Food & Drink

Northwest Wine: Red Mountain turns more red and green

Kiona Vineyards and Winery is operated by three generations of the Williams family: JJ, his grandfather, John, and his father, Scott. John planted the first vines on Red Mountain in 1975 with friend Jim Holmes.
Kiona Vineyards and Winery is operated by three generations of the Williams family: JJ, his grandfather, John, and his father, Scott. John planted the first vines on Red Mountain in 1975 with friend Jim Holmes. Kiona Vineyards

In recent years, Red Mountain has turned more red – and more green.

The bench at the eastern end of the Yakima Valley is one of the warmest regions of the vast and arid Columbia Valley and has developed into one of the premium grape-growing regions in the Pacific Northwest.

In the past couple of years, a lot of planting has converted vast tracts of sagebrush into lush vineyards, thanks in no small part to an irrigation project that has brought precious water to Red Mountain.

And almost all of the grapes have been red varieties – almost 95 percent of the vineyards go to making red wine – perfectly suited for Red Mountain’s climate and soil. It’s also one of the most bulletproof regions in Washington with regard to avoiding winter damage.

Much of Red Mountain’s recent fame has been with cabernet sauvignon, but other varieties are thriving and creating fanfare, too.

Here are some of the top red wines from Red Mountain that we have tasted recently. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.

Côtes de Ciel 2013 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Counoise, Red Mountain, $23: Red Mountain pioneering vigneron Jim Holmes and his winemaking son Richard launched their Côtes de Ciel brand with the 2012 vintage. This effort with counoise is the first vintage for their label with this grape, which they planted in 2000. Expect aromas of cherries, blueberry and chocolate-covered marshmallow with a whiff of campfire smoke. Inside, it carries a muscular stature with flavors of blackberry, dried cherry and pomegranate. This won a gold medal at the 2016 Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition.

EFESTĒ 2013 Taylor Mag Vineyard Estate Petit Verdot, Red Mountain, $50: This Woodinville cult winery is the brainchild of Daniel and Helen Ferrelli, Patrick Smith, and Kevin and Angela Taylor — the first letters of their last names form F-S-T. Their Taylor Mag planting is dedicated to red Bordeaux varieties cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdot. The nose is redolent of boysenberry and pomegranate with dried herbs, white pepper and raisin. Its flavor profile leads with marionberry and elderberry flavors, backed by firm tannins.

Forsyth Brio 2012 Kiona Vineyard Mourvèdre, Red Mountain, $35: Veteran winemaker David Forysth’s work with this red Rhône grape carries dark aromas of blackberry and blueberry, joined by gaminess, savory hints of black olive and fun touches of chalkboard dust and pencil lead. Voluptuous tannins and pomegranate acidity set up for a rich and focused finish. These wines also are available at the Walter Clore Center in Prosser.

Kiona Vineyards & Winery 2012 Carménère, Red Mountain, $35: The Williams family grows 5 acres of this little-known red Bordeaux variety on its Heart of the Hill Vineyard, and it makes for one of Washington state’s largest bottlings. Classic Carm aromas of sweet herbs and moist potting soil mix with fruity notes of marionberry, black currant and spicy chocolate, followed by flavors of black plum and black currant which lead to espresso grounds tannins. Enjoy with lamb or pork.

Maloney Wines 2013 Scooteney Flats Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $65: Cornell grad Joshua Maloney’s background in Washington state includes a long list of acclaimed red wines for behemoths Chateau Ste. Michelle and the Milbrandt brothers, but his young eponymous project is tiny and focused. His cab opens with dark and penetrating aromas of muscovado sugar and vanilla leading into a mix of blackberry milkshake, dark chocolate cordial cherry and earthiness. On the palate, it’s bold yet bright, featuring a blend of blueberry with chocolate-coverage pomegranate, capped by a long handshake of tannin.

Martin-Scott Winery 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $28: East Wenatchee vintner Mike Scott traveled to Shaw Vineyard for this superb cab. It offers aromas of poached cherry and plum, followed by dark, dense flavors of ripe blackberry, black cherry and black currant. All the rich flavors are backed up by firm but pliable tannins that give way to a long finish. This wine won a gold medal at the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

Sparkman Cellars 2013 Ruckus Syrah, Red Mountain, $52: Woodinville vintner Christian Sparkman deepens his reputation with Ruckus, a Côte Rôtie style of Syrah he began courting in 2006. The program of 33 percent new French oak makes for enticing aromas of caramel corn with sweet plums, leather, cocoa and toast. Its structure is suave as marionberry and blueberry flavors are framed by fine-grained tannins and polished by a layer of bittersweet chocolate in the finish.

Telaya Wine Co. 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $40: Boise winemaker Earl Sullivan isn’t confident that Idaho’s Snake River Valley can get cabernet sauvignon to ripen each vintage, so he’s a new customer of young Quintessence Vineyards. This cab features aromas of sweet oak, plum, marionberry, white chocolate and baking spices, followed by mouth-filling plum skin tannins and raspberry acidity.

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine. Learn more about wine at