Even if you live in Bellingham, which isn't Washington wine country by any stretch of the imagination, you're never far from a winery, wine shop or tasting room that can bring the taste of Eastern Washington closer to home.
A few weeks ago my partner and I took a day-trip to Whidbey Island and on the drive back stopped in La Conner. After strolling down the main drag we found ourselves (not by accident) in Hellams Vineyard wine shop for an afternoon tasting.
We were fortunate to chat a bit with Joe Forest, winemaker for Walla Walla's Tempus Cellars, who was on hand that day to pour a flight of his wines. As is the custom at Hellams, the wines were available for purchase by the glass, bottle or case.
Tempus (Latin for "time") released its first vintage in 2009, and Forest doubles as winemaker there and for nearby Patit Creek Cellars. Both are located, along with a cluster of other wineries, at the Walla Walla airport.
Forest impressed me as someone who really knows his juice. His wines are expressive yet beautifully balanced and sourced from several of the state's most notable vineyards. Here are my tasting notes on some of the Tempus wines I sampled:
2011 Evergreen Vineyard Riesling (about $17) - This Milbrandt-owned vineyard near the town of George has been turning out some awesome fruit. The bright stone fruit and green apple flavors of this wine are kept in check by a 1.3-percent residual sugar content and a touch of minerality.
2010 Grenache (about $27) - Aromatics of fresh herbs and red fruits are followed by big flavors of raspberry and thimbleberry, with flawless acidity on the finish. This is a grand slam Washington grenache worthy of your attention.
2009 Seven Hills Vineyard Merlot (about $30) - The descriptor "forest floor" may sound a bit peculiar, but it suits this wine perfectly. Its herbaceous aromatics and flavors are highlighted with touches of bright cherry and red plum.
2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $35) - Sagemoor, Artz, and Seven Hills vineyards combine to make this exquisite cabernet. It's a tad earthy, with plenty of black cherry and espresso notes and supple tannins to round out the package.
Tempus Cellars wines can be purchased online at tempuscellars.com and at the Walla Walla tasting room. Select wines are also available at Hellams Vineyard wine shop, an easy 45-minute drive from Bellingham that's perfect for a wine-related getaway.
DAN RADIL is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at danthewineguy.com.