The Wine Regions of WA State

Map_WA State

Cows, wheat, orchards and wine!
Layered with apple orchards, entrenched in wheat farming, milk and cattle production, wine production in Washington began in the mid 1970’s.  Wine still relatively new in the scheme of agriculture output for Washington State and the region has a finite supply of water for irrigation.  Quality over bulk quantity is regulated by irrigation needs.  With the exception of approximately 80 acres of vineyard near Seattle in Puget Sound AVA, the state’s wine regions are all located to the east of the Cascades, where the mountains’ rain shadow effect makes irrigation commonplace—rainfall is often less than ten inches a year.

Eastern Washington experiences a true continental climate, with hot summers and cold winters; frost and winter freezes are serious concerns for growers.  Soils consist of basalt bedrock and thin alluvial topsoil, deposited by the same Missoula Floods that washed through the Willamette Valley at the end of the last ice age.  Loess is everywhere, as well as layers of sand and gravel.  Why does this make a difference?

Each appellation has its own unique characteristics that allow it to be defined separately than the Columbia Valley.   The factors that play major roles in defining each AVA (or appellation) are the soils, the climate impact of each region and the subtle nuances of land masses that create microclimates and impact the quality of the vines and grapes.  The diversity of each appellation is as follows:

  • Columbia Valley encompasses these appellations except the Puget Sound. 99% of wine grapes grown in Washington State.
  • Columbia Gorge cut back by the Columbia River Gorge which alters the climate from eastern WA dessert climate to cool maritime. This is protected by a rain shadow effect from Mount Hood and Mount Adams.  The heat allows for excellent Bordeaux and Rhone varietal ripening.
  • The soil composition of Walla Walla Valley with its continental heat allows for excellent drainage- and heating of the vines for ripening.
  • Lake Chelan has a higher elevation with lake effects that create temperate growing and ripening. The soils are also much different due to glacier aspects; we find more sand, quartz and minerals.
  • Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley are canyons that were stripped away by glaciers. This low-nutrient, fast-draining soil is perfect for growing wine grapes because the vines must struggle to survive and thus focus their energy on producing high-quality fruit.
  • Wahluke Slope is the driest appellation in the State; surrounded by the Columbia River and the Saddle Mountains.
  • Naches Heights is situated on ancient volcanic bedrock plateau with high elevations and clay for water retention.
  • Yakima Valley is Washington’s oldest wine making region and hosts 1/3 of the state’s vineyards, including Rattlesnake Hills, Red Mountain, Horse Heaven Hills and Snipes Mountain. The cool nights of this valley allow for excellent acid chemistry.  Silt-loam soils predominate allowing proper drainage.
  • Red Mountain is a steep southwest facing slope, near the Yakima River that maintains those hot days and cool nights classic of the Yakima Valley.
  • Snipes Mountain is the second smallest AVA, with elevated topography and unique soils (ardisols) not found elsewhere in the Yakima Valley AVA.
  • Rattlesnake Hills sit higher than the Yakima Valley with vineyards typically located on ridges and terraces. Good air drainage avoids late spring and the early fall frost or winter kill.
  • Horse Heaven Hills has a proximity to the Columbia River which creates 30% more wind while moderating the dessert temperature extremes. Steep south-facing slopes are optimum vineyard locations and providing well-drained, sandy-loam soils.
  • Puget Sound is located on the western side of Washington; the maritime climate is drastically different than the continental and desert like qualities of Eastern Washington which allows for different varietals such as pinot gris and pinot noir.

The nuances of soils, climate, territorial structures and elevations create Washington’s niche in supporting and creating a diverse wine region.  In forty years of production, the wine production exceeds an annual billion dollar revenue with over a billion in wine related tourism.  Over 40 different varietals are now grown with 50,000 plus acres dedicated to vineyards.  That creates over 20 million gallons of wine from over 850 wineries!  Washington may still be fields of wheat and cow farms, but vineyard production is a growing crop commodity.


For more details read below:

The Columbia Valley is the largest appellation in Washington State.  It encompasses all other AVA regions except the Puget Sound and is located in Eastern Washington.  The Columbia Valley contains 99% of wine grapes grown in Washington State – 43,000 acres (16,207 hectares).  Vineyards are planted on predominately south-facing slopes, increasing solar radiation in summer and promoting air drainage in winter.  AVA 1984  Many wineries list only Columbia Valley as they source grapes from multiple vineyards.

Columbia Gorge is the southernmost Washington appellation.  The Columbia Gorge wine region is defined by the Columbia River Gorge, a narrow passage that marks the dramatic transition from eastern desert to cool maritime climate as the Columbia River cuts through the Cascade Mountain Range on its way to the Pacific Ocean.  The region encompasses the corridor flanking the river in both Washington and Oregon and includes the Columbia Gorge and the southwestern part of the Columbia Valley American Viticulture Areas (AVAs).  As this region lies to the east of the summits of nearby Mount Hood and Mount Adams, it is in rain shadow of these Cascade volcanoes. The region is significantly drier than the Portland metropolitan area to the west. Elevation in the region varies considerably, increasing as one travels from the Columbia River into the plateaus on either side, and the strong Columbia Gorge winds also play a factor in the region’s climate. Eastern vineyards have a continental high desert climate with just 10 inches of annual rainfall but plentiful sunshine to ripen hot-weather Bordeaux, Rhone and Italian varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel and Barbera.  AVA 2004  Cascade Cliffs and Syncline Cellars are a few of our favorites.

Walla Walla Valley is primarily loess, cobblestone river gravels, dark basalt stones, and beneath the loess are coarser layers of sand and gravel.  The sand and gravel were deposited by catastrophic, glacial floods that swept through this region about 15,000 years ago.  Loess is derived soils which are essentially unconsolidated, unstratified calcareous silt.  It allows for excellent drainage. Dark basalt stones soak up the warmth of the sun before releasing it back at the vines after twilight and provide rich in iron, calcium, magnesium and other minerals that fuel remarkable flavors.  The varietals are primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.  Grape growing began in the Walla Walla Valley in the 1850s by Italian immigrants.  Walla Walla Valley is made up of over 100 wineries and more than 1,600 acres (648 hectares) of vineyards.  AVA 1984 Reininger is one of our favorites out of Walla Walla

Lake Chelan has a higher elevation and more temperate climate than the more southern AVAs also contained within the Columbia Valley.  Due to the ice age glaciers that formed Lake Chelan, the soil surrounding it has distinctive properties such as coarse, sandy sediment with notable amounts of quartz and mica.  These soil distinctions result in grapes with discernable textures, minerals, and nutrients.  The AVA is also distinguished by a significant “lake effect” that creates mild and favorable temperatures for surrounding areas, resulting in a longer growing season and a reduced risk of frost.  Primary varietals grown are Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.  AVA 2009 Nefarious Cellars is a must check out!

Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley is located with the Beezley Hills to the north; the eastern edge of the Quincy Basin defined by the manmade Winchester Wasteway canal to the east; the Frenchman Hills to the south; and the western shoreline of the Columbia River creates the border to the west. The famous Gorge Amphitheatre resides on the western edge of the AVA.  The Ancient Lakes are canyons that were outlet points in the Quincy Valley for the floodwaters, which essentially stripped away the soil to barren scabland.  In the ensuing centuries, wind has blown in sand that has created the soil in the Ancient Lakes and elsewhere in the Columbia Valley.  This low-nutrient, fast-draining soil is perfect for growing wine grapes because the vines must struggle to survive and thus focus their energy on producing high-quality fruit.  Varietals are predominately Riesling and Chardonnay. AVA 2012  Milbrant Vineyards, Jones Vineyards, and Cave B are all located in this canyon.

Wahluke Slope is naturally bounded by the Columbia River to the west and south, by the Saddle Mountains on the north, and on the east by the Hanford Reach National Monument.  It has the driest, warmest climates in the state, allowing nearly complete control of vine vigor and ripening through irrigation.  AVA 2005  Milbrant Cellars also grows here.

Map_WA State_v2
Naches Heights is the first AVA to be recognized as fully sustainable.  It is located within the Columbia Valley on an ancient volcanic bedrock plateau; Naches Heights is above the level of the Missoula Floods, at elevations ranging from 1,200 to 2,100 feet.  The boundaries of the Naches Heights are the Naches River to the north and east; Cowiche Creek to the south and west; and the lower Tieton River on the west.  The soil is comprised of windblown soil, also known as loess, which is heavy in clay and helps the soil to retain water. Around 10 to 13 inches of rain fall annually in the Naches Heights region. It is considered a cooler region for Washington State. AVA 2012. Naches Heights Vineyards as well as Harlequin are located in this area.

Yakima Valley is Washington’s oldest wine making region and hosts 1/3 of the state’s vineyards with Chardonnay varietal prominent.  Yakima Valley vineyards produce wines that are characteristically rich and well-developed, due to the long and consistent growing season. With cool nights, warm days and controlled water, Yakima Valley vineyards tend to have a longer growing days and season compared to other wine regions. These regional growing characteristics help to develop fully mature fruit whose acid chemistry maintains balance during the cool nights.  Silt-loam soils predominate allowing proper drainage necessary to keep vine’s vigor under control.  As an appellation it hosts sub-regions of Red Mountain, Snipes Mountain, Rattlesnake Hills and Horse Heaven Hills.    AVA 1983  Lobo Hills and Chinook Cellars are here in Yakima.

Red Mountain is not necessarily a mountain, more of a steep slope, which faces southwest near the Yakima River.  More than 15 wineries are located in the Red Mountain AVA, with many additional Washington wineries sourcing grapes from Red Mountain’s premiere growers.  The area has a desert climate with average yearly rainfall of five inches per year. During the growing season daytime temperatures average 90 °F (32 °C) with night time temperatures dropping below 50 °F (10 °C).  The varietals grown here are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Sangiovese, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. (Trade tasting 3/23) AVA 2001  Guardian Cellars sources his grapes here!

Snipes Mountain is the second smallest AVA in Washington, bigger only than Red Mountain, and home to six wineries. While the Snipes Mountain AVA lies entirely within the boundaries of the Yakima Valley AVA its uniqueness comes from an elevated topography and unique soils not found elsewhere in the Yakima Valley AVA.  In the 1850s a rancher named Ben Snipes built a house and settled his cattle operation on a Yakima Valley mountain north of the Yakima River, later known as Snipes Mountain.  Snipes vineyards grow more than 30 different wine grape varieties and the fruit is used in more than 25 wineries.  Vineyards have been planted on Snipes Mountain and Harrison Hill since 1914.  Washington State’s second oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines have been producing grapes on Harrison Hill for more than 40 years.  AVA 2009  Upland Estates is here and DeLille sources from Harrison Hill Vineyard located here too.

Rattlesnake Hills encompasses an expanse of hills running east to west along the northern point of the Yakima River and south of Moxee Valley; the Rattlesnake Hills AVA lies within both the established Columbia Valley and Yakima Valley appellations.  Beginning at an elevation of 850 feet and rising up to 3,085 feet, the viticultural area sits higher in elevation than the surrounding Yakima Valley region.  The first commercial vineyards in the region date back to 1968.  Vineyards are typically located on ridges and terraces and in areas with good air drainage to avoid late spring and early fall frost and winter kill.  AVA 2006.  Silver Lake and Porteus are here.

Horse Heaven Hills is located in Southeast Washington with a total area is 570,000 acres (230,679 hectares) of which about 10,130 acres (4,099 hectares) planted to grapes.  It represents 25% of Washington’s total grape production.  Proximity to the Columbia River creates 30% more wind while moderating temperature extremes, providing steep south-facing slopes for optimum vineyard locations and providing well-drained, sandy-loam soils.  Elevations range from 1,800 feet at the area’s northern boundary to 300 feet at its southern.  Outstanding sites that have been developed in this area include Alder Ridge, Andrews-Horse Heaven Vineyard, Canoe Ridge, Champoux Vineyards and The Benches at Wallula Vineyard.  Growers have raised grapes in the Horse Heaven Hills region since 1972.  AVA 2005  McKinnley Springs is located here.

Puget Sound is located on the western side of Washington, which is divided by the Cascade Mountain ranges that run North and South along the coast.  Its temperate climate rarely suffers from prolonged freezes in winter and enjoys long mild and dry summers.  However it is a maritime climate and drastically different than the continental and desert like qualities of Eastern Washington.  Semi-permeable cemented subsoil allows the deep-rooted vinifera vines to survive the late summer soil water deficit.  Madeleine Angevine, Siegerebbe and Muller-Thurgau are the predominant varietals.  Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir also show promise in this appellation.  AVA 1995  Bainbridge Island Winery, San Juan Winery and Vashon Winery are all great examples.

Jaci Kajfas,
Sommelier & Wine Writer


New Tasting Series: Grape Varietals A-Z

A-Z_logo_Jan 2014
Kicking off a new year, we thought it would be fun to do a comprehensive tasting series featuring as many single grape varietals as we carry in the shop. We counted them up. (There are 60+!) We put them in alphabetical order. And we’re ready to go! Here’s the schedule.  If you make a good chunk of these tastings, you will have tasted the vast majority of single grape varietals grown around the world today. We’ll offer a little educational overview on each grape including tasting notes & where it’s grown. The rest is up to you. Ready, set, go:

Tastings run every Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday from bar open (4pm) to 8pm:
Tue, 14-Jan – Albariño ~ pictured above in the Outon vineyards in Rias Baixas, Spain
Wed, 15-Jan – Aligoté
Thu, 16-Jan – Arneis
Tue, 21-Jan – Barbera
Wed, 22-Jan – Blaufraenkisch
Thu, 23-Jan – Brachetto
Tue, 28-Jan – Cabernet Franc
Wed, 29-Jan – Cabernet Sauvignon
Thu, 30-Jan – Cannonau
Claude Nouveau_grapes_chardonnay_banner
Tue, 4-Feb – Carmenère
Wed, 5-Feb – Chardonnay (France) ~ pictured above in Claude Nouveau’s vineyards
Thu, 6-Feb – Chardonnay (California)
Tue, 11-Feb – Chenin Blanc
Wed, 12-Feb – Cortese
Thu, 13-Feb – Dolcetto
Tue, 18-Feb – Garganega
Wed, 19-Feb – Garnacha Grenache
Thu, 20-Feb – Grauvernatsch (Schiava Grigio)
Tue, 25-Feb – Grüner Veltliner
Wed, 26-Feb – Inzolia
Thu, 27-Feb – Kerner
Tue, 4-Mar – Lagrein
Wed, 5-Mar – Malbec
Thu, 6-Mar – Melon de Bourgogne
Tue, 11-Mar – Merlot
Wed, 12-Mar – Montepulciano
Thu, 13-Mar – Moscato
Tue, 18-Mar – Muscat
Wed, 19-Mar – Nebbiolo ~ pictured above in the Pelassa vineyards of Piedmont, Italy
Thu, 20-Mar – Nerelo Mascalese
Tue, 25-Mar – Nero d’Avola
Wed, 26-Mar – Pedro Ximenez
Thu, 27-Mar – Petit Verdot
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Tue, 1-Apr – Petite Syrah
Wed, 2-Apr – Pineau d’Aunis
Thu, 3-Apr – Pinot Bianco
Tue, 8-Apr – Pinot Blanc
Wed, 9-Apr – Pinot Grigio
Thu, 10-Apr – Pinot Grigio
Tue, 15-Apr – Pinot Noir (France)
Wed, 16-Apr – Pinot Noir (Oregon)
Thu, 17-Apr – Pinotage
Tue, 22-Apr – Primitivo
Wed, 23-Apr – Prosecco
Thu, 24-Apr – Riesling
Tue, 29-Apr – Sangiovese
Wed, 30-Apr – Sauvignon Blanc (France)
BLOG_Jens in Australia_Shiraz grapes from Beachworth_Victoria_v4
Thu, 1-May – Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand)
Tue, 6-May – Semillon
Wed, 7-May – Shiraz ~ pictured above from Jens’ trip to Victoria, Australia
Thu, 8-May – Syrah (Old World)
Tue, 13-May – Syrah (New World)
Wed, 14-May – Tempranillo
Thu, 15-May – Torrontes
Tue, 20-May – Verdejo
Wed, 21-May – Vernaccia
Thu, 22-May – Viognier
Tue, 27-May – Welschriesling
Wed, 28-May – Zinfandel
Thu, 29-May – Zweigelt

This should be a lot of fun! Look forward to seeing you there!
Julie, Jens & the Portalis team

An Interview with Peter Devison, Winemaker at Efeste

Anniversary Tasting_Saturday_082413_03
Peter Devison pictured with Theresa Slechta, Vinum Imports

Peter Devison is the current winemaker at the acclaimed WA winery Efeste, following the big personality (& winemaking prowess) tenure of Brennan Leighton. The two are friends and Brennan actually hand-picked Peter to take over at Efeste when he left a year ago. Peter said that when the two first met, they had a little ego scuffling, but soon they realized that they shared something important in common: philosophy. Both winemakers believe less is more, age in the bottle not in oak, let the vineyard and the vintage shine through.

So, how did this young man end up at the helm of this highly decorated WA winery? From my visit with him, it sounds like a combination of two things: he got the wine bug bad, and he worked his tail off. Originally from Nova Scotia, Peter moved to Vancouver just out of high school and started as a bus boy in a local restaurant. By 22, he was acting sommelier at some restaurants, serving at others. In 2001 he moved to Christchurch in New Zealand to learn how to make wine, earning his Bachelors of Applied Science in Viticulture & Enology at Lincoln University. He travelled around the country, hitting every harvest he could and made 6 vintages in the 4 years he was there, including Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Cabernet, Merlot, Cab Franc and more.

In 2004, he had the option of working in Portugal or WA State, and selected the latter with a position in Chelan at Vin du Lac. Soon, though, he moved on to the more up-and-coming area of Walla Walla where he could be at the epicenter of WA State’s wine movement, and that’s where things really started happening. He took a winemaking position at Waterbrook, which was then shortly purchased by Precept, and he spent the 2007-2008 vintages in Walla Walla then the 2009-2011 vintages in Prosser making wine for Precept for a range of labels including Apex Cellars, Browne Family, Alder Ridge & more. He loved the people & learned a lot, but when Brennan came calling with the opportunity to move away from the more corporate structure of Precept into the land of high-end WA wines no-holds-barred, he jumped.

The 2012 vintage on at Efeste is his, and the opportunity he is presented with is mind-blowing for him: he has the flexibility to do something great. About 40% of Efeste’s production is their red blend Final Final, which is priced to be a glass pour at local restaurants, creating a following for their brand and ultimately their high end wines, Ceidleigh Syrah, Jolie Bouche, Big Papa and more. 20-25% of the overall production is white wines: Feral Sauvignon Blanc, Evergreen Riesling, Lola Chardonnay. Having made a lot of white wine in New Zealand, Peter said he loves making white wine. It’s more precise and straightforward, and he has a satisfying relationship with the wines from early on. With red wines, he says it’s more emotional; you can make or break your day depending on a wine’s progress. But clearly in visiting with him about winemaking, red is the more challenging wine to make and the more satisfying for him in the end.

Label_WA_Efeste_Big Papa_2009_no frame

His thoughts on the Efeste wines we tasted at our Anniversary Tasting in August?

● Evergreen Riesling 2011: Focused. Elegantly balanced. Build to age. Old World style (Austria).

● Feral Sauvignon Blanc 2012: It’s got verve. It’s edgy. All about crushed stone, oyster shells, lime leaf, apricot skins.

● Final Final Cab/Syrah 2010: All YUM factor. Best of both worlds. Fleshy, velvety Syrah with structured, focused Cab. The Cab is the frame around the velvety Syrah. It’s complete, whole.

● Ceidliegh (“Kay-lee”) Syrah 2010: Cornas inspired. Grilled herbs, licorice, dark fruit. Red Mountain tannins. It’s a sexy wine.

● Big Papa Cab 2010: BIG, chewy, full, rich, intense, full. It’s a monster. Everything you want in a WA Cab.

All of these wines are available at Portalis. If we don’t have them in stock, we’d be happy to order them for you.


Get to know a lesser-known: Cabernet Franc

Label_WA_Owen Roe Rosa Mystica Cab Franc
I noticed that Cabernet Franc was used in a lot of red blends, but it got me thinking “Does this grape have the potential to be used alone?” There are quite a few grapes that are either too overpowering, or not overpowering enough to be considered viable options for a single varietal wine, but I thought that perhaps Cabernet Franc just wasn’t getting the amount of press it deserved. It must not be too strong since in some blends it can amount for 50% or more if the wine. Thus, I decided to investigate.

Cabernet Franc is one of the major grape varietals grown throughout the world. It prefers a cooler climate, and is relatively thin skinned (meaning less tannins in the wine). Cabernet Franc is considerably lighter in body than its relative Cabernet Sauvignon (Cabernet Franc is an ancestral grape for many varietals as it turns out). It adds spicy, violet aromas and finesse to wines along with flavors of raspberry and black currant. Definitely sounded like Cabernet Franc could make up a wine completely solo, and turns out that there are quite a few already produced.

Chinon, Bourgueil and St.-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil are not only three of the most famous Loire Valley wines, but they are almost always created using just Cabernet Franc. The best wines from each of these areas are soft and elegant, but have the full flavors of cabernet franc come through the wine. It is of course also planted widely in Bordeaux as it is used in blends throughout the region.

In North America, Cabernet Franc is used to make icewine (mostly in Canada and New York State), Napa Valley has won multiple awards for its Cab Franc wines, and in Washington state, Cabernet Franc is the fourth most planted grape (it is much more robust against cold weather than other grape varietals).

Label_FR_Roche de Feu_Chinon Cab Franc_with frameAt Portalis, we carry a variety of Cabernet Franc wines (as well as Cab Franc blends). This wine not only is easy to drink, but is easy to pair with food. Cabernet Franc can be paired with vegetable dishes, poultry, red meat, pizza, sharp cheddar or bleu cheeses, and pork. You can try the Roche de Feu Chinon, 100% Cab Franc from AlphaLoire, a producer from the Loire Valley, at the bar as a glass pour. It’s medium-bodied, has a lot of earth & is a fabulous food wine.  We also carry Paul Buisse 2005 L’Exceptionnel Bourgueil, another Cab Franc from the Loire Valley. If you’d prefer to try something local, we have the Owen Roe 2010 Rosa Mystica Cabernet Franc, a beautiful, fuller-bodied Cab Franc from WA’s Yakima Valley.  It’s pricier, but it’s well worth the splurge!


Killer Cuvée, a Washington Wine Thriller by Steve Wells

When I asked author, Steve Wells, how he got the idea to write a wine-based murder mystery, he started with the old adage:  To make a small fortune in wine, you need to start with a large one.  After moving on from a long career in the high tech world, he followed some personal interests: studying nonfiction writing at the University of Washington as well as winemaking at South Seattle Community College. He interned at DeLille and loved the experience, but after looking at the business-side of running a wine business while in school, he thought that writing about it might capture all of his interests and be more lucrative as well.

After determining his path, he set out to write this book with two goals in mind: capturing the essence of winemaking through the telling of the story and creating engaging, interesting characters to take us on this wine adventure, full of intrigue & romance.

We are pleased to host Steve next Sunday, September 23 from 12-3pm for a book signing for his new release: Killer Cuvée.   The book signing will coincide with our regular Sunday tasting (during the Ballard Farmers Market).  What will we be tasting?  You guessed it:  Washington Cuvées!

In the meantime, if you want a little tickler on Killer Cuvée:
Eric Savage loves his new life as a small artisanal winemaker in Walla Walla, Washington. A painful divorce and a corporate career are but distant memories as Eric settles into the rhythm of small town living. Abruptly, his agreeable life and passion for winemaking are upended by a mysterious murder and accusations that Eric is guilty of the crime. A killer is on the loose, and Eric is the perfect fall guy.

After eluding police, Eric flies to London and the scene of the crime in a calculated attempt to find the real killer. There he encounters a determined and attractive FBI Agent who has her own reasons for investigating the murder. An attraction between them flourishes as they team up to find the killer. But as the body-count increases, and the killer eludes them, Eric doubts his life will ever be the same.

Authentic scenes of winemaking will interest anyone who has enjoyed a glass of fine wine!

Hope to see you there!

A Conversation with Lobo Hills

I had the opportunity to sit down with local winemaker (and motorcycle aficionado) Tony Dollar and ask him a few questions about his winery, Lobo Hills. Prior to winemaking, Tony had worked in the hospitality/restaurant industry at such places as Canlis. His opening venture into wine was in the winter of 2010 with three wines totaling 234 cases; 2009 Riesling, 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, and a non-vintage Cabernet Sauvignon. Today, Lobo Hills aims to produce almost 1,200 cases thanks to the created fan-base in and around Seattle for their wines.

The aim of Lobo Hills wine is to produce ‘wine for food’, in other words balanced and acidic wines that are drinkable throughout a meal. The winery itself is based out of the Dollars’ home in the Wedgewood neighborhood in North Seattle, and uses minimal intervention in its production techniques. Tony sources his grapes from throughout Eastern Washington: white varietals from around the town of Sunnyside, red varietals from near Benton City, the Red Mountain AVA region, and Wahluke Slope.

Since Lobo Hills wine is made with food in mind, I asked Tony what his favorite food pairings were for the vintages carried here at Portalis:

Right Bank Red Blend: Beef stew, or roasted Portobello mushrooms

Cabernet Sauvignon: Beef Tenderloin

Riesling: Grilled Pork medallions or Lemon roasted chicken

Look for new vintages to arrive in April (among them being a new to the market white blend!)



A Little Bit about Syrah & Shiraz

Warner Vineyard Shiraz, Giaconda Winery, Beachworth, Victoria

First of all, this is the same grape – a dark grape with thick skin that needs a lot of heat to ripen.  It just has a different name, depending on where the grape is grown,  but because of the impact of the land, weather, altitude, soil & winemaking style of where the grape is grown, the use of Syrah or Shiraz has become indicative of the style of wine you will get.

It’s unclear where the grape originates, but it was first cultivated in France’s Rhône Valley.  Red wines from the Northern Rhône (Hermitage, Côtes Rôtie, St. Joseph & more) are mainly (up to 100%) Syrah (with up to 5% Viognier “to make things more interesting” Jens says).  They tend to be higher-end, require aging (due to the level of tannins) and are known for flavors of dark fruit, black olives and a notable gaminess. We don’t carry many Northern Rhône wines are they tend to be pricy and not easily accessible, but if you get the urge to try them out, they are wonderful, lesser-known examples French Syrah.

The vineyards of E. Guigal, Côte-Rôtie, Northern Rhône

Reds from the Southern Rhône also have Syrah, but as a blend of Syrah/Grenache/Mourvedre/Cinsault.  These wines are more accessible, a little juicier but still with a lovely, soft earthy spiciness, building from a nice, $12 straight-forward, bottle of Côtes du Rhône to a big, fuller-bodied, old world style Chateauneuf, which is full of liquorice, herbs, and meaty flavors.  Jens said that some of the old Chateauneuf houses are starting to produce a New World style which is super fruity, super oaky … and a big disappointment if you’re a traditionalist and like wines to taste like where they’re from.

Vines growing next to rosemary (Baumes-de-Venise, Southern Rhône)

Australian Shiraz is a big boy due to the hotter climate of the regions where it is grown, most famously the Barossa Valley (although it must be noted that many of the more nuanced (and often not available in Seattle) wines are from lesser-known, less hot areas.  Jens was in Australia last Februrary, a guest of the Australia Wine Commission for a tour of Victoria Pinot Noir country, but he still had the pleasure of visiting several areas growing top notch Shiraz, e.g. the Giaconda Winery located in Beachworth, north-east Victoria (note the photo – top).  For Shiraz (available in Seattle) that show off big, well-balanced wine with the nuance of minty herb that can be Australia’s lovely touch, try: D’Arenberg 2008 Laughing Magpie or for a splurge D’Arenberg 2006 The Dead Arm Shiraz, both from the McLaren Vale Valley & both with a touch of Viognier. An excellent example of 100% Shiraz from the Barossa Valley is John Duval 2007 Entity Shiraz.

South Africa is making some notable Shiraz as well.  Still big and dark, they use a yeast additive in fermenting that gives the wine a special smoky flavor.  Neil Ellis (known for his Pinotage) makes a tasty, as well Boekenhoutskloof (calling it Syrah) makes a beautiful 100% Syrah.

Last, I will end with the wonderful & varied Syrah coming out of our home state.  Washington State sits at the same latitude as the Rhône Valley, so it enjoys many of the same growing conditions, and its Syrah is known for its dark fruit flavors of black currant & blackberry with some nuance of black pepper, licorice, clove, thyme, sandalwood & cedar.  WA growers don’t seem to differentiate style by the use of Syrah vs Shiraz on the label, but both styles are readily available (usually called Syrah), from what could be called the “hedonistic pleasure bomb” (as quoted from our friend Catherine Reynolds) style. Wonderful examples of this style are Chris Sparkman Darkness Syrah, Mark Ryan Lost Soul Syrah, Owen Roe Ex Umbris, Darby The Dark Side Syrah.  In the other camp you have a leaner, more subdued, arguably more complex wine, with notable examples including Efeste Syrah Jolie Bouche & wines by Chuck Reininger.

Other notable around the world Syrah:  California offers up some excellent examples of Syrah.  Darioush is perhaps the best known. We currently serve one by the glass at the bar: Qupé.  As well Novy has, through the years, produced a nice quaffable, well-priced Syrah.  Argentina, while known for Malbec, has several producers offering up exceptional Syrah, try: Benegas 2006 Syrah from Mendoza.

It’s the time of year for these wines, so come pick out a few and go exploring!