It's "red wine month," a self-proclaimed title I've given to December. Why? Because it's a great time to hunker down as we get ready for another cold, gray winter and warm up with a nice glass or bottle of red wine.
Today I'll give you a few more recommendations from Oregon and Washington wineries. Next week I'll look at some "splurge" red wines as we approach New Year's Eve.
If you're talking Oregon red, then you're talking pinot noir. And Willamette Valley is about as good as it gets domestically for this much-sought-after varietal that's been called everything from finicky to voluptuous.
The Willamette Valley Vineyards 2011 Whole Cluster Pinot Noir (about $22) is a good example of a pinot noir that won't break the bank while still showing plenty of character. 2011 was not a particularly good year for Oregon wine grapes because conditions were cooler and wetter than normal. But this wine offers layers of cranberry, raspberry, a trace of black cherry and surprisingly mild acidity, along with a whisper of smokiness on the finish. It's an excellent choice with a salmon or duck entrée.
And who says Oregon can't make a decent red wine other than pinot noir? Try the A to Z Wineworks 2008 Night and Day (about $15), a blend of syrah, merlot and three other red varietals. Plenty of lovely dark berry aromatics lead off, with complex flavors of dark fruits, anise, currant, dried herbs and a dusting of tannins on a slightly earthy finish.
Another red blend, this one from Washington, really impressed me during a recent tasting. Beautifully crafted by winemaker Victor Cruz, the Cañon del Sol Winery 2009 Red Wine (about $21) combines 65 percent syrah, 25 percent merlot and 10 percent cabernet franc. There's a whiff of caramel on the nose, black plum and mocha flavors on the palate and a gentle swirl of crème brûlée and butterscotch on a lengthy finish.
Finally, be sure to include Washington malbec on your list of red wines to try. A case in point of this up-and-coming varietal is the Seven Hills Winery 2009 Malbec (about $25) from Walla Walla. This wine brings to mind wild blackberries - not the plump, ubiquitous roadside variety, but those harder-to-find petite, wild-field blackberries. Add to this a faint trace of orange citrus on the finish for a bit of lift, and you've got another outstanding effort from winemaker Casey McClellan.
Dan Radil is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at www.danthewineguy.com.