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Tempranillo and Other Pleasures at Halter Ranch Vineyard

Tempranillo and Other Pleasures at Halter Ranch Vineyard


It might be when you touch down at the San Luis Obispo airport and the lack of a connecting gate allows you to be greeted by miles of green and golden hills spilt before you. Or maybe it’s when you’re winding your way through shaded, wildlife -dotted country roads that stretch through some of the most verdant vineyards in the country. For me, it was the Victorian mansion. Wherever it hits you, there is the overwhelming sweeping feeling once in Paso Robles that you’re in wine paradise. The hills roll before you and appear to go on forever. The grapes, plucked freshly from the branches of growing vines, slide down your tongue with a sharp pinch at the back of your throat.

Dating back to the 1880s, the Victorian mansion of Halter Ranch Vineyard was built by New Jersey businessman Edwin Smith on part of a 3,600-acre holding that would eventually develop into what is now Halter Ranch Vineyard and Winery. The entire ranch, not just the Victorian, feels sacred — full of history.

Smith raised livestock and horses on the property until the early 1900s, when his business faltered and he was forced to divide the property. Enter the MacGillivray family, who in 1943 purchased 1,200 acres and farmed the land, planting the first grapevines here in 1996. In June, 2000, Swiss entrepreneur Hansjörg Wyss bought 900 acres from the MacGillivray family, renovated the historic Victorian, and began expanding the small vineyard. Hansjörg’s vision was simple: to produce quality grapes and wine on an environmentally forward ranch that he would be able to pass down to his children and grandchildren in a solid and sustainable form. Winemaker Kevin Sass was hired in 2011 to help make that vision a reality.

Sass is a Southern California native who graduated from California State University in Fresno with degrees in enology/wine production and agricultural business. He came to Halter Ranch after working at the well-respected Justin Vineyards & Winery, located just down the road, first as an intern and eventually as associate winemaker. Sass is passionate about Hansjörg’s vision, and maintains the property's SIP (Sustainability in Practice) certification — meaning that it conforms to strict rules governing habitat conservation, energy efficiency, pest management, water conservation, economic stability, and human resources.

I had that wine paradise feeling again up on vineyard block 52, beside rows of grenache vines, overlooking all of Halter Ranch and sipping the winery's 2012 Côtes de Paso Blanc (grenache blanc, roussanne, picpoul blanc, and viognier) beside the fire-pit with new friends, but it really overwhelmed me when Sass and his colleagues shared a delicious meal paired with some of the winery's richest offerings on the Victorian’s open-air porch. Maybe most impressive was Sass's first attempt with the classic Spanish grape tempranillo, vintage 2011, full-bodied, bold, and smoky — a booming success for Sass, and for Halter Ranch.


Now And Zin Wine

Wine Goes To The Movies
With NowAndZin.com and TrailersFromHell.com

As "Valley of the Dolls" begins, we are told that "you have to climb Mt. Everest to reach the valley of the dolls." The highs and lows of that journey are sufficiently described in the film, leaving no doubt that we are not in Lawrenceville anymore.

With all the pill-popping that goes on in "Valley Of The Dolls," it would be a good idea to let the wine alone for this one. I don't pop pills - "dolls," in the parlance of the film - but I do pair wine with movies. That's how I get my thrills - at least on Thursdays. So get your hand out of the "dolly jar" and make sure those red things are cinnamon jellybeans.

Patty Duke is the fresh young face, Sharon Tate is the decoration, Barbara Parkins is the small-town girl in the big city. Everyone has their own reasons for taking a room in the dollhouse. Susan Hayward plays the role of aging veteran actress Helen Lawson, who takes full-bore diva bitchiness to a new level. The role was intended for Judy Garland, but life is supposed to imitate art, not the other way around.

Duke's character is a giant of the pill-popping world. Need to go to sleep? There's a pill for that. Need to wake up? There's a pill for that, too. Need to get through that tap dance rehearsal? Yes, a pill for that. Need to have some hot starlet sex? Gotcha covered.

I read somewhere that Champagne was the Viagra of the '60s. Personally, I like that idea. Today, say it with me now, there's a pill for that. A struggling young actress, though, might find it hard to afford Champagne, what with all the pills she buys to make it through a day.

So you don't flip your wig into the toilet, a lower-alcohol Prosecco is about as strong a drink as I'd try with this movie. You don't want to upset the uppers & downers equilibrium too much. Il Conte d'Alba 1917 Stella Rosa is only about five percent alcohol, and about as affordable as a bottle of aspirin - only about $10.

The theme song from the movie - a big hit for Dionne Warwick - lyrically suggests "goin' where I'm free." A few years later, Janis Joplin would punctuate that notion with "freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose," which would seem a more fitting depiction of this movie's idea of the freedom found in a bottle of pills.

You may want to pop the cork on one of these dolls:
Valley of the Moon Winery - The Sonoma County producer has a couple of Zinfandels worth checking out. $10-$15

Mama's Little Yella Pils - Oskar Blues Brewery of Colorado makes this pilsner beer. It comes in a can, with the name proudly emblazoned across the front.

There's a pill for that. Resveratrol pills. Really? A pill instead of wine? We're becoming as unhinged as the women in "Valley of the Dolls."

Sparkling Grape Juice - The safest bet, with no alcohol at all. $2.97 at Walmart. By the way, if you are a young starlet shopping at Walmart, you need a better agent.


1. Grey Wolf Cellars: Survival packs, $1 shipping and curbside pickup

Special Offer: Through the end of March, get $1 shipping on purchases of two bottles or more, complimentary delivery in San Luis Obispo County or curb-side pick-up (your choice pick one). “Grey Wolf Survival Kits” will also be coming soon. These thoughtful care packages will include wine, food, and KROBAR sanitizer available for curbside pick-up and delivery. You’ll also get a useful KROBAR pocket sanitizer in all pick-up and local delivery orders.

2174 Highway 46 West, Paso Robles, CA 93446
(805) 237-0771
Email: [email protected]


A Cherry Wine

After tasting their wines, we settled on their Peninsula Red. It is a blend of cherry wine, made from Door County Cherries, with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. While the grapes may not be from Wisconsin, the cherries are a Wisconsin classic, and this cherry wine has a dryness that you will not find in many cherry wines.

Typically, fruit wines are very sweet. Cherry in particular, uses the sweetness to cover up the tart bite of the fruit. The Peninsula Red, takes a different approach by pairing the tartness of the cherries with more robust grapes that lean to the dryer end of the spectrum.

The result is a juicy wine, perfect for pairing or using as an afternoon sipper, with just enough cherry-tartness to let you know that you are drinking a cherry wine.


Enjoying The Wine In The Can

Let me start with the question: what do you think of wines in the can?

I’ve seen rather an interesting reaction in social media (both Instagram and Twitter) when I post a picture of the wine in the can. It ranges from “Hmmm” to “Really. ” to “How you can even talk about wine in the can. ” to “I can’t believe there can be any good wine in the can”. Mind you, this doesn’t come from uninitiated people – wine pros of different walks have a very similar reaction when seeing the reference to the wine in the can. And I find this a bit surprising.

It’s been almost 5 years since I tried my first wine in the can. I don’t think I ever had a question “why wine in the can” (my first reaction was “wow, cool, something new and different!”) – my only question was “is it good?”. A can is just a different form of packaging – nothing more and nothing less. If you follow the subject of wine in the can, I’m sure you saw lots of different reasons and explanations to the question of “why” – “democratize wine”, “pinkies down”, “appeal to millennials” and blah blah blah. Whatever. I don’t think that simply putting wine in the can is the “magic bullet” for anything.

Of course, unique and different packaging helps to appeal to potentially a different category of consumers. But – the wine is binary. You either like it – or not. The proverbial question of the desire of the second glass is the key. Consumers might buy the can for the first time for its unique form. But they have to like it to come back and buy it again.

There is another interesting side of wine in the can in addition to the form factor. Making wine in the can allows winemakers to get ultimately creative, as you can work with a very small batches – and you can do truly uncommon things, such as finishing wine with beer hops or mixing Zinfandel with coffee – I’ve had plenty of oddly interesting concoctions, courtesy of Filed Recordings Can Club, the true pioneers of the wine in the can (Field Recordings Wine and Can club is the only wine club I belong to – because it never gets boring with Andrew Jones). Such a variety is also making it interesting for the curious wine lovers, who always have something new and different to try. And if you like something, you really want to run and grab it, while you can – the flip side of the small batch winemaking is that the wine is gone in no time.

Just to give an example, here are the notes for two of the latest shipments I received this year from the Field Recordings can club. The first one arrived just a few days ago, but I made an effort to familiarize myself with the wines quickly :). In case you are wondering, all these wines are priced at $5 per 375 ml can, so two cans would be somewhat equal to the $10 bottle of wine.

2018 Field Recordings Chardonnay Coquina VIneyard Rancho Arroyo Grande (12.1% ABV, 6 barrels produced) – fresh crunchy plums all the way, sprinkled with the lemon juice and some granny smith apples. Refreshing, round and delightful. Will make a beautiful summer day even better.

2018 Field Recordings Charbono Guglielmo Giovanni Vineyard Paso Robles (11.8% ABV) – how often do you drink Charbono (known in Argentina as Bonarda)? The producer recommended to serve this wine at the cellar temperature – I had it at a room temperature, and after 5 minutes in the glass (by the way, if you drink at home, feel free to use your favorite glass, you don’t have to drink from the can if you don’t want to) the wine was delicious – medium weight, supple dark fruit and spices, simple and easy to drink. Another winner for the summer day.

2018 Field Recordings Valdiguié Shell Creek Vineyard Paso Robles (13.7% ABV, one puncheon produced) – How about the Valdiguié grape? While typically found in the South of France, in Languedoc, the grape found its way into the US and was known for a while as Napa Gamay. I tried this wine at room temperature (too acidic and herbaceous, literally “leaf-forward”), from the fridge (much better than at the room temperature, good acidity, and underripe berries), and then at the “cellar temperature” (as recommended) – best, with excellent complexity, young berries, fennel, mint and lemon.

Here are the wines from the shipment earlier this year – note the completely different style of the labels – isn’t it fun? I tried only two of these so far, both superb:

2018 Field Recordings Dry Hop Chardonnay Pét Nat Paso Robles (11.5% ABV, 3 barrels produced) – ohhh, what a pleasure! Light fizz, dry hoppy notes, fresh apple, vibrant acidity, an impression of simply walking in the meadow – the can disappear in a few gulps, literally.

2018 Field Recordings Jurassic Park Chenin Blanc Santa Ynez Valley (11.3% ABV) – Chenin Blanc from Field Recordings never disappoints. This wine was made in two formats – a bottle and a can. It is yet something I need to try, but I have high hopes.

2017 Field Recordings Old Potrero Zinfandel Arroyo Grande Valey (14.9% ABV, 6 barrels produced) – this was mind-boggling. While I accept canned wines wholeheartedly, I still expect canned wines to challenge me – but there was nothing challenging about this wine. From the first smell and sip, this was an amazing California Zinfandel in its beauty – powerful, dense, loaded with blackberries, a touch of dark chocolate, lusciously layered and dangerous (we almost had to fight for the last drops). A wow in the can.

As you can tell, I’m pretty excited about the canned wines I tried – but this is not my main point. I’m simply suggesting that you should look at the wine in the can not as a gimmick, but as a product made with a purpose. Are all wines in the can good? Of course not. There will be some which you will like, and some which you will not. But it is the same with the wine in the bottle – there are some which you like, and some which you don’t. Don’t be afraid of the wine can – just give it a try. And prepare to be pleasantly surprised. Cheers!


Taking the Next Step at St. Supéry

The author with Michaela Rodeno at her Oakville estate.

After rising to the position of Vice-President of Marketing at Domaine Chandon, the Skalli family tapped Michaela Rodeno in 1988 to be the first CEO of their new start-up in Rutherford, St. Supéry. The very first female CEO in Napa Valley, Rodeno would build another winery from scratch during a period of explosive growth in Napa.

In her 20+ yr tenure as CEO, Rodeno help developed the winery’s vineyards in Rutherford and Pope Valley. A little unusual for Napa, St. Supéry focused heavily on Sauvignon blanc as a means of distinguishing itself from its numerous neighbors. She also made education a key component of the consumer experience at St. Supéry–introducing things like ampelography master classes, sensory tastings and blending events featuring all five red Bordeaux varieties.

Rodeno’s efforts help grow St. Supéry into a 150,000 cases-per-year estate winery that was recognized by Wine & Spirits magazine as their Winery of the Year. Rodeno retired in 2009 to focus on her family’s estate winery in Oakville, Villa Ragazzi.


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Tea smoked tuna and roasted beets with an aromatic plating paired with a Utopia 2017 Pinot Noir

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An Elegant Spanish inspired Cod in a White Wine and Saffron Sauce to Pair with a Beautiful White Rioja

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Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.

When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.

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Bordeaux Bubbles? #Winophiles

Bordeaux… You think rich red wines, Cabernet or Merlot based. Or perhaps you think of Sauternes, those luscious sweet wines from southwest Bordeaux. But when you think of Bordeaux, do you think of bubbles? Probably not.

It’s not easy to find crémant de Bordeaux in the US. I checked local wine shops, to no avail and then searched online. After going through 8 sites, I found 3 crémant de Bordeaux wines on one of the larger sites. I snapped up 2 bottles and noticed when I went back to jot down the details on the wines, that I had purchased the last bottle they had available of one of these wines. (Okay…I did find one by the glass at a local restaurant. More on that later.)

So why am I talking about them, if they are so hard to find? Well, like with anything, supply is often dictated by demand. So let’s increase the demand. Go ask for a crémant de Bordeaux! Let’s get a few more available in the marketplace!

These are delicious sparkling wines made in the traditional method that are a fraction of the price of Champagne!


Day 5 Solvang, Santa Barbara County and Los Olivos

Day 5 started with a stroll of the charming city of Solvang in the morning. The sun was out, the temperature was just right and it was the perfect way to start the day. Nestled in the middle of Santa Barbara County, Solvang feels like you have stepped into another world. This historic Danish Village in the middle of California was founded by Danish-Americans in 1911. Solvang translates to “sunny field” in Danish. The town has embraced the Danish Architecture and the town is dotted with windmills. The streets are enchanting and you can find aebleskivers (a Danish dessert that is like a donut hole) at many restaurants. If you enjoy shopping or window shopping, you will be in heaven. There is a store for everything here. Walking the town you will find courtyards and corners to explore. Or you can rent a bicycle or a 4-wheeled surrey! They have an outdoor theatre, the Solvang Festival Theatre that runs productions throughout the summer. Every Wednesday there is a Farmers Market in Solvang Park in the afternoons. There are great restaurants, wine tasting rooms and really, something for everyone.

Even on a Monday Morning Paula’s Pancake House in Solvang has a line of people waiting for tables for breakfast! The Charming Hamlet Inn in Solvang.
The Solvang Brewing Company and it’s windmill The Solvang Festival Theatre entertains all summer with productions by the Pacific Conservatory Theatre.
Beautiful trees and sculptures in Solvang Park This beautiful carved wooden entry and the ivy on the bricks capture my attention as we strolled the streets.
This charming Gazebo in Solvang Park often houses bands for events in the park. Four-wheeled Surreys are a great way to see Solvang. They can be rented by Solvang Park and seat 4 or 6.

Provence Rosé

Tasting Notes Rosé from Provence, is the little black dress of pink wines. This wine is just as at home on the patio as it is in the dining room, Its fresh, crisp, dry style is a masterful match for almost any dish even a juicy burger makes a perfect partner. Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah and Mourvèdre are all used to create this pale, pink rosé and to give it aromas of strawberry, fresh-cut watermelon, and rose petal, finishing with a distinctive, salty minerality on the palate.


Double gold

Alder Ridge 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $30: This brand owned by Precept Wine in Seattle focuses on fruit from the rugged Horse Heaven Hills. At 4 years old, this Cab is a bronc that still needs breaking for its stiff tannins. Nevertheless, it has muscle, grace and definition, and with a few more years in the corral will yield a wine that speaks to the authority of Horse Heaven Hills. (14.8% alc.)

Boedecker Cellars 2013 Athena Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $36: Proof that a wine need not be inky to deliver varietal character and gumption. This Athena speaks to the cherry side of Pinot Noir with clarity and zeal. Its svelte build is reinforced with a sturdy spine, making it a versatile companion at the dinner table. (13.2% alc.)

Northwest Cellars 2012 Madrigal, Snipes Mountain, $24: Grenache is knocking on the door of respectability in the United States, and this lightly colored but assertive and silky blend, based largely on the variety, only will enhance its major-league prospects. (13.9% alc.)

Ryan Patrick Wines 2013 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Rattlesnake Hills, $45: Lively and seductive berry/cherry flavors are underscored with a trace of cocoa, lilting tannins and supportive acidity, adding up to a package of equilibrium and versatility. (15% alc.)

Van Duzer Vineyards 2014 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $32: A Pinot Noir unusually transparent for its direct delivery, slim frame, shy tannins and crisp acidity. It’s a “starter” Pinot Noir that won’t let down consumers new to the varietal because of its value and clarity. (13.5% alc.)

Abeja 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $52: A Cabernet Sauvignon of quiet, thorough, assured poise, its fresh fruit, benign tannins and reinforcing acidity assuring it a place at most any table. (14.7% alc.)

ALUVÉ 2012 Primo Volo, Walla Walla Valley, $48: A Cabernet-based blend reminiscent of the school principal demanding yet encouraging, largely for his or her standards and transparency, a rare combination. (14% alc.)

Amelia Wynn 2013 Stillwater Creek Vineyard Petit Verdot, Columbia Valley, $32: Some say Petit Verdot will be the next great variety. They’re the ones who already have tasted this release of the wine, notable for its charming bluster and forthright tannins. Savor it now with a big slab of beef or leg of lamb, or sock it away in the cellar for three to five years to allow its tannins to mellow. (14% alc.)

Barnard Griffin Winery 2013 Cotes du Rob, Columbia Valley, $25: A staple of the cellar for those folks who want to have on hand something reliable they can grab regardless of whether mac-and-cheese or Beef Bourguignon is on the menu. It has substance and stamina in equal measure. (14.6% alc.)

Basalt Cellars 2013 Dwelley Vineyard Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $26: Washington Merlots often land on the palate in earth tones, this one being dark, moist, newly plowed soil heavy with clay. It’s a plush wine, but with appropriately backing acidity and a solid yet yielding backbone. (15% alc.)

Bonair Winery 2013 Cabernet Franc, Rattlesnake Hills, $15: Cabernet Franc demands an understanding ear, or rather, palate, which is no problem here thanks to this wine’s warm embrace and clearly defined expression. (13.9% alc.

Bowlus Hills 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $24: The thing about the Walla Walla Valley is that it has the knack of combining strength with finesse, at least as far as this Cabernet is concerned. This is a second label for acclaimed Zerba Cellars in Milton-Freewater, Ore. (14.1% alc.)

Bontzu Cellars 2014 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $34: If a wine could carry a sticker guaranteeing pleasure for whomever buys a bottle or double their money back, this pretty and vivacious Malbec would be the first to qualify. Malbec is to be a forthright wine, and this meets that standard while also being exceptionally complex for the genre. (14.3% alc.)

Browne Family Vineyard 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $35: No ostentatious bells and whistles here, just a Cabernet Sauvignon from Walla Walla’s John Freeman for Precept CEO Andrew Browne that is steeped in tradition and place, delivering cherry fruit, a seam of minerality, tannins mellowing fast and an acidity with fitting grip. (13.8% alc.)

Cascade Cliffs 2014 Reserve Barbera, Horse Heaven Hills, $80: An unusually substantive Barbera, retaining the variety’s cheery fruit but delivering it with more smoke, texture and warmth than usual. (15.8% alc.)

Cavatappi Winery 2013 Maddalena Nebbiolo, Yakima Valley, $25: If only Alfa Romeo had this much thrust and precision. This is one streamlined interpretation of challenging Nebbiolo, seizing anise-scented dark-berry fruit and delivering it with sound structure and reinforcing acidity. (14.7% alc.)

Chehalem Wines 2014 Corral Creek Vineyards Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains, $50: A Pinot Noir evocative of an Old West ranch for its evocation of weathered wood, tumbling sage and a tack shed stocked with only the finest metal and leather. The barbed wire is the wine’s precise acidity. (14.5% alc.)

Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2013 Selway, Lewis-Clark Valley, $38: Blending with foundation and foresight is the trickiest skill of the winemaking art, but Idaho winemaker Coco Umiker provides a seminar in just how it should be done with this Merlot-based mix, drawing upon Cabernet Franc and Syrah, among others, to produce a release ample and jovial, sure to please anyone sitting down to a hearty stew with a glass of this next to the bowl. (14.7% alc.)

College Cellars 2013 Scholarship Red, Walla Walla Valley, $15: Looking for comfort, balance and value in a wine? Grab a bottle of this for its juicy fruit, mellow tannins and bargain price. (13.9% alc.)

Colter’s Creek Winery 2013 Arrow Rim Red, Idaho, $30: A wine that blooms with both richness and complexity, coming at you with both certainty and hope, making it fun to drink and even more fun to talk about. (14.6% alc.)

Colter’s Creek Winery 2013 Koos•Koos•Kia Red, Snake River Valley, $22: An exceptionally fragrant blend, seizing both the fruity and herbal sides of Cabernet Sauvignon, then completing it with shots of the other principal Bordeaux varieties. (13.7% alc.)

Columbia Crest 2013 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $45: Nicely layered interpretation of Cabernet Sauvignon, its cherry fruit understated but clear, its oak frame respectful in how finely honed it was put together. (15% alc.)

Cotes de Ciel 2012 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Red Mountain, $39: Densely colored, comforting in its warmth on the palate, and exceptional in its rich texture and candid complexity, here is one substantial and enduring Cabernet Franc from one of Washington’s most important vineyards. (15.8% alc.)

Cotes de Ciel 2013 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Counoise, Red Mountain, $23: A splash of blueberry and a dash of anise add up to a wine that while unfamiliar to many consumers will win them over for its accessibility, balance and length. (15.1% alc.)

DANCIN Vineyards 2014 Trata Pinot Noir, Southern Oregon, $35: The joy of Pinot Noir is how it can represent a sense of place like few other grapes. In this case, that comes through as berries that have been exposed to just the right amount of sunshine and heat, yielding a wine with a pleasant but uncowed personality, assertive in aroma and flavor, striding in its finish. (14% alc.)

DANCIN Vineyards 2014 Eleve Pinot Noir, Southern Oregon, $35: This wine’s flashing cherry fruit pounces with the exactitude of a cat bagging a bird. It’s fruit is all up front, finishing quickly thanks to its firm acidity, which primes it for all sorts of dishes at the table. (13.4% alc.)

Daven Lore Winery 2013 Petit Verdot, Horse Heaven Hills, $29: A tremendous buy for its ample red fruit and instant approachability, thanks to an opulence uncommon to the variety. (13.5% alc.)

Daven Lore Winery 2013 Tempranillo, Snipes Mountain, $29: A bright, fat and sweetly fruity Tempranillo that will be as much at home with hot dogs as paella. (13.5% alc.)

DeLille Cellars 2013 Red Willow Malbec, Yakima Valley, $49: From the dried rose petals of its aroma through the purity of its dark fruit, here is a Malbec fitting for a juicy cut of hangar steak right off the grill but light on the char. (14.5% alc.)

Dusted Valley Vintners 2013 Petite Sirah, Wahluke Slope, $42: A Petite Sirah with so much of the variety’s telltale pepper it could join the “Spice Girls.” Lush, harmonious fruit and a structure built for the long haul doesn’t hurt its prospects for either that or for long and rewarding aging. (15.1% alc.)

Finn Hill Winery 2012 Bon Mot Cabernet Franc, Wahluke Slope, $35: A firm take on Cabernet Franc that eschews politeness for a frank talk about what the varietal is expected to represent, which in this case is integrity and muscle. (13.6% alc.)

Golden Ridge Cellars 2012 Estate Merlot, Walla Walla Valley, $29: While this Merlot is unusually solid in its build for the variety, it celebrates Merlot’s reputation for friendliness from its beckoning aroma of plums ready to be picked to its caressing finish. (14.8% alc.)

Huston Vineyards 2014 Malbec, Snake River Valley, $29: Force is combined with grace in this Malbec. The aroma is unusual for evoking a deli display of mouth-watering meats imported from Italy, while on the palate the fruit is bright and sustaining, the tannins easily tolerable and the acidity revitalizing. How did judges keep from swallowing rather than spitting this? (13.9% alc.)

Kiona Vineyards and Winery 2013 Estate Red Mountain Lemberger, Red Mountain, $15: For an example of a wine carefully tempered in structure, adaptable in its tannin and acid, and animated in its statement of pure fruit, this is one extraordinary buy. (13.5% alc.)

Lake Breeze Vineyards 2014 Merlot, Okanagan Valley, $21: This has to be one of the more intense and focused Merlots on the market. Its dark red fruit is feral in its abandon, and it packs a minerality so rangy that on paper, it would be rendered as a high, long and elaborately stratified crosscut of a plateau. (14% alc.)

Maryhill Winery 2013 Elephant Mountain Vineyard Marvell GSM, Rattlesnake Hills, $44: By its intense color, satiny feel and gloriously ripe fruit evocative of an orchard of Bing cherries just being picked, this release shows why blends of Rhône Valley varieties can be counted on generally to deliver more pleasure and provoke more thought than stand-alone varieties. (14.4% alc.)

Maryhill Winery 2013 Les Collines Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon , Walla Walla Valley, $40: Beyond the rigid tannins lurks a black licorice stick, but without sugar, just pure root that is earthy and abiding. Pair with a rib-eye steak and the tannins won’t be noticeable. (14.8% alc.)

Novelty Hill Winery 2013 Stillwater Creek Vineyard Merlot, Columbia Valley, $32: A Merlot of extraordinary animation, given its sunny red fruit and suggestion of smoke trailing from a pipe stuffed with an unusually rich blend of tobacco. It is jammy yet dry, with tannins well in retreat, making it the rare Merlot that can be an enjoyable as an aperitif and it is paired with food. (14.4% alc.)

Owen Roe 2013 DuBrul Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Yakima Valley, $72: A merry-go-round of a Cabernet, the brass rings being a bouquet of mixed spring flowers, a chocolate bon-bon and a smoldering campfire, all coming across with expansiveness and amusement. (13% alc.)

Palencia Wine Co. 2013 Grenache, Yakima Valley, $36: Brings to the table an elegance not at all ostentatious, but admirable for its harmony and spirit. This is an unusually layered Grenache, presenting in equal measures floral, grapey and spiced-meat notes. (13.8% alc.)

Phelps Creek Vineyards 2014 Celilo Vineyard Merlot, Columbia Gorge, $32: Exquisitely balanced Merlot, its delicate plummy fruit backed up by a fittingly wiry structure, firm but not foreboding tannins and refreshing acidity. (14% alc.)

Robert Karl Cellars 2013 Merlot, Horse Heaven Hills, $24: The Washington equivalent of Bordeaux Superieur, offering direct and telltale fruit, congenial receptiveness and high value. (14.3% alc.)

Ryan Patrick Wines 2014 Rock Island Red, Columbia Valley, $20: Here, have a handful, or rather a glassful, of chocolate-dipped cherries. But don’t take them on their own. Chew with a rare and juicy porterhouse. (14.5% alc.)

Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards 2013 Winemaker’s Reserve Pinot Noir, Umpqua Valley, $39: Don’t dismiss this Pinot Noir for its light color. On the palate the fruit is exceptionally juicy and the finish unusually lasting. (13.9% alc.)

RR Winery 2014 Ridgecrest Vineyards Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge, $79: From its cranberry coloring tinged with purple through fruit suggestive of cherries and strawberries to its substantial tannins, this is a Pinot Noir built for foods huskier than the customary salmon. Think tacos rich and varied but not too heavy on the spicy salsa. (14.2% alc.)

Revelry Vintners 2013 Weinbau Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Wahluke Slope, $52: Come-hither fruity aroma yields to an interpretation of Cabernet Franc that comes down solidly on the cherry/berry side of the varietal equation. (14% alc.)

Solera Bravo Wines NV Vermut Del Sol, Washington, $25: Whenever a cocktail needs a dash of chocolate, apple or pie spice, grab this focused vermouth. (16% alc.)

Tamarack Cellars 2014 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $28: For a Merlot of essential transparency, this hits the mark for its light color, uncommonly complex flavor and young tannins, which while firm won’t be an obstruction to pleasure when the wine is paired with hearty dishes. (14.2% alc.)

Tightrope Winery 2014 Syrah, Okanagan Valley, $35: What a lovely Syrah, combining the variety’s standing for mass and authority with an uncommon generosity that makes this take exceptionally friendly. The blueberry fruit is effusive, the tannins placid. (13.2% alc.)

Tranche Cellars 2012 Blue Mountain Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Walla Walla Valley, $40: While Cabernet Franc and “charm” rarely are mentioned in the same sentence, here’s the exception. It has great juicy fruit, a whiff of smoke, a jolt of revitalizing acidity and a persistence rare for the varietal. (14.8% alc.)

Van Duzer Vineyards 2013 Alchemy Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $65: The aroma of this Pinot Noir qualifies as a downright alluring perfume for its advance and shading. It comes as no surprise, then, that the flavor is all assured cherry/berry fruit and punctuating spice, delivered on a structure lean and limber. This is the ultimate salmon Pinot Noir. (13.1% alc.)

Van Duzer Vineyards 2013 Saffron Fields Vineyard Pinot Noir, Yamhill Carlton, $60: An aroma classic and voluminous is trailed by flavors richly fruity and abidingly sunny. This is a big Pinot Noir, but polite for its soothing tannins, modest alcohol and stimulating acidity. (13.1% alc.)

Van Duzer Vineyards 2013 Dijon Block Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $60: The welcome mat of Pinot Noirs – enveloping in its fleshy fruit, cordial for its elastic tannins, friendly for its graceful earth notes. (13.1% alc.)

vinAmité Cellars 2014 Cabernet Franc, Okanagan Valley, $20: This wine will reset anyone’s expectation of what Cabernet Franc is. No longer an herbal-scented understudy to Cabernet Sauvignon, here it stands alone as a fiercely proud emulation of bright smoked cherries. (15.5% alc.)

vinAmité Cellars 2015 Gamay Noir, Okanagan Valley, $29: Light in color, direct in delivery, rewarding people with an exploratory spirit for its seamlessness and longevity. (14% alc.)

Walla Walla Vintners 2013 Sagemoor Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $48: A Cabernet Sauvignon not only characteristic but downright distinguished for the authority, complexity and harmony of its fruit, its pliable tannins and its lingering finish. (14.4% alc.)

Waterbrook Winery 2013 Reserve Malbec, Columbia Valley, $22: Once vintners in Bordeaux get a taste of this sublime Malbec, their next step will be to start expanding their vineyard land devoted to the variety. (13.96%)

Westport Winery Garden Resort 2014 Swimmer, Columbia Valley, $31: The color may be foreboding, but this is a Petite Sirah to savor for its seductively floral aroma, luscious berry flavor and astonishingly supple tannins. (14% alc.)

Woodward Canyon Winery 2013 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington, $99: An aroma truffled, fruity and smoky will draw you in, while the sturdy structure and juicy flavors will keep drawing you back throughout the meal. (14.7% alc.)


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