Pepper Bridge Vineyard was established in 1991 just north of the Washington-Oregon stateline in the Walla Walla Valley, and it contributes to some of the Northwest’s top red wines. (Photo courtesy of Pepper Bridge Winery)

Pepper Bridge Vineyard was established in 1991 just north of the Washington-Oregon stateline in the Walla Walla Valley, and it contributes to some of the Northwest’s top red wines. (Photo courtesy of Pepper Bridge Winery)

A red wine state, Washington continues to focus on blends

Washington is often thought of as a white wine state, probably because we’re famous for our rieslings and chardonnays. But, in fact, Washington has been a red wine state for decades.

The last time Washington produced more white wine than red was during the 1980s. And since 2001, winemakers normally harvest about twice as many red grapes as white grapes. This is because of increased consumer interest in such varieties such as merlot, cabernet sauvignon and syrah. During the 2016 harvest, those three grapes totaled 127,000 tons out of the 270,000 tons of wine grapes picked.

While we certainly see marked increases of these varieties made by large wineries, this doesn’t account for all of the grapes being harvested. What’s taking up the slack is red blends, which make up a popular segment throughout the Pacific Northwest. For example, more than 15 percent of the wines entered in the 2017 Cascadia International Wine Competition were red blends.

As European winemakers have known for centuries, blending red wines often makes the most interesting wines, certainly true in Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley, two of France’s most famous regions. Blending gives winemakers the flexibility during winemaking to produce wines full of flavor and balance.

Here are several red blends from the great Northwest that we’ve tasted recently. Seek them out at your favorite wine merchant or buy directly from the winery.

L’Ecole No. 41 2014 Pepper Bridge Vineyard Apogee Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley, $55: Since 1993, the Clubbs have been targeting Norm McKibben’s Pepper Bridge Vineyard for the Apogee — their Left Bank-inspired blend that’s half cabernet sauvignon with merlot (31 percent), malbec (15 percent) and cabernet franc (4 percent). It’s another stately expression from the little schoolhouse in Lowden, Washington, with aromas of cassis and cherries with tarragon, juniper berry and graham cracker. The bold structure bodes well for the cellar with juiciness as cherry, pomegranate and boysenberry dominate the flavors.

Rocky Pond Winery 2015 Double D Vineyard Estate La Domestique Reserve Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $50: Jonathan Kaczmarek, a product of South Seattle College’s Northwest Wine Academy, worked at acclaimed Soos Creek Wine Cellars prior to managing David Dufenhorst’s emerging wine project. This Right Bank Bordeaux-style blend of merlot (75 percent) and cabernet sauvignon shows the potential of this young planting along the Columbia River near Orondo, Washington, and creates a theme of bright purple fruit, akin to marionberry and plump blueberry, backed by cassis, clove and smoky wood.

Sagelands Vineyard 2014 Riverbed Red, Columbia Valley, $10: The Precept team behind this brand offers a cab-heavy blend that includes a pleasing injection of syrah (12 percent). Hints of Chukar Cherry, dark toast and black pepper are joined by delicious purple flavors of plum and boysenberry jam, making for an approachable red with a touch of sweetness that extends the finish. These wines can be found at grocers such as Fred Meyer, QFC and Safeway.

DiStefano Winery 2013 Meritage, Columbia Valley, $38: One of Woodinville’s earliest winery settlers, Microsoft alum Mark Newton began his winemaking career by working with Burgundy varieties grown in Oregon to indulge his passion for champagne. His transition to Bordeaux grapes came in 1990 when he married Donna DiStefano. This Left Bank-style blend of cabernet sauvignon (64 percent), petit verdot (24 percent) and cabernet franc offers beautiful aromas and flavors of red currant, boysenberry and sweet herbs, backed by sweet oak notes, plum-skin tannins and a pinch of lavender that dancing in the juicy finish.

Windy Canyon Winery 2014 Poirier Red Wine, Walla Walla Valley, $40: Walla Walla Valley vintner Charles Weaver blends cabernet sauvignon from 20-year-old Golden Ridge Vineyard with luscious syrah from Les Collines for a theme of boysenberries enrobed in chocolate joined by dark cherry and plum. A sense of earthiness and baking spices add to the finish.

Helix by Reininger 2014 Pomatia Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $22: Chuck Reininger’s annual syrah-based blend hails from illustrious vineyards such as Bacchus, Phinny Hill, StoneTree and Weinbau. The structure is built upon fruit notes of blackberry, blueberry and plum, while touches of black olive pit and black pepper appear in the finish. This earned a gold medal at the 2017 Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition.

San Juan Vineyards 2013 Red Wine, Horse Heaven Hills, $19: Two of Washington’s largest and oldest plantings in the Horse Heaven Hills come together for this Left Bank Bordeaux-style blend as cabernet sauvignon (48 percent) and merlot (12 percent) from Destiny Ridge are joined by cabernet franc from Alder Ridge. Francophiles will especially appreciate its pleasant theme of red cherry, pink peppercorns, herbs de Provence and light use of barrel — 20 months in neutral French oak. It’s not trying to be a big wine, finishing with smooth and rounded tannins, a hint of toast and cassis.

Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at

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