Red Wines of the Pacific Northwest

Wine Varieties
Pacific Northwest Wines

Click on a varietal below
to find out more about it and where
it is planted in the Pacific Northwest.


Red Wine Varieties

(bar BEAR ah)

The Grapes:  In Northwestern Italy's Piedmont region, Barbera's native home, this red grape represents about half of all the red-grape vineyard plantings there.  It came to California with immigrant winemakers in the 19th century, and is now also planted in Washington State.  Locations of Barbera vineyards in Washington are near the Columbia Gorge and on Alder Ridge in the Horse Heaven Hills appellation.  Washington State's climate is more suited to Barbera than California's, since the varietal needs a cool growing climate to show its best.  Barbera vineyards located near the Columbia River Gorge benefit year round from the climate-moderating effects of the mighty Columbia River, and the mixing of arid desert air (from the east) and marine air (from the west) in the sea-level cauldron of the Columbia Gorge. 

The Wine:  Barbera, like Chianti and quite a  few other Italian reds, gains its affinity for food through a sharp, snappy acidity that both cleanses and provides a fresh balance. While heavy on acid, it is typically light in tannins, lacking the puckery tannic astringency that works with rare red meat, but can come across as harsh, and even bitter, with other food. This relatively unusual high-acid/low-tannin flavor profile makes it a winner with poultry, from roast chicken to duck to Thanksgiving turkey!  Washington's winemakers have yet to develop a Barbera style because it is so new to the region; for the same reason, Northwest Sangiovese is not in the style of Tuscany.  At its best, Barbera can make a hearty, quaffable red wine that's affordable and easy to drink. It gains its affinity for food through a sharp, snappy acidity that both cleanses and provides a fresh balance. 
Fortified Port-style Wines

Information excerpted from Wikipedia - click for more detail

The Grapes: More than 100 varieties of grapes are sanctioned for port production, produced exclusively in the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal; only five (Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Francesa, and Touriga Nacional) are widely cultivated and used.

Grapes grown for port are generally characterized by their small, dense fruit which produce concentrated and long-lasting flavors, suitable for long aging. While the grapes used to produce port in Portugal are strictly regulated by the Instituto do Vinho do Porto, wines from outside this region which describe themselves as port may be made from other varieties.

The Wine: Fortified wines in the style of port are also produced outside Portugal,  including here in the Pacific Northwest.  They are typically a sweet, red wine, often served as a dessert wine, and come in dry, semi-dry, and white varieties.  The wines produced are then fortified by the addition of a neutral grape spirit (known as aguardente) in order to stop the fermentation, leave residual sugar in the wine, and to boost the alcohol content. The fortification spirit is sometimes referred to as brandy but it bears little resemblance to commercial brandies. The wine is then stored and aged, often in barrels, before being bottled.

Cabernet Franc
(CAB air nay FRAWNK)

The Grapes: Most commonly used as a blending grape with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, this vinifera variety is beginning to used in Washington and BC's Okanagan Valley for  fine wines of the single varietal grape. It ripens a little earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon, one reason it is planted in the Okanagan where growing seasons can be short.
The Wine:  An excellent red wine grape most often associated with the wines of Bordeaux.  Used alone, Cabernet Franc grapes produce wines similar in style to the more famous Cabernet Sauvignon, but lighter bodied with less tannin and a little more aroma. When Cabernet Franc is blended with Merlot and/or Cabernet Sauvignon, it allows winemakers to expand flavors and textures of wines. 

Cabernet Sauvignon
(CAB air nay SAW vee yown)

The Grapes: The major red wine grape of Washington (and the Bordeaux region of France).  Its viticulture was pioneered in the late 1960s in Washington state by Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Winery (then Associated Vintners). This fine fruit makes rich, complex Northwest wines. Cabernet grapes from the Red Mountain area of the Yakima Valley are particularly prized by wine producers. Only in BC's southernmost sections of the Okanagan Valley are vineyards planted to this grape, where its needs for heat and long Autumn ripening can be met.  The southern end of this valley is an extension of the same desert -- the Sonoran -- as defines eastern Washington wine regions as well.

The Wine:  Northwest Cabernet wines are currently enjoying an escalation of popularity. Few will argue that Washington produces the best in the region, although southern Oregon is closing the gap. The synergy of a variety of styles plays with the balance of fruit, acid and oak. A classic Northwest accompaniment to steak, roasts or heavily seasoned entrées. Ages well over 10 or more years.  As the Pacific Northwest wine industry grows, so too do plantings of the highly desirable wine grape.

(car men AIR)
The Grapes:  Carmenère is an ancient Bordeaux grape.  It was originally planted in abundance in the Médoc region of Bordeaux, France, where it was used to produce deep red wines and occasionally, for blending purposes in the same manner as Petit Verdot.  Fortunately, it was brought to Chile by French winemakers, hired by wealthy landowners, in 1850 and flourished in South America when it was only a fading memory in Europe.  A Phylloxera plague in 1867 nearly destroyed all the vineyards of Europe, especially the Carmenère grapes.  When European vineyards were replanted, the growers chose not to replant Carmenère, since it was hard to grow in Bordeaux. The grape was long-considered extinct; until relatively recently, when in 1993 a detailed scientific survey was conducted, revealing Chile's Merlot and its Carmenère vines had been growing together for more than a century.  Thus the rebirth of the "lost grape of Bordeaux."  Small amounts of this ancient Bordeaux varietal are grown in Washington/Oregon's Columbia Valley. The Wine:  Here was a red wine that is fruity, lively and full of vigor and flavor.  A deep, rich wine with spice and smoke characteristics as a single varietal wine, it also adds complexity to blended wines.  Blackberries and plum dominate fruit aromas and flavors, often with notes of chocolate and coffee as well.  Wines that include some amount of the grape are distinct from the usual Bordeaux-type blend. With a soft texture like merlot, but a spicier flavor profile, Carmenère is a grape worth getting to know.
(dole CHEH tow)
The Grapes:  A red wine grape variety widely grown in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy.  The name means "little sweet one," though it is a dry wine nearly always.  Only a small amount of Dolcetto is grown in the Northwest, primarily in Washington’s Columbia Valley and Oregon’s Umpqua Valley. The Wine:  Dolcetto is usually made into fast maturing, fruity and robust dark red wine with faintly bitter flavor. It tends to have a dark, rich color with a fruity nose - usually blackberry and blueberry.  Approachable in its youth, Dolcetto pairs well with a wide variety of cuisine, especially Italian.
(ga MAY)

The Grapes: The only grape allowed for red Beaujolais.  Yields must be kept low to avoid Gamay's rather rough-edged, raspy acidity.  If the is managed and not too high, Gamay can achieve a wonderful, "juicy-fruit  gluggability, almost unmatched in the world of wine," according to Oz Clarke.  The vine is a precocious one, budding, flowering, and ripening early, which makes it prone to spring frosts but means that it can flourish in cool regions.  Good results have been produced in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley where it is also grown in minute quantities. 

The Wine: As a wine, Gamay tends to be paler and bluer than most other reds, with relatively high acidity and a simple, but vivacious, aroma of freshly picked red fruits. Juicy fruit flavors.  Once widely used to add color to blends. Most Gamay wine styles are at their best for early drinking or short keeping.  If Gamay-based wines are cellared for more than two or three years, it is usually by mistake.  

(gren AHHSH)
The Grapes: A very warm climate is required to grow these grapes. Grenache is a fruity red grape, grown successfully in Washington's Columbia Valley appellations. Quantities grown are small due to the grape's sensitivity to cold winters.

The Wine: Washington's Columbia Valley produces both full-bodied Rhone-style red wines and flavorful rosés from Grenache grapes. Pepper and spice are common flavors associated with the wines. Complements light meals or hors d'oeuvres.

Lemberger (Blaufränkisch)
(LEM burger)
The Grapes:  Hardy grape from Austria, known there as Blaufränkisch, dates its popularity back to the days of Napoleon Bonaparte and Otto von Bismarck, both of which enjoyed the wine.  Grown in Washington State's eastern wine regions.  Small plantings were made in BC regions in the 1990s. The Wine:  Deep red in color, velvety in texture, and exploding with scents and flavors of ripe berries, Lemberger's name has likely played a key role in stifling the wine's popularity.  As a consequence, if you can find the wine, it is usually a bargain in price, and very reliable year to year. Washington Lemberger is made in a range of styles, form fresh, fruity Beaujolais-like wines, to rich, hearty types with full-oak aging.
(mahl BEHK)
The Grapes:  Malbec's origins lie in France, where the grape is one of the permitted varieties in the Bordeaux red blend.  It has been in conspicuous decline for more than a century, because of its sensitivity to an array of maladies including coulure, frost damage, downy mildew and bunch rot.  It now thrives in Argentina and Chile, and is being grown here and there in Washington, Idaho and Southern Oregon.  Deeply aromatic with intense character, Malbec grapes lack the tannins that make red wines bitter, producing a velvety wine as a varietal and smoothing rough tannins of other wines in a blend.  The Wine:  Wines that are made from the Malbec grape are full-bodied, soft and have a friendly personality.  Malbecs are also a great introduction to other varietals for those who like Merlot.  It tastes sweet, without actually being sweet or heavy.  An exceptional companion with a broad range of food, its well-balanced fruit-to-acid profile makes it a natural with rare beef and just as good with simple fare from burgers, fried chicken and pizza.
(MAHR eh shawl FOESH)
The Grapes:  Early ripening, winter-hardy red hybrid, grown in some South Willamette Valley and Southern Oregon vineyards, as well as in BC's Okanagan Valley, where it was grown widely before the 1988 government-subsidized removal of most hybrid vines to make room for vinifera vineyards.  Named for a French hero Of World War One, Marshall Ferdinand Foch, commander in chief of the Allied armies in 1918, this hybrid was created by French plant breeder Eugene Kuhlmann (1858-1932) The Wine:  A deep-colored, medium-bodied red wine produced by only a few wineries using grapes grown in Oregon and BC's Okanagan Valley.  Softly tannic with flavors of plum and spice, Maréchal Foch carries earth aromas and smoky notes throughout the finish.  Reminiscent of Pinot noir. 
(mare LOW)
The Grapes: One of the Bordeaux Grape varieties. It is often compared with Cabernet Sauvignon, but lacks some of that grape's varietal intensity and winter hardiness.  Washington produces fine Merlot with good character and structure. Idaho's growing conditions are much like Washington, and Merlot acreage is increasing with the popularity of the wine. The unpredictable nature of Oregon's spring weather makes the drier southern part of the state best for Merlot grape setting.  BC's drier, warmer region, the southern Okanagan, is also where most of the region's Merlot is planted. The Wine: Merlot has grown quickly in popularity in recent years, and Northwest wineries are working hard to create a variety of styles. Black cherry, berry and toasty oak aromas are the hallmarks of today's Merlots. The wine is generally gentle on the palate, and known for its rich, plumy flavors.   It blends very well with Cabernet as well.  Pairs well with meats, garlicky pastas and even poultry. It is also a good match for chocolate.
(neh bee OH low)
The Grapes:  A great, dark-skinned grape that although geographically sensitive, is historically responsible for many of the finest, long-lived wines around the world.  Native to the Piedmont region of northwest Italy, it was recorded as a celebrated vine of the region as early as the 14th century!  Small amounts grown in Washington State. The Wines:  Deep-colored wines full of tannin result from the processing of Nebbiolo grapes.  The wine is also known for its acidity during its youth, accounting in part for its long-lived reputation.  After years of aging, it can evolve into "some of the most seductively scented wine in the world," says Jancis Robinson in her "Guide to Wine Grapes," published by Oxford University Press in 1996.
The Grapes: Pinot noir is said to be "the great red grape of Burgundy, France." Unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, it is seldom grown outside its homeland due to its well deserved reputation as the most fickle of wine grapes. If its delicate aromas are to be achieved, the climate must be cool and the growing conditions matched perfectly to the plant's needs. Oregon's Willamette Valley completely satisfies pinot noir's demanding requirements. Pinot noir is also abundantly grown to the north in BC wine regions. The Wine: Pinot noir grapes produce what some consider to be the finest wine of the Northwest. In Oregon, the grapes don't ripen until fall, when gradually cooling temperatures and shorter days encourage the development and retention of pinot noir's complex flavors and aromas -- raspberry, cherry and herbs. A lighter red wine than Cabernet, it is often served with pork tenderloin and grilled salmon. It also complements chicken, duck and other light meats.

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Last revised:   06/20/2019