Category Archives: 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.
First 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.
Further 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.
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.
Here 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.
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.
I 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.
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.
Winemaker 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.
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.
Hamilton 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).
Greg 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.