The global phenomenon swirling around malbec continues to pick up in Washington wine country, too.
The red Bordeaux grape is not only a big player in Argentina but also in South Africa, Australia and portions of California, particularly the arid Central Valley.
In Washington, Malbec plantings are ramping up. In the Horse Heaven Hills, the remarkable and expansive growing region between the Yakima Valley and the Columbia River, plantings have doubled to more than 200 acres in the past five years. In the Walla Walla Valley, it’s become the No. 5 variety with 131 acres established. On warm Red Mountain, malbec makes up 3 percent of the plantings with more than 70 acres.
Here are a few examples of Northwest malbec we’ve tasted in recent months. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the winery directly.
Waterbrook Winery 2014 Reserve Malbec, Columbia Valley, $23: John Freeman and his team at this longtime Walla Walla Valley brand produces malbec under both tiers that are sold beyond the tasting room, and the combined production of an estimated 10,000 cases shows how serious Waterbrook is about this Bordeaux grape. Those factors have this now offering aromas of marionberry and pomegranate with spice, mint and earthiness. Its dense texture packs flavors of dark purple fruit, joined by malted milk balls, taut tannins and lingering juiciness of elderberry.
Mercer Estates 2015 Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills, $25: The Mercer family continues to pluck gems from its Spice Cabinet Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills near Alderdale, and the balance displayed in this young planting allowed for an 11 percent growth in this malbec program from the 2015 vintage. It’s purity of fruit in the glass, focused on dark purple fruit akin to blackberry jam and blueberry preserves.
Browne Family Vineyards 2014 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $35: Summit View Vineyard, a Walla Walla Valley site just south of Seven Hills Road and west of Milton-Freewater, Oregon, is dominated by cabernet sauvignon. The 20-barrel bottling of malbec shows lovely aromas of light toast, cherry sauce, blackberry jam and brown sugar that include lavender candy. Its fluid is rich with plum and blackberry flavors, backed by cherry pie filling, cranberries, a sense of earthiness and chalkboard dust elegance.
Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2015 Verhey Vineyard Malbec, Washington, $28: The Umikers continue to nurture their own vineyard in the Lewiston Orchards and support other growers in the bi-state Lewis-Clark Valley, but they won’t give up their prized relationships with viticulturists in Washington, a circle that includes the Verhey family. Their site in the Yakima Valley’s Rattlesnake Hills allows Coco Umiker to offer a veritable tableau vivant of purple berries with lightly sandy tannins and some toast, backed by plums.
Tunnel Hill Winery 2015 Malbec, Lake Chelan, $30: Using grapes from Antoine Creek Vineyards, Lake Chelan Valley winemaker Guy Evans has crafted a delicious and remarkable malbec loaded with classic aromas of black pepper, black and blue fruit and even hints of blackcap raspberries.
Ste. Chapelle Winery 2015 Panoramic Idaho Malbec, Snake River Valley, $27: These reserve-tier wines fall under the purview of Meredith Smith, whose talents at Sawtooth Winery made it an easy choice for Precept Wine to promote her into role of winemaker at Idaho’s most largest winery. Here, she worked with a vineyard she knows better than nearly anyone else, Sawtooth, to produce a malbec loaded with purple fruit tones of marionberry, blueberry and pomegranate. There’s good richness on the palate, and secondary notes of tobacco and sagebrush mix with juiciness for a complex finish.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.