Earlier this month I attended a couple of my favorite Washington wine festivals. Amid the tasting, noshing and schmoozing, I like to look for standout wines as well as potential trends I see in the wines presented.
On Nov. 3, a total of 62 Northwest wineries poured over 400 wines at the Tri-Cities Wine Festival in Kennewick. The new darling at this year's event appeared to be malbec, and nearly 25 percent of the festival wineries were pouring it.
That's a fairly amazing statistic when you consider that the varietal accounts for only about 2 percent of the state's red wine production.
Outstanding malbecs I tried included Woondinville's Convergence Zone Cellars 2010 Black Cloud Malbec, Yakima Valley's Upland Estates Winery 2009 Malbec, and Kennewick's Smasne Cellars 2008 Phinny Hill Malbec, which displays structured layers of blueberry and subtle spices that earned it Best of Varietal Double Gold honors.
Another small-quantity, up-and-coming varietal also poured by what seemed to be a disproportionately large number of wineries was zinfandel (and its Italian clone, primitivo).
The Thurston Wolfe 2010 Howling Wolfe Zinfandel from Prosser was especially noteworthy, as was Chelan's Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards 2010 Primitivo.
Best of show honors went to the Apex Cellars 2010 Grenache. I didn't get to try this wine, but festival originator Coke Roth, who was a judge at the competition, likened it to "... Grenache from Spain or the south of France," and called it "superb."
On Nov. 10, another great event, the Grand Taste at the Tulalip Resort and Casino, featured wines from Washington, Oregon, Napa Valley, Italy and France. I focused most of my attention on the 65 Washington wineries in attendance, and wasn't surprised to find that the quality of the wines served at the non-judged tasting was absolutely remarkable.
The Grand Taste was dominated by red wines, and although small in number, the white wines available were equally impressive.
A couple of Walla Walla whites really stood out for me; a stunning, slightly creamy Abeja 2010 Chardonnay and the refreshing Otis Kenyon 2011 Roussanne, which displayed lovely nuances of hazelnut and dried apricot.
Top-caliber red wines included the Stephenson Cellars Stellar Syrah, sourced from the winery's Walla Walla estate vineyard; the Pont 21 2010 Tempranillo, a stunning fruit-forward mouthful of dried cherry with hints of smoky spice; and the rich, plush, insanely priced Doubleback 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon produced by Chris Figgins and former WSU and NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe.
Dan Radil is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at www.danthewineguy.com.
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