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By Chuck Hill

Chuck Hill, wine reviewer and columnist

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Pinot Noir & Copper
River Salmon

A 4-Part Series

White Rhone Varietals
A 3-Part Series

Versatile Chardonnays
A 3-Part Series

Italian Varietals in America
A 3-Part Series

Cabernet Sauvignon
and Blends

A 3-Part Series

Merlot and Malbec
A 3-Part Series


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Wines of the Week
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of other Northwest Wines

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Last Week's Reviews
Published August 8, 2014

Red Rhone Varietals with Meats from the Grill
Part 4 of a 4-Part Series (See Part 1)  (See Part 2
(See Part 3)
By Chuck Hill

The celebration of red Rhone varietals and blends continues.  This warm summer has been perfect for outdoor grilling, but perhaps a little less conducive to drinking hearty red wines.  Fortunately, many Rhone varieties offer bright, grapey, fruit-forward flavors that lift the spirit and pair well with hearty grilled beef and pork. 

Whidbey Island Winery
2012 Grenache
Horse Heaven Hills AVA

Owner/winemaker Greg Osenbach has embraced Rhone and Italian varietals grown in the Yakima Valley and Horse Heaven Hills of Washington State.  His 2012 Grenache is ripe and tasty with balance and panache.  Look for black cherry, currant and plum with hints of cola, caramel and vanilla.  As Greg says, “It’s yummy!” 

Cinder Wines
2012 Mourvedre
Snake River Valley AVA

Winemaker Melanie Krause appreciated the warm 2012 growing season to fully ripen the Mourvedre grapes in her Idaho growing region.  The resulting wine offers pepper and spice over a base of berry, cherry and cassis.  Serve with your meat from the grill or even lighter selections like chicken or grilled salmon.  Available through the Cinder Wine Club only. 



Maryhill Winery
2011 Mourvedre
Rattlesnake Hills AVA

August is a busy month at Maryhill Winery in the Columbia Gorge.  Saturdays and Sundays there is live music on the wine tasting terrace, and the month wraps up with the Labor Day Weekend celebration.  Make plans to visit this beautiful part of Washington wine country.  If you join their wine club, you have access to the 2011 Mourvedre, featuring spicy cherry, white pepper, mineral and caramel. 



Coeur d’Alene Cellars
2010 ‘MO’  Mourvedre

Here is another peppery Mourvedre from Washington State’s Horse Heaven Hills AVA blended with 23% Syrah for depth and complexity.  Red fruits on the nose compete with rhubarb and cranberry, with the palate offering additional notes of tangy citrus, white pepper and toasty oak. 

Chatte de Avignon
2012 Mourvedre
Columbia Valley

Byron Dooley works from his western Oregon winery and crafts not only Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, but also Bordeaux and Rhone varietals from Washington's Columbia Valley as well.  His 2012 Mourvedre opens with earthy/smoky notes mingling with blackberry and pepper.  The palate offers black currant, pepper, forest floor, smoky coffee and hints of vanilla and caramel. 

Maison Bleue Winery
2011 Syrah “Liberte,” Boushey Vineyard
Yakima Valley AVA

Maison Bleue has gained a reputation for producing high-quality, Old World-style Rhone varietals – both white and red.  Jon Meuret’s Liberté Syrah is muscular in the Northern Rhone style, showing aromas of blackberry, smoked meat, earthy mineral, coffee and hints of violets.  The palate echoes the nose with complex flavors that finish with supple tannins and hints of pepper and spice. 

Purple Star Wines
2011 Syrah
Columbia Valley AVA

Kyle and Amy Johnson founded Purple Star Wines in 2008 “with a specific vision: to embody the soul of wine from vineyard to bottle to table.”  They crafted their 2011 Syrah from grapes grown predominantly on the Wahluke Slope at Weinbau Vineyard.  Look for aromas and flavors of dark fruits, white pepper, smoked meat and hints of floral perfume and vanilla – very tasty with Chef Ted’s Churrasco with Chimichurri Sauce. You can taste Purple Star wines at Cellar 55's cooperative tasting room in Vancouver, Washington.

Tamarack Cellars
2011 Syrah
Columbia Valley

Tamarack Cellars is located in a renovated firehouse at the World War II era part of the Walla Walla airport.  This area is home to Tamarack and other wineries known for commitment to excellence and high quality wines.  Their 2011 Syrah offers aromas of ripe boysenberry sprinkled with notes of white pepper, leading to a berry-liciious jammy palate caressed by dark chocolate and finishing with hints of vanilla and toasty oak. 

Spangler Vineyards
2010 Syrah
Southern Oregon AVA

Pat Spangler’s fruit sources in Southern Oregon play into his expertise of making rich and complex wines with Old World style and age-ability.  His 2010 Syrah could be mistaken for Cabernet Sauvignon with initial aromas of black currant and toasty cedar leading to a firm and structured palate that adds anise, cocoa, dried herbs and vanilla to the flavor blend. 

Reininger Winery
2011 Syrah
Walla Walla Valley

Winemaker Chuck Reininger remarks that he approached the cool 2011 vintage differently due to the late-season ripening and resulting balance of fruit and acid in the grapes.  He used no new oak and instead, appealed to Syrah’s floral and peppery side, coaxing ripe fruit flavors into alignment with the vintage’s tendency to lean and tangy flavors.  The wine offers superb acidity for pairing with your favorite meats from the grill. 

Bunnell Family Cellar
2008 Lia, So. Rhone Blend
Columbia Valley

As we make our foray into wines blended from Rhone varietals, I appeal for each taster to take time at the dinner table and enjoy each wine as it opens up and reveals its secrets.  Wines with a little bottle age seem to be better integrated and open up more readily.  For example, this blend from Ron Bunnell combines the juicy berry fruit of Grenache and the spicy and earthy notes of Mourvedre to great advantage - a very tasty sip with grilled meats or other savory fare.  

Ginkgo Forest Winery
2012 Coalesce, So. Rhone Blend
Wahluke Slope AVA

This release from Mike Thiede has seen less oak than many of his wines, and it is therefore approachable at its young age.  Comprised of equal parts Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah, it offers berry, baking spice and vanilla with a soft palate that is a tempting sipper or satisfying wine with meats or pastas. 

Cougar Crest Winery
2009 Minstrel
Walla Walla Valley AVA

Cougar Crest’s Minstrel is a blend of Grenache with 14% Syrah and is another example of a slightly older wine breathing up faster in the glass.  As the cherry and berry fruit of the Grenache hover in the background, complex notes from oak aging manifest themselves in aromas and flavors of coconut, vanilla, smoky cedar and spice.  It is a lip-smacking accompaniment to meat from the grill or hearty pastas. 

Wines from other areas

Tortoise Creek
2011 Le Charmel
Rhone Valley

This tasty blend of 70% Syrah with 30% Grenache comes from the Rhone Appellation bearing tidings of ripe and juicy cherry, cranberry and earthy spice with a balanced palate just suited for pairing with your favorite summer fare. 


Cakebread Cellars
2011 Syrah
Napa Valley AVA

The fruit for Cakebread Cellars Syrah came predominantly from their estate Suscol Springs Vineyard in the southern Napa Valley, a site featuring the rocky, well-drained soils that one finds throughout France’s Rhone region.  The wine is rich and powerful with aromas of dark berries, plum and earthy mineral complemented by hints of dried herbs, pepper and vanilla.  The palate is rich with blackberry and cassis flavors wrapped in spicy, toasty oak.  Pair with red meats and barbecue. 



Dirty Pure Project
2012 F-Bomb, Red Wine, Grenache-Barbera

The folks at Dirty Pure Project strive to make unconventional wines that taste good and are offered at a reasonable price.  One guesses that the “F” in “F-Bomb” refers to “fruit” since the modern wine term “fruit bomb” describes the wine quite well.  Double entendres aside, look for aromas of bright cherry and black pepper followed by ripe, jammy flavors of berry and cherry on the palate.  Bombs away! 

Tablas Creek Vineyard
2012 Patelin de Tablas
Paso Robles, CA

Tablas Creek was founded in the early 1990s by the Perrin family, proprietors of Chateau de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and Robert Haas, importer and founder of vineyard brands.  Vineyards of Rhone varieties were planted west of Paso Robles in hillside areas that are similar to Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  The Patelin de Tablas blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Counoise offers ripe cherry fruit mingling with mineral and earth and smoky dark fruits on the finish. 

Terroir Hunter by Undurraga
2011 Syrah
Maipo Valley, Chile

The Terroir Hunter project by historic Chilean producer Undurraga seeks to produce wine in the Old World style by finding new growing areas and exploring new cultivation practices in Chile’s diverse topography.  T.H. Syrah offers aromas and flavors of plum and dark cherry with notes of tobacco, earthy mineral and cocoa. 

2012 Petite Sirah

Winemaker Rob Mondavi, Jr. shortened the fermentation and skin contact time of his Spellbound Petite Sirah to reduce the tannins while still capturing the full fruit character of the varietal.  Blackberry and raspberry meet up with toasted coffee bean, vanilla and earthy tobacco in this value-priced Petite Sirah. 

Shannon Ridge
2010 Petite Sirah, Caldwell Ranch
Lake County, CA

Shannon Ridge is a family-owned wine company in Lake County, California producing wines from the unique higher elevation vineyards in the High Valley AVA.  The Caldwell Ranch Petite Sirah was aged in 50% American oak barrels (new) and 50% neutral French oak.  Bramble and blackberry fruit greet the nose leading to a ripe and juicy palate that adds blueberry to the mix along with hints of coconut, vanilla, dried herbs and toasty oak.

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