Tasting results: Malbec - a rising NW star

March 13, 2017 

Undoubtedly the rising star of Northwest wine is Malbec, the bright red that plays nothing more than a minor role in its native Bordeaux and is all but ignored in California.

In fact, the only place where Malbec excels is in Argentina. The South American nation has turned Malbec into an international grape, and is exporting delicious examples at a fast clip.

Here in the Northwest — particularly Washington — Malbec is a rising phenomenon, with dozens of wineries clamoring to produce a varietal Malbec and grape growers planting it quickly.

Malbec is one of the five major Bordeaux red varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. In recent years, the revival of Carménère, which was thought lost to antiquity has been added to the list.

Since 2007, Washington Malbec has been rising, from 700 tons harvested that year to more than 2,400 in 2015. And it fetches as much per ton as Cabernet Sauvignon.

Blind tastings have shown Washington Malbec can stand toe to toe with top bottlings from Argentina.

So what makes Washington Malbec so good? The climate in the arid Columbia Valley turns Malbec into a mid-season ripener, conveniently ready for harvest after Merlot and Syrah but before Cabernet Sauvignon. It reveals a sense of transparency, offering different qualities in examples from Red Mountain, the Walla Walla Valley, the Yakima Valley or the Horse Heaven Hills.

The resulting wines are dark and dense, exhibiting ripe flavors of red and black fruit. Most importantly, the structure is based on food-friendly acidity instead of gritty tannins. It’s an easy wine to fall in love with.

Our blind judging of Malbec drew 101 examples from across the Pacific Northwest. Our judges saw first hand the consistency in quality, particularly structure.

Our judges were April Reddout, wine program director at the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center in the Yakima Valley; Gregg McConnell, editor/publisher of Wine Press Northwest; Brad Smith, winemaking instructor at Yakima Valley College in Grandview, Wash.; Andy Perdue, wine columnist for The Seattle Times; Eric Degerman, president/CEO of Great Northwest Wine in Richland, Wash.; Ken Robertson, Wine Press Northwest columnist; Richard Larsen, research winemaker for Washington State University; Hank Sauer, wine educator in Kennewick,Wash.; and Mike Rader, Great Northwest Wine tasting panelist.

The blind judging took place at the Clover Island Inn in downtown Kennewick.

Here are the results:


Smasne Cellars 2012 Three Vineyard Reserve Malbec, Columbia Valley • $45 Winemaker Robert Smasne pulled grapes from three top Columbia Valley vineyards for this stunning Malbec. It’s a mouth-filling classic wine with aromas of black cherry, black raspberry, baking spices and cardamom, plus flavors of blueberry that really show Malbec at its best. (13.9% alc., 55 cases)

vino la Monarcha 2014 Malbec, Wahluke Slope • $20 The Wahluke Slope continues to burnish its reputation for red wines, and Victor Palencia knows this wine region as well as anyone through his work for Jones of Washington and its Mattawa custom-crush facility clients. Here, Palencia also shines with his one of his own brands. It’s a remarkably expressive example of Malbec, featuring alluring aromas of dusty Chelan cherry and blackberry with touches of wintergreen, vanilla and clove. The drink is quite rich, bringing flavors of plums, blueberry and Rainier cherry. Sweet milk chocolate tannins and a stream of Marionberry combine to create a long and superb finish. (14.5% alc., 250 cases)

H/H Estates 2012 Coyote Canyon Vineyard Reserve G.W. Smith Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills • $38 Justin Michaud finished what predecessor John Gabriel started, a wine from estate grapes. Aromas of cherry cola, dried strawberry, raspberry and elderberry are backed by notes of earthiness and graphite — forming layers of complexity classic to the Horse Heaven Hills. (14.4% alc., 144 cases)

Sparkman Cellars 2014 Preposterous Malbec, Red Mountain • $38 Woodinville winemaker Chris Sparkman’s Malbec used grapes from the warm Red Mountain region to craft a complex wine. There’s dusty graphite and earthiness on a foundation of black and blue fruit, with an impeccably balanced chocolate and spice finish. Those give this Malbec tremendous complexity. (14.5% alc., 324 cases)

Merry Cellars 2014 Seven Hills Vineyard Malbec, Walla Walla Valley • $46 Pullman winemaker Patrick Merry brought in grapes from famous Seven Hills Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley to produce one of the best Malbecs in the Pacific Northwest. This reveals aromatics of graphite on the nose followed by flavors of black cherry, cardamom and blackberry for a long and complex finish. (14.5% alc., 180 cases)

Misty Oaks Vineyard 2014 Viper Trail Malbec, Southern Oregon • $32 Southern Oregon winemaker Steve Simmons uses grapes from the Applegate Valley next to California to craft this Malbec, which opens with aromas of black cherry and Flathead Lake raspberry. There’s nothing not to like about this wine — its spot-on acidity and harmonious balance make it perfect for pairing with grilled meats. (13.7% alc., 170 cases)

H/H Estates 2014 Coyote Canyon Vineyard Reserve G.W. Smith Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills • $38 Yakima Valley winemaker Justin Michaud strikes again with another delicious Malbec from the Horse Heaven Hills, his first full vintage working for owner/grower Mike Andrews. This reveals aromas of sage, blackberry, blueberry and a hint of white pepper, followed by flavors of blackberry and a sprinkling of cocoa powder and blueberry. (15.1% alc., 98 cases)

Mercer Estates Winery 2014 Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills • $19 Prosser winemaker Jessica Munnell is quickly establishing herself as one the top Malbec winemakers in Washington. In her work at Mercer Estates, using estate grapes from the Horse Heaven Hills, she is crafting a gorgeous Malbec with a hint of raspberry and flavors of blueberry, blackberry, black plum — all perfectly balanced thanks to bright acidity and tamed tannins. (14.8% alc., 862 cases)

Whidbey Island Winery 2014 Malbec, Columbia Valley • $20 Puget Sound winemaker Greg Osenbach brought in grapes from three Columbia Valley vineyards, including Crawford, Upland and Alder Ridge. The resulting wine shows off enchanting dusty aromas followed by flavors of plum, blackberry and blueberry. Bright acidity brings it to a beautiful balance. (13.9% alc., 225 cases)

Martin-Scott Winery 2012 Shaw Vineyard Malbec, Red Mountain • $32 Wenatchee Valley winemaker Mike Scott entered two examples of Malbec featuring grapes from Dick Shaw’s impressive planting across Red Mountain. This bottling from a classic Washington vintage comes across as a bright and delightful red with aromas and flavors of black cherry and other blue fruit. It is marked by spot-on acidity, leading to a long finish. (13.8% alc., 70 cases)

H/H Estates 2013 Coyote Canyon Vineyard G.W. Smith Reserve Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills • $38 Indeed, each of the three wines submitted by Coyote Canyon Vineyard owner Mike Andrews merited the equivalent of a gold medal. In this instance, it was for Justin Michaud’s first vintage taking over the winemaking for John Gabriel. This opens with aromas of vanilla, black fruit, blue fruit and cherry. On the palate, it reveals a fruit-concentrated, long acidity that gives way to a long finish. (14.4% alc., 70 cases)

Saviah Cellars 2013 Malbec, Walla Walla Valley • $30 Rich Funk continues to confirm his ranking among the top winemakers in the Walla Walla Valley, proving it here with a gorgeous Malbec using Walla Walla Valley grapes. Opening with aromas of Marionberry milkshake, dusty graphite and blueberry, it leads to flavors of ripe plum, dark raspberry and more Marionberry. It's a big juicy wine backed by supple tannins that leads to a soft, consumer-friendly finish. (14.9% alc., 248 cases)

Scarlet Oak Barrels 2014 Spofford Station Vineyard Malbec, Walla Walla Valley • $30 New Walla Walla Valley winemaker Rick Sewall has crafted a marvelous Malbec using grapes from Spofford Station Vineyard. It opens with aromas of cherry, minerals and graphite, followed by flavors of dark chocolate, blueberries and blackberries, and backed by supple tannins and acidity for balance. This should age well or enjoy now with grilled meats. (15.3% alc., 207 cases)

Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2014 Rock n’ J Vineyard Coco’s Reserve Malbec, Lewis-Clark Valley • $38 Co-owner/winemaker Coco Umiker is one of the top talents among Northwest winemakers. This is her first Malbec from the easternmost vineyard in Washington state, and it is spectacular. Aromas of baking chocolate, plum and tobacco leaf lead to flavors of black cherry, plum and black currant. It’s backed by bright acidity and mild tannins. (14.9% alc., 92 cases)

Abacela 2013 Barrel Select Estate Malbec, Umpqua Valley • $28 Winemaker Andrew Wenzl crafted this gorgeous Malbec from estate grapes in Oregon’s Umpqua Valley. This opens with aromas of minerality, sea salt and blackberry followed by flavors of black tea and big ripe purple fruits — all supported with assertive tannins and bright acidity. (13.3% alc., 98 cases)

Kontos Cellars 2014 Summit View Vineyard Malbec, Walla Walla Valley • $44 Summit View Vineyard, part of the SeVein development in the southern Walla Walla Valley, is quickly being recognized as one of the elite vineyards in Northwest. This Malbec from Kontos Cellars in Walla Walla reveals aromas of plum, blueberry and hint of bell pepper followed by flavors of Loganberry, blackberry and black plum. It sits atop a foundation of bright acidity and includes a sprinkling of cardamom. (14.5% alc., 175 cases)

Tsillan Cellars 2014 Winemaker Select Estate Malbec, Lake Chelan • $35 Shane Collins works with estate vineyards sloping toward the south shore of Lake Chelan for this delicious Malbec. This is a classic and complex Washington Malbec with aromas of boysenberry, maple syrup and raspberry followed by flavors of plum and black currant. (15.2% alc., 190 cases)

Dusty Cellars Winery 2014 Malbec, Columbia Valley • $20 Ryan Kramer makes the wine for this young producer on Washington’s Camano Island, importing grapes from acclaimed Lonesome Spring Ranch in the Yakima Valley. This Malbec opens with aromas of raspberry, blueberry and hints of lavender and sage. Bright berry flavors lead to milk chocolate in the complex finish. (14.6% alc., 96 cases)

Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2014 Verhey Vineyard Malbec, Washington • $28 Verhey Vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills above the Yakima Valley is proving to be among the best sources for Malbec in the Northwest. This winery owned by Karl and Coco Umiker in Lewiston, Idaho, has established a reputation for top Malbec, and this one is no exception with its aromas of vanilla, pleasing integration of oak spices, plum and blueberry, and nice acidity that leads a long finish. (15.2% alc., 202 cases)

Waterbrook Winery 2013 Reserve Malbec, Columbia Valley • $25 Each year, John Freeman seems to produce one of the most delicious and affordable Malbecs from Washington for this historic winery in Walla Walla. This example shows off aromas of rose petals, black fruit and Earl Grey tea. It’s backed by flavors of blueberry and blackberry with tannins, bright acidity and a nice mouth feel that provides good balance. (14.1% alc., 2,785 cases)

Desert Wind Winery 2014 Malbec, Wahluke Slope • $25 Using estate grapes from the Wahluke Slope, this Prosser, Wash., winery has crafted a delicious Malbec with aromas of dark and purple fruit. Layered flavors of white pepper, blackberry and black cherry with a foundation of firm tannins carry the fruit to a long finish. (14.3% alc., 251 cases)

Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards 2015 Golgotha Bloc Estate Malbec, Umpqua Valley • $31 Southern Oregon winemaker/grower Stephen Reustle shows he can master just about any variety, and that now includes Malbec from estate grapes. Aromas of ripe black plum and subtle oak notes give way to flavors of blueberry milkshake and pomegranate. It’s a glass-coating wine with layers of complexity backed by rich tannins. (13.2% alc., 100 cases)

Northwest Cellars 2013 Verhey Vineyard Malbec, Yakima Valley • $28 Yakima Valley native Robert Smasne is the winemaker for this Kirkland, Wash., winery. This dazzling Malbec opens with aromas of black cherry and black raspberry. Thanks to beautiful balance and bright acidity, this wine should age beautifully for the next few years. (14.1% alc., 203 cases)

Robert Karl Cellars 2014 Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills • $26 Dr. Joseph Gunselman gets most from his grapes in the Horse Heaven Hills, creating a classic Malbec poured in his downtown Spokane tasting room. Subtle oak spice aromas along with notes of blueberry and plum lead to flavors of black pepper, black cherry and blueberry. Bright acidity gives this wine an array of food pairing possibilities. (14.4% alc., 100 cases)

Structure Cellars Winery 2014 Upland Malbec, Snipes Mountain • $40 Brian Grasso is winemaker for this downtown Seattle winery and uses grapes from historic Upland Vineyard on Snipes Mountain, a hot spot in the middle of the Yakima Valley. The resulting Malbec offers aromas of black tea, black raspberry and wet slate. It is perfectly balanced, thanks to bright acidity that helps the red and blue fruit dance across the palate. (14.9% alc., 75 cases)

Waterbrook Winery 2014 Malbec, Columbia Valley • $15 Of all the Malbecs in our tasting, this should be the easiest to track down.This Walla Walla winery, founded by Eric Rindal, has been owned by Precept Wine in Seattle for more than a decade. It remains one of the most delicious and affordable Malbec options in the Pacific Northwest, and this 2014 bottling is no exception. Aromas of black cherry augmented by French vanilla lead to flavors of blackberry and blueberry — all backed by bright beautiful acidity. Serve this with rich Italian dishes or grilled meats. (13.8% alc., 4,914 cases)

Davenport Cellars 2011 Sheridan Vineyard Malbec, Rattlesnake Hills • $32 Northwest Wine Academy grad Jeff Jirca is the winemaker for this Woodinville winery, and he uses grapes from acclaimed Sheridan Vineyard. His single barrel of Malbec generates aromas of black cherry, plum and vanilla followed by flavors of raspberry and hints of cardamom, cherry and green tea. The finish is punctuated by firm tannins and just a sprinkling of cocoa powder. (13.6% alc., 23 cases)

Hamilton Cellars 2012 Malbec, Red Mountain • $42 This Red Mountain brand focuses much of its energy upon offering some of the best examples of Malbec in Washington, and Charlie Hoppes crafted this beautiful wine using grapes from Red Mountain. Aromas of plum, pomegranate, blueberry are followed by delicious flavors of blue fruit including Western serviceberry and elderberry. It all leads to a luscious mouth feel with lots of complexity in the finish. (15.4% alc., 170 cases)


Hamilton Cellars 2013 Rosé of Malbec, Columbia Valley • $18 It’s not surprising that the lone rosé in this judging came from the cellar of this Red Mountain property. Aromas of cassis and blueberry lead to flavors of cherry and blueberry. Bright acidity and just a spot of tannin give this firm structure, making a perfect pairing with a wide variety of fare. (14.3% alc., 167 cases)

Silvan Ridge Winery 2014 Malbec, Rogue Valley • $26 Using grapes from Southern Oregon, this longtime Eugene producer with Argentine winemaker Juan Pablo Valot at the helm has crafted a beautiful Malbec with aromas of moist earth, black tea, pipe tobacco and concrete dust. Flavors of Montmorency cherries and pomegranates are backed with firm tannins. (13.6% alc., 250 cases)

Indian Creek Winery 2014 My Best Friend Malbec, Snake River Valley • $22 Second-generation winemaker Mike McClure has crafted a beautiful expression for this fun-loving family in the suburbs of Boise, Idaho. A pleasing balance of acidity and tannin accent aromas and flavors of black cherry, plums and pomegranate. Each year, this wine serves as the centerpiece for a fundraiser on behalf of the Idaho Humane Society. (13% alc., 125 cases)

Smasne Cellars 2012 Verhey Vineyard Malbec, Yakima Valley • $26 Here's another delicious Malbec using grapes from Verhey Vineyard, this one crafted by winemaker Robert Smasne. Aromas of blueberry and red licorice lead to flavors of cherry, cedar and blueberry, all backed by a bright juicy acidity that combines for a long pleasant finish. (13.9% alc., 400 cases)

Hamilton Cellars 2012 Champoux Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills • $60 Using grapes from historic Champoux Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills, Charlie Hoppes crafts this Malbec with aromas of tar, blueberry, moist earth and pomegranate. Followed by flavors of espresso, blueberry, blackberry and layers of complexity, the wine has a foundation of dusty minerality and bright acidity. (14.7% alc., 190 cases)

Latah Creek Wine Cellars 2012 Alice Vineyard Malbec, Wahluke Slope • $16 The father-daughter team of Mike Conway and Natalie Conway-Barnes crafted this beautiful Malbec for their longtime Spokane winery. Aromas of toast, roasted coffee and raspberry lead to flavors of white strawberry and black currants, and finish with bright acidity and tannins. (12.5% alc., 450 cases)

Pondera Winery 2013 Stillwater Creek Vineyard Malbec, Columbia Valley • $34 Woodinville winemaker Shane Howard brought in grapes from highly regarded Stillwater Creek Vineyard in the Columbia Valley for this delicious Malbec. Aromas of moist earth, wildflowers and a hint of graphite give way to flavors of plum, blueberry and baking spices. (14.5% alc., 200 cases)

Zerba Cellars 2014 Malbec, Walla Walla • $45 Walla Walla Valley winemaker Doug Nierman uses estate grapes from the southern Walla Walla Valley, giving this Malbec aromas of blackberry, rose petals and green tea. It gives way to flavors of delicious ripe fruit, pea gravel and peat in the finish. (14.1% alc., 189 cases)

Davenport Cellars 2013 Sheridan Vineyard Malbec, Rattlesnake Hills • $32 This Woodinville winery crafted a superb vineyard-designated Malbec featuring two barrels off famed Sheridan Vineyard. Aromas of black cherry, rose petals and cardamom funnel into memorable flavors of ripe red fruit with a perfectly balanced structure that is based an acidity rather than tannins. (14% alc., 48 cases)

Tsillan Cellars 2014 Estate Malbec, Lake Chelan • $32 Using estate grapes from a picturesque vineyard overlooking the south shore of Lake Chelan, winemaker Shane Collins has crafted a luscious Malbec with aromas of classic black pepper, black cherry and blackberry. Followed by flavors of ripe blackberries, it’s backed by smooth tannins and great acidity. (15.1% alc., 350 cases)

Rio Vista Wines 2013 Malbec, Columbia Valley • $35 Owner/winemaker John Little is crafting delicious wines along the Columbia River just north of the Lake Chelan cutoff. This superb example of Malbec reveals aromas of cola, black cherry and bittersweet chocolate followed by flavors of pomegranate, blueberry and elderberry with a hint of black pepper in the finish. (14.5% alc., 125 cases)

Tsillan Cellars 2013 Winemaker Select Estate Malbec, Lake Chelan • $35 Here’s another delicious, cellar selection from Shane Collins. It opens with aromas of dark and rich cherries, fruit-forward ripe fruit and a hint of nutmeg, followed by flavors of high-toned red fruit, including cranberry, cherries and a hint of ground savory. (14.9% alc., 205 cases)

Tsillan Cellars 2013 Estate Malbec, Lake Chelan • $42 Dr. Robert Jankelson’s showpiece winery produces two expressions of Malbec, and this opens with notes of Flathead Lake cherries, a hint of mint and a nice complexity that gives way to flavors of ripe cherry, raspberry and sun-sweetened strawberries. (14.6% alc., 238 cases)

Mercer Estates Winery 2014 Robert Willis Spice Cabinet Vineyard Reserve Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills • $55 This Yakima Valley winery is quickly establishing itself as the top producer Malbec in the Northwest. A reserve wine named for the two brothers who spearhead the business, it leads with aromas of ripe bright cherries and hint of mint. Nice complexity throughout on the palate shows off the cherries and mint and a hint of Napa Valley eucalyptus. (14.9% alc., 215 cases)

Gamache Vintners 2012 Estate Malbec, Columbia Valley • $30 Charlie Hoppes makes the wine for this Prosser, Wash., winery, but this Malbec pulls from estate grapes grown in the Columbia Basin. The resulting wine shows off aromas of cola, blueberry and Bing cherry followed by flavors of bright cherry, blueberry and pomegranate. Hints of minerality add complexity throughout. (14.9% alc., 293 cases)

Five Star Cellars 2012 Malbec, Walla Walla Valley • $38 The Huse family remains one of the top red wine producers in Walla Walla, and this Malbec poured at the historic airport complex shows their skill with this Bordeaux variety. Aromas of rosehips and dried blueberries give way to flavors that focus on dark blue fruit with dusty tannins. It is a robust wine with abundant aging potential. (14.9% alc., 410 cases)

Pondera Winery 2013 Stillwater Creek Vineyard RSV Malbec, Columbia Valley • $45 Shane Howard crafts the wines for this top Woodinville winery. Aromas of plum, mocha and juniper berry lead to flavors of pomegranate, ripe cherry and a long, juicy finish that overtakes the big, grippy tannins, bringing this wine into perfect harmony. (14.6% alc., 56 cases)

Blooms Winery on Whidbey 2014 Malbec, Rattlesnake Hills • $32 Whidbey Island winemaker Ken Bloom is well into his second decade as a producer, and he brought in grapes from the Yakima Valley for the delicious and beautiful Malbec. Classic aromas of white pepper, clove and blueberry give way to flavors of juicy pomegranate, blueberry backed by light tannin. (14.3% alc., 86 cases)

Reininger Winery 2014 Pepper Bridge Vineyard Malbec, Walla Walla Valley • $59 Longtime Walla Walla winemaker Chuck Reininger shows his talents with this Bordeaux grape with complex aromas of rosehips and barbecue rub that lead to big flavors of blueberry, teriyaki, robust tannins and a wealth of acidity. (14.5% alc., 388 cases)

Milbrandt Vineyards 2013 Northridge Vineyard Malbec, Wahluke Slope • $42 Northridge Vineyard is in the heart of the Wahluke Slope and it ranks among Milbrandt’s most prized sites. Now-departed winemaker Josh Maloney crafted a beautifully complex Malbec with aromas of blueberry and dark cherries followed by flavors of blueberry, pomegranate — with a good grip of black tea tannins and beautiful acidity. (15.5% alc., 94 cases)

Abacela 2014 Barrel Select Estate Malbec, Umpqua Valley • $28 Winemaker Andrew Wenzl works with vines planted in 1995 to produce this cellar selection for founders Earl and Hilda Jones. Aromas of beets, black cherry and intense dark berry fruit and vanilla lead to flavors of blueberry and pomegranate that are backed by bright acidity for a long finish. (14% alc., 468 cases)

Ellensburg Canyon Winery 2009 Cox Canyon Vineyards Malbec, Columbia Valley • $25 Winemaker Gary Cox makes the wine for this small producer near Ellensburg, Wash. These two barrels come together to offer a beautiful balance between oak and acidity with flavors and aromas that range from ripe cherries to bright strawberry, raspberry and even hints of blueberry and blackberry in the palate. (14.3% alc., 56 cases)

Bunnell Family Cellar 2011 Northridge Vineyard Malbec, Wahluke Slope • $38 Prosser winemaker Ron Bunnell is perhaps best known for his superb Rhône reds, yet his talents easily carry over for a well-balanced Malbec that shows off aromas of plum and black cherry, along with notes of black pepper and flavors of blueberry, plum and strawberry. This should age beautifully. (14.2% alc., 151 cases)

Maryhill Winery 2012 Proprietor’s Reserve Malbec, Columbia Valley • $36 New Zealand-born Richard Batchelor remains one of the Pacific Northwest’s leaders with this gorgeous example of Malbec that casts off nice dark chocolate and violet aromas, followed by flavors of raspberry, chocolate and bright red cherry fruit. Light tannin provides just the right structure. (13.9% alc., 265 cases)

Indian Creek WInery 2013 Quinn My Best Friend Malbec, Snake River Valley • $22 Bill Stowe is one of the winemaking pioneers of the Snake River Valley, and his daughter Tammy and son-in-law Mike McClure have made sure Indian Creek remains one of Idaho’s most popular brands. This delicious and affordable Malbec opens with aromas of black cherry, plum and a hint of cardamom – with just a little bit of black pepper on the palate. It shows off blue and black fruits including black cherry and finishes with a sprinkle of cocoa powder. (13% alc., 100 cases)

Kiona Vineyards and Winery 2014 Heart of the Hill Vineyard Estate Malbec, Red Mountain • $35 With one of the newest plantings on Red Mountain, the Williams family is proving Heart of the Hill to be one of the best vineyards in the state of Washington. This estate wine from second-generation winemaker Scott Williams makes this point, thanks to aromas of light plum, blackberries and dark chocolate followed by flavors of raspberry and dark chocolate. (14.5% alc., 280 cases)

Maryhill Winery 2013 Malbec, Columbia Valley • $24 This Columbia Gorge destination goes beyond their reserve program for this Malbec, which opens with aromas of blackberries and black tea, followed by long, smooth flavors of black and blue fruit. It is backed by bright acidity, taught tannins and a complex finish. (13.5% alc., 2,013 cases)

Maragas Winery 2014 Terrebonne Malbec, Oregon • $29 Doug Maragas is the winemaker for this Central Oregon winery he founded in 1999. Terrebonne translates to “good earth,” and his luscious expression of Malbec offers aromas of black cherry, plum and menthol, followed by flavors of black cherry backed by smooth tannins and bright acidity. (14.1% alc., 197 cases)

Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards 2014 Golgotha Bloc Estate Malbec, Umpqua Valley • $31 Our Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year pays tribute to a historic site outside of Jerusalem with this release of Malbec. It rises with aromas of mint, blueberry and moist earth and hints of cardamom and cocoa powder, followed by heavenly flavors of pomegranate, blueberry and sweet cherry. It's all backed by fine-grained tannins and beautifully balanced acidity. (13.7% alc., 225 cases)

Spoiled Dog Winery 2014 Malbec, Columbia Valley • $24 Karen Krug makes the wines produced on her 25 acres the south end of Whidbey Island, and while she pursues a passion for Pinot Noir grown on her property, she brings in Malbec from vaunted Conner Lee Vineyard near the Columbia Basin town of Othello. She captures aromas of sweet dark strawberry and black cherry, which are backed by supple and juicy flavors of black currants, ripe blackberry and plum. Refined tannins and beautifully balanced acidity gives this a sense of charm. (14.3% alc., 108 cases)

Milbrandt Vineyards 2013 The Estates Malbec, Wahluke Slope • $42 The Milbrandts sourced from their prized Northridge Vineyard (56%) and Clifton Bluff Vineyard for this inky and insistent Malbec under their consistently superb Estates tier. Baker’s chocolate, blueberry and dark mulberry aromas include mint, dried sage and Californian pepper. Inside are huge flavors of blackberry with cherry skin tannins, capped by mint, Earl Grey tea, chocolate and blueberry pie juice. (14.5% alc., 1,430 cases)

Hood Crest Winery 2012 Vintner’s Select Malbec, Columbia Valley • $42 Blues guitarist Tess Barr also performs as the winemaker for her boutique project in Hood River, Ore. She relied on Raptor River Vineyard across the Columbia River in nearby Wishram, Wash., to develop aromas of blackberry, blueberry, plum and spice. Those yield to flavors of raspberry, red currants, ripe blackberry and blueberry. Bright acidity closes it out nicely. (13.8% alc., 125 cases)

Nefarious Cellars 2014 Defiance Vineyard Malbec, Lake Chelan • $35 Dean Neff spearheads the red program along the south shore of the Lake Chelan winery that he and wife Heather have built into near cult status. This beautiful Malbec opens with aromas of loganberry, plum, blackberry and a hint of spice followed by flavors of loganberry and blueberry. It's a pretty wine throughout with a structure the leads with acidity rather than tannin. (14.6% alc., 180 cases)

Castillo de Feliciana Vineyards & Winery 2014 Malbec, Columbia Valley • $38 Chris Castillo, a graduate of College Cellars, is winemaker for his family’s growing winery on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley. This Malbec reveals classic aromas of blackberry, raspberry and black pepper. It is loaded with fruit that echoes in the aromas, including ripe blackberry and strawberry. (14.4% alc., 494 cases)

Wind Rose Cellars 2014 Lonesome Spring Vineyard Malbec, Yakima Valley • $25 David Volmut studied at Yakima Valley College and trained at Olsen Estates in Prosser prior to launching his own winery on the Olympic Peninsula. Those Yakima Valley roots show with this Malbec grown at Lonesome Spring Ranch. This youthful example offers aromas of Jolly Rancher grape candy, blueberry and Chukar Cherries enrobed in bittersweet chocolate. Inside, it’s a smooth and easy drink of juicy blue fruit amid a medium tannin structure that leads to finishing notes of black raspberry, red plum and dark chocolate. These wines are available at the Sequim tasting room and throughout the Olympic Peninsula. (13% alc., 120 cases)

South Stage Cellars 2012 Malbec, Rogue Valley • $28 Urban winemaker Linda Donovan crafts the Malbec for the Moore family, which grows much of the fruit in Oregon’s Rogue Valley. Aromas of fresh cedar and Bing cherry give way to flavors of pomegranate and red currant, with a bright acidity that emphasizes the juiciness. These wines are available at Don and Traute Moore’s tasting room in historic downtown Jacksonville. (13.4% alc., 175 cases)

Davenport Cellars 2010 Kiona Vineyards Malbec, Red Mountain • $32 Using grapes from one of the oldest plantings on Red Mountain, winemaker Jeff Jirka crafted a beautiful Malbec with fresh aromas of blueberry, cherry and spice notes followed by flavors of cherry vanilla and a structure of acidity and light tannins. (13.5% alc., 25 cases)

Hamilton Cellars 2011 Malbec, Columbia Valley • $32 Winemaker Charlie Hoppes blends grapes from diverse sources including Olsen Vineyard, Conner Lee and Gamache, then cellared the juice in oak for 23 months in a program of 80% new oak. The resulting Malbec emerges with a flash of black cherry, black pepper and bacon fat aromas. On the palate, there is beautiful fruit on the entry and bright acidity on the big finish thanks to taut tannins. (14.3% alc., 240 cases)

DeLille Cellars 2014 Red Willow Vineyard Malbec, Yakima Valley • $49 Chris Upchurch, one of Washington’s most respected winemakers, teams up with storied Yakima Valley grower Mike Sauer for this gorgeous Malbec. The result is aromas of blackberry and plum, followed by flavors of white pepper and ripe red and black fruit. It is a robust wine that will pair well with grilled meats or should age well for a half decade or more. (14.1% alc., 345 cases)

Bonair Winery 2012 Château Puryear Vineyard Estate Malbec, Rattlesnake Hills • $24 The Puryears made this great Malbec from estate grapes in the Rattlesnake Hills. Fascinating aromas of orange oil, red plum, cedar and cinder dust lead to flavors of Bing cherries and red currants. Fine-grained tannins lead to a long and memorable finish. (13.9% alc., 112 cases)

Agate Ridge Vineyard 2012 Estate Malbec, Southern Oregon • $28 Brian Denner and Matt Cates work on the wines for this young winery in Central Point, Ore. Their delicious example of Malbec follows up their acclaimed 2011 vintage by opening with aromas of cola, mocha and blueberry jam. Next are flavors of bright red fruit and peppercorns as firm tannins provide a bit of grip on the back. (14.3% alc., 150 cases)

William Church Winery 2014 Gamache Vineyards Fiona’s Vintage Malbec, Columbia Valley • $40 Noah Fox Reed’s first vintage in Woodinville for Rod and Leslie Balsley marks a continuation of impressive work of Malbec. Their tradition of sourcing from Gamache Vineyards for Malbec, now owned by the Sagemoor Group, makes for a vibrant wine with aromas of dusty gravel and cherry tobacco. Jammy, juicy and consumer-friendly flavors of sweet cherries and orange zest make for long and bright finish. (14.5% alc., 420 cases)

Gamache Vintners 2011 Estate Malbec, Columbia Valley • $30 Charlie Hoppes, one Washington’s magicians with Malbec, uses estate grapes to produce this for the Gamache family’s tasting room in Prosser. Long aromas of boysenberry, cocoa powder and blackberry jam and hints of vanilla are chased by flavors of boysenberry, blackberry and sweet cherry. Its subtext is one of ample acidity and just a touch of tannin. (14.9% alc., 449 cases)

Martin-Scott Winery 2013 Shaw Vineyard Malbec, Red Mountain • $32 Using grapes from Shaw Vineyard on the lower benches of Red Mountain, this East Wenatchee winery has crafted a superb Malbec with aromas of black cherry, plum and spice followed by flavors of blackberry, blackcurrant. Its deep fruit leads to a long finish. With a bit more time in the bottle, it likely will achieve an equal footing to the showy bottling from 2012. (13.8% alc., 103 cases)

Nine Hats Wines 2014 Malbec, Columbia Valley • $25 The Nine Hats label is part of the Long Shadows project in Walla Walla, and lots of Malbec that don’t quite fit into Michel Rolland’s acclaimed Pedestal program earn the spotlight here. Complex aromas of black cherry, plum and sweet herbs pick up a scant dusting of cocoa powder in the background. Flavors of black cherry and milk chocolate shine on the palate. The finish is backed by bright acidity and just a hint of tannin. (15.3% alc., 500 cases)

Valley View Winery 2014 Valley View Vineyard Malbec, Oregon • $26 The Wisnovsky family in Jacksonville helped blaze the trail for Southern Oregon's modern day wine industry. Using estate grapes, they have crafted a Malbec with fruit-forward aromas of black raspberry and plum. Those are followed by flavors of black raspberry, black cherry and a sprinkling of cocoa powder. Its drawn-out finish is memorable. (423 cases)

COR Cellars 2014 Hogback Ridge Vineyard Malbec, Columbia Valley • $32 Evergreen College product Luke Bradford makes the wine for his decade-old brand on the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge in the town of Lyle. The focus here is on grapes from Hogback Ridge Vineyard just south of The Dalles, Ore. That high-elevation site makes for a fascinating Malbec. Dense aromas of dark blue fruit, cherry pipe tobacco and mint lead to flavors of cherry jam, blueberry and pomegranate. (15.2% alc., 300 cases)

Lopez Island Vineyards 2015 Malbec, Yakima Valley • $26 This longtime winery in the San Juans looks to Eastern Washington vineyards for its red wines. Brent Charnley’s youthful Malbec features aromas of cherry juice, fruit leather, blueberry, mint and gunmetal, which pave the way for flavors of cranberry, cherry, pomegranate and sweet cherries. Ample tannin supplies plenty of structure for grilled meats. (14% alc., 120 cases)

Lujon Wine Cellars 2014 Malbec, Walla Walla Valley • $30 Lewis Derthick and his winemaking son John — Lew/John — created their brand a decade ago to offer customers in Carlton, Ore., the convenience of tasting Burgundy-inspired wines from Oregon alongside small lots of Bordeaux-influenced reds from warmer regions. Here, John pulled Malbec from Birch Creek Vineyard near the Walla Walla Valley town of Milton-Freewater, Ore., and then aged it it for two years in French oak. It comes out offering aromas of dusty blueberries and black cherries enrobed in bittersweet chocolate. It’s yummy inside with more cherry, blueberry and chocolate flavors, framed by refined tannins and burst of pomegranate acidity. (15.3% alc., 50 cases)

Goose Ridge Vineyards 2014 Reserve Malbec, Columbia Valley • $52 Andrew Wilson arrived at Goose Ridge Vineyards from Walla Walla in time to shape this Malbec, grown by the Monson family within its 2,000-acre estate. There’s a beautiful extraction that shows intense, deep purple color while offering dark blueberry, Marionberry and tar aromas with sweet cigar leaf. Those same purple fruit tones rush through to the palate, bringing an intense and penetrating finish of pomegranate and bittersweet chocolate. (14.9% alc., 100 cases)

Wilridge Winery 2015 Conley Vineyard Organic Malbec, Columbia Valley • $23 Seattle vintner Paul Beveridge crafted this luscious and classic Malbec using a vineyard in the Naches Heights near his tasting room west of Yakima. Aromas of pink peppercorns, pie cherries and toasted sesame seeds lead to flavors of strawberry, watermelon, cherry and rhubarb. Firm tannins give this Malbec plenty of structure. (13.9% alc., 300 cases)

Lost River Winery 2013 Massif, Columbia Valley • $28 John Morgan makes the wine for this North-Central Washington winery, and their proprietary name for this bottling refers to their setting among the North Cascades. Stone Valley Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley highlights this bottling, which incorporates Syrah (17%). Aromas of spice, vanilla and orange oil lead to flavors of blueberries, bright cherries and raspberries. (14.8% alc., 300 cases)

Browne Family Vineyards 2013 Malbec, Columbia Valley • $35 This high-end Malbec by John Freeman for Precept Wine in Seattle opens with aromas of dark toast, blueberry jam and white pepper followed by flavors of bright pomegranate and juicy raspberries. These wines, the namesake brand for CEO Andrew Browne, are poured in downtown Walla Walla. (13.9% alc., 384 cases)

Lopez Island Vineyards 2014 Malbec, Yakima Valley • $26 Crawford Vineyard just north of downtown Prosser, Wash., is a breadbasket for this remarkable winery among the San Juan Islands. Aromas of black currants, black cherry and moist earthiness transition into charming flavors of raspberry, ripe strawberry and Bing cherries. (14% alc., 110 cases)

Eleganté Cellars 2009 Malbec, Walla Walla • $36 Retired educator Doug Simmons brought in grapes from nearby Les Collines Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley for his Malbec. It exhibits classic aromas of black raspberry and blackberry, and shows off similar flavors on the palate, which finishes with a near absence of alcohol. His emphasis of acidity over tannins helps describe a structure that seems to be a blueprint for many examples of Malbec produced in the Pacific Northwest. (11.8% alc., 92 cases)


Snake River Winery 2011 Arena Valley Vineyard Malbec, Snake River Valley • $20 Owner/winemaker Scott DeSeelhorst brought in these grapes from his estate Arena Valley Vineyard near Parma, Idaho. It broadcasts aromas of pipe tobacco, black cherry and plum, which lead into flavors of ripe dark fruit with the bright acidity found in so many Idaho wines. (13.6% alc., 170 cases)

Northwest Cellars 2013 Scooteney Flats Vineyard Malbec, Red Mountain • $48 Winemaker Robert Smasne and vintner Bob Delf brought in grapes from Scooteney Flats Vineyard on Red Mountain for this Malbec. Aromas of chocolate, plums and spice cascade into flavors of black raspberries and red plums, with firm tannins on the finish. (14.1% alc., 68 cases)

Abacela 2014 East Hill Block Reserve Malbec, Umpqua Valley • $42 This longtime Umpqua Valley producer focused its attention for this delicious project on fruit harvested during the first week of October. It then spent all of its barrel time in 2-year-old French oak. Aromas of sweet strawberries, black raspberries, cherry and pipe tobacco give way to flavors of big ripe blackberries, cherries and dark chocolate. (14.1% alc., 85 cases)

Edward Lynne Cellars 2014 Airfield Ranch Malbec, Yakima Valley • $23 This new winery on Camano Island brought in grapes from the Miller family’s 900-acre vineyard in the Yakima Valley. It's a fruit-forward wine that presents aromas of blackberries, blueberries and plums with flavors redolent of bright dark fruit and baking spices. (13.6% alc., 60 cases)

Harbinger Winery 2013 Malbec, Wahluke Slope • $26 Sara Gagnon operates the most northwestern winery in the Pacific Northwest, just west of Port Angeles near the start of scenic Highway 101. Her complex Malbec showcases aromas of graphite, gravel dust, black pepper and blueberry followed by flavors of dark purple fruit, pomegranate and blueberry. It is backed by firm tannins that will pair well with grilled meats. (13.9% alc., 235 cases)

Season Cellars 2013 Malbec, Southern Oregon • $30 Second-generation vintner Scotty Henry is headquartered in the Umpqua Valley, but he brings fruit in from the Rogue Valley for this spot-on Malbec. Aromas of toasted oak, black cherry, vanilla and mulberry are mirrored on the palate and joined by Marionberry. This easy drinking wine emphasizes acidity over tannin. (13.7% alc., 218 cases)

Blooms Winery on Whidbey Island 2013 Malbec, Columbia Valley • $32 Ken Bloom fleshes out this Malbec with some Syrah, resulting in a wine that unveils aromas of dark toast and blueberry. Hints of cherry cola are followed by flavors of sweet blueberries and pomegranate. A whisper of tannin adds satisfying grip and complexity. (14.5% alc., 145 cases)

Otis Kenyon Wine 2013 Phinny Hill Vineyard Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills • $40 Walla Walla veteran winemaker Dave Stephenson brought in grapes from famed Phinny Hill Vineyard, the Beightol family’s site in the Horse Heaven Hills. Aromas of strawberries, dried cherry, cedar and a hint of graphite lead to flavors of juicy strawberries and Rainier cherries. A pleasing structure makes this an easy-drinking wine. (14.4% alc., 162 cases)

Cana’s Feast Winery 2013 Malbec, Columbia Valley • $32 Patrick Taylor heads up the production at this Carlton, Ore., winery, but he crossed the Columbia River to get Horse Heaven Hills grapes from Destiny Ridge and Roosevelt Ridge for this delectable Malbec. Aromas of Bing cherry, cedar and red plum give way to flavors of black cherry and vanilla spice. Ample tannins provide all the structure this wine needs. (13.9% alc., 248 cases)

Hood Crest Winery 2013 Malbec, Columbia Valley • $28 Visitors to the recently opened tasting cabin at the Barr family’s winery on Orchard Road in Hood River, Ore., will enjoy the aromas of cedar, strawberry and raspberry emerging from this youthful Malbec. It comes with flavors of red currant and chokecherry as minerality adds a layer of heady complexity. (13.5% alc., 200 cases)

Cave B Estate Winery 2013 Cave B Vineyards Malbec, Columbia Valley •  $38 Walla Walla-trained winemaker Freddy Arredondo uses estate grapes from the western edge of the dramatic and beautiful Ancient Lakes appellation. Aromas of cedar, dusty black currant and cinnamon lead to flavors of red currant, boysenberry and raspberry, backed by long acidity that will serve this well alongside Sear Lamb Loin at Tendrils — the family’s on-premise restaurant. (14.7% alc., 266 cases)

Andy Perdue is editor and publisher of Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. He also is the Sunday wine columnist for The Seattle Times.

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