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

As many of my friends know, my favorite game after a day of wine tasting is to go, person by person, through a series of questions about what stood out. For me, talking about wine is a big part of the fun. The questions inevitably go like this – What was the wine of the weekend? What was the winery of the weekend? What was the most exciting new winery we visited? What was the biggest disappointment?

For Walla Walla Fall Release 2009, you can see my thoughts on these and other questions at Walla Walla Wine News. Look for a full write-up of the weekend including tasting notes in December.

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

More hits than misses this month.

At over 1.7 million cases per year, Columbia Crest is by far Washington’s largest producer. That said, the winery, which is located in Paterson, consistently produces high quality wines that are exceptionally well priced. Ray Einberger has served as winemaker since 2002. This month we sampled wines from two of Columbia Crest’s four tiers.

The first Columbia Crest wine is the recently released 2007 H3 Cabernet. This wine was November’s Virtual Tasting wine. The H3 label is Columbia Crest’s middle-tier. This label, which Columbia Crest took nation-wide last year, is named after the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. The 2007 Cabernet is an excellent value Cabernet.

The second wine is the 2007 Two Vines Red Wine Vineyard 10. Two Vines is Columbia Crest’s entry-level tier. Vineyard 10, which is located by the Columbia River, is one of Columbia Crest’s original estate vineyards. This wine – a big time value wine – is an interesting blend of Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, Grenache, and Mourvedre. I was honestly expecting a Cabernet-Merlot blend when I bought this wine, so I was taken completely off-guard on first sip. That said, the wine completely won me over. This may be the under $10 wine of the year. Note that folks looking for a wine with oak and alcohol should look elsewhere.

After spending a good deal of time contemplating how Columbia Crest consistently produces such excellent values, I have come to the only logical conclusion that Einberger has sold his soul to the devil. Fear for your immortal soul while you enjoy two these wines.

Dusted Valley is located in Walla Walla, although the winery recently opened a tasting room in Woodinville. Boomtown is Dusted Valley Vintners entry-level wine. This is the second wine I have tasted from this label with the Cabernet also providing excellent value.

Corvidae Wine Co. is a new winery from David O’Reilly of Owen Roe. The winery gets its name from a family of birds that includes crows. The Corvidae label focuses on value. The back label of the Corvidae Crowe White Wine, sampled here, reads “To the crowe (sic), her own chick is white” - Old Irish Proverb. This wine is an interesting blend that doesn’t entirely come together but shows more than enough to fascinate on the nose and taste. No website unfortunately, just wine here.

Eliseo Silva came to Washington at age fourteen, the youngest of twenty children. Now an adult, he is vineyard manager for Tagaris Winery’s vineyards. Frank Roth serves as winemaker. Roth previously worked as cellar master at Barnard Griffin winery. He also makes the wine at Tagaris, Eliseo Silva’s parent winery. This wine is interesting but a bit too herbal. Demerits for the website listing the 2005 Merlot rather than the 2007 Merlot sampled below.

Let me know if you have a favorite under fifteener and I'll give it a try.


Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon Horse Heaven Hills 2007 $15 Rating:

A dark, rich color. Nose shows a lot of cedar, spice, dust, and powdered chocolate with layers of black cherry beneath. Taste is round with a smooth entry that builds up to a crescendo on the mid-palate. Fairly dry with a healthy dose of tannins. Overall, the nose is engaging and the taste is beautifully balanced with acid, tannins, and fruit. The finish is the only thing that leaves me a bit wanting. 14.5% alcohol. 30,000 cases produced. Purchased at Pete’s Bellevue for $12.

Columbia Crest Two Vines Vineyard 10 Red Wine Washington 2007 $8 Rating: +
Wowzer there are a whole lot of Syrah aromas on this very enticing nose, including blueberries, violets, smoke, and traces of game. Over time the Grenache comes out with strawberry, pepper, and other red fruit. Chocolate also comes in and out. The palate has a lot of fruit with the Grenache and Mourvedre leading the way. Not a whole lot of oak to get in the way, and the alcohol is pleasantly restrained. A nice dose of acidity caps it off. This wine is straight down the fairway. An exceptional value wine. Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, Grenache, Mouvedre. 13.5% alcohol. 50,000 cases produced. Recommended. Purchased at Esquin for $8.

Boomtown Syrah Columbia Valley 2007 $15 Rating: +
An attention-getting nose with chocolate, smoked meat, and a very intense fruit aroma. Up front on the palate and then has a smooth descent down. The nose is a knock-out. The taste is a bit thin at times but with a lot of light chocolate notes. Overall, a superb nose with a taste that doesn’t live up to it but still provides a lot of value. Recommended. Purchased at Esquin for $15.

Corvidae Wine Co. Crowe White Blend Columbia Valley 2008 $10 Rating: +
A lively, appealing nose with toffee (initially), white grapefruit, pineapple, and lime. As it opens up, the Muscat comes forward with Mandarin oranges drizzled with honey. Crisp and tart on the taste with a lot of apple and lime flavors. Hangs around for a pleasant finish. Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, Riesling, and Pinot Gris. 13% alcohol. Recommended. Purchased at Esquin for $9.

Eliseo Silva Merlot Columbia Valley 2007 $10 Rating: .
Brick-colored with some browning on the edges. Initially the nose seems to show a lot of oak and alcohol (I say seems because for a $10 wine I can’t believe it has seen too much and the alcohol level is low). This gives way to cherries, vanilla, licorice, a touch of cardamom, and a lot of herbal notes. The taste is loaded with fruit but lacks lift in the mid-palate. Also shows a lot of herbal flavors. 13.5% alcohol. Purchased at Esquin for $10.

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Thursday December 3rd, The Local Vine in Seattle with be hosting a group of Washington winemakers. Participating wineries include: Airfield Estates, Animale, Cuillin Hills, Darby, DeLille, Efeste, Fidelitas, Guardian Cellars, Hedges, Hestia, JM Cellars, Obelisco, Long Shadows, Matthews, Pomum, Trust, William Church, and Zero One. The event costs $40. Read more about it here.

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Woodinville’s St. Nicholas Day Open House is coming up on December 5th and 6th from 11:00am to 4:00pm. Tickets for both days are $50. Sunday-only tickets are $35. Tickets are available here. Participating wineries include:

Adams Bench
Anton Ville Winery
Baer Winery
Brian Carter Cellars
Challenger Ridge
Chandler Reach
Chateau Ste. Michelle
Columbia Winery
Covington Cellars
Edmonds Winery
Gifford Hirlinger Tasting Room
Guardian Cellars
Hestia Cellars
Hollywood Hill Vineyards
Isenhower Cellars

J. Bookwalter Tasting Studio
JM Cellars
Maison Bleue
Mark Ryan Winery Tasting Room
Matthews Estate
Northwest Totem Cellars
Page Cellars
Patterson Cellars
Red Sky Winery
Ross Andrew Winery Tasting Room
Silver Lake Winery
Stevens Winery
Tefft Cellars Tasting Room
William Church Winery
Woodhouse Family Cellars
Woodinville Wine Cellars
XSV Winery

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A round-up of stories on Washington wine from November 15th to 21st.

The big news this week was Wine Spectator’s awarding the number one position in their annual Top 100 to the Columbia Crest 2005 Grand Reserve. Nine Washington wines were in the Top 100. See a video from Spectator.

From the locals: The Tri-City Herald, KNDO, Puget Sound Business Journal, Wenatchee World, OPB News, KIRO, KOMO, and KPLU write about it.

From the blogosphere: Paul Gregutt, The Examiner, Schiller Wine, The Big Blog, Twisting Vines, and Wine and Beer of Washington State write about it.

From around the country

CBS News
writes about Pursued by Bear.

The Indiana Herald Bulletin recommends Washington Riesling for Thanksgiving as does New Jersey’s Star Ledger.

Annapolis’ The Capital recommends the Eroica Riesling for Thanksgiving.

From the blogosphere

Wine Peeps
writes about its coverage of Washington wine. They also write about Ch. Ste. Michelle’s 2008 Pinot Gris and two Washington Syrah from Kerloo Cellars and Syncline.

Through the Walla Walla Grapevine
writes about Tru Cellars.

Paul Gregutt
takes a look back at Wine Trails of the Pacific Northwest.

My Ballard
writes about Domanico Cellars.

checks out Columbia Winery’s 2007 Lapis.

Wine and Beer of Washington State
gives a review of Fall Release in Walla Walla.

WINO Magazine
writes about the 20-something event in Fremont. They also write about Vin du Lac.

Washington Wine
checks out the 2007 Covey Run Dry Riesling and Ch. Ste. Michelle’s 2007 Dry Rose.

Wine Foot
writes about the NW Food and Wine Event.

Midtown Stomp
writes about Day 4 of a Washington wine trip.

Write for Wine
writes about a contest at William Church.

Wine and Food
writes about Kana’s 2004 Katie Mae.

Eric Rivera’s Cooking Blog
gives a look at Seattle’s new wine tasting bar, Sip.

checks out Alexandria Nicole’s 2007 Quarry Butte.

Wine Basket
writes about Washington wine.

Gene Stout
writes about Geoff Tate’s new Insania white wine.

From the locals

The Tri-city Herald writes about L’Ecole’s work to go green.

reports on eastern Washington wineries making the move east.

The Fife Free Press writes about a pre-holiday wine event.

writes about Walla Walla.

The Bellingham Herald recommends some white wines for Thanksgiving. They also write about Dakota Winery.

The Walla Walla Union Bulletin writes about the expansion of the local community college.

That’s all folks!

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Rusty Grape Vineyard is located in Battle Ground, Washington about thirty miles north of Portland, OR. In describing the name for the winery, winemaker Jeremy Brown who owns the winery with his wife Heather writes “We had thought of many different names for our winery, but ended up choosing this one. I guess we liked the sound of it.” Rusty Grape makes Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, Sangiovese, and Pinot Noir. The winery, which also makes strawberry and blackberry wine, produces approximately 1,200 cases annually.

While Pinot Noir has flourished in Oregon, the grape is one of the few that has struggled to date in Washington. While many Washington vineyards and wineries have experimented with Pinot, few have had success. Many wineries that do produce Pinot Noir currently source their grapes from Oregon. Several wineries in the Lake Chelan AVA, Washington’s newest, are hopeful about the grape’s prospects in the area. Time will tell.

Why has Pinot struggled in Washington? As the character Miles famously describes in the movie Sideways "It's a hard grape to grow. It's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's…not a survivor like cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and thrive even when it's neglected. No, pinot needs constant care and attention…And, in fact, it can only grow in these really specific, little tucked-away corners of the world. And only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really." Washington has more than its fair share of patient, nurturing growers and winemakers. Rather Washington’s struggles seem to be climatic. No doubt having an abundance of exceptional Pinots produced in Oregon dissuades some from trying to find the key that will unlock the grape’s charms here.

Rusty Grape’s Pinot Noir fruit is 100% from Clark County where the winery is located. The wine shows both some of the promise as well as the problems of Pinot Noir in Washington. The wine has an engaging nose but a palate that is heavier than expected for a Pinot. Still, there are enough good things going on that it will be interesting to see the results as the vineyard matures and Brown gains additional experience nurturing this finicky grape.


Rusty Grape Vineyard Pinot Noir Washington State 2007 $22 Rating: +
A lively nose with red currant, raspberries, Mandarin oranges, cranberry relish, and stewed plums. Tart and fairly acidic on the palate with some herbal notes showing through late. A bit heavy with fruit. Citrus emerges over time. 13.0% alcohol.

Sample sent by winery

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This month's Virtual Tasting is tonight and will be the 2007 Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet. This wine is widely available and retails for $15. Note that the H3 Cabernet recently had a vintage change, so some of you may still see the 2006 vintage on the shelves.

As usual, I will be opening the wine about 7pm Pacific Time and updating this post with my thoughts every 20 minutes or so. I will also be tweeting @wawinereport and using the hashtag #virtualtasting.

Please join us in trying this wine and posting your comments or tweeting your thoughts on the wine. To follow the comment thread on the post click on "Subscribe by email" in the bottom right in the Comments section.

7:00pm Update: And we're off!

First some background for newcomers on what Virtual Tastings are all about. There is nothing I enjoy more than drinking and talking about wine with other people. I love hearing people's thoughts on wine. I find I learn a great deal this way. Everyone has a different palate. While I am always interested to hear what people get in terms of aromas and flavors, I am most interested in hearing whether people like the wine or not. Their general impressions. My friends often make fun of me (mock me?) for saying "Can we talk about this wine?" in the midst of a group discussion. For me, this social aspect of wine drinking is a big part of the fun. For this reason, each month I select a specific wine and blog about it on a specific date and time and ask people to join in. In an ideal world, I would get us all in a room and we would try this wine together. Perhaps someday our avatars will meet in Second Life and we will sit down at a virtual table together. Until that time, we will share wine 'virtually' with comments, tweets, or whatever medium we can find. I hope you will share your thoughts.

7:10 Update: Some background on the winery. Columbia Crest was founded in 1983. At over 1.7 million cases per year, the winery is by a good stretch Washington’s largest wine producer. The winery, whose first release was in 1985, is located in Paterson, Washington in the southern part of the state near the Columbia River. Part of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Columbia Crest is not only the state's largest producer, it is also one of its most acclaimed. The winery's 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve wine was recently named Wine Spectator's 2009 'Wine of the Year.'

Columbia Crest has four basic tiers of wine. The Two Vines is their value brand which constitutes the vast bulk of their production. These wines are priced under $10 and are good daily drinkers. Next up is the Grand Estates at $12 which consistently offers value far above its price point. About two years back the winery added the H3 label, one of which is tonight's Virtual Tasting wine. The wine is named after the Horse Heaven Hills AVA where the winery is located. These wines are priced around $18. Columbia Crest recently took the H3 label to nationwide distribution. Finally, at the top tier are their Reserve Wines generally priced about $30. At each tier, Columbia Crest offers good wine at exceptional values.

Ray Einberger serves as winemaker for Columbia Crest. Einberger joined Columbia Crest in 1993 and assumed the head winemaker position in 2002. Einberger had previously worked as part of the Opus One winemaking team as well as Silverado Vineyards and Round Hill Cellars - now Rutherford Ranch Winery - in Napa Valley.

On to the wine....

7:25 Update: Popped and poured. The wine is at 66 degrees. The bottle has a natural cork that is very lightly colored. The wine, however, has a dark, rich color. The nose shows a lot of cedar and spice with layers of black cherry beneath. I like the nose. Time for a taste...

7:40 Update: I like the nose but also find it fairly closed at the moment so I popped the wine into a decanter. A brief word about decanting wine. The purpose of decanting is to expose the wine to oxygen. This has a variety of effects that I won't go in to at the moment. All I want to say here is that you don't necessarily need to have a decanter to decant a wine. Pouring it in to any vessel (assuming you can get it out!) will have the desired effect.

More thoughts on the nose. A bit of dust and powdered chocolate. On the taste, my immediate thought is to be quite impressed. The taste is round with a smooth entry that builds up to a crescendo on the mid-palate. Fairly dry with a healthy dose of tannins that are still well-balanced. The wine is not as big and fruity on the taste as I imagined it might be. Personally, I am enjoying this about it.

8:00 Update: Background on Horse Heaven Hills...

Horse Heaven Hills received AVA status in 2005. The AVA has 8,400 planted acres and comprises approximately one quarter of the grapes planted in Washington. The AVA has more than 25 vineyards. Perhaps the most acclaimed of these is Champoux Vineyard whose fruit goes in to some of the state's best wines. Elevations in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA range from 200 feet to 1,800 feet above sea level. The area was named by a cowboy who, in the mid-1800s, proclaimed it "Horse Heaven."

8:20 Update: After a bit of time in the decanter, nose hasn't evolved quite as much as I thought it might. That said, I am still enjoying it. There is some type of spice that I just can't place. Time to start ripping apart the spice cabinet. A slightly smoky underlayer. Taste has filled out a bit.

8:45 Update: Just off a Skype session with some Virtual Tasters...

Time for some background information on the wine from the winery:

"Grapes were crushed at 20% whole-berry to retain fruit quality. Fermentation lasted 6-10 days on the skins to extract optimum fruit and structural components. The wine was barrel aged in 40% new American and French oak, and 60% older oak for 14-18 months. The wine was racked at three month and six month intervals during the 14-18 month barrel aging period."

The winery also provides the following technical information:

* Total acidity: 0.54 g/100ml
* pH: 3.74
* Alcohol: 14.5%

9:00 Update: Some tasting notes from the internet....

From winemaker Ray Einberger: "This intense, fruit-forward Cabernet Sauvignon delivers aromas of cherries and huckleberry jam, with a perfect balance of earthy tannins, great focus in the mid-palate and a soft, smooth cocoa finish."

From the major publications, Wine Spectator writes "Polished and silky in texture, with ripe blackberry, currant and mint flavors that keep sailing through the long, expressive finish. The tannins are beautifully integrated. Best from 2011 through 2017. 30,000 cases made. –HS, 90 pts". No reviews yet from Wine Enthusiast or Wine Advocate.

On CellarTracker, this wine has received an average of 87 points and a median of 86 points in 6 tasting notes left by members of the community.

Next up, some final thoughts.

9:15 Update: Final update but feel free to keep the comments coming.

Some final thoughts on this wine. Overall, I truly enjoyed this wine. The nose is engaging and the taste is beautifully balanced with acid, tannins, and fruit. The finish is the only thing that leaves me a bit wanting. It's not bad by any means. It just leaves me wanting a bit more.

I purchased the wine from Pete's Bellevue for $12. It retails for $15. I'm having a tough time off the top of my head thinking of other Washington cabernets that could stand up against this wine at this price point. Let me know if you can, and I will see if I can scare something up. Once again, Columbia Crest showing why it is the leader for quality and value in the state.

If you didn't have a chance to taste the wine tonight, feel free to try it at any point and get your thoughts up. Thanks to everyone who participated this month. We'll do it all again next month. Let me know if you have any suggestions on the wine. Thanks to the reader who suggested this wine.

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Desert Wind Winery

Friday, November 20, 2009 0 comments

Reminder that this month's Virtual Tasting will take place on Monday November 23rd. Read about it here.

Desert Wind Winery is located in Prosser, Washington. Visible from Highway 82, the winery was established in 2001 by the Fries and Jenkins families. Built at a cost of $3.5 million, Desert Wind’s facilities are grand by Washington standards with a Southwest-inspired tasting room, a banquet room, an on-site restaurant, a demonstration kitchen, and a Bed and Breakfast. The 34,000 square foot facility was completed in 2006.

Greg Fries, a UC Davis graduate, serves as head winemaker. Desert Wind’s wines are consistently well-priced and offer a high Quality-to-Price (QPR) ratio. The winery produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Barbera, Riesling, Semillon, Viognier, Chardonnay, and a Bordeaux-style blend called Ruah (Hebrew for spirit). This year, the winery has also added a Sangiovese to the lineup. Annual production is approximately 25,000 cases with capacity for up to 200,000.

All Desert Wind wines use fruit from their estate vineyards, Desert Wind and Sacagawea. Desert Wind, which is named after the surrounding climatic winds, is located next to Saddle Mountain in the Wahluke Slope AVA. The vineyard was planted in 1993 and encompasses 540 acres. The Sacagawea vineyard is 60 acres in size.

The wines sampled here continue Desert Wind’s tradition of quality and value. The winery’s signature wine, the Ruah, while increasing in price from $15 to $20 in the previous vintage, still offers a lot of wine for the money and can frequently be found on-sale. The only disappointment in the lineup was the Sangiovese. This was Desert Wind’s first year making this wine and, while it shows some promise, it seems a bit thin at times.


Desert Wind Winery Ruah Wahluke Slope 2007 $20 Rating: +
Dusty earth along with pepper, red fruit and mocha aromas. Round and generous on the palate with a heaping of red fruit. A bit tart at times, especially on the back end. The Cabernet Franc comes through more than you would expect given the percentage. 48% Merlot, 36% Cabernet, 16% Cabernet Franc (Desert Wind Vineyard).Aged in French and American oak. Recommend an additional 3-6 months of age. 14.5% alcohol. 6,875 cases produced. Recommended.

Desert Wind Winery Barbera Columbia Valley 2007 $20 Rating:
Fairly light in color. A fascinating nose that initially shows a fair amount of chocolate that quickly dissipates and is replaced by cranberry and candied orange peel. The taste is full along the edges and middle with a slightly weak mid-layer in between. An intriguing texture that coats the palate lightly with oak and hangs. Oak gets a little heavy handed at times. 94% Barbera, 5% Cabernet, 1% Merlot (94% Sacagawea, 6% Desert Wind vineyard). Aged in 100% American oak. 13.0% alcohol. 917 cases produced. Recommended.

Desert Wind Winery Viognier Wahluke Slope 2008 $15 Rating:
Just a tinge of color. Ripe white peaches, a touch of hay, and mineral on a promising nose. The taste is clean and enjoyable but shows a fair amount of alcohol at times. 100% Viognier (Desert Wind Vineyard). Aged in 97% stainless steel, 3% barrel fermentation. No malolactic fermentation. 15% alcohol. 512 cases produced.

Desert Wind Winery Sangiovese Wahluke Slope 2007 $18
Extremely light in color. Quiet on the nose with light red currant, earth, and hints of flowers. A surprising amount of fruit on the palate given the color. Unfortunately, the fruit doesn’t carry completely across the palate thinning out about 1/3 of the way through. The right food might help fill out some of the missing pieces. 85% Sangiovese, 14% Cabernet, 1% Merlot (85% Sacagawea and 15% Desert Wind vineyards). Aged in 95% French and 5% American oak. 13% alcohol. 485 cases produced.

Samples provided by winery.

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Thanksgiving Recommendations

Thursday, November 19, 2009 2 comments

Reminder that this month's Virtual Tasting will take place on Monday November 23rd. Read about it here.

Well folks, it’s time once again to make some Thanksgiving wine recommendations. Marcus and Melissa at EAT & DRINK In The Northwest covered rosés in their post earlier this month, so I will focus here on a few whites and light bodied reds.

In terms of white wines my personal preferences for Thanksgiving are Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, or Riesling. Chardonnay also works well. In terms of Semillon, two of the most enjoyable I have tasted this year are from Buty and Ardenvoir. For Buty winemaker Caleb Foster, this is the seventeenth vintage he has made this Bordeaux-style blend in Washington. It shows on this gorgeous wine that will go toe-to-toe with anything on your Thanksgiving table. Ardenvoir is the white wine label of Walla Walla’s Chateau Rollat. Bowin Lindgren makes the wines and Bordeaux winemaker Christian LeSommer serves as consultant. I tasted these two whites during Fall Release Weekend earlier this month (full report to follow) and both are exceptional. In terms of Riesling, this is a varietal Washington does particularly well, so there is a lot to choose from. Two of my favorites on the shelves at the moment are these gems from Trust Cellars and Barnard Griffin. For Chardonnay, check out the latest released from Abeja, also sampled Fall Release Weekend.

In terms of reds, I like to go with lighter bodied wines to avoid overwhelming the food. Pinot Noir works quite well for Thanksgiving, but unfortunately doesn’t seem to work quite as well in Washington. Given this, I have listed two red blends that are consistent favorites. Yellow Hawk Cellar is located in Walla Walla and always makes wine with food in mind. The Solstice is a red blend that is predominantly Sangiovese. I liked this wine at $25, but it is currently on close-out for $10 which is a steal. Yellow Hawk also makes a Sangiovese that is worth checking out if you don’t see the Solstice. Syncline Wine Cellars is located in the Columbia Gorge. Their Subduction Red, made from a blend of Southern Rhone varietals, has been a long-time favorite. The 2008 vintage of this wine does not disappoint showing beautiful fruit aromas and flavors. People who enjoy acid-driven wines without much oak influence will enjoy this effort.

I have listed below Seattle-area as well as on-line retailers who carry these wines. As always, call ahead to ensure availability. Please leave a comment if you are aware of other locations in your area these wines are available or if you have wines you wish to recommend.


Buty Sémillon, Sauvignon and Muscadelle CV 2008 $24 Rating: *
Straw colored. A beautiful nose marked by lemon zest, touches of honey, mineral, and yeast. Floral notes emerge as the wine opens up. Fresh, tart, and lemon-loaded on the palate. 69% Sémillon, 26% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Muscadelle. Rosebud Ranches, Spring Creek, and Lonesome River Ranch vineyards. 13.8% alcohol. 1,050 cases produced.
Where Seattle Area: Esquin, Pete’s
Where On-line: Winery,

Ardenvoir Sémillon Sauvignon Blanc 2008 $22 Rating: *
An alluring nose with lemon, yeast, wheat, and spice. Crisp and fresh on the palate. 92% Sémillon, 8% Sauvignon Blanc.
Where Seattle area:
McCarthy & Schiering

Ardenvoir Sauvignon Blanc 2008 $19
Rating: *
Pale yellow. A gorgeous nose with light spices, lemon zest. Very clean on the palate. Overall a very French-styled feel.
Where Seattle Area: McCarthy & Schiering, West Seattle Cellars

Trust Cellars Riesling 2008 $16 Rating: **
A beautiful nose with sugared grapefruit and pineapple. Spectacular citrus tastes blend with other fruit flavors. Exceptionally well balanced with mineral and a light sweetness on the taste. 100% Riesling. 38% CS Farms (Wahluke Slope); 30% Pheasant (Yakima); 30% Evergreen (Wahluke Slope); 2% Ancient Lakes. 12% alcohol. 224 cases produced. Sampled at 54 degrees.
Where Seattle-area: Esquin, City Cellars
Where On-line:

Barnard Griffin Riesling Columbia Valley 2008 $10 Rating: *
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.
Where: Everywhere

Abeja Chardonnay 2008 $36 Rating: *
Pale in color. Nose marked by freshly sliced apples, mineral, and like spices. Crisp and spritely on the palate. Any oak that is there is far in the background. 100% Chardonnay. Celilo, Conner Lee, Gamache, and Kestrel vineyards. Aged in 100% French oak (50% new).

Where Seattle Area: Pete’s
Where On-line: Winery

Yellow Hawk Solstice 2005 $10 Rating: *
A pleasing spiciness on the nose with black pepper and mineral. A nice, dry wine. 67% Sangiovese; 18% Cabernet; 15% Syrah.
Where Seattle-area:
Esquin, City Cellars
Where On-line: Winery,

Syncline Subduction Red 2008 $18
Rating: +
Fairly light in color. An aromatic nose loaded with red fruit, particularly raspberries, strawberries, and red currant, along with a dusting of earth. As it opens up, violets, berries, and traces of game emerge. A light bodied, acid-driven wine that dances along the palate. Almost shockingly restrained with barely a trace of oak. Loses a bit of its rhythm about 2/3 of the way through but comes back together. A lot of wine for the money and a perfect wine to pair with food.26% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 24% Cinsault, 12% Mourvedre, 9% Counoise, 4% Carignan. Aged in 5-10% new oak. 14.1% alcohol. 1,770 cases produced. Recommended.
Where Seattle Area:
City Cellars, Pete’s, Fremont Wine Warehouse
Where On-line: Winery,, West Seattle Cellars

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A round-up of stories on Washington wine from November 8th to 14th.

From around the country

The Scranton Times-Tribune names the 2007 Eroica Riesling their ‘Pick of the Week.’

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel writes about recommends Seven Hills Pinot Gris and Riesling for Thanksgiving (see sidebar on right).

Montana’s Great Falls Tribune writes about making wines from Washington state grapes (this seems to be an increasing trend with wineries from the east coast and Hong Kong doing the same).

writes about Washington wine industry scholarships.

The San Francisco Chronicle writes about bargain wines with a callout to Hedges CMS white. They also write about Washington Syrah with callouts to Ch. Ste. Michelle, Amavi, Betz, Efeste, and Owen Roe.

Indiana’s Journal Gazette writes about Washington’s high volume facilities.

From the blogosphere

Wine and Beer of Washington State
reviews the Tri-cities Wine Festival. They also write about Lantz Cellars.

Paul Gregutt
writes about Cayuse Vineyard’s Christophe Baron. He also writes about Fall Release Weekend.

Washington Wine
checks out Washington Hills 2007 Cabernet. They also write about Silver Lake’s 2007 Chardonnay.

Wine Peeps
writes about their coverage of Washington state wines. They also write about Washington merlots with callouts to Fielding Hills and Stephenson.

Through the Walla Walla Grapevine
writes about Fall Release. They also write about Plumb Cellars.

Woodinville Wine Update
writes about the latest Woodinville tasting room openings including Maison Bleue and Isenhower. They also write about Halloween at Woodinville wineries.

WINO Magazine
writes about DiStefano.

writes about Sagelands 2005 Four Corners Merlot.

Washington Wine Guy
writes tasting notes from Cayuse and Reynvaan. He also writes about the 2nd Annual Cayuse dinner at jimgermanbar.

Pepper Bridge Winery
writes about Fall Release.
says that Queensryche’s Geoff Tate will be making an Insania white wine with Three Rivers.

Cellarmistress’ Cellar Talk
writes about the Charles Smith Velvet Devil Merlot.

writes about 14 Hands.

Under the Grape Tree
writes about Gordon Brothers 2005 Syrah.

The Oregon Wine Blog writes about Yakima Valley with callouts to Gilbert Cellars and Kana.
looks at Bridgman’s Cabernet.

Family Wines of Washington State
gives some data on Washington wine.

The Examiner writes about Vin du Lac’s new production facility.
writes about Otis Kenyon’s Matchless Red.

writes about the 2008 Poet’s Leap Riesling.

From the locals

gives some Thanksgiving wine recommendations.

The Tri-city Herald writes that Horizon is cutting back one of its Seattle to Walla Walla flights. They also write about the Tri-city Wine Festival.


Winecation writes about traveling to Lake Chelan.

That’s all folks!

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In a nod to Columbia Crest and inspired by a reader comment, this month's Virtual Tasting will be the 2007 Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet. This wine is widely available and retails for $15. Note that the H3 Cabernet recently had a vintage change, so some of you may still see the 2006 vintage on the shelves. The 2006 wine was a previous Virtual Tasting wine in October of 2008 and was not a hit, but the 2007 has been well received thus far so look for it.

The Virtual Tasting will take place on Monday November 23rd. As usual, I will be opening the bottle about 7pm Pacific Time and posting my notes along the way. I will also be tweeting @wawinereport and using the hashtag #virtualtasting.

Please join us in trying this wine and posting your notes any time on, before, or after the 23rd.

Previous Virtual Tastings

October Virtual Tasting – Owen Roe Sinister Hand 2008

September Virtual Tasting – Novelty Hill Cabernet CV 2006

August Virtual Tasting – Barnard Griffin Cabernet 2007

July Virtual Tasting – Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling 2008

June Virtual Tasting - Waterbrook Melange Noir 2006

May Virtual Tasting - Charles Smith Boom Boom! Syrah 2007

April Virtual Tasting- Columbia Crest GE Shiraz 2006

March Virtual Tasting - Magnificent Wine Co. House Wine 2006

February Virtual Tasting - Hedges CMS Red 2007

January Virtual Tasting - Columbia Crest GE Merlot 2006

December '08 Virtual Tasting - Ch. Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Cab 2005

November '08 Virtual Tasting - Russell Creek Tributary Red 2006

October '08 Virtual Tasting- Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet 2006

September '08 Virtual Tasting - Tamarack Firehouse Red 2006

August '08 Virtual Tasting- L'Ecole No. 41 Recess Red 2006

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This morning Wine Spectator published its Top 100 Wines for 2009. The list was published to subscribers and will be generally available Wednesday. Spectator publishes this list each year with what it considers the year’s “most exciting wines.” In choosing the wines for the list, Spectator focuses on the following criteria:

- Score
- Value, reflected by release price
- Availability, measured by case production or cases imported
- An X-factor which they call ‘excitement’

In addition to recognizing excellence, the Top 100 list is also meant to stimulate sales, as anyone who has visited a wine store after the list has been published and witnessed the ‘march of the shelf-talkers’ can attest.

In 2009, Wine Spectator selected an astonishing 9 wines from Washington, including the 2005 Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet as 'Wine of the Year.' This is the largest number of Washington wines ever picked and the first time a wine from Washington has earned the top spot (the Quilceda Creek 2004 Cabernet was #2 in 2006). The following is the list of wines and their associated rank on the 2009 list:

1. Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon CV Reserve 2005 95pts $27

26. Cayuse Syrah Walla Walla Valley Cailloux Vineyard 2006 95pts $65

33. Novelty Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2006 92pts $25

36. Efeste Syrah Red Mountain Ceidleigh 2006 93pts $29

38. Ch Ste. Michelle Cabernet HHH Canoe Ridge Estate 2006 92pts $28

60. Spring Valley Uriah Walla Walla Valley 2006 93pts $50

66. Barnard Griffin Riesling Columbia Valley 2008 90pts $8

72. The Magnificent Wine Company Syrah Columbia Valley 2006 91pts $20

74. Waterbrook Cabernet Sauvignon CV Reserve 2006 91pts $22

For Columbia Crest, which focuses on providing quality and value, having a wine recognized as ‘Wine of the Year’ is a tremendous achievement. The 2005 Reserve Cabernet received a 95 point rating prior to its release at the end of last year, shortly after the 2008 Top 100 list came out. The wine barely made it to the shelves as a result (Columbia Crest having one penny shipping helped). While I said at the time this wine was a lock for this year’s Top 100, I never envisioned it would wind up at the top spot. Columbia Crest has been a regular visitor to this list this decade, having wines in the Top 100 in 2007, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, and 2001. The 2005 Reserve Cabernet was on my 2008 Washington Wines of the Year list (see my review of the wine here).

For Cayuse Vineyards having a wine appear in the Top 100 is a well-deserved and long overdue honor. Despite their high scores, Cayuse wines have not made this list in the past due to their limited availability (the wines are sold exclusively through a mailing list that has a years-long wait list). However, as I indicated last week when making my guesses at Spectator’s top list, it was time.

In terms of Quality-to-Price Ratio (QPR in wine parlance), Woodinville’s Novelty Hill consistently ranks toward the top. The wines are always excellent to exceptional at reasonable price points. Mike Januik – who has his own Januik Winery – serves as winemaker. Novelty Hill’s Columbia Valley Cabernet previously appeared in Spectator’s 2006 Top 100 list. The 2006 vintage on Spectator's 2009 Top 100 list was our Virtual Tasting wine in September.

Efestē is also located in Woodinville. Pronounced like the letters F-S-T strung together, the winery is named after the last names of founders Daniel Ferrelli, Patrick Smith, and Kevin Taylor. Brennon Leighton serves as winemaker (see a story on Leighton from WINO magazine here). When looking at the list of wines Spectator rated this year, I noted the high score for the Efestē 2006 Syrah but never thought the publication would pick this wine given it comes from a new winery with a fairly limited production. In a show of intelligent readership, Efestē's 2006 Jolie Bouche Syrah, a littermate to the 2006 Ciedleigh Syrah (pronounced kay-Lee), came in second last year in our reader survey of Wines to Watch.

Chateau Ste. Michelle regularly makes Spectator’s Top 100 list so the 2006 Canoe Ridge Cabernet came as no surprise. For Spring Valley’s Uriah, this is the fourth time the wine has been in the Top 100 list after previously appearing in 2002, 2003, and 2006. However, it is the first time the Uriah has been in the Top 100 list since Serge Laville took over winemaking responsibilities after Devin Derby's death. Spring Valley is now a Ste. Michelle Wine Estates holding (see my review of the 2006 Uriah here).

Barnard Griffin winemaker Rob Griffin first came to Washington in 1977 after graduating from UC Davis. In 1983, he and his wife Deborah Barnard started Barnard Griffin. 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 the Riesling falls under and represents their value offerings, and their Reserve Series (see my review of the 2008 Riesling here).

The Magnificent Wine Company was started by Charles Smith in 2004. The winery, which serves as a complement to Smith’s K Vintners and Charles Smith wineries, is now under the (large) umbrella of Precept Wine Brands. The label is best known for its 'House Wine' which was featured in our March Virtual Tasting. Waterbrook Wines is Precept Wine Brands' flagship winery. Waterbrook recently opened a new facility outside of Walla Walla that will house all of Precept Wine Brands' production (see my review of the Waterbrook 2006 Reserve Cabernet here).

Since 2000, Washington has had between two and seven wines in Wine Spectator's Top 100 Wines of the Year. The list has featured wines from Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest, Amavi, DeLille, and L’Ecole No. 41 among many others. Perhaps most prominently in recent years, Quilceda Creek’s 2004 Columbia Valley Cabernet was ranked number 2 in the 2006 Top 100. Having nine wines on the list this year as well as earning the top spot is sure to gain Washington wine well-deserved additional attention.

So what does the 2009 Top 100 list mean to you? Should you run out and buy as many wines on the list as possible? It depends on your personality, budget, and palate. For folks who are point chasers, today is your Black Friday. Get thee hence. For folks on a tight budget, there will no doubt be a number of excellent, wallet-friendly wines on this list given that Spectator uses value as part of its consideration. That said, always trust your own palate. While the wines on this list are no doubt high quality wines, that is different than saying that you personally will like them.

In the past, I have used lists like this mainly to educate my palate by checking out producers, areas, and varietals I am not particularly familiar with. My thinking here is that the wines will generally be of high quality and representative of their area. I have generally focused on the wines that are budget-friendly, so that if I don’t particularly care for the wine, I don’t have that much invested in it. Using the lists in this way can be an excellent way to learn a bit without breaking the budget.

Later I’ll comment on how I did and how the readers did in guessing wines on the list last week. Next month, as with last year, we will do our Reader Survey Wine of the Year. I will also publish my list of top wines of 2009.

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The Grape Cup

Sunday, November 15, 2009 0 comments

You have heard of the Apple Cup, Washington’s annual Husky versus Cougars football game? Peanuts. Welcome the first of what is sure to be an annual event - “The Grape Cup.” Seattle Uncorked’s latest wine event pits UW winemaking alums versus WSU winemaking alums. The event, which will take place at the Pickering Barn in Issaquah on Thursday November 19th, costs $35. Tickets are available at See who walks away with the bragging rights…until next time.

Participating Wineries:

Big Smooth / Big Daddy

Cedergreen Cellars

Coyote Canyon Winery

DiStefano Winery

Eaton Hill

Falling Rain Cellars

Gilbert Cellars

Hollywood Hill Winery

Lantz Cellars

Lodmell Cellars

Maryhill Winery

Masset Winery

Naches Heights

Nardone Wine

Nota Bene Cellars

Olsen Estates

Palouse Winery

Patterson Cellars


Pondera Winery

Seia Wine Cellars

Skylight Cellars

Smasne Cellars

Sodo Vino

Stomani Cellars

Tasawik Vineyards

Tefft Cellars


Willis Hall

Wilridge Winery

Windy Point

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Recently I discussed some highlights from the latest Wine Advocate issue which includes the publication’s annual review of Washington wine. I also looked at how Wine Advocate compares to its print peers Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast in terms of the breadth of coverage of Washington wines and how they rate the wines. Today I will compare the publication rate of Washington wine reviews for these three publications.

For publication rate, I looked at how often in 2009 each published reviews of Washington wine and the number of reviews they published. Wine Advocate releases six issues annually and reviews Washington wine in a single issue. The recent issue, #185, contained 566 Washington wine reviews. By comparison, Spectator releases fifteen issues per year and has reviewed 562 Washington wines throughout the year. Wine Enthusiast publishes fourteen issues per year and has reviewed 722 Washington wines (Note: Totals for Spectator and Enthusiast include web-only content; Advocate’s reviews for Washington are all in print).

The number of Washington wine reviews in 2009 for Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast are summarized in the table below.




# of Reviews


# of Reviews











































Mid Nov

Not released+



Early Dec

Not released+



Mid Dec

Not released



Year End

Not released


Not released











Grand total


Grand Total


+ While the print editions have been released, the on-line content has not been published therefore neither are listed here.

Note: The per-issue totals for Enthusiast include both print and web-only content. The per-issue totals for Spectator include only print numbers; a separate line item exists for web-only content. Spectator does not categorize its web-only content by issue; Enthusiast does. However, Enthusiast does not specify which reviews are web-only; Spectator does. These differences prevent an easy “apples to apples” comparison. However, as Enthusiast’s web-only content requires no subscription whereas Spectator’s does, the numbers are listed here.

Considering the Advocate, Spectator, and Enthusiast review numbers, what is most striking to me is the difference in approaches. Wine Advocate releases a single, ‘big bang’ issue on Washington each year. This gives the issue a bit more power and impact. The issue is released and wineries and wine buyers start scrambling. As a reader, I also appreciate being able to read Wine Advocate’s take on Washington wine in one place in printed form.

Spectator, on the other hand, reviews approximately the same number of wines annually as Advocate (if one includes web-only content) but does so in drips and drabs. Spectator has also typically had an annual issue that includes a large number of reviews of Washington wine as well as a Buyer’s Guide summarizing the year’s reviews. For someone interested in Washington wine, Spectator generally has something in each issue. That said, usually not much. Additionally, if you subtract the web-only reviews which require an additional subscription, Spectator’s print coverage of Washington looks anemic compared to Advocate’s.

Wine Enthusiast,
by comparison, has reviewed a larger number of Washington wines in 2009 than Advocate and Spectator but also does so in a different manner. Enthusiast reviews a substantial number of Washington wines approximately every other month. The large number of reviews provides a better experience for the reader than Spectator, in my opinion, as it gives a fair amount to chew on. Enthusiast also currently provides both its print and web-only content free of charge (registration is required and there is a delay in reviews appearing on-line).

While Advocate’s ‘big bang’ approach has appeal, one of the issues for a reader is that some of the wines listed are in the past, some are in the present, and some are in the future. For example, the new Advocate issue is a mixture of wines just released (Va Piano’s 2007 Syrah), wines released some time ago, wines that already had new vintages at the time of publication (Mark Ryan reds), and wines that will not be released for some time (Doubleback 2007 Cabernet). This is not the fault of the publication but rather a result of what wines were submitted by the wineries (and when), when the reviews took place, and what the publication date was for the issue. However, for consumers who see everything in the present, the mixture can be confusing.

more frequent review cycle should, in theory, allow them to stay more current. However, Spectator struggles with the same issues with a number of the wines it has reviewed recently already on the next vintage at the time of publication. Enthusiast seems to do the best at staying current with few recent issues showing stale reviews. Note that in both Advocate’s and Spectator’s case, it is unclear whether these stale reviews are a result of the review/publication cycle, when the wineries choose to submit the wines for review, or something else.

In summary, Advocate, Spectator, and Enthusiast each take considerably different approaches in how frequently they publish reviews of Washington wine. These approaches differ in style and impact on the reader. Personally, and not surprisingly given that I subscribe to them all, I enjoy each of them in different ways.

That’s all for today. I have another post or two comparing these publications before I wrap this up. As always, feel free to send along any thoughts, comments, or critiques. I would be interested to hear readers' perceptions of these publications' coverage of Washington wine or thoughts on the comparison.

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WWR TN Database

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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