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Red Mountain a small region with big flavor

It is not red, nor is it a mountain, but “brown ridge” doesn’t sound like much of a grape growing region.

Red Mountain is a 4,040-acre bench in Washington’s eastern Yakima Valley, and in the 40 years since the first wine grapes were planted amid sand and sagebrush, Red Mountain has developed into what is arguably the most important region in Washington. It also is the state’s smallest American Viticultural Area.

Red Mountain doesn’t produce the most grapes in Washington, but it does have the reputation for growing arguably the best. And most of them are red (more than 90 percent).

On average, Red Mountain is the warmest spot in Washington. As such, the grapes never have trouble ripening. In addition, Red Mountain vineyard land is by far the most expensive in the state.

And about the name: It comes from cheatgrass that grows on the ridge and turns reddish in color each spring.

Here are six wines from Red Mountain grapes that earned gold medals at this spring’s Great Northwest Wine Competition. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or call the wineries directly.

Henry Earl Estate Wines 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $45: Dick Shaw, one of Washington’s most important and prolific grape growers, works with winemaker Victor Palencia to craft this wine from estate grapes on Red Mountain. It is as gorgeous as it is powerful, with aromas of tell-tale sage, black cherry and a hint of smoky oak, followed by flavors of coffee, dark chocolate, dried herbs and elegant dark fruit. It is available at the Henry Earl tasting room in downtown Walla Walla. (13.8 percent alcohol)

MonteScarlatto Estate Winery 2012 Malbec, Red Mountain, $32: This young winery on Washington’s warm Red Mountain is beginning to make a name for itself with every new vintage. This superb malbec from estate grapes opens with aromas of mocha, sweet oak, ripe plum and black pepper. On the palate, it offers rich flavors of blackberry, black cherry, slate and dark spices, all backed by succulent tannins and notes of dark chocolate. (13.4 percent alcohol)

Hightower Cellars 2012 Reserve Red, Red Mountain, $55: The husband-wife team of Tim and Kelly Hightower use cabernet sauvignon from Red Mountain to build the foundation for their Reserve, which opens with tones of chocolate-covered pomegranate, blueberry and lilac. The hallmark of Hightower Cellars red wines is exquisite balance, and that indeed applies here as suave tannins and juicy blueberry acidity make for a long farewell. (14.4 percent alcohol)

Ambassador Wines of Washington 2012 Estate Envoy, Red Mountain, $35: Red Mountain winemaker Sarah Goedhart – recently named head winemaker for her parents’ Hedges Family Estate – crafted this beautiful blend of merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon with dabs of petit verdot and malbec. Blackberry pie, vanilla, licorice and sweet herb aromas and flavors are capped off by pomegranate acidity and bittersweet chocolate tannins. (14.5 percent alcohol)

Genoa Cellars 2011 Ketch, Red Mountain, $37: The Woodinville tandem of Derek Berger and Scott Heinrich spend a fair bit of time on Red Mountain, creating a handful of red blends. This one, named for a two-masted sailboat, is a blend of syrah, sangiovese and merlot. The dominance of syrah shows from beginning to end, starting with aromas of boysenberry and Hostess Blueberry Pie, and joined by dusty black cherry, rose petal, coffee and black pepper. The drink is bold with more boysenberry and plum, backed by a plush midpalate and juicy acidity. (14.1 percent alcohol)

Anelare 2011 Daniel Mark, Red Mountain, $45: Yakima Valley vintners Forrest and Kahryn Alexander expand their portfolio with this blend of Rhône varieties from Red Heaven Vineyard. The mosaic of syrah, counoise, grenache and mourvèdre exhibits notes of marionberry, cherry, licorice, cedar and white pepper. The structure is spicy, bright and juicy with pomegranate, blueberry and vanilla extract. (14.9 percent alcohol)

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.

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