When I first really got into wine, I was definitely all about the red wine. Like 99%. Over the years, my palate has evolved and I drink as much white and sparkling as I do red. Some weeks even find me having very little red wine. But no matter how far I may stray from red wines, Washington red wines always have a place near and dear to my heart.
I still remember my visit to Washington wine country a few years ago when I was absolutely smitten with the red wines. So as I was working hard and tasting through all of these wines (whew!) for this article, I saw the Cabernet Sauvignon piling up and had to stop myself in my tracks. Yes, Washington makes some swoon-worthy, head-turning Cabernet Sauvignon. I’d argue that it’s what they are most famous for as these are the wines that command the big scores from the major wine critics and the “little” critics too. They’re fabulous. But, Cabernet Sauvignon already gets its share of love. So…I really don’t want to go there. Incidentally, Washington also makes fantastic Merlot. But I don’t want to go there either. Instead, I want to point you in another direction.
Come along as I take you to land of “Bordeaux style blends” as well as to the land of Syrah. Why are these wines so special? In a nutshell, what I love about Washington red wines is that they toe a great line between ultra-ripe Napa Valley wines and earthy, structured Bordeaux. I get the new world fruit that I enjoy as well as the structure and acidity that are essential to world class wines. In other words, Washington red wines represent the best of both worlds.
The Land of Bordeaux Style Blends
Since Washington makes great Cab Sauv and Merlot, it only follows that they also craft great Bordeaux blends. These are wines made with any of the original Bordeaux varietals – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and sometimes Carmenere. I know people, particularly Americans, who get all caught up in single varietal and single vineyard wines. And don’t get me wrong, that’s all well and good, but let’s think about the OG of red wine – Bordeaux. These wines are typically blends as the Bordelais are all about hedging their bets and assemble wines based on each year’s vintage. Not to mention that many folks drink blends all the time and don’t even realize it. We’ll talk about that some other time. I’ve certainly had my share of red blends from Washington over the years, but here are some that have really got my attention of late.
2017 DeLille Cellars D2, Columbia Valley, WA (~$42)
I’ve said this so many times before, but I’m such a big fan of DeLille Cellars. It was one of those places that I visited where I bought every single thing that I tried. All of it! The D2 is a “second wine” to the winery’s Chaleur Estate red wine and pays homage to Bordeaux’s Merlot-dominant Right Bank. This particular wine made the Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2020 list at #63 and all I can say is that I knew they were great long before this! I’m just sayin… In true Right Bank style, I love that this one leads with Merlot at 66% accompanied by 29% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. If I have to choose between Cab Sauv and Merlot, I’m going Merlot just about every day of the week. And yes, when it comes to Bordeaux, I lean decidedly Right Bank over the Left Bank. The D2 is big, structured, and bold, but also smooth and polished with notes of black cherry, raspberry, herbs, tobacco leaf, and floral notes. A beautiful sip now with some air but can certainly go a few more years. You can find at Total Wine and Wine.com (sometimes).
2016 Avennia Gravura Red Wine, Columbia Valley, WA ($40)
I’ve learned only recently of the greatness of Avennia wine, but better late than never. After doing some additional research, I learned that the founders cut their teeth at the above-mentioned DeLille Cellars. Well, no wonder! This is definitely an extended decant or 2nd day wine. When I popped it open on the first day and poured myself a glass, I couldn’t figure out what all the hype was about. On day 2, it blew me away! I was amazed it was the same wine! I loved every drop! Comprised of 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot, and 11% Cabernet Franc, ‘Gravura’ is inspired by the wines of Bordeaux’s Graves region. I got this one from Seattle-based Belle & Bottle, who runs a fabulous wine club that features many Washington wines. Remember when I told you that you needed to become a member of this wine club? With a nose of graphite, herbs, spice, black fruit, and mocha with more of the same on the palate, it is balanced, complex, and damn delicious. The plush tannins coat the tongue like liquid velvet accompanied by vibrant acidity. A wonderful reminder of why I fell in love with Washington wine in the first place! I enjoyed this so much that I immediately went to their website to purchase some of their other wines. Shh…don’t tell Mr. Corkscrew.
2016 Quilceda Creek CVR Red Blend, Columbia Valley, WA ($70)
Up next is a wine created by the producer of one of Washington’s (and the world’s) most renowned Cabernet Sauvignon producers – family-owned and operated Quilceda Creek. The CVR (“Columbia Valley Red”) is a blend of 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, and 3% each of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. No, it’s not cheap, but it’s still a fraction of the price of their prized Cabernet Sauvignon. And boy is it stellar. Beautiful red and black fruits, graphite, earth, chocolate, cedar and minerals – it’s all there. Robust and structured with a finish that just lingers. If I had this and never got to drink the Cabernet, I’d be just fine. Look for it at Total Wine and my Houston peeps can get at Houston Wine Merchant, which is where I got mine.
2014 Col Solare Shining Hill Red Wine, Red Mountain, WA ($40)
If you’ve read this blog or talked to me, you know I’m kinda gaga over Red Mountain wine. My friend in wine, Nancy Crosier of Vino Social Wine, who is based in Washington, always marvels at my near obsession of this Washington AVA. But she totally gets it. While Red Mountain is one of Washington’s smallest AVAs, the wines are massive and powerful. But this isn’t over the top power. This is power harnessed. These wines represent an amazing balance of fruit, tannins, and acidity and can be such cerebral sips. This particular wine comes from the Col Solare winery which is a partnership between Tuscany’s Marchesi Antinori and Washington State’s Chateau Ste. Michelle. A second wine to the fabulous, yet pricier Col Solare flagship wine, the Shining Hill is by no means a slouch of a wine. When the winery has completed the final blend of Col Solare, Shining Hill is crafted from the remaining lots of the same Bordeaux varietals that go into the flagship wine. While Col Solare seems to be more widely distributed (Total Wine and HEB both carry it), the Shining Hill is a bit more elusive but can sometimes be found at wine.com and of course at the winery.
A Trip to the Land of Syrah
Now its time for a trip to ‘Syrah Land’ for some of the most intriguing Washington red wines. As a person that was never a fan of Syrah (like borderline couldn’t stand it), Washington made me a big fan of this oft-maligned grape. It shocked the hell out of me when I loved, and then proceeded to purchase so much Washington Syrah. I still purchase it. Of course, there is a running joke that asks: What’s the difference between a case of Syrah and a case of pneumonia? You can get rid of the pneumonia. I’ve been told by winemakers, retailers, distributors and more that Syrah is notoriously difficult to sell. I guess I used to be part of the problem. But I’ve left the dark side and implore you to give Syrah the love it deserves.
2013 Muret-Gaston Syrah, Red Mountain, WA ($50)
Another beauty from Red Mountain, this totally reminds me of why I fell in love with Washington Syrah when I visited a few years ago. The nose is woody with macerated black plum, herbs, and violets. There’s more of the dark fruit and herbs on the palate but very little of the barnyard, bacon, and meaty notes you often find with Syrah. Muscular tannins are accompanied by fresh acidity. Y’all, I seriously wanted a plate of ribs with this! This is another selection from Belle & Bottle, who just continues to impress with her Washington wine selection. The wine is also available on the winery website. And while we’re at it, let me just say as a person that used to hate ordering wine, I now order wine online just as much as I buy it in the store. Being open to ordering wine opens you up to great boutique producers that you’d never find at the grocery story or one of those big box wine stores. And if you’re cheap like me, you can order during holidays and other special times when there are shipping deals.
2017 Gramercy Cellars ‘Lower East’ Syrah, Columbia Valkey, WA ($25)
The brainchild of Greg and Pam Harrington, Gramercy Cellars is another one of those producers that was recommended to me by Nancy of Vino Social Wine. Before founding the winery, Greg was a sommelier and wine program director for top chefs such Emeril Lagasse (Bam!) and Wolfgang Puck. So of course, these are some balanced, food-friendly wines. With an emphasis on Rhone varietals, I knew I couldn’t go wrong with a Gramercy Cellars Syrah. And I love the story behind this one as their goal in creating the wine was as a thank you to loyal customers and industry friends as well as to craft a great Syrah at a fantastic price. Well mission accomplished. Recognized by many as a “best buy” it offers up blueberries, black plums, the tell tale bacon, smoke, and black pepper. I purchased my bottle from local shop, Houston Wine Merchant, but you could also purchase from the winery.
2013 K Vintners Milbrandt Syrah, Wahluke Slope, Columbia Valley, WA ($27)
One of the labels from famed winemaker Charles Smith, K Vintners wines come from two distinctive viticultural zones – Wahluke Slope and Walla Walla Valley, which are know for fantastic Syrah. The Millbrandt Syrah provides black fruit, leather, earth, and a touch of smoked meat. This one is easy-drinking and one of those wines that I recommend to folks looking to get into Syrah as the price points are always nice. Aside from this one, there is an amazing array of Syrah in the K Vintners portfolio. Available at a number of places including Total Wine, Wine.com, and HEB.
So there you have it. Some great Washington red wines that will keep you warm and that will pair nicely with a variety of stews and braised meats you may find yourself cooking up this winter. Cheers y’all.