TONIGHT! September’s Virtual Tasting is tonight from 7-8pm. Read about how to participate here.

Today’s Fresh Sheet – new and recent Washington wine releases – includes wines from Purple Star Wines, Pandora Cellars, Laurelhurst Cellars, and Pomum Cellars.

Purple Star Wines

The goal of Purple Star Wines is to make wine that is “accessible, approachable, and affordable.” With the current releases, winemaker Kyle Johnson accomplishes all three.

Johnson studied horticulture at Washington State University. Upon graduating, he started out working for Chateau Ste. Michelle on the viticulture side of the winery’s operations before moving over to the production side.

Johnson’s first experience making wine was making “garbage can” wine in his garage. “It was really pretty amazing to me the transformation that occurred. That hooked me,” Johnson says.

Through his relationship with Ste. Michelle, Johnson met grower Leif Olsen. When the Olsens decided to start their winery, they called Johnson to see if he wanted to make the wines. Though Olsen Estates was only in existence a few short years, the winery made an immediate impression with its dazzling estate wines. Johnson again shows a skilled touch at Purple Star.

At Purple Star Johnson donates 15% of all of its proceeds to Seattle Children’s Hospital, where both he and his grandmother were once patients. Johnson believes it is important to give back. “We wanted to put this message out there to our peers,” he says.

In addition to Purple Star, Johnson intends to launch another project called Native Sun for a higher end brand. The 2009 vintage of these wines was recently bottled.

Purple Star produces 1,400 cases annually.

Purple Star Rose Red Mountain 2010 $15
Rating: . (Decent) Light cherry colored. Very pretty, fruit driven aromatics of strawberry, watermelon, and bubblegum. Palate is tart with mouthwatering acidity and a rounded mouthfeel. 60% Syrah, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. Fermented in neutral barrels. On lees for seven months. 14.2% alcohol. 50 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Purple Star Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2009 $16
Rating: + (Good) Appealing aromas of smoke and toast along with spice, herbal notes and cherry. Coats the palate with cherry and herbal flavors that have a textured feel. A lot of bang for the buck. 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7.5% Merlot, 7.5% Petit Verdot. Milbrandt, Olsen, and Kiona vineyards. Aged for 18 months in 70% French oak (30% new). 14.2% alcohol. 1,036 cases produced. Sample provided by winery. Recommended.

Purple Star Syrah Columbia Valley 2009 $16
Rating: * (Excellent) Dark in color, staining the glass. Aromatically appealing with smoke, char, an underlayer of spice, blueberry, and cooked egg. The palate is silky and textured, with thick fruit flavors. An extremely enjoyable wine that is an unusual find at this price point. 100% Syrah. Olsen Vineyard (95%) and Kiona. Aged 18 months in French oak (35% new). 14.4% alcohol. 378 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Pandora Cellars

Pandora Cellars was founded by Dan Williams with the goal of creating quality wines at an affordable price. The wines below are Pandora Cellars’ first commercial release.

Landon (Sam) Keirsey serves as Pandora Cellars’ winemaker. Keirsey’s journey to making wine started early. “By the time I was twenty-one I was already drinking more wine than beer,” Keirsey says with a chuckle.

Keirsey started working at Trader Joe’s in Seattle when he was 18. Over time he became the wine buyer. After a trip to Walla Walla, Keirsey began to think about making wine. “It kind of planted the seed,” he says.

Keirsey started out taking chemistry classes at Seattle Central before transferring to Washington State University’s viticulture and enology program. Keirsey began volunteering for Pleasant Hill Winery seven years ago, working his way up to assistant winemaker. He also interned at Double Canyon vineyard and spent a season working in the vineyard at Tildio Cellars.

Stylistically, Keirsey likes to pick his grapes early and press them early. After this the wines are placed in once used oak barrels. The result is wines considerably more fruit than barrel focused, although some of these young wines had edges that additional barrel ageing could help smooth out.

Fruit for the Pandora Cellars wines is sourced from Klipsun, Tapteil, Double Canyon, Lonesome Springs Ranch, Elephant Mountain, and Meek vineyards. The wines are made at Pleasant Hill Winery.

Pandora Cellars make 650 cases annually.

Pandora Cellars Syrah Columbia Valley 2009 $21
Rating: . (Decent) Lightly floral with abundant black pepper along with black and blue fruit. Soft and textured on the palate. Lonesome Springs and Double Canyon vineyards. Aged in once used French oak. 13.0% alcohol.

Pandora Cellars Connor’s Blend Columbia Valley 2009 $25
Rating: + (Good) Lightly aromatic with dark fruit, peppery spicy, floral notes, and crushed nuts. The palate is soft and textured with fresh fruit flavors. Lingers on the finish. 40% Malbec, 40% Petit Verdot, and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. 100% Double Canyon. Aged in once used French oak. 14.6% alcohol.

Pandora Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2009 $25
Rating: + (Good) Dark in color. Appealing pure, fresh cherry aromas along with incense and light, high-toned herbal notes. A soft, silky wine with a lot of pure fruit flavors. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Meek, Obelisco, and Elephant Mountain vineyards. Aged in once used French oak. 14.3% alcohol. 100 cases produced.

Pandora Cellars Red Wine Columbia Valley 2009 $21
Rating: + (Good) Aromas of incense, red and blue fruit, and spice. More concentrated than the other 2009 offerings, this wine features ripe, silky tannins and dark fruit flavors. 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet, 10% Syrah. Aged in once used French oak. 13.4% alcohol.

Laurelhurst Cellars

Laurelhurst Cellars is one of a number of wineries located in the South Seattle area that together constitute the South Seattle Artisan Wineries. A partnership among Gabe Warner, Greg Smallwood, and Dave Halbgewachs, the winery had its first commercial vintage in 2005.

Gabe Warner, who serves as winemaker, started out making wine in the basement of his Laurelhurst home giving the winery its name. Warner focuses on producing wines in microscopic batches – 67 cases for the Merlot, 89 for the Cabernet Franc, 93 for the Cabernet Sauvignon. Total production is currently less than 600 cases.

Fruit for the Laurelhurst wines comes from a number of top sites, including Boushey, Kiona, and Klipsun. As with their previous releases, Laurelhurst Cellars continues to impress.

Laurelhurst Cellars Merlot Columbia Valley 2008 $24
Rating: * (Excellent) A slight brick red tinge. Leaps up from the glass with abundant ripe red fruit aromas of raspberry, bing cherry, and red currant along with coffee, espresso bean, and a light herbal undertone. Palate is tart and full of ripe fruit flavors, chocolate, and soft but structured tannins. Lingers on the finish. A compelling wine at an even more compelling price point. Boushey and Klipsun vineyards. 14.6% alcohol. 67 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Laurelhurst Cellars Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley 2009 $28
Rating: + (Good) A lightly aromatic wine with mint, high toned dried herbs, jalapeno, mocha powder, and light cherry fruit. Palate is light bodied with soft, plush fruit flavors. Boushey, Kiona, and Burgess vineyards. Aged in French oak (80% new). 14.2% alcohol. 89 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Laurelhurst Cellars Laurus Nobilis Red Wine Columbia Valley 2007 $28
Rating: +/* (Good/Excellent) Abundant herbal notes up front along with high toned candied red fruit, tea leaves, and black licorice. Palate is full of plump cherry flavors and sinewy tannins. An elegantly styled blend. 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec. Boushey, Klipsun, and Kiona vineyards. Aged in French oak (80% new). 13.9% alcohol. 220 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Laurelhurst Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain 2008 $38
Rating: * (Excellent) Aromatically brooding but compelling with mineral, black licorice, dark cherries, herbal notes, and spice box. The palate is full of plump cherry flavors with mineral notes throughout and well-integrated tannins. Kiona and Klipsun vineyards. Aged in French oak (80% new). 14.8% alcohol. 93 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Laurelhurst Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Klipsun Vineyard Red Mountain 2008 $45
Rating: * (Excellent) Somewhat locked up at present with high-toned bing cherries, espresso bean, mineral, and an underlayer of herbal notes. Palate is tart and full of rich cherry flavors. Lingers on the finish. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged in French oak (80% new). 15.0% alcohol. 56 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Laurelhurst Cellars Syrah Red Mountain 2008 $28
Rating: + (Good) A big, ripe wine with cola, whiskey barrel, Dr. Pepper, and raisined fruit. The palate is huge, rich, and full – almost coming off as off-dry. Many will find much to enjoy about this wine, especially at a $28 tariff. Ranch at the End of the Road and Songbird vineyards. Aged in French oak (80% new). 14.8% alcohol. 300 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Pomum Cellars

Pomum Cellars, named after the Latin term for fruit, was founded by Javier and Shylah Alfonso. The winery is located in the Warehouse District of Woodinville.

Winemaker Javier Alfonso grew up in the Rivera del Duero in Spain. Alfonso moved to the United States in 1995 to attend school and began making wine in 2000. In 2004 he decided to start a commercial winery. At Pomum, Alfonso produces Riesling, Syrah, a Bordeaux-style blend called Shya, and a Tempranillo blend called Tinto.

In addition to his work at Pomum, Alfonso recently launched a separate brand called Idilico that is devoted to Iberian peninsula varietals. Idilico has thus far released an Albarino (see review here) and Grenache (see review here).

Pomum Cellars Riesling Snipes Mountain 2010 $16
Rating: + (Good) Leaps from the glass with ripe peach, citrus zest, and creamsicle. The palate is off-dry, ripe and full of peach flavors. 100% Riesling. Fermented and aged in stainless steel. 12.5% alcohol. 130 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Pomum Cellars Syrah Columbia Valley 2008 $32
Rating: +/* (Good/Excellent) An aromatic wine with floral notes, dark fruit, and sweet chocolate. The palate is full of floral notes, toast, and dark fruit. 100% Syrah. 220 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.