Today’s Fresh Sheet – reviews of recent and current Washington wine releases – includes wines from Helix, Reininger, Seven Hills Winery, Columbia Crest, and Dowsett Family Winery.

Helix & Reininger

Bonded in 1997, Reininger Winery was the tenth winery in Walla Walla. Although these historical pole positions are always argued over, it is inarguable that this makes the winery one of the older players in an area that now boasts over one hundred wineries.

For his eponymous wines, winemaker Chuck Reininger focuses exclusively on wines from the Walla Walla Valley. The Helix label, named after a genus of snail, was launched late in 2004. Fruit for these wines comes from the Columbia Valley. As noted below, some of the Helix wines are single vineyard.

Reininger produces 3,000 cases; Helix produces approximately 7,000 cases annually.

Helix Pomatia Red Wine Columbia Valley 2006 $16
Rating: + (Good) Lots of pretty herbal notes, smoke, some green notes, and currant on the nose. The palate is clean and well put together with a slight dip in the mid- palate. 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot, 25% Syrah, and 11% Cabernet Franc. Ash Hollow, Bacchus, Chelleden, Clifton Hill, Patina, Phinney Hill, Seven Hills, Stillwater Creek, Stone Tree, and Weinbau vineyards. Aged in American, French, Russian, and Hungarian oak (29% new). 3,274 cases produced.

Helix Sangiovese Columbia Valley 2005 $30
Rating: + (Good) Dark in color. Sweet red fruit notes and spice along with a dose of licorice on the nose. Has a lot of grip on the palate along with a blast of acidity. A bit of a sour note on the finish. A big, tannic wine. 100% Sangiovese. Stillwater Creek Vineyard. Aged in French oak (13% new). 480 cases produced.

Helix Merlot Columbia Valley 2007 $25
Rating: + (Good) A fascinating nose that shows a lot of smoky wood notes along with light milk chocolate and herbal notes. Brings a lot of cherry fruit flavors on the palate.

Helix Syrah Columbia Valley 2007
Rating: * (Excellent) Pops on the nose with blueberries, smoke, and syrup. Big, rich, and syrupy on the palate. May be a little over-weighted for some. 100% Syrah. Clifton Hill, Phinny Hill, and Stone Tree vineyards. Aged in neutral French oak. 14.3% alcohol. 861 cases produced.

Reininger Chardonnay Stillwater Creek Columbia Valley 2008 $45
Rating: + (Good) This is Reininger’s first white wine since 2002. Natively fermented in 500 liter oak puncheons, it took a significantly long time to ferment and did not undergo malolactic fermentation. The nose is toasty with light grass aromas. The palate is rich and textured with abundant lemon flavors. Has a bit of a bite on the mid-palate and the oak shows through at times. Sampled at 57 degrees.

Reininger Merlot Walla Walla Valley 2006 $36
Rating: * (Excellent) A very pretty, intricate nose with layer aromatics of abundant red fruit, a whiff of mint, licorice, and a pleasing earthines. Clean and well put together with a good grip of tannins and fresh red fruit flavors. Dips just slightly 2/3 of the way through. 82% Merlot, 16% Cabernet, 2% Malbec. Seven Hills and Pepper Bridge vineyards. Aged in 67% American and 33% French oak (35% new). 636 cases produced.

Reininger Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2007 $38
Rating: * (Excellent) Pops on the nose with red licorice, spice, red fruit, and chocolate. Dry and full of sinewy cranberry fruit flavors on a big, grippy palate. Capped off with a lingering finish. 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc. Pepper Bridge and Seven Hills vineyards. Aged in 94% French, 3% Russian, and 3% American oak (71% new). 805 cases produced.

Reininger Carmenère Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2007 $45
Rating: * (Excellent) Jumps from the glass with herbal notes, white pepper, and savory notes. Palate is restrained and full of cherries and savory flavors. An excellent representation of the varietal. Aged in French oak.

Seven Hills Winery

Seven Hills Winery was established in 1988. Casey McClellan, a fourth generation farmer, serves as winemaker. The winery has a beautiful tasting room with high ceilings and gleaming wood floors adjacent to the Whitehouse-Crawford in downtown Walla Walla.

Seven Hills has a distinct house style that is considerably lower in alcohol and higher in acid than many wineries in Washington. The oak is moved to the background and is added for accent. The fruit flavors are incredibly fresh.

Seven Hills wines have demonstrated terrific aging potential. A 1999 Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – one of my favorite bottles I have had this year – still had a long life ahead of it.

Seven Hills Winery makes approximately 16,000 cases per year (5,000 of this are Riesling). Note: Red wines sampled at 68 degrees.

Seven Hills Winery Viognier Talcott Vineyard Columbia Valley 2009 $20
Rating: ./+ (Decent/Good) An aromatic wine marked by tangerines, floral notes, and honey. A fairly viscous feel on a palate that seems to want a bit more acidity. 13.6% alcohol. 960 cases produced.

Seven Hills Winery Riesling Columbia Valley 2009 $14
Rating: + (Good) Still somewhat reductive at present. A light nose marked by green apples, mineral, and lime. Off-dry in style on the palate with a mineraly finish. 11% alcohol. 1.5% Residual Sugar. 5,000 cases produced.

Seven Hills Winery Merlot Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2007 $28
Rating: + (Good) The nose is redolent with fresh red fruit, roasted nuts, and a light earthiness. The palate is light bodied, crisp, and tart with abundant red fruit. 100% Merlot. Aged 18 months in French oak (40% new). 13.7% alcohol. 465 cases produced.

Seven Hills Winery Tempranillo Columbia Valley 2007 $20
Rating: + (Good) The nose shows abundant cranberry and leather aromas along with a touch of alcohol. The palate is fresh, clean, and very tart with a firm tannic structure. 100% Tempranillo. Aged 23 months in American oak (30% new). 13.8% alcohol. 258 cases produced.

Seven Hills Winery Malbec Walla Walla Valley 2007 $25
Rating: + (Good) Abundant pepper along with plum and herbal notes on an unabashedly varietal wine. The palate is acid driven but also boasts a good deal of tannic structure. Windrow, McClellan, and Minnick vineyards. 13.8% alcohol. Aged 18 months in Hungarian oak (35% new). 446 cases produced.

Seven Hills Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Seven Hills Vineyard Walla Walla Valley 2006 $32
Rating: * (Excellent) Loads of bright cranberry and black cherry aromas and flavors along with earth and a touch of dark chocolate. The palate has bright acidity and chewy fruit flavors. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged 23 months in French oak (40% new). 13.5% alcohol. 910 cases produced.

Seven Hills Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Klipsun Vineyard Red Mountain 2007 $32
Rating: ** (Exceptional) Bright cherry fruit, floral notes, earth, and hints of licorice mark an aromatic nose. The palate boasts lots of structure while still remaining elegant. The fruit flavors are incredibly fresh along with well-integrated tannins and bright acidity. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged in French oak (40% new). 13.8% alcohol. 510 cases produced.

Seven Hills Winery Pentad Red Wine Walla Walla Valley 2006 $50
Rating: ** (Exceptional) An aromatic wine with dusty earth, fresh black cherries, and red fruit. The palate is incredibly fresh and clean with well-integrated tannins and a zing of acidity. 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Petit Verdot, 7% Carmenère, 7% Cabernet Franc, and 7% Malbec. Aged 20 months in French oak (50% new). 13.8% alcohol. 343 cases produced.


Dowsett Family Winery Gewürztraminer Celilo Vineyard Columbia Gorge 2009 $22
Chris Dowsett works as assistant winemaker at Buty Winery by day and makes his limited Dowsett Family Winery wines by night. Dowsett is passionate about Gewürztraminer, focusing his efforts on fruit from Celilo Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge.

Rating: + (Good) Abundant pink grapefruit, crushed red pepper, and floral notes on the nose. Palate has a lot of pink grapefruit flavors and a rounded mouthfeel. Doesn’t quite bring the acidity of the previous vintage but still a very enjoyable wine. 100% Gewurztraminer. 14.0% alcohol.

Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2007 $40
The 2005 vintage of this wine was heralded as Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year in 2009. With 2007 an exceptional vintage in Washington, this is another wine from Columbia Crest that offers high value, despite what appears to be a significant increase in price from the previous vintages (price from winery website).

Rating: * (Excellent) Somewhat brooding on the nose with blackberry, black cherry, herbal notes, spice box, and sweet spices. Rich with fruit and espresso flavors buffeted by dry tannins. An evolving finish. 96% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3.8% Merlot, 0.2% Cabernet Franc. Aged for 25 months in 82% new French oak (82%) and American (18%) oak. 14.4% alcohol. 5,000 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.