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

The Owen Roe Sharescropper’s Cabernet Sauvignon is always something of a bellwether for a vintage, with the winery releasing the wine early each year. If so, it bodes well for the 2012 vintage red wines. Owen Roe first started making the Sharecropper wines in 2001, with the winery taking fruit from growers, making the wine, and then sharing the profits back.

The 2012 Owen Roe Sharecropper’s Cabernet brings a classic Northwest Cabernet Sauvignon profile of black olive, currant, and herbs. There’s little apparent new oak influence putting all of the focus squarely on the fruit. Drinking young now, give it some additional time in the bottle or a day open to see it at its best.

Sémillon seems to be somewhat of a forgotten grape in Washington. It peaked at a high of 3,600 tons produced in the mid-1990s but now rests at a mere 1,000 tons as of 2012. A good chunk of the fruit goes to L’Ecole No 41, which seems to be on a one-winery mission to restore its fortunes in Washington. L’Ecole makes a staggering 5,000+ cases of its Columbia Valley Sémillon alone. It also produces a Klipsun Vineyard designated Sémillon and a Sémillon-Sauvignon Blanc blend, Luminesce, from Seven Hills Vineyard.

Count me among the people who are glad that L’Ecole continues to champion this grape (much as it does Chenin Blanc). It grows quite well in Washington, makes for a terrific – and often relatively inexpensive – wine, and can age exceedingly well in the right vintages. I recently had a Washington Sémillon that was ten years old and was in a sweet spot. How many other Washington whites could you say that about?

The Thurston Wolfe Dr. Wolfe’s Family Red is a classic kitchen sink-style blend of Lemberger, Primitivo, Petite Sirah and other varieties. Whereas often times wines like these seem thrown together, Wolfe’s skill as a winemaker and blender shine here.

The J Bookwalter Bookmark Red Wine 3NV is another interesting example of blending, with the winery blending across both varieties and vintages. The third iteration of this wine all comes from the cool 2010 and 2011 vintages, and it shows with the fruit flavors lighter and the acid higher. The wine is principally Syrah and drinks like it. A young wine, it improved considerably after a few hours open. Bookwalter is all in on this wine, making over 10,000 cases.

Finally, the 2012 Kung Fu Girl Riesling from Charles Smith Wines is notable in that it is the first released wine since Brennon Leighton (formerly of EFESTE) joined the winery last year. In addition to focusing on a to-be-named Chardonnay project – and from my barrel tastings, these wines look to be extraordinary – Leighton oversees whites and the majority of the other Charles Smith wines, with winemaker Andrew Latta continuing to oversee the top tier CSW offerings, such as the Royal City, as well as the K Vintners line.

Have a favorite Washington or Oregon wine under $15? Leave a comment and I’ll check it out.

Owen Roe Sharecropper’s Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2012 $15
(Excellent) Shows barely a trace of new oak with notes of black currant, olive, and herbs providing a very pure Northwest Cabernet Sauvignon profile. The palate is fresh and lively in style with a focus on purity and texture. Drinking young now, give it some additional time in the bottle or a day open to see it at its best. 13% alcohol. Sample provided by winery.

L’Ecole No 41 Sémillon Columbia Valley 2012 $14
(Good/Excellent) Lightly aromatic and appealing with fig, spice, tropical notes and toast. The palate is broad with a textured feel leading to a warm finish. 87% Sémillon, 13% Sauvignon Blanc. Klipsun, Rosebud, Desert Wind, Stillwater Creek, Seven Hills and Les Collines vineyards. Barrel fermented and aged in new and neutral French oak. 14.5% alcohol. 5,365 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Thurston Wolfe Dr. Wolfe’s Family Red Columbia Valley 2010 $15
 (Good) A crowd pleasing wine with sweet oak spice notes of vanilla and coconut at the fore followed by pine, whiffs of pepper, cherry, and a medley of red berries. It’s sweet and succulent with rich fruit flavors. 36% Lemberger, 27% Primitivo, 18% Petite Sirah, 9% Syrah, and 9% Merlot. 14.5% alcohol. Recommended

Charles Smith Wines Kung Fu Girl Riesling Evergreen Vineyard Washington 2012 $12
 (Good) An aromatically appealing wine with white peach, mineral, and jasmine. It’s off-dry with a nice lick of acid to off-set the rich fruit flavors.

J Bookwalter Bookmark Red Wine NV3 Columbia Valley $15
 (Good) Lightly smoky with ash, char, floral notes, mineral, cherry, and cedar bringing more complexity than usually seen at this price. The palate is elegantly styled, lower in alcohol with a fresh feel, finishing a bit short. An enjoyable, easy drinker that improves considerably after a few hours open. 73% Syrah, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Malbec. 13.4% alcohol. 10,202 cases produced.