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Northwest Wines: Cabernet Sauvignon now the top wine grape in Washington

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes ripen at Quintessence Vineyard on Washington's Red Mountain.
Cabernet Sauvignon grapes ripen at Quintessence Vineyard on Washington's Red Mountain. Great Northwest Wine

It’s known throughout the world as “King Cab,” and that is so true in Washington.

Cabernet Sauvignon is most famous in France’s Bordeaux and California’s Napa Valley, but it’s quickly risen to the top in Washington’s Columbia Valley, where the arid days and cool nights allow Cabernet Sauvignon to ripen to perfection.

In recent years, Cabernet Sauvignon has not only surpassed Merlot as the state’s top red wine grape, but it’s also risen past Chardonnay and Riesling as Washington’s No. 1 wine grape.

And this trend isn’t likely to slow anytime soon. Grape growers in such regions as Red Mountain, the Horse Heaven Hills, the Wahluke Slope and the Walla Walla Valley continue to make it the variety of choice based on popular demand.

Cabernet Sauvignon tends to be a big wine, thanks to rich, ripe dark fruit flavors backed by tannins that range from sauve to assertive. Its wines pair beautifully with boldly flavored meals, including grilled and braised meats, mushroom risottos and Italian-themed dishes such as lasagna or spaghetti and meatballs.

Here are several Cabernet Sauvignons we’ve tasted in recent weeks that are worth seeking out.

Sagelands Vineyard 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $10: Priced for everyday enjoyment, this opens with a nose of red currant, cherry pie filling, tayberry, forest floor and mild oak. The drink hints of flavors of cherry jam and red currant with tamed tannins, ample acidity and a savory finish of black olive.

Reininger Winery 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $45: This offers with tones of black cherry and black currant, lavender, lilac, chalkboard dust, horehound, bittersweet chocolate and finely ground espresso. It’s an ideal companion now for Duck Confit or a sizzling ribeye topped with crumbled Rogue Creamery’s Oregonzola.

Mosquito Fleet Winery 2011 Reserve 34 Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $90: Belfair, Wash., winemaker Brian Petersen aged this Cab for 34 months, hence the name. Brooding aromas of black raspberry, black currant, dark chocolate and black pepper lead to flavors of dark purple fruit, offering hints of blackberry syrup, plum, blueberry and toffee.

Telaya Wine Co., 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $35: Idaho winemaker Earl Sullivan uses grapes from Washington’s Red Mountain to develop aromas of espresso, dark plum, blueberry and sarsaparilla. An array of black currant, blueberry and plum flavors explode upon entry, backed by plum skin tannins that bloom on the midpalate.

Passing Time 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $75: As a player, Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino passed along his appreciation for Washington wine to then-backup Damon Huard — a standout at the University of Washington. Years later, they’ve teamed up with Woodinville winemaker Chris Peterson. Alluring scents of roasted coffee, black cherry, dark plum, cocoa powder, horehound and blackstrap molasses lead to rich and focused flavors of blackberry jam on buttered toast and Chukar Cherries.

Stemilt Creek Winery 2010 A Day’s Work Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, $26: The Mathison family began farming on Stemilt Hill in the Wenatchee Valley back in 1890, and Kyle Mathison started transitioning some of it to vines for wine grapes in 1999. This Cabernet Sauvignon releases hints of toasted marshmallow, dark chocolate, coffee and chai spice with ripe plum and black cherry. Inside are flavors of black currant and Van cherry, framed by fine-grained tannins, ample acidity and a finish of espresso.

Arbor Crest Wine Cellars 2012 Five Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $20: Spokane winemaker Kristina Mielke-van Löben Sels has crafted a charming Cab with expressive aromas of caramel corn, black currant, blackberry, dark chocolate, blackstrap molasses and black pepper. Intense dark fruit on the entry is surrounded by nice acidity, and sweet tannins emerge on the midpalate, leading to a beautifully balanced finish.

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

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