2014 Washington Wine Awards: Red Wine Winners

Complex and hearty, these Washington-made red wines stole the show
Mark Ryan 2011 Lonely Heart Cabernet Sauvignon; BlackSmith 2011 Merlot; Tamarack 2012 Firehouse Red

For more award-winning Washington wines, read our complete 2014 Washington Wine Awards coverage, including the Best Emerging Winery, Sommelier of the Year, White Wine Winners and more, right here.

Red Wine of the Year

Mark Ryan 2011 Lonely Heart Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain, $85

Sourced from four great Red Mountain vineyards—mostly from Klipsun and Ciel du Cheval—this Cabernet Sauvignon (90 percent), Merlot (5 percent) and Cabernet Franc (5 percent) blend is bound to become a Washington classic. First picked as tops in the Cabernet Sauvignon more than $65 category, it went on to the Wine of the Year tasting, where it wowed our judges with “great aromatics of plum, tobacco, lead pencil, caramel, vanilla, pomegranate and crushed herb.” Owner and winemaker Mark Ryan McNeilly’s wines, made in Woodinville, are known for their richness and complexity (and quirky names), and this wine shows the best of Red Mountain’s structure and long finish. A wine to age and enjoy for a decade to come.

Merlot, $20 or less
BlackSmith (by Forgeron) 2011 Merlot Columbia Valley, $18

Amazing quality in an approachable and affordable red, this Merlot (79 percent), Cabernet Franc (17 percent) and Petit Verdot (4 percent) blend is a rich, dark wine with aromas of cherry liqueur, licorice and chocolate, as well as fine tannins and clean minerality. Winemaker and managing partner Marie-Eve Gilla is a boon to the Washington wine industry, with her excellent palate and delicate touch. She guides her wines, made in Walla Walla, through growth, harvest, fermentation and aging, producing wines that shine.

Merlot, more than $20
Long Shadows 2011 Pedestal Merlot Columbia Valley, $60

A much-loved Merlot and one of the stars of the Long Shadows Vintners stable, this wine is crafted by French winemaker Michel Rolland, from the Pomerol region in Bordeaux, and Long Shadows founder Allen Shoup, who established his winery to highlight Washington fruit in the hands of seven of the world’s most accomplished winemakers. The whole project is managed by French-born winemaker Gilles Nicault, who lives in Walla Walla, where the winery is based, and who also happens to be married to Forgeron’s equally talented winemaker, Marie-Eve Gilla. A Rolland is world famous and was featured in the movie Mondovino, a documentary about traveling winemakers who jet around the world to work with hundreds of clients in more than a dozen countries. Our judges praised this dark, rich wine for its structure and weight, and called out its “cherry, cola, dried herbs, espresso and oak spice” notes.  

Red Blend, $20 or less
Tamarack 2012 Firehouse Red Columbia Valley, $18

To call this a “kitchen sink” wine would only be partially true. Yes, it has juice from a dozen different grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Sangiovese, Grenache, Cinsaut, Petit Verdot, Counoise, Mourvèdre and Carménère. And vineyards? Not enough room here. It’s like Team Bordeaux and Team Rhône caught in a scrum. The wine comes out unscathed, no lesser for the mix, but a juicy, complex and enjoyable red you can be proud to grab by the neck and cart off to any barbecue—or even a fancy dinner. Winemaker Danny Gordon and owner Ron Coleman are no-nonsense when it comes to wine (the winery is is in an old firehouse) and their passion for quality. Starting out with aromas of sweet fruit and rose petals, this wine develops on the palate with dark cherry, spice, fennel, savory tobacco and coffee notes,
and finishes with lush, firm tannins. A pretty good recipe for an everyday red at a great price.

Red Blend, more than $20
Soos Creek 2010 Champoux Vineyard Red Horse Heaven Hills, $40

Long under the radar, Kent-based Soos Creek has produced delicious reds for more than 20 years. Owner and winemaker David Larsen had faith in eastern Washington’s ability to yield world-class grapes before it had proven itself, and found them in vineyards such as Champoux and Ciel du Cheval. Since then, Larsen has worked with many more “best of the best” vineyards, but this wine is 100 percent beautiful Champoux fruit—Cabernet Sauvignon (84 percent) along with a bit of Cabernet Franc and Merlot—with aromas of lush, dark fruit, savory dried herbs, cocoa and vanilla. Winning out over several other higher-priced wines, this showstopper is more than worth the outlay.

Syrah, $20 or less
Charles Smith 2012 Boom Boom Washington State, $15

Washington has a heck of a lot of Syrah on the market, and it takes a lot to rise above it all, especially in this category. Owner and winemaker Charles Smith chose the right name for this intense red, which is full of flavor, showing aromas of smoked meat, ripe black fruit, red licorice, hay and supple tannins. Created in Walla Walla in the Northern Rhône style, with Syrah (97 percent) and a touch of white Viognier (3 percent) to bring out the lovely aromatics, this is a great everyday wine.

Syrah, more than $20
W.T. Vintners 2011 Damavian Walla Walla, Les Collines Vineyard, $42
From sommelier and winemaker Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen (2014 Winemaker to Watch) and his partner George White, this lovely Woodinville wine from the Les Collines Vineyard, in the foothills above Walla Walla, impressed our judges with its elegant complexity, showing aromas of “dried herbs, black olive, pipe tobacco, violets, smoked meat and camphor.” Aged in neutral, rather than new, French oak, this intense wine shows the unique characteristics of the vineyard it was grown in, rather than the barrel it was aged in. This wine is not overripe, but is less oaky and perfect to take to a dinner party where braised or grilled meats will shine with this food-friendly gem.

Cabernet Sauvignon, $25 or less
Novelty Hill 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley, $25

Consistent excellence is what sets Novelty Hill wines apart from others in the same price range. Veteran winemaker Mike Januik, who has worked for decades in the business, most notably as winemaker at Chateau Ste. Michelle for 10 years before leaving to start Januik Winery in Woodinville in 1999, has again shepherded a classic Washington Cabernet Sauvignon to market. Notes of “coffee, oak, vanilla and ripe, dark cherry and brambly fruit” impressed our judges, as did its balanced mouthfeel in a “creamy palate” that leads to a long finish. Another reason to love this affordable, approachable, delicious example of Washington Cab is that it’s made with fruit from Stillwater Creek, and located on the Royal Slope above the Frenchman Hills near the Columbia River, this 245-acre site is also certified as “Salmon-Safe,” farmed without harmful pesticides and herbicides that would run off into the Columbia River. Planted in 2000 after meticulous research regarding which vines grow best in certain areas, it has become one of the top vineyards in the state.

Cabernet Sauvignon, $26–$64
Abeja 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley, $45

John Abbott is a magician with Cabernet Sauvignon. Perhaps it is because he believes this grape to be an icon in the Washington pantheon of grapes, or because of his stellar vineyard choices, or because of his hands-off treatment of the grapes (i.e., set it and forget it). All of the above probably have something to do with it, but year after year, Abbott has come forth with a wine that tastes more mature than its years, with surprising elegance and balance. This stunner offers aromas of smoke, cedar and dried herbs, with cassis and dark berry bramble at its core, and notes of savory soy and espresso. Pulling grapes from the Bacchus and Dionysus vineyards in the Walla Walla area—as well as from Abeja’s estate Heather Hill vineyard—creates a balanced wine with all its potential in place, as does Abbott’s gentle handling of grapes from harvest to fermentation to aging, which retains the fruit, acidity and tannin that creates the structure for it to age well into the next decade.  

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