Andy Perdue / Great Northwest Wine
Bob Bertheau, head winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle, walks through a vineyard during harvest to check the progress of his grapes.
Andy Perdue / Great Northwest Wine
Victor Palencia owns Vino La Monarcha, a small winery in Walla Walla. Palencia also is the head winemaker for Jones of Washington, a winery in the Columbia Basin town of Quincy.
As Washington grows and solidifies its position as the country's No. 2 wine-producing state while increasing quality, more of the value-priced red wines keep providing incredible quality.
The only problem might be finding those values, as growing grapes and making wine are becoming more expensive. Fortunately, we can rely on several wineries to offer red wines in that "best buy" sweet spot of $15 and below.
Here are a few examples we have tasted in the past couple of months that will leave more money in your bank account without having to sacrifice quality.
Vino La Monarcha 2010 Merlot, Wahluke Slope, $15: Victor Palencia returned to his college town of Walla Walla to open his new boutique winery in the incubator buildings near the airport, and this Merlot he's pouring there comes off the Wahluke Slope, an area he continues to source as head winemaker for Jones of Washington. It opens with youthful aromas of dusty Bing cherry, plum, blueberry, vanilla and freshly cut cedar. That theme of purple and blue fruit carries to the palate, which features modest frontal tannins, pomegranate acidity and dried herbs in the finish.
Chateau Ste Michelle 2011 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $14: The Wahluke Slope has become a sweet spot in Washington for Syrah, and winemaker Bob Bertheau's team relied heavily on this appellation for this affordable red. The fruit-filled nose features blackberry, blueberry, cola, vanilla, alder smoke and moist tobacco. It's stunning in the mouth with dark purple fruit amid a texture so dense it's almost syrupy. And yet there's ripe blueberry acidity and rewarding tannins for balance.
Canoe Ridge Vineyard 2012 The Expedition Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $15: This Walla Walla brand celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. This offers aromas of black cherry, plums, cinnamon toast and dark chocolate. The fruit turns darker and more dense on the palate, where the medium body shows the influence of Syrah, making it a delicious, drink-now offering.
Waterbrook Winery 2011 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $15: Here is an opulent offering that opens with aromas of dark chocolate, boysenberry, black cherry, black pepper and sweet herbs. Lovely richness awaits on the palate with sweet Damson plum, black cherry and chocolate. On the midpalate, pomegranate and pie cherry acidity creates pleasing balance, backed by a finish of toffee.
Hogue Cellars 2012 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $10: An early look at the beautiful 2012 vintage reveals aromas of blueberry jam on toast, Marionberry and black cherry, dark chocolate and black pepper. The rich yet lively Cab-like drink carries abundant acidity, a pinch of crushed herbs for complexity and fine-grained tannins.
Sagelands Vineyard 2011 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $13: This lighter-structured Merlot features aromas of Rainier cherry, raspberry and cranberry jelly with notes of oregano, bell pepper and fresh cedar. It's clean and smooth on the entry with flavors of blueberry, cherry and grape jelly, supported by mild tannins and acidity.
Columbia Crest 2011 H3 Les Chevaux Red Blend, Horse Heaven Hills, $15: This Syrah-dominated red blend from one of Washington's largest wineries opens with aromas of dark plum, cherry and chocolate, backed by crushed walnut and dried oregano. On the pour, it's a big, bold and focused drink of cherries and chocolate. The structure of moderate tannins and nice acidity should make this a tasty complement to pepper steak, lamb dishes, pate and assertive cheeses.
Washington Hills 2012 Merlot, Washington, $12: This is a food-friendly and consumer-minded Merlot that's easy to like. There's a core of dark purple fruit aromas along with white pepper and cedar. Inside, it's rich and dark with black cherry, plum and black currant flavors amid a full mouthfeel.
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.