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

My father was fond of saying “Sometimes you eat the bear. Sometimes the bear eats you.” This month unfortunately the latter was more often the case.

The best of the bunch comes from Columbia Crest. This winery needs no introduction. I have written about them extensively in the past. Additionally, Columbia Crest’s wines have been featured in a number of our monthly Virtual Tastings (indeed, one of the wines below is from the January VT). Columbia Crest is, quite simply, the Quality-to-Price-Ratio (QPR) standard bearer for Washington wine – a position the winery cemented after having their 2005 Reserve Cabernet named Wine of the Year by Wine Spectator in 2009. Columbia Crest’s wines show consistent quality across their four tiers – Two Vines, Grand Estates, H3, and Reserve. While I found the 2007 H3 Merlot had much to offer, it also, had a number of distracting components that make it a good, but not great wine. The 2007 Grand Estates Cabernet was a bit of a disappointment. While a solid value wine for an under $15 cabernet, it didn’t transcend the price point in the way the wines from this tier often do. The Merlot-Cabernet is an interesting wine mainly in that the Cabernet referred to in the name is mostly Cabernet Franc (20%) instead of Cabernet Sauvignon (5%).

Clubhouse Cellars IQ2 Friends is a red blend made by Page Cellars with the branding “Two IQs are better than one.” I first tried this wine about a month back and found it to be dreadful. Not flawed but also not drinkable. I was therefore quite surprised to see it listed as Compass WinesWine of the Year in their monthly newsletter. The decision was based on the high QPR of the wine making it just what people were looking for in a bad economy. Although I had poured the first bottle down the drain, I decided to give it another try. However, the results were the same. I would like to think that this is just a difference in palates but frankly I find that hard to believe. It seems like we are talking about two different wines here (and I respect Doug Charles’ taste in wines).

Pacific Rim has long been known as a Riesling specialist. The winery, founded in 2006 by a group of Bonny Doon expats, makes a wide variety of Washington’s signature white grape, from organic to biodynamic to single vineyard wines, from dry to sweet. Autumnus is Pacific Rim’s first red wine. The winery set out to make a wine to accompany food (here here). For this reason, Pacific Rim took an unusual approach for Washington, making a wine that is lower in alcohol, higher in acid, and minimally exposed to oak. They also used an interesting blend: Sangiovese (for “bright fruit and tannins”); Barbera (for “acidity and raciness”) and Primitivo (the only one aged in oak, for “rich meaty characteristics”). For all of this, Pacific Rim should be commended. Unfortunately, the 2007 Autumnus Red Wine doesn’t entirely come off, showing a bit too much acidity to be in balance and coming off as a bit green. When I tried it with food, it provided an interesting accent to the meal, but the accents didn’t move in the other direction with the wine not having the legs to stand on its own. Still, I look forward to trying the next release as the concept is right.

If you have favorite Washington wines under fifteen dollars, leave a comment or send me an email at [email protected] and I will check it out.

Columbia Crest H3 Merlot Horse Heaven Hills 2007 $15
Rating: + (Good) A pleasing nose with blackberry, spice, and oak aromas. Palate is a bit frontloaded. Oak seems heavy handed, especially at higher temperatures. Shows a lot of chocolate but a bit too much overall A good dose of tannins for a wine in this price range, but they are somewhat drying. Overall, has a number of positive things about it but bit too many negatives to recommend. 79% Merlot; 11% Cabernet Sauvignon; 6% Cabernet Franc; 4% Syrah. Aged in French and American oak (33% new, 67% older). 14.5% alcohol.
Purchased for $12 at Safeway

Columbia Crest Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2007 $12
Rating: . /+ (Decent/Good) Wood, spice, and chocolate in the background on a nose that is quite muted. Taste shows a fair amount of oak influence with the fruit in the background. While this is often the style of this label, it doesn’t seem to work as well as usual on this vintage. Lingers in a slightly unpleasant way on the palate. 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah. 13.6% alcohol.
Purchased at Safeway for $9

Columbia Crest Two Vines Merlot-Cabernet Washington State 2006 $8
Rating: . (Decent) Fairly light in color. A lot of chocolate and berry aromas along with a touch of green pepper. Cherry cola comes to the fore when the wine sits for a moment. Unoffensive but ultimately unremarkable on the palate. Pleasantly low in alcohol. 75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. 13.5% alcohol.
Purchased from Fremont Wine Warehouse for $13

Clubhouse Cellars IQ2 Friends Red Wine Columbia Valley 2007 $10
Rating:. (Decent) A lot of berry aromas along with a bizarre lemongrass aroma on a nose that is fairly off-putting. Reasonably even but ultimately unremarkable on the palate. A decent but ultimately fairly uninteresting wine. Tasting twice with consistent notes. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. 14.1% alcohol.
Purchased from Pete’s Bellevue for $9.29

Pacific Rim Autumnus Washington State 2007 $14
Rating: . (Decent) A light nose with red fruit, spice, potpourri aromas, and green elements. A bit flat on the palate with a healthy dose of acidity along with some citrus components. Provides some accent with food but alone is wanting. Sangiovese, Barbera, Pinot Nero, and Primitivo. 12.8% alcohol.
Purchased from Fremont Wine Warehouse for $13