Washington Wines For Spring

Spring is nearly here. The sun is out and days are getting longer. Here in Washington State, everyone’s mood has been elevated by the promise that summer will soon arrive and backyard BBQs will follow. For the past decade, Washington State has been known for great values in wine. Mainstay wineries like Columbia Crest and Chateau St. Michelle continue to produce fantastic wines for a reasonable price.

Despite a cool summer, 2011 reds have shown to be better than many experts had anticipated. And keep your eyes on 2012 reds. Many wine buffs are saying that 2012 will go down as one of the best vintages in history for Washington wines. Here are some readily available wines for under $30 [and many under $15] that represent excellent values and hail from some of the best wineries in Washington.


For more than a decade, Washington has been producing world-class Syrah. There are some blockbuster, 50 plus dollar Syrahs being made in Washington State. But for most of us, we want a great wine that brings out the smoked meats, dark fruits and light tannins that we expect from this varietal – without breaking the bank. Here are some great value options.

2011 Chateau St. Michelle Syrah- This is an extremely solid effort in a difficult vintage. Smoked meats and red cherry on the nose with some oak. Medium to full bodied, with good viscosity, flavors of red cherry, pomegranate and smoked meats persist. Light acidity suggests this one is a crack and pour. The wine is blended with some Viognier, Mourvedre and Grenache for some complexity. A perfect match for ribs. 25,000 cases produced, so pick up a few for your BBQ.– 88 points

2010 Gordon Estates Syrah- Hard to find a more complex Syrah for around 20 bucks. This is a crack and pour. Brooding, dark color, with black pepper and oak on the nose, leading to beef jerky, blackberry and plum flavors. Blended with 7% Cab which contributes to the rich fruit flavors and adds structure. Excellent value, pick up a few while you can. - 92 points

2011 Columbia Crest H3 Les Cheveaux- Columbia Crest uses fruit in this blend that is slightly below their Reserve tier. For many wineries, this wine would be their reserve blend. 75% Syrah and 25% Merlot. Cloves, cigar box and dark fruits on the nose. Good depth on the open palate with red cherry, blackberry, vanilla and black olive along fine grained tannins. Well-structured, this could cellar well for a couple of years, but why wait? -90 points


Miles from the movie “Sideways” was dead wrong; Merlot is well worth a look. Washington Merlot is a food-friendly wine that is typically soft and smooth, with red and black fruit flavors of cherry, plums and blackberries – as well as occasional mint, chocolate and eucalyptus flavors and aromas. The price is right on these recommended wines.

2012 Hogue Merlot- One of Washington’s oldest wineries is known for great value wines. This has cherry and strawberry on the nose with some Christmas spice. Flavors of cherry, guava and strawberry on the palate - almost reminiscent of a pinot. Light bodied, with great acidity. Simplistic, but a tremendous value and readily available, with 30,000 cases produced. – 86 points

2011 Charles Smith The Velvet Devil Merlot- Charles Smith is one of the big players and is best known for his inky, heavy Syrahs. But his value Merlot offers nice richness in the color, having red bell pepper, herbaceousness and oak on the nose. The palate is smooth with pomegranate, red cherry and vanilla. 8% Malbec, 6% Cab and 3% Syrah in there to provide the backbone and complexity in what was generally a difficult and cold vintage for Washington. – 87 points


Cabernet Sauvignon/Blends

Cab is king right now and is definitely one of the bigger players in Washington. Known for dark fruits such as blackberry and black cherry, Washington Cabernet is typically done in an open style that invites us to sip more. Coffee, mocha and even black tea flavors and aromas can be seen Washington Cabs. There are some great Cabernet blends that represent some of the best value in the industry. Here are some of the best value Cabs and Cab blends that proudly represent Washington.

2012 Dunham Three Legged Red- Dunham uses their less esteemed fruit in this blend, but the Three Legged Red has been a consistent value for years. Dark garnet, the nose has blackberry, anise and black cherry with nutmeg. Tons of fruit including cherry pie, raspberry, strawberry and spice cake. A crowd pleaser in this Cab, Syrah and Merlot blend. -89 points

2010 Airfield Estates Cabernet- A great Northwest winery that produces everything from Coinoise to Cab. The winery is known for small production and attention to detail for a fraction of Napa labels. Dark color with blackberry, cassis, dark cherry with oak. Similarly attractive palate with dark cherry, blackberry, tomato and olive collected with some medium tannins. Drinking great now. -90 points

2011 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Cabernet- The grand estates Cab been a great value wine for years. You’d be hard pressed to find a better Cabernet in this price range. Plum and cherry with oak and buttered toast on the nose. Palate is well-balanced and has fig, vanilla and cherry preserves. Excellent effort. -87 points

2011 Chateau St. Michelle Indian Wells Cabernet- Complex nose with nutmeg, coffee, chocolate and stewed plum with the oak. Cassis, blackberry and anise with coffee on the palate. Great acidity suggests you could wait a few years before opening this one, but drinking nicely now. 10% Syrah was added in this cool vintage.- 90 points

2011 Fidelitas Cabernet [Columbia Valley]- 100% Cab, sourced from a variety of Columbia Valley vineyards, the nose needs some time to develop, leading to fresh cut flowers, blackberry and anise with cinnamon. Vibrant acidity and minerality in a Bordelaise style. Black cherry and anise flavors sing after an hour of decanting. Very solid. -90 points

2010 Sagelands Cabernet- Here is a value wine that performs every year. Made from a blend of 80% Cab, 15% Merlot and the rest Syrah and Malbec, there is a softness evident from the Merlot. Oak and vanilla with some rose petals on the nose. This fruit-forward Cab has cherry, strawberry and sage. A steal for under 10 bucks. -87 points

2010 Seven Hills Cabernet [Columbia Valley]- From one of Walla Walla’s oldest wineries, this wine is a fascinating blend. 80% Cab with 9% Cab Franc and 5% Carmenere, 5% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec. Really needs about an hour to fully develop. Wonderfully dark, the nose has cassis and blackberry with some oak. Blackberry and cranberry add to this tangy and layered wine with chocolate and black olive, finishing with a light tannic backbone. Drink now or cellar for a couple of years -91 points