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© 2003 by Randy Buckner
May 24, 2003

Washington Wine Country: A force to be reckoned with

Overview

View from White Heron
The view from White Heron.
Washington residents are privileged to enjoy some of the most pastoral backdrops in the entire world. Ranging from the craggy ocean shores to glacier-cut mountains to fertile valleys ripe with vineyards, Washington is truly a land of splendor and diversity.

Washington has a number of macroclimates which provide ideal conditions to grow wine grapes. Washington ranks second only to California in the nation's wine production. The $2.4 billion industry is producing world class wines from the 28,000 acres of grapes currently in production.

The Washington wine community is vibrant and definitely on the rise. In 1981 there were only 19 wineries in the state; now more than 240 wineries call Washington home. Plantings of wine grapes have tripled in the past nine years alone!

The vast majority of vinifera grapes are planted east of the Cascade Mountain Range, with only 60 acres planted west of the mountains. The Cascades create a rainshadow, dividing Washington into two very distinct regions. The arid region of eastern Washington receives an average rainfall of eight inches per year, whereas western Washington receives approximately 48 inches per year.

The dry desert settings in the east give rise to sunny days and cool nights, providing wine grapes with intense fruit flavors and naturally high acidity. The northerly latitude, similar to that of France, provides an average of 17.4 sun hours per day during the growing season, almost two hours longer than California's prime growing regions. This allows the fruit to fully ripen, creating the rich, lush wines that Washington is becoming famous for.

Preston AVAs

Washington has five American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) as recognized and defined by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), formerly known as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (BATF).

Columbia Valley

The Columbia Valley is by far the largest appellation in the state, covering over eleven million acres, 16,000 acres of which are planted in vinifera grapes. The appellation is huge (185 miles wide and 200 miles long), covering one-third of the state and encompassing the Yakima, Walla Walla and Red Mountain appellations. Roughly 99 percent of the state's wine grapes are grown within this region, with irrigation supplied by parts of three rivers - the Columbia River, the Snake River and the Yakima River.

Yakima Valley

The Yakima Valley Appellation, established in 1983, lies within the larger Columbia Valley Appellation and contains approximately 11,000 acres of wine grapes. This is Washington's first official AVA. The Yakima Valley includes the Red Mountain region, which now has its own appellation. Three noteworthy Yakima vineyards are the Boushey "Grande Côte" Vineyard, the Elerding Vineyard, and Red Willow Vineyard. Interstate 82 provides ready access for tourists to visit the forty regional wineries. You'll enjoy the views of the many apple orchards and hop fields intermixed with the vineyards throughout the valley.

Red Mountain Red Mountain

Red Mountain is the state's newest and smallest appellation, totaling 4,040 acres, of which 650 acres are currently planted in wine grapes. Further plantings may be a challenge due to problems with establishing water use rights. Hopefully legislation currently on the table will resolve this issue. Established in 2001, Red Mountain is the warmest sub-region of the Yakima Valley Appellation, sitting on a southwest-facing slope. The gravelly soil has high calcium carbonate content and high pH, providing distinct flavors to the grapes. Two prominent vineyards include the 80-acre Ciel du Cheval Vineyard and the 120-acre Klipsun Vineyard. Red Mountain grapes are in very high demand, as their premium prices attest, and are known for the complex red wines that they produce.

Walla Walla Valley

The Walla Walla appellation also lies within the larger Columbia Valley appellation. The Walla Walla Valley is pretty remote. Located in the far southeastern corner of the state, the valley crosses over the border into the northeast corner of Oregon. When I first visited this region, there were four wineries. At last count 40 wineries now call Walla Walla home. Vineyard plantings and wineries in the area seem to be growing exponentially. More and more wineries are establishing themselves south of town. This region may ultimately set the standard for Washington Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Three distinguished vineyards in the area are Windrow Vineyards and the adjoining Seven Hills Vineyard, which sit at the southern end of the Walla Walla Valley Appellation, and Pepper Bridge Vineyard.

Puget Sound Valley

The Puget Sound appellation was established in 1995. Located in western Washington, the area encompasses the islands and land adjoining the waters of the Puget Sound and extends east to the Cascade foothills. This appellation receives the most rainfall of any Washington wine region. Only a few wineries actually make wine from locally grown grapes. Most of the operations truck in grapes from eastern Washington vineyards during the cool fall nights. One notable grape that is grown locally is Madeleine Angevine, a French hybrid from the Loire Valley, but developed in Germany. Other regionally grown grapes include Chasselas, Island Belle, Müller Thurgau, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Siegerrebe.

The wines

Washington's diverse macroclimates allow a variety of wine grapes to reach their peak of expression. Red wine varieties lead the way, comprising 57 percent of the total harvest. The most popular grape varieties by tonnage are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Lemberger and Sangiovese. Leading white wine varieties include Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Viognier.

Cabernet Sauvignon is considered by many to reign supreme among Washington red wine grapes. The fruit produces richly structured, complex wines that need several years of patient aging to really strut their stuff. The wine is frequently described as having flavors of black currants, cherries, and blackberries, with nuances of chocolate, leather, tobacco, cedar and mint.

Merlot reaches the pinnacle of perfection in Washington. Merlot is grown worldwide, but Washington vineyards have the enviable ability to produce grapes with both crisp acidity and rich flavors. These wines are often full-bodied, requiring several years in the cellar to reach their peak. Washington Merlot is widely recognized for its sweet black cherry fruit and complex nuances of mint, spice and tobacco leaf.

Syrah, the grape that the Northern Rhone of France has made famous, excels in Washington as well. The wines are full, rich, and very fruity, often with gamey/smoked meat flavors and white pepper nuances. "The future of this grape and other Rhone varieties in Washington are limitless," according to Doug McCrea, McCrea Cellars. He has planted Destiny Ridge Vineyard with Syrah, Grenache, Viognier, & Marsanne, all Rhone varieties, in collaboration with the Mercer family and Jarrad Boyle, an extremely talented young grower.

Walla Walla Vineyards
Walla Walla Vineyards

Chardonnay is Washington's most widely planted grape. The wine varies dramatically by the winemaker. Overoaking has been a problem, as in many parts of the world, inhibiting the terrific apple, pear and peach fruit that the grape is known for. Fortunately this has been improving of late.

Riesling ranks second for white wine grapes planted in Washington. It has yet to obtain the heights to which I believe it is capable. It finishes a distant second to its Alsace and German cousins. Very few Washington Rieslings have peaked my interest. Eroica, an off-dry Riesling made in the style of Germany's Mosel Valley, is a joint project of German winemaker Ernst Loosen and Chateau Ste. Michelle white winemaker Erik Olsen. It is worth checking out.

Washington's number three white wine grape happens to be my personal favorite. Sauvignon Blanc is very much at the mercy of the winemaker. The wine can range from a soft, overoaked mess, to a crisp, food-friendly wine. This grape holds a lot of promise for Washington if they concentrate on the latter. The citrus and grassy flavors are a perfect match for Pacific Northwest seafood, excluding salmon which pairs better with Pinot Noir.

Wine ratings

Well over 200 wines were reviewed for this article. Tasting notes are provided for the 206 wines that scored 80 points or higher. Washington is turning out wines as good as or better than any in the New World, most notably in the upper-end reds. There is still room for improvement, which I believe we will see in the coming years.

White wines $15 or less (by score)

We can all pretty much agree that quality red wines under $15 can be difficult to locate. But surely there must be a host of creditable white wines to purchase in this price range, right? Wrong.

Terra Blanca wine cave
Terra Blanca wine cave

There are plenty of cheap white wines on the shelf, but do you really want to drink one with dinner? More often than not these wines are used as cash cows. They are cheaply made (often referred to as plonk) with a quick turnaround time from fermentation to the market. This provides the winery with ready capital to apply to their more serious wines. This may be the fate of today's economics, but I'll leave the bovine wine in place and grab another bottle.

Inexpensive white wine can be produced that delivers proper varietal character, balance, and purity of fruit. All one has to do is take a look at Europe and New Zealand. Italian Pinot Grigio and Moscato, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, French Loire Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc, German Riesling, Alsatian Pinot Blanc and Gewurztraminer, and Spanish Albariño are all dandy examples in our price category.

It may seem that I'm a Europhile when it comes to wine, but I'm not. I am an advocate of American wines as my cellar attests; however I cannot support bad winemaking practices. More often than I care to recall, I have encountered wines that show no resemblance to the grape variety. The wines have low acidity, giving a flabby mouth feel. Oak dominates the flavor profile, burying the fruit under a hopeless amount of wood that only a beaver can appreciate. As if this were not enough, residual sugar is frequently left in the wine at threshold levels (0.5 percent-0.7 percent in most people). This gives a false impression of sweet fruit flavors.

With all of this in mind, I set out to find those Washington wineries who are not following herd mentality and are providing honest wine values to the consumer. I think that you will be pleased with a few of the following examples.

2001 Columbia Winery, Cellarmaster's Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington, $7. Excellent aromas of honeysuckle, apricots and honey entice the nose. Apricots come through on the palate, but the soft acidity does not carry the 5.6 percent residual sugar well. 80/80.

2000 Maryhill, Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington, $13. Light gold with aromas of green apples and toasty oak. Smoky barrel flavors dominate the palate. Green apples fight to be recognized. 80/80.

2001 Chateau Ste. Michelle, Pinot Gris, Columbia Valley, Washington, $13. A delightful nose of honeydew melons, tangerines and Bartlett pears does not deliver as much as the nose promises. Well-balanced but light, with a short finish. 81/81.

2002 Columbia Winery, Cellarmaster's Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington, $8, 65,000 cases. Aromas of peaches, honeysuckle and green apples are up front. I'd like to see more acidity to balance the 6.15 percent residual sugar. While straightforward, the wine should drink well with a fruit plate on the deck. 81/81.

NV Domaine Ste. Michelle, Cuvée Brut, Columbia Valley, Washington, $10. The nose speaks of green apples and toast. Off-dry at 1.05 percent, the wine has nice zip. Simple but proper, there's plenty of green apple and pineapple fruit. 81/81.

2001 Preston, Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, Washington, $8. The wine was aged in new barrels. The spicy oak and cinnamon overwhelms the underlying crisp citrus fruit. 81/82.

2001 Snoqualmie, Chenin Blanc, Columbia Valley, Washington, $7. This light gold wine displays aromas of apricots and lemon zest. Off-dry, with apricot fruit, the mouth feel is soft, the wine somewhat simple. 81/82.

2000 Covey Run, Chenin Blanc, Washington State, $7, 5,982 cases. There is 11 percent Muscat blended in, which is reflected in the nose. Floral, lemony and spicy, this wine is made with early consumption in mind. Serve chilled with a delicate cheese. 82/82.

2000 Arbor Crest, Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, Washington, $10, 5,000 cases. Blended with 20 percent Semillon. The nose is characterized by pineapple, while citrus, melon and fig notes unfold on the palate. 82/83.

2001 Hogue, Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington, $10. 82/83. Medium-bodied with moderate acidity. Pears, apples, vanilla and butter repeat on the palate, with additional spicy oak notes. 82/83.

2001 Columbia Winery, Pinot Gris, Yakima Valley, Washington, $10. This pale straw, light-bodied wine has modest acidity, with peaches, melon, and citrus notes carrying from the nose to the palate. 83/84.

NV Domaine Ste. Michelle, Blanc de Blanc, Columbia Valley, Washington, $10. Pleasantly tart, with 0.95 percent residual sugar. Ripe green apples and peaches underscore this crowd pleasing sparkler. 83/84.

2001 Preston, Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington, $10. Light gold in the glass, with aromas of fresh sliced apples, vanilla and toast. Apples and oak barrel notes prevail on the palate, with a brisk finish. 83/84.

View from Tapteil Vineyard
View from Tapteil Vineyard
2000 Snoqualmie, Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington, $10. 83/84. Light to medium-bodied, with tropical fruit, citrus and caramel highlights. The flavors are augmented by pears, pineapple and spice. 83/84.

2001 Tagaris, Johannisberg Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington, $9, 800 cases. Straw gold in color, with aromas of grape jelly and slate. Straightforward and soft, honeydew melon and floral nuances highlight this Riesling. 83/84.

2001 Snoqualmie, Semillon Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington, $7. Light-bodied and simple, but crisp and tasty. Figs, green apples and citrus delineate the flavor profile. 83/85.

2001 Covey Run, Morio Muskat, Yakima Valley, Washington, $7, 2,400 cases. Gold with a green tinge, the wine is very aromatic, with lots of peaches, honeysuckle and lychee notes. Off-dry at 1.95 percent residual sugar. While straightforward, this is a fun quaff with a wild grapiness. This should pair well with aged cheese or Asian food. 84/84.

2001 Columbia Crest, Chardonnay, Grand Estates, Columbia Valley, Washington, $11. Medium-bodied and well-structured, but heavy on the oak. The nose displays aromas of apples, coconut, spice, and mixed oak flavors. The immediate taste impression is of spicy oak and coconut, followed by caramel and apples. 84/85.

2000 Covey Run, Fume Blanc, Washington State, $9, 25,300 cases. The nose is a pleasing mixture of gooseberries, hay, herbs and Key limes. Light-bodied with similar flavors, the crispness makes this one very food-friendly. 84/85.

NV Eaton Hill, Sweet Bisbee, Washington, $10. This is a fun blend of grape wine and estate grown apple juice. Deep gold, with notes of apples and apricots, the wine is soft, sweet and light in the mouth. Serve well chilled with picnic fare. 84/84.

2001 Gold Digger, Gewurztraminer, Okanogan Valley, Washington, $14, 260 cases. Showing the characteristic aromas and flavors of lychee and grapefruit, this delicate wine is well-balanced, with an ever so slight sense of sweetness. 84/84.

2001 Three Rivers, Gewurztraminer, Late Harvest, Biscuit Ridge Vineyard, Walla Walla, Washington, $12 (375ml). Luscious grapefruit and Lychee fruit abounds on the nose, with hints of honey comb. Honeysuckle and Ruby Red grapefruit unfold on the palate, with moderate sweetness (7.7 percent RS). Of medium intensity, the wine is soft. With more acidity this would be a stunner. 84/84.

2002 Hogue, Gewurztraminer, Columbia Valley, Washington, $9, 7,675 cases. The nose is initially reticent but finally yields grapefruit and apricot aromas with a little coaxing. Light, soft, with 2 percent residual sugar, the flavors mirror the nose. 84/85.

2002 Kiona, Dry White Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington, $8. Straightforward and made in a light style, the floral and peach notes hold some interest. Despite the name there is slight residual sugar. 84/85.

2001 Bookwalter, Chenin Blanc, Ciel du Cheval Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Washington, $10. The nose is filled with peaches, apricots and citrus peel. While quite sweet, the wine is not at all cloying. Peaches and almonds linger on the finish. 85/85.

2001 Gold Digger, Chardonnay, Okanogan Valley, Washington, $15, 850 cases. Yellow delicious apples, mango, vanilla and butterscotch intermingle on the nose. Creamy but maintaining nice acidity, flavors echo the nose, with a dash of almond for added complexity. 85/85.

2001 Eaton Hill, Semillon, Fairacre Farms Vineyard, Yakima Valley, Washington, $10. Light to medium-bodied, this crisp new release gives off aromas and flavors of lemon zest and fresh figs. Match with your favorite shellfish. 85/86.

2001 Fox Estate, Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington, $10, 1000 cases. Freshly sliced apples and apricots delight the nose, while apricots dominate the flavor profile. With 3.8 percent residual sugar, the wine could use a tad more acidity to balance out the sweetness. 85/86.

2000 Covey Run, Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington State, $9, 80,000 cases. A tree load of pears takes the nose for a lovely ride. Creamy in texture, the green apple, pear and vanilla flavors combine to make a pretty tasty wine for the less than ten dollar price class. 85/87.

2002 Claar, Johannisberg Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington, $9. Lots of grapefruit, honeysuckle and lychee notes greet the nose. While I'd like to see more acidity, the wine is refreshing and fruity, and just right for those summer deck parties. 2 percent residual sugar. 86/88.

2000 Seth Ryan, Gewurztraminer, Red Mountain, Washington, $8. You'll find a typical nose of lychee fruit in this off-dry wine (1 percent residual sugar). Loads of fruit flavors are supported by nice acidity for this grape. Think Thai food. 86/88.

2000 Seth Ryan, Riesling, Red Mountain, Washington, $7. Made in an off-dry style at 1.6 percent residual sugar, this is a steal at seven bucks. There are plenty floral notes, minerals, and slate to hold your interest. Quite crisp, this is a perfect match for Thai salad. 86/88.

Red Mountain
Red Mountain
2002 Bookwalter, Johannisberg Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington, $10. Apples, honeysuckle and apricots rule the nose. Sweet, with very juicy flavors of mango, citrus and honeysuckle that is enjoyable. This is a nice match for a fruit and cheese plate. 87/87.

2001 Silver Lake, Fume Blanc, Columbia Valley, Washington, $10, 1,875 cases. Nice acidity heralds in the lovely nectarine, grapefruit and orange peel aromas and flavors. Oak is noticeable, but is not a predominant player. Tasty. 87/88.

2002 Hogue, Johannisberg Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington, $9, 75,400 cases. Hogue got it right with this wine. Off-dry at 1.8 percent residual sugar, the wine has plenty of acidity to make it work. Tasty tangerine and apricot flavors provide plenty of enjoyment. 87/89.

2002 Hogue, White Riesling, Late Harvest, Columbia Valley, Washington, $10, 40,250 cases. The color is reminiscent of wheat straw. Sweet and crisp, with plenty of citrus fruit and apricots, this one begs for a fruit and cheese plate. 4.4 percent residual sugar. 87/89.

2001 Hogue, Viognier, Genesis, Columbia Valley, Washington, 122 cases, $13. Too bad more of this wine was not produced. Run, don't walk to your local wine shop and request this wine. Straw gold in color, this Viognier delivers classic aromas of peaches and honeysuckle, augmented by delicate vanilla notes. Delightfully crisp, the flavors resound on the lengthy aftertaste. Very good value. 87/90.

2001 White Heron, Chardonnay, Frenchman Hill, Columbia Valley, Washington, $10. Straw in color, the wine exudes aromas of apples and pears. Crisp and clean, the wine is very fruity, unburdened by layers of obscuring oak. Delightful. 87/90.

2002 Ridgefield, Pinot Gris, Red Mountain, Washington, $9. Produced by Sandhill Winery and named after the owner's town of residence. Very fruity on the nose and palate, with white peaches upfront and a crisp finish. This will make a nice summer sipper. 88/90.

2001 Waterbrook, Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington, $10, 17,133 cases. Pleasantly crisp, without a heavy oak burden, this Chardonnay exudes aromas and flavors of casaba melons, white peaches, and citrus. Well-balanced with a creamy mouth feel, the wine finishes on a refreshing note. 88/90.

2002 Claar, Johannisberg Riesling, Late Harvest, Columbia Valley, Washington, $13.50. Quite sweet at 8.5 percent residual sugar, the wine is not cloying; however more acidity would make this a killer wine. Exuding flavors of peaches and pears, the wine is a real winner for a 750 ml in this price class. 88/90.

2002 Thurston Wolfe, PGV, Columbia Valley, Washington, $13.50, 530 cases. A delightful straw color with a peach tinge. The nose is an enchanting mix of mandarin oranges, peaches, and floral notes. Light to medium-bodied, delicate and delightful. I wish that more of these blends enhancing the individual grapes were made. 89/90.

White wines greater than $15 (by score)

The same commentary on white wines less than $15 is applicable here as well, especially when it comes to overoaking of reserve styled wines. Keep your eyes on the Rhone varietal wines starting to appear on the market. I believe that these wines have a terrific future in Washington, especially as the vines gain age and winemakers perfect their style.

1999 Eaton Hill, Ambrosia (Muscat Canelli), Yakima Valley, Washington, $20. Light gold in color with hot orange and floral aromas and flavors without a lot of depth. The wine finishes on a crisp note. 82/82.

2000 Maryhill, Chardonnay, Barrel Select, Columbia Valley, Washington, $16. Very creamy and mellow, with green apples, a healthy dose of oak, caramel, and butterscotch unfolding on the senses. 82/83.

2000 Paradisos del Sol, Gerty del Sol, Yakima Valley, Washington, $18, 70 cases. This dry white is dominated by straightforward aromas and flavors of grapefruit and lychee fruit. Medium-bodied, there is plenty of acidity here to be food-friendly. 84/83.

2000 Silver Lake, Chardonnay, Reserve, Columbia Valley, Washington, $16, 588 cases. Straw in color, the wine gives off aromas of green apple, pineapple and French oak. Creamy and buttery, the flavors show, citrus, apple and barrel influence. 84/84.

NV Eaton Hill, Malvasia d'Oro, American, $16. Grapefruit and honeycomb highlight the nose of this dark gold wine. Flavors reminiscent of Muscadine grapes and juniper berries meld with the sweet fruit flavors. 84/85.

2000 Columbia Winery, Chardonnay, Wyckoff Vineyard, Yakima Valley, Washington, $19. Medium-bodied and crisp, the aromas and flavors are characterized by toasted nuts, oak, oak spice and yellow delicious apples. 85/85.

2002 Cougar Crest, Viognier, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $18, 390 cases. A lovely sparkling gold color catches the eye. Pear, citrus, and floral aromas are noted as well on the palate, finishing on a crisp note. 85/85.

Puget Sound View from Hoodsport Winery
Puget Sound View from Hoodsport Winery
2001 L'Ecole, Semillon, Seven Hills Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $20, 574 cases. Light gold in the glass, this is a soft, creamy, balanced wine. Crushed figs and a hint of peaches on the nose open to flavors of figs, toast, vanilla and spice. 85/85.

2000 Hogue, Chardonnay, Reserve, Columbia Valley, Washington, $24, 250 cases. Tropical fruit, vanilla, toast and coconut abound on the nose. Creamy, spicy, buttery, with plenty of oak, this one begs for Dungeness crab with drawn butter. Will score more if the oak ever tames down. 85+/85.

2001 McCrea, Chardonnay, Yakima Valley, Washington, $30, 142 cases. Creamy and soft, the pear, smoke and spice aromas intermingle with flavors of pineapple, coconut, allspice and lots of nutty notes. 86/85.

2001 Paradisos del Sol, Riesling, Yakima Valley, Washington, $18, 412 cases. Apricots underscore the nose of this crisp, off-dry, medium-bodied wine. Very food-friendly, with lots of lemon and peach flavors to provide interest. 86/85.

2001 Canoe Ridge, Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington, $19, 3,475 cases. Brilliant gold coloration. Aromas of tropical fruit are upfront, with a French oak underpinning. Rich on the entry, with pears, creamy butterscotch and clove spice carrying all the way through the long finish. 86/86.

2001 Covey Run, Riesling, Ice Wine, Washington State, $21, 1,582 cases. This is a dessert unto itself with the syrupy 28 percent residual sugar. Aromas of botrytis, honey, and apricots are quite concentrated. Intensely fruity, the honey and candied apricots linger on the palate. 86/86.

2001 Zefina, Viognier, Columbia Valley, Washington, $20, 175 cases. The wine is very floral, with apricot overtones. Medium-bodied, with apricot and citrus fruit, this wine would be a killer with a bit more acidity. 86/86.

1999 Columbia Winery, Chardonnay, Otis Vineyard, Yakima Valley, Washington, $24. The nose is filled with aromas of butterscotch, vanilla, apples and cashews, which carry over to the palate. Full-bodied, creamy, with a long, smooth finish. Nice if you like this oaky style. 87/87.

2001 Eroica, Riesling, Columbia Valley, Washington, $20, 10,000 cases. I tried a bottle of this a few months ago and rated it higher - bottle variation? Closed down? Off-dry, the acidity of this wine is more than adequate for the challenge. Medium-bodied, this Riesling speaks of peaches, green apples, citrus zest and minerals. 87/87.

2001 Kestrel, Viognier, Yakima Valley, Washington, $20, 247 cases. Quite viscous, with a slight leesy note, the wine delivers pineapples, peaches, and apricots across the senses, finishing on a soft note. 87/87.

2000 Novelty Hill, Sauvignon Blanc, Klipsun Vineyard, Red Mountain, Washington, $19, 330 cases. Barrel fermented in 100 percent French oak. Citrus, pineapple, and grassy aromas repeat in the mouth. Medium-bodied, the wine has nice acidity, finishing with a bit of oak spice. 87/87.

2001 Zefina, Rousanne, Columbia Valley, Washington, $20, 350 cases. Citrus, white peach and floral notes leap from the glass. Flavors are difficult to describe, falling somewhere between caramel apples and pears. The very brisk acidity begs for shellfish. 87/87.

1999 Kestrel, Chardonnay, Estate, Yakima Valley, Washington, $20. Pears, toasty oak and figs radiate from this light gold wine. A mélange of flavors unfold, ranging from vanilla custard and hazelnuts to pears and orange zest. Interesting. 87/88.

2001 L'Ecole, Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington, $20, 2,528 cases. Fruity and buttery, the pears, peaches, vanilla and toasty notes are displayed across the senses. Well-balanced, with a long aftertaste, the moderate acidity ties it all together. 87/88.

2001 Columbia Winery, Viognier, Red Willow Vineyard, Yakima Valley, Washington, $40. This straw colored wine has a pleasant light peach tinge and a delightful nose of flowers, ripe peaches and mandarin oranges. The mouth feel is full and round, with firm acids. Columbia has made a nice Viognier here, but is out of step with the pricing. 88/86.

2001 Buty, Chardonnay, Roza Bergé Vineyard, Yakima Valley, Washington, $25, 222 cases. Pears, tropical fruit and vanilla notes stress the aromas of this new release. With a silky mouth feel and impeccable balance, this wine is more buttery and less acidic than its Conner Lee Vineyard cousin. 88/88.

L'Ecole No. 41
L'Ecole No. 41
2002 Isenhower, Dragonfly, Columbia Valley, Washington, $18, 200 cases. This is an interesting blend of Viognier and Rousanne. Tropical fruit and orange zest highlights the wine, with nice structure. Seeing only stainless steel, the bracing acidity makes this a no-brainer for Asian foods. 88/88.

2001 Three Rivers, White Wine, Meritage, Columbia Valley, Washington, $22. 70 percent Sauvignon Blanc and 30 percent Semillon. While barrel fermented in French oak, the wood is certainly not overwhelming ands adds character to this wine. Rich and creamy, there is plenty of tropical fruit and figs to go around, with subtle nuances of cut grass and French vanilla. 88/88.

2001 DeLille, Chaleur Estate Blanc, Columbia Valley, Washington, $29, 850 cases. 57 percent Sauvignon Blanc and 43 percent Semillon. Light gold, with figs, toast and buttery aromas. Elegant, balanced, with figs, butterscotch, smoky oak and doughy notes playing out on the palate. 89/89.

2001 Waterbrook, Viognier, Columbia Valley, Washington, $20, 603 cases. Aromas of citrus, honeysuckle and melon carry over to the palate, with a nice dose of minerality. Well-balanced, this medium-bodied wine finishes on a crisp note. 89/90.

2001 Rulo, Chardonnay, Vanessa Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $20, 325 cases. Another fine Chardonnay from this relatively new producer. Driven by tropical fruit, pears and melons, the acidity is invigorating, as is the ability to taste fruit instead of layers of wood. 90/91.

2002 Whitman Cellars, Viognier, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $18, 198 cases. With a tad too much wood for my oak sensitive palate, this is a very nice wine nevertheless. Floral scents blend with peach, apricot and toasty oak notes. Medium-bodied, with layered fruit, the wine has a brisk, refreshing finish. 90/91.

2001 Buty, Chardonnay, Conner Lee Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Washington, $25, 124 cases. Pears and vanilla underscore the nose of this light gold Chardonnay. Nicely balanced, with the acidity, pear and citrus fruit, and oak all working in harmony. Kudos go out for keeping the oak in the background where it belongs. 91/92.

2001 Rulo, Chardonnay, Sundance Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Washington, $20, 460 cases. Here is a Chardonnay that is easy to warm up to. Nicely balanced, without a heavy burden of oak, the wine is lean with racy acidity. Stone fruit and minerals dominate the palate, with a dab of smoky oak on the finish. 91/92.

2002 Rulo, Viognier, Columbia Valley, Washington, $18, 770 cases. Typical of the grape, this wine is very aromatic, with lots of honeysuckle and citrus. Stone fruit and citrus unfolds in the mouth, with lots of minerality on the protracted finish. 91/92.

1999 Kestrel, Chardonnay, Ice Wine, Yakima Valley, Washington, $40, 353 cases. A whopping 29.7 percent residual sugar makes this a dessert unto itself. More often than not these wines are cloying, but Kestrel rolled a strike with the acidity here. Intense peach and honey notes are augmented by pear extract in a thick, viscous package. A delicious wine. 92/92.

2001 McCrea, Viognier, Yakima Valley, Washington, $22, 341 cases. This light gold beauty has an enticing bouquet that is filled with lychee, lemon, pineapple and apricot scents that float on the nose then expand out over the palate. There is a lot of depth and character to this wine and contains fruit from both Ciel du Cheval Vineyard and Elerding Vineyard. 92/93.

Red wines $15 or less (by score)

What red wine do you choose for everyday drinking? You've tried low-cost bottles only to find them disappointing or ordinary at best. Unfortunately, there are far too many manipulated or "industrial" wines showing up on the market. These dilute, dreary products drive people away from wine rather than capturing their interest, giving rise to further exploration.

Inexpensive, appealing red wines can be made. You only have to look to Spain, Portugal, and France for some excellent examples of simple, rustic, tasty, food-friendly wines.

Of the wines that I sampled, there were some nice examples in their price class. They deliver respectable bang for the buck, even if they are a notch below their Old World counterparts.

NV Eaton Hill, Autumn Red, Washington, $14. Floral, with cherry and current undertones. Light-bodied with soft tannins, this slightly sweet wine is straightforward. Tart red cherries and cedar linger on the finish. 80/80.

2000 Covey Run, Cabernet-Merlot, Washington State, $9, 41,700 cases. A very inviting nose of berries, vanilla, and light dill spice. Fruity and tannic, the wine is simple but tasty, with cherry cola notes. 82/82.

1998 Hoodsport, Island Belle/Merlot, Washington, $15. Garnet with a touch of brick hue. Sweet, spicy, grapey aromas resound on the palate. Light to medium-bodied, the wine finishes soft, with concord jelly nuances. 83/83.

Wedge Mountain
Wedge Mountain
NV Bookwalter, Lot 14, Red Wine, Columbia Valley, Washington, $14. Purple-red, with a nose of juicy black fruit. A host of flavors unfold on the palate, to include mixed black fruit, chocolate, and toasty vanilla, finishing with slightly bitter tannins. 84/84.

2000 Columbia Winery, Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington, $15. Typical fragrances of black fruit and smoked meat are noted. Chewy tannins greet the palate, followed by raspberry fruit and healthy oak seasoning. 84/84.

2000 Columbia Crest, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grand Estates, Columbia Valley, Washington, $11. This dark ruby, medium-bodied wine would have scored considerably higher if the new oak did not battle the lovely fruit for dominance. Black cherries, cocoa, and mint vie for attention. 84/85.

2000 Covey Run, Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington State, $9, 18,400 cases. Well-balanced, this ruby red Cab provides honest flavors of spiced cherries, cola, and blackberries, supported by a modest tannin framework. 84/85.

1999 Covey Run, Cabernet Sauvignon, Barrel Select, Columbia Valley, Washington State, $13, 8,412 cases. Ruby red in color with cassis, leather and smoke on the nose. Straightforward berry fruit, cherry vanilla flavors and rustic tannins close out the wine. 84/84.

2000 Chateau Ste Michelle, Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington, $15. White pepper smoked meat and dark fruits interweave with plums and blackberries. Nicely balanced, the pliable tannins allow early consumption. Tasty. 85/86.

1999 Covey Run, Merlot, Barrel Select, 86 percent Yakima Valley, 14 percent Columbia Valley, Washington, $13, 7,100 cases. This ruby red wine gives off warm cherry aromas with American oak notes of herbs/dill. Medium-bodied, flavors of cherries, black raspberries, leather and American oak are supported by brisk acids. 85/86.

2000 Preston, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, $15. Purple-hued, the nose is filled with blackberries, cedar and nuances of vanilla and coffee. Well-balanced, the flavors tend to drop off on the after palate. 85/86.

2000 Sagelands, Cabernet Sauvignon, Four Corners, Columbia Valley, Washington, $14.50, 17,387 cases. This medium-bodied Cab has aromas and flavors of black cherries, currents and cocoa. Supple tannins turn slightly bitter on the finish. 85/86.

1998 Silver Lake, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, $14, 2,742 cases. The best way to describe the nose is cherry preserves and blackberry jam with a dab of oak thrown in the mix. The tannins are pretty rustic, which currently detracts from the lovely fruit. Give this one a few years to see if the tannins will mellow. 85+/86.

2001 Thurston-Wolfe, Blue Franc, Yakima Valley, Washington, $13.50. This Lemberger is a perfect burger wine. Light to medium-bodied, you'll enjoy aromas and flavors of cherries, raspberries and American oak. A light peppery spice runs through the wine. Simple, but tasty. 85/86.

2000 W.D. Bridgman, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, $15, 3,100 cases. This is a very crisp, medium-bodied Cab with ripe tannins. The aromas speak of blackberries, blueberries and cedar, while the flavors lean more toward Bing cherries. Deft use of oak is refreshing. 86/87.

1999 Columbia Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, $15. Raspberries and herbs are very apparent upfront, with a touch of oak spice. Lovely raspberry fruit flavors are ushered in by tannins that firm up on the palate. Nuances of cedar and vanilla round out the wine. 86/87.

1999 Covey Run, Syrah, Barrel Select, Yakima Valley/Columbia Valley, Washington, $13, 483 cases. Black fruit, oak spice and smoky nuances emanate from this deeply hued wine. A blend of blackberry, blueberry, chocolate and Chinese five spice flavors makes for an interesting wine. 86/87.

2001 Hedges, "CMS," Columbia Valley, Washington, $12, 27,800 cases. A Cabernet Sauvignon predominant blend. Nice Bing cherry, raspberry and toasty oak aromas emanate from the glass. Well-balanced with firm but rounded tannins. Red cherries, cola, and minerals are upfront, with a nutmeg spiciness coming in on the finish. 86/87.

2000 Hogue, Merlot, Genesis, Columbia Valley, Washington, $15, 28,000 cases. This dark ruby Merlot offers up cassis, berries and herbs on the nose. Gobs of black cherries and berries fill the palate. Medium to full-bodied, the chewy tannins need bottle time. 86/87.

2001 Waterbrook, Mélange, Columbia Valley, Washington, $13, 7,483 cases. Mélange is a good description for the nose of this wine, with lots of black and red fruit and violet notes. Full-bodied, fruity, with ripe tannins and a long aftertaste of berries and American oak nuances. 86/87.

1999 Snoqualmie, Cabernet-Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, $10. Ruby, with brick overtones. Aromas of black cherries, cassis, and cedar integrate well with the fruit, chocolate and dill notes. Well-balanced, the easy going tannins make this easy to enjoy now. 86/88.

2000 Snoqualmie, Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington, $10. Deeply hued. This Syrah speaks of blueberries, cocoa and vanilla. While straightforward, it is tasty, with nice balance and a long berry aftertaste. 86/88.

1998 Claar, Cabernet-Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, $11. This value wine is 75 percent Merlot. Black fruit, mint, and sweet oak are presented in a medium-weight package sporting brisk acids and moderate tannins. 86/89.

1997 Claar, Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, $10. The grapes come from nine-year-old vines. Red cherries, black olive and oak aromas are evident. Very rich, with bright fruit and herbs, the wine has moderate tannins and a long aftertaste. On sale, this is a killer value. 86/90.

1999 Columbia Crest, Merlot, Grand Estates, Columbia Valley, Washington, $11. Raspberries, vanilla, herbs and cedar aromas emanate from the glass. Well-balanced with supple tannins, the juicy fruit, cocoa and vanilla fades into a long finish of dark berries. 87/89.

NV Maryhill, Rediviva Red, Columbia Valley, Washington, $14. While not vintage dated, the grapes all came from the 2000 harvest. This is an interesting blend of 40 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 27 percent Merlot, 15 percent Cabernet Franc and 18 percent Syrah. Ruby red, with black fruit and smoked game on the nose. Balanced, with nice acidity, you'll appreciate a host of fruit flavors on the palate along with smoke and meaty notes. 87/89.

Pear orchard
Pear orchards are being ripped out to make room for grapevines.

2001 Kiona, Lemberger, Washington State, $12. Here's a grape that is not on the top of everyone's list, but certainly deserves to be on the list somewhere. Made for food, the tannins are soft and the acidity is invigorating. You'll enjoy the cherry fruit, spiciness and leather notes. 88/90.

1999 Preston, Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, $14. A complex nose of Bing cherries, black olive, cedar and aged tobacco greets the taster. Well-structured, with silky tannins and zippy acidity. Flavors echo the nose, with chocolate and integrated vanilla adding to the mix. 88/90.

NV Three Rivers, Red Table wine, River's Red, Columbia Valley, Washington, $15. I wish more producers made these tasty blends at a fair price. A combination of Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, Merlot and Syrah, the aroma is full of berries and American oak notes of herbs/dill. Juicy on the palate with all components working in harmony, this is a fun wine that will match anything from spaghetti and meatballs to grilled steak. 88/90.

1999 White Heron, Red Wine, Mariposa Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Washington, $15. Made in a Meritage style, this wine has layers of black fruit, menthol, leather and old wood on the nose. Very crisp and fruity, the wine is easy to drink now with its silky tannins. Menthol carries over to the palate, adding a layer of interest to this value wine. 88/90.

2001 White Heron, Syrah, Mariposa Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Washington, $13. The wine has a pleasingly dark hue, with aromas and flavors of black fruit, eucalyptus and cracked pepper. The wine is well-structured, with moderate but rounded tannins and food-friendly acidity. Killer value. 88/91.

Red wines greater than $15 (by score)

In my somewhat biased, yet confident opinion, I believe that Washington has the potential to be one of the great red wine regions in the world. The Washington wine industry is still relatively young. Growers are still experimenting with a range of grape varieties, differing clones, and the geographic areas that allow these grapes to thrive and to express their best varietal characteristics.

Washington Merlot has already established itself as world class wine, with its intense fruit and bright acidity. Cabernet Sauvignon is a very close second, and Syrah is coming into its own.

It is no secret that I dislike overoaked red wines with harsh, green tannins. Washington by no means holds the exclusive rights for these types of wines; however that is another story in itself. My quest was to find top-notch red wines that break the chains of mediocrity, standing out from the crowd. This is an area where Washington excels. Try a bottle for yourself and let the wine carry your sensory perceptions to a higher plane.

2000 Lost Mountain, Cabernet Franc, Bacchus Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Washington, $19. A mélange of aromas unfold on the nose, with lots of black cherries, chocolate, plums, coconut and toasty oak. Straightforward, this medium-bodied wine has easy tannins. 83/84.

1998 Tagaris, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, $17, 585 cases. Black cherries, sour cherries, olives, and vanilla intermingle on the nose. The palate reveals a medium-bodied wine with crisp acidity, blackberry and plum fruit, and somewhat of a brushy note. 84/85.

2000 Eaton Hill, Cabernet Sauvignon, Konnowac Vineyards, Yakima Valley, Washington, $32. Aromas of blackberries, plums and aged cedar open to a very fruity wine, with plenty of spice and vanilla. Acidity is brisk, the tannins somewhat drying. 85/84.

1999 Preston, Merlot, Reserve, Columbia Valley, Washington, $28. This dark ruby Merlot has a beautiful nose of black fruit, leather, tobacco and cedar. Full-bodied, with moderate tannins, the jammy fruit is pretty much overwhelmed by barrel flavors. 85/84.

2001 Cougar Crest, Merlot, Hangartown Select, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $26, 193 cases. Black cherries, strawberries, and toasted barrel notes intermingle on the nose. Crisp, with modest tannins, the wine is nicely fruited. Cherries and black fruit partner with a hefty dose of caramelized oak. 85/85.

2000 Hedges, Three Vineyards, Red Mountain, Washington, $19, 7,100 cases. This purple-red Bordeaux blend offers aromas of blackberries, plums, vanilla and oak spice. Very crisp, with somewhat coarse tannins, the wine has jammy black fruit and just a touch of cedar. 85/85.

1999 Hoodsport, Cabernet Sauvignon, Yakima Valley, Washington, $27. Moderately tannic, this dark garnet Cab displays lots of black cherry and cedar wood notes which carry over to the palate, with obvious bacon notes on the finish. 85/85.

1998 Kestrel, Merlot, Yakima Valley, Washington, $21, 2,182 cases. Plums, American oak, new leather, and vanilla open up on the nose, with very similar tastes. Medium to full-bodied, the wine has lively acidity and rounded tannins. 85/85.

2000 L'Ecole, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, $30, 3,034 cases. Deeply hued, this Cab has aromas of black fruit and cedar shavings. Cedar, spicy oak and black fruit driven, the tannins are a bit course. Perhaps they will tame some with bottle age. 85/85.

1999 Silver Lake, Merlot, Reserve, Columbia Valley, Washington, $25, 759 cases. Dark ruby, with aromas unfolding to reveal blackberry, blueberry, tobacco leaf and soft oak notes. Black fruit, leather, and tobacco ride on a medium framework, with modest acids and chewy tannins. 85/85.

2000 Three Rivers, Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, $20, 3,117 cases. Lots of dark cherry fruit, cedar and soft vanilla notes are underscored on the nose and palate. Lively acidity breathes life to this full-bodied Merlot. Tannins are generous but rounded. 85/85.

2000 Walla Walla Vineyards, Red Table Wine, Washington State Cuvée, $25. Lots of smoky oak takes the forefront, with jammy dark fruit underlying the wood. Repeating in the mouth, there is an additional spiciness to the wine. Will the fruit ever come into prominence with aging? 85/85.

2000 Arbor Crest, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, $16, 1,452 cases. Deeply hued, this Cab has an interesting nose of currants, plums, herbs and French oak, all of which carry over on the palate. Bright acidity and chewy tannins round out the wine. 85/86.

2000 Maryhill, Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, $16. Ruby in color, this wine is medium-bodied, with aromas and flavors of dark cherries, cedar and herbs. Forgiving tannins allow early consumption. 85/86.

2000 Preston, Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, Columbia Valley, Washington, $32. Densely colored. Although aged in new American oak barrels, fruit dominates the nose. Black jam, herbs, dill and chocolate ride on an acidic backbone with chewy tannins. 86/85.

1998 Claar, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, $18. Bright cherry fruit, cassis, spice and a dash of herbs all combine to make for a tasty package, supported by modest acidity and moderate, ripe tannins. 86/86.

1999 Columbia Winery, Cabernet Franc, Red Willow Vineyard, Yakima Valley, Washington, $23. The black cherry and cedar aromas have an herbal touch to them. Sweet black fruit, generous vanilla, cinnamon and coarse tannins play out on the palate, with a prolonged finish. 86/86.

2001 Columbia Winery, Zinfandel, Alder Ridge Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Washington, $20, 465 cases. Brambly blackberries and earthy wood notes spring from this ruby offering. Crisp, tannic, with plenty of black fruit and spicy oak, you'll also notice a cracked pepper streak in the wine. Break out the BBQ grill. 86/86.

1998 Kestrel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Yakima Valley, Washington, $24, 2,265 cases. Black cherries, chocolate, vanilla, light herbs and cedar highlight this ruby red offering. Flavors mimic the nose, supported by lively acidity and ripe tannins. 86/86.

2000 Reininger, Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $32, 419 cases. Almost black in the glass, the nose shows dark fruit, spice, oak and hints of smoke. Medium to full-bodied with graceful tannins, the black fruit battles with sweet, spicy oak for attention. 86/86.

2000 Canoe Ridge, Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, $20. Cassis, chocolate, new leather, and vanilla aromas follow through on the palate. Medium-bodied with firm tannins, the lengthy finish speaks of mixed berries. 86/87.

2001 Thurston Wolfe, Zinfandel, Washington, $16.50, 294 cases. Mixed dark fruit aromas unfold, with a touch of blueberry adding interest. A hodgepodge of flavors are unveiled, ranging from strawberries to blueberries, with a dollop of vanilla. Brisk acidity ties it all together. 86/87.

2000 Trey Marie, Trutina, Columbia Valley, Washington, $17.50, 5,710 cases. This Bordeaux blend has a purple-red hue, with aromas of black cherries, leather, and wildflowers. Very polished and crisp, with blackberries, plums, cedar, and cinnamon oak spice make a statement. Nice value. 86/88.

2000 Andrew Will, Red Table Wine, Cuvée Lucia, Washington State, $32. An interesting, complex nose of cherries, berries and aged wood. Well-structured with silky tannins, you'll find a host of black cherry fruit, spice, oak and leather. 87/87.

2000 Three Rivers, Merlot, Reserve, Columbia Valley, Washington, $40, 362 cases. This is an elegant wine, with snappy acids and silky tannins. Aromas of blackberries, black cherries and light vanilla evolve into blackberry and cedar flavors, with cherries becoming evident on the finish. 87/86.

2001 Columbia Winery, Barbera, Alder Ridge Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Washington, $20, 500 cases. Bright acidity adds support to the youthful fruit. This wine is all about ripe berries and smoked meat. Nicely balanced this is a perfect match for spaghetti and meat sauce. 87/87.

2000 Kalamar, Merlot, Yakima Valley, Washington, $28. Very nice acidity heralds in this Merlot. Aromas of black cherries, cedar, herbs/dill carry over to the palate, with cranberries and oak spice rounding out the wine. Long aftertaste. 87/87.

Terra Blanca
Terra Blanca
2000 Reininger, Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $30, 970 cases. A complex nose of blackberries, cedar, black cherries and coffee suggest what is to come. Full-bodied with moderate ripe tannins, you'll find gobs of cedar, coffee, vanilla, blackberries, and a touch of blueberries. Less oak would make this wine a stunner. 87/87.

1999 Terra Blanca, Merlot, Red Mountain, Washington, $20. A mixed bag of red and black fruit, augmented by cedar and vanilla nuance. Well-structured and tasty, but not a lot of depth. 87/87.

2001 Thurston Wolfe, Sangiovese, Columbia, Valley, Washington, $25, 56 cases. The nose has a delightful mix of cherry fruit, spice, earthiness and a nuance of violets. Flavors mimic the striking nose. Crisp on the finish, the tannins are a bit coarse and need time to tame down. 87/87.

2000 Walla Walla Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $35. Densely colored, the black fruit aromas prevail, with lots of oak barrel characteristics. Crisp, with satiny tannins, there is plenty of black fruit and oak to go around for everyone. 87/87.

2000 Whitman, Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $32, 862 cases. Blackberries and smoky oak notes are very apparent on the nose. Well-balanced, with zippy acidity and friendly tannins. Black fruit flavors override the obvious toasted oak notes. 87/87.

1999 Wineglass, Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, Yakima Valley, Washington, $28. A mélange of aromas and flavors await the taster. Cherries, raspberries, chocolate and cassis are propped up by nice acids. Pair with grilled beef. 87/87.

2000 Andrew Will, Red Wine, Champoux Vineyard, Washington State, $50, 759 cases. This Bordeaux blend has a lot of black fruit and cedar up front. Finely tuned, the black fruit is complimented by a dash of herbs. Substantial tannins dictate bottle aging and may come around with time. 87+/86.

1999 Hogue, Merlot, Reserve, Columbia Valley, Washington, $30. Black fruit, chocolate and a smoky, meaty quality define the nose. Full-bodied, tannic, and loaded with flavors mimicking the nose, let's hope the fruit outlasts the tannins. 87+/87.

2000 Three Rivers, Red Wine, Meritage, Columbia Valley, Washington, $45, 600 cases. This Bordeaux blend leans towards the red currant and cherry spectrum, with oak spice and ample but rounded tannins. Like the Champoux, this wine is very tight right now and difficult to judge. 87+/87.

2000 Three Rivers, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, $20, 1962 cases. With a lovely purple-red hue, this wine emits heaps of plum, Bing cherry and cedary oak aromas. Nice acids and moderate but fairly ripe tannins give structure to the plum and cherry fruit. 87/88.

2000 Wineglass Cellars, Merlot, Yakima Valley, Washington, $22. This crisp, medium-bodied wine displays gobs of dark fruit, with nuances of sandalwood and black olives. Match with grilled meats. 87/88.

2001 Three Rivers, Sangiovese, Pepper Bridge Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $40, 164 cases. Deep garnet in color with lots of cherries and raspberries across the board. Minimal amounts of oak accentuate this medium-bodied wine. Pliable tannins will benefit from suitable aging. 88/87.

2000 DeLille, D2, Yakima Valley, Washington, $32, 2,200 cases. This is a Merlot predominant Bordeaux blend. The nose has cassis and licorice notes. Very polished tannins herald in the black fruit and sweet oak. While easy to drink now, the wine should cellar well. 88/88.

1999 Hogue, Syrah, Genesis, Columbia Valley, Washington, $25, 200 cases. Too bad this is such a small production wine. Deeply colored, the wine emanates gamey, smoked meat aromas, with violet and plum nuances. Full-bodied and flavorful, the ripe tannins invite consumption tonight, but will provide pleasure for many years. 88/88.

1998 Kiona, Merlot, Red Mountain, Washington, $25. This is a pretty classic, well-balanced Merlot, with easy tannins and nice acidity. Complex layers of berries, cherries, plums, and leather unfold in the mouth. Tasty. 88/88.

2000 Reininger, Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $32, 1,020 cases. Full-bodied, elegant, with silky tannins, the wine gives off aromas of cassis, cedar and herbs. Boysenberries grace the palate, with a healthy dose of sweet oak and chocolate. 88/88.

1999 Robert Karl, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, $29, 610 cases. Black fruit and cedar pleasure the nose. Sporting bright acidity and a medium framework, black cherry jam and boysenberries delight the palate. The finish is long and fruity. 88/88.

1999 Seth Ryan, Jessica's Meritage, Red Mountain, Washington, $37. A blend of five noble grapes, this is a nice wine that needs time to strut its stuff. Of medium weight, the nose and palate show a lot of complexity. Slap that NY strip on the grill. 88/88.

2000 Three Rivers, Cabernet Sauvignon, Champoux Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Washington, $40, 295 cases. Showing a youthful purple-red hue, the nose is filled with blackberry, black cherry and mixed oak notes. The wine is full-bodied, crisp, with generous tannins that seem ripe but definitely need time to soften. Flavors mimic the nose but the wine seems very tight right now, not revealing all of its secrets at this time. 88+/88.

1997 Claar, Merlot, Reserve, Columbia Valley, Washington, $20. The grapes are sourced from 23 y/o vines. Red and black cherries, minerals, and light oak work well together. Very elegant on the entry, the wine is full-bodied with nice layers of complexity. 88/89.

2000 Columbia Winery, Sangiovese, Red Willow Vineyard, Yakima Valley, Washington, $20, 1,317 cases. Warm aromas of cherries, coffee beans, hazelnuts and chocolate are charming. Well-constrained tannins and a crisp mouthfeel augment the exquisite fruit. Imminently drinkable now, this will compliment a variety of foods. 88/89.

2001 Gold Digger, Pinot Noir, Okanogan Valley, Washington, $20, 650 cases. The wine has a light garnet hue, with beautiful aromas of black cherries and tea. Designed in a light style, this is a perfect red wine for fish/white meat. Impeccably balanced, the flavors mirror the nose. 88/89.

1998 Kestrel, Raptor Red, Signature Edition, Yakima Valley, Washington, $50, 192 cases. Giving off scents of black cherry, blackberry, tobacco, cedar and soft vanilla, the wine speaks of elegance and balance. Rich black fruit flavors are interlaced with new cedar notes. This one needs a few years of cellar time to open fully. 89/87.

Walla Walla wheatfields
Walla Walla wheatfields
2000 L'Ecole, Merlot, Seven Hills Vineyard, Walla Walla, Washington, $39, 1,578 cases. This medium-weight Merlot presents a very refined nose and palate of cherries, berries, new leather and subtle oak. The tannins are obvious but supple, with delightful acidity. Red cherries and sweet oak linger on the finish. 89/88.

2001 McCrea, Syrah, Amerique, Yakima Valley, Washington, $40. Very densely colored and emitting aromas of blueberries, black cherries and vanilla, the wine is full-bodied, elegant, with a silky mouth feel. The taster will find dense berry fruit, sweet oak and just a touch of heat from the 14.8 percent alcohol. 89/88.

1997 Columbia Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Otis Vineyard, Yakima Valley, Washington, $29. Showing mixed red fruit, an herbal earthiness and oak influence on the nose, this wine is medium to full-bodied, with polished tannins. Flavors of cherries and berries unfold, with a perfumed floral character noted on the long berry aftertaste. 89/89.

1997 Columbia Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Willow Vineyard, Yakima Valley, Washington, $29. Fruit from this vineyard is never boring. The nose is full of mixed red and black fruit, oak, vanilla, and a chalky mineral note. Plums and blueberries highlight the wine, with nice depth of flavors and a long blueberry aftertaste. 89/89.

2001 Cougar Crest, Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $26, 360 cases. The nose is a veritable bowl of mixed berry fruit with a dollop of smoked meat nuances. Fruit driven, this Syrah is full and lush, with plenty of plum and sweet oak flavors. Lovely, even better with a little less wood. 89/89.

2001 Forgeron, Zinfandel, Columbia Valley, Washington, $25, 252 cases. Deeply hued, with lots of brown sugar and warm spices on the nose. Full of fruit and brown spices, this is a fun wine to drink, with an aftertaste that lingers on and on. 89/89.

2000 C.R. Sandidge, Syrah, Minick Vineyard, Yakima Valley, Washington, $28, 486 cases. This deeply hued wine speaks of blackberries, black cherries, smoky oak and cedar. Well-crafted, with silky tannins, the aftertaste of blackberries seems endless. 89/89.

1999 Wineglass, Merlot, Reserve, Yakima Valley, Washington, $35. Blackberry jam, dark olives and toasty oak define the aromatics and flavors. Nicely structured, this wine has crisp acids, rounded tannins and a long aftertaste. Tasty. 89/89.

1999 Chateau Ste Michelle, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cold Creek Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Washington, $29. A youthful purple in color, this full-bodied wine emits lovely aromas of cassis, blueberries and cedar. In the mouth, blackberries, plums and sweet vanilla work in perfect harmony. 89/90.

1998 Claar, Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, $20. Working in harmony, red and black cherries, minerals, spicy oak, moderate tannins and bright acidity combine to make a delightful wine. Defrost that NY strip. 89/90.

2000 Sandhill, Merlot, Red Mountain, Washington, $20, 300 cases. Big, densely colored, with lush red and black fruits, silky tannins and snappy acidity. Oak is kept in perfect harmony with the wine. Good value. 89/90.

2001 Vierra, Claret, Columbia Valley, Washington, $22. A 50/30/20 blend of Cab Franc/Cab/Merlot. The nose displays a host of black fruit, berries, and cinnamon notes. Elegant, well-structured, with smooth tannins, the wine has black fruit, sweet vanilla and American oak flavors. 89/90.

2001 Vierra Vineyards, Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington, $22. Very floral on the nose, you'll find black fruit and a nice smoky streak. Of medium weight, the tannins are quite smooth, the acidity crisp. Sporting black fruit, pepper and wood notes, the aftertaste is fruity and prolonged. 89/90.

1999 DeLille, Chaleur Estate, Yakima Valley, Washington, $55, 1,350 cases. This is a Bordeaux blend with Cabernet Sauvignon accounting for 65 percent. Blackberries, Bing cherries and cedar highlight the nose. Deep, lush fruit is easy to warm up to, while the silky smooth tannins firm up on the finish. A few years of cellar time will make this wine strut its stuff. 90/88.

2000 DeLille, Doyenne, Yakima Valley, Washington, $40, 450 cases. Deeply hued, this Syrah has aromas and flavors of blackberries, chocolate, vanilla, smoke, and just a touch of mint. Moderate tannins become evident on the long, fruity finish. 90/89.

1999 Northstar, Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, $49. Cassis, berries and cedar highlight the nose of this densely colored Merlot. Quite elegant, a host of flavors unfold, ranging from oak spice/cinnamon to blackberries and cassis. Satiny tannins are appreciated on the long, blackberry preserves aftertaste. 90/89.

2000 Three Rivers, Red Wine, Meritage, Columbia Valley, Washington, $45. Very deeply hued, with lovely aromas of blackberries, cassis and cedar. Rich and refined, this is a well-structured, fruit dominant wine. Brisk, with judicious tannins, this wine will only get better with aging. 90/89.

1999 Wineglass, Rich Harvest, Yakima Valley, Washington, $50. A 50 percent/33 percent/17 percent blend of Cab/Merlot/Cab Franc, this is their flagship wine. Elegant and built for years of aging. Black cherries, raspberries, integrated oak and crisp acidity all work in harmony. The lengthy aftertaste is quite fruity. 90/89.

2000 Bookwalter, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, $35. Crushed blackberry aromas leap from the glass, with toasty oak and vanilla nuances. Full-bodied, crisp, with moderate tannins. Loads of blackberry fruit is supported by spicy oak and a hint of road tar. Blackberry jam lingers on the finish. 90/90.

1999 Columbia Winery, Syrah, Red Willow Vineyard, Yakima Valley, Washington, $35, 2,538 cases. The bouquet is defined by black cherries and smoked meat. Columbia Winery plus Red Willow grapes seem to equal magic. The fruit is the star, which provides moderate but ripe tannins for long aging. This wine really blooms with a few years of cellar time. 90/90.

2001 Forgeron, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, $29, 1,268 cases. Their first release is right on track. Dark ruby, with aromas of black fruit, smoke and spice. Black cherries and brown spices unwind in the mouth, bolstered by bright acidity. 90/90.

1999 Kiona, Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, Red Mountain, Washington, $35, 716 cases. This Cab has all of the adjectives - balance, refreshing acidity, moderate but ripe tannins, elegance, and good depth of fruit. Enjoyable to drink now, it should cellar well for many years. 90/90.

1999 Terra Blanca, Onyx, Red Mountain, Washington, $40. Terra Blanca's upscale blend of five red grapes has classic cigar box aromas, with mixed red and black fruit notes. Extremely fruity, the wine is especially elegant, with a dash of sweet oak. A nice package. 90/90.

2000 Terra Blanca, Syrah, Block 8, Red Mountain, Washington, $35, 340 cases. The wine is from a single clone Syrah, with 2 percent Viognier blended in. Smokehouse aromas and blackberries greet the nose. More intense than their regular Syrah, this one sports crisp acidity and grace. Think shish kabob. 90/90.

Batch 00 Wineglass, Zinfandel, American, $19. This is your big boy, with no subtleties. Fans of the style will enjoy the big, fruity, cherry and raspberry jam with licorice nuances. The aftertaste never quits. Alcohol is a whopping 16.5 percent. 90/90.

2000 Baer, Red Wine, Ursa, Columbia Valley, Washington, $26. A delightful effort at a very fair price. The nose is filled with aromas of red and black fruit, violets and a hint of herbaceousness. The oak is well-integrated with the fruit, with ripe tannins rounding out the wine. 90/91.

2000 Bookwalter, Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, $25. Deep ruby red hued, this wine has a host of aromas ranging from black cherries and blackberries to dark cedar and vanilla. This is a mouthful of Merlot. Lovely fruit explodes on the palate, enhanced by an earthy wood note. Delightful. 90/91.

2001 Isenhower, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sundance Vineyard, Wahluke Slope, Columbia Valley, Washington, $22, 200 cases. This is my favorite wine of their line due to the great structure, fruit and balance. Although 100 percent new oak was used, it does not overwhelm the wine. You'll find lots of black fruit and raspberries to enjoy. 90/91.

2000 Sandhill, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, Washington, $25, 900 cases. Dense black fruit and sweet vanilla caress the nose. Sweet black cherries, blackberries and violets provide layers of pleasure. Give this one some time in bottle to let the tannins tone down a bit. Very good value. 90/91.

2000 C.R. Sandidge, Syrah, Klingele Vineyard, Yakima Valley, Washington, $28, 474 cases. A delightful blend of blackberries, black cherries, licorice and mixed oak fills the nose. Showing nice breeding, the tannins are very polished and the acidity is brisk, with a dash of minerals adding interest. Although this has the same oak aging profile as the Minick, the wood is less apparent here. Delightful. 90/91.

1998 Tapteil, Merlot, Red Mountain, Washington, $29. A wonderful nose of layered black fruit and leather awaits the consumer. Very polished tannins, snappy acidity, intense fruit and cedar notes all sing in harmony to provide a nice wine. Too bad they sell the majority of their grapes to other wineries. 90/91.

2000 Waterbrook, Cabernet Sauvignon, Ciel du Cheval Vineyard, Red Mountain, Washington, $28, 567 cases. Deep ruby in color, with lovely aromas of black cherries, mixed berries and subtle oak. These repeat on the palate with a dash of cassis for interest. Elegant, balanced, with noticeable but rounded tannins, this one will benefit from a few years of aging. 90/91.

1999 DeLille, Harrison Hill, Yakima Valley, Washington, $55, 500 cases. Black fruit, leather and wood scents enhance this complex wine. Full-bodied, elegant, displaying silky tannins, the earthy notes, eucalyptus and minerals meld seamlessly with the black fruit. You'll enjoy the rich aftertaste. 91/89.

1999 Kestrel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Old Vine Estate, Yakima Valley, Washington, $50. Very elegant upfront, the polished tannins sneak up on you, delivering a modest punch on the finish. A rich, complex nose of blackberries, nutmeg, vanilla and English leather repeats on the palate. This lovely, medium-bodied wine has a nice acidic backbone to tie it all together. 91/89.

2000 L'Ecole, Apogee, Pepper Bridge Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley, Washington, $41, 1,259 cases. This Merlot predominant wine is deeply hued, with aromas of cassis, cherries, raspberries and cedar. Very elegant on the entry, with aromas resounding in the mouth. Tannins are obvious, but rounded, and should develop well with bottle age. The very long, fruity aftertaste is delightful. 91/90.

Puget Sound
Puget Sound
2000 Donedei, Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington, $34, 140 cases. You'll find lots of lovely black cherry fruit on the nose, with a touch of raspberries and spice. The tastes are complex and fruity, with ripe tannins, brisk acidity and a lengthy aftertaste. Very drinkable right now, the wine will improve for at least five years in the cellar and may go considerably longer. 91/91.

2000 Donedei, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington, $36, 260 cases. A Bordeaux blend that is purple-red in color. The nose displays a host of cassis, blackberry and spice notes. More tannic than the Merlot, this is a definite candidate for the cellar. Extremely well-structured, this is a current match for a hearty roast beef. Just released. 91/91.

2001 Forgeron, Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington, $29, 395 cases. Blueberries, currants and light smokehouse aromas emanate from this inky black Syrah. While still very young yet, the wine is already showing terrific structure, balance and depth of fruit. Lovely. 91/91.

2001 McCrea, Syrah, Yakima Valley, Washington, $38, 245 cases. This is a mouthful of wine that is approachable now and over the next few years before the 14.8 percent alcohol becomes more apparent. Tannins are silky smooth. Smoked meat, coffee, chocolate, dense black fruit and toasty oak dance across the senses then lingers on the endless finish. 91/91.

2000 McCrea, Syrah, Cuvee Orleans, Yakima Valley, Washington, $50. McCrea Cellars is red hot. It seems they have the magic touch. Very polished, with respectable acidity, this wine is simply packed with Bing cherry, raspberry, blackberry, and sweet oak flavors. The berry aftertaste seems endless. Charming! 92/90.

Fruit and Dessert Wines

Purists will argue that wine is defined as a beverage made from grapes only, no other fruit. For sake of debate, the term fruit wine will be used here.

Many people look with disdain at fruit wines. At best they ignore them. This is too bad because they are missing a lovely experience. Fruit wines at their best taste like the pure fruit extract from which they are made. They pair well with desserts, cheese plates, and are great for use in food preparation. A favorite of mine is to cook baby oysters over low heat in butter and rhubarb wine, then serve them with the rhubarb wine - delicious.

Dessert wines and Port-styled wines are made by several Washington wineries. While they don't challenge Portugal for bragging rights, they are a nice beverage nevertheless. One Washington winery who is a specialist in this area is Hinzerling Winery; the oldest family owned and operated winery in Yakima Valley. They are the only winery who submitted these types of wines for evaluation.

Fruit Wines

NV Hoodsport, Raspberry Wine, Washington, $13. Sparkling raspberry red in color, it matches the intense aromas of raspberry fruit. Delicately sweet and crisp, the fruit wine is medium-bodied with raspberry flavors. 87/88.

NV Hoodsport, Stella Raspberry Wine, Washington, $17, 375 ml. Very concentrated aromas of freshly crushed raspberries are transmitted from this deep ruby offering. Sweet on the palate, the abundant raspberry fruit has plenty of acidity to balance it out. Delicious. 89/89.

NV Hoodsport, Loganberry Dream, Washington, $17, 375 ml. Dark ruby in color, this fruit wine has deep, rich raspberry/blackberry aromas and flavors. There is terrific depth of fruit, pleasing tartness, made in an off-dry style. 90/90.

Dessert Wines

NV Hinzerling, Collage, Dessert Wine, Yakima Valley, Washington, $19. Burnt orange in color, the aromas remind you of mandarin oranges and peaches. This has a Tawny Port character, with lots of nutty characteristics. 17 percent alcohol. 85/85.

NV Hinzerling, Rainy Day Tawny Port, Washington State, $35. Pretty classic color and aromas of fine Tawny Port. Sweet, with nutty nuances, there is just a touch of heat from the 17 percent alcohol. This is a nice one to sip by the fire on a cool spring night. 85/84.

NV Hinzerling, Ruby Port, Three Muses, Washington, $20. Brick red in color, with aromas and flavors of cassis, currants, chocolate and plums. There is no noticeable heat from the 18.8 percent alcohol. For those who indulge, this is a fine wine to sip on the deck with your favorite cigar. 85/85.

NV Hinzerling, Angeliqua, Dessert Wine, Yakima Valley, Washington, $20. Sip this one like a liqueur or pour it over some fresh fruit with whipped cream. Aromas remind me of under ripe peaches and biscuit dough. Very thick, lush and full on the palate, the wine is loaded with juicy peach and apricot flavors and honey nuances. 18 percent alcohol. Delightful. 89/90.

Summary

Washington wines are on the threshold of greatness. As vines gain age and varieties are planted in the proper macroclimates, the grapes and resulting wines will be world class. As winemakers harness the overuse of new wood and keep the bright acidity in the forefront, Washington wines will be food-friendly and unsurpassed in the marketplace. For more information please visit the following helpful links:

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