After months of binging on rosés and whites, fall is officially upon us. It’s time to turn our attention back firmly to red wines. Washington State produces a variety of these riches, with everything from Aglianico to Zinfandel on offer. The region’s warm summer temperatures and ubiquitous use of irrigation allows a large number of grape varieties to succeed here.
Cabernet Sauvignon and red blends in particular have risen to the top, both in quality and production. Over the years, Washington Cabernet has become known known for bold fruit flavors and firm tannins.
“The density of the palate and the structure that we get up here, I really haven’t seen that anywhere else in the world,” says Josh Maloney of Maloney Wines, which dedicates itself to small-lot Cabernet Sauvignon. “I think it’s unique.”
Here, Cabernet Sauvignon is made as a varietal wine and used extensively in blends. “Cabernet plays well in the sandbox with others,” says Bob Bertheau, head winemaker at Chateau Ste. Michelle. “It is very, very blendable.”
Bordeaux-style blends, those composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and occasionally even Carmenère, have long been popular in Washington and comprise some of the state’s best wines. It’s not uncommon for Washington vintners to add some Syrah to the mix. Rhône-style blends, often composed principally of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache, have also become increasingly popular.
Wines from Washington are known not only for consistent high quality, but also for excellent value. This makes Washington the perfect place to turn as the temperatures grow colder.
Recommended Washington Cabernets, Blends, and More Red Wines
Maison Bleue 2014 Frontiére Waliser Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Walla Walla Valley); $65, 93 points. This 100% varietal wine is the winery’s inaugural Cabernet Sauvignon and hails from the Rocks District. It’s boasts all of Cabernet’s prototypical aromas, from black currant to tobacco and herb, with a kiss of vanilla from having aged in 50% new French oak. It’s soft and palate-coating in mouthfeel yet retains a strong sense of structure, with lightly chewy tannins. A fine interpretation of the variety with a downright dazzling feel.
Gorman 2015 The Devil You Don’t Know Red Blend (Columbia Valley); $28, 92 points. Though not labeled as such, this could be a varietal Syrah (76%), with the balance Grenache (18%) and Mourvèdre. The aromas offer notes of dark-roasted coffee bean, smoke, orange peel, toast and huckleberry pie. The blue-fruit flavors are bold and full, delivering a mouthful of enjoyment that keeps you coming back for more. Editor’s Choice.
Januik 2014 Weinbau Vineyard Cabernet Franc (Wahluke Slope); $35, 91 points. This wine’s vanilla, woodspice, black cherry and dried herb aromas lead to tightly wound fruit flavors with hefty tannins. Oak plays prominently, but it largely works, needing only additional time in the bottle or a short decant to strut its stuff.
Lobo Hills 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon (Columbia Valley); $25, 91 points. Dried herb, plum, black licorice, woodspice and cherry aromas are followed by palate-coating black fruit flavors, showing depth and density. It’s tightly wound at present, so give it a short decant.
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2015 Indian Wells Merlot (Columbia Valley); $18, 90 points. Barrel aromas are at the fore, with notes of vanilla, cocoa and milk chocolate out in front of blackberry and black cherry. The palate also mixes fruit and barrel, showing pleasing depth of flavors and intensity along with a silky texture.
Pamplin 2014 Red I.Q. Bordeaux-style Red Blend (Columbia Valley); $14, 90 points. This wine comes from top sites Canoe Ridge Estate, Champoux, Seven Hills and Wallula. An intriguing blend of 43% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Petit Verdot and 17% Malbec, it offers high-toned aromas, with notes of toasty spice and herb in front of raspberry and cherry. Supple and well balanced, the fruit flavors show poise and length. Best Buy.