Tuesday, January 26, 2016


Washington States's Wahluke Slope AVA vineyards
Winter. Grey seems to be the predominant color above, and nearby in our moderate climate a green carpet can surface as far as the eye can see(between the raindrops). It is the season of comfort foods and of hearty, full-bodied wines, like Cabernet Sauvignon. But where can a wine lover find value in the king of grapes within a domestic variety that is typically the most expensive wine grape by the ton?

Wine grape prices tend to reflect their land values plus the cost of farming the crop, so within California Napa fruit is more expensive than, say, Monterey county. Down south, Wild Horse of Templeton's Central Coast AVA Cabernet Sauvignon consistently will offer thirsty wine lovers bang for the buck. Regional blending, too, can offer a mixed value, such as Bogle Vineyard's 'California' Cabernet Sauvignon(around $10.). But, what if you wanted to taste identity, to find a value Cabernet that expressed a specific site?  For those values you may need to search foreign soils for this international varietal, such as Chile or South Africa.
Gravel vineyards of Graves, France await spring
Stateside, way further north in Washington state, everyday values there can move to another tier. With more than 50,000 acres planted, supporting more than 850 wineries(10 times more than a generation ago), Washington state is widely represented in the Cabernet value race. With 13 AVA's such as the expansive Columbia Valley, Yakima Valley, Red Mountain, and Horse Haven Hills, Cabernet Sauvignon has become the leading red grape varietal in the state. East of the Cascades, the vineyards sprall, taking advantage of Ice Age soils, ample hours of growing season sunlight and the irrigation richness of the broad Columbia Basin.

Grand Coulee Columbia Basin Project transformed this land, making water management and industrial scale farming a way of life. From its origins in the early 20th century, it remains the largest water reclamation project in the U.S., producing not only power, but hundreds of millions of dollars of agricultural crops each year. Here, pioneer Chateau Ste. Michelle farms more than 3500 acres of premium wine grapes in the Columbia Valley, consistently producing high quality to value table wines. Perhaps equally impressive is venerable Columbia Winery, sourcing oceans of fruit from multiple AVA's, including the Columbia Valley. Yes, children, size does matter.

At a recent quality to value tasting event Washington state was well represented in the under $20 value category. After tasting a broad selection of quaff-able cabernet, a few selections rose like cream to the top. Among them was Columbia Crest H3 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon from Horse Haven Hills. A gamey, dark stone fruit was its aromatic introduction, with dark currant, vanilla and rich earth notes giving way to berry and cocoa.  Within the Washington state value selections there was an almost industrial refinement here, allowing those that were strikingly different to stand apart.

Even Bordeaux shows a value worth seeking out, where bottles of Cru Bourgeois, are grown on a single estate."What distinguishes them from the best classed growths is that they rarely improve much beyond 15 years..." , notes author Jancis Robinson, but who can wait that long? Fronsac AOC and Haut-Médoc AOC remain the most consistent value appellations, but surprises await in some of Bordeaux's outlying regions. After a long history of recognizing merchants and craftsmen(bourg), it was in 1932 the French authority classified 444 of their distinguished properties, but the politics of the era did not allow ratification. Using a basis of consistent quality production and testing, 246 properties were finally awarded the unique classification in 2003, only to be annulled in 2008.  Finally, following a qualitative, non-partial selection procedure, Cru Bourgeois was updated, officially recognized and published in late 2010.
Values can be found in red Bordeaux

Look for quality to value estate selections like Château Grivière Médoc.  One of our tastings favorite selections was Blaigan Cru Bougeois Médoc, a Merlot/Cabernet blend, exhibiting a dark plum hue, with a smoky dried red fruit nose that held some winter spice, and rendered depth and complexity across the pallet to a finish that continued to flavor evolve as it warmed and disappeared in the mouth. Ah, a sense of place, and perhaps the king of values, too!

Wine Links:  http://www.washingtonwine.org/


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