By Chuck Hill
Wines of the Week Archive
The two major red grapes of Bordeaux wines – and New World Bordeaux-style blends – are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. These two are joined by other red varieties in various amounts including Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. One other varietal, Carmenere, was once part of the blending scheme, but disappeared from Bordeaux about the time of the phylloxera plague in 1867. Today, it is most widely planted in Chile.
We begin our annual survey of these supporting-cast grapes with Carmenere and Cabernet Franc. Carmenere seems to be a moving target – some vintages offer great promise and others leave one wanting more. Cabernet Franc has long been maligned for offering too much vegetative fruit, but in recent years, viticulture and winemaking have sorted out this (sometimes) tragic flaw.
Season Cellars is the collaboration of a longtime southern Oregon wine couple Scott IV and Jennifer Henry. I have met several generations of this family over the years including the late Scott “Cal” Henry II who told me of his experiences fishing the Umpqua River in the 1940s with Zane Grey and other luminaries. Take off your waders and enjoy this flavorful Carmenere featuring black fruits, earthy spice and hints of chocolate and mint.
You can visit the Reininger Winery just west of Walla Walla to experience the tale end of crush, with the winery redolent of fresh fermentation aromas that excite the senses of any wine lover. Perhaps that is Carmenere you smell fermenting, like this one Chuck Reininger made from grapes grown at famed Seven Hills Vineyard. “Wild, earthy aromatics” include spicy mineral, peppercorn, tenderloin and mushroom cozying up to dark fruits of plum and black raspberry.
Ginkgo Forest Winery
Mike Thiede is a scientist by training and a farmer by choice. He and Lois Thiede cultivated orchards on the Wahluke Slope and, with the coming of Washington’s wine industry, added 35 acres of vineyards and eventually a winery. His Carmenere is rich with intense flavors of dried plum and cherry with notes of anise, cranberry and toasty oak.
Karl and Coco Umiker are growing grapes and living as fourth generation farmers on their family’s land in Idaho’s Lewis-Clark Valley AVA. Winemaker Coco made this Carmenere from grapes grown at the Phinney Hill Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills. Look for ripe blackberry and cassis wrapped in spicy layers of toasty oak with floral notes and vanilla on the finish.
“Loiregon” is the name Leah Jørgensen coined for her passion of producing Loire-style wines in Southern Oregon. She is intensely involved in every aspect of getting grapes to wine to bottle, working in the vineyards, winery and tasting room where she offers insightful and persuasive commentary on each selection. Her favorite Cabernet Franc offers dark color and intense aroma, and flavors showing cassis, cherry and leather with notes of anise, spice and a tangy young finish that will mellow with age.
Matt Gubitosa’s tiny winery in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle creates some of the most intense and varietally-true wines in Washington. This dedicated winemaker selects the fruit at intense ripeness and points his production at making inky, fruity classics. Not oaky at all, the wine reveals ripe plum, cassis, anise and dark cherry to accompany your favorite meats from the grill.
Walla Walla Vintners
This wine marks the 20th edition of Cabernet Franc made at Walla Walla Vintners. Gordon Venneri has honed his craft of selecting the best lots from area vineyards and using just the right techniques and judicious oak aging. Look for aromas and flavors of spicy dark plum, intense dried herbs, black fruits wrapped in caramel, and licorice and pepper with lingering notes of vanilla on the finish.
If you haven’t been out to the Columbia Gorge during our hot summer, you can just make it before the first rain and snow obscure the views! The vineyards will be showing fall color and the fire may be going in the tasting room fireplace. Enjoy this Yakima Valley Cabernet Franc for its ripe cherry and boysenberry with veins of white pepper and toasty cedar.
Chuck Reininger crafts his Cabernet Franc from grapes grown on the warm Wahluke Slope at the historic Weinbau Vineyard. On the nose, gentle botanical notes of violets, herbs and anise entice the taster to explore the palate and discover ripe blackberry and plum with barrel notes of dark chocolate, caramel and meaty flavors – great with pork or duck.
Whidbey Island Winery
Winery owner and winemaker Greg Osenbach has spent many years working with different vineyards in Eastern Washington, learning what varieties to choose and working with growers. His wines always please my tasting panels with their Old World style – read: less new oak and not overly ripe. This wine is no exception, offering lots of cherry and dark plum fruit with slight bell pepper, anise and smoky mineral.
Spring Valley Vineyard
This wine is named for Katherine Corkrum who emigrated to the Walla Walla Valley from Wales in 1897. She married Uriah Corkrum and became the matriarch of an historic Walla Walla farming family that planted the Spring Valley Vineyard in 1993. The wine is also Old World in style, offering cassis and plum, dried herbs and hints of pepper and lilac.
Browne Family Vineyards
If you’re in Walla Walla, be sure to stop in at the Browne Family Vineyards tasting room at 31 E. Main Street. The location features wines from Browne Family, Ross Andrew, Waitsburg Cellars and Cavatappi. A convenient patio is available for al fresco sipping. The 2014 Cabernet Franc offers cherry and plum aromas leading to flavors of strawberry, sweet herb and toasty oak.
This wine comes from one of Luke Bradford’s favorite vineyards, Alder Ridge overlooking the Columbia River in the Horse Heaven Hills. Look for bright strawberry and raspberry with earthy olive, spice and smoky minerality.
Wines from other areas
This wine was again hailed as the best of the Cabernet Franc bottlings at my recent tasting. Hundreds of years of grape growing and winemaking give the French a distinct advantage in creating wines from local varieties. This wine scored high marks for complexity and food pairing, showing red fruits, earthy mineral, lilac and lavender and dried herbs – a classic.
CAR MEN AIR
The Carmenere grape was imported into Chile more than 100 years ago and for most of that time, it was mistaken as “the spicy clone of Merlot.” This selection is a hit for it’s value price and high quality. Winemaker Christian Merino crafted this flavorful version of Chile’s flagship variety, featuring cherry and blueberry with hints of dried herb and toasty oak.
This winery was founded in 1880 in Chile’s Maipo Valley and was among the first properties to plant European wine grapes in Chile. Santa Rita now has vineyards in almost all of the country's major wine growing regions. This prestige bottling offers complex aromas and flavors of berry and cherry with notes of olive, earthy mineral and spice.
This little brother to the wine above offers bright aromas and flavors of strawberry and cherry with a sweet and spicy finish. It is great for sipping or for enjoying with snacks and lighter meals.
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