The Columbia Gorge is a unique growing area, with about 500 acres planted in vinifera grapes. Steep cliffs above the Columbia River moderate the temperature, keeping vines from freezing in many places in winter and keeping the nights cool in the summer. Cool marine air rushes through the Gorge to meet the hot desert air going down the river, making the Gorge a great place for cooler climate grapes on the west end, such as Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer, while grapes that need warmer conditions, such as Grenache and Syrah, do well on the east end of the Gorge.
Dowsett Family 2011 Gewürztraminer, Columbia Gorge, Celilo Vineyard, $22
Chris Dowsett has a special touch. His enchanting Gewürztraminer won White Wine of the Year last year, and he has been co-winemaker at award-winning Buty Winery since 2008. He started with some pretty special fruit, from the cool Celilo Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge area, known as a great place to grow Alsatian and German aromatic varieties, which have more intense scents of flowers and fruit than, say, Chardonnay. The aromatic varieties grown here are Pinot Gris and Riesling, and of course, this “spicy” (the translation of “Gewürz”) ’traminer, which shows a beautiful white rose, lemon and nutmeg aroma, with a crisp citrus acidity, and fresh peaches and lychee flavors.
Columbia Gorge Aromatic White Finalists:
Analemma 2011 Gewürztraminer, Columbia Gorge, Atavus Vineyard, $27
Ross Andrew 2011 Pinot Gris, Columbia Gorge, Celilo Vineyard, $20
Syncline Wine Cellars 2011 Grüner Veltliner, Columbia Gorge, $20
Memaloose 2010 Primitivo, Columbia Gorge, Idiot’s Grace, $25
Father and son Rob and Brian, along with wives Barbara and Maria McCormick built Memaloose on the steep cliffs, 250–1,000 feet up the Columbia Gorge, to create Old World–style wines using Washington fruit grown in the state’s coolest AVA. In the last decade, The Gorge has been recognized for its desirable hot days and cool nights that lock in grapes’ acidity and flavors. It is also a hub of experimentation; growers plant everything from Albarino to Zinfandel. Brian McCormick planted Primitivo (Italian version of Zinfandel) in 2003, hoping it would thrive in the long growing season. He was right: this dry, deep red—full of blackberry bramble, black cherry and toast aromas—pairs nicely with grilled meats and rich tomato-based sauces.
Columbia Gorge Eclectic Red Finalists:
Memaloose 2011 Cabernet Franc, Columbia Gorge, $25
Syncline 2010 Pinot Noir, Columbia Gorge, $30
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
HORSE HEAVEN HILLS AVA
Hot and dry, the Horse Heaven Hills are wide, rolling slopes above the Columbia River where many varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, grow well, and Rhône varieties, such as Viognier and Mourvèdre (as well as Syrah and Grenache), thrive. About 10,000 acres are planted in grapes, with plenty of vineyards, but there are few actual wineries to visit. In fact, many of the wineries that grow grapes here have tasting rooms in Woodinville, such as Alexandria Nicole Cellars, whose Destiny Ridge Vineyard is in the Horse Heaven Hills.
Alexandria Nicole 2009 Alderdale Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, Destiny Ridge Vineyard, $42
The Horse Heaven Hills is one of the more remote AVAs in the state, with vast rolling vineyards overlooking the Columbia River, and only six actual wineries that call it home. Jarrod and Ali Boyle make wines from their Destiny Ridge Vineyard and sell them at their tasting rooms in Prosser and at Woodinville’s Hollywood Hills Schoolhouse. This Cabernet Sauvignon won kudos from our judges for its deep cherry and dark berry fruit, toasted oak, spice and long finish.
Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Finalists:
Andrew Will 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, Discovery Vineyard, $48
Buty 2010 Beast, Horse Heaven Hills, Phinny Hill Vineyard, $40
DenHoed 2008 Andreas, Horse Heaven Hills, Wallula Vineyard, $80
McKinley Springs 2010 Viognier, Horse Heaven Hills, $16
Viognier is originally from the Rhône Valley in France, where it thrives in the heat. In the warm, dry Horse Heaven Hills, Washington Viognier is gaining a following for its lushness and peachy aromas. McKinley Springs Vineyard, a second-generation vineyard owned by Rob Andrews, is mostly a rich, silty loam soil over a deep layer of broken basalt, which helps absorb excess moisture and assists the vines in reaching for that water. Winemaker Doug Rowell’s Viognier has aromas of honey and peach, with a bit more citrus on the palate, a mineral and lime peel finish that is a delight to drink.
Horse Heaven Hills Viognier Finalist:
Syncline 2011 Viognier, Horse Heaven Hills, Alder Ridge Vineyard, $20
Robert Ramsay Cellars 2010 Mourvèdre, Horse Heaven Hills, McKinley Springs Vineyard, $35
Robert Ramsay winemaker Bob Harris first worked with Mourvèdre grapes from Rob Andrews’ McKinley Springs Vineyard when he was blending it with Syrah. He liked the power and intensity of this deep purple wine, which reminded him of the 100 percent Mourvèdre wines he had experienced from the Bandol region of France. So he made this wine to show how this fruit could shine. He proved his point: A rich, smooth and spicy wine with a lush mouthfeel and velvety finish, this is a good option for Cabernet lovers who want to try something different—and delicious.
Horse Heaven Hills Mourvèdre Finalists:
Hollywood Hill Vineyards 2008 Mourvèdre, Horse Heaven Hill, $34
Mercer Estates 2009 Mourvèdre, Horse Heaven Hills, Spice Cabinet Vineyards, $32.99
PUGET SOUND AVA
The Puget Sound AVA is cooler and wetter—more like Oregon—than eastern Washington AVAs. Although the region is large, there are only about 70 acres planted, mostly with German white varieties such as Riesling and Siegerrebe, and some wineries are experimenting with Pinot Noir as well, although that grape is persnickety and doesn’t like too wet of a climate.
Lopez Island Vineyards 2011 Siegerrebe, Puget Sound, $25
Brent Charnley has been a pioneer in Washington wine since the 1970s. First, he planted one of the few vineyards in the San Juan Islands—and the only one on Lopez Island, the driest of the San Juans, making it a more amenable climate to Northern European–style grapes. Secondly, he farms his grapes organically, avoiding some of the easy fixes for powdery mildew and other plagues of the moist Northwest. But he’s found a few things he can do very well, and Siegerrebe is one of them. A German variety, this grape (pronounced Zee-guh-reh-buh) is beautifully aromatic in a dry or sweet wine. Charnley’s version is a dry style, but with ripe pear and peach notes. This is the kind of wine that is an aperitif in itself, but it goes incredibly well with sweet shellfish such as scallops and crab. A true Northwest gem.
Puget Sound Siegerrebe Finalists:
Mount Baker Vineyards & Winery 2011 Siegerrebe, Puget Sound, $17
Whidbey Island Winery 2011 Siegerrebe, Puget Sound, $17
Challenger Ridge 2009 Estate Selection Clone 667 Pinot Noir, Puget Sound, $38
With just a few Pinot Noir growers in Washington, this was a small but fascinating category. The Puget Sound AVA has similarities to Oregon’s Willamette Valley, but is cooler and wetter. Still, a few determined winegrowers feel there is untapped potential for this finicky grape in Washington state’s cooler regions. This wine, made by roving winemaker Robert Smasne, is grown on the 13-acre estate vineyard on the shores of the Skagit River in Concrete, and keeps proving that there is a future for Pinot Noir in Washington. With its medium body, refreshing acidity, and classic Pinot cherry fruit, dried herbs and earth, this wine is a welcome shift from some of the more intense reds from other parts of the state, adding to the diversity of Washington wine.
Puget Sound Pinot Noir Finalists:
Mount Baker Vineyards & Winery, 2010 Pinot Noir, Puget Sound, $26
Vashon Winery 2009 Pinot Noir, Puget Sound, $30
Mount Baker Vineyards & Winery 2011 Madeleine Angevine, Puget Sound, $17
Another Northern European grape that has found a home in the Pacific Northwest is Madeleine Angevine, a light white that is typically grown in the Loire Valley of France, Germany and even the U.K. An early ripener, this grape is often a sure bet in the wetter Puget Sound AVA. It has become one of the most popular wines with Northwest seafood, especially Puget Sound oysters, since the fresh acidity helps cleanse the palate. It is also a great summer boat wine, with green apple and lemon-lime notes, and lower alcohol than many eastern Washington wines, so you can enjoy more of it all summer.
Puget Sound Madeleine Angevine Finalists:
Lopez Island Vineyards 2011 Madeleine Angevine, Puget Sound, $25
Whidbey Island Winery 2011 Madeleine Angevine, Puget Sound, $15
LAKE CHELAN AVA
With cool nights, warm days and that large lake—which helps regulate the temperature—the Lake Chelan AVA is gaining ground with German whites and cooler-climate Syrah. There are only about 250 acres planted in wine grapes at the moment, but that is growing as people discover Chelan’s charms.
Nefarious 2010 Syrah, Lake Chelan, Defiance Vineyard, $30
Syrah is emerging as the red wine of this cool region. In a cooler but still dry climate, where Syrah can ripen slowly in the long, warm days of autumn, it develops more complex fruit and floral characteristics. Winemakers Dean and Heather Neff’s estate Defiance Vineyard may be named for just that reason: to show that this sun-loving grape can thrive and—in this case—shine in this climate. This Syrah exhibits the best of the grape, with heady aromatics of violets and earth, and a soft spice and brightness that makes it easy to drink with grilled meats or duck confit and dried herbs. Beautiful blueberry and cherry fruit followed by powerful development, length and softness.
Lake Chelan Syrah Finalists:
Tildio 2009 Estate Syrah, Lake Chelan, $25
Tsillan 2010 Estate Reserve Syrah, Lake Chelan, $35
Mellisoni Vineyards 2011 Pinot Grigio, Lake Chelan, $35
The Lake Chelan area has been expanding as a white-wine-growing region. The “lake effect” is the key: The rolling hills surrounding the lake capture the cool air that flows over them at night, and the hills heat up with the eastern Washington sun during the day. Delicate white grapes such as Gewürztraminer, Riesling and this lovely Pinot Gris do well here, retaining their fresh fruit aromas and acidity. Donna and Rob Mellison decided on this area after a wine-tasting trip to Italy, and wanted to replicate their experience and share their love of wine in the U.S. This winner is full of fresh melon and peach aromas and flavors, with a clean finish that makes it a great match with shellfish, light cheeses and salads.
Lake Chelan Pinot Gris Finalists:
Benson Vineyards Estate Winery 2011 Estate Pinot Gris, Lake Chelan, $20
Vin du Lac 2011 LEHM Pinot Gris, Lake Chelan, $22
Mellisoni 2009 Riesling, Lake Chelan, $35
Tsillan Cellars 2009 Estate Dry Riesling, Lake Chelan, $16
Two Rieslings rose to the top in this category. Both the Mellisoni Vineyards wine and the Tsillan Cellars Riesling show the potential of wines from this cool grape-growing area, with two different styles. The Mellisoni Riesling, grown in the winery’s lakeside estate vineyard, shows depth and richness, with apricot, peach, white pepper and floral notes and an off-dry finish. The Tsillan Riesling, from the Tsillan estate vineyards just down the road, is also an off-dry wine with an aroma of honey and flowers, but a lighter, drier finish. Both are great examples of what a Washington Riesling can be in this region.
One of the hottest and driest areas in the state, Red Mountain has many small vineyards with about 1,000 acres of grapes, and many are in demand for their intensity of fruit and powerful tannins. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc are favored here, for classic Bordeaux-style wines.
Andrew Will 2009 Red Wine, Red Mountain, Ciel du Cheval, $57
A true Washington classic, Andrew Will has been making its intense and elegant red blend from Ciel du Cheval Vineyard since 1989. Winemaker Chris Camarda blends Cabernet Sauvignon (35 percent), Merlot (40 percent) and Cabernet Franc (25 percent) from vines that are an average of 23 years old. According to vineyard owner Jim Holmes, the high calcium carbonate content of the soil is the key to this much-lauded vineyard’s stellar fruit. The mineral content of this very warm site inhibits too much vigor, or leaf growth, and helps keep the berry size small, and therefore, the flavor intense. This blend shows deep plum, loganberry and bright acidity to balance the firm tannins.
Red Mountain Red Blend Finalists:
Cadence 2009 Camerata, Red Mountain, $55
Cadence 2009 Bel Canto, Red Mountain, $55
Fidelitas 2010 Merlot, Red Mountain, $45
Our Winemaker of the Year, Charlie Hoppes consults and makes wine for many wineries, but Fidelitas is his baby. Fidelitas built a sleek new tasting room a few years ago in the heart of its vineyards on Red Mountain, showing off the classic Washington-style wines—powerful, intense reds with Red Mountain finesse. Here, Merlot hits the mark—deep berry fruit tempered by dust and leathery notes, a bit of bramble and pie spice creates a full wine with a long, lush finish.
Red Mountain Merlot Finalists:
JM Cellars 2010 Merlot, Red Mountain, $35
Rasa Vineyards 2009 Plus One Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, Kiona Vineyards, $75
Rasa’s first single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine is from one of the newer Washington wineries, sourcing fruit from one of the oldest Washington vineyards. This is an intense wine, showing all the power of Red Mountain, with dark fruit, licorice and coffee flavors balanced with mineral and dried herbs. Pinto and Billo Naravane’s Walla Walla winery has been garnering fans as they bring their attention to detail from the tech industry to every aspect of their winemaking.
Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon Finalists:
DeLille 2009 Grand Ciel, Red Mountain, $150
Sparkman Cellars 2010 Kingpin, Red Mountain, $62
WAHLUKE SLOPE AVA
The warmest AVA in our state, the Wahluke Slope (pronounced WAH-luke) is just that—a big, wide slope down to the edge of the Columbia River midway along its course. Winds and dry weather keep the mildew away and the berries small—all good for making excellent wine from many different grapes, from Riesling to Chardonnay to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.
Bergevin Lane 2010 Wild Child Merlot, Wahluke Slope, $28
The winery’s first single-vineyard Merlot from Wahluke Slope’s StoneTree Vineyard, this lush, rich wine is amped up with a touch of Malbec and Petit Verdot (5 percent each), adding a bit of spice and minerality to balance the Merlot’s big fruit. Annette Bergevin and Amber Lane, along with Annette’s father, Gary, have consistently turned out beautiful, under-the-radar wines with finesse and character. New Winemaker Dave Harvey brings decades of experience working with classic Washington vineyards such as StoneTree (named for the numerous 20 million–year-old fossilized trees on the site), in this AVA that is is gaining a reputation as one of the driest and warmest sites in the state; a gently sloping vineyard with shallow soils, which lets it drain well and produce lower crop yields with high flavor.
Wahluke Slope Merlot Finalists:
Columbia Crest 2009 Reserve Merlot, Wahluke Slope, StoneTree Vineyard, $30
Fielding Hills 2009 Merlot, Wahluke Slope, River Bend Vineyards, $35
Milbrandt Vineyards 2010 The Estates Merlot, Wahluke Slope, $24.99
Bunnell Family Cellar 2007 Syrah, Wahluke Slope, Clifton Hill Vineyard, $40
Clifton Vineyard is another of brothers and winegrowers Butch and Jerry Milbrandt’s sites. Situated on a west-facing slope of the Columbia River, this is a dry, warm site on a bank of fertile alluvial soil left when the great Missoula Floods came through and the Columbia receded. Winemaker Ron Bunnell’s Syrah from this site is very aromatic, with notes of mint and anise, coriander and cherry, a fascinating Northern Rhône–style wine that is primarily Syrah, co-fermented with a bit of Viognier to brighten up the aromas. Although a current release, it is a few years older than the other entries, giving it time to coalesce and mellow into a seamlessly beautiful wine.
Wahluke Slope Syrah Finalists:
Fielding Hills 2010 Syrah, Wahluke Slope, Riverbend Vineyard, $38
Gilbert Cellars 2010 Syrah, Wahluke Slope, Doc Stewart Vineyard, $24
K Vintners 2010 Estate Syrah, Wahluke Slope, Pheasant Vineyard, $35
Milbrandt Vineyards 2010 The Estates Cabernet Sauvignon, Wahluke Slope, $24.99
One of the larger vineyards on the hot, dry Wahluke Slope, Milbrandt Vineyards has sold grapes primarily to wineries across the state; it now farms more than 2,000 acres, but keeps a certain amount of the grapes to create well-built wines from the best of its fruit. The Estates Cabernet Sauvignon is a dense, powerful wine, showing the concentration that comes from a dry, warm vineyard, managed for fruit’s quality over quantity. Flavors of cassis and coffee linger to a long finish.
Wahluke Slope Cabernet Sauvignon Finalists:
Columbia Crest 2009 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Wahluke Slope, StoneTree Vineyard, $45
Fielding Hills 2010 Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon, Wahluke Slope, $42
Gilbert Cellars 2009, Cabernet Sauvignon, Wahluke Slope, Doc Stewart Vineyard, $28
WALLA WALLA VALLEY AVA
The Walla Walla Valley AVA runs from the Blue Ridge Mountains south into Oregon, with 1,600 acres of grapes planted in everything from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to Syrah, Grenache, Viognier and many other varietals. Cool and wetter in some areas, and dry and windy in others, it is a varied AVA, depending on the elevation and proximity to the mountains. For instance, Walla Walla Syrah is known for its earthiness, deep fruity and supple tannins, while Walla Walla Riesling can be bright and lemony.
Abeja 2010 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $38
Grown on the estate vineyards at Abeja, nestled up against the foothills of the Blue Mountains at 1,310 feet in elevation, this Syrah benefits from the long, cooler ripening season, locking in acidity and complexity without the higher ripeness and alcohol levels of grapes in many other sites in the AVA and across the state. Winemaker John Abbott makes just a few wines, but all of them are spectacular, and he knows how to let the grapes do their thing, intervening minimally in the process, but taking care in the details, from picking at just the right moment to choosing just the right French oak barrels for the desired effect. This gorgeous Syrah exhibits floral aromas of violets, blueberry and fig fruit, with a subtle spiciness and silky seamlessness from start to finish.
Walla Walla Syrah Finalists:
Gramercy Cellars 2010 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $55
Kerloo 2010 Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Les Collines Vineyard, $38
Waters 2010 Tremolo, Walla Walla Valley, $40
Northstar 2009 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $40
Northstar is known for Merlot. Winemaker David “Merf” Merfeld is passionate about this grape, which has found its perfect home in Washington. In the Walla Walla Valley, Merlot is fruity, but full of juicy acidity to balance it. A cool spring in 2009 that stretched out into a long, warm fall let these grapes ripen fully. One of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates’ specialty brands, Northstar holds nothing back in the pursuit of perfect Merlot. This Walla Walla Valley wine has a mouthful of black raspberry, spice and coconut, and shows the aromatics of Merlot (78 percent) from the Anna Maria Vineyard, blended with Cabernet Sauvignon (14 percent) and a drop of Cabernet Franc (5 percent) from Minnick Hills Vineyard and Petit Verdot (3 percent) from StoneTree on the Wahluke Slope—all of which help heighten and balance the beauty of a premium Washington Merlot.
Walla Walla Merlot Finalists:
L’Ecole No 41 2009 Estate Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $35
Pepper Bridge 2010 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $50
Reininger 2009 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $39
Seven Hills 2010 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, Seven Hills Vineyard, $35
Spring Valley Vineyard 2009 Frederick Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley, $50
Winemaker Serge Laville says this vintage of Spring Valley’s classic Bordeaux-style wine shows more red fruit than black fruit and a good acidity that comes from a compressed growing season (a cooler spring followed by a hot summer) in 2009. The blend includes all of the five classic Bordeaux grapes—Cabernet Sauvignon (55 percent), Merlot (31 percent), Cabernet Franc (7 percent), Petit Verdot (5 percent) and Malbec (2 percent)—in a beautifully balanced wine with notes of clove, chocolate and coffee. Grown on a hillside 12 miles north of Walla Walla, the vineyard is on a cool, dry, well-drained slope facing southwest, and benefits from the long, sunny afternoons with a constant wind that helps keep mildew and pests at bay. This makes ideal growing conditions for grapes to ripen perfectly—and blend into a spectacular wine.
Walla Walla Red Blend Finalists:
Buty 2009 Rediviva of the Stones, Walla Walla Valley, $60
Figgins 2009 Estate Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley, $85
Lullaby 2008 Lalayee, Walla Walla Valley, $45
Woodward Canyon 2009 Estate Reserve, Walla Walla Valley, $79
Abeja 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, Heather Hill Vineyard, $45
Abeja was chosen in two categories this year, not surprisingly: winemaker John Abbott has a magic touch. His estate Heather Hill Vineyard is set at the foot of the Blue Mountains, where the cooler climate of the Mill Valley area of the Walla Walla Valley AVA allows these Cabernet Sauvingnon grapes to ripen slowly and develop complexity. Our judges noted aromas of dried cherries, cocoa and sweet spice, with a backbone of mellow tannins and a long finish. A finessed wine to pair with lamb or duck.
Walla Walla Cabernet Sauvignon Finalists:
Doubleback 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $89
Pepper Bridge 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $60
Woodward Canyon 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $44
YAKIMA VALLEY AVA
The oldest AVA, Yakima has more than 16,000 acres of grapes planted. The region runs from Union Gap to the foot of Red Mountain, encompassing a huge range of climate conditions, soil types and changes in elevation. Yakima is known for large vineyards of premium-quality Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Riesling Chardonnay and other grapes. Red Willow and Boushey vineyards, for instance, were planted in the 1970s and 1980s and cared for meticulously to increase the quality of wines.
Betz Family Winery 2010 La Serenne Syrah, Yakima Valley, $55
This 100 percent Syrah is probably one of the most pampered wines in the lineup, in that winemaker (and Master of Wine) Bob Betz has personally “walked the rows,” with Dick Boushey of Boushey Vineyard for the past decade to grow the grapes for this wine. Betz calls La Serenne the “iron fist in a velvet glove,” with lush, earthy black fruits, anise, smoke and powerful intensity, but smooth and elegant on the finish. Although Betz is passing off the main winemaking to others, his touch will remain: a rich legacy of attention to detail and a focus on making a wine the best it can be.
Yakima Valley Syrah Finalists:
Avennia 2010 Arnaut, Yakima Valley, Boushey Vineyard, $45
Maison Bleue 2010 Liberté, Yakima Valley, Boushey Vineyard, $40
Mark Ryan 2010 Lost Soul, Yakima Valley, Red Willow Vineyard, $48
Manu Propria 2010 Ex Animo Cabernet Sauvignon, Yakima Valley, Red Willow Vineyard, $35
For his first Cabernet, Manu Propria winemaker Mike Macmorran drew from one of the oldest vineyards in the state, Red Willow, which was planted in the late 1980s before the Yakima Valley was made an AVA 30 years ago. This Cabernet Sauvignon, whose name translates to “from the heart,” is 83 percent Cabernet from a 1991 planting, and 14 percent Merlot from a 1985 planting, with a bit of Malbec (3 percent). This luscious wine has elements of bittersweet chocolate, dark black fruit, dried herbs, pepper and leather—a beautiful represention of one of Yakima Valley’s classic vineyards.
Yakima Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Finalists:
Adams Bench 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Yakima Valley, Red Willow Vineyard, $60
Fall Line 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Yakima Valley, $32
Maison Bleue 2010 Le Midi Yakima Valley, Boushey Vineyard, $35
Winemaker Jon Meuret’s love for Rhône varieties is apparent in the focus he applies to creating Rhône blends and varietal wines. As sunny and bright as noontime (the name translated) in eastern Washington, this delicious, food-friendly wine shows black raspberry, plum and white pepper notes, along with dried herbs and a bit of smoked meat aromas. Great acidity and silky tannins round out the long finish. Everything you need for a midday picnic.
Yakima Valley Grenache Finalists:
McCrea Cellars 2008 Grenache, Yakima Valley, $28
Tempus Cellars 2010 Grenache, Yakima Valley, $25
Read more of Seattle magazine's Eighth Annual Washington Wine Awards here.