Tasting results: Red Rhône Blends

Wine Press NorthwestMarch 11, 2014 

Through the first 17 years of this publication, we have put on a lot of fun and fascinating wine judgings. This might have been the most exciting yet, as we took the opportunity to taste styles of wines that are just now emerging on the Northwest wine landscape.

We put out a call for red Rhône blends and red Rhône varietal wines, minus Syrah. We received an astonishing 125 wines, half of which were blends. Our judges had the opportunity to taste through wines that could well play an important role in the future of the Washington, Oregon and Idaho wine industries.

The Rhône Valley is in southern France and follows the Rhône River. It is separated into two regions: the northern and southern Rhône. The north is cooler, and the only red wine grape permitted there is Syrah. In the south, which is much more Mediterranean in climate, also is much more diverse, with up to 10 red varieties allowed.

Several of these grapes have made their way to the New World, particularly Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. But we also are seeing lesser-known grapes such as Cinsault, Carignan, Counoise and Petite Sirah.

Emerging as the Northwest king of Rhône reds is Ron Bunnell, owner and winemaker of Bunnell Family Cellar in the Yakima Valley town of Prosser, Wash. Bunnell, the former head winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle, launched his own winery in 2004. He and his wife, Susan, also run Wine O’Clock, a popular restaurant at their Prosser winery, and they have a Woodinville tasting room, as well.

Bunnell got his first taste of Syrah while working in Napa Valley in the 1980s. Later, when he worked for Kendall-Jackson in Sonoma County, he was in charge of it Syrahs.

“That really started to solidify my affinity for the grape,” he said. “When I came to Washington in 1999, there were a lot of new plantings of Syrah. I felt like I was witnessing something. I really felt like Syrah could be one of the pre-eminent grapes in Washington.

In multiple Syrah judgings conducted by Wine Press Northwest, Bunnell’s Syrahs — he makes three versions now — have always risen to the top of the heap. Now, his efforts with Rhône blends and other red varieties show his prowess for them, too. Of the six wines Bunnell submitted, five earned our top “Outstanding” rating, and the sixth gained an “Excellent” rating.

“When I left Ste. Michelle, I chose Syrah as my focus for a number of reasons,” he said. I love the variety and flavor profiles. Syrah seems to perform at an earlier vine age than a lot of other varieties. And it has so many different expressions depending on where it is grown. There’s a friendliness to these wines, a robustness. It goes along with my style.”

While we saw a lot of examples of Rhône blends and varieties in this judging, these are niche wines at best. You will notice that only one of these wines is more than 1,000 cases in production. The total case production represented in this tasting was 24,478 cases, which averages to just 196 cases per wine. None of the largest producers in the Northwest are doing anything of scale, primarily because of the small amounts of these lesser-known grapes being grown. This means your best bets for finding these wines are directly from the producers or through a favorite wine merchant willing to carry small-production wines.

This competition took place in late January at the Clover Island Inn in Kennewick, Wash. Our judges were Heather Unwin, executive director of the Red Mountain AVA Alliance; Gregg McConnell, editor and publisher of Wine Press Northwest magazine; Sean Hails, head winemaker for Columbia Winery in Woodinville, Wash.; Dick Boushey, grape grower in the Yakima Valley and on Red Mountain; Frank Roth, head winemaker for Tagaris Winery in Richland, Wash.; Ken Robertson, columnist for Wine Press Northwest; and Dave Seaver, tasting panelist for Great Northwest Wine. The judging was run by Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue of Great Northwest Wine.

For this judging, we separated the results by category, with a brief introduction to each style or variety. Here are the results.

Red Rhône blends

Traditionally from France’s Rhône Valley in southern France, these styles of reds are a contrast to the big, brooding wines of Bordeaux or the elegant, ethereal reds of Burgundy.

In the New World, this category of wine is known as “GSM,” which stands for the three most common grapes used in the blend: Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. However, other Rhône varieties also find their way into the mix, including Counoise, Cinsault, Carignan and Petite Sirah.

OUTSTANDING

Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2011 Members Only, Horse Heaven Hills, $42: This small-production wine from a top Yakima Valley winery is a blend of Grenache (57%), Syrah and Mourvèdre using grapes from the estate Destiny Ridge Vineyard. It opens with aromas of blueberry, cherry and vanilla, followed by flavors of huckleberry, cherry, chocolate and blueberry. It’s all backed with plush tannins and beautiful integration and balance. (237 cases, 14.6% alc.)

Icon Cellars 2011 du Pape, Columbia Valley, $27: This small winery in the western Cascade Mountains town of Carnation, Wash., is crafting superb wines. This is a blend of Grenache (54%), Syrah and Mourvèdre that opens with aromas of dense, dark fruit, ripe strawberry and plum, followed by rich flavors of ripe black fruit backed with mild tannins, elegant acidity and beautiful depth. (90 cases, 14.4% alc.)

Efeste 2011 Emmy, Wahluke Slope, $45: Efeste has quickly become an iconic winery in Woodinville, Wash., and this Mourvèdre-based blend only heightens its status. This reveals aromas of fresh-ground coffee, exotic spices, red plum and strawberry. A rich, dense entry leads to a core of ripe plum and blackberry. This is a thick, focused red wine. (258 cases, 15% alc.)

Upland Estates Winery 2011 Julian, Snipes Mountain, $28: Third-generation grape grower Todd Newhouse and winemaker Robert Smasne combine on this blend that is an even split between Grenache and Mourvèdre, with 20% Syrah to balance it out. The wine is named in honor of Julian Steenbergen, who made wine on Snipes Mountain in the 1950s. This reveals exotic aromas of violet, lilac, rose petal and black cherry, followed by rich flavors of vanilla, boysenberry and pomegranate. (120 cases, 13.7% alc.)

Bunnell Family Cellar 2008 Lia, Columbia Valley, $34: Former Chateau Ste. Michelle head winemaker Ron Bunnell crafted this blend of four grapes: Mourvèdre, Grenache, Counoise and Syrah. The result is a stylish red with aromas of anise, dusty cherry, French vanilla and cherry, followed by textured flavors of blackberry and ripe plum. (288 cases, 14.5% alc.)

Bunnell Family Cellar 2008 Vif, Columbia Valley, $34: Winemaker Ron Bunnell is a master with Rhône varieties, and this is a blend that leads with Syrah (58%) and includes Mourvèdre and Petite Sirah. It offers aromas and flavors of dusty cherry, blueberry, milk chocolate and a hint of lilac. It’s a massive, mouth-filling wine on the palate, yet everything is in complete harmony. (426 cases, 14.1% alc.)

3 Horse Ranch Vineyards 2011 Reserve Syrah-Mourvèdre, Snake River Valley, $26: Based in tiny Eagle, Idaho, just north of Boise, 3 Horse Ranch grows organic grapes for its wines. This is a Syrah-heavy blend that opens with aromas of smoky bacon, dusty plum and minerality, followed by elegant flavors of blackberry, blueberry and huckleberry, all backed with bright acidity and modest tannins. (1,788 cases, 14.3% alc.)

Kana Winery 2009 Dark Star, Columbia Valley, $22: Dark Star is a Syrah-leading blend that includes Mourvèdre and Grenache and opens with aromas of vanilla, black cherry and chalkboard dust, followed by flavors of blackberry, bacon and spices. It’s a gorgeous wine made by a Yakima, Wash., winery. (600 cases, 14.7% alc.)

Doyenne 2011 Métier, Red Mountain, $44: This label for highly regarded DeLille Cellars in Woodinville, Wash., is a blend of nearly equal parts Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah. It opens with aromas of strawberry and light cherry, followed by elegant flavors of pomegranate and ripe cherry. The moderate tannins lift up undertones of the ripe fruit in this powerful yet refined red. (400 cases, 14.2% alc.)

EXCELLENT

Crayelle Cellars 2011 Bishop’s Block, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $28: Based in the tiny North Cascades town of Cashmere, Wash., Crayelle is run by veteran winemaker Craig Mitrakul. This wine is a field blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache from a vineyard just above Crescent Bar south of Wenatchee. It provides aromas and flavors of black cherry, black raspberry and blueberry, all backed with fine-grained tannins. (25 cases, 13.8% alc.)

Upland Estates Winery 2009 Julian, Snipes Mountain, $28: This older vintage of Julian, a Syrah-based blend from Upland in the Yakima Valley, shows off aromas and flavors of oak, coconut, red cherry and plum and is backed with ample acidity and tannin. (120 cases, 13.9% alc.)

AniChe Cellars 2011 7 Gables, Columbia Valley, $26: This small winery in the Columbia Gorge town of Underwood, Wash., blended no fewer than seven grapes for this blend, leading with Syrah and including small amounts of two Rhône whites: Roussanne and Marsanne. It’s a subtle wine with aromas and flavors of rose petal, red cherry, cranberry and black licorice. (224 cases, 14.2% alc.)

Reininger Winery 2011 Helix SoRho, Columbia Valley, $34: Walla Walla Valley winemaker Chuck Reininger leads with Mourvèdre and includes Grenache and Cinsault in this beautiful red blend. It offers aromas and flavors of boysenberry, plum, blueberry and cherry, all backed with elegant tannins and ample acidity. (268 cases, 14.2% alc.)

The Bunnell Family Cellar 2008 Apic, Wahluke Slope, $34: Longtime Washington winemaker Ron Bunnell leads with Syrah in this blend that includes Grenache and Petite Sirah. It’s a rich, dense wine with aromas and flavors of chocolate, plum, blackberry and black olive. (402 cases, 14.5% alc.)

Quady North 2012 Bomba, Rogue Valley, $25: Owner/winemaker Herb Quady went heavy on Grenache backed with Syrah on this fresh, young and delicious red. It shows off aromas and flavors of cherry, plum, boysenberry and pomegranate and is drinking beautifully. (130 cases, 14% alc.)

Mercer Estates Winery 2010 Reserve Ode to Brothers, Horse Heaven Hills, $40: This Yakima Valley winery is owned by a family that has farmed in eastern Washington for more than a century, and this red blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre is a tribute. It reveals aromas and flavors of plum, rhubarb-cherry pie and hints of bacon, all backed with mild tannins. (337 cases, 14.3% alc.)

Betz Family Winery 2011 Besoleil, Columbia Valley, $45: Iconic Washington winemaker Bob Betz blended five grapes into this classic red: Grenache, Cinsault, Counoise, Mourvèdre and Syrah. It opens with aromas of fresh lilacs and cherry, followed by fresh, elegant flavors of blueberry, plum and blackberry, all backed with gorgeous acidity. (600 cases, 14.2% alc.)

Nota Bene Cellars 2011 Una Notte, Columbia Valley, $30: This winery in south Seattle created a blend of Grenache and Syrah from top vineyards, including StoneTree, Red Willow and Stillwater Creek. It reveals fascinating aromas and flavors of blood orange, pie cherry, red plum and exotic spices, all backed with bright acidity. (107 cases, 14.74% alc.)

Ribera Vineyards 2011 Confluence, Columbia Valley, $22: This small producer west of Oregon City in the Willamette Valley used grapes from Washington’s warm Red Mountain for this blend of Mourvèdre, Syrah, Grenache and Counoise. It is an exotic wine with aromas of crushed herbs, horehound and black pepper, followed by flavors of blueberry, plum and licorice. (320 cases, 14.2% alc.)

Cairdeas Winery 2011 Greine, Columbia Valley, $38: Based on the north shore of Lake Chelan, this Rhône-focused winery has crafted a delicious blend of Syrah (co-fermented with Viognier) and Petite Sirah that offers up aromas and flavors of boysenberry, blueberry and vanilla ice cream. It’s all backed with bold tannins. (75 cases, 13.5% alc.)

Corvus Cellars 2010 Syrah-Petite Sirah, Red Mountain, $29: Corvus Cellars at the Walla Walla airport uses estate grapes from Red Mountain for this delicious blend. It reveals aromas and flavors of dark chocolate, blackberry and black pepper, all backed with superb balance and complexity. (245 cases, 14.8% alc.)

Daven Lore Winery 2011 Aridisol Red, Columbia Valley, $28: Owner/winemaker Gord Taylor blended Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Durif (Petite Sirah) to create this beautiful red that shows off aromas and flavors of oak, chocolate and blackberry. It’s a big, focused, chewy wine to pair with grilled meats. (113 cases, 13.8% alc.)

Saviah Cellars 2010 GSM, Yakima Valley, $38: Longtime Walla Walla Valley winemaker Rich Funk leads with Grenache and includes equal parts Syrah and Mourvèdre from Elephant Mountain in the northwestern Yakima Valley. It’s a big wine with notes of Marionberry, boysenberry, blueberry and plum. Moderate tannins back this big, ripe red. (168 cases, 14.3% alc.)

Smasne Cellars 2010 Ancient Rocks, Snipes Mountain, $44: Winemaker Robert Smasne’s blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah finished No. 2 on Great Northwest Wine’s top 100 wines of 2013, and it’s still showing beautifully here, with aromas and flavors of cherry cola, fresh blueberry and whispers of smoke on the finish. (125 cases, 13.9% alc.)

Kerloo Cellars 2011 Majestic, Columbia Valley, $26: This downtown Walla Walla winery has crafted a delicious blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre that provides aromas and flavors of chocolate, coffee, blueberry and acidity, all backed with moderate tannins and bright acidity. (253 cases, 13.8% alc.)

AniChe Cellars 2011 Moth Love, Rattlesnake Hills, $34: Winemaker Rachael Horn used grapes from highly touted Elephant Mountain Vineyard for this blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache. It reveals aromas and flavors of white raspberry, fresh cranberry, red cherry and cinnamon, all backed with subtle tannins that give way to a memorable finish. (220 cases, 14.4% alc.)

Coyote Canyon Winery 2011 Tres Cruces, Horse Heaven Hills, $25: Grape grower and winemaker Mike Andrews went heavy on this Syrah and included Grenache and Mourvèdre in this big, dense red. Aromas of espresso beans and minerality give way to flavors of blackberry, boysenberry and black truffle. (450 cases, 14.4% alc.)

Agate Ridge Vineyard 2011 DK Reserve, Southern Oregon, $36: Winemaker Brian Denner named this blend after founder Don Kinderman and included Grenache, Syrah and Petite Sirah. It provides aromas and flavors of strawberry, cherry, raspberry and violets, all backed with bright acidity and supple tannins. (244 cases, 14.4% alc.)

Quady North 2011 GSM, Rogue Valley, $25: Southern Oregon winemaker Herb Quady blended Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre to craft this delicious red that opens with aromas of raspberry, strawberry and lime zest, followed by bright flavors of red grapefruit, white strawberry and raspberry. (232 cases, 13% alc.)

Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2011 Destiny Ridge Vineyard Rock Star Red, Horse Heaven Hills, $42: The wine directors at two top restaurants — Barking Frog in Woodinville and El Gaucho in Seattle — helped come up with this blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. It provides aromas and flavors of pomegranate, cherry, chocolate and black pepper. (227 cases, 14.6% alc.)

Tamarack Cellars 2011 Spicebox, Columbia Valley, $28: Winemakers Ron Coleman and Danny Gordon blended Grenache, Counoise and Syrah to craft this delicious red wine. It offers aromas and flavors of blueberry cobbler, blackberry, coffee and rich, dark intensity. (168 cases, 14.12% alc.)

Long Walk Vineyard 2010 Orchard Red Table Wine, Rogue Valley, $23: Southern Oregon winemaker Linda Donovan used grapes from a 2,000-foot-elevation vineyard near Ashland to craft this blend of Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Carignan and Grenache. It is loaded with aromas and flavors of raspberry, sun-dried tomato, mint and red cherry. (175 cases, 13% alc.)

Airfield Estates Winery 2011 Mustang, Yakima Valley, $25: Marcus Miller is the winemaker behind this Yakima Valley family producer. He blended Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre to produce a red with aromas and flavors of blueberry, chocolate and pomegranate. It’s a pretty, medium-bodied wine. (700 cases, 13% alc.)

Sigillo Cellars 2011 Relativity, Columbia Valley, $25: This young winery in the Cascade town of Snoqualmie, Wash., has crafted a delicious blend of Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault and Mourvèdre that reveals aromas and flavors of chocolate, blackberry, boysenberry and maple syrup. It’s rich, bold wine with good length. (84 cases, 13.8% alc.)

Covington Cellars 2010 Ma Belle, Yakima Valley, $45: Covington Cellars in Woodinville, Wash., blended Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah for this luscious red that offers aromas and flavors of espresso, dark chocolate, strawberry and ripe plum. (128 cases, 15% alc.)

Northwest Cellars 2011 Madrigal, Columbia Valley, $24: Kirkland, Wash., vintner Bob Delf has put together this pretty blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache and Syrah that reveals aromas and flavors of oak, dark plum and chocolate. It is a well-balanced wine with plenty of length. (506 cases, 13.9% alc.)

Convergence Zone Cellars 2011 Virga, Columbia Valley, $29: Winemaker Scott Greenberg is quietly making a strong reputation for himself and his Woodinville winery. This is a blend primarily of Mourvèdre and Grenache, and it offers up aromas of oak, dark plum, espresso, black olive and dark chocolate. (62 cases, 14.5% alc.)

Dowsett Family Winery 2010 Devotion, Columbia Valley, $30: Walla Walla winemaker Chris Dowsett blended Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre to create this superb red that provides aromas and flavors of lilac, cedar, orange zest and blueberry, all backed with elegant tannins and rich acidity. (173 cases, 14.3% alc.)

Brian Carter Cellars 2010 Byzance, Columbia Valley, $35: Longtime Washington winemaker Brian Carter founded his Woodinville winery on building blends, and this superb red includes Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Counoise and Cinsault. It is a dark, brooding wine with aromas and flavors of forest floor, leather, boysenberry, plum and dark chocolate. (728 cases, 14.2% alc.)

Snake River Winery 2010 GSM, Snake River Valley, $20: Owner/winemaker Scott DeSeelhorst made this blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre from his estate Arena Valley Vineyard, and it shows off aromas and flavors of cedar, green peppercorn, golden raspberry and saddle leather. (182 cases, 13.9% alc.)

Merry Cellars 2011 Mourv&eagrave;dre-Syrah, Columbia Valley, $38: Patrick Merry runs his winery in the university town of Pullman, Wash., and this is a gorgeous blend of Syrah and Mourvèdre that offers aromas and flavors of blueberry, red cherry, boysenberry and blackberry. It’s beautifully balanced with just the right amount of ripeness and structure. (133 cases, 14.9% alc.)

Ribera Vineyards 2011 Intrigue, Columbia Valley, $34: This Willamette Valley producer blended equal parts Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Counoise to craft a delicious red that reveals aromas and flavors of fresh cedar, cherry, boysenberry and pomegranate, all backed by a rich midpalate and a juicy finish. (100 cases, 14.4% alc.)

Waters 2012 Tremolo, Columbia Valley, $40: This Syrah-heavy blend from a Walla Walla Valley winery shows off aromas and flavors of spicy oak, dark chocolate, plum and blackberry jam. It’s a rich wine backed with ample tannin, acidity and flavor. (280 cases, 14.5% alc.)

Avennia 2011 Justine, Columbia Valley, $38: Woodinville winemaker Chris Peterson blended Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah from top Washington vineyards to put together this delicious red that provides aromas and flavors of milk chocolate, dusty cherry and cranberry. This is a young wine that is still developing in the bottle. (320 cases, 14.9% alc.)

RECOMMENDED

Walter Dacon 2009 GSM, Columbia Valley, $38: Lloyd Anderson, a longtime top Syrah producer from the Olympic Peninsula town of Shelton, has crafted this blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache. It is a bold wine with aromas and flavors of blackberry, chocolate and toasted oak. (244 cases, 15.5% alc.)

Martin-Scott Winery 2011 Cole’s Collage, Columbia Valley, $20: Mike Scott crafts small amounts of wine for his East Wenatchee, Wash., winery. This is a rare blend that leads with Cinsault and includes Mourvèdre, Counoise and Grenache. It’s loaded with elegant flavors of cranberry, loganberry and dark chocolate, all backed with firm tannins. (51 cases, 13.7% alc.)

Arcane Cellars 2012 Wheatland Red, Columbia Valley, $20: This winery near Oregon is using Washington grapes to produce this blend of Grenache, Counoise, Syrah and Mourvèdre. It reveals notes of bacon fat, strawberry, blueberry and mild oak, all backed with rich, dense structure. (212 cases, 13.5% alc.)

Milbrandt Vineyards 2010 Vineyard Series Mosaic, Wahluke Slope, $28: This Grenache-heavy blend from a top Washington winery shows off aromas and flavors of huckleberry, vanilla, espresso and plum. It’s a really pretty wine with just a hint of oak. (250 cases, 14.5% alc.)

Upland Estates Winery 2010 Julian, Snipes Mountain, $28: Winemaker Robert Smasne blended Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre to craft a red wine bursting aromas and flavors of blueberry, huckleberry, vanilla and exotic spices. (120 cases, 13.9% alc.)

Vortex Cellars 2010 CM2, Rattlesnake Hills, $23: Ed Wicklein, a home brewer turned Woodinville winemaker, has crafted a delicious blend of Cinsault and Mourvèdre that shows off rich flavors and aromas of coffee, chocolate, blackberry and blueberry. (100 cases, 13.2% alc.)

Terra Blanca Winery 2008 Signature Series Galet, Red Mountain, $45: Longtime Red Mountain vintner Keith Pilgrim blended Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Counoise to craft a red wine with aromas and flavors of blood orange, raspberry, pomegranate and fresh cear. (112 cases, 13.5% alc.)

AniChe Cellars 2011 Three Witches, Horse Heaven Hills, $32: Rare is the wine that has Carignan, a variety found in abundance in California’s Central Valley. This blend from a Columbia Gorge producer is nearly equal parts Cinsault, Carignan and Counoise. It offers notes of bright berry, black pepper and dark chocolate. (105 cases, 14.2% alc.)

Domaine Pouillon 2010 Katydid, Horse Heaven Hills, $24: This Columbia Gorge producer has crafted a luscious blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Cinsault that offers up aromas and flavors of Bing cherry, forest floor, toast and plum. Modest tannins give it youthful approachability. (737 cases, 14.4% alc.)

Seven of Hearts 2011 GSM, Columbia Valley, $25: Oregon winemaker Byron Dooley used grapes from the Washington side of the Columbia Valley to put together this blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. It reveals notes of dark, dense fruit, dark chocolate, walnut and alder bacon. It’s a rich, yummy wine. (329 cases, 13.4% alc.)

Barnard Griffin 2010 Cotes du Rob, Washington, $25: Rob Griffin, the dean of Washington winemakers, is in the GSM game with this blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Petite Sirah and Mourvèdre. It’s a rich, delicious red with aromas and flavors of black cherry, dark chocolate and a yummy underlying creaminess. (150 cases, 13.7% alc.)

Kana Winery 2009 Scarlet Fire, Columbia Valley, $25: This Yakima, Wash., winery blended mostly Mourvèdre with a little Grenache, Counoise and Syrah to craft a deliciously dense red that offers aromas and flavors of sweet spice, red and black plum and ample oak. (300 cases, 14.3% alc.)

Gilbert Cellars 2011 Allobroges, Wahluke Slope, $22: Yakima winemaker Justin Neufeld blended Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre to craft this delicious red that shows off aromas and flavors of plum, boysenberry, fresh-brewed espresso and exotic spices. (998 cases, 14.2% alc.)

Grenache

One of the most popular wine grapes in the world, Grenache is a key variety in Southern Rhône, where it plays a big role in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. In Spain, the grape is known as Garnacha (and a few wineries here in the New World use that name).

Grenache has a long history in Washington, though it was used primarily for rosés in the early days. New clones have since arrived, and 1,000 tons of Grenache were crushed in 2012 in Washington. It’s a variety on the rise.

OUTSTANDING

Zerba Cellars 2010 Grenache, Columbia Valley, $38: Doug Nierman continues to make some of the finest wine in the Pacific Northwest at this winery on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley. This Grenache includes a fair bit of Syrah from estate grapes near Milton-Freewater. Aromas of coconut, chocolate, clove and plum give way to flavors of blueberry, black cherry, black tea and red plum in a big finish. (94 cases, 14.4% alc.)

Bunnell Family Cellar 2009 Grenache, Columbia Valley, $34: Ron Bunnell, who emigrated to Washington from California in 1999, is burnishing his reputation with Rhône varieties with this impressive Grenache. It opens with aromas of black licorice, toast, plum and blueberry, followed by a rich entry that leads to flavors of red plum, raspberry, chocolate and plum. It’s a beautiful and complete wine. (137 cases, 14.8% alc.)

Agate Ridge Vineyard 2010 Grenache, Southern Oregon, $23: Winemaker Brian Denner used grapes from his 5-acre estate vineyard to craft one of the finest red wines we’ve tasted. It opens with aromas of Dr. Pepper, red currant and crushed leaf, followed by flavors of green peppercorn, coffee, raspberry and a bit of oak. (75 cases, 13.8% alc.)

EXCELLENT

Milbrandt Vineyards 2010 Vineyard Series Grenache, Wahluke Slope, $28: Josh Maloney, a graduate of the University of Ste. Michelle, crafted this Grenache from estate grapes on the western edge of the Wahluke Slope. It opens with aromas of strawberry, cherry and chocolate, followed by rich, yummy flavors of chocolate-covered strawberry, cherry liqueur and ripe raspberry. Available only at the Prosser tasting room. (250 cases, 14.5% alc.)

Abacela 2011 Garnacha, Umpqua Valley, $25: This Southern Oregon winery likes to put a Spanish twist on its wines, so it chose the Iberian name for Grenache. The wine offers aromas and flavors of wintergreen, white strawberry, red raspberry and red currant. It’s a delicious example of Grenache. (189 cases, 13.5% alc.)

Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2011 Purple Reign Grenache, Horse Heaven Hills, $42: Owner/winemaker Jarrod Boyle has almost as much fun naming his wines as he does making them. This is a big, juicy, hedonistic wine with aromas and flavors of rose petal, plum, juice and boysenberry. A silky midpalate leads to a memorable finish. (194 cases, 14.4% alc.)

Daven Lore Winery 2011 Grenache, Yakima Valley, $35: Yakima Valley winemaker Gord Taylor has made a superb wine from a cool vintage. This opens with aromas that reminded us more of Pinot Noir than Grenache, with notes of red currant, violet and rose petals. On the palate, it reveals distinctive flavors of raspberry, cherry and sweet herbs. A classy and elegant wine. (75 cases, 15.3% alc.)

Seven of Hearts 2011 Grenache, Columbia Valley, $29: Byron Dooley crafts superb Pinot Noir from his winery in Carlton, Ore., but he also has a penchant for bigger red wines from both sides of the Columbia River. This Grenache opens with aromas of black pepper, cranberry and blueberry, followed by racy flavors of boysenberry and raspberry. This wine emphasizes finesse over power. (98 cases, 13.4% alc.)

Reustle - Prayer Rock Vineyards 2011 Grenache, Umpqua Valley, $27: Winemaker Stephen Reustle is producing some of the best wines in Southern Oregon, and this Grenache is a superb example. It reveals aromas and flavors of pink rose petals, red currant, cherry taffy, cranberry and crushed herbs. It’s a complex and beautiful wine. (95 cases, 13.2% alc.)

Kerloo Cellars 2011 Grenache, Horse Heaven Hills, $40: This Walla Walla winery reaches into the Horse Heaven Hills for its Grenache grapes. This opens with aromas of maple, plum and berry, followed by rich flavors of black pepper and ripe plum. There’s a lot going on in this pretty wine. (81 cases, 13.2% alc.)

Chateau Lorane 2009 Grenache, Rogue Valley, $20: Dave Gruber has been making wine in the southern Willamette Valley for years, and he reached into Southern Oregon’s Quail Run Vineyard for the grapes to make this delicious red. It opens with aromas of oak and black cherry that give way to flavors of boysenberry, huckleberry and French vanilla. (150 cases, 14.1% alc.)

Mercer Estates Winery 2010 Spice Cabinet Vineyard Grenache, Horse Heaven Hills, $30: The Mercer family planted Spice Cabinet in a bowl overlooking the Columbia River with a lot of different varieties. This Grenache features aromas and flavors of cranberry, rhubarb, strawberry, black pepper and rich red plum. It’s a beautiful wine with a memorable finish. (51 cases, 14.88% alc.)

Whidbey Island Winery 2011 Grenache, Horse Heaven Hills, $29: Longtime western Washington winemaker Greg Osenbach reached into famed Alder Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills for this Grenache, which also includes a bit of Syrah. Bright aromas of strawberry and red licorice give way to bright, classic flavors of cherry, raspberry and chocolate. (60 cases, 14.5% alc.)

Crater Lake Cellars 2012 Grenache, Rogue Valley, $16: This small winery north of Medford, Ore., crafted this 100% Grenache using Rogue Valley grapes. It is a rich, ripe wine with aromas and flavors of boysenberry, creamy milk chocolate and black cherry. (168 cases, 12.9% alc.)

Smasne Cellars 2010 Upland Vineyard Grenache, Snipes Mountain, $34: Winemaker Robert Smasne and grower Todd Newhouse have a great partnership in this small AVA in the Yakima Valley. This dark, delicious Grenache offers aromas and flavors of dark plum, minerality, chocolate and moist earth. It’s a rich, brooding wine. (154 cases, 13.9% alc.)

Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden 2011 Grenache 42, Applegate Valley, $45: This biodynamically farmed winery and vineyard in Southern Oregon has crafted a bright, delicious Grenache that provides aromas and flavors of cigar, leaf, fresh celery, boysenberry, black currant and blueberry, all backed by bright acidity. (130 cases, 13.3% alc.)

Sigillo Cellars 2011 Grenache, Snipes Mountain, $23: This is just the second release from a winery in the Cascade Mountains town of Snoqualmie. Winemaker Steve Bailey used grapes from Upland Vineyard in the Yakima Valley to craft a pretty and focused Grenache with aromas and flavors of cherry, raspberry, dark chocolate and a hint of blueberry. (63 cases, 13.8% alc.)

Upland Estates Winery 2011 Grenache, Snipes Mountain, $32: Grape grower Todd Newhouse manages one of Washington’s oldest vineyards, with vines going back to 1917. This Grenache, made by winemaker Robert Smasne, opens with classic aromas of cranberry, cherry and strawberry, followed by round, juicy flavors of high-toned red fruit backed with bright intensity and modest tannins. (75 cases, 13.9% alc.)

Michael Florentino Cellars 2011 Mezclado Garnache, Snipes Mountain, $35: Woodinville winemaker Brad Sherman used grapes from Upland Vineyard on Snipes Mountain, along with a little from Red Mountain to produce this delicious and distinctive Grenache. It offers aromas and flavors of coconut, black cherry, black currant and hedonistic ripe strawberry. (112 cases, 14.7% alc.)

Coyote Canyon Winery 2010 Grenache, Horse Heaven Hills, $25: Mike Andrews, one of the top grape growers in the Horse Heaven Hills, has a winery in the Vintners Village in the Yakima Valley town of Prosser. This Grenache provides aromas and flavors of black currant, lime zest, dark raspberry and fresh cedar. It’s thoroughly delicious wine. (244 cases, 14.3% alc.)

RECOMMENDED

Reustle - Prayer Rock Vineyards 2011 Grenache, Umpqua Valley, $27: This yummy Grenache from Southern Oregon is bursting with aromas and flavors of red cherry, strawberry, cranberry and black olive. It’s a rich, dense yet juicy wine with plenty of depth and length. (43 cases, 14.4% alc.)

L’Ecole No 41 2011 StoneTree Vineyard Grenache, Wahluke Slope, $36: StoneTree Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope has established itself as one of Washington’s premier vineyards. This lovely Grenache from a top Walla Walla Valley winery offers aromas and flavors of blueberry, black cherry, cola and loads of purple fruit. (190 cases, 15% alc.)

Smasne Cellars 2011 Upland Vineyard Grenache, Snipes Mountain, $34: Omnipresent Yakima Valley winemaker Robert Smasne is the state’s leading expert on grapes from Snipes Mountain. This pretty Grenache is a big, dark, complex wine with aromas and flavors of black pepper, walnut, dark cherry and juicy plum. (154 cases, 23.9% alc.)

Arcane Cellars 2012 Grenache, Columbia Valle, $32: Willamette Valley winemaker Jason Leal Silva used grapes from Lonesome Spring Ranch in the Yakima Valley. This full-bodied red reveals aromas and flavors of black currant, pie cherry, spice and toast. (63 cases, 13.5% alc.)

Kerloo Cellars 2011 Upland Vineyard Grenache, Snipes Mountain, $40: Kerloo makes two distinctively different Grenaches from different AVAs. This example from Snipes Mountain in the Yakima Valley shows off aromas and flavors of strawberry, cherry, vanilla and crushed herbs. (34 cases, 13.7% alc.)

Snake River Winery 2008 Grenache, Snake River Valley, $20: The grapes for this tasty Grenache come from one of Idaho’s oldest and most established vineyards, Arena Valley. This wine offers aromas and flavors of leather, black pepper, toasted oak and black cherry. (162 cases, 14% alc.)

Mourvèdre

Though not as famous as Syrah or Grenache, Mourvèdre plays an important role in France’s Rhône Valley as a blending grape. Rarely has it played the lead role, but adventurous winemakers now are diving in.

Last year, Washington wineries crushed 800 tons of Mourvèdre, putting it on the radar of consumers and winemakers alike.

OUTSTANDING

Knight Hill Winery 2011 Mourvèdre, Wahluke Slope, $28: Owner Terry Harrison runs this rising star in Washington’s Rattlesnake Hills. Prosser winemaker Anke Wildman brought in the grapes for this superb example of Mourvèdre from StoneTree on the Wahluke Slope — which is owned and operated by her husband, Tedd Wildman. The resulting wine is magnificent, with aromas of cedar, vanilla, plum and black licorice, followed by stunning flavors of ripe plum, caramel, dark berries and well-integrated oak. It is beautifully made. (160 cases, 14.2% alc.)

Bunnell Family Cellar 2008 Mourvèdre, Wahluke Slope, $36: Ron Bunnell learned his craft in California and came to Washington to take over the head winemaking job at Chateau Ste. Michelle. When he left to start his eponymous winery, he chose to focus on Rhône varieties, particularly Syrah. He’s since branched out and is showing his prowess with all Rhône reds. This delicious Mourvèdre opens with aromas of mocha, fresh plum, lavender and saddle leather, followed by flavors of clove, pomegranate and plums, all backed with bright acidity and modest tannins. (409 cases, 14.1% alc.)

Daven Lore Winery 2011 Arthur’s Vineyard Mourvèdre, Yakima Valley, $35: This is the third vintage for this variety from a top Prosser, Wash., winery. The grapes come from Art den Hoed’s vineyard, along with just a touch of Grenache, Syrah and Durif. It opens with aromas of Graham cracker, Bing cherry and plum, followed by ripe, balanced flavors of purple fruit and sweet yellow bell pepper. (80 cases, 14.3% alc.)

Milbrandt Vineyards 2010 Vineyard Series Mourvèdre, Wahluke Slope, $28: Winemaker Josh Maloney has raised the bar for Washington wine since arriving here and now is showing off his prowess at Milbrandt. This tasting-room-only bottling uses all estate grapes from the warm Wahluke Slope and reveals aromas of pretty oak, spice and purple fruit, followed by rich, delicious flavors of boysenberry, horehound and black cherry. (250 cases, 13.5% alc.)

EXCELLENT

Airfield Estates Winery 2012 Mourvèdre, Yakima Valley, $28: This longtime Yakima Valley vineyard has its winery in Prosser and a satellite tasting room in Woodinville. This delicious example of Mourvèdre opens with aromas of pie cherry, pomegranate, violet and lilac, followed by juicy flavors of plum and pomegranate. It’s all backed with lingering acidity and well-managed tannins. (100 cases, 13.3% alc.)

Coyote Canyon Winery 2009 H/H Estates Robert Andrews Reserve Mourvèdre, Horse Heaven Hills, $38: Owner Mike Andrews honors his father, Robert — who also is a partner in the Coyote Canyon Vineyard — with this delicious Mourvèdre. It offers aromas and flavors of brown sugar, black cherry, leather and ripe dark plum. It’s a beautifully balanced red wine. (120 cases, 14.4% alc.)

Dowsett Family Winery 2011 Mourvèdre, Red Mountain, $40: Heart of the Hill Vineyard on Red Mountain is owned by the Williams family from Kiona Vineyards & Winery. It is just below Col Solare and has become a favorite with winemakers statewide since being planted a few years ago. This example from a Walla Walla winery shows off aromas and flavors of black truffle, ripe plum, black olive and black pepper. (107 cases, 14.1% alc.)

Mercer Estates Winery 2010 Spice Cabinet Vineyard Mourvèdre, Horse Heaven Hills, $33: Spice Cabinet is one of winemaker Jessica Munnell’s favorite estate vineyards, and she is producing some of the winery’s finest wines from here. This example reveals aromas and flavors of pretty purple fruit, vanilla, black currant and plum on a creamy midpalate. This is a rich, bold wine. (86 cases, 13.5% alc.)

Smasne Cellars 2011 Upland Vineyard Mourvèdre, Snipes Mountain, $44: Winemaker Robert Smasne works with one of his favorite vineyards for this Mourvèdre. It is sa complex red wine with aromas of boysenberry, cocoa powder and tar, followed by rich flavors of pomegranate, red plum and pie cherry. (45 cases, 13.9% alc.)

Eleven Winery 2011 Sugarloaf Vineyard Mourvèdre, Yakima Valley, $35: Bainbridge Island winemaker Matt Albee uses grapes from Sugarloaf Vineyard in the Rattlesnake Mountains, one of the state’s fast-rising fruit sources. The resulting wine is loaded with aromas and flavors of black currant, black pepper, black truffle and dark chocolate. (170 cases, 13.6% alc.)

RECOMMENDED

Zerba Cellars 2011 Mourvèdre, Walla Walla Valley, $38: Using estate grapes from the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley, winemaker Doug Nierman has crafted a delicious Mourvèdre with aromas and flavors of dried cherry covered with dark chocolate, as well as notes of pomegranate and pie cherry. (98 cases, 14.4% alc.)

Nota Bene Cellars 2011 Mourvèdre, Red Mountain, $30: Seattle winemaker Tim Narby uses grapes from Heart of the Hill Vineyard to craft this delicious Mourvèdre with aromas and flavors of huckleberry, vanilla and oak. It’s a rich, mouth-filling wine. (36 cases, 13.97% alc.)

Forsyth Brio 2011 Heart of the Hill Mourvèdre, Red Mountain, $35: Longtime Yakima Valley winemaker David Forsyth produces small amounts of wine under his own boutique label, and this is a departure from his usual Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a lovely, understated wine with aromas and flavors of plum, black olive, cedar, and crushed herbs. (46 cases, 14.7% alc.)

L. Donovan Wines 2010 Mourvèdre, Rogue Valley, $25: Southern Oregon winemaker Linda Donovan used grapes from Long Walk Vineyard near Ashland to craft this bright, assertive red wine with aromas and flavors of plum, dark cherry and rich dark chocolate. (175 cases, 13% alc.)

Snowgrass Winery 2011 Heart of the Hill Rapscallion Mourvèdre, Red Mountain, $30: Alan Moen, a longtime observer and writer of Washington wine, now has his own winery in the North Central Washington town of Entiat. Using grapes from Red Mountain, he has crafted a Mourvèdre that reveals aromas and flavors of pomegranate, blueberry, cola and minerality. (25 cases, 13.5% alc.)

Seven of Hearts 2011 Mourvèdre, Columbia Valley, $29: Winemaker Byron Dooley used grapes from Hellsgate Vineyard near Goldendale, Wash., to produce this luscious Mourvèdre. It is a bright, food-friendly red with aromas and flavors of spices, cherry and crushed herbs. (98 cases, 12.6% alc.)

Smasne Cellars 2010 Upland Vineyard Mourvèdre, Snipes Mountain, $44: Winemaker Robert Smasne leaves no stone unturned and few grape varieties unfermented at his Yakima Valley winery. This example of Mourvèdre from Snipes Mountain near Sunnyside offers aromas and flavors of Marionberry, juicy plum, pink peppercorn and dusty cherry. (45 cases, 13.9% alc.)

Michael Florentino Cellars 2010 Monastrell, Red Mountain, $28: Using the Spanish name for Mourvèdre, this Woodinville winery also included 20% Counoise in this hearty red wine. It’s a rich red with aromas and flavors of ripe dark plum, dark chocolate and pomegranate. (56 cases, 14.9% alc.)

Terra Blanca Winery 2009 Signature Series Mourvèdre, Red Mountain, $40: Winemaker Keith Pilgrim has crafted a delicious example of Mourvèdre using estate grapes. It offers aromas and flavors of spice, red cherry, pomegranate, sweet herbs and a wisp of smoke. (184 cases, 13.5% alc.)

Petite Sirah

As we like to say, Petite Sirah is neither petite nor Syrah. Rather, it’s a brute of a grape. The word “petite” comes from the tiny berries, which result in rich, dark, tannic wines. Its origins are murky, though it is believed to be a cross-pollination of Syrah and the obscure Peloursin variety. This occurred in the 1860s.

Though it is rarely found in the Rhône Valley, it is considered a Rhône variety by the Rhône Rangers. It is most famous in California, where it makes some of the biggest, finest and most age-worthy wines coming out of the Golden State.

In the Northwest, this is still a new variety, so plantings are still pretty young and undeveloped. However, this tasting of 15 examples shows us what great potential Petite Sirah has in the Northwest, particularly in Washington’s Columbia Valley.

OUTSTANDING

Milbrandt Vineyards 2010 Vineyard Series Petite Sirah, Wahluke Slope, $28: Winemaker Josh Maloney used grapes from the estate Northridge Vineyard on the upper reaches of the warm Wahluke Slope. He blended a bit of Petit Verdot, Malbec and Grenache into this impressive wine. It opens with big, dark aromas of chocolate cake, espresso, black licorice and boysenberry. On the palate, it shows its strength with thick, dark flavors of ripe plum, coffee, maple syrup and dark chocolate. It’s all backed with massive yet jammy tannins. As one judge said, “This is just smokin’!” (250 cases, 13.5% alc.)

Bunnell Family Cellar 2009 Petite Sirah, Wahluke Slope, $40: Ron Bunnell’s experience with Petite Sirah in California has prepared him for making it in Washington. This is a big, plush wine that emphasizes richness over power. It opens with aromas of caramel, boysenberry syrup and toast, followed by a rich entry that gives way to flavors of sweet dark fruit, mocha, coffee and inky plum. It’s a big, accommodating wine. (86 cases, 14.4% alc.)

Smasne Cellars 2011 Petite Sirah, Yakima Valley, $44: Robert Smasne’s version of Petite Sirah uses grapes from the somewhat cooler Yakima Valley during a cool vintage. That didn’t seem to matter. This opens with aromas that reminded us of fresh-from-the-oven brownies, rich plum and oak, followed by huge, dark flavors of blackberry, allspice, mincemeat and chocolate cake. Bold tannins back up the massive fruit. (124 cases, 13.9% alc.)

Fraser Vineyard 2011 Petite Sirah, Snake River Valley, $30: The Snake River Valley is building a reputation for Rhône varieties, and perhaps Petite Sirah has the opportunity to be a focus there. From one of the top wineries in Idaho comes a great Petite Sirah. It’s a big, bold, thick, dark red with aromas of caramel, molasses, plum and blackberry. On the palate, it’s loaded with flavors of plum, blackberry, boysenberry, coffee, black pepper and tobacco. It’s a huge wine that cries out for roasted meats. (45 cases, 13.8% alc.)

Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2011 Mr. Big Petite Sirah, Horse Heaven Hills, $45: Owner/winemaker Jarrod Boyle is a big man and is well suited to make a big wine. This Petite Sirah from his Destiny Ridge Vineyard grapes opens with aromas of purple fruit, caramel and blueberry. On the palate, this rich, extracted wine offers flavors of black pepper, blueberry, blackberry and boysenberry. It’s all backed with big, hairy tannins that will make your tastebuds cry with delight. (188 cases, 14.6% alc.)

EXCELLENT

Agate Ridge Vineyard 2009 Petite Sirah, Rogue Valley, $32: Prior to his move to North Carolina, winemaker Kiley Evans used grapes from Agate Ridge’s 2 acres of estate Petite Sirah in Southern Oregon. This is a glass-coating wine, with aromas of huckleberry, dark plum and vanilla, followed by rich, resinous flavors of black licorice, boysenberry and ripe plum. It’s a bold wine with plush tannins. (240 cases, 14.5% alc.)

Northwest Cellars 2011 Petite Sirah, Yakima Valley, $32: Vintner Bob Delf operates his winery in Kirkland, Wash., and also has a tasting room presence in Spokane. This is a big wine using grapes from den Hoed vineyard in the Yakima Valley. It was aged 20 months in new and used oak. The result is a rich wine with aromas of oak, licorice, leather and plum, followed by intriguing, extracted flavors of dark plum and blackberry. Hints of allspice and green tea give way to a big finish. (148 cases, 13.9% alc.)

Palouse Winery 2010 Black Pearl Petite Sirah, Washington, $50: Palouse Winery on Vashon Island west of Seattle uses grapes from famed Portteus Vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills. This is a big wine with aromas of dark chocolate, black licorice, boysenberry and golden raisin. Rich tannins greet the palate, with flavors of chocolate, plum, blackberry and blueberry. It’s a plush wine with a spicy finish. (72 cases, 13.5% alc.)

Covington Cellars 2010 Petite Sirah, Yakima Valley, $40: Woodinville winemaker Morgan Lee used grapes from Olsen Vineyard near Prosser, along with a bit from StoneTree Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope for this thick, rich red wine. It opens with aromas of black walnut, black licorice, black cherry and chocolate cake. On the palate, its thick tannins give way to bold, dark flavors of ripe plum, black cherry, blackberry and walnut. (85 cases, 14.7% alc.)

Plaisance Ranch 2011 Petite Sirah, Applegate Valley, $25: Deep in Southern Oregon, winemaker Joe Ginet used grapes from estate vineyards for this luscious Petite Sirah. It reveals aromas and flavors of cedar, cigar, plum, black licorice and new leather. It’s a big, earthy wine with dark plum flavors on the finish. (50 cases, 13.5% alc.)

Zerba Cellars 2010 Reserve Petite Sirah, Walla Walla Valley, $50: Winemaker Doug Nierman brought in grapes from the estate Cockburn Vineyard at the base of the Blue Mountains for this dark, intense wine. It opens with aromas of dark chocolate and boysenberry, leading to big, thick flavors of plum, blackberry syrup and espresso, all backed with moderate tannins. (68 cases, 13.7% alc.)

Sleeping Dog Wines 2010 Petite Sirah, Yakima Valley, $30: Larry Oates, owner of this little winery near Red Mountain, has crafted a delicious Petite Sirah that shows off more elegance than power. It opens with aromas of oak, toast and plum, which give way to flavors of blackberry jam and black olive, all backed with velvety tannins. (43 cases, 14.3% alc.)

Westport Winery 2011 Swimmer Petite Sirah, Wahluke Slope, $29: The Roberts family operates this destination winery on the Washington coast and uses grapes from Jones Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope for this robust red wine. It offers aromas and flavors of huckleberry pie, vanilla, plum sauce and chocolate, all backed with bold tannins and a pleasant toastiness. (103 cases, 14% alc.)

Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards 2011 Petite Sirah, Columbia Valley, $35: Judy Phelps is the owner/winemaker for this small, feisty winery on the north shore of Lake Chelan. She brought in grapes from Lonesome Spring Ranch in the Yakima Valley for this expressive Petite Sirah. It unveils aromas and flavors of blackberry, espresso, leather, plum and dark chocolate, all wrapped around rich yet approachable tannins. (125 cases, 13.5% alc.)

RECOMMENDED

Chateau Lorane 2007 Petite Sirah, Rogue Valley, $20: Owner Linde Kester took the reins on this wine from Chateau Lorane, a small winery not far from Eugene, Ore. Using grapes from Quail Run Vineyard in the Rogue Valley, he has crafted a yummy Petite Sirah with aromas and flavors of oak, black licorice, ripe plum, moist earth and new leather. (175 cases, 13.8% alc.)

Counoise

Counoise is one of the small players in the Rhône Valley, typically used as a blending grape to boost acidity. It is rare to see it as a stand-alone variety, though a handful are made now in Washington.

Counoise is, at best, a footnote in Washington, one of those grapes that is unusual to see and fun to try when you run across it.

OUTSTANDING

Tamarack Cellars 2011 Ciel du Cheval Counoise, Red Mountain, $25: Owner Ron Coleman and winemaker Danny Coleman used grapes from famed Ciel du Cheval on Red Mountain for this superior example of Counoise. This is a remarkable wine considering the cool vintage, though Red Mountain enjoys enough heat to fully ripen grapes most every year. This opens with aromas of boysenberry, blueberry and coffee, followed by bright, rich flavors of chocolate and cherry. As expected with this variety, the acidity provides plenty of structure, and the tannins play a minor role. (112 cases, 14.2% alc.)

EXCELLENT

Sol Stone Wine 2011 Roselle Counoise, Yakima Valley, $28: This young winery in Sammamish, Wash., has crafted a delicious example of Counoise that reveals aromas of dusty cherry, dried cherry and earthiness, followed by rich flavors of pomegranate and cranberry. It’s a bright red wine backed with ample acidity and just screams for veal, pasta or even salmon. (60 cases, 13.9% alc.)

Airfield Estates Winery 2012 Counoise, Yakima Valley, $28: Winemaker Marcus Miller uses estate grapes for this Counoise that offers up aromas and flavors of blueberry, huckleberry, plum and a hint of leather. It’s a bright wine with plenty of acidity. (70 cases, 13.3% alc.)

Michael Florentino Cellars 2011 Counoise, Red Mountain, $28: Winemaker Bradley Sherman brought in grapes from famed Ciel du Cheval, blending a bit of Syrah for richness and depth. The result is an elegant and intriguing wine with aromas of lilac, violets and fresh sage, followed by flavors of blueberry, pomegranate and Rainier cherry. (56 cases, 14.6% alc.)

RECOMMENDED

Ribera Vineyards 2011 Counoise, Columbia Valley, $25: This Oregon winery used grapes from Red Heaven Vineyard on Red Mountain but because of federal labeling laws, cannot list it as a Red Mountain wine. It opens with aromas of golden raspberry, apricot and cherry, followed by flavors of cranberry and blood orange. A bright, refreshing wine. (40 cases, 14.2% alc.)

Cinsault

Though more widely planted in southern France’s Longuedoc region, Cinsault also is grown in small amounts in the Rhône Valley. It’s also widely planted in North Africa, primarily Algeria and Morocco, which are former French colonies.

Small amounts are grown in Washington, where Cinsault often is used as a minor blending grape that can add depth of character and more fruit to a wine’s aroma. We had just one example submitted for this judging.

EXCELLENT

Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards 2011 The Coquette, Wahluke Slope, $35: Winemaker Judy Phelps brought in grapes from Rosebud, a historic vineyard on the Wahluke Slope with a focus on organic farming. The resulting wine is lighter in color, almost like a Pinot Noir. It opens with aromas of dusty raspberry, rosehip and pomegranate. On the palate, it is a delight, with racy flavors of raspberry and juicy strawberry. It’s beautifully balance. (70 cases, 13.8% alc.)

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