By Chuck Hill
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Wines of the Week Archive
So it all comes down to structure and balance. These two wine evaluation terms are not easy to define, but experienced tasters know them when they find them. In purely scientific terms, balance describes the relationship of acidity, sugar, tannin and alcohol. Any of these being noticeably out of whack can raise a red flag. Structure is more difficult to pin down as it relates to how flavor and mouthfeel add to the previous four properties of balance. Wines with good structure just glide across your palate, leaving pleasant sensations, and usually work well with food.
So why all this fuss about structure and balance? Generally, when wines reach a high price, it is structure and balance that separates them from less expensive bottlings. Anybody can throw oak at overripe fruit and create a monster power wine. The best winemakers use restraint with oak, and carefully monitor their vineyards to produce balanced fruit that is ripe, but not overripe.
The venerable Champoux Vineyard is one of the oldest in Washington, having once been called “Mercer Ranch” after the founding owners who planted much of the acreage in the 1970s. Winemaker Mike Januik aged this powerful wine in mostly new French oak, but the structure and balance offer the taster an approachable experience as well as excellent aging potential. Look for juicy dark cherry, dried plum, tobacco, mineral and toasty oak.
Tim and Kelly Hightower continue to grow their eponymous brand from their vineyard perch near the top of Red Mountain. Their superb Red Mountain Reserve is a blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon and 14% Petit Verdot. The wine is perfectly composed with aromas and flavors of blackberry and blueberry, cocoa, mineral and hints of vanilla and toasty oak.
The four “Flags” in the name of this wine refer to four vineyard sources on Red Mountain: Grand Ciel, Upchurch, Ciel du Cheval and Klipsun. The wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and entices the wine lover with aromas of blackcurrant, dried cherries and toasty oak leading to rich flavors of cherry and berry fruit, smoky mineral, baking spices and hints of vanilla.
Finn Hill Winery
From the suburbs of Kirkland, Washington to a move to the Woodinville Warehouse District, Finn Hill Winery has continued to hold to its goal of producing “elegant and powerful wines with a distinct sense of place." This “beautiful” Cabernet was sourced from the Hedges Family Estate Vineyard on Red Mountain. Look for a mid-weight wine offering dark fruits, floral notes, fresh herbs, dried plum and hints of toast and chocolate.
North by Northwest
Some of Washington’s most esteemed vineyards were sourced to craft this memorable wine. The Cabernet Sauvignon was blended with small portions of Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot, giving the wine complexity and contributing to structure and balance. Blackberry and black cherry dominate both nose and palate complemented by notes of vanilla, mineral and hints of caramel and smoky cedar.
“A rugged wine with aromas of smoldering oak, blackberry, and cigar box, with bright flavors of red currant, smoked cherries, and tart blueberry flowing to a tight, fine grained tannic finish. If you like a smoky wine, this one is for you!” Winemaker/owner Pat Spangler defines this wine with the words above, and I completely agree! Enjoy with meats from the grill and good company.
Don’t let the screw cap and the simple iconic label fool you. This is no pedestrian jug wine for quaffing with burgers and pizza. The talented Charles Smith winemaking team blended 70% Cabernet Sauvignon with 30% Sangiovese, used whole berry fermentation and a healthy dose of new oak for aging. Enjoy blackberry and blueberry with spices and herbs and impressive structure for a bargain wine!
Spring Valley Vineyard
This winery dates its origins to the 19th century when the Corkrum family emigrated to the Walla Walla Valley from England. Descendents of this historic Walla Walla family planted Spring Valley Vineyard in 1993. This bright and bold red blend honors the son of the founder. Look for ripe raspberry and cherry with notes of dried herbs, spice and toasty oak.
Sonas by Owen Sullivan
The Sonas brand was created by owner Peggy Sullivan. It is the Gaelic word for happiness and prosperity. Consulting winemaker Scott Greer crafted this Cabernet from grapes grown at Yakima Valley Vineyards including his own Sheridan Vineyard. From the superb 2012 vintage, the wine offers aromas and flavors of strawberry and cherry with notes of blackberry candy, violets and oak spice. Dark fruits and caramel make a nice finish and pair well with meats from the grill.
What this country needs is a good $12 Cabernet Sauvignon! From the folks at Precept Wines comes this House Wine red that can grace your holiday table with pride. Mostly Cabernet Sauvignon plus splashes of Syrah and Grenache, the wine offers rich black currant, anise, dark cherry and hints of toast and toffee on the finish.
Brian Carter Cellars
Longtime Washington winemaker Brian Carter has become well known throughout the wine world for his “passion for blending.” Each of his wines combines varietal combinations that one might find in Old World bottlings. His Solesce blend is based on a majority of Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec as partners. Look for ripe blackberry, cherry and spice with an elegant, balanced mouthfeel – a nice selection to savor over a post-prandial cheese course.
Grgich Hills Estate
A perennial favorite with my Cabernet tasters, Grgich Hills Estate is among the elite Cabernets of the Napa Valley. Mike Grgich crafts his wines with elegant structure and balance, while keeping notes of intensity and power that appeal to modern wine drinkers. Aromas and flavors of black currant, dark berry, anise and cocoa finish with fine tannins on the palate and make the wine a great pairing with steak.
Dry Creek Vineyard
A decade ago Dry Creek Vineyard introduced this exciting proprietary blend to their lineup of wines. Each year, the winemakers must steer the blend through the vintage, creating a balanced and structured wine that shows the best of the grape and Dry Creek location. The 2012 vintage offers big fruit flavors of blueberry and blackberry with juicy cherry, earthy tobacco, espresso and vanilla.
This wine is crafted from the top 7% of all Kendall-Jackson wine lots, with grapes sourced from higher elevation, lower-yielding estate blocks and vineyards. From the warm 2013 vintage, the wine offers what many wine lovers are looking for - big fruit aromas and flavors with bells and whistles provided by talented winemaker Randy Ullom: oak aging notes of mocha, baking spice, vanilla and caramel. Pair with your finest meats from the grill.
“Cherokee Lane” pays tribute to the old stretch of Highway 99 that runs through the town of Lodi and surrounding vineyards. This bottling offers red and black cherry fruit with notes of vanilla, spice and toasty cedar – good value.
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