The Reds of Washington State

  • Voyage of discovery: Charles Smith fell in love with wine travelling through Europe and then met a winemaker in Washington in 1999, who convinced him to start making his own

    Voyage of discovery: Charles Smith fell in love with wine travelling through Europe and then met a winemaker in Washington in 1999, who convinced him to start making his own

  • Voyage of discovery: Charles Smith fell in love with wine travelling through Europe and then met a winemaker in Washington in 1999, who convinced him to start making his own

    Voyage of discovery: Charles Smith fell in love with wine travelling through Europe and then met a winemaker in Washington in 1999, who convinced him to start making his own

I remember a time long ago when it was suggested to a top Napa vintner that his wines were “French-like”.

I am sure that it was meant as a compliment, but his reply was: “I really don’t give a damn, as I am just making the best wine that I can.”

I honestly do not really like to pit one country or wine type against another. For this reason, I do not think it fair to compare Washington State with other appellations or countries; suffice to say that there are now 900 wineries there and our selection is increasing, along with the overall production of that state. The terroir and climate lend themselves to the production of fine wine.

Charles Smith discovered his love for wine while travelling through Europe as a manager of rock bands and then on a road trip to Washington in 1999, he met a winemaker who convinced him to start making his own. By 2014, Wine Enthusiast magazine had named him their Winemaker of the Year.

Syrah is probably the fastest growing grape in planted area and just this past week we enjoyed at home a bottle of Charles Smith 2015 Boom Boom Syrah with a pot of chilli. I like what Reverse Wine Snob writes about it: “Begins with an enticing aroma full of blackberries, white pepper, hints of smoked meat and beautiful floral notes from the viognier. Taking a sip reveals lots of meaty, dark juicy fruit and other flavours similar to the nose. This is a smooth, really nice example of syrah that’s actually rather northern Rhone-ish. Firm tannins and some nice mineral notes lead into the dry finish.”

I should mention that the addition of a little viognier is the norm in the Syrah-based Rhone Côte Rôtie. $28.45.

Although he confesses to not owning a chateau, we do have Chateau Smith 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon for $31.30. The nose tells us that it is cabernet with its full dark cherry, black currant, chocolate, fresh herbs and graphite. It is full-bodied, but still velvety smooth.

Tom and Marie Hedges were married more than 40 years ago in a 12th-century church near her birthplace in the champagne district of France. He took her home to the USA and, in 1987, their Hedges Family Estate produced its first wine in Washington.

Hedges CMS 2015 Red Blend is 65 per cent merlot, 27 per cent cabernet sauvignon and 8 per cent syrah and the winemaker comments: “Dark, deep ruby colour. Aromas of fresh plum, raspberry, cocoa powder, cinnamon and cloves and a touch of dried herbs and smoke. Bursting with bright berry flavours, vanilla cream, cocoa and cinnamon. The mid-palate and finish are lush and full, but with just the right balance of tartness and astringency. A great food wine, but also very pleasing to sip on while pondering life.” $24.65.

DeLille Cellars was founded in 1992 to pioneer bordeaux-styled blends from some of the Red Mountain AVA and other top vineyards. DeLille 2013 D2 Red Blend is from an exceptional vintage that demonstrates classical, expressive merlot notes of floral spices, sweet herbs, pencil shavings, tobacco pouch and mixed berries. There are rich, generous flavours filling the mouth with black cherries, raspberries and kirsch liquor as well as cocoa powder and toasty oak notes. The palate continues with savoury qualities tempered by an elegance that has come to define DeLille Cellars. Complete all this with a dramatic finish to experience a memorable and youthful blend of 57 per cent merlot, 33 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 8 per cent cabernet franc and 2 per cent petit verdot.

Wine critic Robert Parker comments: “Billed as the second wine of the estate, the D2 Proprietary Red Wine is nevertheless a fabulous, outstanding bordeaux blend that’s brought up all in new French oak. Its deep ruby/purple colour is followed by solid notes of black currants, lead pencil, damp herbs and liquorice and, while it might not have the complexity of the top cuvées, it has beautiful purity.” $61.95.

Quilceda Creek, founded in 1972, has been awarded Best Washington State Winery in 2017 and they are dedicated to producing the finest cabernet sauvignon.

Their CVR 2016 is a blend of 87 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 7 per cent merlot, 3 per cent cabernet franc and 3 per cent petit verdot that exhibits aromatic black and blue fruits with nuances of anise, smoke, forest floor and minerals. Wine critic Jeb Dunnuch rates it 93/100 and says: “The entry-level 2016 Columbia Valley CVR is a beauty and well worth purchasing, particularly as it drinks well right out of the gate where the top cuvée benefit from 2 to 4 years of bottle age. Full-bodied, ripe and sexy, with terrific notes of kirsch, black cherry liqueur, lead pencil shavings, and graphite, it has plenty of tannins as well as terrific balance and elegance.” $85.

In his recent book, The World’s Greatest Wine Estates, Parker ranks Quilceda Creek alongside such old-world estates as Châteaux Lafite, Latour and Pétrus, writing: “[Quilceda Creek] is turning out compelling wines of irrefutable richness and complexity … These are prodigious, world-class wines.”

To compare, Dunnuck rates our Quilceda Creek 2016 cabernet sauvignon 98+/100, which means that it could well reach perfection as it ages. Here is what he has written about it: “The 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley is a beautiful wine and has a more classic profile than the more sexy, massive 2015. Beautiful notes of crème de cassis, lead pencil shavings, graphite, dried herbs, and loamy earth all flow to a full-bodied, incredibly pure and perfectly balanced cabernet sauvignon that has no hard edges, a deep, concentrated mid-palate, good acidity and a great, great finish.” $259.

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George (York Street, 297-0409). Visit

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Published Oct 11, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Oct 11, 2019 at 8:22 am)

The Reds of Washington State

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