Barnard Griffin: Consistently Good Washington Wines

September 9th, 2014

In 15 years of writing about wines I don’t believe I’ve dedicated an entire column to Barnard Griffin Winery, one of Washington State’s oldest wineries.

nullI not quite sure what I’ve been thinking, because it’s fair to say that if there was such a thing as royalty among Washington winemakers, Rob Griffin would be on the short list for coronation. Together with his wife, Deborah Barnard, he’s been producing consistently good wine since the winery was established in Richland in 1983.

To get an idea of how consistently good Barnard Griffin wines have been, consider their Rosé of Sangiovese. This wine has earned gold medal honors or better from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition for an amazing eight consecutive years.

Griffin also produces a number of solid red wines, with current releases including merlot, pinot noir, syrah, and a cabernet sauvignon/merlot blend. Bottled under the “signature series” designation, these wines are incredibly well priced at under $20 each.

But today’s focus is on two white wines from the 2013 vintage that I recently tried and felt deserved special notice. As an added bonus, they’re currently available at prices that almost seem too good to be true.

First up is the 2013 Fumé Blanc (about $12). This blend of 76-percent sauvignon blanc and 24-percent semillon drinks like a world-class white Bordeaux with an unmistakable Washington pedigree.

There’s a lovely layered flavor profile to this wine, with an herbal note to lead off and then a suggestion of luscious tropical fruits with melon-like flavors on the second tier. The finish hints at ripe peach, with plenty of steely acidity to complete the package. This is a completely over-the-top white wine that practically demands a case purchase.

nullAlso worth considering is the 2013 Chardonnay (about $14), sourced from six different Washington vineyards including Crawford, Gunkel and Conner Lee.

Despite the warm vintage, this chardonnay leans a bit towards the lighter side with pleasant citrus and green pear flavors. Surprisingly bright and vibrant, a gentle touch of French oak beautifully softens the edges near the finish.

One final note: the Fumé Blanc was bottled with the iconic red and yellow tulip label with which well-seasoned Washington wine drinkers have long been familiar. But the Chardonnay comes with a brand new label that only features an enlarged griffin with dark copper and gold accents. It’s regal, tastefully done and exactly what you’d expect from Barnard Griffin.

Barnard Griffin wines are well distributed throughout Washington in wine shops and grocers and can also be enjoyed at the Richland facility that now includes a tasting room, wine bar, restaurant and studio/gallery. For more information:

Chenin Blanc Shows Signs of a Comeback in Washington

July 8th, 2014

Chenin blanc is one of those white wines I can’t get enough of – especially during the summertime.

This food-friendly, easy-to-drink wine was extremely popular in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and was a mainstay among Washington’s inaugural wineries such as Quarry Lake, Preston Premium Wines and Tucker Cellars.

But its popularity waned shortly thereafter, and the decline in chenin blanc can almost certainly be linked to the upsurge of chardonnay, which muscled its way into the vineyards and wine glasses of consumers three decades ago and has since cemented its status as one of the state’s most prevalent grapes.

To give you an idea of the disparity between chardonnay and chenin blanc consider this: according to the United States Department of Agriculture Statistics Service, in 2013 Washington wine grape production of chardonnay grapes was 40,500 tons. For chenin blanc, the figure was a mere 1,300 tons. (Riesling, by the way, weighed in a close second for white wine varietals at 40,200 tons.)

nullEven though today’s chenin blanc is just a fraction of the state’s total production, its star appears to be on the rise, with the 2013 totals over 40-percent higher than the year before. That’s the biggest jump among any of Washington’s top ten red or white wine grape varietals.

So despite its small numbers, Washington chenin blanc is still out there, to be sure. Just recognize that in order to find it you’ll probably have to do a little extra searching through the shelves of the white wine section at your local grocer and wine merchant or when ordering online.

Your reward: a tasty, fruity white wine that is generally high in acidity and can be made in a range of styles from ultra-sweet to bone-dry. It also pairs beautifully with a wide variety of light salads, fresh seafood, and creamy cheeses. In other words, it’s a perfect wine for dining al fresco, picnicking, and warm weather sipping.

Here are a couple of Washington chenin blancs to start you off and I’ll follow these up with several more recommendations next week.

Proof that chenin blanc is on the rebound: the Kiona Vineyards and Winery 2013 Chenin Blanc (about $15) took “Best White Wine” honors at this year’s Northwest Wine Summit in Hood River, Oregon. I’ve yet to try this particular wine, but it’s made in a barely sweet, off-dry style that many prefer.

Kiona also currently produces a 2012 Chenin Blanc Ice Wine (about $25 for 375 milliliters) with a flavor profile that consistently explodes with tropical fruits and a seemingly endless, honey-like finish. Sourced from estate vineyards on Red Mountain, this particular vintage features a mind-numbing 17.2-percent residual sugar content.

S. Central Washington Region Provides Wine Grapes for a Number of Wineries

July 16th, 2013

Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills Appellation is one of those wine regions you may not have visited or know little about, but you’ve almost certainly tasted the wines made from the grapes that are grown there.

nullLocated in south central Washington, the appellation is tucked between the Yakima Valley to the north and the Columbia River to the South. According to the Washington Wine Commission, this region is responsible for about 25-percent of the state’s total wine production.

The area is one of the more isolated in Washington and only a handful of wineries are located within its boundaries. But chances are you’ve seen the “Horse Heaven Hills” designation on wines that are produced by several wineries outside the region.

That’s because the federal government requires disclosure of the source of the grapes on the label, regardless of where the wine is produced or what winery makes it. I call it the “truth in labeling law” and it alerts consumers that the grapes used to make the wine inside the bottle came from a particular Washington wine region.

Horse Heaven Hills is home to a number of first-class vineyards including Alder Ridge, Champoux, and Destiny Ridge.

This week I’ll give you a few white wine recommendations sourced from Horse Heaven Hills and next week I’ll focus on the reds.

nullMcKinley Springs Winery 2010 Chenin Blanc (about $14) – One of my all-time favorite varietals shines in this refreshingly tasty release. Crisp Fuji apple and citrus flavors are framed by mineral notes and a lingering, understated trace of honeysuckle that comes through on the finish.

Martinez & Martinez Winery 2011 Viognier (about $14) – Beautiful stone fruits, particularly white peach, predominate in the bouquet and on the palate with a touch of honeydew melon on the side. This delicious medium-bodied wine delivers a bundle at an incredibly reasonable price.

Canoe Ridge Vineyard 2011 Reserve Chardonnay (about $25) – Huge flavors of pineapple and tropical fruit melt into more of a savory, butter-bomb finish. Given that this was a cooler growing year, the heft and full-bodied nature of this wine may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I found it to be a guilty pleasure.

Mercer Estates 2011 Reserve Chardonnay (about $40) – Rich, without being overwhelming, this exquisite chardonnay starts with a base of baked apple along with nuances of hazelnut, butterscotch and caramel. The flavors flow seamlessly on a silky finish that will leave you happy you decide to take the splurge.

Local Wineries Offer White (and Mostly White) Wine Choices for Summer

June 18th, 2013

It happens every year. We get a stretch of nice weather in early spring and Northwesterners become giddy with excitement that summer is nearly here.

Then we have to deal with June.

But July 5 is just around the corner and the promise of warmer, sun-drenched days are an affirmation of why we live here. So get ready to chill down some white wines and enjoy a glass with friends on the deck, patio or at your next outdoor gathering this summer.

Today I’ll give you some recommendations from a couple of local wineries that have you covered with solid, white wine choices.

First up are two wines from Mount Baker Vineyards. Their 2012 Chasselas (about $16) is sourced from the winery’s estate vineyards near Everson. The chasselas grape can be a bit non-descript, but this wine really impressed me with its fresh-as-a-meadow-of-clover aromatics, splash of bright acidity and lingering notes of honeycomb, green apple and slightly chalky finish. It’s the perfect white wine aperitif.

Also worth a try is the Yakima Valley 2012 Pinot Gris (about $15). There’s a trace of spice and orange zest on the nose, and citrusy flavors tempered with a bit of sweetness. If you like your pinot gris made in more of medium-bodied style, this is the wine for you.

nullSan Juan Vineyards also offers two noteworthy estate-grown white wines.

The tasty 2013 Madeleine Angevine (about $17) displays a faint, straw color, Granny Smith apple flavors, and a trailing note of lemon chiffon with a lip-smacking zing of acidity.

The 2012 Siegerrebe (about $20) is unlike some of the winery’s past vintages in that it’s not quite as lean, with a bit more plump, viscous fruit on the palate. Spicy lychee aromas and flavors lead off, with generous star fruit and key lime and an unmistakable kiss of kiwi on the extreme finish.

Finally, be sure to try the San Juan Vineyards 2012 Afterglow (picutured above, about $17). This is labeled as a pink, rather than a white wine, although it’s comprised of almost two-thirds Madeleine Angevine and chardonnay. The remainder of the wine, from which it derives its iridescent copper color, is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and merlot.

Winemaker Chris Primus co-fermented all the juice in neutral French oak barrels before finishing it in stainless steel. Serve it slightly chilled and you’ve got an incredible, refreshingly unique wine with green watermelon and slightly tangy strawberry flavors and a touch of minerality. I call it summertime in a glass.

Viognier from Washington Offers Plenty of Variety

April 7th, 2009

If you’ve tried viognier you already know it’s a white wine full of surprises – fragrant, fruity, full-bodied, and adaptable to plenty of foods.

For those of you still sitting on the sidelines, what are you waiting for? The pronunciation isn’t too tricky (vee-ohn-yay) and if you’ve tried chardonnay and enjoyed it, then viognier is just a baby step away.

nullWashington wineries provide a great place to begin your viognier tasting, and a few selections that I’ve recently enjoyed include the Kestrel Vintners 2007 Estate Viognier (about $22) from Prosser. This versatile wine has a pleasant aroma of honeysuckle and citrus, peach and melon flavors, a spritz of acidity and a lightly oaky, yet creamy finish. It’s a natural to pair with fish, poultry or cream-based pasta dishes.

I’ve also been extremely impressed with winemaker Paul Portteus’ current releases and his Portteus Vineyards 2007 Viognier (about $24) is no exception. Although he’s been in the wine industry for almost 30 years, this is Portteus’ first vintage of viognier – and it’s a grand slam. It features a bouquet of tropical fruits, plenty of fresh peach and apricot flavors and a lingering, yet dry finish capped by a touch of vanilla. Outstanding!

Start with a subtle fragrance of peaches and sweet alfalfa, and then dive into a glass of Zefina 2007 Viognier (about $20) from Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills appellation. It’s loaded with nectarine and honeydew melon flavors, along with a finish that’s both creamy and textured with a bit of a spicy edge. This big, well structured viognier is powerful, yet elegant and it’s indicative of the terrific wines of this varietal being produced in the Pacific Northwest.

For more information on these and other wines visit each winery’s web site at,, and

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