Food & Drink

Northwest Wine: Cab is king in Washington

Cabernet Sauvignon accounts for more than 50 percent of the plantings across Red Mountain in Washington's Yakima Valley.
Cabernet Sauvignon accounts for more than 50 percent of the plantings across Red Mountain in Washington's Yakima Valley.

King Cab is all the rage, and the noble grape of France’s Bordeaux region has found the Pacific Northwest to be a hospitable environment.

In Washington, the driver is Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, which makes more than a million cases of cabernet sauvignon across its myriad brands. Last year, it launched Intrinsic, a Cab-focused brand that has taken off nationally.

There are several sweet spots in Washington. The Horse Heaven Hills has the highest concentration of cabernet sauvignon. Of the region’s 15,000 acres of wine grapes, nearly 7,000 acres are dedicated to cabernet sauvignon.

In the Walla Walla Valley, cabernet sauvignon makes up 40 percent of the acreage. And on Red Mountain, cabernet sauvignon makes up more than 50 percent of the planted acreage.

Last year, Washington winemakers crushed more than 70,000 tons of cabernet sauvignon, a number that’s expected to grow as Ste. Michelle contracts new acreage to be planted each year. Cabernet Sauvignon has become Washington’s signature wine.

Here are a few examples of Washington cab we’ve tasted in recent weeks, ask for them at your favorite wine shop or contact the wineries directly.

Ross Andrew Winery 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $30: This reserve approach by Ross Andrew Mickel features two of Red Mountain’s most important sites – historic Ciel du Cheval and emerging star Quintessence. By Sept. 27, all the components were harvested, and the 25 months in French oak make for aromas of toasted cherry wood, coffee and lavender with dark plum and light raspberry. Textures of chocolate and cherry develop a beautiful entry as the Red Mountain tannins have begun to resolve themselves. Pomegranate acidity, a touch of pencil shavings and crème de cassis begin to describe the finish. (14.4 percent alc.)

Nine Hats Wines 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $25: The delicious and well-sourced cabernet sauvignon is the sister label of acclaimed Long Shadows Vintners in Walla Walla. It’s a fruit-forward bottling of black cherry, plum and raspberry jam on toast. The mouth feel is quite pleasing with tannins akin to plum skins, blueberry acidity and a silky finish of milk chocolate. (15.5 percent alc.)

Sparkman Cellars 2013 Rainmaker Cabernet Sauvignon, Yakima Valley, $62: Cabernet Sauvignon from both Olsen Brothers and Upland vineyards makes up one of four expressions of King Cab from this honored Woodinville producer. Charming aromas of rose petal and crushed pink peppercorns come with plum, blueberry and milk chocolate. Flavors include dusty cherries and blueberry as smoky bittersweet chocolate tannins and pomegranate acidity make for a long finish. This wine and many others by Sparkman are available via Amazon. (14.5 percent alc.)

Mosquito Fleet Winery 2013 Reserve 34 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $90: Kitsap Peninsula winemaker Brian Petersen invested time and money in this two-barrel lot of Cabernet Sauvignon from famed Pepper Bridge Vineyard. A remarkable term of 34 months in oak – hence the Reserve 34 name – offers beautiful aromas of dark chocolate, blackberry and strawberry candy with a rub of rose petal and nutmeg. Dark strawberry and blackberry juice flavors, combined with sweet tannins, give this a sense of finesse. (14 percent alc.)

Reasons Wine 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $35: Oregon State grad Ned Morris, whose résumé includes Abeja, áMaurice, Basel Cellars, Canoe Ridge and Double Canyon, recently launched his online-only Reasons Wine brand in his longtime home of Walla Walla. It exudes dark purple tones of black currant and plum with vanilla and milk chocolate. There’s pleasing grip to the rounded structure of medium tannins and long trail of blueberry juice. (14.8 percent alc.)

Ryan Patrick Vineyards 2013 Elephant Mountain Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Rattlesnake Hills, $45: Jeremy Santo pulls from one of Washington’s great vineyards, established by the Hattrup brothers above the Yakima Valley in 1998. This bottling of cab shows classic notes of black cherry, dusty blueberry and chalk with pleasing herbal accents. There’s a showcasing of 50 percent new French oak on the toasty midpalate as sublime tannins allow for a finish of cassis and raspberry. (15 percent alc.)

Boomtown by Dusted Valley 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $19: These Wisconsin brothers-in-law refer this second label as Dusted Valley Vintners’ little brother. Fruit-forward aromas of sweet cherry and blueberry pick up light pinches of brown sugar, mint and eucalyptus. On the palate, it’s loaded with flavors of plump Rainier cherry and a burst of blueberry, bound by sandy tannins and ample acidity. When you get it home, pair it with Janis Frey’s recipe for meatball sliders with red wine onion jam. (14.1 percent alc.)

Burnt Bridge Cellars 2014 Les Collines Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $45: Co-founder Mark Mahan continues to invest in some of the best that the Walla Walla Valley has to offer, which includes Dusted Valley-trained Ben Stuart. Aromas hint at blackberry jam, plum, vanilla and baking spices before turning into flavors of those same black fruit. Spicy acidity, a medium-plus mouth feel of zippy tannins and the honest yet well-presented alcohol paved the way for this to receive a gold medal at the 2017 Cascadia Wine Competition. (16.2 percent alc.)

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company;