Food & Drink

Northwest Wines: Malbec is Washington’s new shining star

In the past half-decade, Malbec has become the darling of the Washington wine industry, and for good reason.

For centuries, Malbec has played little more than a minor role in its native Bordeaux, but the rich red wine has taken center stage in Argentina, where it now is considered the national wine grape. That same attitude is starting to take shape in Washington, where conditions would seem to turn Malbec into something magical.

In the arid conditions of the Columbia Valley American Viticultural Area (and the grape-growing regions within it), Malbec is able to shine like almost no other location in the world. Rich red and black fruit shine behind bright acidity, moderate tannins and dark spices.

While Malbec is still a relatively minor grape as far as total acreage is concerned, more than 100 examples can be found in the Pacific Northwest — with the vast majority coming from Washington.

Here are some beautiful examples we've tasted in recent weeks from Washington (and the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley). Ask for them at your favorite wine merchants or contact the wineries directly.

J&J Vintners 2012 Les Collines Vineyard Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, $35: This young producer in Oregon's Walla Walla Valley is crafting several delicious wines, and this Malbec is a great example of the region's potential with the noble Bordeaux variety. This opens with aromas of ripe plum, black pepper and dark chocolate shavings. On the palate, it explodes with bold flavors of blackberry, dark plum and dark cherry. Firm tannins and bright acidity provide ample structure through the lengthy finish. (14.6 percent alcohol)

William Church Winery 2012 Gamache Vineyards Malbec, Columbia Valley, $38: The 2011 version of this wine from this small Woodinville, Wash., producer was "best of the best" in last year's Wine Press Northwest Platinum Judging — and this new vintage is well on its way to being even better. Aromas of succulent dark fruit brood in the glass, and flavors of round, ripe blackberry and black cherry mingle with notes of dark chocolate and black pepper. Mild tannins and ample acidity give this gorgeous red wine tremendous length. (14.4 percent alcohol)

Kontos Cellars 2012 Summit View Vineyard Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, $42: Cameron Kontos, second-generation Walla Walla winemaker, used grapes from Summit View Vineyard to craft this gorgeous Malbec, which ended up the best of class in this year's Great Northwest Wine Competition. It opens with aromas of boysenberry, molasses and black pepper. On the palate, it provides intensely dark flavors of espresso, dark plum and Baker's chocolate. It's all backed with pliable tannins. (14.7 percent alcohol)

Swiftwater Cellars 2011 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $38: This destination winery near the Cascade Mountains town of Cle Elum, Wash., came into its own under the direction of winemaker Linda Trotta, who has since departed, leaving the cellar in the capable hands of Andrew Wisniewski. This luscious Malbec brings aromas of blackberry, black pepper, minerality and cocoa, followed by flavors of perfectly ripe plum and backed by assertive tannins. (14.6 percent alcohol)

Lookout Point Winery 2011 Malbec, Rattlesnake Hills, $24: Owner/winemaker George Petzinger focuses his Malbec program on Two Coyote Vineyard — and for good reason. A beautiful display of oak shows with the nose of dark cherry, Damson plum, chocolate and toasted walnut, followed by an elegant structure of black currant, cherry and plum. Sandy tannins and blueberry acidity lead to a finish of cocoa powder. (14.2 percent alcohol)

Thurston Wolfe 2012 Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills, $30: Longtime winemaker Wade Wolfe knows the Horse Heaven Hills as well as anyone in the industry. This bottle is remarkably suave, dark and layered from start to finish, with aromas and matching flavors of black currant, blackberry, cola, fresh-baked brownie, coffee and crushed leaf. Sandy tannins and mountain berry acidity makes for an easy finish. (14.5 percent alcohol)

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.

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