Chuck Hill on Wines and Wine Country with links
Main menu bar for Wines Northwest


By Chuck Hill

Chuck Hill, wine reviewer and columnist

About Chuck

Follow Chuck on Twitter




White Wines
for Seafood

A 5-Part Series
Published Aug & Sept 2016

Pinot Noir with
Copper River Salmon

A 4-Part Series
Published Jun & July 2016

Red Rhone Varietals
& Blends

A 4-Part Series
Published May & Jun 2016

Versatile Chardonnays
for Spring

A 4-Part Series
Published Mar & Apr 2016

Italian Varietals for 2016
A 4-Part Series
Published Jan & Feb 2016

Cabernet Sauvignon
and Blends

A 4-Part Series
Published Nov & Dec 2015

Thanksgiving Wines
Published Nov 16, 2015

Meat My Merlot
A 4-Part Series
Published Oct & Nov 2015


Index to Archived
Wines of the Week
...Earlier Columns


Chuck's Wine Reviews
of other Northwest Wines

Organized by varietal


Book Reviews







































Last Week's Reviews
Published October 7, 2016

Bordeaux Buddies – Part 2
Carmenere and Other Favorites
Part 2 of a 3-Part Series  (See Part 1)  (See Part 3)
By Chuck Hill

I briefly told the tale of Bordeaux’s lost variety in the first installment of this series.  Carmenere was the sixth of the region’s red varieties that was routinely part of many red blends of the Medoc and the right bank.  When phylloxera arrived from America in the 1860s, it decimated French vineyards until wine-grape vines could be grafted onto resistant American (Concord type) rootstock.  Carmenere didn’t graft well (and frankly needed a warmer, drier environment than Bordeaux regularly provides). 

Fortunately, explorers and colonial adventurers to the New World had taken cuttings to South America for more than a hundred years.  Just as Malbec became Argentina’s favorite grape in the Mendoza, so did an unnamed variety find favor in Chile.  Early ampelographers recognized similarities in the leaf shape of this vine with Merlot and for more than 150 years, Carmenere in Chile was known as the “spicy clone” of Merlot.  In the 1990s, DNA identification sorted out what was what, and Chile is now the top producer of varietal Carmenere and blends. 

Carmenere is named for the deep red color of its wine.  The variety offers aromas and flavors of spicy berry, green pepper and earthy mineral.  Aged in French oak, it takes on a character reminiscent of Cabernet Sauvignon (of which it is reputed to be a grandparent), with spicy cassis and black cherry. 

Merry Cellars
2014 Carmenere, Seven Hills Vineyard
Walla Walla Valley AVA

This wine was the favorite by far of our Carmenere tasters.  The nose bursts with black pepper, raspberry and spicy cassis, leading to a bright, fruity palate showing red fruits, vanilla, caramel and balanced acidity.  It is a great food wine, pairing perfectly with our spicy Peruvian chicken, and would complement red meats as well. 

Skylite Cellars
2013 Carmenere, Seven Hills Vineyard
Walla Walla Valley AVA

Another favorite with the tasters, and also from Seven Hills Vineyard south of the city of Walla Walla, this wine is a year older, yet took a while to breathe up and show all of its charms.  A great candidate for further aging, look for aromas and flavors of blackberry, cranberry, spicy pepper, earthy mineral and hints of vanilla and barrel spice. 

Ginkgo Forest Winery
2013 Carmenere, Estate
Wahluke Slope AVA

Mike Thiede is a scientist by training and a farmer by choice.  Becoming a viticulturist and winemaker came naturally to Mike with skills in both these categories.  Mike and Lois Thiede cultivated orchards on the Wahluke Slope, and with the coming of Washington’s wine industry, they added 35 acres of vineyards and eventually a winery.  The 2013 estate Carmenere offers bright cherry and raspberry aromas with a toasty palate adding caramel and vanilla to a core of rich cherry flavor. 

Antolin Cellars
2011 Carmenere
Yakima Valley AVA

This Carmenere comes from the lean, 2011 vintage – one of the coolest in recent Washington grape-growing history.  The wine took some time to open up (decanting with aeration would help), but eventually it showed great complexity and age-ability.  Look for raspberry, cherry and dried herbs, with hints of mineral and spice. 


DeLille Cellars
2014 Malbec, Red Willow Vineyard

Like last year on the 2013, I decanted the 2014 DeLille Malbec with aeration to reveal the character of this young wine.  This masterpiece of Malbec craftsmanship comes from the venerable Red Willow Vineyard at the west end of the Yakima Valley.  Aromas and flavors of plum, cherry and raspberry mingle with dark chocolate, earthy mineral and olive, with perfect balance and structure – a real treat! 

Rolling Bay
2013 Malbec
Snipes Mountain AVA

Talented winemaker Alphonse de Klerk crafts his wines exclusively from fruit grown at Upland Vineyard in Washington’s Snipes Mountain AVA, a sub appellation of the Yakima Valley AVA.  This Malbec fruit came from a south-facing slope at the top of the vineyard.  The wine shows ripe cherry and raspberry fruit with complex notes of pepper, mineral and spice. 

Browne Family Vineyards
2013 Malbec
Columbia Valley AVA

This Malbec is sourced from several warm Columbia Valley vineyards, giving it a running start to show rich and complex flavors.  Winemaker John Freeman aged the wine in 36% new French oak and 64% second-to-fourth-use mixed oak, adding more power, complexity and flavor.  Dark fruits and intensity are the order of the day with plum, blackberry and pepper leading the way to finishing notes of cocoa, tobacco and leather. 

Three Rivers Winery
2013 Malbec
Columbia Valley AVA

The 2013 vintage was the warmest vintage since 2003 in Washington’s Columbia Valley.  Winemaker Holly Turner selected several vineyards for that year’s harvest including Sagemoor and Gamache Vineyards near the Columbia River.  Her Malbec from these sites contributed 85% of this wine.  Look for blueberry and wild blackberry with notes of toasty oak, pepper and caramel. 

Gamache Vintners
2011 Malbec
Columbia Valley AVA

Even though 2011 was a cool year, the location of Gamache Vineyard in the warm Columbia Valley presented no problem in creating a wine of intensity and style.  The Gamache Vineyard was begun in 1982 and now comprises 180 acres.  Brothers Roger and Bob Gamache count on their winemaker Charlie Hoppes to get the best results from each vintage.  Look for black cherry, spice and hints of toasty oak and tobacco in this food-friendly wine. 

Canoe Ridge Expedition
2015 Malbec
Horse Heaven Hills AVA

I had to look at my calendar when I saw the vintage date on this bottle of wine.  It was less than a year from harvest to release – a good thing that 2015 was one of the warmest years on record!  Winemaker Bill Murray was able to age the wine on half French oak and half American oak and get it ready for release this fall.  Look for dusty cherry and blackberry with floral notes and hints of candy cherry. 


Wines from other areas

2013 Malbec, Valle de Uco
Mendoza, Argentina

It is hard to find local (U.S.) Malbecs for the price that they arrive from Mendoza, Argentina.  Bodegas Salentein created Killka Malbec from their high-elevation vineyards and named it in honor of their Killka Gallery of arts, culture and gastronomy.  Enjoy winemaker José Galante’s Malbec for its black cherry, dark fruit and floral components with hints of plum, mineral and soft tannins. 

2013 Malbec, Red Cedar Vineyard
Paso Robles AVA

The Middleton family’s Red Cedar Vineyard is located 15 miles west of Paso Robles, entirely in the Paso Robles AVA.  Two sections are within the recently approved sub-AVAs – Paso Robles Estrella District and the San Juan Creek.  The wine is spicy and delicious with toasty blackberry and raspberry aromas, and flavors with hints of caramel and vanilla on the finish. 

2014 Carmenere, Reserva
Colchagua Valley, Chile

François Lurton’s Hacienda Araucano is one place where the Carmenere variety was finally distinguished from Merlot, and since has become Chile’s emblematic variety.  The wine speaks loudly of Bordeaux with dark fruits, herbs and notes of red fruits on the finish.  Seek also the winery’s Alka reserve Carmenere from the 2011 vintage. 

2012 Carmenere, Gran Reserva
Valle de Colchagua, Chile

Koyle dates its beginnings in Chile to 1885 with the Underraga family.  The Koyle vineyards were established in 2006 after an extensive search in the foothills of the Andes.  Here is another Carmenere that harks back to the wines of Bordeaux.  Herbs and vegetative aromas dance about dark cherry and black currant with hints of wood and sweet tobacco. 

Emiliana Natura
2015 Carmenere
Colchagua Valley, Chile

For this southern hemisphere wine, the ripe, organic grapes are hand picked in late April, crushed and fermented in stainless steel tanks.  After malolactic fermentation (induced by increasing the temperature in the tanks), 20% of the wine is aged in French oak barrels for six months.  The wine is cherry and spice with notes of cocoa and toasty oak – a great complement for grilled meats and poultry.


To find contact information for most of the wineries in the above column,
visit our alphabetical list of Northwest States and their Wineries.

©  October, 2016  Chuck Hill
All rights reserved.  Last revised: 10/17/2016