Thurston Wolfe Releases Full Slate of Quality 2012 Vintage Reds

March 17th, 2015

Many of Washington’s 2012 vintage red wines are currently in release or just starting to hit the market. After the challenging, cooler-than-usual 2010 and 2011 vintages, winemakers had a much more “normal” year with 2012. For consumers, the reward has been some truly stellar, full-bodied and flavorful red wines.

Nowhere is this more evident than with Thurston Wolfe winery in Prosser, where owner/winemaker Dr. Wade Wolfe has produced terrific, reliable wines for over 25 years. And even though Wolfe’s 2010 and 2011 vintages hit the mark in terms of consistently high quality, his 2012’s are even better.

nullI recently tasted through a number of the winery’s recently or soon-to-be released reds and thought they were excellent choices across the board. Here are my tasting notes:

2012 D.R. Wolfe’s Family Red (about $16) – Lovely vanilla bean fragrance for starters, jammy blackberry and black currant flavors, and a spicy, brambly finish with a hint of Rainier cherry highlight this blend of petite sirah, zinfandel, lemberger and syrah.

2012 Howling Wolfe Zinfandel (about $20) – This nicely complex zin features a nose of brioche and rum raisin, some peppery notes up front and then a layer of cherry wrapped in a blanket of chocolaty caramel. This well-priced wine could easily be the standard by which all Washington zinfandels for this vintage are measured.

2012 The Spaniard (about $20) – This red blend is the combination of three varietals: grenache provides bright raspberry and red currant flavors; tempranillo contributes gentle tannins and texture; and syrah adds some smoky, spicy notes. The underlying finish of lightly-herbed bittersweet chocolate makes it a tasty, multi-faceted and complete wine.

2012 Petite Sirah (about $20) – This ever-evolving, powerful red opens with enticing sweet cedar and caramel aromatics followed by black plum and blackberry flavors and a slightly grippy finish suggesting smoky lardo with a touch of espresso. It pairs perfectly with barbeque pork or beef ribs.

2012 Malbec (about $30) – Spicy blackberry and blueberry aromas and flavors are complemented with additional fruits of black currant and dried cherry on the palate. It’s compact, dense and well-structured with a pleasant, somewhat meaty finish.

2012 Reserve Zinfandel (about $30) – This exquisitely crafted zin displays all the components of a perfectly balanced wine: candied cherry aromatics, a splash of bright acidity, soft black cherry fruit, and a finish capped with subtle black pepper, toasted oak, and faintly chalky tannins. Outstanding!

2010 The Geologist Bordeaux Blend (about $50) – I realize this is from the 2010 vintage, but this just-released combination of cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot and malbec bears mentioning. The wine’s aromas of butterscotch and freshly brewed coffee lead into reserved, dark berry fruits and a lengthy finish with vanilla accents. It’s heady, yet elegant and should not be missed.

Buying Local? Northwest Washington Wineries Have You Covered

February 24th, 2015

If you prefer your food and beverages produced closer to home, our regional and local-area wineries have plenty to offer.

Whatcom, Skagit, Island, and San Juan counties boast many award-winning wineries that source their grapes from either estate vineyards or those located in Eastern Washington. These grapes are made into wines at local production facilities and available for purchase primarily in area tasting rooms, grocers, wine shops.

For starters, consider Silver Bell Winery in LaConner, where husband and wife owners/ winemakers Alan and Diane Holtzheimer have established a must-visit tasting room.

Newly-released selections include their 2012 Merlot (about $29), sourced from Copeland Vineyards near Zillah. This wine has a lovely, almost perfume-like air about it, with brambly berry aromatics and flavors, a sprinkle of crushed herbs, and a gentle splash of acidity. The finish has plenty of grip and a touch of toasted oak.

Also notable is the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $34), with an intriguing bouquet of spice box, violets, and field berries. The Red Mountain Appellation fruit really shines through with its understated currant and blackberry flavors and a streak of minerality. Potentially ideal food pairings include burgers, steak or roast beef.

nullWinemaker Chris Primus (pictured at left) of San Juan Vineyards in Friday Harbor has really come into his own the past few years. Case in point: his 2013 Siegerrebe received five unanimous double golds from five different sets of judges. The wine has already sold out, but the 2014 vintage is scheduled for bottling in April.

Primus has also skillfully crafted several other wines including a trio of just-released reds:

2011 Cabernet-Merlot (about $19, currently on sale for $14) – This blend of cab franc, merlot and cabernet sauvignon features distinctive anise aromatics, gorgeous plum fruit, and accents of white pepper and vanilla bean. It’s instantly enjoyable at a steal of a price.

2011 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $19) – There’s a bit of an herbal note on the nose accompanied by savory cherry tomato to start. As the wine opens, more of the dark, black plum and berry fruit comes through with firm tannins on the finish. An excellent wine to pair with beef tenderloin.

2011 Cabernet Franc (about $27) – Red fruits of cherry, currant and cranberry lead off with an underlying whisper of smoky/earthy coffee bean. It’s perfectly balanced with a near-elegant quality that makes it a pleasure to taste.

A final note: the newly opened Safeway store on Sunset Drive in Bellingham has generously dedicated a floor display and aisle end-cap to exclusively promote six Whatcom County wineries: Dakota Creek Winery, Dynasty Cellars, GLM Wine Co., Legoe Bay Winery, Masquerade Wine Co., and Vartanyan Estate Winery. For those who like to support the locals, it’s a one-stop shopping opportunity worth checking out.

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.

Obelisco Estate at the Pinnacle of Red Mountain’s Recognized Wineries

October 7th, 2014

When it comes to prestigious wine regions and wines, Washington has certainly done itself proud.

The state’s latest recognition: the nomination of the Red Mountain Appellation as Wine Enthusiast magazine’s wine region of the year. Other 2014 nominees include Champagne, Chianti, New York State and Sonoma, California…pretty impressive company by anyone’s standards. The winner will be announced in the magazine’s December 31 issue.

If you’re familiar with Washington wine then you’re familiar with Red Mountain, which is located about 15 miles west of the Tri-Cities. Its unique climate and soil conditions have made it ideal for growing wine grapes, especially red varietals such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah.

Obelisco Estate is one of Red Mountain’s newer wineries that has quickly earned a reputation as one of the region’s finest. Owner/winemaker Doug Long planted his vineyards in 2004, added renowned winemakers Sarah Goedhart Hedges and Pete Hedges, and released his first vintage in 2007 with a focus on low yield fruit of the highest quality.

nullI recently had the pleasure of tasting some of Long’s price-worthy current releases and all of them are outstanding. Here are my tasting notes:

2010 Malbec (about $35) – This intensely dark-colored red displays a beautiful, brambly blackberry note throughout, and the fruit is prevalent without being overstated. The latter stages suggest brighter cherry and red currant with a lengthy finish accentuated with toasted vanilla.

2011 Syrah (about $40) – Gorgeous aromatics of crème brȗlée, brown sugar and dark berry fruits fill the glass. Black cherry, black olive and fig flavors subtly explode on the palate, with dreamy, smoky nuances on the finish. Exceptional!

2010 Merlot (about $45) – Intoxicating fragrances of rich plum, caramel and cola lead off, and the initial dark fruit flavors develop more of an herbaceous, mineral-like quality with a splash of espresso as the wine opens up. This is classic Red Mountain fruit at its finest.

2011 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $50) – Spicy plum on the nose carries over to the palate with big blackberry fruit and touches of cocoa powder, allspice and sweet cedar. The acidity shines through on this cooler-than-normal vintage, providing balance to the tannic structure. Enjoyable now but certain to improve with additional cellaring time.

Obelisco Estate wines have just become available in Whatcom County through local distribution. If you don’t see them in your favorite wine shop or major grocer, ask if they can be ordered for you.

In addition, the winery has a tasting room in Woodinville that is currently open from noon to 5 pm on Saturday, 1 pm to 4 pm on Sunday and Monday through Friday by appointment. For complete information as well as online purchases: obelisco.com.

Red Mountain Home to Vineyards for Corvus and Hightower Cellars

July 1st, 2014

Today’s focus is on two excellent wineries with vineyards in Washington’s Red Mountain Appellation, which is located just west of the Tri-Cities area.

Corvus Cellars was established in 2004 and although the winery tasting room and production facility have since moved to the Walla Walla, they still maintain their estate vineyards on Red Mountain.

Two of their current releases that I recently tried and thoroughly enjoyed included the 2010 Loceaux and the 2010 Syrah – Petit Sirah (about $28 each).

nullThe Loceaux (pronounced “loco”) is a 50/50 blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot. This is a perfectly balanced red wine, with spicy aromatics, and big blackberry and black cherry fruits that display a bit of an acidic edge. There’s also a nice meaty texture to this wine, with just the right amount of tannic structure and a lingering finish of toasted oak.

I also loved the Syrah – Petit Sirah combination; particularly the smoky characteristics of the latter varietal that waft around the glass and carry through to the palate. Intense, dark notes of black currant, anise and chocolate predominate, with accents of black pepper and baking spice on the finish.

Hightower Cellars is a Red Mountain favorite of mine that gets a perennial visit due in large part to husband and wife owner/winemakers Tim and Kelly Hightower, who make touring and tasting wines in this area an absolute pleasure.

nullThe Hightowers had the foresight to purchase 15 acres of real estate in this now world-famous Washington appellation in 2002. I’ve followed the growth of their 10 acres of estate vineyards since they were planted in 2004 and it’s safe to say that these have now matured into some of the region’s finest.

Two Hightower wines I enjoyed as of late absolutely blew me away, especially the 2010 Murray Red (about $20). Despite the Columbia Valley label designation, all of the fruit for this wine was sourced from Red Mountain vineyards.

The 2010 Murray is a delicious Bordeaux blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec, petit verdot, and cabernet franc. There’s a pleasant, wet stone, mineral-like aroma – indicative of Red Mountain terroir – that leads off and follows through to the finish. In between, this overachieving red wine offers generous, mouth-watering boysenberry and blueberry flavors that are guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Also a pleasure to taste is the 2010 Merlot (about $25). Subtle black cherry, plum and currant flavors are complemented with a fifteen-percent contribution of malbec, which gives it a gentle but distinct brambly, blackberry finish. Here, the Hightowers show how attention-to-detail winemaking can result in an excellent wine despite a challenging, cooler vintage.

For additional wines and winery information: corvuscellars.com or hightowercellars.com.

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