for those who want to impress without spending a bundle.

2011 Late Harvest Riesling (about $20 for the 375ml bottle) – Mouthwatering peach and gently spiced pear and apple flavors are accentuated with zesty citrus notes of lemon and tangerine. The wine’s 10-percent residual sugar content adds a lengthy, honey-like finish.

Jack’s Reserve 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $30) – For a step up in price, try this beautifully crafted cabernet. It opens with blackberry and dark cherry flavors and the layered, complex finish suggests white pepper, cocoa powder and fresh herbs. It’s bold, yet refined, with the fruit, tannins and acidity levels in perfect balance.

Other well-priced Jones of Washington wines currently available include the 2013 Pinot Gris (about $13), and the 2013 Viognier, 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, and 2013 Estate Merlot (all priced at about $15 each).

Jones of Washington wines are easy to find in Whatcom County grocers and wine shops and can also be purchased on line at

Go To Red Mountain for Terrific Red Wines

December 16th, 2014

Looking for some good red wines to serve this holiday season? Be sure to consider Washington’s Red Mountain Appellation, which has plenty to offer in terms of varietals and body styles at price points to suit most any budget.

Red Mountain is just a 20-minute drive west of Richland in the Tri-Cities and it’s now home to over 15 wineries and a number of top-tier vineyards including Klipsun, Tapteil, and Hedges Estate.

nullHamilton Cellars recently opened a new tasting room on Red Mountain, and following an afternoon outing there last month, I’d conclude that this is a must-visit winery if you’re planning to be near the area.

Husband and wife owners Russ and Stacie Hamilton have done a first-class job with a facility that carries an appealing, friendly vibe while offering panoramic views of the surrounding vineyards and fantastic wines produced by omnipresent winemaker Charlie Hoppes.

If malbec is your passion then Hamilton has you covered. I thoroughly enjoyed the 2009 Malbec (about $30), and the gorgeous 2010 Red Mountain Malbec (about $40) with its intense fruit flavors of blackberry and black cherry, spicy/peppery accents and velvety soft finish.

Two other highly recommended choices include the 2009 Merlot (about $28) and the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $28) which is drinking beautifully with layers of dark fruits and a plush finish enveloped with round, warm notes of toasted vanilla.

Another newcomer to Red Mountain is Frichette Winery, where you’ll find a warm and inviting atmosphere from another husband and wife team, Greg and Shae Frichette (pictured below).

nullGreg is a Pasco native while Shae hails from South Carolina. Together they’ve created a comfortable tasting room with promising wines that lay the groundwork for a boutique winery worth watching.

Notable current releases include a 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $35) and the well-crafted/well-priced 2011 Red Wine (about $25), with blueberry aromas and flavors, supple tannins, and a slightly sultry, smoky finish.

And no mention of Red Mountain would be complete without including two of my old favorites, Kiona Vineyards and Hightower Cellars.

The Kiona Vineyards & Winery 2012 Estate Red Mountain Malbec just scored best of varietal honors and a gold medal at this year’s Tri-Cities Wine Festival while their 2012 Lemberger is hard to beat as a great lighter-bodied “everyday red” at about $15 a bottle.

At Hightower Cellars, the 2012 Murray Cabernet Sauvignon (about $20) features a new label with a Celtic rose that should be on your must-try list. The wine’s delicate floral aromatics are almost perfume-like, and delicious red fruits are backed with plenty of structure and a slightly herbaceous finish.

Whatcom County Wineries Have You Covered With Red, White Choices

December 9th, 2014

Are you ready for the holidays and red wine season? Look no further than Whatcom County for plenty of good red wine choices…and white wines as well.

We’re fortunate to have a number of talented winemakers that source their grapes from vineyards across the state and then produce the wines here at home. Nearly all of the county’s wineries have tasting rooms that are open to the public and their wines are easy to find in local grocers and wine shops as well.

Mount Baker Vineyards has a number of newly released red wines that are currently available. Among my favorites is the easy-to-drink Proprietor’s Limited Release 2012 Tempranillo (about $16), a lighter body-style red with dark fruit flavors and a soft finish.

Also notable is the winery’s Non-Vintage Hierarchy Red (about $24). Four Rhone varietals: syrah, grenache, counoise, and mourvedre combine forces to produce a lovely, northwest pinot noir-style wine with earthy undertones, a splash of bright red cherry, and just the right amount of tannic structure.

And the Proprietor’s Limited Release 2012 Malbec (about $20) is also a winner. Complex aromatics of berries, toasted walnut, and meadow grasses lead off with blackberry flavors and nuances of black pepper and caramel. Nicely balanced with vibrant acidity and supple tannins, it’s an excellent Washington malbec at this price point.

null At Dynasty Cellars, winemaker Peter Osvaldik (his son, Eric, is pictured at left in the tasting room) shifts gears with his first ever dessert wine, the Amabile 2013 Late Harvest Zinfandel (about $18 for 375ml). It’s a stunning effort, with gobs of black plum and cherry fruits and some wonderfully grippy tannins that balance the sugar content to produce a lengthy, almost chewy finish. Try it with a slice of cheesecake, a swirl of caramel sauce and salted pecans.

Another just-released red comes from Coach House Cellars in their 2012 Syrah (about $30). Ultra-dark cherry and berry flavors are capped with a mind-numbing 15.9-percent alcohol content that makes the wine borderline port-like. This big, full-bodied syrah could be perfect for post-meal sipping in front of the fire.

And just because it’s red wine season doesn’t mean you should completely abandon your white wines this time of year.

Served well-chilled, the Dakota Creek Winery 2013 2nd Bottling Chenin Blanc (about $22), makes a refreshing lead-off wine. Mouthwatering melon, peach and pear flavors, tangy acidity and a steely, mineral-like finish highlight this tasty white from winemakers Ken and Jill Peck.

For chardonnay lovers, the Vartanyan Estate Winery 2012 Heavy Oaked Chardonnay (about $22) is a must. Winemaker/owner Margarita Vartanyan exercises a deft touch with eight months of American oak aging that doesn’t overwhelm the wine’s lovely baked apple and tropical fruit flavors. There’s also a prevailing toasty/nutty quality that’s accentuated with a round, creamy finish.

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