6 fine NW white wines for $15 or less

As Northwest wineries begin bottling some of their 2012 white wines, there still are plenty of 2011s left on store and winery shelves that can be found at good prices.

This week, we take a look at white wines priced $15 and under that we have tasted recently.

All but one of the six wines reviewed here are made by the Northwest’s two largest wine producers: Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in Woodinville and Precept Wine in Seattle. Both make wine in such large amounts that they are able to take advantage of economies of scale.

While some white wines will age, most made these days are meant to be consumed quickly.

A few varieties, especially riesling and semillon, can be stored for years and gain fascinating complexities. However, there is little need to consider that with nearly every white wine produced. In fact, if you have any white wines older than 2009, it’s time to drink them.

Today, we look at two varieties: pinot gris and sauvignon blanc. Both tend to be bright, crisp wines that pair beautifully with a range of cuisines, including seafood, chicken, curries, Mexican and Asian.

Lone Birch Winery 2011 Pinot Gris, Yakima Valley, $13: Airfield Estates in Prosser already makes some of the best value wines in the Northwest, and now the Miller clan has created this second lower-priced label.

The Millers cropped their Black Rock Creek vineyard to 5 tons per acre for a wine that opens with aromas of lemon zest, Asian pear, starfruit, white pepper and river rock. The approach to the palate is dry yet fruitful with pear, Honeycrisp apple and more starfruit.

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, $13: Chateau Ste. Michelle’s largest-production sauvignon blanc is far from shy with its grassy and zesty approach.

The nose hints at light oak — a third of the blend spent five months in older French oak — backed by peach, muskmelon, lime and minerality.

There’s tasty honeydew melon on the bone-dry entry, followed by baked apple, more lime, slate and cleansing acidity.

Apex Cellars 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, $15: Launched by Washington wine entrepreneur Harry Alhadeff in the 1980s in the Yakima Valley, Apex Cellars is now part of Precept Wine in Seattle. The winery remains in the Yakima Valley, residing in the Vintners Village in Prosser.

This sauvignon blanc is a frisky wine with aromas of sweet herbs, freshly mown grass and honeycomb. The palate is highlighted by bright acidity and an immediate hit of lime juice, along with flavors of apple and minerality.

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2011 Horse Heaven Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, Horse Heaven Hills, $15: This breezy site in Paterson looks across the Columbia River into Oregon and supplies much of the sauvignon blanc for Chateau Ste. Michelle.

It presents abundant aromas of lychee and grapefruit, along with a pinch of white pepper and a thin trail of smoke. Those who enjoy a dry gewurztraminer should delight with its continuation of grapefruit flavors, backed by peach, slate, more lychee and lingering juiciness.

House Wine 2011 Fish House Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, $12: The incomparable Charles Smith of Walla Walla created House Wine less than a decade ago, and it has become one of the region’s remarkable success stories. The operation is now owned by Precept Wine, which is able to take the concept to new levels.

It opens with exotic and perfumy aromas of lime juice, melon, orange and gooseberry, followed by bright, clean flavors of lemon zest, honeydew, grapefruit and slate, all backed with quenching tartness.

Waterbrook 2011 Pinot Gris, Columbia Valley, $12: This brisk and steely pinot gris carries aromas of lemongrass, Golden Delicious apple, honeysuckle and fresh-cut celery.

Ripe apple and fresh-squeezed lemon lead the flavors, backed by celery leaf and a scrape of flint.

Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information website. Go to www.greatnorthwestwine.com.

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