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Chuck Hill, wine reviewer and columnist

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Wines of the Week Archive
Archived December 12, 2013
Originally Published November 25, 2013

Cabernet Sauvignon and Blends
for the Holidays and Beyond
Part 1 of a 3-Part Series (See Part 2) (See Part 3)
By Chuck Hill

After tasting some delicious Cabernets and blends for this year’s roundup, I thought a few words about aerating wine would be in order.  An old wine lover’s trick about seeing how a wine might age is to enjoy half of a bottle, then taste it each day for a few days to see how it improves or declines.  The first group of wines I tasted were put to this test and I found that they all were better one to two days after being opened. 

Rather than invite your guests over to sip from half full bottles, a more suitable method of revealing a young wine’s optimum character is to pour (decant) the bottle of wine into a vessel (decanter), then to pour it back into the bottle.  This aeration should be done about an hour before the wine will be served.  For some really tight wines, several hours might be better. 

This week we enjoyed grilled lamb chops with our Cabernets and blends.  It’s a great time of year to indulge in this flavorful delight. 

Chateau Ste. Michelle Ethos
2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve
Columbia Valley

From Bob Bertheau, winemaker: “Our goal with the Ethos Cabernet is to showcase the power and richness of Washington fruit combined with Old World elegance.”  Indeed, this should be the goal of every Washington Cabernet, but Ethos 2010 Cab achieves it in grand style.  The wine opens with notes of floral perfume, cassis and spicy oak that leads to a rich and complex palate of ripe dark fruits, cocoa and mineral, finishing with silky tannins. Veteran tasters recognized the profile of the wine’s fruit source: Chateau Ste. Michelle’s 40-year-old Cold Creek Vineyard. 

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon
Columbia Valley

Abeja winery and inn, east of Walla Walla, offers a unique opportunity to experience country elegance in accommodations and some of the best wines made in Washington.  Check out the website at for a glimpse into this historic 1863-homestead-turned-estate.  To accompany your online perusal, I would suggest pouring a glass of winemaker John Abbott’s excellent Cabernet showing ripe and supple flavors of blackberry, plum, cassis and toasty caramel. 

Spangler Vineyards
2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve

Pat Spangler has been lauded in this column as one of the best of Oregon’s winemakers, crafting red wines of character showing Old World structure and balance, and highlighting the ripe fruit aromas and flavors that modern wine lovers seek.  His 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon impressed my tasters with aromas and flavors of plum and cherry with notes of vanilla, dried herbs and earthy mineral – enjoyable today, but also an excellent candidate for aging. 

Chester Kidder
2009 Red Wine
Columbia Valley

Winemaker Gilles Nicault crafts this flavorful blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah (with splashes of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc) at the Long Shadows facility in Walla Walla.  In addition to making this wine, he also consults with internationally acclaimed winemakers who create Long Shadows’ signature Columbia Valley bottlings.  Chester Kidder offers aromas of cassis and cherry with notes of floral perfume and spice that lead to a complex palate adding flavors of blackberry, licorice and smoky cedar. 

2011 Cabernet Sauvignon
Walla Walla Valley

Former NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe had long aspired to combine his passion for fine wine with his love for his native Walla Walla Valley when he partnered in 2007 with his old friend Chris Figgins of Leonetti to create Doubleback.  This Bordeaux-style blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon will release in early spring of 2014, and my tasters found it worthy of seeking out when it becomes available.  Look for ripe aromas and flavors of boysenberry, dark cherry and plum, mingling with notes of violets and caramel.  An appealing backbone of acidity on the palate grades this as a wine for food or to lay down for some years of cellaring. 

Amavi Cellars
2011 Cabernet Sauvignon
Walla Walla Valley

Amavi Cellars and Pepper Bridge Winery share vineyards and winemaker in the Walla Walla Valley to offer some of the area’s most sought-after wines.  The estate vineyards of Seven Hills, Pepper Bridge and Les Collines provide superb fruit for Pepper Bridge and Amavi, as well as for many winemakers who purchase the grapes for their best winemaking efforts.  This complex and flavorful Cabernet offers intriguing notes of herbs and spices that marry with plum, black cherry, vanilla and earthy mineral to create a memorable accompaniment for your holiday beef and lamb. 

Quilceda Creek Vintners
2010 Cabernet Sauvignon
Columbia Valley

Winemakers (son and father) Paul and Alex Golitzin continue to put Washington wine on the international map with their high-scoring Cabernets from their vineyard holdings in the prime spots of the Columbia Valley.  Predominantly from the Champoux Vineyard the wine also includes small amounts from Galitzine, Klipsun, Palengat and Tapteil Vineyards.  Lucky wine lovers who have access to this wine enjoy rich and concentrated aromas and flavors of cassis and black cherry with notes of cocoa, spicy oak, violets and vanilla. 

Hightower Cellars
2010 Cabernet Sauvignon
Red Mountain

Tim and Kelly Hightower celebrate this vintage of their Cabernet Sauvignon since it is the first that carries the Red Mountain AVA with fruit sourced from their estate Out of Line Vineyard, Shaw Vineyard and Artz Vineyard.  The wine is bright with aromas of violets, black currant and plum leading to a well-structured palate with ample acidity and toasty oak framing flavors of cherry, dark fruits and vanilla. 

Cathedral Ridge Winery
2011 Cabernet Sauvignon
Columbia Valley

As the winter skiing season approaches, many schussers make their way up to Mount Hood via Highway 35 from Hood River.  This is the perfect opportunity to stop by excellent Hood River wineries for a tasting including Cathedral Ridge.  This flavorful Cabernet showed well upon first taste and really opened up after 24 hours breathing.  Look for initial aromas and flavors of cranberry, blackberry and vanilla to evolve and include notes of violets, spicy oak, cassis and anise - excellent with lamb. 

Watermill Winery
2009 Cabernet Sauvignon
Walla Walla Valley

When Earl and Lorraine Brown settled in the southern Walla Walla Valley town of Milton-Freewater, they began a humble farm of vegetables and fruits which has evolved into a third-generation family entity that now includes premium apples, world class wines and award-winning hard apple cider.  This flavorful Cabernet Sauvignon hails from Walla Walla Valley and Red Mountain vineyards and offers Old World structure with aromas and flavors of cassis, dried herbs, spice, licorice and caramel. 

Walla Walla Vintners
2010 Washington State Cuvee

An even dozen vineyards throughout the Columbia Valley were sourced to create this unique Bordeaux-style blend.  Winemaking included aging in new and once-filled barrels of American, French and Hungarian oak.  Aromas of blackberry, cranberry, citrus and violets lead to a firm palate mingling smoky oak flavors with dark cherry and vanilla.  It needs a year or two of additional bottle age to round out and show its best. 

Chateau Figareaux
2011 Cabernet Sauvignon
Columbia Valley

This wine is crafted at Seven of Hearts Winery by owner/winemaker Byron Dooley who also produces Pinot Noir and Rhone varietals.  The 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon is his first made from grapes grown in Washington (at the Hellsgate Vineyard in the Columbia Valley).  Aromas and flavors of plum and spice are joined by notes of dried herbs and violets with a medium-bodied palate and food-friendly lower alcohol content. 

Brian Carter Cellars
2008 Solesce
Columbia Valley

Winemaker Brian Carter sourced the Cabernet Sauvignon for his signature Bordeaux-style blend from two Red Mountain vineyards (Klipsun and E & E Shaw) since that Washington appellation is his favorite for the Cabernet varietal.  Other portions of the blend come from the Wahluke Slope and the Yakima Valley and represent the other four major Bordeaux grapes.  The wine is plush and inviting, showing aromas of blackberry and blueberry and tingling the palate with flavors of cassis and black fruits.  A finish of vanilla and toasty oak completes a flavorful pairing with lamb and other hearty meats. 

Forsythe Brio
2007 Cabernet Sauvignon
Wahluke Slope

David Forsythe joined the Hogue Cellars winemaking staff in 1984 after completing his Master’s Degree from U.C. Davis.  He rose to become head winemaker and stayed for more than 20 years at Hogue before moving a few hundred yards east to take the winemaking helm at Mercer Estates.  In 2012 he moved to a custom-crush production facility – Zirkle Wine Company – in Prosser.  He and his wife Suzy operate their own micro winery, Forsythe Brio, of which this 2007 Cabernet from Desert Wind Vineyard is one of their first releases.  Look for aromas and flavors of ripe red fruits, violets, dark plum and hints of vanilla and spice.  

Woodward Canyon Winery
2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Artist Series

The Woodward Canyon Artist Series Cabernet is produced annually from some of the most highly regarded vineyards in Washington State.  The majority of the fruit for this vintage came from Champoux, Canoe Ridge, Sagemoor and Woodward Canyon Estate Vineyards.  Aromas of black fruits, baking spice, herbs and toasty coconut lead to a generous palate of berry and cherry flavors with a finish of toasty oak and vanilla.  Label artwork is by Melissa Webster. 

Cliff Creek Cellars
2011 Red Red Wine
Southern Oregon

This wallet-friendly blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 45% Merlot is crafted from 100% estate-grown grapes from Cliff Creek’s Sams Valley Vineyard in Gold Hill, Oregon.  The wine offers aromas and flavors of cherry and cranberry with a medium-bodied palate and a finish of cherry and vanilla with firm tannins – great for meats from the grill. 

For a Song
2012 Cabernet Sauvignon
Columbia Valley

Winemaker Kyle Johnson worked at Chateau Ste. Michelle and Olsen Estates before taking the helm at the For a Song project in 2011.  As such a young wine, this bottling is very closed at first and benefits greatly from aeration and breathing time.  Aromas of cherry, cassis, coffee and spice are echoed on the palate with additional flavors of caramel and licorice. 

Wines from other areas: 

Cakebread Cellars
2010 Cabernet Sauvignon
Napa Valley

Cakebread winemaker Julianne Laks blends the winery’s Cabernet Sauvignon from dozens of lots representing the finest Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in the Napa Valley.  Each lot is separately harvested, crushed, fermented and barrel aged.  The wines are aged in French oak and, for 2010, 35% of the barrels were new.   The succulent wine offers ripe aromas of blackberry and plum with notes of cocoa, spice and toasty oak.  The palate shows ripe red and black fruits mingling with dark chocolate and barrel spice and finishing with supple tannins – a classic for lamb.  (See for an excellent video showing the preparation of Spring Panzanella Salad with Rack of Lamb.) 

Bridlewood Estate Winery
2011 Cabernet Sauvignon
Paso Robles

Bridlewood Estate is 30 miles north of Santa Barbara on the eastern edge of the Santa Ynez Valley.  Wines are crafted from grapes grown at the estate vineyards and at other select Central Coast vineyards.  The 2011 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon offers a blend of rich, ripe Central Coast fruit with Old World structure on the palate.  Aromas of ripe dark fruits, chocolate and caramel yield to flavors of dark cherry and cassis on the palate.  A touch of Petite Sirah is in the blend to enhance the dark fruit character.


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