It often comes as a surprise to most wine lovers just how diverse the Pacific Northwest is in growing wine grape varieties.
Our research shows that the Northwest is home to more than 100 red and white wine grapes – from albariño to zweigelt. Many are names you might not have heard of, including sagrantino (a sturdy Italian grape), golubok (a red Russian variety) and black Hamburg (also known as black muscat).
And this doesn’t include the myriad clones of such popular varieties of pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon.
Most of us taste just a fraction of the wine grapes grown in the world. We tend to stick with about a dozen varieties, particularly chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, pinot noir, merlot and riesling. Sure, we might venture out a bit and occasionally enjoy a bottle of malbec, sangiovese or tempranillo. But for the most part, we are not as adventurous as we like to think we are.
Of all the grape varieties grown in the Northwest, the most obscure rarely result in a stand-alone wine. For example, the examples of tannat (a grape from southwestern France) produced in our corner of the world numbers approximately four.
Here are seven delicious out-of-the-mainstream reds we’ve tasted recently. None of them is particularly obscure, but they are far from the norm. Ask for them at your favorite wine shop or contact the wineries directly.
Reininger Winery 2013 Seven Hills Vineyard Carménère, Walla Walla Valley, $56: Owner Chuck Reininger’s Seven Hills Vineyard Carménère shines with deep garnet color, then reveals a nose of herbs, toasted cayenne and dark fruit compote, including blackberry and plum. In the mouth, the blackberries and plums are joined by currants, a combination complemented by herbs and sweet spices. (13.6 percent alcohol)
Sol Stone Winery 2013 Grenache, Wahluke Slope, $28: Based in Sammamish, Wash., Sol Stone Winery has crafted one of the best grenaches we’ve tasted this year. Rose petal, pomegranate and red currant notes accent its aromas, then mint, pomegranate and blackberry dominate its rich flavors. Supple tannins close out its finish. (13.3 percent alcohol)
Telaya Wine Co. 2013 Mourvèdre, Snake River Valley, $35: Owners Earl and Carrie Sullivan crafted this dark, intense wine, which offers hints of white pepper, blackberries and almost jammy black currants in its aromas, then blackberries, black currants and minerality in its full-bodied finish. Its tannins linger in the background, then take a brief bow at the end. (14 percent alcohol)
Dusted Valley Vintners 2013 Petite Sirah, Wahluke Slope, $42: This Walla Walla winery’s petite sirah provides deep fruit aromas of raisins and black currants, plus black pepper and long-lasting but controlled tannins offset by its appealing, juicy acidity. (15.1 percent alcohol)
Zerba Cellars 2013 Zinfandel, Walla Walla Valley, $45: Oregon winemaker Doug Nierman crafted this rare and delicious Northwest zin. On the nose, vanilla, black currants, blackberries and raisins emerge, then in the mouth they are joined by spices and white pepper. It’s a mouth-filling, satisfying wine with elegant structure, lengthy finish and restrained tannins. (15.1 percent alcohol)
Northwest Cellars 2012 Scooteney Flats Vineyard Petit Verdot, Red Mountain, $48: Aromas feature black cherry, blackberry and plum with touches of white chocolate, violet and lilac. There’s dark blueberry flavors on the bold entry with a structure of rich plum skin tannins and black cherry juiciness. Notes of crushed walnut and dark chocolate give it great length. (14.1 percent alcohol)
Tamarack Cellars 2013 Ciel du Cheval Nebbiolo, Red Mountain, $45: The Walla Walla winemaking tandem of Ron Coleman and Danny Gordon have created a wine that provides aromas and flavors of black cherry candy, strawberry freezer jam, mint and a dusting of spices. Its structure carries a broad shoulder of tannins with raspberry acidity, tar and Montmorency cherry in the finish. (14 percent alcohol)
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning news and information company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.