Brawny Cab pushes to top of state’s wine industry

For the first time in Washington’s history, Cabernet Sauvignon is king.

Last fall, the state crushed a record 210,000 tons of wine grapes, of which 42,600 were Cabernet Sauvignon. That makes the suave red grape not only the most prolific variety in Washington, but also the most economically important, as it brings in $1,440 per ton to the farmers who grow it.

Wine drinkers and winemakers have an insatiable thirst for Cabernet Sauvignon, as the variety has increased in tonnage by an astonishing 54 percent in the past five years, pushing it past Chardonnay, Riesling and Merlot.

Cabernet Sauvignon is the grape that makes wines from Bordeaux and Napa Valley famous, and it is doing the same for Washington state. Here are some superb Washington Cabernet Sauvignons we’ve tasted in recent weeks. Look for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.

Terra Blanca Winery and Vineyard 2008 Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $45: Owner/winemaker Keith Pilgrim’s Cabernet Sauvignon is dark, dense and decadent. His opulent approach of 32 months with French oak creates the mood with tones of dark chocolate, cocoa powder and espresso backed by black currant, red cherry and plum.

Kiona Vineyards 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington, $25: Using 100 percent Red Mountain estate grapes, winemaker Scott Williams’ Cab reveals remarkable dark purple fruit tones, starting with aromas that hint at plums, black cherry, chocolate and fresh popcorn. The drink is remarkable, akin to a rich and dark Syrah with that purple fruit.

Tamarack Cellars 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $36: From a top Walla Walla Valley winery, this big red reveals a complex nose of bay leaf, dark plum and chocolate. Inside is a big entry of dark cherry, black currant and more plum with a beautiful mouth feel of fine-grained blueberry seed tannin. Dark chocolate, pomegranate acidity and mineralty make for remarkable balance.

Reininger Winery 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $41: This medium-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon provides aromas of dusty cherries, blackberry, plum and pink peppercorns. Plump flavors of cherries and black currants swirl in a tannin structure of milk chocolate that’s capped by a finish of light cherry.

Mackey Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $32: This opens with aromas of blackberry, cola, Jolly Rancher grape candy, lime, cherry wood and chalkboard dust. Its entry to the medium-structured palate shows balanced with Marionberry, cassis and elderberry flavors, backed by focused tannins, a return of chalkboard dust and a Montmorency cherry finish.

Smanse Cellars 2010 Upland Vineyard Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon, Snipes Mountain, $45: This delicious and easy-drinking Cab comes from Robert Smasne, one of Washington’s most-decorated winemakers. Aromas of milk chocolate, black cherry, cola and blueberry are joined by cherry wood. There’s a match on the palate, backed by plums and leather with a medium body of tannin and acidity.

Basel Cellars Estate Winery 2009 Pheasant Run Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $32: This Cab hails from a winery and resort in the Walla Walla Valley. Aromas of dried cherries lead to flavors of red fruit and milk chocolate, while the juicy acidity stays just ahead of well-managed tannins.

Apex Cellars 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $33: The latest head-turning bottling from this Prosser, Wash., winery opens with easy-to-embrace aromas of black cherry, cassis and milk chocolate with a nice bell pepper note tucked up in the back. The drink continues that same theme with cordial cherry filling leading into a super rich midpalate.

Owen Roe 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Yakima Valley, $55: Oregon winemaker David O’Reilly long has touted fruit from the cradle of Washington wine country. The alluring nose brings black cherry, dark chocolate, espresso, cola, vanilla and slate. That dark theme carries onto the palate with mouth-filling tannins, cherry and raspberry flavors, and a finish of Baker’s chocolate.

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.

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