It can now be argued that Washington state’s signature wine is cabernet sauvignon — the grape that attracts wine lovers from all corners of the globe to Napa Valley and France’s Bordeaux region.
Cab, known as “King Cab” to winemakers, is Washington’s most planted, most expensive and most famous variety. It is the grape that made wineries such as Leonetti Cellar, Quilceda Creek and Woodward Canyon famous.
Last fall, winemakers crushed more than 64,000 tons of cab, by far the most of any wine grape variety grown in Washington. Acclaim from critics and consumers continues to generate headlines for regions such as Walla Walla, Red Mountain and Horse Heaven Hills.
The Bordeaux variety thrives in the Columbia Valley’s heat, sunshine and cool nights, a climate that helps the grapes preserve natural acidity and allows them to benefit from hang time that often extends deliciously well into October.
Here are several examples of cab produced in Washington that earned gold medals this year in either Cascadia International Wine Competition or Washington State Wine Competition. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the winery directly.
Abeja Winery 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $52: The Harrisons set the bar for wine-country B&Bs in the Pacific Northwest when they created Abeja in 2002 along Mill Creek Road in Walla Walla. Their goal to produce world-class cab continues to be realized, first by John Abbott and now by the husband-wife winemaking team Daniel and Amy Alvarez-Wampfler. Their flagship cab from Destiny Ridge, Kiona’s Heart of the Hill and a trio of historic Sagemoor sites shows off aromas of sweet herbs and spices, then black cherry and blackberry fruit. Flavors range from black cherry, blackberry and blueberry, ending with a dollop of dark chocolate amid well-managed tannins.
Armstrong Family Winery 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $48: Tim and Jennifer Armstrong moved their young family to a bucolic farm in Walla Walla, but their continued success allows them to operate both their original tasting room in Woodinville as well as their new spot along Main Street in Walla Walla. Seven Hills Vineyard near Milton-Freewater, Oregon, serves as the source for this cab that received a double gold medal at the Washington State Wine Competition. The theme of blackcurrant, cassis, baking spices and vanilla is made even more enjoyable by the silky tannins, which allow for appreciation of the underlying thread of graphite.
Eleven Winery 2017 Series BWA Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $55: Matt Albee and his colleagues continue to lure wine lovers to Bainbridge Island for award-winning wines. His latest cab from his 15th commercial vintage as a Puget Sound producer offers classic notes of blackberry, toast and eucalyptus, which are followed by flavors of black cherry, President plum and black pepper. Smooth tannins make this an ideal foil for leaner cuts of beef such as London broil or New York strip. And a portion of this wine’s sales goes to World Bicycle Relief efforts in Africa.
LTL Wine 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain $30: The maturity and development of Chris and Thea Upchurch’s vines, estate winery and tasting room along the southern slope of Red Mountain have allowed them to quickly build a following and create a sister label to their eponymous project. This youthful release from the founding winemaker of DeLille Cellars is centered on dark plum and black cherry with hints of clove and mocha. Fine-grained tannins akin to espresso grounds build a delicious mouthfeel.
Nodland Cellars 2015 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $45: Spokane attorney, musician and winemaker Tim Nodland works with 25-year-old Pepper Bridge Vineyard to create a cab filled with spicy oak, black cherry and blackcurrant aromas. Those are backed up by black cherry, blackberry, blackcurrant and spice in the mouth, finishing with firm tannins and juicy acidity. This ranks among the most stunning recent examples of cab in the state, having earned gold medals first at the Cascadia and two months later at the Washington State Wine Competition.
Jacob Williams Winery 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $40: Second-generation winemaker Peter Cushman joined Columbia Gorge winery in 2017, and he took the juice from Eagle Ranch Vineyard near Echo, Oregon, to a delectable finish line. Aromas of black cherry, dark plum, blackberry, chocolate and toast make up the full aromatics that are echoed on the palate. Firm, yet soft tannins carry into the farewell of toast and dark chocolate.
Westport Winery Garden Resort 2017 MV Endeavor Elephant Mtn. Cabernet Sauvignon, Rattlesnake Hills, $49: The Roberts family near Grays Harbor saw their nascent “MV Series” christened with a gold medal from the Washington State Wine Competition. Motor Vessel Endeavor pays homage to the boat that patriarch Blain Roberts was building at the shipyard in Westport when he first met Kim. Here, their winemaking son, Dana, doted on a single barrel of cab from acclaimed Elephant Mountain above the Yakima Valley. It’s a bright and expressive example that first hooks you with aromas of Montmorency cherry, blackberry, cured meat and fresh mint. Inside, bold flavors of plum and Craisin pull in more mint and a pinch of red chili flakes before leading out with a lingering finish of coffee.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman operate Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.