Washington Wine of the Week – Selections for Winter, 2024

For the week of March 10, 2024: Pacific Rim 2018 Thick Skinned Red Mountain Red Wine – Close out the winter months with this powerful, flavorful, well-structured blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Malbec, and 7% Petit Verdot from Pacific Rim in the the Tri-Cities. The aromatics on this wine are marvelously complex, with gentle lilac, cocoa, and dark berries along with a whisper of white pepper. The palate is packed with marinated cherries, black licorice, and finishing touches of tobacco and creme brulee. Try it with just about anything on a charcuterie plate or spicy Italian sausage. Gold medalist and a 90-point score from the judges at the 2023 Pacific NW Wine Competition.

For the week of March 3, 2024: Cotes de Ciel 2013 Rose’ & 2014 Petit Verdot – Winemaker Richard Holmes purposely holds back his wines before releasing them, and these selections, sourced from the winery’s Ciel du Cheval estate vineyard on Red Mountain (pictured at right), are great examples of how well-made wines have excellent aging potential.

The Rose’ is particularly interesting, and even at 10+ years, it’s holding up nicely and still quite enjoyable. It comes across on the palate somewhat like a fine Sherry, but without the crisp acidity you’re more likely to find when drinking a Rose’. Instead, there’s a pleasant, nutty quality to this 60/40 Grenache/Mourvedre blend, with a creamy, lingering finish. The Petit Verdot, as you might expect, is really coming into its own, with concentrated black plum and black currant flavors framed with still-prevalent tannins that melt into a velvety, yet slightly textured finish. Outstanding!

For the week of February 25, 2024: Abeja 2022 Washington State Chardonnay – Winemakers Dan Wampfler and Amy Alvarez-Wampfler head up a great team at Abeja, located just a short drive east of Walla Walla. This lovely Chardonnay combines brighter citrus flavors with rounder stone fruits that contrast perfectly on the palate. The wine’s aging in a combination of new and neutral oak, concrete, and stainless, reflects the careful balance that goes into the winemaking process, and the result is a Chardonnay that leans towards a lengthy, slightly creamy finish. The Abeja property also offers stellar accommodations and dining options for those considering an extended visit.

For the week of February 18, 2024: Perennial Vintners 2021 Sparkling Siegerrebe – You may never have heard of Perennial Vintners, but Mike Lempriere is doing a nice job with some lesser known varietals at his Bainbridge Island winery, located just a 30-minute ferry ride from Seattle. This tasty sparkler, which earned a Gold Medal at last year’s Pacific NW Wine Competition, displays beautifully fragrant floral notes of plumeria, magnolias, and white roses, followed by flavors of Rainier cherry and gently spiced lychee. Lempriere also scored a Double Gold for his 2019 Lemberger, sourced from Kiona Vineyard on Red Mountain. Although the winery ships, a trip to the vineyard may be worth planning. As one recent visitor noted on a Yelp review, “such an incredibly down-to-earth wine tasting experience.”

For the week of February 11, 2024: Grosgrain Vineyards 2022 Skin-Contact Semillon – This one-of-a-kind Semillon, crafted by winemaker/owner Matt Austin, must be tasted to be appreciated. It almost comes across as a baby Sauternes without the sweetness: shimmering golden color, layers of flavor, and an incredibly long, textured finish. Tangerine, honeycomb, Golden Delicious apple, and dried tropical fruits fill the glass throughout. There’s a touch of orange oil and notes of lemon verbena on the finish that linger well past the first sip, making it unique and contemplative. Sourced from the Walla Walla Valley’s Les Collines Vineyards, half the grapes were fermented with the skins on for 12 twelve days. Aged in a combination of concrete, clay, stainless, and neutral oak.

The tasting room was tastefully designed by Austin’s wife, Kelly, and is absolutely gorgeous with seating indoors on both the main floor and upper level, and outdoors on two separate patios. Well worth the visit.

For the week of February 4, 2024: Foundry Vineyards 2020 Syrah – This artfully crafted gem of a Syrah from winemaker Jay Anderson is a juicy, mouth-watering, flat-out delicious red wine. It benefits from carbonic maceration, which lightens the tannins, giving it a fresh quality and making it instantly enjoyable. Practically everything berry comes to mind on the flavor profile, with wild blackberries leading the way, followed by a layer of brighter red currant and red plum fruit. The finish shines with brisk acidity, blended with touches of bramble, baking spice, and forest floor. Sourced from Conley Vineyard, located near Yakima, and 100% USDA Certified Organic. Only 140 cases produced.

For the week of January 28, 2024: Browne Family Vineyards 2022 Pinot Gris – Pinot Gris is one of those “quiet” varietals that doesn’t seem to get a lot of recognition. And yet, it’s a solid choice for Washington white wine grape producers behind the big three – Chardonnay, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc – year after year. This selection from Browne Family Vineyards carries a core of Asian pear fruit with additional flavors of white peach, melon, and lychee and a touch of minerality on a slightly off-dry finish. The nose is classic Pinot Gris: honeysuckle, alfalfa, and field flowers that add to its sensory appeal. This wine should pair up nicely with halibut, sole or a variety of shellfish. The winery has Washington wine enthusiasts well-covered with a number of tasting rooms on both the eastern side of the state and in the Puget Sound region.

Canvasback Winemaker, Joseph Czarny (winery courtesy photo)

For the week of January 21, 2024: Canvasback Wine 2020 Grand Passage Cabernet Sauvignon – “When you pay more, you expect more” is a good rule of thumb when purchasing wines. And although the cost of a “splurge” wine is completely relative to each consumer, a $50 to $100 bottle likely fits that category for many wine enthusiasts.

That said, this wine from Canvasback checks all the boxes for being well worth its price. Beautiful aromatics and flavors of brambly blackberry and black raspberry fill the glass, complemented with additional blueberry and black plum fruit and nuances of juniper berry, sweet cedar, and bay leaf. The seamlessly integrated tannins contribute to a plush, luxurious finish that will leave you moaning quietly on the inside. This may well be quintessential Cab Sauv juice from Washington’s Red Mountain AVA.

For the week of January 14, 2024: Winter Whites from Lagana Cellars – Just because we’re in the winter months doesn’t mean you should only be drinking hearty, full-bodied red wines. Keep your white wines well-stocked for the salad course, to serve with a variety of seafoods, or as an accompaniment to creamy soups. Lagana Cellars has a couple of excellent, under $25 choices: the 2022 Walla Walla Valley Viognier is packed with tropical aromas and flavors of pineapple, pear, jackfruit, and ripe melon. It’s slightly creamy with a deft touch of balancing acidity and absolutely delicious; and the 2022 Otis Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc is another must-try stunner, with layers of nectarine, green apricot, and limoncello sorbet, along with hints of thyme, minerality, and freshly-cut grass on the finish. The Sauvy B was a 2023 entry in the Pacific Northwest Wine Competition, scoring 94-points and a unanimous Gold Medal (Double Gold) from the judges.

For the week of January 7, 2024: Vartanyan Estate Winery 2017 Syrah – Bellingham’s Margarita Vartanyan (pictured at far left) has completely outdone herself with this stunning Washington State Syrah. The wine spent an incredible 48 months in French oak prior to its release, and the additional time has given it a rich, opulent quality that is second to none. Red cherry fruit leads off, while blackberry, Marionberry, and fig flavors predominate on the mid-palate. The melt-in-your-mouth, ultra-velvety finish is framed with mocha and milk chocolate and topped with a lovely touch of vanilla wafer. How Vartanyan manages to get this wine out the door for under $30 is nothing short of amazing. Outstanding!

For the weeks of December 24 & 31, 2023: Yellowhawk 2021 Vineyard Select Sparkling Blanc – Winemaker George-Anne Robertson is doing some terrific work at Yellowhawk Resort, the only winery in the Walla Walla area exclusively producing sparkling wines. Her unconventional pairing of Cabernet Franc and Semillon for this wine results in a tasty and delightful blend that’s certain to be a hit with those who love their bubbles. Aromatics of brioche and jasmine are backed by big flavors of apricot, pear, and watermelon rind, with more delicate notes of timothy hay and riverbed on the finish. This wine picked up numerous awards in 2023, including a Gold Medal and 91 points from the Pacific Northwest Wine Competition.

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