Malbec has become a key variety in Washington wine country the past decade or so, producing some of the most remarkable and stylish reds in the Pacific Northwest.
The grape thrives in its ancestral home in France’s Bordeaux region and shines as an international variety in the high-altitude vineyards of Argentina’s Mendoza Valley. But in North America, Washington’s arid Columbia Valley seems greatly suited to the juicy purple grape, often outscoring those few examples being made in California.
One reason for the appeal of malbec is because its structure is based on acidity rather than tannin. As a result, the ripe flavors of purple, black and blue fruits are propped up on the palate and allowed to take the spotlight, without being burdened by harsh, drying tannins. This not only makes malbecs more approachable, but also more food friendly with grilled or braised meats, venison, buffalo, pork and heavier Italian dishes.
Here are a few delicious expressions of malbec we’ve tasted recently that are made from grapes either in Washington or just across the border on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley. Ask for them at your favorite wine shop or contact the producers.
Wind Rose Cellars 2014 Lonesome Spring Ranch Malbec, Yakima Valley, $25: David Volmut studied winemaking at Yakima Valley College and trained at Olsen Estates in Prosser, Washington, prior to launching his winery on the Olympic Peninsula. Those Yakima Valley roots show with this malbec that was grown at Lonesome Spring Ranch, just west of Red Mountain. This youthful example offers aromas of Jolly Rancher grape candy, blueberry and Chukar Cherry enrobed in bittersweet chocolate. Inside, it’s a smooth and easy drink of juicy blue fruit amid a medium tannin structure that leads to finishing notes of black raspberry, red plum and dark chocolate. (13 percent alcohol)
Dusted Valley Vintners 2013 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $42: These Wisconsin boys blend malbec from three sites — StoneTree on the Wahluke Slope, their own Sconni Block in the Walla Walla Valley and Olsen Brothers in the Yakima Valley. Fascinating aromas include dark cherry, an Almond Joy bar, graphite and moist earth. Those notes ring true on the palate as lush fruit flavors of bing cherry and boysenberry come together with a pleasing mouth feel, a sense of earthiness and lingering chalkboard dust. Look for this at their Woodinville or Walla Walla tasting rooms, and enjoy it with feijoada, a Brazilian black bean stew that features smoked pork and corned beef. (14.8%)
Saviah Cellars 2013 Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, $30: Richard Funk, one of Washington’s most acclaimed winemakers, pulls from three vineyards not far from his Walla Walla winery for this spicy, earthy and jammy malbec that’s true to the variety. Dense flavors of plum and black cherry pick up a hint of mint and some minerality, a combination of sensations that wash aside the tannins. This earned a gold medal at the 2017 Walla Walla Valley Wine Competition, a fundraiser for Walla Walla Community College’s winemaking program. (14.9%)
Seven Bridges Winery 2013 Kolibri Vineyard Reserve Malbec, Columbia Valley, $32: Portland winemaker Bob Switzer sources from eight vineyards in Washington for his impressive Seven Bridges portfolio that features Bordeaux varieties. Here, he casts a spotlight upon Kolibri Vineyard, a seven-acre planting just south of historic Cold Creek Vineyard in the northwestern foothills of Washington’s Rattlesnake Mountain. Aromas of black cherry, Jolly Rancher grape candy, fennel and fresh dill include some light toast. Supple tannins make for an easy drink of blueberry and marionberry flavors, backed by another rub of fennel that’s part of the juicy finish. (13.2%)
Northwest Cellars 2013 Scooteney Flats Vineyard Malbec, Red Mountain, $48: Grapes don’t come cheaply on Red Mountain, but Kirkland vintner Robert Delf and Yakima Valley winemaker Robert Smasne continue their success with malbec from Scooteney Flats Vineyard. Gorgeous aromas of rose hips, black cherry, blueberry and white pepper lead into a graceful presentation on the palate of the same descriptors. Those lush berries and well-managed tannins make for a bright, juicy and long mouth feel. (14.1%)
Lujon Wine Cellars 2014 Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, $30: John Derthick is among Oregon’s growing community of boutique winemakers who reach east of the Cascades for grapes to make bigger reds to pour alongside pinot noir. Here, the Carlton vintner worked with Birch Creek Vineyard near the Walla Walla Valley town of Milton-Freewater, Oregon. It offers aromas of dusty blueberry and a black cherry enrobed in bittersweet chocolate. Inside, there’s a yummy entry with more cherry, blueberry and chocolate flavors, framed by refined tannins and burst of pomegranate acidity. (15.3%)
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue operate Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.