Washington State wines are no longer a secret to savvy sommeliers. So why aren't more bottlings from the majestic Pacific Northwest showing up on restaurant wine lists?
I made this point to a group of friends while hosting a tasting of some of my best Washington State club-member wines. It was interesting to hear their comments and watch their faces light up as they experienced for the first time these energetic Syrahs, fabulous Bordeaux-style blends, and powerful Cabernet Sauvignons.
For three hours, we sat around the kitchen island sipping and "noshing" on platters of food (pulled pork and Black Angus sliders, egg rolls, Italian antipasto and Asian-style chicken fingers). It was a lot of fun. My guests also learned the value of belonging to a wine club. It's free to join and members get discounted prices -- and sometimes free shipping -- on premium wines that rarely show up on stores shelves.
In my view, the quality of Washington State's best reds are equal to those of California -- and sell for a whole lot less.
We selected bottles from four wineries in the Walla Walla appellation, located four hours from Seattle in eastern Washington State -- the state's driest region. They are Dunham Cellars (www.dunham cellars.com), L'Ecole No. 41 (www.lecole.com), Long Shadow Vineyards (www.longshdow.com) and Drew Bledsoe's Doubleback (www.double back.com).
Here's a collective impression of these fabulous, aged wines.
DUNHAM CELLARS SYRAH COLUMBIA VALLEY, $29.75 — A tasty, luscious treat. Fruit is sourced from four vineyards, including the prestigious Lewis Estate Vineyard. This 100 percent Syrah was released in 2016 and is still a baby. Blackberry, blueberry pie and baking-spice flavors satisfy the palate on a silky smooth frame.
L'ECOLE NO. 41 SYRAH SEVEN HILLS VINEYARD, $36 — The estate-grown fruit is grown at one of Walla Walla AVA's oldest and most impressive vineyards that straddles the Oregon line. The 2016 Syrah is rich, opulent and flavorful. Secondary traits of chocolate espresso mingle with peppery spices. The wine's purple color is a sight to behold.
LONG SHADOWS VINTNERS (LSV) SEQUEL SYRAH, $60 — Each of the winery's six reds are crafted by six different globally acclaimed winemakers. Australia's John Duval, best known for Penfolds Grange's iconic Shiraz, gives his distinctive touch to Sequel, which is a cuvee from multiple handpicked vineyard sites in the Columbia Valley. Robert Parker's Wine Advocate described the 2013 Sequel as a "killer wine" of "blackberries, black currants, smoky oak, meat and spice." The tasting group flipped over this elegant, complex beauty.
LSV PIROUETTE, $60 — An exemplary Bordeaux-style blend made by outstanding French winemaker Phillipe Melka of Chateau Petrus and Chateau Haut-Brion fame. He's now settled in Napa Valley, directing winemaking at the exclusive Roy Estates. Pirouette's mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec features bursts of black cherry, chocolate and sweet tannins. A serious, silky, full-bodied wine that ends with a long, spicy note.
LSV PEDESTAL MERLOT, $65 — One of my favorites for its rich, voluptuous black fruit flavors and velvety texture, Pedestal a work of art from renowned French master Michel Rolland. A touch of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot add power and structure for structure. The tasting group labeled it "superb."
LSV FEATHER CABERNET SAUVIGNON, $65 — Made by Napa Valley's Randy Dunn of Caymus fame, Feather is a focused, intense wine of beguiling flavors. The 2013 is still young in bottle, so watch out when this releases wave upon wave of black fruit, violets and toasty spices over the next five years.
DOUBLEBACK 2011, $89 — Drew Bledsoe's old high-school buddy, Chris Figgins, who crafts excellent wines under his own Figgins label, made this wine before turning over duties to Josh McDaniel. It's a gem of Walla Walla's top fruit delivering persistent dark berry and mocha flavors. Soft and concentrated, the 2011 Doubleback is still evolving in bottle toward future greatness.