14 Hands a Washington wine phenomenon

Think about this: A decade ago, 14 Hands Winery didn’t exist.

Ste. Michelle Wine Estates created the brand in 2005 as a restaurant-only label. Consumer demand grew to the point that the company made it available for retail sales. Last year, Ste. Michelle converted Snoqualmie Winery’s tasting room in the Yakima Valley town of Prosser to 14 Hands.

Today, 14 Hands Winery produces 2 million cases of wine annually, making it Washington’s second-largest winery and one of the fastest-growing brands in the United States.

Keith Kenison is the head winemaker for 14 Hands (and also the white winemaker for Columbia Crest), and Laura Sorge is the red winemaker for both 14 Hands and Columbia Crest.

The winery takes its name from the small wild horses that once roamed the Horse Heaven Hills, a region between the Columbia River to the south and the Yakima Valley to the north. These horses were just 14 hands tall — less than 5 feet.

The wines of 14 Hands are not only affordable, but they’re also superbly made. Here are several we’ve tasted in recent weeks. 14 Hands wines are broadly distributed, so these should be easy to find at groceries and on restaurant wine lists.

14 Hands Winery 2013 Riesling, Washington, $10: Aromas of freshly baked apple crisp are joined by jicama, candy corn and dusty minerality, and they are followed by juicy flavors of peach, pineapple, apple and pear. The residual sugar sits at 3 percent, which makes it off-dry, but good acidity steers it away from sweetness and provides length. (11.5 percent)

14 Hands Winery 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $12: A dark fruit profile starts with a nose of blackberry milkshake and black currant followed by notes of dark chocolate, clove, crushed red pepper flakes and charcoal. Blackberry, blueberry and chocolaty flavors are met by medium structure of silky tannins and juicy acidity that’s built to drink now with prime rib or a rich tomato-based Italian dish. (13.5 percent)

14 Hands Winery 2013 Moscato, Columbia Valley, $10: This aromatic white wine features lychee, rose water and apple aromas and flavors. Its soft entry gives way to delicious flavors of lime and orange. Suggested food pairings include fruit salad, charcuterie and soft white cheeses. (13.9 percent)

14 Hands Winery 2012 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $12: Aromas of black olive, black cherry, blackberry and black licorice lead to remarkably rich flavors of Marionberry jam, black cherry, blueberry and bittersweet chocolate. Silky tannins make for a smooth farewell. Pair with grilled meats. (13.5 percent)

14 Hands Winery 2013 Pinot Gris, Washington, $10: Tropical aromas of banana and pineapple are joined by notes of caramel apple and fresh-cut pear. The palate also features pear and apple flavors in a lighter style that’s finished with kiwi, melon and flecks of minerality. Enjoy with shellfish, halibut or baked chicken. (13 percent)

14 Hands Winery 2012 Chardonnay, Washington, $12: This opens with ripe tropical fruit aromas of passionfruit and mango. Flavors of butterscotch and butter lead to a luscious midpalate that’s layered with lemony acidity that keeps it light. (12 percent)

14 Hands Winery 2012 Hot to Trot Red, Columbia Valley, $10: This blend of Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon starts with aromas of freshly made caramel corn, black cherry, plum, white chocolate and vanilla. The palate brings ripe black cherry and chocolate-covered blueberries flavors with a firm ride of tannins. (13.5 percent)

14 Hands Winery 2010 The Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $30: This reserve tier offers aromas of Bing cherry, Marionberry, Cherry Coke and black peppercorns. The entry is luscious with gorgeous flavors of black cherry and blackberry, backed by a juicy midpalate, and finished with baking spices and chocolaty tannins. Suggested fare includes slow-smoked brisket, grilled rib eye steak or a sun dried mushroom tart. (14.5 percent)

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company Listen to their weekly podcast on iTunes or at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.

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