Last week, while reviewing delicious white wines from the state of Washington, I pointed out that the state's wine industry has been on a proverbial tear for the last several years. But Washington is not new to the wine-making game. The state's wine history can be traced back to the early 19th century, when European immigrants realized the agricultural potential of its fertile valleys. Following the end of Prohibition in the '30s, the acreage devoted to vineyard cultivation began to grow rapidly in both the Columbia and Yakima valleys, located to the east of the Cascade Mountain range.
It's no coincidence that many of the grape varietals planted in these valleys quickly adapted to their new surroundings. It turns out that Washington's wine country is situated on just about the same latitude -- 46 degrees north -- as some of the greatest French wine regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy. And just like European wine-growing regions, Washington has been blessed with an abundance of prime wine grape-growing areas.
The majestic Cascade Mountains cut a swath through the state from the north to the south, effectively dividing the state into two distinctive regions. The more mild and lush lands lie to the west of the range while the more arid and volcanic rich soils lie to the east. The majority of the wine grapes are grown on the eastern side of the range, where the combination of long daylight hours and careful irrigation control, provide ideal conditions for cabernet sauvignon, merlot and various other Bordeaux and Rhone varietals. Cool autumn temperatures allow the grapes to reach full maturity, resulting in wines that possess concentrated aromatics and complex fruit profiles.
This week's column will review several red wines from a state that offers a lot more than apples these days. Retail prices are approximate.
Blends seem to be the name of the game in Washington, but the 2010 Baer Winery "Star" ($29) relies heavily on merlot (87 percent) as its anchor. Cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon are also added to provide structure in a wine that offers plenty of silky smooth dark fruit and chocolaty flavors upfront and prominent black cherry and red currant on the mid-palate. Hints of mocha sneak in on the lovely medium-bodied finish. QPR 9
The 2010 Seven Hills Winery Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Red Wine ($45) from the Red Mountain region is a study in classic Bordeaux-style wine. Made from a blend of four of the five traditional varietals (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot and cabernet franc), it offers up attractive scents of blackberries, cranberries and earthiness. Refined flavors of black plums, black cherries and cocoa entice the palate while notes of tobacco and cedar take up residence on the stylish finish. The noticeable dry tannins will keep this wine evolving over the next eight to 10 years. QPR 8.5
The Folonari family has been producing wine in Italy for more than 200 years. Now, through the Long Shadows project -- where top wine-makers from around the world are invited to make artisanal wines from Washington fruit -- Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari have produced the 2009 Saggi ($45) from a unique blend of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and syrah. It delivers fruit driven aromas of baked cherry cobbler and dark strawberry on the fragrant bouquet. The soft, full flavors of ripe red plums, dark cherries and whispers of earthy dried herbs stays focused all the way through to the end of the elegant finish. QPR 8.5
Not all red wines in Washington are blends. The 2010 Browne Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon ($32) from Columbia Valley is a straight-forward cabernet sauvignon where bold flavors of blackberry, black raspberry, baked cherries and cocoa sit firmly on the middle of the palate. There is just a hint of minerality that keeps the wine focused, providing wonderful integration of the fruit all the way through the velvety finish. QPR 9
It was the delightful aromas of cinnamon, crushed berries and cherry that grabbed my attention of the 2008 Pomum Shya Red Wine ($35) from the Yakima Valley. The palate is rewarded with flavors of black plums, cherries and hints of spice. The firm tannins contribute to the remarkable structure and the well-balanced finish. QPR 8.5
Note: QPR is a rating system that compares the quality a wine delivers relative to the price. A QPR of 10 is considered an excellent value.