Washington wines hold their own in price and quality
These are challenging times for wineries, which are facing increased global competition and rapidly falling prices for their wines.
California brands that once commanded $100 and more a bottle are now being dumped for $35 or $40. And at the most affordable level – $6 to $8 wines for everyday enjoyment – the corporate California wines have the advantage of cheap and abundant fruit.
Yet Washington not only can compete, it can excel at both ends of the price spectrum. In fact, a look at the annual “Top 100” lists published by Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and other wine publications, will almost always show a disproportionate number of Washington wines listed.
This state has always offered tremendous value – meaning quality – at all price points, and now more than ever.
Here are some of my favorites, covering a range of recent releases. The prices quoted are suggested retail, but you may find many of these wines for less.
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2009 Dry Riesling; $10
This dry Riesling began as a limited, regional offering, but with a price drop and a three-fold increase in production in 2009, it has arrived on the national stage. Loaded with tight, tart fruit flavors of apple, pear, grapefruit and lemon, this is perfectly matched to a wide range of foods, especially poultry.
Columbia Crest Two Vines 2008 Vineyard 10 Red Wine; $8
This pleasant blend of Syrah, Sangiovese, Grenache and Cabernet Franc has a sweet core of blueberry fruit, round and forward and quite appealing. It’s dusted with baking spices and fades gently into a soft finish.
Columbia Crest Grand Estates 2007 Merlot; $12
The Grand Estates Merlot is da bomb as far as Columbia Crest is concerned – a quarter of a million cases strong. Scented with sandalwood and Asian spices, it offers broad black cherry and blackberry fruit flavors. A darker streak of black olive and licorice runs into a tight, tannic finish.
Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Blancs; $11
Look no farther for your holiday bubbly. This is the best of the DSM sparklers, made in the traditional méthode champenoise, and finished with a wire cage and Champagne cork.
Syncline 2009 Coyote Canyon Vineyard Viognier; $20
Not much was made, but this outstanding Horse Heaven Hills Viognier is worth chasing down. It’s loaded with a rich mix of peach, apricot, papaya and guava fruit, baking spices and cocoa powder, along with suggestions of curry and cumin. This wine should be mandatory with curry dishes.
Willow Crest 2009 Pinot Gris; $10. Pinot gris (same as pinot grigio) is a fast-rising varietal here in Washington, and this estate-grown offering comes from some of the oldest vines in the state. Fresh herbs and sharp, juicy pear and apple fruit flavors combine in a racy wine that seems to gather strength and focus as it sits in the mouth.
Dusted Valley 2009 Boomtown Pinot Gris; $13.
Here’s another fine PG value, so fresh and spritzy that it is almost like drinking the wine straight from the winemaker’s fermentation tank – it’s that juicy and delicious. Flavors of apple and pear, lightly dusted with cinnamon, are elevated with a zesty, mineral-driven acidity.
Olsen Estates 2008 Merlot; $19.
This is my favorite of Olsen’s 2008 reds. It is 100 percent Merlot, generous and forward, with rich cherry and raspberry fruit. Spicy and lightly herbal, it has the concentration and depth to develop nicely over the next decade.
Nine Hats 2007 Red; $25.
The Long Shadows project is a portfolio of wines from an all-star group of international, celebrity winemakers. Brands such as Pedestal, Feather and Chester Kidder command high prices, which makes this new offering especially attractive.
Nine Hats is a “second” wine, from barrels not used in the superpremium wines. It’s a blend of 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 15 percent Syrah, 11 percent Merlot, 10 percent Petit Verdot and 3 percent Cabernet Franc. This is great juice, the tannins a little rough, but overall packing plenty of flavor.
On to a pair of pricier reds for celebrating.
Northstar 2007 Merlot; $40
This young and muscular Merlot from a superb year blends black fruits, sweet oak and toasty spice. Pure fruit flavors include black cherry and plum, smooth and concentrated, with a smoky kick in the finish.
Gorman 2008 The Evil Twin Syrah-Cabernet Sauvignon; $60
From a mix of Red Mountain vineyards, including Kiona, Ciel du Cheval and Klipsun, this beautifully aromatic and assertively tannic red has monster fruit, was 100 percent new oak-aged, and shows no hint of heat from the 15.5 percent alcohol. It’s big, yet graceful, with veins of smoke and rock wrapped around the dense cassis and berry fruit.
And now, for dessert, another gem from Gorman. Gorman’s 2009 The Cry Baby Late Harvest Chenin Blanc (priced at $25 for a half bottle) is simply gorgeous, barrel fermented in new French oak.
This old vine Chenin Blanc has a delicious toasty flavor, sweet lemony acids and plenty of peachy fruit, without being unctuous or heavy. Yummy.
Paul Gregutt is a freelance wine writer based in Washington state. His column appears in The Spokesman-Review on the last Wednesday of each month. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.paulgregutt.com for Gregutt’s daily blog and other commentary.