The focus of this newspaper column is almost always on Washington’s value wines. These are the wines that are on most dinner tables most of the time and the familiar brands in your grocery store wine department. But Washington vintners also make the high-end stuff, and whether it is purchased for a special occasion or simply as an occasional splurge, it’s good to know what is out there that is especially worthy of attention.
Here are the best splurge wines – at the most affordable prices – that I have tasted so far this year.
Efesté 2009 Lola Chardonnay; $30
Fruit sourced from the Evergreen vineyard once again proves that winemaker Brennon Leighton is as good as anyone making white wines in Washington. This can stand with the best Chardonnays from California – textural, creamy, a delicious mix of lemon custard, meringue, caramel, papaya and toasted coconut.
Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen 2009 Eroica Riesling; $24
This wine just gets better with every new vintage. Young and fresh, it hits the palate with lip-puckering acidity, rolling on flavors of lemons, oranges, citrus rind, and then into mango and papaya. Though the residual sugar is listed at 1.6 percent, it shows only in a pleasing roundness in the lengthy finish.
Tulpen Cellars 2007 Merlot; $28
This excellent merlot is the best of a very fine flight of Tulpen wines. More muscular than the cabernet, it includes 10 percent malbec and 5 percent petit verdot in the mix, resulting in a dense, dark wine loaded with black fruits. Polished tannins frame lightly layered in streaks of leaf, herb and earth. The alcohol tops 15 percent, but there is not a hint of heat in the finish.
Buty 2009 Sémillon, Sauvignon and Muscadelle; $25
Fragrant with cut grass, pea vine and sweet hay, leading into light fruit flavors of apple and pear. There are suggestions of sliced orange, and the creamy, textural mouthfeel derived from nine months of aging on the lees.
Sparkman 2009 Lumière Chardonnay; $25
Creamy and crisp – a nice trick – this refreshing Chardonnay livens up the palate with a mix of herb, celery, apple, and Asian pear, rolling into a finish of caramel apple and toast. It has a light touch despite the 14.5 percent alcohol, and sits nicely in the back of the throat, inviting another glass.
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2007 Cold Creek Vineyard Merlot; $28
This 2007 is proving to be a world-class vintage in Washington and this full-throttle effort offers big flavor swashes of blackberry, cassis, black pepper, coffee grounds and ripe tannins. Few American merlots – indeed few in the world – can stand on their own and deliver a wine this complete and powerful.
McCrea 2009 Boushey Vineyard Sirocco Blanc;$25
A blend of 41 percent marsanne, 42 percent grenache blanc, 10 percent picpoul and 7 percent roussanne. I can’t think of anyone in the Northwest doing a more complex, rich and dense blend of these Rhone varieties. Stone and tropical fruit flavors are wrapped in layers of caramel, nougat, marshmallow and spice. Yummy, with plenty of years of life ahead.
Maison Bleue 2009 Soleil Roussanne; $25
Another stellar effort. Luscious aromas – stone fruits, candy, wax, peel – honey, cumin, allspice – it just keeps on going. Firm in the mouth, with the same exotic and refined blend of interesting spices and fruits. A tour de force.
Kontos Cellars 2008 Syrah; $30
This tangy, tasty wine has strong elements of citrus and tobacco – both indicative of top tier Washington syrah. Take one swallow and the flavors keep piling on. Candied citrus and sweet berry and white pepper and clove, a three ring circus of a wine. But it’s not overblown, and it’s all in proportion. The fruit is the star, as it should be.
Seven Hills 2008 Seven Hills Vineyard Merlot; $28
Right out of the chute this has sappy, delicious black cherry fruit, accented with scents of tobacco and graphite. Streaks of ash and more juicy berries fill the middle, as it unfolds into a taut, sculpted finish. A classical style from a vintage that favors it; accessible, yet built for cellaring.
Hard Row To Hoe 2008 Syrah; $28
Syrah does well all over Washington, but the Lake Chelan region has a particular mix of qualities that are most appealing. The scents swirl through a circus of attractions – coffee and toast, berry and cassis, loam and funk, spice and citrus peel. They seem to go on almost infinitely.
Dunham 2009 Lewis Estate Shirley Mays Chardonnay; $24
Superbly smooth – satiny is really the right word – this luscious chardonnay pulls together papaya, banana, pineapple and apricot fruit into a seamless, sensuous, full-bodied whole. There is just enough acid to keep it upright and lightly applied notes of barrel spice, caramel, and toast.
Alexandria Nicole 2008 Destiny Ridge Vineyard Gravity Merlot; $24
A fragrant, rich mix of olive, smoke, earth, black cherry, cassis and more. It offers fine value, good texture, grip and a very appealing, silky smooth evolution in the finish.