Best Wines of Washington's Winegrowing Regions

Posted April 09, 2013

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