Food & Drink

Wine critic Dan Radil recommends red wines for wintry days

Dan Radil is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at
Dan Radil is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

As we move into December and begin winding down on 2014, here’s a quick look ahead before we take a look back.

Today and over the next three weeks I will feature primarily red wines as we move into the heart of what I refer to as “red wine season.” Included will be some

special splurge wines for the holidays. I’ll even throw in a few chardonnays for white-wine drinkers.

Then, as we approach New Year’s Eve, I will give you several recommendations of sparkling wines to help you begin 2015 with a festive touch.

As for 2014, the growing season for Washington vineyards was warm, long and beautiful. Harvests for many of the state’s varietals were a good two weeks or so

ahead of the norm, and the wines you’re likely to see from this vintage will be big, flavorful and full-bodied.

That will be quite a contrast to the cooler 2010 and 2011 growing years, but more in line with 2012, a vintage from which the red wines have been hitting the market

in full force as of late. I sampled several of these wines during my annual trek to the Tri-Cities Wine Festival in Kennewick last month. The 2012s are drinking

beautifully, with lush fruit flavors and plenty of character.

Another thing I noted at the festival was the proliferation of boutique wineries (by my definition, producing around 500 to 1,000 cases annually) and ultra-boutique

wineries (under 500 cases a year). These wineries are making some truly remarkable wines and, recognizing that they’re fighting for shelf space in the market of

Washington’s ever-expanding wine industry, keeping their prices within reason.

Standout smaller wineries at the festival I was able to visit included Benton City’s Tucannon Cellars and their four varietal, 2011 Red Fusion blend (about $25);

Pine Lake Cellars from Seattle, whose 2012 Spice Cabinet Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (about $28) was exceptional; and Walla Walla Valley’s J & J

Vintners, who poured an outstanding double gold and best of varietal 2 012 Les Collines Vineyard Syrah (about $30).

Other notables that should be on your must-try list: Lodmell Cellars and their gorgeous and still available 2007 Merlot, Smasne Cellars’ 2012 Zinfandel and

2011 Reserve Malbec, and two other double gold winners, the DavenLore Winery 2011 Mourvèdre and a stunning 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from

Gingko Forest Winery.

And keep your eye on winemaker Jessica Munnell. Although she has been around for several years and is currently the head winemaker for Mercer Estates, she

also has her own label in Wautoma Wines. I sampled two of her current releases, a 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2011 El Prat Red Wine and thought they were among the festival’s finest.