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.

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: rollat.com and otiskenyonwine.com.

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