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By Chuck Hill

Chuck Hill, wine reviewer and columnist

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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

Bordeaux Buddies
The Blending Grapes

on their own
A 4-Part Series
Published Aug & Sep 2015

Wines for Oysters
and Mussels

A 4-Part Series
Published July & Aug 2015


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


Chuck's Wine Reviews
of other Northwest Wines

Organized by varietal


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Last Week's Reviews
Published June 10, 2016

Red Rhone Varietals and Blends
Part 4 of a 4-Part Series  (Part 1)  (Part 2)  (Part 3)
By Chuck Hill

Each year, my tasters notice the evolution of wine styles in red Rhone varietals and blends. These changes mostly reflect winemakers rewarding consumers with more food-friendly wines – better balanced and with more subtle oak influence.  Syrahs have opened up, showing the elegant floral and citrus complements to the rich dark fruits.  Grenache, Mourvedre and Counoise have become part of the tasters’ lexicon and bottlings from up and down the west coast have been embraced . 

Grenache and Blends

Whidbey Island Winery
2013 Grenache
Columbia Valley AVA

Summer is the perfect time to visit Whidbey Island in Washington’s Puget Sound AVA.  The island offers spectacular scenery, excellent restaurants and opportunities to taste some superb wines.  Greg and Elizabeth Osenbach founded their winery in 1992 and produce wines from their own vineyard and from grapes grown in Eastern Washington.  Greg’s delicious Grenache offers blueberry, raspberry and cherry with hints of dried herbs, baking spice and cola. 

Novelty Hill Winery
2013 Grenache, Stillwater Creek Vineyard
Columbia Valley AVA

This wine hails from Novelty Hill’s estate Stillwater Creek Vineyard located on the Royal Slope in Washington State.  Winemaker Mike Januik aged the wine in French oak (40% new), yet retained the rich, fruity character of the Grenache variety showing strawberry, cherry and spice with hints of vanilla and toast. 

Spangler Vineyards
2012 Grenache
Southern Oregon AVA

Southern Oregon is embracing Rhone varieties, and you’ll find some excellent examples to enjoy with your rich meats from the grill or other hearty meals.  Pat Spangler’s Grenache offers aromas of red currant and raspberry with supple flavors of cherry, berry and spice. 

Alexandria Nicole Cellars
2013 Member’s Only, GSM
Horse Heaven Hills AVA

This blend of 68% Grenache, 27% Syrah and 5% Mourvedre comes from the Destiny Ridge Vineyard in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills AVA.  ANC winemakers aged this rich wine in spicy French oak (40% new) giving the wine a spectrum of aromas and flavors that complement the fruit.  Raspberry, plum and blackberry jam are complemented by toffee, vanilla and spice.  Join the Alexandria Nicole wine club to gain access to this special bottling. 

Burnt Bridge Cellars
2013 Grenache, Upland Vineyard
Snipes Mountain AVA

This fast-growing winery from my hometown of Vancouver, Washington offers two lines of wines – a selection of Rhone varietals and another of Bordeaux reds and blends.  Winemaker Ben Stuart crafted his Grenache from fruit grown in the Snipes Mountain AVA in the Yakima Valley.  Look for cherry candy, floral perfume and pretty flavors of strawberry, plum and spice. 

Other varieties

Lindsay Creek Vineyards
2010 Counoise

Counoise is rapidly gaining popularity as wine lovers discover its rich flavors, complexity and food-friendly character.  This wine from Art and Doug McIntosh and their Lindsay Creek Vineyards offers aromas of earthy mineral over a base of cranberry leading to flavors of mature strawberry, herbs and notes of toasty oak and vanilla on the finish. 

Animale Winery
2013 Petite Sirah
Yakima Valley AVA

Matt Gubitosa crafts tiny amounts of intense varietal wines in his micro winery in North Seattle.  His intense Petite Sirah is inky purple in color, featuring aromas of blackberry, spicy pepper and earthy mineral.  The palate is dense and flavorful with ample tannins to accompany your steak from the grill. 

2013 Tannat
Umpqua Valley AVA

This variety is unusual for the Pacific Northwest.  It is popular in southwest France and in Uruguay in South America.  The variety thrives in the Fault Line Vineyards at Abacela in Oregon’s Umpqua Valley.  Look for dark fruits, cracked pepper and notes of cola and spicy tobacco. 

Three Rivers Winery
2013 Syrah
Walla Walla Valley AVA

Winemaker Holly Turner crafted this wine with a blend of 80% Syrah, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Petit Verdot.  The dense purple color invites a sniff and a sip, revealing dark cherry, peppery spice, dried herbs and floral notes.  Holly suggests serving with braised lamb shank accompanied by a mint chimichurri sauce. 

2012 Syrah
Columbia Valley AVA

This wine is sourced from two vineyards: The Benches, located in the eastern corner of the Horse Heaven Hills AVA above the Columbia River; and Les Collines Vineyard near the base of the Blue Mountains in the Walla Walla Valley.  Aromas and flavors of dark fruits, ripe cherry, earthy spice and toasty oak make this a great wine for summer cookouts at the grill. 

Rolling Bay Winery
2013 Syrah
Snipes Mountain AVA

Winemaker Alphonse de Klerk has been working with the Newhouse family of Upland Vineyard in the Yakima Valley for 23 years.  Grapes are hand picked from the south slopes of the vineyard to produce just 70 cases of this wine.  Look for rich aromas of blackberry and earthy mineral with flavors of cherry and dark plum on the palate. 

Seven of Hearts
2014 Mourvedre, Hellsgate Vineyard
Columbia Valley AVA

The Hellsgate Vineyard in Washington’s Columbia Valley is the source for many grapes used by winemaker Byron Dooley in his selection of Rhone-style wines.  The wine offers powerful aromas and flavors of black fruits, dusty herbs, leather and smoky cedar.  Serve with beef or lamb from the grill for summer enjoyment. 

Columbia Crest
2013 Les Chevaux
Horse Heaven Hills AVA

Les Chevaux (French for “the horses”) is named for the wild horses that once roamed the Horse Heaven Hills in Washington’s Columbia Valley.  This lively red blend includes 59% Merlot, 36% Syrah, 4% Viognier and 1% Cabernet Franc.  Aromas and flavors of cherry, rose petal and spice lead to a mellow tannic finish. 

Mercer Estates
Sharp Sisters 2013 Red Blend


This wine is named for Carma Sharp Mercer, part of the Mercer family that pioneered Washington agriculture for the past century.  A blend of Merlot, Syrah and other red varieties, the wine offers blackberry and plum with notes of caramel and velvety tannins on the finish. 

Wines from other areas:

Kendall Jackson
2014 Syrah, Vintners Reserve
Santa Barbara County

Kendall Jackson winemaker Randy Ullom selected grapes mostly from the cooler coastal region in Santa Barbara County.  The wine was aged in a combination of French and American oak to produce a wine that is balanced and structured.  Aromas and flavors of jammy blackberry and blueberry mingle with earthy mineral, cola and spice, finishing with smooth tannins. 

2013 Petite Sirah, Artisan Collection

Winery proprietor Cheryl Indelicato celebrates her California home and her Italian heritage in her artisan collection, including this flavorful Petite Sirah blended with a touch of Zinfandel to add pepper and spice.  Look for aromas and flavors of ripe plum and blueberry with hints of cocoa and vanilla. 

Mont Gravet Red
2015 Carignan
Pays d’Herault, France

If you’re looking for a value-priced red wine to pair with your summer grilling efforts, a glance in the direction of southern France is a great idea.  Mont Gravet Red is produced from old vine Carignan grown in the hills of the Languedoc region.  Produced mostly in tank, the wine is fruity and accessible offering blackberry, date and plum with a long, fruit-forward finish.

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All rights reserved.  Last revised: 06/22/2016