Since the early 1970s, wine grapes have been grown in Washington's Horse Heaven Hills. Today, the region south of the Yakima Valley is one of the state's largest and most important viticultural regions.
In 1972, Don Mercer planted Cabernet Sauvignon near the tiny community of Alderdale. Today, Cabernet Sauvignon is the most important variety in the region, with hundreds of new acres being planted each year, but other grape varieties — red and white — thrive.
The federal government approved the Horse Heaven Hills American Viticultural Area in 2005. Today, more than 12,000 acres of wine grapes are grown there.
These six examples of wine from the Horse Heaven Hills won gold medals at the third annual Great Northwest Wine Competition, conducted in March. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.
H/H Estates 2010 Robert Andrews Reserve Mourvèdre, Horse Heaven Hills, $42: It is especially appropriate that this wine earned a top medal, as it honors owner Mike Andrews' father, Bob Andrews, who died late last year. This Mourvèdre uses grapes grown on estate vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills, and it opens with aromas of white pepper, fresh oregano and ripe raspberry. On the palate, it shows off flavors of blackberry, Saskatoon berry and spices, all backed with bright acidity and approachable tannins. (14.3 percent alcohol)
Cascade Cliffs Vineyard & Winery 2012 Reserve Nebbiolo, Horse Heaven Hills, $70: Rare is the Northwest wine made from one of the most noble of red grapes. Rarer still is a Nebbiolo outside of Piedmont that is this superb. Owner/winemaker Bob Lorkowski toils in relative obscurity at his winery in tiny Wishram, Wash. Beautiful aromas of ripe cherry and a hint of minerality lead to flavors of bright red fruit, including cranberry and pomegranate. It's all backed by classically bold tannins. (14.6 percent alcohol)
Latah Creek Wine Cellars 2012 Monarch Primitivo, Horse Heaven Hills, $30: Primitivo, a clone of Zinfandel, is becoming slightly more popular in the Pacific Northwest. The grapes for this wine are grown at Zephyr Ridge, a top vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills near Paterson. This Spokane winery has a winner with this red, which opens with aromas of rich, dark fruit and cocoa powder, followed by flavors of ripe black cherry and dark plum. Bright acidity and modest tannins provide all the necessary structure. (13.5 percent alcohol)
Mercer Estates 2014 Spice Cabinet Vineyard Rosé, Horse Heaven Hills, $15: Spice Cabinet is a small estate vineyard owned by the Mercer family in a bowl overlooking the Columbia River, and wines from its grapes typically are among the finest we taste. This gorgeous effort by winemaker Jessica Munnell opens with stunning aromas of strawberry, raspberry, peach and apricot. On the palate, it is loaded with flavors of of pomegranate, peaches and cream and cranberry, all backed by impressive acidity. (13.2 percent alcohol)
Martinez & Martinez Winery 2013 Alder Ridge Vineyard Viognier, Horse Heaven Hills, $15: The Martinez family has been farming grapes in Washington's Horse Heaven Hills for decades, and it now runs a successful winery in the Yakima Valley town of Prosser. The grapes for this luscious Viognier came from Alder Ridge Vineyard. It is a showy wine with aromas of sweet orange, apricot, fresh-cooked corn and minerality, followed by flavors of peach, lime zest and a hint of gooseberry in the finish. (13.4 percent alcohol)
Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2014 Destiny Ridge Vineyard Shepherds Mark, Horse Heaven Hills, $24: Owner Jarrod Boyle has turned this into one of Washington's most-sought-after white blends. This leads with Roussanne (60 percent), followed by Marsanne (20 percent) and Viognier. It's brimming with white peach, Golden Delicious apple and orange blossom aromas. On the palate, there's nectarine, lemon chiffon and fresh-cut Gala apple notes. Tangerine acidity and Texas pink grapefruit pith in the finish provide exquisite balance. (13.4 percent alcohol)
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.