Malbec: Washington's next big thing

Wine Press NorthwestSeptember 15, 2012 

Does Malbec have the potential to be the next niche grape in Washington? Too late, it's already there.

When we planned a judging of Northwest Malbecs nearly a year ago, we guessed we might attract 25 or 30 examples if we really worked hard to bring in every one made. So we were stunned when we received 89 examples -- and easily could have hit 100.

That says something about a grape that was barely on Northwest wine lovers' radars just five years ago.

"I remember making Malbec from the Yakima Valley in the mid-'90s," said Charlie Hoppes, owner of Fidelitas Wines.

Back then, he was red winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle and began to see the possibilities for Malbec.

"We never made it as a varietal wine, but I remember thinking it had huge potential."

For Fidelitas, Hoppes began bottling Malbec by itself in the 2004 vintage and now also makes it for Hamilton Cellars, Gamache Vintners and Market Vineyards.

In its native France, Malbec is a minor player, ending up as a small component in red Bordeaux blends. In fact, the only region in the world where Malbec stars is Argentina, where more than 50,000 acres of vineyards are planted. While Americans rarely see Argentina's top Malbecs, wine lovers here are used to its least-expensive exports -- not unlike Aussie Shiraz.

Hoppes is a big fan of Malbec, so he keeps a close eye on the standard Argentine wines and doesn't think they compare in quality to Washington's efforts -- which tend to run at least twice as much in price.

"I think they've done a great job of introducing the variety to the marketplace," he said of Argentina.

But even though Hoppes' Malbec sells for $35, he runs out quickly because his case production is so low.

In fact, the 89 wines we judged accounted for fewer than 20,000 total cases, meaning none of the wines was made in much quantity. That's because there are few Malbec grapes available -- and that boosts the price in Washington. Last year, Washington crushed just 1,300 tons (double the tonnage from 2007), and it was the most expensive grape grown in the state at an average of $1,413 per ton.

Robert Smasne, owner of Smasne Cellars and winemaker for such brands as Upland Estates on Snipes Mountain and Skylite Cellars in Walla Walla, said that's actually on the low side, as he pays in excess of $2,000 per ton for top Malbec grapes.

Rob Mercer, owner of Mercer Estates in Prosser, is excited about Malbec's possibilities, even though he has just 5 acres amid all of his family's vineyard plantings. Those grapes are at his Spice Cabinet Vineyard on south-facing slopes in the Horse Heaven Hills, and they produced the wine that finished atop our Malbec judging.

"We're definitely thinking of planting more," he said.

While Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon must be farmed differently, growers are finding they do well beside each other. Todd Newhouse, owner of Upland Estates and Newhouse Vineyards on Snipes Mountain, began growing Malbec in 2001. He has just 5 acres, and the grapes go to a handful of small producers.

"Malbec excels in warmer areas," Newhouse said. "It's similar to Cab."

Newhouse tends to harvest Malbec in the second or third week in October, a week or two ahead of Cab, and this tends to be true throughout the Columbia Valley. Smasne brings in Malbec from the acclaimed Phinny Hill Vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills about the same time, though Merlot from Verhey Vineyard in the somewhat cooler Rattlesnake Hills comes in a week or so later.

Hoppes prefers Malbec from warm areas, such as Champoux Vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills and Northridge Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope.

"It thrives in heat," Hoppes said. "I like it from warmer sites."

So how big can Malbec get in Washington? The numbers already are surprising, though Hoppes doubts it will ever approach Syrah, which has nearly 10 times more acreage.

"I think it's going to be more of a niche than Syrah," Hoppes said. "But if Columbia Crest or Precept or Gallo get interested, that could balloon really quickly, especially for nationally distributed brands."

Columbia Crest does make a small amount of Malbec, which should come as no surprise since its head winemaker, Juan Munoz Oca, is from Argentina. Whether it becomes something bigger will depend on acreage -- something Washington has little of so far.

Our judging took place in late June at the Clover Island Inn in Kennewick, Wash. Our judges were Ken Robertson, David Seaver, Mike Rader and Paul Sinclair, all members of our tasting panel.

Malbec by the numbers

* Northwest Malbecs blind tasted: 89

* No. of wines rated Outstanding: 13 (14.6%)

* No. of wines rated Excellent: 49 (55%)

* No. of wines rated Recommended: 20 (22.5%)

* No. of wines not recommended: 7 (7.9%)

* Average price: $29

* Average alcohol: 14.08%

* Total cases represented in this judging: 19,793

* Appellations represented: 14. They include: Columbia Valley (26), Horse Heaven Hills (13), Wahluke Slope (12), Walla Walla Valley (11), Yakima Valley (6), Rattlesnake Hills (4), Rogue Valley (4), Umpqua Valley (3), Washington (3), Red Mountain (2), Snipes Mountain (2), Columbia Gorge (1), Lake Chelan (1) and Snake River Valley (1).

The results:

Outstanding

Mercer Estates Winery 2009 Spice Cabinet Vineyard Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills, $30: We rated the 2008 version of this wine an "Outstanding" last fall, and the 2009 from this Yakima Valley winery follows through even better, finishing atop our judging. The vineyard was planted in 2005 in a steep bowl overlooking the Columbia River and Crow Butte Park and is showing amazing promise in just its fifth leaf. This opens with aromas of ripe plums and blackberries, along with hints of cedar, Baker's chocolate and cinnamon bark. On the palate, it reveals flavors of chocolate, then quickly shows off cherries, plums, exotic spices and blueberries, all backed with stunning acidity and modest tannins. (32 cases, 14.8% alc.)

Upland Estates Winery 2008 Malbec, Snipes Mountain, $30: Third-generation grape grower Todd Newhouse and winemaker Robert Smasne team up to produce one of the top Malbecs in the Pacific Northwest. This should come as no surprise, as the 2007 version of this wine earned best in show at the 2009 Tri-Cities Wine Festival. It is a distinctive wine with exotic aromas of blueberries, cherries and spices, followed by exciting flavors of minerality and plums. It's a big, full mouth feel backed with enticing acidity. (93 cases, 13.6% alc.)

Five Star Cellars 2009 Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, $38: The father-son team of David and Matt Huse operate one of the top wineries in the Walla Walla Valley. They launched Five Star in 2000, and it continues to shine brightly. Most of the fruit from this superb Malbec came from iconic Seven Hills Vineyard in the southern Walla Walla Valley. It opens with big aromas of black licorice, plums, lilac, Kona coffee and tar, followed by rich, plush flavors of cherries, chocolate and vanilla extract. (375 cases, 14.6% alc.)

Hamilton Cellars 2008 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $30: When Russ and Stacie Hamilton decided to launch their Richland, Wash., winery, they chose to focus their efforts on Malbec, a variety they already loved, because they wanted to distinguish themselves within Washington's growing wine industry. Obviously, they chose well. Winemaker Charlie Hoppes, a fellow Malbec disciple, has crafted a wine that reveals complex aromas of minerality, mint, raspberries, tar, boysenberries and chocolate. On the palate, this big red offers juicy flavors of raspberries, white strawberries and black cherries. It's a smooth, easy-drinking wine with brilliant acidity and a lengthy finish. (192 cases, 14.6% alc.)

Patterson Cellars 2009 Malbec, Wahluke Slope, $34: Winemaker John Patterson brought in grapes from Northridge Vineyard on the warm Wahluke Slope for this superb red wine. It is an exotic wine with a hint of spices on the nose, followed by aromas of cherries, sweet pipe tobacco, pie cherries and red currants. On the palate, it is a lively wine with flavors of cherries, boysenberries and warm spices, all backed with silky tannins, bright acidity and a long, satisfying finish. (122 cases, 14.2% alc.)

Airfield Estates 2009 Malbec, Yakima Valley, $28: Marcus Miller leads the winemaking at this family operation in the Yakima Valley town of Prosser. He has been making superb wines for the past few years, so seeing his Malbec rise near the top of the list should come as no surprise. This is a delicious red with aromas of minerality on the nose, along with notes of red and black fruit and orange zest. On the palate, it reveals flavors of dark cherries, blueberries, blackberries and dark chocolate, with a hint of black tea on the finish. (376 cases, 14.8% alc.)

Milbrandt Vineyards 2009 The Estates Malbec, Wahluke Slope, $25: Using grapes from estate plantings on the warm Wahluke Slope, Milbrandt has crafted one of the top wines in our Malbec judging. This includes 17% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Merlot in the blend to round out the edges. It opens with aromas of chocolate, coffee and blackberries, followed by rich flavors of opulent dark fruit, including blackberries and plums. Exotic spices meld with notes of chocolate for a long, smooth finish. (460 cases, 13.5% alc.)

Roza Ridge 2009 Malbec, Rattlesnake Hills, $20: Longtime Yakima Valley winery Hyatt Vineyards has been using the Roza Ridge label for a decade, and it pays tribute to to this area of the valley. This is a delicious and affordable Malbec that opens with aromas of espresso, black licorice, cherry tobacco and ripe raspberries. On the palate, this is a bold yet well-balanced wine with flavors of chocolate, cherries and raspberries. It offers a rich, creamy midpalate and a long, fruity finish. (129 cases, 14.4% alc.)

Dusted Valley Vintners 2009 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $42: The Dusted Valley boys are out to prove they are masters of yet another up-and-coming red variety -- and to show Argentina a thing or two about Malbec. They blended 19% Cabernet Sauvignon into this wine to give it some backbone, and the results are delicious. This opens with aromas of black and blue fruits, vanilla and a sprinkling of cinnamon. On the palate, it's loaded with flavors of plums, golden raisins and cherry cola. It's a big, full wine with notes of black tea in the finish. (200 cases, 14.7% alc.)

Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2010 Verhey Vineyard Malbec, Rattlesnake Hills, $25: David Verhey focuses on growing Syrah and Malbec at his vineyard in the northwest Yakima Valley. Clearwater Canyon, a winery in Lewiston, Idaho, has made great use of his grapes in this wine, which opens with aromas of boysenberries, blueberries, black pepper and cedar. On the palate, it is a big, dark, rich and hedonistic wine with bold flavors of blueberries and plums and tannins with just enough grip to stand up to grilled and braised meats. (100 cases, 15% alc.)

Napeequa Vintners 2008 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $32: This tiny winery in the Wenatchee National Forest town of Plain brought in Malbec from Verhey Vineyard in the Yakima Valley to craft this superb red. It opens with aromas of blackberries, leather, tobacco and vanilla. On the palate, it reveals flavors of blackberries, plums, chocolate and cherries. It is backed with ample acidity and a lingering finish. Pair this with a seared New York steak. (132 cases, 13.8% alc.)

Smasne Cellars 2008 Phinny Hill Vineyard Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills, $32: Winemaker Robert Smasne goes to an area of Washington that is the sweet spot for red Bordeaux varieties, and he has crafted one of the top Malbecs in our competition. This is a beautifully structured red with aromas of tea leaf, blackberries and cherries, followed by flavors of cherry cola, vanilla and exotic spices. It is perfectly balanced and gives way to a lengthy finish. (71 cases, 13.9% alc.)

Obelisco Estate 2008 Estate Malbec, Red Mountain, $30: Doug Long began growing wine grapes 40 years ago in Napa Valley. After retiring to Gig Harbor, Wash., he got back in the game in 2007 with this 30-acre vineyard on Red Mountain. This is a beautifully balanced Malbec with refreshingly modest alcohol, no small trick from the warmest growing region in Washington. This is a big, smoky, bold wine with aromas of cherries and s'mores, followed by clean and elegant flavors of ripe cherries and plums. (385 cases, 12.9% alc.)

Excellent

Smasne Cellars 2010 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $25: This Malbec blends grapes from Verhey Vineyard in the Yakima Valley and Phinny Hill Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills. Owner/winemaker Robert Smasne puts them to great use here, crafting a wine with aromas of ripe red cherries and plums and grape Jolly Ranchers, followed by lively flavors of black plums, spicy cherries and a sprinkling of cocoa powder. Everything is beautifully integrated. (221 cases, 13.9% alc.)

Upland Estates Winery 2009 Malbec, Snipes Mountain, $30: Upland Estates is the resurrection of one of Washington's oldest wineries. Bill Bridgman, who started Upland soon after Repeal, would be proud of Todd Newhouse's efforts from the same vineyard on Snipes Mountain in the Yakima Valley. This Malbec is nearly flawless, opening with aromas of black cherries, vanilla and chocolate, followed by creamy flavors of dark fruit backed with mild acidity. Pair with grilled meats or a hearty Italian dish. (120 cases, 13.6% alc.)

Tildio Winery 2009 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $35: Owner/winemaker Katy Perry, another successful graduate of the University of Ste. Michelle, is among the top winemakers helping to put Lake Chelan on the Washington wine map. This superb Malbec opens with aromas of cedar, blackberry syrup and chai, followed by bold, rich flavors of boysenberries, plums and black tea. (95 cases, 14.8% alc.)

Barnard Griffin 2008 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $35: Owner/winemaker Rob Griffin continues to prove he has a deft touch with red wines. This reserve-level wine opens with aromas of raspberries, cranberries, black tea and a hint of smoke, followed by flavors of Rainier cherries, pomegranates and raspberries. It's a luscious wine that will pair well with grilled meats. (232 cases, 13.4% alc.)

Walla Walla Vintners 2009 Pepper Bridge Vineyard Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, $32: One of the Walla Walla Valley's oldest wineries brought in grapes from one of the region's top vineyards. The result: a superb wine. It opens with aromas of cedar, red currants, cherry jam, black pepper and a touch of earthiness. A tilt of the glass reveals flavors of chocolate, black cherries and spices, all backed with moderate tannins. (192 cases, 14.2% alc.)

Lookout Point Winery 2009 Malbec, Rattlesnake HIlls, $18: This tiny winery north of the city of Yakima focuses its efforts on making great Malbec. It brought in grapes from Two Coyote Vineyard southeast of Yakima and has crafted a delicious red. It opens with exotic aromas of lilacs, cola, mocha, cherries and vanilla, followed by flavors of chocolate, sweet dark cherries and pomegranates. It's an appealing wine that will pair well with carne asada or huevos rancheros. (170 cases, 14.2% alc.)

Pondera Winery 2009 Stillwater Creek Vineyard Malbec, Columbia Valley, $34: Stillwater Creek is one of the top vineyards in Washington, and it is in an area called the Frenchman Hills, which probably deserves to become an American Viticultural Area. Winemaker Shane Howard from this small Woodinville winery has produced a hedonistic red with aromas of blackberries, cedar and vanilla. On the palate, it is bright and well balanced with flavors of blueberries, blackberries and spices. Enjoy with osso buco. (170 cases, 14% alc.)

Gifford Hirlinger 2009 Estate Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, $26: This small producer south of the city of Walla Walla began growing grapes more than a decade ago and later launched its winery. This tasty red offers bright aromas of espresso, chocolate, dark plums and fresh blueberries, followed by bold, rich flavors of Marionberries, pomegranates and dark chocolate. It's a luscious wine with mouth-coating flavors and moderate tannins. (147 cases, 14.6% alc.)

Velocity Cellars 2011 Rose of Malbec, Rogue Valley, $14: This is one of two styles of Malbec crafted by owner/winemaker Gus Janeway. He brought in grapes from Gold Vineyard in Talent, a Southern Oregon town midway between Medford and Ashland. It's a bright and attractive pink wine with aromas of strawberries and balanced flavors of cherries, all backed with bright, food-friendly acidity. (70 cases, 13% alc.)

William Church Winery 2009 Gamache Vineyard Philip's Vintage Malbec, Columbia Valley, $30: This small producer now has two Woodinville locations, a tasting room in the Hollywood Schoolhouse district and a winemaking facility and tasting room in the so-called warehouse district. It used grapes from Gamache, a top Columbia Basin vineyard. It opens with aromas of blueberries and cedar, followed by flavors of boysenberries, blueberries and a hint of white chocolate. Enjoy with ham or barbecued duck. (180 cases, 14.7% alc.)

Waterbrook Winery 2009 Reserve Malbec, Columbia Valley, $24: This longtime Walla Walla winery is owned by Precept, Washington's second-largest wine producer. Winemaker John Freeman finished harvesting the grapes for this wine just five days before the Oct. 10 frost that brought the 2009 growing season to a sudden halt. This wine opens with aromas of boysenberries, raspberries, blueberries and tar, followed by rich, seamless flavors of dark, ripe plums backed with delicious acidity. (1,193 cases, 13.9% alc.)

Agate Ridge Vineyard 2009 Estate Malbec, Rogue Valley, $30: This Southern Oregon winery used estate fruit to craft a superb red wine. It opens with enticing aromas of black licorice, chocolate, black cherries and pomegranates, followed by bold flavors of boysenberries, cherries and black tea. This should pair nicely with roast lamb or teriyaki beef. (91 cases, 14.2% alc.)

Steppe Cellars 2009 Stone Tree Vineyard Malbec, Wahluke Slope, $25: Winemaker Anke Freimuth-Wildman brought in grapes from a vineyard owned and farmed by her husband, Tedd Wildman. It opens with seductive aromas of raspberries, vanilla, dark chocolate and even a hint of caramel. On the palate, it is a big, delicious and lip-smacking red with flavors of black cherries and chocolate. Its creamy midpalate gives way to a finish that reveals hints of blood oranges. (105 cases, 14% alc.)

Sleeping Dog Wines 2011 Malbec Rose, Yakima Valley, $16: Larry Oates didn't start out with the idea of making Malbec, but after bottling a couple of cases of leftover wine after he was done blending, his customers demanded more. Now, he makes two styles, including this tasty pink wine. It offers aromas of strawberries and raspberries, along with flavors of pomegranates and cranberries. It's a lovely sipping wine to enjoy with souvlaki or quiche. (82 cases, 12.7% alc.)

Dakota Creek Winery 2009 Malbec, Rattlesnake Hills, $22: This small producer in the border town of Blaine, Wash., makes a dizzying array of wines, and it went to Elephant Mountain Vineyard high in the Rattlesnake Hills for this delicious red wine. It opens with aromas of plums, mocha and violets, followed by smooth flavors of plums, blackberries and chocolate. Enjoy with barbecued chicken wings or empanadas. (82 cases, 15.1% alc.)

Pend d'Oreille WInery 2008 Freepons Vineyard Malbec, Washington, $30: Steve Meyer makes his home and his wines in the North Idaho town of Sandpoint, and most of his grapes come from Washington's Columbia Valley. This wine's source is Freepons Vineyard in the Yakima Valley, and the resulting Malbec is a delight. It opens with aromas of cherries, raspberries, mint and minerality, followed by bright flavors of pomegranates, cherries and dark chocolate. It's an easy-drinking wine to pair with carne asada. (112 cases, 13.1% alc.)

Castillo de Feliciana Vineyard & Winery 2009 Phinny Hill Vineyard Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills, $38: Sam Castillo, a dentist in Duvall, Wash., launched his small winery and vineyard in Walla Walla with a Spanish flair, and this delicious Malbec from a top vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills is well worth seeking out. It opens with aromas of blueberry jam and Saskatoon berries with a hint of minerality. On the palate, it is loaded with red, black and blue fruits, as well as chocolate and black pepper. (200 cases, 14.5% alc.)

Mount Baker Vineyards 2009 Proprietor's Limited Release Malbec, Yakima Valley, $25: This longtime winery in the Nooksack Valley north of Bellingham, Wash., uses grapes from the Yakima Valley for most of its red wines. This delicious Malbec shows off aromas of vanilla extract and ripe red fruit, followed by big flavors of blueberries and spices. It is loaded with bright acidity and provides a lengthy finish. (218 cases, 13.7% alc.)

Robert Karl Cellars 2009 Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills, $22: Joe and Rebecca Gunselman operate their highly regarded winery in Spokane and bring in most of their grapes from the Horse Heaven Hills (where they have an estate vineyard). The grapes for this wine come from highly regarded McKinley Springs Vineyard, and the resulting wine is delicious. It reminded our judges of top Argentine Malbecs with its aromas of spices and black cherry cola, followed by a rich palate of plums and berries. (100 cases, 13.8% alc.)

Ginkgo Forest Winery 2009 Estate Malbec, Wahluke Slope, $20: Ginkgo Forest is one of the only wineries on the Wahluke Slope, which many winemakers consider the backbone growing region of the state. This delicious Malbec opens with classic aromas of black cherries and pepper, followed by exotic aromas of spices, black plums, rosehips and violets. It's all backed with sturdy tannins. (47 cases, 15.3% alc.)

Gamache Vintners 2008 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $28: The Gamache brothers have been growing wine grapes near the Columbia Basin town of Mesa since the 1980s, and they launched their eponymous winery about a decade ago and now have a tasting room in the Vintners Village in Prosser. This Malbec opens with enticing aromas of blackberries, smoky cedar and milk chocolate, followed by balanced flavors of blackberries, black cherries and black pepper. (387 cases, 14.7% alc.)

Bergevin Lane Vineyards 2010 Dreamweaver StoneTree Vineyard Malbec, Wahluke Slope, $28: Bergevin Lane is one of the top wineries in Walla Walla, and it went to StoneTree, among the best vineyards on the warm Wahluke Slope, for these grapes. It is a ripe wine with aromas of malted milk balls, vanilla, cherries and caramel, followed by bold flavors of black cherries, cola and dark chocolate. This is a delicious, drink-now wine. (135 cases, 14.6% alc.)

Tagaris Winery 2008 Eliseo Silva Malbec, Columbia Valley, $16: Tagaris winemaker Frank Roth has crafted a delicious and affordable Malbec under this label named after the winery's longtime vineyard manager. It opens with aromas of mocha, blackberries and sweet pipe tobacco, followed by flavors of plums, blackberries and dark chocolate. (1,700 cases, 13.5% alc.)

Tagaris Winery 2009 Soaring Rooster Malbec blend, Wahulke Slope, $17: This new label for Tagaris Winery in Richland, Wash., focuses on affordable blends, and this targets Malbec. It's a classic with aromas of black cherries and black pepper, followed by big flavors of ripe dark fruit and sweet spices. This is nicely priced and will pair well with everything from roasted lamb to carne asada. (350 cases, 13.5% alc.)

Lookout Point Winery 2008 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $18: This Eastern Washington winery's whole focus is on Malbec, and it has crafted a nicely priced red with aromas of raspberries and cedar, followed by delicious flavors of black licorice, red currants and ripe raspberries. It is loaded with refreshing acidity that gives way to a long-lasting finish. Pair with huevos rancheros or even Cajun cuisine. (160 cases, 13.8% alc.)

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2009 Limited Release Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills, $25: Washington's flagship winery has been working with Malbec for two decades and bottles this up for its wine club members. The grapes for this wine come from the estate Canoe Ridge Estate in the Horse Heaven Hills, and head winemaker Bob Bertheau added Cabernet Sauvignon (14%) and Merlot (3%) for complexity. The resulting wine opens with aromas of chocolate, black pepper, coffee and black cherries, followed by flavors of black licorice, black tea, black cherries and dark chocolate. (605 cases, 15% alc.)

Arch Terrace 2008 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $28: This is the second label for Terra Blanca on Washington's Red Mountain, one of the most beautiful wineries in the state. This wine opens with aromas of red licorice, ripe cherries and cedar, followed by bold, rich flavors of juicy plums, black cherries and dark chocolate. Owner/winemaker Keith Pilgrim expertly integrates fruit, oak, tannin and acidity for a complete wine. (390 cases, 13.5% alc.)

Hogue Cellars 2007 Terroir Series Andrews & Rowell Vineyard Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills, $25: As director of winemaking, Co Dinn leads the efforts at one of the Northwest's largest and oldest wineries. In addition to producing huge bottlings of various wines, Co and his team use the Terroir Series to put the spotlight on small lots of fascinating wines. This is one of them, and it reveals aromas of blackberries, Bing cherries and pipe tobacco, followed by rich, smooth flavors of black licorice, blackberries and boysenberry syrup. (150 cases, 14.6% alc.)

Reustle - Prayer Rock Vineyards 2010 Golgotha Bloc Malbec, Umpqua Valley, $28: Stephen Reustle has found a great location in Southern Oregon for growing superb red wines, including Tempranillo, Syrah and now Malbec. This delicious wine comes from estate grapes, and it reveals aromas of Rainier cherries, cedar and minerality, followed by bright, broad flavors of pomegranates, cherries, boysenberries and black pepper. (78 cases, 13.6% alc.)

H/H Estates 2009 G.W. Smith Coyote Canyon Vineyard Reserve Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills, $35: This reserve label for Coyote Canyon Winery in Prosser, Wash., uses grapes from estate fruit in the Horse Heaven Hills. It opens with luscious aromas of fresh-picked raspberries, black licorice, Marionberries and toast, followed by flavors of boysenberries, black tea and dark chocolate. Beautifully balanced tannins provide superb balance. (53 cases, 14.3% alc.)

Silvan Ridge Winery 2010 Malbec, Rogue Valley, $20: Silvan Ridge is one of the oldest wineries in state, and this Willamette Valley producer goes deep into Southern Oregon for these grapes. The wine opens with aromas of ripe plums, blackberries, black cherries and sweet pipe tobacco, followed by flavors of ripe dark fruit and black pepper. (250 cases, 13.5% alc.)

Northwest Cellars 2009 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $38: Bob Delf started Northwest Cellars in 2004 with a focus on providing custom labels for companies and individuals. He also bottles wines under the Northwest Cellars label for retail, and the wines are uniformly delicious. Here's a great example of Malbec, with aromas of cherries, tobacco and chocolate, followed by flavors of Bing cherries and dark chocolate. Pair with barbecued chicken wings or ham. (92 cases, 13.9% alc.)

Three Rivers Winery 2009 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $29: Winemaker Holly Turner spent time learning her craft in Argentina, where Malbec rules, so making it for this Walla Walla Valley winery is second nature. She brings in grapes from the warm Wahluke Slope, and the resulting wine offers aromas of cherries and toasty oak, followed by bright flavors of pomegranates and black cherries, all backed with moderate tannins. (1,050 cases, 14.8% alc.)

Mt. Hood Winery 2009 Malbec, Columbia Gorge , $28: This was the only Malbec we received using grapes from the relatively cool Columbia Gorge AVA, and we are intrigued by the result and possibilities. It's a different style than all others we tasted, with brighter red fruit in the aromas and flavors, including raspberries, Rainier cherries, red currants and cranberries. It is a perfect wine to pair with flank steak. (150 cases, 13.6% alc.)

Bunchgrass Winery 2009 Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, $32: This longtime Walla Walla Valley winery has focused on Bordeaux varieties for most of its history. Owner/winemaker Tom Olander has crafted a delicious red with aromas of red cherries, cedar and fennel, followed by bold flavors of blueberries, cherries and dark chocolate, all backed with sturdy tannins. (44 cases, 14.5% alc.)

Gilbert Cellars 2009 Doc Stewart Vineyard Malbec, Wahluke Slope, $26: The Stewart family farmed this land from the time George Stewart planted it in 1972 until selling it to the Gilbert family in 2002. Winemaker Justin Neufeld has crafted a wine with aromas of blackberries, pie cherries, cedar and vanilla, followed by rich flavors of blueberries and boysenberries. It is loaded with acidity, so pair this with osso buco or barbecued duck. (323 cases, 14.5% alc.)

Smasne Cellars 2009 Phinny Hill Vineyard Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills, $38: This new release from Phinny Hill Vineyard by winemaker Robert Smasne is already showing the same promise as the highly regarded 2008, though it is still evolving in the bottle. It opens with aromas of cherries and sweet herbs, followed by flavors of cherries, chocolate, espresso and black pepper. The tannins are still resolving, so hold this for a year or more. (56 cases, 13.9% alc.)

Reustle - Prayer Rock Vineyards 2009 Golgotha Bloc Malbec, Umpqua Valley, $28: Stephen and Gloria Reustle moved from New York City to Southern Oregon in 2001 and began making wine from estate fruit in 2004. This Malbec from estate grapes opens with aromas of vanilla, blueberries, black currants and minerality, followed by beautifully balanced flavors of chocolate, blackberries, fresh cranberry juice and vanilla. (100 cases, 14.3% alc.)

Thurston Wolfe 2009 Malbec, Washington, $25: Our reigning Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year has crafted a delicious red. Winemaker Wade Wolfe brought in grapes from McKinley Springs Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills, producing a wine with smoky aromas of black pepper, blackberries and roasted meat. On the palate, it's a big, delicious wine with flavors of blackberries and boysenberries. (48 cases, 14.5% alc.)

Walla Walla Vintners 2009 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $30: Winemaker Bill von Metzger crafted this wine using grapes from Sagemoor Vineyard. It is delicious, with aromas that reminded us of a warm slice of Cyrus O'Leary berry pie, followed by flavors of boysenberries, blueberries and black licorice. Pair this with a ribeye on the rare side or carne empanada. (98 cases, 14.3% alc.)

College Cellars 2010 Clarke Vineyard Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, $18: The students at Walla Walla Community College used grapes from the estate Stan Clarke Vineyard, planted by Stan Clarke, who died in 2007. It's a delicious wine, with aromas of coffee, chocolate, blackberries, black currants and toast, followed by flavors of blackberries, sweet herbs and black pepper. (28 cases, 14% alc.)

Abacela 2009 Estate Malbec, Umpqua Valley, $25: Using grapes from the estate Fault Line Vineyards, this Southern Oregon winery has put together a rich, juicy Malbec. It opens with aromas of red fruit compote, vanilla and a touch of oak, followed by jammy flavors of cherries, boysenberries and milk chocolate. The winery's suggested fare is smoked wild boar with a verjus and cherry reduction sauce. Sounds delicious. What time should we be there for dinner? (582 cases, 14.1% alc.)

College Cellars 2008 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $18: Walla Walla Community College has trained many of the top young winemakers in Washington, and wines like this help us look forward to an even brighter future for the industry. This opens with aromas of ripe blackberries and vanilla bean, followed by flavors of dark cherries, blackberries and boysenberry syrup. (83 cases, 14.1% alc.)

Beaumont Cellars 2010 Malbec, Wahluke Slope, $22: Pete Beaumont crashed onto the scene last year, winning top awards for his delicious red wines. His winery is near the Columbia Basin town of Quincy, Wash., and he uses grapes from the warm Wahluke Slope. It opens with aromas of bold dark fruit and smoked meat, followed by rich, ripe flavors or boysenberries, black raspberries and black pepper. (94 cases, 14.5% alc.)

Kiona Vineyards Winery 2009 Malbec, Red Mountain, $42: The Williams family is a pioneer on Washington's most important viticultural land, putting grapes in the soil in the mid-'70s. This succulent red opens with aromas of smoky back bacon, blackberries and coffee beans, followed by flavors of boysenberries, blueberries and black cherry cola. Pair this with carne asada or barbecued chicken wings. (67 cases, 15% alc.)

Velocity Cellars 2010 Velo Malbec, Rogue Valley, $18: Owner and winemaker Gus Janeway crafts this value-minded red wine that focuses on Malbec. It opens with attractive aromas of raspberries and red cherries, followed by nicely balanced flavors of cherries, cranberries and spices. Its resolved tannins give way to a lengthy finish. (570 cases, 13.5% alc.)

Tagaris Winery 2007 Reserve Malbec, Wahluke Slope, $50: This reserve-level wine from Tagaris uses estate grapes from the Wahluke Slope, and just a barrel of wine made the cut. It opens with aromas of cherries and black pepper along with a whisper of smoke. On the palate, it opens with flavors of sweet spices, black cherries and blackberries, all backed with bright acidity and juicy tannins. (24 cases, 14% alc.)

El Corazon Winery 2010 Supernova Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills, $28: Winemakers Raul Morfin and Spencer Sievers collaborate on this winery in the Walla Walla Valley. They used grapes from acclaimed Phinny Hill Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills to craft a Malbec with classic aromas of blackberries, black pepper and cedar, followed by flavors of boysenberry jam and espresso. (160 cases, 14.5% alc.)

Arbor Crest Wine Cellars 2009 Wahluke Slope Vineyard Malbec, Wahluke Slope, $32: This longtime Spokane winery uses estate grapes from the Wahluke Slope for this delicious Malbec. It opens with aromas of blueberries, tar and cedar, followed by flavors of huckleberries, vanilla extract and black pepper. (345 cases, 13.8% alc.)

Recommended

Vin du Lac of Chelan 2009 Antoine Creek Vineyard Barrel Select Malbec, Columbia Valley, $45: Owner/winemaker Larry Lehmbecker didn't have to go far for these grapes, grown in nearby Pateros, Wash. It opens with aromas of licorice, spices, boysenberries and ginger, followed by flavors of black cherry cola and black pepper. (93 cases, 13.7% alc.)

Desert Wind Winery 2009 Desert Wind Vineyard Malbec, Wahluke Slope, $20: This Yakima Valley winery with estate vineyards on the Wahluke Slope has crafted a Malbec with aromas and flavors of black cherries and Marionberries. It's a smooth, easy-drinking red. (160 cases, 14.5% alc.)

DavenLore Winery 2010 Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills, $28: Gord Taylor went to Double Canyon Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills to produce a red with aromas and flavors of cherries, cola, dark chocolate and cedar. It's an elegant, approachable wine that is still pretty young. (110 cases, 14.3% alc.)

Camaraderie Cellars 2009 Crawford Vineyard Malbec, Yakima Valley, $28: Don Corson brings in grapes across the Cascades to his Olympic Peninsula winery. The resulting wine reveals aromas and flavors of mint, cherries, raspberries and chocolate. It's backed with ample tannins and bright acidity. (137 cases, 14.3% alc.)

Sleeping Dog Wines 2007 Malbec, Yakima Valley, $30: Based in Benton City, Wash., Sleeping Dog makes small lots of wines. This Malbec reveals aromas and flavors of blackberries, mocha, cherries and vanilla. Pair with teriyaki beef or ham. (87 cases, 14.4% alc.)

Privé Vineyard 2010 Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, $45: Known best for great Pinot Noir, Prive in the Chehalem Mountains reached into the Walla Walla Valley for this warm-climate grape. It exhibits a classic Malbec nose of black cherries and black pepper, matched on the palate and joined by black olives, dark chocolate and spices. (100 cases, 13.5% alc.)

Hogue Cellars 2007 Terroir Series Alder Ridge Vineyard Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills, $25: This warm vineyard in the southern Horse Heaven Hills helped produce a luscious red with aromas and flavors of huckleberries, Saskatoon berries, blueberries and dark chocolate. (92 cases, 14.1% alc.)

Elegante' Cellars 2007 Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, $30: Based at the Walla Walla airport, Elegante has crafted a Bordeaux-style red with aromas of red currants, cherries, leather and Marionberries with a fleshy midpalate and a juicy finish. (97 cases, 12.8% alc.)

Vin du Lac of Chelan 2008 Antoine Creek Vineyard Barrel Select Malbec, Columbia Valley, $45: This vineyard just north of Lake Chelan provides grapes for a wine that exhibits aromas and flavors of black cherry cola, ripe blackberries and hints of minerality. (42 cases, 13.9% alc.)

Martin-Scott Winery 2009 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $24: Based in East Wenatchee, Wash., this small producer is well known for crafting quality red wines. This Malbec offers complex aromas and flavors of cherries, sweet pipe tobacco and spices, all backed with mild tannins that give way to a lingering finish. (57 cases, 15.1% alc.)

Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2010 Block 20 Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills, $35: Owner/winemaker Jarrod Boyle used estate grapes from his Destiny Ridge Vineyard in the southern Horse Heaven Hills to craft a wine with aromas and flavors of cherries, black pepper and roasted meat. (178 cases, 14.5% alc.)

Zerba Cellars 2009 Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, $38: Winemaker Doug Nierman has crafted a wine with aromas and flavors of black cherries, red licorice, boysenberry syrup and a bit of smokiness. Pair this with flank steak with a Cajun rub. (139 cases, 14.4% alc.)

Tsillan Cellars 2009 Estate Malbec, Lake Chelan, $25: This destination winery on the south shore of Lake Chelan continues to promote the region as an up-and-coming viticultural area. This exudes aromas and flavors of violets, malted milk, Marionberries and vanilla extract. (195 cases, 15% alc.)

Cave B Estate Winery 2010 Cave B Vineyards Malbec, Columbia Valley, $38: Based near the Gorge Amphitheater near George, Wash., this beautiful winery and vineyard has put together a tasty Malbec with aromas and flavors of cedar, spices, leather, black cherries and boysenberries. (130 cases, 14.1% alc.)

aMaurice Cellars 2009 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $35: Winemaker Anna Schafer brought in grapes from Gamache Vineyard for this Walla Walla winery's Malbec. It provides aromas and flavors of black cherries, toasty oak and root beer, along with classic black pepper. (386 cases, 14.9% alc.)

Maryhill Winery 2009 Proprietor's Reserve Malbec, Columbia Valley, $25: One of Washington's top destination wineries is crafting top-drawer red wines, and this Malbec is no exception. It reveals aromas and flavors of high-toned red fruit, including pomegranates, raspberries and cranberries, as well as red peppercorns and cedar. (389 cases, 13.3% alc.)

Eleven Winery 2009 Double Canyon Vineyard Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills, $32: This winery on Bainbridge Island, Wash., has added a tasting room in north Kitsap town of Poulsbo. The grapes for this Malbec come from arid Eastern Washington, and they show off aromas and flavors of cedar, cherries, boysenberries and rhubarb. (121 cases, 14.2% alc.)

Palouse Winery 2010 The Maverick Malbec, Washington, $42: Here's a new release for this winery that is not in the Palouse but rather on Vashon Island near Seattle. This tasty Malbec provides aromas and flavors of black licorice, cedar, black cherries and vanilla. It's a bold wine with a smooth finish. (30 cases, 13.4% alc.)

Eagle Creek Winery 2010 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $22: Nestled in the Cascade Mountains, Eagle Creek is a winery and guest cottage with a tasting room in the Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth. This lovely red shows off aromas and flavors of spicy cedar, boysenberries and blueberries with floral undertones. (50 cases, 12.5% alc.)

Powers Winery 2009 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $15: This is the second release of Malbec for this Kennewick, Wash., winery. It's a delicious and affordable example, with aromas and flavors of ripe red plums, black cherries and pomegranates that give way to a smooth, seductive finish. (1,000 cases, 13.5% alc.)

Wine Press Northwest is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service