Food & Drink
12th Annual Washington Wine Awards Winners Are In
Honoring the best in Washington wine, from all-star vineyards to the top bottles.
By Paul Zitarelli, Yashar Shayan, Marne Coleman, Stephen Strom July 25, 2017
It’s no accident that several award winners this year speak of a “golden age” of Washington wine. The wine scene here is more robust than ever, with a balanced mix of experienced winemakers and neophytes; likewise, there’s a mix of established old vineyards and new sites exploring different geologies. Right now, Washington wine is in a beautiful tween phase: mature enough that we can say with confidence that we produce world-class wines here, and young enough that most of the story remains to be written. The page-turner continues as we reveal the winners of our 12th annual Washington Wine Awards (learn about our methodology here).
For the full list of finalists, check out our Washington wine buying guide.
Photograph by Hayley Young. Winemaker of the Year, Avennia’s Chris Peterson, at Red Willow Vineyard, where many of the grapes for his wines are grown. Photographed on June 9, 2017
Winemaker of the Year
Awarded to a winemaker who is known for the quality of his or her winemaking, contributions to the winemaking community and for helping put Washington wines on the national stage.
Avennia, Passing Time
When the history of Washington wine is written, a seminal moment will be the 2001 inauguration of the Enology and Viticulture Program by the legendary (and late) Stan Clarke at Walla Walla Community College. In subsequent years, that program launched dozens of successful Washington winemaking careers. The very first class, in 2003, probably didn’t even include a dozen students, but it did contain Chris Peterson, our 2017 Winemaker of the Year.
Peterson parlayed his enology degree into a cellar master job at the outstanding Woodinville-based DeLille Cellars; by the time he departed DeLille in 2011, he had risen all the way to the role of production winemaker. When Peterson left DeLille to start Woodinville-based Avennia (founded in 2010 in partnership with Microsoft marketing veteran Marty Taucher), he garnered immediate praise for a fully formed house style that emphasized elegant, restrained reds and whites, with a balance of fruit and non-fruit elements, and a firm embrace of the earthy side of wine. His winemaking skill was noticed by former NFL quarterbacks Damon Huard and Dan Marino, and when they started their Passing Time Winery in 2012, they chose Peterson as their winemaker, partnering to make richer, more robust Cabernet Sauvignons that retain his signature elegance.
More than 15 years into his winemaking adventure, Peterson is bullish on Washington’s prospects. “We are in a golden age,” he enthuses, “and I think it’s only the beginning.” avennia.com
Photograph by Hayley Young. Jack Brady (left) and his son Joe Brady planted grapes—Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and others—alongside their pear orchard in 2001 at Underwood Mountain Vineyards in the Columbia Gorge AVA, winner of Vineyard of the Year. Photographed June 5, 2017
Vineyard of the Year
A Washington vineyard that contributes specific qualities to the wines in which its fruit is featured.
Underwood Mountain Vineyards
Columbia Gorge AVA
For the second year in a row, our Vineyard of the Year comes from the Columbia Gorge AVA (an area known for its cool-climate white wines), and more specifically, from the southern flanks of the extinct volcano Underwood Mountain. Jack Brady retired in 1999 after a career as a United Airlines pilot, and went about planting Underwood Mountain Vineyards (UMV) in Underwood, Washington, in 2001 (along with his wife, Sally, son Joe Brady and daughter-in-law Vicki Nomura), adjacent to a pear orchard they’ve owned since 1986. The views of the Columbia River, far below and of Mount Hood, in the distance, are exceptional.
The original plantings at UMV covered 12 acres, which have since grown to 27 planted acres, producing a bevy of cool-climate varieties. This is a rare Washington site where Pinot Noir grows well (most of the state is too hot), with nine different Pinot clones in production. White varieties include Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and even Grüner Veltliner, the great savory white rarely seen outside its ancestral home of Austria. There is a new cohort of Washington winemakers who are stubbornly favoring elegance and sense of place over rich fruit, and they are drawn like fruit flies to Underwood Mountain grapes. underwoodmountainvineyards.com
Photograph by Hayley Young. From left: Best Emerging Winery winner, W.T. Vintner’s Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen; Retail Wine Steward of the Year, PCC’s Jeff Cox; Sommelier of the Year, Purple’s Katelyn Peil; Winemaker to Watch, Orr Wines’ Erica Orr. Photographed June 5, 2017, at a private property in Woodinville provided by Joel Johnson of Windermere Real Estate/North Inc.
Winemaker to Watch
A winemaker who is crafting wines of distinctive style and making an impact on Washington wine.
Orr Wines, Orr Consulting, Baer Winery
“Ask erica.” That’s the refrain uttered over and over again in Woodinville when a winemaker runs into a problem or has a winemaking question. And that’s why Erica Orr earned our Winemaker to Watch honor, despite only having a single wine to her name. That wine is Orr Chenin Blanc, a dry, minerally version of old-vine Chenin that is well loved by Washington wine insiders and sells out briskly each time it is released. That Chenin, lovely as it is, only scratches the surface of what Orr does. She is the consulting winemaker at Woodinville-based Baer Winery, whose balanced reds have won major accolades during her time there. She is an enology consultant for a handful of additional wineries, and she offers chemistry services to dozens of Woodinville’s smaller producers who don’t have their own labs. And then, of course, there are the “ask Erica” phone calls.
Like Winemaker of the Year Chris Peterson, Orr refers to the current state of Washington winemaking as a “golden age,” citing a community “still small enough so that everybody knows everybody, but at the same time our wines have been recognized on the world stage.” orrwinelab.com
Sommelier of the Year
Awarded to a sommelier or wine director whose program emphasizes Washington wines and who delivers exceptional service and education to guests and staff.
Purple Café and Wine Bar in Woodinville, The Commons in Woodinville
Some people, when faced with the hard truth that their chosen career inspires zero passion, bury that truth away and try to make the best of things. Other people take a risk and make a change. Katelyn Peil, this year’s Sommelier of the Year, is among the latter group. She interned with the FBI while in college and was headed to law school when she decided to defer entry and take time off to travel and reevaluate. She wound up taking a job as a server at Purple Café and Wine Bar in Woodinville in 2007. That job ignited (and the owners of Heavy Restaurant Group nurtured) an intense interest in wine, and soon Peil was running the wine programs at Purple Woodinville, Purple Kirkland and The Commons in Woodinville, a sister restaurant to Purple.
Peil’s passion for her chosen career is obvious. “Wine is a liquid art form,” she enthuses, “the center point to be shared with good friends, good food and good experiences.” For a decade now, Peil has been creating just such center points, just such experiences, across the Eastside.
Retail Wine Steward of the Year
Bestowed on an individual who has proven to be a passionate, engaged and dedicated ambassador of Washington state wine by continually educating herself or himself and raising awareness of Washington state wine.
Wine, beer and spirits merchandiser at PCC
Back in 1983, Jeff Cox had one of those moments that alters the course of a life. He describes it as an “epiphany while drinking cheap Côtes du Rhône with a bunch of fellow musicians on the old walls of Avignon.” The epiphany: that wine could transparently express the place where it was grown, and that Cox wanted to spend his career learning about all those places. He returned to Seattle and spent the next 16 years working in just about every nook and cranny of the wine trade before landing at PCC Natural Markets in 1999. From there, he moved up through the ranks to his current gig, managing a wine/beer/cider program that has developed a sterling reputation for quality and character.
Part of that reputation rests on Cox’s carefully selected Washington wine portfolio. “With Washington,” he notes, “we want people to discover that they’re not just supporting the ‘home team,’ but that the home team is incredibly diverse, unique and very special.” And Cox, who oversees 22 retail stewards at 10 stores, thinks of wine in musical terms, seeking bottles that “turn the volume down in favor of showing the beauty of the composition (place), with well-played instruments (varietals and farming) and deft phrasing (judicious winemaking).” pccnaturalmarkets.com
Best Emerging Winery
Awarded to a young winery with fewer than five vintages that has made a distinct impression for its quality and style in a short period of time.
For more than a decade, Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen has led a double life in the wine trade. He’s been a sommelier/beverage director, with stints at Cascadia, Wild Ginger, Cafe Juanita and his current gig at RN74. But all along, he has been making wine as well—with a harvest from the Willamette Valley in 2005; with more harvests from Burgundy (2008) and New Zealand (2009); and with a Washington winery project called W.T. Vintners, which began with a single Syrah (called “Gorgeous”) in 2007, but really expanded and got rolling with the excellent 2012 vintage. Syrah has remained the core focus for Lindsay-Thorsen, who has made single-vineyard versions from Destiny Ridge, Stoney Vine, Les Collines and Boushey vineyards. He sees Syrah as “the vehicle to capture the nuance and essence of our desert terrain, and to echo our story far more than any other grape grown here.”
“In less than 50 years,” notes Lindsay-Thorsen, “we have learned we can grow a vast array of vines really well and produce wine at a world-class level.” That’s something that took hundreds, if not thousands of years to accomplish in Europe, he notes. “As we start to see some vines age, the intensity and balance are falling into line, showing the greatness that lies ahead.” wtvintners.com
Photograph by Hayley Young. Purple wine directors Chris Horn (foreground) and Katelyn Peil at Purple in Bellevue
Best Restaurant to Experience Washington Wine
A Puget Sound–area restaurant that hasn’t won in this category before and that offers exceptional opportunities to taste Washington state wine through Washington-wine-focused lists, unique tasting events and a professional, educated wine service staff.
Heavy Restaurant Group (including Purple Café & Wine Bar restaurants)
A wine lover could be forgiven for spending an afternoon slowly perusing the wine list at one of Purple Café’s three locations (Seattle, Bellevue, Woodinville). Wine directors Chris Horn and Katelyn Peil (this year’s Sommelier of the Year) have developed wine lists for each restaurant that are somehow encyclopedic and accessible at once. And while the Purple lists encompass wines from every important wine region in the world, they place special emphasis on the wines from our backyard.
In addition to extensive by-the-glass and by-the-bottle Washington lists for current releases, the Purple team also stocks some older Washington wines (a recent list contained more than a dozen bottles at least a decade old). Its lists also manage to be descriptive, often offering little nuggets of wisdom. For example, its introduction to the Washington Chenin Blanc section of the list: “Generally, when you see Washington Chenin Blanc, it’s from old vines. Most of it was planted in the ’60s and ’70s before people lost interest.”
Finally, the team places an emphasis on flights, and its lists always contain options for three-wine flights designed to encourage experimentation. One recent list included a flight covering Washington Grüner Veltliner, Sémillon and Gewürztraminer; another paired a Washington Malbec with versions of the varietal from France and Argentina. These are sommeliers who find creative methods to get Washington wines into their guests’ glasses.
Photograph by Hayley Young. Dan McCarthy (left) and Jay Schiering at their store in Ravenna
Best Place to Buy Wine
A brick-and-mortar or online retail operation (shop, grocery store or liquor store) with a strong presence of Washington wine, run by someone with a commitment to showcasing Washington wine
McCarthy & Schiering Wine Merchants
At 10 a.m. on the 10th day of the 10th month of 1980, Dan McCarthy opened a wine shop in Ravenna after years spent on the distribution side of the wine trade. Three years later, Jay Schiering came on as a partner, and in 1990, they opened a Queen Anne location, moving to their current spot on the hill in 2000. They have subsequently taught generations of Seattleites how to purchase, drink and love fine wine, and their shops are our well-deserving recipients of Best Place to Buy Wine for 2017.
All that fine wine they’ve taught us to love? It’s not just the pricey bottles. “We certainly have some wealthy customers who buy expensive wines,” notes Schiering, “but our bread and butter is people who drink $10–$20 table wine on a regular basis. We look at wine as a beverage to enhance meals on an everyday basis.”
Photograph by Hayley Young. Paul Mackay set the bar for classic dining in Seattle beginning with El Gaucho. Photographed at AQUA by El Gaucho on June 1, 2017.
Washington Wine Ambassador Award
An individual in any aspect of the wine industry who has demonstrated a significant dedication to the advancement of the Washington state wine industry as an ambassador, mentor and champion of Washington wines presented by the Washington State Wine Commission.
Paul Mackay, founder of El Gaucho Hospitality
Paul Mackay is best known in Seattle circles for food. The steaks and tableside-tossed Caesar salads at El Gaucho (reincarnated by Mackay in 1996 after the original closed in 1985) are legendary, and the original restaurant rapidly expanded to El Gaucho Hospitality, encompassing outposts in Portland, Tacoma and Bellevue, as well as Aqua by El Gaucho and The Inn at El Gaucho.
But Mackay, who retired in 2016, has been equally influential in Washington wine circles. El Gaucho Hospitality has trained and employed hundreds of sommeliers over the years, offsetting tuition for the Master Sommelier program. Those sommeliers have been evangelists for Washington wines, which have always been emphasized on El Gaucho wine lists.
Because of his history of supporting Washington wines, Mackay is well-loved among members of the winemaking community. Chris Sparkman of Sparkman Cellars calls Mackay “above all, a very good man, one who embodies and perpetuates the classic goodness of the past (witness the Gaucho experience), and embraces and inspires the present (ever been to AQUA?) while stepping excitedly into the future.” And he just keps going: He has Malbec and Riesling planted in his yard in Walla Walla and a cafe/bakery in Dayton, Washington.
Coolest Wine Label
A visually impactful label that communicates an idea or theme.
Anna schafer was an art history major before jumping into her winemaking career at àMaurice Cellars in Walla Walla. And while that level of art education is not required to win Coolest Wine Label, it doesn’t hurt. There is, without question, a keen design eye behind the àMaurice labels, which begin with a simple template—the name of the winery in script, a short message about the wine and loads of white space—and then branch off in all sorts of fascinating directions.
The Artist Series (a flagship Bordeaux blend for àMaurice) honors a different Northwest artist each year, devoting the majority of the front label to a print by that artist. Wine labels on the àMaurice Estate Vineyard wines get special treatment as well. One example: The estate Syrah is named Fred, after the resident vineyard hummingbird who capably defends his adjacent honeysuckles. On the label, Fred appears as a hummingbird you might pick out on a Rorschach test; there are just enough ink smudges to suggest the tiny winged creature.
“Labels are a good way to tell the story of the wine,” says Schafer, “but what is inside the bottle is way more important.” In the case of àMaurice, we get the best of both worlds.
Best White Wines of the Year
Photographs by Hayley Young. From left Forgeron 2014 Chardonnay, Chateau Ste. Michelle 2015 Indian Wells Chardonnay, Côte Bonneville 2014 Chardonnay, Efeste 2015 Feral Sauvignon Blanc
White Wine of the Year
Chardonnay, $20–$35: Forgeron 2014 Chardonnay
Columbia Valley, $28
Before landing in Walla Walla, Marie-Eve Gilla studied at the University of Dijon and worked at several wineries in Burgundy (Chardonnay’s ancestral home). No surprise, then, that her Chardonnays for Forgeron Cellars consistently stand toe to toe with considerably pricier versions. This 2014 comes from six vineyards scattered across Washington, and it offers creamy peach and apricot fruit complemented by subtle, attractive notes of oak and earth. Pairs with: Chicken fricassee.
Chardonnay, $20 or less: Chateau Ste. Michelle 2015 Indian Wells Chardonnay
Columbia Valley, $18
This Chardonnay from Washington’s flagship winery comes from warm sites (predominantly on the Wahluke Slope) and from a warm vintage. The result is a ripe, delicious mouthful of tropical fruit (pineapple, mango), swaddled in oaky notes of butterscotch and toast. Pairs with: Broiled black cod.
Chardonnay, more than $35: Côte Bonneville 2014 Chardonnay
Yakima Valley, DuBrul Vineyard, $50
This is the second of impressive back-to-back wins in this category for Sunnyside-based Côte Bonneville and its wonderful estate vineyard, DuBrul. Winemaker Kerry Shiels (daughter of founders Hugh and Kathy Shiels) has crafted a dazzling Chardonnay, a marvel of verve and intensity. The mix of lemon-curd fruit, toasty brioche and earthy mineral tones is complex and inviting. Pairs with: Lemon-thyme roasted chicken.
Sauvignon Blanc, all prices: Efeste 2015 Feral Sauvignon Blanc
Ancient Lakes, Evergreen Vineyard, $20
Wines like this one, from Woodinville-based Peter Devison, underscore the argument that Evergreen Vineyard, in the Ancient Lakes AVA, is Washington’s finest site for white wines. The name Feral refers to the feral (wild) yeasts used during fermentation, and the result is a Sauvignon Blanc that hits just the right green notes, with grass and green papaya to balance grapefruit and mineral notes. Pairs with: Crab and green papaya salad.
Photographs by Hayley Young. From left Efeste 2014 Evergreen Riesling, Milbrandt 2014 Traditions Riesling
Dry Riesling: Efeste 2014 Evergreen Riesling
Ancient Lakes, Evergreen Vineyard, $20
Woodinville-based winemaker Peter Devison makes it two wins this year for white wines from Evergreen Vineyard (he also took home the Sauvignon Blanc prize). This site’s reputation has been built on Rieslings like this, which seduce with their bright acidity and chalky minerality. At just 0.8 percent residual sugar, this drinks quite dry, with a pinpoint mix of peach, tangerine and chamomile. Pairs with: Kung pao tofu.
Off-dry Riesling: Milbrandt 2014 Traditions Riesling
Columbia Valley, $13
While it isn’t indicated on the label, this Riesling also comes from Evergreen Vineyard in the Ancient Lakes AVA. The Mattawa-based Milbrandt brothers are partners in Evergreen, and their access to prime vineyard material shows in the Riesling. At 1.1 percent residual sugar, this is just off-dry, mixing green apple and lime fruit with this vineyard’s signature minerality. Pairs with: Vietnamese shaking beef.
Photographs by Hayley Young. From left Block Wines NV Extra Brut Pinot Noir Rosé, College Cellars of Walla Walla 2016 Rosé of Pinot Gris
Sparkling Wine, All Prices: Block Wines NV Extra Brut Pinot Noir Rosé
Washington State, Marchant Vineyard, $28
Block Wines is a project started by Full Pull Wines founder and (full disclosure) Seattle magazine wine writer Paul Zitarelli.* The name is a clever nod to Zitarelli’s obsession with small parcels of a vineyard (called blocks) and how grapes grown in different blocks can express the micro terroir so specifically. Sourced from Marchant Vineyard in the Yakima Valley, the Pinot Noir for this sparkling rosé comes from the Farmhouse Block, named for its proximity to the farmhouse in the vineyard. It’s bottled in clear glass, as opposed to the darker green vessel used for most bubbly, to showcase the wine’s beautiful, delicate pink hue. For his sparkling wines, Zitarelli has partnered with Christian and Juergen Grieb of Treveri Cellars, known in Washington state for their sparkling wines (he works with Morgan Lee of Two Vintners to craft his other wines). Together, they’ve styled this wine as an extra brut, meaning it’s even drier than a standard brut, coming in at just 5 grams per liter of residual sugar. This bubbly, finished in 2016, offers soft flavors of strawberries, hints of freshly baked brioche bread and an essence of cherry blossoms. Pairs with: Salmon gravlax. —Y.S.
Rose, all prices: College Cellars of Walla Walla 2016 Rosé of Pinot Gris
Columbia Valley, Reed Vineyard, $16
College Cellars is the teaching winery attached to Walla Walla Community College’s Center for Enology and Viticulture. Apparently, the class of 2018 is a precocious one, because its 2016 rosé bested those from several active winemakers to take home this year’s prize. Pinot Gris has just enough pink skin pigment to make rosé, and this one mixes peach and melon fruit with lovely floral top notes. It’s a refreshing (12.6 percent alcohol) pink for summertime. pairs with: Hazelnut-crusted pork tenderloin.
Sparkling Wine Hall of Fame Award: Domaine Ste. Michelle NV Brut Méthode Champenoise
Columbia Valley, $13
Domaine Ste. Michelle NV Brut Rosé Méthode Champenoise
Columbia Valley, $13
Best Red Wines of the Year
Photographs by Hayley Young. From left B. Leighton 2014 Syrah, Two Vintners 2014 Syrah, Kerloo 2014 Syrah, Chateau Ste. Michelle 2014 Indian Wells Merlot, Two Vintners 2013 Merlot
Red Wine of the Year
Syrah, more than $40: B. Leighton 2014 Syrah
Yakima Valley, Olsen Brothers Vineyard, $45
This is only the third vintage for Seattle-based Brennon Leighton’s own label (he is also Charles Smith’s director of winemaking), but his relationship with grower Leif Olsen goes back years, and that comfort level is on display in this breathtaking Syrah, which somehow conveys intensity and freshness in one package. Mixed berries, smoked meats and wild herbs form the core of a complex, delicious effort, a worthy Red Wine of the Year. Pairs with: Braised lamb shanks with cannellini beans.
Syrah, $25 or less: Two Vintners 2014 Syrah
Columbia Valley, $21
Morgan Lee makes it back-to-back years winning two categories (he also took home this year’s prize for Merlot, more than $25), quite an achievement in a blind, multi-judge setting. His Columbia Valley Syrah (which was one of his winners last year as well) comes from sites scattered across Washington, and it successfully melds the two styles our state does best—fruity and earthy—in a plush, openly delicious package. Pairs with: A pork-laden charcuterie plate.
Syrah, $25–$40: Kerloo 2014 Syrah
Walla Walla Valley, Les Collines Vineyard, $40
Seattle-based Ryan Crane has been making a single-vineyard Syrah from Les Collines since he launched Kerloo Cellars in 2009, and the wines just seem to keep getting better, culminating with this honor. Crane has always had a knack with this vineyard, an ability to bring out its Syrah’s most expressive, perfumed, savory side. Those savories—mushrooms, charcuterie—are the perfect foil to a core of marionberry fruit. Pairs with: Polenta with garlicky wild mushrooms.
Merlot, $25 or less: Chateau Ste. Michelle 2014 Indian Wells Merlot
Columbia Valley, $18
This makes it two wins this year for the Chateau’s Indian Wells label (it took home the prize in the category of Chardonnay, $20 or less as well). Like the Chardonnay, this Merlot (with 14 percent Syrah) comes predominantly from warm Wahluke Slope sites. It was aged in about 50 percent new oak (French and American), which adds warming spice notes to a core of jammy black cherry fruit. Pairs with: Seared duck breast with cherry gastrique.
Merlot, more than $25: Two Vintners 2013 Merlot
Columbia Valley, $32
Woodinville-based Morgan Lee was named Winemaker to Watch in last year’s version of these awards, and that honor is confirmed by this beautiful Merlot, the backbone of which comes from the outstanding Pepper Bridge Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley. It’s noteworthy for its tannic structure, which adds finishing chew and espressoey goodness to a wine replete with smoke-inflected black fruit. Pairs with: A grass-fed New York strip steak.
Photographs by Hayley Young. From left Ross Andrew 2015 Glaze Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Vintners 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Betz 2014 Pere de Famille Cabernet Sauvignon, Tamarack 2015 Firehouse Red Blend
Cabernet Sauvignon, $30 or less: Ross Andrew 2015 Glaze Cabernet Sauvignon
Columbia Valley, $15
Woodinville-based Ross Mickel produces a terrifically valued Cab (blended with 20 percent Merlot) called Glaze each year. It’s always a lovely mid-weight, offering just enough oomph and structure to balance its juicy, acid-driven fruit. Aromas are classic Cabernet: cassis and earth and leaf. Pairs with: Wine-braised oxtails.
Cabernet Sauvignon, $30–$65: Walla Walla Vintners 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon
Walla Walla Valley, $42
This Cabernet (86 percent of the blend, which also includes small amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot) comes from seven different vineyards scattered across the Walla Walla Valley, a testament to owner Gordy Venneri’s deep roots in the valley. Blackberry and black currant fruits are swaddled in warming barrel tones of cocoa and cinnamon. The toothsome finish is long and satisfying. Pairs with: Slow-cooker short ribs.
Cabernet Sauvignon, more than $65: Betz 2014 Pere de Famille Cabernet Sauvignon
Columbia Valley, $75
Winemakers Bob Betz and Louis Skinner have produced another dazzling vintage of Pere de Famille, the flagship Cabernet for Woodinville-based Betz Family Winery. The wine (which includes small amounts of Merlot and Petit Verdot) was aged in 100 percent new French oak, and it includes a number of attractive aromatic subtleties—rosemary, cedar, earth—to complement a core of black currant fruit. This one is structured for the long haul, with beautiful robust tannins. Pairs with: Steak au poivre.
Red Blend, $20 or less: Tamarack 2015 Firehouse Red Blend
Columbia Valley, $16
Walla Walla–based Ron Coleman and Danny Gordon have impressive back-to-back wins in this category for their Firehouse Red. Always a kitchen-sink blend, always an excellent value, for 2015 it is composed of a full nine varieties, with Cabernet Sauvignon leading the way at 30 percent. Rich, supple and openly delicious, the 2015 Firehouse combines cherry and blackberry fruit with notes of earthy black coffee. Pairs with: Meatloaf and mashed potatoes.
Photographs by Hayley Young. From left Mark Ryan 2014 Numbskull Bordeaux Red, Long Shadows 2013 Chester-Kidder Red Blend, Kevin White 2015 Rhône Red, W.T. Vintners 2014 Rhône Red
Red Blend, $20–$40: Mark Ryan 2014 Numbskull Bordeaux Red
Walla Walla Valley, $38
The winner of last year’s Coolest Label category shows that the juice inside the bottle is just as cool. From a trio of Walla Walla Valley vineyards (XL, Anna Marie, McClellan), this blend is predominantly Merlot (69 percent), rounded out with 28 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 3 percent Petit Verdot. It displays the power and tannic chew of good Washington Merlot, and a lovely mix of black cherry fruit, toast and cacao-rich chocolate. Pairs with: Barbecued baby back pork ribs.
Red Blend, more than $40: Long Shadows 2013 Chester-Kidder Red Blend
Columbia Valley, $55
All but one of the wines Gilles Nicault (our 2016 Winemaker of the Year) produces for Long Shadows are in collaboration with a winemaker from someplace outside of Washington. The one exception is Chester-Kidder, which is all Gilles. The blend is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon (58 percent) and Syrah (34 percent), with small amounts of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Anticipate cassis, red plum and fresh herb notes, all framed by classy, polished tannins. Pairs with: Carne asada tacos.
Rhône Blend, $25 or less: Kevin White 2015 Rhône Red
Yakima Valley, $18
Woodinville-based Kevin White has been generating huge amounts of buzz over the past few years, mostly for his Rhône blends. This is his entry-level red, and it is a combination of 44 percent Syrah, 31 percent Grenache and 25 percent Mourvèdre. There is a real sense of textural elegance to the notes of blackberry fruit, berry flower blossoms, and threads of olive and mineral. Pairs with: Garlicky sausages over white beans.
Rhone Blend, more than $25: W.T. Vintners 2014 Rhône Red
Walla Walla Valley, Stoney Vine Vineyard, $35
This year’s Best Emerging Winery takes home another honor for Woodinville-based Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen, who splits time between W.T. and his sommelier gig at Seattle’s RN74. This blend is 57 percent Syrah, 40 percent Grenache and 3 percent Mourvèdre; the savory-earthy notes inherent to Stoney Vine Vineyard come to the fore quickly, offering meat and olive and brackish seaweed notes to complement huckleberry fruit. Pairs with: An olive-laden lamb tagine.