Unlike many major wine regions of the world, Washington has refused over the years to settle on one particular grape or style. While Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and other varieties have all made their mark – and will continue to – increasingly it seems like Washington is becoming the ‘Home of the Blend.’
As I wrote in this month’s Seattle Metropolitan magazine, red blends from Washington have been on the rise. This phenomenon first came to my attention a couple years back when I was in a tasting room and asked a consumer what type of wines they liked. “I like blends!” the person said eagerly. I wondered what she meant.
Almost all wines are blends in some way, a blend of grapes or a blend of vineyards or a blend of blocks within a vineyard. Even varietally labeled wines only need to be 75% of the variety listed, so many of these wines are blends too. So this consumer distinguishing “blends” as a category seemed interesting to me. However, on that very same weekend, I asked another consumer what type of wines they liked. “I like blends!” the person replied. Hmm….
Indeed, blends are big with consumers right now, and Washington is poised to cash in. This is a category that Washington does extremely well as evidenced by the reviews below. The increased interest in blends is already starting to pay dividends locally, with the ratings group Nielsen finding that sales by volume of Washington red blends were up 26% in the last twelve months. There’s even an annual BLEND event in Seattle in the fall that focuses on the category.
What do Washington blends look like? While the state’s winemakers create both red and white blends, I’ll focus on the reds here since they are more common.
At present, Bordeaux-style blends – wines made from some combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot – dominate the blended wine landscape here. In a distinctly Washington trend, winemakers sometimes include a lesser or greater amount of Syrah in these blends as well.
However, Southern Rhone-style blends – currently made predominantly from a combination of Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre although other varieties are starting to creep in as well as plantings diversify – have become increasingly common in recent years. Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon blends are also popular. However, Washington winemakers can (and do) make blended wines from just about every grape grown in the state.
The rise of blends in Washington is not without potential problems. Most blends are labeled ‘Red Wine,’ ‘Red Blend,’ or are given proprietary names, which don’t lend themselves to easy consumer understanding. Terms like ‘Bordeaux-style blend’ and ‘Rhone-style blend’ are trade terms that mean little to many consumers. Many times the particular blend is, unfortunately, not listed on the front or back label. To make matters more confusing, at the lower end of the price spectrum, many red blends fall into the cheap and cheerful category leading some to think that ‘red blend’ and ‘red wine’ are terms for lesser quality.
However, at least here in Washington, consumers seem to have overcome these issues by branding the wines themselves – “I like blends!” Indeed they do, and each year these wines seem to become more and more common. This should only accelerate as plantings of all sorts of grapes increase around the state giving winemakers a more diverse palette to choose from.
With the increase in consumer recognition, are blends a category that Washington can use to help establish a broader identity? Only time will tell, but the quality is there.
Below is a list of blended wines not previously reviewed here by category. For others, check out the Tasting Note Database (labeled as Bordeaux-style Blend and Red Blend under “Type.”)
Cote Bonneville Carriage House Red Wine Yakima Valley 2007 $50
(Exceptional) An aromatically compelling wine with pure, dark cherry aromas, floral notes, chocolate, and high toned herbal notes. The palate is deftly balanced with refined fruit flavors exhibiting exceptional balance. Lingers on the finish. Drinks like a top wine from Bordeaux and should age like one. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. 950 cases produced.
Bergevin Lane Intuition Red Columbia Valley 2008 $59
(Exceptional) Locked up tightly at present with red fruit, dark fruit and oak spices. On the palate, a rich, hedonistic wine with dark fruit and abundant cranberry flavors and exceptionally well-integrated tannins. Lingers on the finish. 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Petit Verdot. StoneTree Vineyard. Aged 26 months in French oak (100% new). 14.6% alcohol. 144 cases produced.
DeLille Cellars Chaleur Estate Red Wine Red Mountain 2009 $70
(Exceptional) Locked up tightly right now, this wine shows high toned aromas of dark fruit, herbal notes, and floral notes. On the palate, a big, brawny wine chock full of dark fruit flavors and oak spices with firm by well-integrated tannins. Give at least two years. 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. Ciel du Cheval and Klipsun vineyards. 14.9% alcohol.
Fall Line Winery Red Wine Artz Vineyard Red Mountain 2009 $28
(Exceptional) This is the first of three high quality, single vineyard offerings reviewed here from the 2009 vintage from Fall Line Winery, all of which are also extremely well priced. This wine is locked up tightly at present with tar, floral notes, and mineral notes. On the palate, a beautifully restrained, structured wine with light fruit flavors and a firm scaffolding of tannins. This wine will age gracefully in the cellar for many years to come. 41% Cabernet Franc, 35% Merlot, and 24% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged 18 months in French oak (32% new). 364 cases produced.
J Bookwalter Protagonist Red Wine Columbia Valley 2009 $55
(Exceptional) Dark ruby. Though locked up tightly at present, this wine shows a lot of aromatic complexity with dark fruit, dusty chocolate, char, spice, and floral notes. The palate is soft and seductive, wound tightly with a medley of red and black fruit flavors. One for the cellar. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Cabernet Franc. 14.8% alcohol.
Soos Creek Champoux Vineyard Red Wine Horse Heaven Hills 2009 $38
(Exceptional) Fruit from Champoux vineyard rarely makes it into wines at this tariff and this wine drinks like a considerably more expensive bottle. This is an aromatic wine full of floral notes, herbal notes, rose hips, and currant. The palate has soft fruit flavors and a firm structure. Draws out on the finish. Give two-plus years. 92% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Cabernet Franc. 14.1% alcohol.
DeLille Cellars D2 Red Wine 2009 $38
(Excellent/Exceptional) A moderately aromatic wine with dark fruit, coffee, chocolate, and floral notes. The palate is rich and tightly wrapped with chocolate and cherry flavors. 55% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot. Aged 18 months in French oak (100% new). 14.7% alcohol. 5,000 cases produced.
Spring Valley Uriah Red Wine Walla Walla Valley 2009 $50
(Excellent/Exceptional) A moderately aromatic wine with high toned herbal notes, floral notes, and dark raspberries. The palate is soft and full of luscious red fruit flavors that draw out to a lingering finish. Give one to two years. 54% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot, and 4% Malbec. Aged 18 months in French oak (60% new). 14.5% alcohol. Sample provided by winery.
Brian Carter Solesce Columbia Valley 2006 $50
(Excellent) Medium ruby. A perfumed wine with toasty oak spices, black currant, floral notes, and high toned herbal notes. The palate is broad with red and black fruit flavors. 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot, and 5% Malbec. Klipsun, Ed Shaw, StoneTree, Alder Creek, and Elerding vineyards. Aged 30 months in French oak (40% new). 14.4% alcohol. 530 cases produced.
Buty 64% Merlot/ 36% Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley 2009 $40
(Excellent) A full 90% of the fruit for this wine comes from Conner Lee Vineyard with the rest coming from Champoux. An aromatically expressive wine with mineral, floral notes, raspberries, and rose hips. The palate is on the lighter side of medium bodied with light fruit flavors and well integrated tannins. Aged in French oak (60% new). 14.1% alcohol. 383 cases produced.
Desert Wind Ruah Red Wine Desert Wind Vineyard Wahluke Slope 2009 $20
(Excellent) Lightly aromatic with milk chocolate, red cherries, and spice. The palate is full of sour cherry flavors and firm tannins. 50% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec, 1% Barbera. Aged 12 months in American oak. 14.5% alcohol. NB: For purists, the 1% Barbera would remove this from the Bordeaux-style blend category.
Fall Line Red Wine Boushey Vineyard Yakima Valley 2009 $28
(Excellent) Medium ruby. A moderately aromatic wine with dark chocolate, raspberries, floral notes, mineral, and rose hips. The palate is rich but restrained with silky red and black fruit flavors. A beautiful expression of this vineyard. 39% Cabernet Franc, 34% Merlot, and 27% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged 18 months in French oak (39% new). 14.6% alcohol. 350 cases produced.
Fall Line Red Wine Red Willow Vineyard Yakima Valley 2009 $28
(Excellent) A bottle from Red Willow Vineyard at $28? Yes please. This Merlot leaning blend from winemaker Tim Sorenson is closed up at present with herbal notes, earth, tar, and violets. The palate is medium bodied, full of tightly packed tannins and retrained fruit flavors. Give one to two years. 64% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 15% Cabernet Franc. Aged 18 months in French oak (35% new). 338 cases produced.
J Bookwalter Conflict Red Wine Conner Lee Vineyard Columbia Valley 2009 $55
(Excellent) Dark ruby. An aromatic wine full of toasty spice, high toned red cherries, and roasted coffee beans. The palate is soft with tart fruit flavors leading to a long finish. 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, and 25% Cabernet Franc. Aged 20 months in new and used French oak. 15.6% alcohol. 400 cases produced.
Sleight of Hand Cellars The Archimage Red Wine Columbia Valley 2009 $45
(Excellent) Abundant spice notes, dark chocolate, floral notes, and red fruit. The palate is full of rich, ripe, soft fruit flavors with velvety tannins. 50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Franc. Seven Hills, Blue Mountain, Red Mountain, and Chelle de Millie vineyards. 295 cases produced.
Soos Creek Palisade Red Wine Columbia Valley 2009 $25
(Excellent) Labeled as a red wine but mostly Merlot, this is a moderately aromatic wine with red currant, raspberries, and chocolate. The palate is soft and silky with plush fruit flavors and firm but well integrated tannins. 83% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon. Bacchus, Dionysus, and Klipsun vineyards. 14.1% alcohol.
Thurston Wolfe The Geologist Red Wine Columbia Valley 2008 $50
(Excellent) Medium ruby. An aromatic wine with sweet oak spices, including vanilla and coconut, along with red and black fruit. The palate has rich, sweet fruit flavors. A very enjoyable wine with the wood playing a fair part of the show. 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 20% Malbec, and 20% Merlot. 14.5% alcohol.
Other Bordeaux-style blends of note previously reviewed come from Andrew Will, Baer, Betz (Pere de Famille, Clos de Betz), Cadence, FIGGINS, Force Majeure, L’Ecole No 41 (Apogee, Perigee), Leonetti (Reserve), Mark Ryan (Dead Horse, Long Haul), and Saviah (Une Vallee) along with many (many) others. Please note that this list is by no means exhaustive.
Bordeaux-style Blends with Syrah
Long Shadows Chester Kidder Red Wine Columbia Valley 2007 $50
(Excellent/Exceptional) An aromatically appealing wine with tea, high toned cranberries, and dark, brambly fruit. The palate is structured with dark fruit flavors that are incredibly (incredibly) persistent on the finish. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Syrah, 14% Petit Verdot, and 1% Cabernet Franc. 14.9% alcohol. Sample provided by winery.
Col Solare Red Wine Columbia Valley 2008 $75
(Excellent) Dark ruby. This wine is closed up aromatically at present but opens to reveal dark cherries, dry chocolate, and spice. The palate is full of chocolate and cherry flavors with a backbone of fine grained tannins. Give one year. 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Syrah. Sample provided by winery.
Guardian Cellars Chalk Line Red Wine Columbia Valley 2009 $25
(Excellent) Dark ruby. An aromatic wine with toasty spices, dark berries, espresso, and dry chocolate. The palate is rich with sweet cherry and chocolate flavors. A whole lot of wine for the money. 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 22% Syrah, and 20% Cabernet Franc. Klipsun, Kiona, Destiny Ridge, and Conner Lee vineyards. Aged 12 months in French oak (68% new). 650 cases produced.
J Bookwalter Chapter Four Red Wine Columbia Valley 2009 $80
(Excellent) Dark ruby. A moderately aromatic wine with exotic spice, licorice, cherries, and espresso. The palate is full of chocolate and cherry flavors with taught tannins. Draws out on the finish. Give one year. 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, 10% Syrah. Conner Lee (90%) and Elephant Mountain vineyards. Aged 20 months in new and used French oak. 15.8% alcohol. 202 cases produced.
Sleight of Hand Cellars The Illusionist Red Wine Columbia Valley 2009 $45
(Excellent) A moderately aromatic wine with abundant oak spices, black and blue fruit, and herbal notes. The palate is deliciously rich, full of soft cherry flavors accented by chalky tannins. 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Syrah, and 8% Cabernet Franc. Red Mountain, Blue Mountain, and Lewis vineyards. 14.9% alcohol. 372 cases produced.
Alexandria Nicole Cellars Quarry Butte Red Wine Destiny Ridge Vineyards Horse Heaven Hills 2009 $25
(Good) Dark ruby. A moderately aromatic wine with sweet oak spices, medicine cabinet notes, and cherries. The palate is full of cherry flavors accented by spices with chalky tannins. 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 17% Syrah, 6% Malbec, 2% Petit Verdot. Aged 20 months in French and American oak.
Rotie Cellars Southern Blend Washington State 2010 $40
(Exceptional) Pale ruby. An aromatically compelling wine with abundant white pepper, red fruit, herbal notes, and a light earthiness. The palate is plush and perfumed with plump, ripe red fruit flavors, soft tannins, and refreshing acidity. 75% Grenache, 15% Syrah, and 10% Mourvedre. Aged in French oak (all second fills). 700 cases produced.
Waters Winery Tremelo Red Wine Walla Walla Valley 2010 $40
(Excellent) Labeled as a red wine, this could just as easily be labeled Syrah with just 8% Grenache from Old Stones Vineyard added to the blend. Fans of Waters’ Forgotten Hills Vineyard-designated Syrah – not made in 2010 – will see hallmarks of this vineyard here on a brightly aromatic wine with pepper, earthy funk, spice, ash, and mineral notes. The palate is on the lighter side of medium bodied with soft, tart red fruit and savory flavors. 92% Syrah, 8% Grenache. Aged in neutral French oak.
Alexandria Nicole Members Only DRV Red Wine Horse Heaven Hills 2009 $42
(Good) Medium ruby. A moderately aromatic wine with cherry cola, vanilla, raspberries, and spice. The palate is soft and medium bodied with chalky tannins and tart fruit flavors. 42% Mourvedre, 24% Syrah, 22% Grenache, 10% Counoise, and 2% Viognier. 14.6% alcohol.
Domaine Pouillon Katydid Red Wine Horse Heaven Hills 2009 $24
(Good) Medium ruby. A moderately aromatic wine with raspberries, cranberries, and a light herbal note. The palate is soft and tart with plump red fruit flavors that linger on the finish. 55% Grenache, 35% Syrah, and 10% Mourvedre. McKinley Springs and Coyote Canyon vineyards. 14.5% alcohol.
Gilbert Cellars Allobroges Red Wine Wahluke Slope 2009 $22
(Good) Pale to medium ruby. A moderately aromatic wine with vanilla, spices, and red fruit. The palate is full of tart fruit flavors with a fair amount of tannic grip. 37% Grenache, 29% Syrah, 20% Mourvedre, and 14% Counoise. Doc Stewart and 24K vineyards. Aged 21 months in French (80%) and American oak (21% new). 14.7% alcohol. 1,370 cases produced.
Other Southern Rhone-style blends of note previously reviewed include Betz Family Winery Besoleil, EFESTE Emmy Red Wine, Force Majeure Vineyards Collaboration Series VI Red Wine, Maison Bleue Graviere and Jaja, Syncline Subduction Red, and Rasa Vineyards QED. Please note that this list is by no means exhaustive.
Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah Blends
Buty Rediviva of the Stones Walla Walla Valley 2009 $60
(Excellent) Syrah notes leap up from the glass with earth, funk, floral notes, blue fruit, and orange peel. The palate is on the lighter side of medium bodied with a real inner mouth perfume with abundant savory flavors. 77% Syrah, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon. LeFore, Morrison Lane, Les Collines, and River Rock vineyards. Aged 15 months in neutral French oak. 13.8% alcohol. 365 cases produced.
Fjellene Reserve Proprietary Red Wine Walla Walla Valley 2009 $50
(Excellent) Medium ruby. A moderately aromatic, complex wine with herbal tones, cherry, raspberry, floral notes, and rosehips. The palate is understated, tightly coiled with fresh red and black fruit flavors and lively acidity. Lingers on the finish. 50% Syrah, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. Yellow Jacket Vineyard. 50 cases produced. 14.4% alcohol.
Other Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah blends of note previously reviewed include Balboa Sayulita, Gorman Winery The Evil Twin, K Vintners Roma Red Wine, and Rulo Syrca. Please note that this list is by no means exhaustive.
Please note, my rating system was revised at the beginning of 2012 as follows. Read additional details here.
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