Best of Washington Wine

Badass and Borrowed from Bordeaux

Washington winemakers have redefined this Old World icon (various combinations of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, petit verdot, and malbec) as a local signature.

By Sean P. Sullivan September 13, 2017 Published in the October 2017 issue of Seattle Met

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Image: Jordan Kay

1. Shoup Red Blend Columbia Valley 2013 • $100

The stand-alone label from Long Shadows Vintners founder Allen Shoup is a master class in how to blend bordeaux grapes. An unusually high percentage of tannic petit verdot gives extra intensity to an already ageworthy wine. 

2. Cadence Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Mountain 2014 • $45

No Washington site produces more vineyard-designated wines than Ciel du Cheval—and nobody represents its carefully tended vines better than winemaker Ben Smith, a former Boeing engineer now dedicated to Red Mountain blends. 

3. Figgins Estate Red Wine Walla Walla Valley 2014 • $85

Second-generation winemaker Chris Figgins (Leonetti Cellar, Toil) takes a cue from French tradition and makes just one wine from his estate vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley’s Upper Mill Creek area. It’s worthy of the cellar, yet already delicious.

4. 21 Grams Washington 2012 • $125

Jamie Brown (Waters Winery) crafts the wine and artist Makoto Fujimara creates a distinct label each year to make a mere 150 cases of this high-intensity blend; proceeds from each bottle go to the International Arts Movement.

5. DeLille D2 Columbia Valley 2014 • $48

This consistent standout is heavy on merlot and gets its name from a roadway that runs from Bordeaux up along the length of France’s Médoc peninsula.

6. L’Ecole No 41 Estate Ferguson Vineyard Red Wine Walla Walla Valley 2014 • $65

The vineyard’s the story here—shallow, loess-based soils sit atop fractured basalt, high along the ridgeline above Seven Hills Vineyard, yielding a wine with bright acidity and firm tannins* that only gets better with time in the cellar. 

*Tannins are the naturally occurring compounds that give grapes a certain astringent, bitter characteristic. Properly managed, these impart complexity.

7. Avennia Valery Columbia Valley 2014 • $50

A fruit-forward blend of merlot and cabernet franc whose subtlety belies its origins in two of the state’s famed vineyards—Boushey in the Yakima Valley and Champoux in the Horse Heaven Hills.

8. Betz Family Clos de Betz Columbia Valley 2014 • $60

Red and black fruit flavors and practically perfect balance distinguish this bottle from master of wine Bob Betz; the name is a play on Clos de Beze, a grand cru vineyard in Burgundy.

9. J. Bookwalter Conflict Conner-­Lee Vineyard Columbia Valley 2014 • $60

Literary devices inspire the names of all J. Bookwalter’s offerings, but this bottle is more about drama than conflict—first come black fruit aromas, then the big, bold, ripe palate.

10. Adams Bench Reckoning Columbia Valley 2014 • $39

A winery that specializes in cabernets and bordeaux blends delivers a near-even split between cabernet sauvignon and merlot, along with some intense, palate-coating flavors and a compelling, plush texture.

11. Brian Carter Trentenaire Red Wine Blend Columbia Valley 2013 • $50

Burly petit verdot typically shows up only in minute amounts in a bordeaux blend, but master blender Brian Carter deploys it for almost two-thirds of this wine and puts the grape’s hallmark bright acids and chewy tannins on full display.

12. Tamarack Tapteil Vineyard Reserve Red Mountain 2012 • $50

This bottle displays the full measure of Red Mountain’s signature power and grace—plus indisputable proof that Tamarack, best known for higher-production blends like the popular Firehouse Red, truly excels at limited production reserve wines as well.

13. Walla Walla Vintners Cuvée Red Wine Washington 2014 • $40

The winery was established in 1995—just the eighth in the Walla Walla Valley at the time—and this standout bottle is just the latest example of its long tenure producing high-quality, well-priced wine. 

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