Washington Wine Report is an independent publication focused on bringing Washington wine to you and bringing you to Washington wine. Our goal is:
  • To help you select Pacific Northwest wines at a variety of price levels
  • To keep you up-to-date about the Northwest’s wineries, vineyards, and individuals
  • To help you plan trips to wine country
  • To connect you to the larger wine community

Sean P. Sullivan

2019 Tour Guide

Reviewed Wineries

Five Under Fifteen - August

Monday, August 31, 2009 2 comments

In tough times, we continue the search for good, inexpensive wines.

In the waning days of summer, we focus on white wines including three Rieslings. Washington is the largest producer of Riesling in the U.S with Chateau Ste. Michelle the largest producer of Riesling in the world. While oft maligned due to its association with lesser varietals and the misperception that it is always sweet, Rieslings are not only extremely enjoyable wines, they are also generally very well priced.

Riesling comes in a variety of styles – from dry to sweet. How sweet a wine will taste is a result of balance among a variety of factors. Among these are:

Residual Sugar (RS): the sugar remaining after fermentation stops, often measured in grams of sugar per milliliter (g/ml)

Total Acidity (TA): the measurement of the total of all acids present. Also sometimes called Titratable Acidity.

Alcohol level

The differences in styles can lead to consumer confusion. Some producers attempt to address this by labeling the bottle “Dry” or by describing the wine on the back label. If you are looking for a particular style, when it doubt, ask a wine steward.

This month we tried three Rieslings side by side – one from Chateau Ste. Michelle, one from Columbia Crest’s Two Vine series, and one from Barnard Griffin’s Tulip Series. Both the Ch. Ste. Michelle and Barnard Griffin wines were dry Rieslings and the Columbia Crest off-dry. Of these, the Barnard Griffin was a standout.

In addition to the Rieslings, we tried Barnard Griffin’s Semillon and Jones of Washington Viognier, both of which are recommended.

If you have favorite Washington wines under $15, send them along and I will check them out.







Barnard Griffin Riesling Columbia Valley 2008

The lightest in color of the three. Aromas explode from the glass with butterscotch (which fades as the wine opens up), Honey Dew melon, and white grapefruit. This is a textured, layered wine with a great deal of complexity on the palate. Fruit flavors – predominantly white grapefruit - step forward and back, undulating on and on. Settles in to an extended finish. Caroway & Arête vineyards (Columbia Valley). 1.2% RS, .82g/100ml TA, 11.7% alcohol. 3,870 cases produced.

Purchased for $8.39 at Pete’s Bellevue



Barnard Griffin Semillon Columbia Valley 2007

An appealing nose marked by lemon zest and river creek aromas. A clean, crisp taste with a rounded mouthfeel. 12.8% alcohol. Recommended.

Purchased for $10.29 at Pete’s Bellevue



Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling Columbia Valley 2007

Pale straw colored. An alluring nose with Honey Dew melon and lime popsicles. Tart, dry, and crisp with an acidic zing. 0.78g/100ml RS, 0.70g/ml TA, and 13% alcohol. Recommended

Purchased for $6.99 at Pete’s Bellevue



Jones of Washington Viognier Wahluke Slope 2008

Almost completely clear in color. A jubilant nose of peaches, mineral, and citrus. A touch of residual sugar gives the wine a little weight on the palate which I liked but some might not. Recommended

Purchased for $10.19 from Pete’s Bellevue



Columbia Crest Two Vines Riesling Columbia Valley 2007

Golden colored. A strong floral bouquet along with petroleum, Mandarin oranges, and apple. The palate is all about apples and has a fair amount of residual sugar. Dies off quickly toward the finish. 3.52g/100ml RS, 0.78 g/100ml TA, 11.5% alcohol

Purchased for $5.99 at Pete’s Bellevue


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Focus - Col Solare

Thursday, August 27, 2009 0 comments

What follows is a Focus report on Col Solare. Special thanks to Gracie Doyle at Chateau Ste. Michelle for her assistance with materials included in this report. Photos courtesy of Kevin Cruff. This report is available as a .pdf here.

– Italian for “shining hill” - is a partnership between Washington’s Chateau Ste. Michelle and Italy’s Piero Antinori. Antinori is one of Italy’s largest wine producers with extensive estate properties in Tuscany and Umbria. The Antinori family’s winemaking history dates to 1385, spanning an astonishing 26 generations. The winery is perhaps most closely associated with the advent of the Super Tuscan, a Sangiovese-Cabernet blend that took root in the 1970s.

The idea for the Col Solare project began in the early nineties when Antinori met Stimson Lane CEO Allen Shoup. The idea was to produce one wine each year that reflected a combination of Tuscan and Washington styles – Old World and New. Indeed, one can see in Col Solare the seeds of Shoup’s current Long Shadows project germinating. Under the direction of winemaker Michael Januik, now owner of Januik Winery, Col Solare released its first wine in 1995, producing about 1,000 cases of a blend comprised of Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah. Since that first vintage Col Solare has received critical acclaim and has been the flagship winery in Ste. Michelle Estates’ extensive holdings - holdings that President and CEO Ted Baseler refers to as a “string of pearls.”

In 2007 Col Solare opened a dedicated facility on Red Mountain. This facility represented a significant investment in the future of the winery for both Ste. Michelle and Antinori, costing an estimated $6,000,000 to $8,000,000. When he first approached Antinori about designs for the building, Baseler told Antinori he envisioned a “Tuscan villa.” Antinori, ironically, envisioned something “west coast.” The final result Baseler describes as a “fusion winery” based on these two concepts.

The new Col Solare facility was designed by Seattle-based architecture firm Boxwood. Boxwood has been involved in a number of recent projects in the Washington wine industry, including Waters Winery, Nicholas Cole Cellars’ new downtown Walla Walla tasting room, Stillwater Creek Vineyard’s visitor’s center, and Hedges' Altura Vineyard. The Col Solare building has three conceptual parts. The first, intended as a call-out to the Old World, is a 300 foot long, 25 foot high stone and concrete wall. The wall is also meant to mirror the surrounding valley’s basalt cliffs. The second is a modern tasting room and reception area. Finally, a bell tower rises from the building, intended to visually connect the Old World with the New. Not just built to impress from the ground, the facility was designed to appear from the air as a graphic image of the sun.

The partnership’s choice of location is a strong statement of the high regard in the industry for Red Mountain. Grapes from Red Mountain, Washington’s smallest American Viticutural Area (AVA), have served as the backbone for some of the state’s finest wines, including Andrew Will, Quilceda Creek, and DeLille Cellars. Antinori and Chateau Ste. Michelle not only decided to build a production facility at this location, they also planted a 30 acre estate vineyard. The winery has worked with renowned viticulturist Dick Boushey to establish the site. The vineyard is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah. The paths through the vineyard were designed to radiate from the building, giving the appearance from above of sunbeams.

Stylistically, Col Solare’s wines are notable for their elegance. Whereas many wines in Washington focus on big fruit with moderately high alcohol levels, Col Solare’s wines are restrained and gracefully textured. The wines are approachable upon release but clearly built to age (see my notes on the 1999 Col Solare here). Marcus Notaro, the resident winemaker, says he is trying to produce “a cabernet based wine that has a lot of structure, a lot of complexity, but is very refined and balanced as well.” Baseler puts it more boldly stating that Col Solare’s goal is to produce “the greatest wine in Washington state.”

Earlier this month Col Solare hosted a pre-release party in Seattle for the 2006 vintage which will be released in September. The event, which also featured food from famed Seattle chef Tom Douglas, was part release party, part educational event. In addition to the 2006, the winery poured the 2005 vintage, the recently bottled 2007, and the still-in-barrel 2008. The winery also poured a 2007 Klipsun Vineyard Cabernet in three different oak programs, a unique opportunity to see the varied effects of different types of wood on wine. Rounding out the event was a tasting of the first fruit from Col Solare’s estate vineyard.

Of particular significance, the 2006 vintage marks Col Solare’s first release produced at the new Red Mountain location. With state-of-the-art sorting tables, basket presses, and fermentation tanks, Notaro states that he had much greater flexibility in creating the 2006 wine than in previous vintages. The 2006 wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Syrah. On the nose and taste, the 2006 release shows Chukar cherries laced with chocolate. The wine is thick and rich on the palate without being overpowering. By comparison, the 2005 shows considerably more fruit and a light floral bouquet. The 2007 wine was bottled several weeks prior to this event, and Notaro swears it is the “final final” blend. It is comprised of Cabernet, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. While still young and quiet on the nose, this wine looks to be the best of the recent vintages. It is already an exceptional wine that opens and expands, hangs and lingers.

The 2008 wine, still in its preliminary blending phases, is a mixture of Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah. Given its young age, this wine is currently showing lots of oak influence on the nose and taste with abundant vanilla notes and gripping tannins. Evaluating these wines, Baseler says “When you taste the 2006, 07, and 08 blends, you will see a progression of intensity and wines with structure...These wines will be collectable.”

For cooperage, Col Solare uses a mixture of French and American oak, with the 2006 vintage 75% new French and 25% new American (new meaning the barrel had not been used to age wine previously). Oak programs can affect every aspect of a wine, from color to flavor, tannin profile, and texture. It also significantly affects the price, with French oak often costing $1,000 or more per barrel. My first experience with the effects of cooperage was many years ago visiting Hightower Cellars on Red Mountain. The winery offered barrel samples of the same wine barreled in French and Hungarian oak. I still recall my astonishment at how the wines differed in smell, taste, and texture, with the wine in Hungarian oak showing a distinct spice component that the French oak lacked.

For the release event, Col Solare provided the opportunity to sample the 2007 Klipsun Cabernet aged in three different types of French oak barrels – Saury, Boutes Grand Reserve, and Fouquet Margaux – all aged twenty-one months. Notaro refers to the wine from the Saury barrels as his “base” for the Col Solare wine. The Boutes is the “fruit” barrel whose goal is to preserve aromatics as well as add texture (Boutes designs these barrels to minimize wood aromas and flavors). Notaro uses Alain Fouquet’s Margaux-style barrel for “accent” to add toasty characteristics and structure to the palate. In the end, wine from each of these barrels was blended together to produce part of Cabernet component for the 2007 vintage with the remainder coming from other vineyards in the Columbia Valley and Red Mountain.

Comparing these wines, the Saury wine exhibits light spices and vanilla. On the taste, it is a powerhouse with big, rich fruit, and lots of structure. The Boutes Grand Reserve wine offers a completely different mouth feel than the Saury and is considerably more fruit-forward. The tannins are silky in contrast to Saury’s more intense, austere profile. The Fouquet sample was deep, intense, and extracted with puckering cranberry notes and light graphite hints.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this event was a look toward the future – the bottling of the first fruit from Col Solare’s estate vineyard. The vineyard is currently in its second year and Cabernet, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc were poured at the event. Although it can take a decade or more for vines to express their full character, wineries typically starting using fruit from a vineyard’s third year for production. Col Solare has yet to decide what it will do with this 2008 estate wine – bottle it for the winery’s library for historical purposes; blend small amounts of it in the 2008 Col Solare wine – perhaps some of the exceptional Petit Verdot; or something different entirely. Considering the age of these vines and the way the fruit is showing, there is much to look forward to.

With the upcoming release of the 2006 vintage, Ted Baseler says he believes the opening of the new facility in 2007 will be regarded as a “milestone moment for Washington.” He believes in ten to twenty years, Col Solare will be regarded both as a special place and as a special wine. Based on the wines sampled at this event, the future looks bright for the winery on the shining hill.







Col Solare Columbia Valley 2006

On the nose a layer of dust over Chukar cherries laced with chocolate. Thick and rich on the palate with silky tannins and abundant tart cherry flavors. An excellent mix of power and elegance. 72% Cabernet; 19% Merlot; 4% Cabernet Franc; 3% Petit Verdot; 2% Syrah. 14.5% alcohol. Red Mountain (27%); Columbia Valley (35%); Wahluke Slope (19%); and Horse Heaven Hills (14%) AVAs.



Col Solare Columbia Valley 2005

A very different wine than the 2006 with more fruit aromas and tastes, including blueberry and blackberry, along with pencil shavings, a touch of vanilla, and a light floral bouquet. An elegant wine that is still built to last. 71% Cabernet; 25% Merlot; 4% Cabernet Franc. 14.5% alcohol. 7,000 cases produced.



Col Solare Columbia Valley 2007

A quiet nose with a fair amount of vanilla and some banana notes along with other aromas of a young wine that still needs to settle down. On the taste, opens and expands, hangs and lingers. The best of the vintages sampled. 75% Cabernet; 20% Merlot; 5% Cabernet Franc.



Col Solare Columbia Valley 2008

Lots of vanilla and other oak aromas along with light blueberry on a quiet nose. Tannins are quite gripping at present. 68% Cabernet; 20% Merlot; 10% Cabernet Franc; 2% Syrah.


Event attended courtesy of Col Solare.

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For those in the Seattle area, you have heard me sing their praises before, now you have a chance to see for yourself. Walla Walla's Forgeron Cellars will be pouring at West Seattle Cellars tonight. Winemaker Marie-Eve Gilla will be pouring the Chardonnay, Roussanne, Vinifinity and Walldeaux Smithie red blends, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Zinfandel. See previous post on Forgeron's wines here.

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The August Virtual Tasting is tonight! The wine is the 2007 Barnard Griffin Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine retails for $17 and can frequently be found in super-markets in the Washington area. As usual, I will be opening the bottle about 7pm and posting my notes along the way. Please join us in trying this wine and posting your notes.

7:05 Update: Let the virtual tasting begin! To start with, let's give some background information about the winery.

Barnard Griffin winemaker Rob Griffin first came to Washington in 1977 after graduating from UC Davis. Upon arrival he started work as Preston’s first winemaker. In 1983, he and his wife Deborah Barnard started Barnard Griffin. For the first vintage, Griffin created 400 cases total of Chardonnay, Fumé Blanc and Riesling. Twenty-six years later, the winery has an annual production of approximately 75,000 cases.

Barnard Griffin has two tiers of wine, their Tulip Series which represents their value wines, and their Reserve Series. The winery makes a staggering number of reserve wines. Reserve Reds include bottling of Rose, a Port-style wine, Grenache, Cabernet, Ciel du Merlot, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Zinfandel, Barbera, Syrah, and Misto Rosso. Many of these are sold through the winery/tasting room located in Richland.

On to the wine…

7:20 Update:
Wine has a natural cork, no sediment. Temperature is 63 degrees.

A pretty, brilliantly colored wine. On the nose, a lot of sweet oak aromas along with touches of vanilla, and anise. Fruit is there but a least at present is underneath the oak. A little alcohol shows through occasionally. Time to take a sip.

7:40 Update: On the taste, palate coating with a fair amount of oak flavors. Lots and lots of anise. A bit biting on the backend. As the wine opens, the oak steps back and the fruit steps forward, mainly cherry. The anise becomes more predominant along with a mocha component.

8:00 Update: The wine has evolved a bit but my overall impressions are the same. A reasonably enjoyable wine with lots of oak influence on the nose and taste. Not my personal style but is pretty well done. However, the bite on the backend is a problem. I'd give this a plus (+) in my system. For you 100 point addicts out there, I'd say it's an 87. Overpriced at $17 compared to similar wines out there. I purchased the wine at Pete's Bellevue for $12. I would say the value for this wine is in the $10-12 range.

Next up, let's see how the winery describes this wine and what the experts say.

8:20 Update: Some stats on the wine. Columbia Valley AVA. 14.3% alcohol. 6,548 cases produced.

Winery says: Rich, dense and concentrated with amazing purity of flavor. Plum, cherry and mineral with hints of bittersweet chocolate. Well-integrated oak-spice accents take the back seat to the amazing fruit. The mouth waters at the mere suggestion of this sleek, polished cab with a tender cut of beef. 79.2% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, 5.5% Petit Verdot, 3.3% Malbec, 3% Cabernet Franc.

Wine Spectator says: 88 points. Ripe and fleshy, this lovely, open-textured red brims with currant and blackberry fruit, lingering on the well-tuned finish. Drink now through 2013. 6,548 cases made. –HS

8:50 Final Update: Overall, my impressions of the wine have been pretty static. An enjoyable nose with a lot of oak influence. Over time mocha becomes more and more predominant on nose and taste. A bit biting on the middle of the palate. Thanks to everyone who took part in the tasting!

I found this VERY amusing ad tonight I thought I would share with you. I agree on visiting Walla Walla. I'll take issue with the rest of it! Good night!

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Tom and Ann-Marie Hedges started Hedges Cellars in 1987. In 1991, they planted an estate vineyard on Red Mountain. Although vineyards had been established on Red Mountain for more than fifteen years and fruit from the area was already receiving wide recognition, Hedges played an instrumental role in Red Mountain receiving American Viticultural Area (AVA) status (Note that the bottle sampled below was labeled both "Red Mountain" and "Columbia Valley"). This status was granted in 2001.

AVA recognition by the federal government is an important step in establishing an area’s brand and identity. While Washington’s smallest AVA at just over 4,000 acres, Red Mountain produces fruit that goes in to some of the state’s most distinctive and sought after wines. In a sign of Red Mountain’s continued prominence, several long-established wineries have recently planted vineyards there, including Quilceda Creek, DeLille, and Col Solare.

Peter Hedges, Tom’s brother, has served as Hedges’ winemaker since 2002. With a number of other family members now working at the winery, Hedges rebranded itself Hedges Family Estate earlier this decade.







Hedges Reserve Red Mountain Columbia Valley 1996

A vibrant color with no signs of browning. Nose has pretty spices, a floral component, and cherry. The fruit on the nose occasionally shows some age on a wine that otherwise seems largely unaffected by time. Tart and puckering on the palate. As the wine opens earth aromas come to the fore and the wine soars and sails. This could be mistaken for a young wine and appears to have decades in front of it. 13% alcohol. 640 cases produced.


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A summary of articles from August 8th to 21st on Washington wine.

For your reading pleasure, the August/September edition of WINO magazine is out.

From around the country…

Wine Library TV
does a blind tasting of Merlot, including offerings from Woodward Canyon, Robert Karl, and Flying Fish.

Pittsburgh’s TribLIVE
writes about red wine and summer food with a call-out to Columbia Crest’s 2005 Reserve Syrah.

New York’s Faster Times writes about the importance of irrigation and in doing so calls wines from Walla Walla (wait for it) “suspect.”

The Sarasota Herald Tribune writes about Riesling with a (very) brief mention of Washington.

Providence Rhode Island’s Edge writes about Milbrandt Vineyards.

From the blogosphere…

RJ’s Wine Blog
takes a look at Owen Roe. Also see parts 2 and 3.

Through the Walla Walla Grapevine
writes about TL Cellars Cabernet. They also write about Zinfandel.

writes about Alexandria Nicole. He also writes about a vertical tasting of Eroica, Cote Bonneville’s 2006 Cabernet, Washington Sangiovese, and Corliss Estates.

Bricks of Wine
writes about Smasne/Gard Cellars release party. They also write about the Auction of Washington Wines, and a trip to JM Cellars.

Wine Peeps
gives a book review of The Wine Project. They also take a look at a couple Zins as part of Wine Blogging Wednesday.

writes about the return of Senoj. They also write about Col Solare.

Wine and Beer of Washington State
writes about Alexandria Nicole’s wine club. They also write about Davenport Cellars, and the Auction of Washington Wines Picnic.

Washington Wine
writes about wine and the recession.

Write for Wine
writes about the Auction of Washington Wines. They also write about Smasne and William Church Cellars.

Cream Colored Ponies and Crisp Rhubarb Strudel…
writes about favorite Washington wineries with callouts to Flying Trout, Lowden, and Mannina.

The Examiner writes about traveling in Eastern Washington. They also write about Lone Canary Winery and where to find free wine tastings in Seattle.

Washington Wine Guy
checks out Cayuse’s 2006 En Chamberlain.

Demo Dirt
writes about wine and the economy with quotes from several Washington wineries.

writes about Quilceda Creek’s 2000 and 2001 Cabernet.

Shona at WineChatr writes about the new Washington Tasting Room magazine. She also writes about the Auction of Washington Wines, Woodinville wineries who tweet, and Elsom Cellars.

writes about rating wine with a callout to Nicholas Cole’s GraEagle 2006.

writes about where to dine and drink in the Bellingham and Mt. Baker areas with a callout to Samson Estates Winery.

State of Gracie
writes about a Walla Walla weekend.

The Blog Wine Cellar writes about DiStefano’s 2004 Sogno.
writes about Randall Harris Merlot.

Walla Walla Village Winery
writes about Walla Walla heritage.

writes about Long Shadows 2006 Feather.

From the locals…

at the Tri-City Herald writes about standouts from the Auction of Washington Wines.

The News Tribune writes about the arrival of veraison. They also write about the expected record crop.

writes about competition among Washington wineries. They also write about new construction in Kennewick.

In the Seattle Times, Gregutt writes about Pacific Rim and Corvidae.

writes about the need to appeal to Millenials.

That’s all folks!

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Grand Rêve

Wednesday, August 19, 2009 0 comments

Grand Rêve, French for “great dream,” was founded in 2004 by Paul McBride and Ryan Johnson. Grand Rêve takes a unique approach to making wine, pairing top Washington winemakers with fruit from one of the state’s top vineyards – Ciel du Cheval on Red Mountain. Johnson, who serves as vineyard manager for Ciel, selects the blocks to be used for the project. Johnson also manages Cadence’s Cara Mia, Quilceda’s Galitzine Estate, and DeLille’s Grand Ciel vineyards – an exceptionally impressive portfolio.

Grand Rêve begun its Collaboration Series in 2004. Thus far winemakers they have partnered with have included Ben Smith, of Cadence Winery (Release I); Mark McNeilly, of Mark Ryan Winery (II); Ross Mickel of Ross Andrew Winery (III); Carolyn Lakewold of Dondei (IV); and Chris Gorman of Gorman Winery (V). The first three of these wines were released earlier this year. Most recently, Grand Rêve announced Syncline Wine Cellar’s James Mantone would serve as winemaker for Release VI.

At the picnic for the Auction of Washington Wines last week, Grand Rêve provided barrel samples of Chris Gorman’s Release No. 5. This wine, from the 2008 vintage, is 88% Grenache and 12% Syrah. While quiet on the nose at present with Ciel’s tell-tale earth and floral aromas just starting to emerge, Release No. 5 glides beautifully across the palate with well-integrated oak. This wine continues what seems to be an increasing trend in Washington of high alcohol levels – clocking in at a whopping 15.8%. The planned released date is Spring 2010.

While Grand Rêve is currently focusing its efforts on Ciel du Cheval, the winery has plans to use its own estate fruit in the future. Two years ago the winery planted an estate vineyard on Red Mountain, high on the hillside above Col Solare’s facility on Antinori Road. The winery worked with geologist Alan Busacca to determine which varietals and clones would best match the soil. As a result, the plantings are a patchwork that twist and turn. The first fruit from this estate vineyard is expected next year.

Grand Rêve’s tasting room, which opened in March of 2009, is located in Woodinville. The tasting room is open Saturdays and by appointment.

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Sandhill Winery was founded in 1998 by the Dingethal family. The winery, located in Benton City, Washington in the Red Mountain AVA, focused on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Gris. Red Mountain Vineyards (RMV), which surrounds the winery and provided Sandhill’s estate fruit, was planted more than 20 years ago. Peter Hedges served as Sandhill’s winemaker.Peter’s brother Tom owns neighboring Hedges Family Estate where the Sandhill wines were produced and where Peter also serves as winemaker.

In January of 2008, Michael Corliss and Lauri Darneille, whose portfolio includes Corliss Estates and the recently launched Tranche Cellars, acquired Sandhill. The surrounding Red Mountain Vineyards, the legal owner of the winery, had previously been acquired in the summer of 2007. Corliss and Darneille plan to rebrand the winery as RMV Cellars. The winery’s inaugural release is slated for the spring of 2010. As with the other wineries in their portfolio, RMV Cellars will operate independently and focus on its estate program with Kendall Mix overseeing winemaking operations.

Since purchasing the winery and vineyard, Corliss and Darneille have made substantial changes. The winery’s building will now include a production facility. Additionally, significant investments have been made in improving the vineyard. The tasting room is expected to re-open in 2010 as the new wines are released.

Esquin Wine Merchants in Seattle and a Portland, Oregon-area retailer purchased the entire supply of Sandhill’s remaining 2004 Cabernet and 2003 Merlot (tasting notes below). Sandhill’s wines were always moderately priced for the Red Mountain AVA and provided an excellent Quality to Price Ratio (QPR). However, with the sale of the winery, these wines are now on closeout and represent the Washington wine bargain of 2009. Looking to 2010, RMV’s exceptional fruit sources in the hands of this ownership team provide something to look forward to.

Note: For those outside the Seattle-area, Esquin will ship these wines provided your home state is a legal “ship to” state for Washington (I won’t even begin to try to explain this here; inquire when you contact the store).

Related Posts

Corliss Estates (2008 Walla Walla Holiday Barrel Tasting)

Tranche Cellars

Tranche Cellars Chardonnay 2006

Tranche Cellars Rousanne Viognier Columbia Valley 2007
Tranche Cellars Pinot Gris 2006

See Wine Peeps take on the 2003 Sandhill Merlot here.







Sandhill Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain 2004

A compelling nose with earth, dust, and powdered cocoa sprinkled over rich black cherries. Floral notes step forward and back. A big, thick, chewy wine that is tacky on the tongue and has a dose of cranberry right toward the finish. Throwing lots of sediment. A European-styled wine that is not unlike a Bordeaux with a heaping of cherries. An impressive effort.

Purchased at Esquin Wine Merchants for $9.99



Sandhill Merlot Red Mountain 2003

On first pour, the smell of smoke right after the campfire has gone out. As the wine opens, loganberries, violets, and cherries emerge along with a whiff of black licorice which grows in power over time. A rich, gripping wine that is tart and puckering on the palate. Packed with tannins and throwing lots of sediment. Light herbal notes and sweet oak spices show through as the wine continues to open. More restrained on the fruit than the cabernet and, of the two, I would give a slight edge to the cabernet.

Purchased at Esquin Wine Merchants for $9.99


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The good news...

In the August 12th edition of the Wine Spectator Insider - an on-line newsletter that previews the magazine's upcoming print issue - Côte Bonneville's 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon received a 96 point rating. This matches the highest score Spectator has given a red wine from Washington. Only two wineries and six other wines have received this rating from Spectator. These wineries and wines are: Cayuse Bionic Frog 2001, 2003, 2006; Leonetti Cabernet 1989, 1990; and Leonetti Merlot 1992. This obviously puts Côte Bonneville in an elite group.

The bad news...

According to the magazine the 2006 Côte Bonneville Cabernet - which the winery's website says is not yet released - lists at $200 with a mere 40 cases produced. This makes this wine, to my knowledge, the most expensive red wine currently being produced in the state (let me know if you are aware of others that exceed this price point). The previous top price for a red wine had been about $125 (21 Grams, DeLille Cabernet Grand Ciel, Leonetti Reserve, Quilceda Creek Cabernet). It also makes Côte Bonneville's 2006 Cabernet among the most expensive wines being produced in the state. The Ch. Ste. Michelle-Dr. Loosen Riesling CV Eroica Single Berry Select which I have written about previously also clocks in at $200.

Côte Bonneville, located in Sunnyside, Washington and founded in 2001, is owned and operated by the Shiels family. Kerry Shiels, who received her Masters in Viticulture and Enology from UC Davis, serves as Director of Winemaking. Côte Bonneville sources the fruit for its wines from their estate vineyard, DuBrul Vineyard. Hugh and Kathy Shiels planted DuBrul in 1992. Since that time, the vineyard has become one of the state's finest, recently being named Seattle Magazine's "Vineyard of the Year" for the second time. The vineyard is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Chardonnay, and Riesling. Grapes from DuBrul Vineyard are also used by a number of the state's top wineries including Woodward Canyon, Owen Roe, and Seven Hills among others.

In addition to the Cabernet, Côte Bonneville also produces the Côte Bonneville - the winery's flagship wine which retails at $120; the Carriage House - a Bordeaux blend which lists at $50; a Syrah ($65), and a Chardonnay. These wines have recently been garnering a great deal of attention as well as high scores.

So what does Côte Bonneville's 96 point score from Wine Spectator mean to you and why should you care? First, it means that Washington is continuing to produce high quality wines and receive recognition from influential, major publications. It also means this wine has a shot at being listed in Spectator's Top 100 Wines of the Year list (see my logic behind why I say this here and a wine that is a lock to make WS' 2009 Top 100 here). While this may seem insignificant, these lists do have an effect on sales as well as overall recognition. The more Washington wines make lists like these, the more recognition Washington wines receive. A high tide lifts all boats.

Perhaps most importantly, the score and price point of this wine means, as I have stated in the past, that Washington wine prices are going nowhere but up. It wasn't until the early part of this decade that a number of Washington wines crossed the $100 barrier - a significant one. One hundred dollars may be common by Napa Valley standards, but it is still quite expensive for Washington which is a reasonably young wine producing region. While initially the wines to cross the $100 barrier were long-time, top producers Quilceda Creek and Leonetti, others, such as Boudreaux, Matthews, 21 Grams, Côte Bonneville, and Nicholas Cole to name a few, soon followed suit. If Côte Bonneville can offer a wine at $200, receive a 96 point score, and sell these wines (and at 40 cases they surely will if they haven't already), others will be inclined to increase their prices ever higher as well. Maybe not this year due to the recession, but certainly soon. So as I frequently say, find wines you like and stock up now.

Another question this rating brings up is why 96 points has been a glass ceiling for red wines from Harvey Steiman at Wine Spectator. Not that a 96 point score is anything to sneeze at. It is also debatable what the difference is between a 96 and 97 or 98 point rating, but I won't take that up here. However, based on their database, Robert Parker's Wine Advocate has given 28 red wines from Washington a 97-100 point score (wines from Quilceda Creek, Leonetti, Charles Smith/K Vintners, and Cayuse). Based on the Wine Enthusiast database, Paul Gregutt has given 6 red wines from Washington a 97 point score (wines from Betz, Quilceda Creek, Cayuse, and Leonetti). Gregutt also recently noted on his blog that the Charles Smith 2006 Royal City Syrah would receive a 100 point score - his first. Without doing an analysis, I can't say whether 96 points is a cutpoint for Steiman in general or specific to Washington or something else entirely. However, given the accolades that the 2007 vintage has been receiving and Washington's string of recent success, can a 97 point score be far away?

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A summary of articles from August 1st to 7th on Washington wine.

From around the country…

The San Francisco Chronicle says now is the time for Washington cabernet at excellent values.

The Wall Street Journal mentions McCrea’s viognier.

The Virginia Daily Press writes about Walla Walla.

From the blogosphere…

Paul Gregutt writes about Paul Champoux’s battle with West Nile Virus. WWR’s thoughts go out to Paul for a quick recovery. Gregutt also writes about …Pursued by Bear.

WINO magazine writes about Waving Tree’s Zinplify.

Through the Walla Walla Grapevine writes about TL Cellars cabernet.

Woodinville Wine Update writes about construction beginning on DeLille’s new tasting room. They also write about wineries who tweet.

Washington Wine writes about the postponement of Washington Wine Month.

Wine Peeps writes about Seattle-area wine bars. They also writes about a Washington Viognier dinner and Washington Merlot.

Wild 4 Washington Wine makes some July wine picks.

The Antitourist writes about Spokane-area wineries.

Washington Wine Guy checks out Ch. Ste. Michelle’s 2007 Dry Riesling.

Ken’s Wine Guide checks out chardonnay with callouts to Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest.

Park Howell writes about Lake Chelan.

Write for Wine writes about the Auction of Washington Wines.

From the locals…

Woehler writes about Canoe Ridge and Whitman Cellars as well as Vine Heart Winery.

The Seattle Times writes about a stay at Desert Wind’s guest room.

The Bellingham Herald writes about the beginning of wine sales in the Capitol gift shop in Olympia and Adamant Cellars.

KVEW writes about Kirk Burpee’s film about Washington wine.

That’s all folks!

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Lantz Cellars

Friday, August 7, 2009 0 comments

One of the more exciting wineries to come on the scene this year is Lantz Cellars. I first tried Lantz Cellars’ wines at Seattle Uncorked’s 8th Annual Sexy Syrah event where it made quite an impression not just on me but also on the other attendees who voted it first in the “People’s Choice” awards.

Lantz Cellars was founded by Kevin Lantz in 2003. Lantz, who works by day as an engineer, is a self-taught winemaker who learned the trade by reading the University of California-Davis textbooks as well as whatever other publications he could get his hands on. Kevin dates his interest in winemaking back to his first winery tour at age fourteen where the aromas of the barrel room overwhelmed and inspired him.

For Lantz’ first commercially available releases he produced two Syrahs, one from Rattlesnake Hills and another from the Yakima Valley. Lantz states that he particularly focused on the aroma and finish of these wines. Believing many Syrahs have a slight bitterness on the finish, he worked to mitigate this by gentle fermentation cap management, light pressing, and extended barrel aging. For aging, Lantz used 350-400 liter casks. His goal in using these large, Rhone-style casks, was to reduce the surface area to volume ratio of wood to wine. Doing so allows for extended aging (18-20 months) in a high percentage of new wood to soften the wine “without it tasting like a lumber yard” Lantz says. For the cooperage, Lantz chose fine grain French oak (Demptos, medium plus toast) to add aromatic complexity. The wines were racked only 3-4 times before bottling. Lantz believes that this, along with the large cooperage, allows the wine to retain its freshness and vibrant color.

The Rattlesnake Hills Syrah hails from Verhey Vineyards, the Yakima Valley from Buoy Vineyards. While the vines were grown from different clones (the Sara Lee and Washington clones respectively) these wines were otherwise handled almost identically. Grapes for both were received at the winery within twelve hours of each other; both were fermented in the same manner; and both were aged in identical cooperage. The only significant differences, outside of the location, clone, and viticulture influences, were that the Rattlesnake Hills wine was co-fermented with 3% Viogner and the Yakima Syrah was aged an additional two months in the barrel.

The resulting wines however are quite distinct. The Rattlesnake Hills wine - a standout - has an engaging yet understated nose and a soft, creamy palate. The Yakima Valley wine, which is also drinking very well but will benefit from some additional time in the bottle, bears a good deal of similarity on the nose to a Red Mountain wine. This is not particularly surprising as Buoy Vineyard, where the grapes were sourced, is located in Benton City and is just outside the Red Mountain AVA.

Describing these two wines, Lantz says “The Yakima Syrah…has brighter, acidic fruit and smoky aromas - like a northern Rhone style, whereas 55 miles to the west, the Rattlesnake Hills Syrah…has a heavy, spicy, dark fruit with pencil eraser aromas - like a southern Rhone.” Lantz says the Rattlesnake Hills offering is a “drink now” wine whereas the Yakima wine is a “wait a while and you won’t be disappointed.”

Lantz Cellars currently produces 450 cases annually with plans to expand to 3,000 cases in the coming years. In addition to these two Syrahs, the winery has also released a Sauvignon Blanc and a Cabernet. Lantz Cellars is located in Everett, Washington.

Where to Buy: Winery

Photos courtesy of Kevin Lantz







Lantz Cellars Syrah Rattlesnake Hills 2006

An understated nose with light game, spice, and lots of red and blue fruit. Raspberries and cream on the palate. Beautifully constructed. 97% Syrah; 3% Viognier. Verhey Vineyards, Rattlesnake Hills AVA. 14.4% alcohol.116 cases produced.



Lantz Cellars Syrah Yakima Valley 2006

Earth and mineral notes on a nose that shows similarities to many Red Mountain wines. Rich in texture with an elegant creaminess woven with light vanilla threads. 100% Syrah. Buoy Vineyards, Yakima Valley AVA. 14.2% alcohol. 38 cases produced.


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Va Piano Vineyards (WWSR 2009)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009 0 comments

What follows is an excerpt from the 2009 Walla Walla Spring Release Weekend Report. Download the full report here (Note: Opens .pdf).

While many wineries were, as usual, fairly quiet on Sunday, Va Piano was as busy as I have seen it with cars lining the roadway. Saturday, always the busier of the two days, was apparently even more crowded. Indeed, Va Piano gives every appearance of a winery in full stride as their estate fruit continues to improve with each vintage. The winery also boasts one of the prettiest settings in the valley. All wines sampled at 68 degrees unless otherwise noted.







2008 Sémillon Columbia Valley

Light gold colored. Hay aromas mix with light oak spices, and a touch of lemon. A good dose of acidity on a wine that still needs to calm down and come into its own. Give 3-6 months. Bottled in January 2009. 90% Sémillon; 10% Sauvignon Blanc. Sampled at 61 degrees.



Bruno’s Blend IV NV

Light cashew notes and smoke on the nose. Brightly tart and lively on the palate. A great wine to pair with a zesty red pasta sauce.



2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia & Walla Walla Valley

A fruit-filled wine loaded with dried currants, sweet spices, tobacco, and anise along with a whiff of white pepper. Dry and tart on the taste. 14.1% alcohol. 392 cases produced.



2006 Syrah Columbia & Walla Walla Valley

Light floral aromas mix with clove, vanilla, and spice on an appealing nose. A very slight hint of game. Tart and dry with lots of red fruit on the taste. 14.1% alcohol. 660 cases produced.


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A (borderline epic) summary of articles from Jully 8th to 31st on Washington wine.

Fasten your seatbelts…

From around the world…

The Vancouver Sun writes about Kirkland Uncorked.

From around the country…

MSNBC writes about Charles Smith Wines Kung Fu Girl Riesling. See our look at this at July’s Virtual Tasting here. They also write about Smith’s 2008 Viognier.

Tulsa World also looks at the Kung Fu Riesling.

The Wall Street Journal writes about Reininger’s Carmenère.

From the blogosphere…

Wine Library TV talks about Dunham’s Lewis Vineyard Chardonnay 2006.

Paul Gregutt gets back on-line writing about Virginie Bourgue’s Lullabye label after his blog disappeared into “the cloud” last month.

Washington Wine looks at budget Chardonnay and does a follow-up post here. They also write about Honey Moon meadery.

Beyond the Bottle writes about Trust Cellars Rose of Cab Franc 2008.

Wine Peeps writes about Kathy Johanson of O Wines. They also do a Washington rose dinner, write about the Rhone Rangers, Lake Chelan wineries, a vertical tasting of Saviah’s Red Mountain Syrah, interview Erik Manz of Mountain Dome,

Shona at WineChatr writes about a Eastside Wines, a new social networking group. She also writes about Isenhower Cellars opening a tasting room in Woodinville.

WINO Magazine writes about the new Washington labeling law, the “Judgment of Fremont”, Starbucks’ plan to sell wine, Grape Killers Lounge, the First Annual Winemaker and Brewmasters Triathalon, and a Columbia Winery Tasting.

Woodinville Wine Update writes about Maison Bleue, Dusted Valley Vintners opening in Woodinville, Robert Ramsay Cellars, Alma Terra, Senoj Estates, Davenport Cellars, and Gordon Brothers.

Crosscut writes about Chelan-area wineries.

The Wine Muse writes about Serendipity from Red Sky Winery and Tertulia’s Carmenere.

Seattle Wine Blog writes about Walla Walla wineries. See the second part here. They also write about the Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Awards.

Write for Wine writes about Airfield Estates, the Auction of Washington Wines, and Grape Killers wine bar.

CC’s Travel Blog writes about a trip to Woodinville.

South Beach Wine Club writes about Washington wine.

Forgeron Cellars writes about the 2010 Wine Bloggers Conference coming to Washington. WBC Scholarship and Woodinville Wine Update also write about this.

Bottle Variations writes about Laurelhurst Cellars.

The Examiner writes about the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center.

Washington Beautiful writes about Klickitat Canyon Winery. They also write about Gorge Crest Farms and Illusion Winery.

Washington Wine Guy writes about a trip to Walla Walla. See Day 2 here. writes about Covey Run’s 2007 Riesling.

The Cooking Pan writes about Jacob Williams Winery.

One Rich Wine Guy writes about the effect of the economy on wine tourism and sales.

Wine Ministry writes about the 2008 Total Depravity Riesling.

Waters Winery Blog writes about the Overlake Golf and Country Club dinner.

Following the Holy Grapes writes about Patit Creek and Tamarack.

Elevage writes about Ch. Ste. Michelle’s 2005 Eroica Riesling and Sleight of Hand’s 2008 The Curtain Call Late Harvest Gewurztraminer.

Bricks of Wine writes about the Herbfarm’s annual member dinner.

Encompass Wine reviews Columbia Crest’s H3 Cabernet 2006.

Uptake Restaurants Blog looks at the wine bar Vino Bella.

From the locals…

The Bellingham Herald suggests some summer wines.

In his Seattle Times column, Paul Gregutt writes about Washington Syrah.

The Tri-City Herald writes about Prosser’s Wine and Food Fair. The also write about the 2010 Wine Bloggers Conference being hosting in Walla Walla. Woehler writes about Snoqualmie and Goose Ridge.

The Tacoma News Tribune writes that this month’s “Washington Wine Month” is…next month.

The Spokesman Review writes about Sauvignon Blanc.

The Olympian (picking up the story from the Seattle Times) writes about the effect of the economy on tourism, briefly discussing the effect on wine tourism.

KPLU writes about the opening of the Northwest Wine Education Center.

The Yakima Herald-Republic writes about the slow death of Vineyards Resort.

The Eastside Business Journal writes about the Wine Bloggers Conference coming to Walla Walla in 2010.

That's all folks!

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See my Washington Wine Report Tasting Note Database. Read an explanation of the fields here. FINAL UPDATE 6/13/2015. See current Wine Enthusiast reviews here.

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