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: or

Chateau Rollat, Otis Kenyon Give You Reason to Visit Walla Walla

June 24th, 2014

Looking for some good wines from the Walla Walla area? I’ve got a couple of wineries for you to check out that place special emphasis on red wines that are truly superb.

Better yet, for you wine region purists: three of the four recommendations for today are sourced completely from vineyards located within the Walla Walla Valley Appellation.

Chateau Rollat Winery has a few wines in current release that are drinking well now and should continue to age beautifully.

The 2009 Sophie de Rollat (about $25) is a Columbia Valley-based red blend that opens with a nose of blackberry and pie cherries and more red cherry on the palate coupled with ripe raspberry and strawberry fruits.

The finish displays a touch of toasted oak, mocha and baking spice. This is a soft, easy-to-drink wine that you can enjoy now or within the next one to three years.

Sourced from Walla Walla Valley grapes, the 2008 Rollat Cabernet Sauvignon (about $38) has reserved black cherry and black currant flavors with an underlying layer that hints at cinnamon, dark chocolate and anise.

nullThere’s a good bit of chalky tannins on the finish that refused to let go even after an hour or two of aerating, suggesting this wine could continue to benefit from additional cellaring time.

Otis Kenyon Wine is one of my favorite Walla Walla wineries. Steve Kenyon, grandson of the label namesake, made a great first impression when he drove from the Seattle area to my home to conduct a tasting several years ago. His daughter, Muriel, is frequently at the Walla Walla tasting room and never without a smile and great customer service.

Then add in Otis Kenyon’s accomplished winemaker, David Stephenson, and you’ve got all the makings for a first-class winery.

Stephenson’s 2009 Matchless (about $20) is a nicely priced blend of cabernet sauvignon, syrah and merlot from three Walla Walla vineyards including Seven Hills. Big aromatics of spice and sweet cedar lead the way to dark berry and black plum flavors, with a whisper of coffee bean and bittersweet chocolate on a slightly grippy finish.

Another Otis Kenyon, Walla Walla-based red that should be on your must-try list is the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $35). There’s a pleasant woodsy aroma with sweet violet undertones for starters, followed by generous plum and cherry fruit-flavors. The trailing layer of red and black currant carries a bit of an acidic edge that complements the soft tannins. On the finish, spicy accents of cinnamon and clove complete the package on a wine that hits all the right notes.

Both wineries have tasting rooms that are conveniently located in downtown Walla Walla. More information: and

Red Wine Blends

May 31st, 2014

null2010 Bombing Range Red (about $16) – This wine features a cool, fighter plane label with pretty bold stuff inside the bottle to match.

This combination of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Mourvedre opens with a slightly smoky/spicy aroma along with some raspberry accents.

On the palate, there are plenty of cherry and berry flavors and a touch of a bittersweet chocolate and coffee on the finish.

Ample tannins require a bit of aeration, and then serve this wine with grilled foods such as burgers or brats.

The wine is produced by McKinley Springs Winery in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills AVA.

Stand-Alone Varietal or Blend: Washington Syrah Finds its Niche

February 4th, 2014

Last February I wrote about the virtues of Washington syrah, a somewhat underappreciated varietal that still takes a back seat to cabernet sauvignon and merlot as a distant third in the state’s red wine production.

That isn’t to say the grape hasn’t continued to grow in popularity and earn its share of recognition. There’s been a slow but steady increase in production over the past five years and I think it’s safe to say that syrah has found its niche among Washington winemakers.

You may not always find the grape as a stand-alone varietal, but syrah has increasingly become a staple for blending purposes, particularly as an enhancement to a cabernet base.

nullSyrah is generally characterized as medium to full-bodied with low to medium acidity and medium to high tannins. Compared to other red wine grapes, its ultra-dark color and flavor intensity level often set it apart.

Syrah frequently carries a nice smoky, spicy quality in addition to a number of dark, berry-like fruit flavors. That makes it an excellent choice to pair up with lamb, burgers, or just about anything barbequed.

Here are a few Washington syrahs and red blends with syrah that I think you’ll enjoy:

Gingko Forest Winery 2010 Gingko Red (about $15) – Sourced from estate vineyards in the Wahluke Slope, winemaker Mike Thiede hits all the right notes with this combination of cabernet sauvignon, syrah and merlot.

Darker cherry and black plum flavors lead off and then transition into brighter notes of red currant and raspberry. What impressed me most about this wine, other than its incredibly reasonable price, was the seamless balance of fruit, acidity, soft tannins and trace of minerality it displayed. An extremely fine effort, this wine is a must-buy.

Lost River Winery 2010 Côte Wall Syrah (about $26) – Winemaker John Morgan continues to impress with this seductive, inky interpretation of Washington Syrah. Black currant, espresso, and bittersweet chocolate glide into a lengthy finish, capped with a whisper of black pepper. Co-fermentation with eight-percent viognier provides a lovely fragrance of stone fruit on the bouquet.

Mackey Vineyards 2009 Syrah (about $32) and 2009 Concordia (about $38) – The Walla Walla area has earned its reputation as a notable producer of Washington syrah. Brothers Philip and Roger Mackey currently offer a couple of choices sourced primarily from their own vineyards.

The 100-percent syrah shows understated flavors of blackberry, vanilla and a pleasant note of oatmeal stout on the extreme finish. The Concordia is comprised of 77-percent syrah along with some grenache and mourvèdre. Its smoky blueberry base is supported within a framework of dark chocolate and pleasant notes of caramel, vanilla, and spice throughout. Tasty, complex, and completely over-the-top.

Great Grapes, Great Wines at Soos Creek Wine Cellars

October 1st, 2013

There’s a tried and true saying in the wine industry that states, “Great wine is made in the vineyard.”

I’m going to nitpick at this as an oversimplification on a couple of counts, both of which I think do a disservice to winemakers.

First, not all vintages are perfect. In fact, some, such as Washington’s 2011 harvest, can be downright challenging. In these cases, we have to rely on a winemaker’s talents to coax flavors from grapes, achieve balance and keep their wines as consistent as possible with years past.

Second, great grapes in the vineyard don’t automatically assure great wines…although they should. There are plenty of variables and room for errors during the fermentation and aging processes. Winemakers can never afford to be careless, even when they’re given a superior product with which to work.

nullThat said, let me offer up a Washington winery, Soos Creek Wine Cellars that scores on both counts: great grapes and great red wines.

Based in Kent, winemaker David Larson started his winery nearly 25 years ago while still working at Boeing. Today he’s running the winery full-time, but his focus on acquiring grapes from the best vineyards has always been unwavering.

Noting some of his fruit sources, Bellingham’s Margarita Jones of Elliott Bay Distributing sums it up nicely, “David Larson pulls from a list of who’s who (vineyards) in Washington: Champoux, Ciel du Cheval, Slide Mountain, Elephant Mountain, DuBrul, Dineen, Lewis, Sagemoor, Klipsun and The Benches (pictured above, photo from” Wow.

Here are my thoughts on some of Larson’s finished products you’ll find locally at venues such as the Community Food Co-op and Seifert and Jones Wine Merchants:

null2010 Artist Series #10 Red Wine (about $30) – Cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and merlot comprise this very Eurocentric blend that begs for a pairing with something beefy. It features plenty of dark berries up front, a spritz of acidity at the mid-palate and then a crush of dried herbs on the finish.

2010 Ciel du Cheval Red Wine (about $35) – Red currant, pekoe tea, hints of chocolate and that unmistakable Red Mountain minerality round out this stunning effort. There’s also some beautiful, understated blueberry fruit throughout to make this wine a pure pleasure to taste.

2010 Champoux Vineyard Red Wine (about $40) – At 84-percent cabernet sauvignon this could, and should, be labeled as such because this is quintessential Washington cabernet. Luscious blackberry fruit, a touch of herbaceousness, and a hint dried cherry on the extreme finish all add up to a truly remarkable wine. This is a sensory delight that’s absolutely worth every penny.

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