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By Chuck Hill

Chuck Hill, wine reviewer and columnist

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50 Shades of Chardonnay
A 4-Part Series
Published Mar & Apr 2015

Italian Varietals
Come to America

A 4-Part Series
Published Jan & Feb 2015

Cabernet Sauvignon
& Blends

A 4-Part Series
Published Nov & Dec 2014

Merlot and Malbec
A 3-Part Series
Published Oct & Nov 2014

Oyster and Mussel Wines
A 4-Part Series
Published Sept & Oct 2014

Pinot Noir & Copper
River Salmon

A 4-Part Series
Published June & July 2014

White Rhone Varietals
A 3-Part Series

Published Apr & May 2014


Index to Archived
Wines of the Week
...Earlier Columns


Chuck's Wine Reviews
of other Northwest Wines

Organized by varietal


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Last Week's Reviews
Published May 8, 2015

Red Rhone Varietals – New Discoveries
Part 2 of a 4-Part Series (See Part 1)  (See Part 3)
By Chuck Hill

Changes have been taking place in wineries throughout the west in relation to the production of Rhone style wines. Many wines are leaner and more complex. Wines are more food friendly with better acid balance and less overt oak character. There are still plenty of selections that offer big, ripe character, but even these make up for their forward nature with complexity and style. 

Our food pairings have been beef and pork, expertly prepared and elegantly served by Chef Ted.  Whether spicy churrasco with chimichurri or savory mushroom sauce with capers and olives, the wines have complemented the cuisine exquisitely. Choose your style and price from the diverse selections below. 


Schmidt Family Vineyards
2011 Syrah
Applegate Valley AVA

Cal and Judy Schmidt purchased the old Bennett Ranch in Oregon’s Applegate Valley in 2000 and created Schmidt Family Vineyards, a superb location for grape growing on the fertile Kubli Bench.  Among the first varietals planted on the site was Syrah. Their location has proved to be a good one with superb Syrah produced with each vintage. The 2011 Syrah has developed into a stunning wine, offering tangy blueberry, earthy mineral and cassis with notes of toasty oak and vanilla – great with steak and mushroom sauce. 

Claar Cellars
2010 Syrah, White Bluffs
Columbia Valley AVA

This rich and complex wine was crafted by winemaker Joe Hudon from grapes grown at the Claar-Whitelatch White Bluffs vineyard north of Pasco. Aromas of earthy mineral, ripe plum, cocoa and toasty cedar lead to a palate featuring juicy cassis and cherry flavors with hints of violets and tobacco on the finish. 

2011 Syrah
Walla Walla Valley AVA

Les Collines Vineyard is the source for the grapes in this Syrah – and for many others who are seeking some of the best fruit from the Walla Walla area.  Les Collines Syrah fruit produces wines with complex aromas and flavors highlighted by sweet violets, cranberry and dark cherry, with notes of caramel, spice and toasty mineral coming from the winemaking side of the equation.  It is a very nice accompaniment to rich meats from the grill or hearty sauces and stews.  

Spring Valley Vineyard
2012 Syrah, “Nina Lee”
Walla Walla Valley AVA

The Corkrum-Derby family has been farming in the area of the Walla Walla Valley known as Spring Valley for more than a century.  The Spring Valley Vineyard was planted in 1993 and 1995 with the first estate-bottled wines being made in 1999.  This wine is named for Nina Lee, wife of early patriarch Frederick Corkrum.  This powerful Syrah offers hints of the floral perfume common to many Walla Walla Syrahs, but it finds its strength in ripe blueberry and blackberry fruit with assertive notes of oak and spice. 

Three Rivers Winery
2012 Syrah
Walla Walla Valley AVA

With the coming of warm and sunny weather, it is worth noting up front to wine-loving linksters that Three Rivers Winery has its own three-hole pitch and putt located next to the winery in Walla Walla.  Bring the sticks (or just a few irons and the putter) for some fun competition before tasting.  Winemaker Holly Turner added complexity to her Syrah by adding 15% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon to the blend.  Look for jammy blueberry and black cherry with notes of white pepper and toasty oak. 

Walla Walla Vintners
2012 Syrah, Estate
Walla Walla Valley AVA

This wine is a clonal blend from Walla Walla Vintners Estate Vineyard - 50% Joseph Phelps Clone Syrah and 50% Tablas Creek Clone Syrah.  My tasters found ripe plum and toasty barrel spice over a base of mixed black fruits, pepper and hints of citrus and floral perfume.  An additional year or two of bottle age will make this flavorful wine even more complex and food friendly. 

Tamarack Cellars
2010 Syrah
Red Mountain AVA

Here is another clonal blend of Syrah sourced from the famed Ciel du Cheval Vineyard on Red Mountain. Winemaker/owner Ron Coleman blended the Tablas Creek clone with clone 174, creating a complex wine from a cool vintage that shows the Old World Syrah profile.  Aromas of red currant and blackberry lead to flavors with added dark fruits, caramel and earthy mineral on the finish. 

Murray by Hightower Cellars
2012 Syrah
Red Mountain AVA

Tim and Kelly Hightower continue to honor their original winery dog, Murray, with this popular value brand. Murray Syrah is co-fermented with 5% Viognier in the Old World style, adding floral notes and additional complexity.  Look for bright aromas of citrus zest mingling with tar and earthy spice.  The palate shows flavors of red fruits and lime with bright acidity – a great food wine for any hearty dish. 

Rhone Blends

Buried Cane
2010 Heartwood
Columbia Valley AVA

“Heartwood is a red blend based on our winemaker’s selection from outstanding lots of Rhone and Bordeaux varietals.”  This vintage highlights the Rhone varietals Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsault and Syrah in a classic blend that is at once juicy, complex, food friendly and delicious.  The juicy red fruit character of Mourvedre and Grenache is augmented by bright cherry from the Cinsault and dark fruits and earthy mineral from the Syrah – great for summer enjoyment with your efforts from the grill. 

Tranche Cellars
2009 Slice of Pape
Columbia Valley AVA

Michael and Lauri Corliss began Tranche Cellars as “cutting edge and exploratory” when compared with their original winery, Corliss.  Working with winemaker Andrew Trio, they create Tranche Cellars wines to explore a variety of blended and single-varietal wines.  This elegant GSM (plus Cinsault) blend was aged at the winery for five years before release.  The reward comes with rich aromas and flavors of black cherry, olive blend, anise and cassis.   

DaMa Wines
2011 Red Wine, GSM, Damanation
Yakima Valley AVA

Mary Derby continues to impress my tasters with her DaMa Wines celebrating the success of women in Washington wine.  Mary’s feminist devotion and irreverent approach to wine marketing fills an important niche in the growth of Northwest wine.  “Damanation!” is a blend of 45% Grenache, 40% Syrah and 15% Mourvedre from Lonesome Springs Vineyard, offering aromas and flavors of cherry and pomegranate, baking spice and mineral, and notes of smoky earth and vanilla. 


Novelty Hill Winery
2012 Grenache, Stillwater Creek Vineyard
Columbia Valley  AVA

As Rhone red varietals continue to take Washington by storm, Grenache is becoming an important piece of the puzzle when one contemplates the State’s red-wine future.  Stillwater Creek Vineyard on the Royal Slope has had a string of well-received varietal Grenache releases under the Novelty Hill label and the 2012 will add to that line.  Classic aromas of strawberry and cherry lead to a medium-bodied palate of jammy fruits with notes of spice and mineral.  Novelty Hill Grenache is a superb pairing with herbed chicken from the grill and complex cheeses with artisan breads.  

Maison Bleue Family Winery
2012 Grenache
Columbia Valley AVA

Jon Meuret’s Bougeouis Grenache is crafted from grapes grown at Boushey Vineyard in the Yakima Valley, Ciel du Cheval Vineyard on Red Mountain, and Seven Hills Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley. Aromas of sweet cherry, earthy slate, pepper and cassis lead to a soft palate with flavors of spicy cherry candy, vanilla and plum. 

Petite Sirah

Maryhill Winery
2012 Rosso Granato, Petite Sirah
Columbia Valley AVA

This big Petite Sirah was aged in 65% new French oak, but the grapes came from the warm 2012 vintage so they had the stuffing to make the most of it!  Winemaker Richard Batchelor worked closely with the local growers to monitor the fruit ripeness and picked each vineyard at the precise moment for optimum flavor and character.  Look for aromas and flavors of dark plum and cherry with notes of cocoa, white pepper and hints of floral perfume. 

Spangler Vineyards
2012 Petite Sirah
Alexander Valley, Sonoma County

Pat Spangler of Spangler Vineyards in Roseburg, Oregon brings in some fruit from select California vineyards, depending on the vintage, to augment his varietal selection.  This Petite Sirah from the Alexander Valley was a favorite with my tasters, offering ripe aromas of black cherry, earthy mineral and barrel spice leading to flavors of plum and black fruits with notes of vanilla and caramel on the finish. 


Quady North
2014 Rosť of Counoise
Rogue Valley AVA

Herb Quady crafted this complex and well-balanced rosť from Counoise fruit grown in the warm Rogue Valley of Oregon.  On the nose, fresh strawberry and rose petal dance with hints of mineral and fresh herbs. The palate features flavors of watermelon, strawberry and floral notes.  Good acidity on the palate rounds out what my tasters agreed was nearly a perfect rosť wine. 

Maison Bleue
2014 Rosť of Grenache “Lisette”
Columbia Valley AVA

This rosť was made in the Bandol style with all fruit whole-cluster pressed and fermented in stainless steel.  After fermentation, the wine remained in tank on the lees for approximately four months. The lees were stirred regularly and the wine completed malolactic fermentation in the tank.  Look for aromas and flavors of strawberry and spiced plum with notes of spice and mineral.  Winemaker Jon Meuret suggests pairing with roasted chicken, olive tapenade or assorted hard, aged cheeses. 

Wines from other areas

2013 Garnacha
Navarra, Spain

There is a wonderful freshness and fruit-forward joy in the Garnacha (Grenache) wines of northern Spain. One can imagine relaxing above the streets of Pamplona (in the center of this wine region), sipping on this delicious wine, while the bulls and adventurous revelers run by.  But I digress…  Look for complex aromas of cherry, grapefruit, spicy cinnamon and plum followed by similar flavors with added anise and citrus – great with food and five stars for refreshment! 

2013 Garnacha, Old Vines

Here is another lip-smacking Spanish Garnacha that hails from the Catalunya region southwest of Barcelona.  This arid growing region (less than 14” of rain per year) faced extreme drought in 2013, but the 20-year-old vineyards have deep roots and were able to produce fruit that was even better and more complex than normal. You’ll enjoy aromas and flavors of dark cherry, earthy mineral,  candy raspberry and hints of pepper, licorice and spice. 

Terroir Hunter by Undurraga
2011 Syrah
Maipo Valley, Chile

This Syrah comes from the Undurraga winery, one of the most prestigious and longest operating wineries in Chile.  Founded in 1885, the winery distributes to more than 70 countries around the world and has holdings in all of the major winegrowing areas of Chile. Terroir Hunter Syrah offers aromas and flavors of dark cherry and plum with notes of earthy mineral, cherry candy and spice – good with meats from the grill. 

Domaine de Rothschild
2011 Blason d’Aussiere

Records document winegrowing in this area of Corbieres going back to the year 92 in the days of the Roman empire.  Chateau d’Aussiere has a long history beginning with the production of Cistercian Abbey wines up to the French revolution, after which it became part of the private estates of Napoleon Bonaparte.  This blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Carignan was well-liked by my tasters, appreciating complex aromas and flavors of blackberry, spicy earth, cherry and dried herbs with hints of violets and raspberry on the nose.

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©  May, 2015  Chuck Hill
All rights reserved.  Last revised: 05/21/2015