Tasting Notes Digest
Updated 07/27/2016

"Here's to the corkscrew - a useful key to unlock the storehouse of wit,
the treasury of laughter, the front door of fellowship, and the gate of pleasant folly."
...French toast

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Introduction

    Whether you are new to the world of Pacific Northwest wines or a seasoned veteran, you will find our "Tasting Notes" pages a valuable tool for learning more about recently released Northwest wines.  Wine writer, judge and and wine-country traveler Chuck Hill provides the reviews you will find on these pages.

     Just click on the variety of your choice below.  If  you find a wine review that peaks your interest, contact a wine shop or the winery itself.  For contact information, browse our wine shop lists by state, or by wine regions, using the "Wine Shops and Regional Tasting Rooms" links on each wine-region page.

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Reviews of Pacific Northwest Red Wines

Pinot Noir

Angela Estate
2012 Pinot Noir, Abbott Claim Vineyard
Yamhill-Carlton AVA
$60.00

This relatively new winery in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA only releases single vineyard Pinot Noir wines.  They are made by master winemaker Ken Wright who was enticed to participate in the venture by his friends, owners Antony and Angela Beck.  Antony Beck continues his father’s legacy in South Africa with Graham Beck winery by creating this new Oregon estate. This exceptional bottling offers aromas and flavors of ripe blackberry, peppery spice and earthy mineral in a perfectly balanced framework of body, acidity and silky tannins. 

Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards
2013 Pinot Noir, Winemakers Reserve
Umpqua Valley AVA
$39.00

I regularly receive notice from Reustle winery about their latest gold medals won at competitions throughout the country.  Upon tasting the wines, one discovers that each bottling is indeed superb and worthy of my recommending it to you.  This Reserve Pinot Noir stands out for its complexity and structure.  Aromas of spicy berry and violets lead to flavors of red cherries, black raspberries and baking spices.  It is an excellent pairing with grilled salmon. 

Broadley Vineyards
2013 Pinot Noir, Estate
Willamette Valley AVA
$30.00

Craig and Claudia Broadley came north from the Bay area to found their winery in 1980.  They had discovered a passion for wine at Alice Waters’ newly opened Chez Panisse, pairing her creations with the Burgundian wines they favored.  Broadley Vineyards has been one of my favorite Oregon wineries for more than 25 years, their wines standing tall with the state’s finest.  Tasters appreciate their 2013 estate bottling for aromas and flavors of black cherry, raspberry, truffle and notes of spicy oak. 

Archery Summit Winery
2013 Pinot Noir, Estate
Dundee Hills AVA
$85.00

The Archery Summit estate in Oregon’s Dundee Hills is comprised of six vineyards across 120 acres in one of the world’s finest areas to grow Pinot Noir.  Winemaker and General Manager Chris Mazepink came to the estate in 2013 after holding positions at several of the Willamette Valley’s most noted wineries.  This first vintage under his direction continues the tradition of excellence.  Look for aromas and flavors of Bing cherry, red currants and floral perfume with finishing notes of vanilla and baking spices. 

Firesteed Cellars
2009 Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley AVA
$35.00

Howard Rossbach has been in the wine business since 1975, moving up from retail sales to wholesale representative, to ownership of the successful Firesteed winery and vineyards in the celebrated wine country of Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  The 2009 Firesteed Pinot Noir is a classic pairing with grilled wild salmon offering aromas of dark cherry, berry and truffle leading to a complex palate with berry flavors wrapped in earthy mineral, vanilla bean and spicy oak.  
 

Brandborg Vineyards and Winery
2011 Pinot Noir
Yamhill-Carlton AVA
$30.00

Terry and Sue Brandborg operate their vineyard and winery near Elkton, Oregon in the Elkton AVA of the Umpqua Valley.  Their mountainous vineyard location has southern exposures and ranges in elevation from 750 to 1,000 feet.  While the estate vineyard matures, Terry makes wine from selected vineyards in the Willamette Valley.  His Yamhill-Carlton bottling offers aromas of cherries and earthy forest floor with notes of rose petal and citrus. The palate is lean with flavors of cherry and strawberry well balanced with ample acidity to pair with our grilled salmon.  

Girardet Winery
2010 Pinot Noir, Barrel Select
Umpqua Valley AVA
$28.00

“Founders Philippe and Bonnie Girardet established this European-style wine estate in 1971 with an intuition that this picturesque site resembled the best vineyard lands of Europe.”  The first commercial Girardet wines were released in 1983 and Philippe and Bonnie’s son Marc took over the winemaking in 1999.  Marc’s Barrel Select Pinot Noir is light in style with classic spicy strawberry and toasty aromas, flavors of red cherry and spice, and excellent acidity to pair with salmon and other culinary favorites.  

Benton-Lane Winery
2012 Pinot Noir, Estate
Willamette Valley AVA
$29.00

Steve and Carol Girard founded Benton-Lane in 1988.   The location in the southern Willamette Valley was the source of the winery’s name, being near the border of Benton and Lane Counties in Oregon.  This Pinot Noir from the superb 2012 vintage is rich with aromas and flavors of dark plum, cassis and cherry with notes of smoky meats and baking spices. 

Stangeland Winery
2013 Pinot Noir, Reserve
Eola-Amity Hills AVA
$60.00

Larry Miller’s Stangeland Vineyard is one of the oldest in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA, having been planted in 1978.  The Pinot Noir block is planted to the Wadenswil clone.  Larry’s Reserve Pinot Noir offers aromas of sweet herbs, cherry and toasty oak (aged on 50% new French oak).  The palate is complex with mature notes of cherry and plum with notes of violets and toasty cedar. 

Ponzi Vineyards
2012 Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley AVA
$40.00

Ponzi Vineyards was founded near Beaverton, Oregon in 1970, making the Ponzi family one of the earliest Pinot Noir pioneers in the state.  Dick Ponzi crafted the wines for more than 20 years, and was joined by his daughter Luisa in 1993.  She gradually assumed the winemaking helm and is now considered one of Oregon’s finest.  Luisa’s 2012 Pinot Noir offers complexity and style showing aromas of earthy tobacco and floral notes mingling with toast and cherry.  The palate expands with flavors of dark cherry and plum and notes of cocoa and spice on the finish. 

Dobbes Family Estate
2012 Pinot Noir, Griffin’s Cuvee
Willamette Valley AVA
$45.00

Joe Dobbes is another Oregon winemaker with long experience and a wide following.  He crafts several Pinot Noir wines in each vintage, assembling cuvees from highly respected vineyard sources.  Griffin’s Cuvee is made from 50% Quailhurst Vineyard fruit from the Chehalem Mountains AVA.  Look for aromas and flavors of ripe red cherry and strawberry, toasted oak, earthy mineral and nuances of tobacco, vanilla and herbs. 

A to Z Wineworks
2013 Pinot Noir
Oregon
$19.00

Who says great Pinot Noir has to be expensive? 
A to Z Wineworks began as a partnership of Oregon wine industry veterans who knew how to find the grapes and make the wine to please both the palate and the pocketbook.  A to Z Pinot Noir has twice been named to the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wines list, and my tasters really enjoyed it with Copper River salmon.  They enjoyed raspberry and cherry fruit with hints of mineral and citrus, finishing with earthy complexity that calls out for fish from the grill. 

 

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Cabernet Sauvignon

Grand Ciel by DeLille
2012 Cabernet Sauvignon
Red Mountain AVA
$160.00

This superb Cabernet Sauvignon was crafted by DeLille wine master Chris Upchurch who co-founded DeLille Cellars in 1992 with Greg Lill, Jay Soloff and the late Charles Lill.  The winery planted their estate Grand Ciel vineyard next to Ciel du Cheval and has released this special wine each year since 2004.  Refreshingly Old World in style, the wine offers complex aromas of cassis, pepper and mint leading to rich flavors of black currant, blueberry, tapenade, toasty caramel and spice.  Perfect structure and balance make it a food-friendly masterpiece for holiday dining. 

Pepper Bridge
2012 Cabernet Sauvignon
Walla Walla Valley AVA
$60.00

The hit parade continues with another outstanding wine, this time from Walla Walla, featuring grapes grown at Seven Hills, Pepper Bridge and Octave Vineyards.  Winemaker Jean-Francois Pellet came to Pepper Bridge in 1999 as it was being developed and has become a busy superstar of the Walla Walla wine industry.  His 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon captures the taster with aromas of toasty plum and cassis mingling mineral and herbs. The palate has excellent structure supporting blackberry, cocoa and mineral flavors. 

Quilceda Creek
2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Galitzen Vineyard
Red Mountain AVA
$160.00

From the warm 2012 vintage, Paul Golitzen’s Quilceda Creek Cabernet weighs in at over 15% alcohol, but his winemaking expertise took the reigns and he produced another stellar bottling.  Classic Red Mountain aromas of black fruits, violets and cassis dance with mineral, vanilla and hints of anise and cedar.  The palate is perfectly structured for aging, offering flavors of black currant, earthy mineral, dark cherry and roasted meats.  This is a great wine now and will be even better with a few years aging.  (Golitzen's Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from the same vintage was ranked by Wine Spectator as the #2 wine of the magazine's Top 100 Wines of 2015.)

Adams Bench
2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, The V
Columbia Valley AVA
$54.00

Tim and Erica Blue craft Cabernet Sauvignon at their winery above the Woodinville valley from grapes harvested from many of Eastern Washington’s most prestigious vineyards.  The winery name comes from Tim’s law profession, but the scientist in charge of winemaking is Erica who is a physician.  This wine was tasted with many “heavy hitters” and garnered high scores across the board.  Look for Old World aromas and flavors of cassis, tobacco and herbs that complement notes of vanilla, plum, smoky cedar and mineral. 

Cinder Wines
2013 Cab/Merlot/Malbec
Snake River Valley AVA
$29.00

Winemaker Melanie Krause crafts her fine wines from grapes grown in vineyards near her winery in Garden Valley, Idaho in the Snake River Valley AVA.  Her annual blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec offers fruity aromas of red cherry, vanilla and juicy berry, leading to a complex palate that adds olives and herbs to a base of cassis, cherry and plum. 

Upchurch Vineyard
2012 Cabernet Sauvignon
Red Mountain AVA
$68.00

Chris Upchurch and Theadora Upchurch are the proprietors of Upchurch Vineyard and Winery on the south end of Red Mountain.  Chris eagerly anticipates each vintage, looking forward to the creation of a new wine. Thea enjoys discovering the nuances as each bottling reveals itself through aging.  This highly rated wine offers aromas and flavors of blackberry, cassis, graphite, herbs and toasty oak with excellent balance and structure for aging. 

Chateau Ste. Michelle “Ethos”
2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve
Columbia Valley AVA
$48.00

The majority of fruit for Chateau Ste. Michelle’s signature reserve bottling comes from their venerable Cold Creek Vineyard north of the Yakima Valley.  The power and structure of this fruit is evident in the finished wine as the taster unwraps layers of blueberry and blackberry fruit and barrel flavors of coffee, caramel and dark chocolate – superb with lamb, also with dark meat turkey. 

Six Prong by Alder Ridge
2013 Cabernet Sauvignon
Horse Heaven Hills AVA
$18.00

This enticing Cabernet was crafted from grapes grown at The Benches vineyards at the east end of the Horse Heaven Hills AVA above the Wallula Gap where the Columbia River turns west and heads to the Pacific Ocean.  It is a dramatic sight whether viewed from above or from the Oregon side of the river east of Umatilla.  The wine offers aromas and flavors of black cherry and plum and notes of baking spice, coconut and vanilla – great flavors for the season!  

Cotes de Ciel
2012 Flagship Reserve
Red Mountain AVA
$60.00

This blend from Ciel du Cheval Vineyard on Red Mountain is only one-third Cabernet Sauvignon with the balance between Merlot (50%) and Cabernet Franc (17%).  It shows more like a Cabernet in the glass and offers quite a bit of appeal for those seeking a big and roundish wine for meaty entrees.  Aging in 100% new French oak added lots of toasty and spicy nuances, but the floral, plum and cherry are still there to dance with the cocoa, tobacco and baking spice. 

Mercer Estates
2013 Cabernet Sauvignon
Horse Heaven Hills AVA
$28.00

Grapes for this wine came from Mercer Estates’ Spice Cabinet, Big Tee Pee and Princeton Vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA.  From the warm 2013 growing season, this wine offers ripe aromas and flavors of black currant, plum and blackberry with finishing notes of caramel and vanilla over supple tannins. 

Brian Carter Cellars
2010 Solesce
Wahluke Slope AVA
$55.00

Washington’s master blender, Brian Carter, crafts his flagship “Solesce” Bordeaux-style blend from grapes grown in select Washington vineyards – this vintage from Stone Tree Vineyards on the Wahluke Slope.  This warm vineyard site afforded fully ripe fruit in one of Washington’s coolest vintage years.  Look for aromas of earthy tobacco, cassis and rich cherry followed on the palate by black fruits and vanilla with balanced acidity and silky tannins on the finish. 

14 Hands Winery
2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, The Reserve
Horse Heaven Hills AVA
$30.00

The 14 Hands Winery brand has captured the nation with it clever equine themes, memorable television commercials, and mostly its line of flavorful and food-friendly wines.  Winemaker Keith Kenison used grapes from warm sites in the Horse Heaven Hills to craft this fruity beauty, featuring cherry and blackberry aromas and flavors with notes of cocoa, spice and finishing with dusty tannins. 

Reininger Winery
2012 Cabernet Sauvignon
Walla Walla Valley AVA
$45.00

Chuck and Tracy Reininger graduated from their first small winery at the Walla Walla Airport to their new facility on Highway 12 six miles west of Walla Walla.  The larger space for production, offices and a welcoming tasting room have helped the winery grow to a thriving enterprise.  You can enjoy a visit to Reininger anytime, but especially during the holiday barrel tasting, Dec. 4 - 6.  Look for this Cabernet featuring black cherry, currant and plum with notes of baking spice, mineral and toasty cedar. 

Malbec

DeLille Cellars
2013 Malbec, Red Willow Vineyard
Yakima Valley AVA
$49.00

 

DeLille Cellars winemaker Jason Gorski insisted that if I were going to include his new Malbec in these tastings, that I “double decant” the sample bottle before judging.  The combination of twice aerating the wine and a period of further breathing revealed a masterpiece of Malbec craftsmanship.  Aromas and flavors of plum, Bing cherry and raspberry mingle with dark chocolate, black pepper and olive, with perfect balance and structure – a real treat with churrasco beef and chimichurri. 

 

Waterbrook
2013 Malbec
Columbia Valley AVA
$15.00

Waterbrook Malbec is a great value from Washington’s Columbia Valley.  Offering spicy black pepper over a base of blackberry and cherry, the wine is the perfect tangy complement to everything from grilled meats to pizza to burgers.  A finish of creamy toffee and berry jam is wrapped with notes of toasty oak and vanilla. 

Skylite Cellars
2011 Malbec, Verhey Vineyard
Yakima Valley AVA
$32.00

This flavorful Malbec from the cooler 2011 vintage opened up with very little breathing time, revealing ripe blackberry and blueberry aromas with distinct black pepper and smoky bacon notes.  The palate is lean with excellent food-friendly acidity, and the structure supports mouth-filling flavors of cherry and cranberry with a peppery finish – a superb choice for drinking now or laying down for additional bottle age. 

Abacela
2012 Malbec, Estate Grown
Umpqua Valley AVA
$26.00

High quality fruit from Abacela’s estate Fault Line Vineyards was used to craft this excellent wine in the New World style.  The wine was aged for 20 months in French oak – 50% new – to add depth and complexity.  Dark plum and cherry lead the flavors on the palate with notes of cocoa, lavender and coffee. Spicy oak and hints of earthy mineral accompany broad tannins on the finish. 

 

Camaraderie Cellars
2012 Malbec
Yakima Valley AVA
$29.00

Winemaker Don Corson sourced his Malbec from Crawford Vineyard in the central Yakima Valley near Prosser.  The owners of Crawford Vineyard are third generation farmers who meticulously tend their 80 acres of wine grapes.  This wine was a favorite with my tasters who enjoyed the ripe aromas and flavors of raspberry and blackberry with complex notes of dark fruits edged with finishing hints of tobacco, spice and earthy mineral. 


 

Rolling Bay Winery
2012 Malbec, Upland Vineyards
Snipes Mountain AVA
$30.00

This Malbec has been a real success story for winemaker Alphonse de Klerk of Rolling Bay Winery on Bainbridge Island in Washington’s Puget Sound.  Grapes for his double-gold-winning wine came from the center of the Yakima Valley at Upland Vineyard in the Snipes Mountain AVA.  Look for aromas and flavors of ripe plum and black cherry mingling with earthy mineral and hints of cocoa and spice.  The quaint winery on Bainbridge Island is open for tasting on September 19 and 20; check the website for location: www.Rollingbaywinery.com  

McKinley Springs
2010 Malbec
Horse Heaven Hills AVA
$24.00

McKinley Springs Vineyard is a vast 2,000-acre property in the Horse Heaven Hills where Rob Andrews and Doug and Sandy Rowell farm 20 varietals and make 10 varietal and blended wines.  Grapes are also mostly sold to 25 area wineries, except for the portion retained for the estate wines. Plum and blackberry aromas with notes of spicy pepper and cocoa invite a sip, revealing rich berry flavors and a lean finish of mineral and barrel spice. 

Columbia Winery
2012 Malbec, Limited Release
Columbia Valley AVA
$35.00

Columbia Winery has been producing varietal wines from Washington’s Columbia Valley for more than 50 years.  Along the way, the winery and winemakers helped guide the establishing of vineyards throughout the Yakima Valley, the selection of grape varieties and the clones planted there.  This limited release Malbec, crafted by winemaker Sean Hails, offers aromas and flavors of dark fruits, pomegranate and cherry with earthy mineral and notes of spicy oak. 

Schmidt Family Vineyards
2011 Malbec
Southern Oregon AVA
$36.00

Cal and Judy Schmidt purchased the old Bennett Ranch in Oregon’s Applegate Valley in 2000 and created Schmidt Family Vineyards, a superb location for grape growing on the fertile Kubli Bench.  The beautiful winery and grounds make for a delightful visit and are the scene for many events and weddings during the year.  The 2011 Malbec is made in the new world style with ripe red fruits mingling with spicy oak, vanilla and cherry cola. 

AntoLin Cellars
2011 Malbec
Yakima Valley AVA
$25.00

The name AntoLin is a collective of the first names of owners Tony and Linda Haralson, signifying their partnership.  They crafted their 2011 Malbec from grapes grown at their 5-acre Glacier Estate Vineyard in the Yakima Valley north of Zillah.  Look for aromas and flavors of cranberry and ripe raspberry with hints of smoky bacon, toasty oak and vanilla. 

Ginkgo Forest Winery
2012 Malbec, Estate
Wahluke Slope AVA
$20.00

Mike Thiede’s winery and vineyard on the wind-blown Wahluke Slope is named for the nearby Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park near Vantage on the Wanapum Resevoir.  It’s a great stop for some geologic side-tripping on your way to taste wine with Mike!  Enjoy ripe blackberry and toasty oak in this full-bodied foil for grilled beef. 

Northstar
2012 Malbec
Walla Walla Valley AVA
$40.00

Northstar has a major focus of producing world-class Merlot wines, and winemaker David “Merf” Merfeld also crafts a single varietal selection from each blending grape used with the Merlot.  This Malbec came from Spring Valley Vineyard and the Northstar Estate Vineyard and was blended with 11% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.  This delicious complement to steak from the grill features aromas and flavors of black cherry, spicy pepper and toasty vanilla. 

Apex Cellars
2010 Malbec
Horse Heaven Hills AVA
$26.00

Apex joined Washington State pioneering winemakers in 1988 with its original production facility in Sunnyside in the Yakima Valley.  Conceived as a super-premium label, the wines are sourced from some of Washington’s finest vineyards.  This rich and flavorful Malbec comes from the Alder Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA.  Aromas of dark fruits, baking spices and earthy mineral lead to ripe flavors of blackberry and plum with notes of creamy vanilla, toasty oak and black pepper. 

Snake River Winery
2010 Malbec, Arena Valley Vineyard
Snake River Valley AVA, Idaho
$21.00

Scott and Susan DeSeelhorst craft more than a dozen varietal wines including fruity and full-bodied whites and a wide selection of reds.  This Malbec comes from grapes grown in the Arena Valley, near the Idaho-Oregon border along a bend in the Snake River.  Aromas of spicy raspberry and blackberry mingle with floral and vanilla notes, leading to a berry/cherry-flavored palate with bright acidity and a finish of light smoky cedar. 

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Copyright © 2004 - July, 2016 Susan R. O'Hara.   All rights reserved.
Last revised:  July 27, 2016