Best Wines of Washington's Winegrowing Regions
COLUMBIA VALLEY AVA
The umbrella AVA for most of the others, the Columbia Valley is basically the outer boundary of the area where the Missoula Floods did their work, scraping away layers of soil down to ancient basalt. Then, over centuries, light topsoil (loess) blew in from all over the world to create layers of different types of soils with high mineral content and good drainage, an excellent combination for great grapes. A vast area with about 40,000 acres in all of its sub-AVAs planted in grapes, Columbia Valley is one of the most recognized designations in Washington.
WHITE BLENDS, $20 OR LESS
Lobo Hills 2011 White Blend, Columbia Valley, $16
The Columbia Valley spans most of eastern Washington, from the southern tip of Lake Chelan in the north to the Columbia Gorge in the south, encompassing the Yakima Valley east to Walla Walla. There’s no one description that is sufficient for wines that come from this area. But one factor is consistent: The area has hot days, but nights are cool during the ripening period, which helps grapes keep their fresh flavors and acidity. Growers can control almost every drop of water with irrigation, which makes for more crop predictability and less chance of flavor dilution in the wines. This white blend of Pinot Gris (50 percent), Gewürztraminer (40 percent) and Riesling (10 percent) focuses on the cooler-climate grapes grown in the Yakima Valley area of the Columbia Valley AVA. Bright and aromatic, this blend of three Alsatian grapes mixes the sweet fruit and floral aromas of Gewürztraminer with lean minerality of Riesling and soft peachiness of Pinot Gris.
Columbia Valley White Blends, $20 or Less Finalists:
Bergevin Lane 2010 Calico White, Columbia Valley, $14
Eye of the Needle Harvest White NV, Columbia Valley, $9.99
RED BLENDS $20 OR LESS
Saviah Cellars 2010 The Jack Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $18
Before red blends were the rage, there was The Jack. A longtime favorite of Walla Walla tasting room aficionados, this wine pulls fruit from great vineyards across the Columbia Valley each year, including Pepper Bridge, Stoneridge, Mirage, McClellan Estate, Stillwater Creek, Destiny Ridge, Frenchmen Hills and Seven Hills vineyards—each contributing something a little bit different in terms of flavor, aroma or texture. Winemaker Richard Funk tweaks the blend each year, looking for the perfect combination of fruit, tannin and acidity, and this year’s result is full of plum and cherry fruit, a soft spiciness with mellow tannins and a long, lush finish. He wanted to make a wine that gives a big bang for the buck, and our judges feel he won this round.
Columbia Valley Red Blends, $20 or Less Finalists:
Gilbert Cellars 2010 Allobroges, Columbia Valley, $20
Lobo Hills 2009 Right Bank Blend, Columbia Valley, $19
OS Winery 2009 Red, Columbia Valley, $15
RED BLENDS, $20 OR MORE
Col Solare 2008 Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $75
Probably the largest categories of wine produced in the state, red blends are what Washington does best. The art of the blend is about finding balance, and no one does it better than Col Solare. Winemaker Marcus Notaro’s passion for Cabernet drives the blend. He makes just one wine a year, starting with 67 percent of Cabernet Sauvignon as the base, and adding Merlot (20 percent) to bring fullness and fruit, then rounding it out with the earthy notes of Cabernet Franc (10 percent) and Syrah (3 percent). Eight different vineyards add something special: the powerful intensity of Klipsun Cabernet Sauvignon from Red Mountain, the softness and lush fruit of Coyote Canyon Merlot in the Horse Heaven Hills, and the spice and earth of Cabernet Franc from Cold Creek in the Yakima Valley. Fruit is sourced from these and other AVAs, ergo the umbrella Columbia Valley AVA designation is used.
Columbia Valley Red Blends, $20 or More Finalists:
Bergevin Lane 2010 Moonspell, Columbia Valley, $30
Betz Family 2010 Clos de Betz, Columbia Valley, $55
Betz Family 2010 Bésoleil, Columbia Valley, $48
Rasa 2009 QED Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $50
Chester-Kidder 2008 Saggi, Columbia Valley, $50
Mark Ryan 2010 Long Haul, Columbia Valley, $48