With the Washington wine industry's rise in national prominence in the past decade, more wineries are selling their products at prices that are a bit out of reach for everyday drinking. Fortunately, there are still plenty of deals to be found, both in red and white wines.
By their nature, red wines tend to be more expensive than whites. Part of this is because reds can take more effort to farm and often produce lower yields. In 2009 in Washington, for example, a ton of white riesling grapes cost an average of $781, while a ton of cabernet sauvignon cost an average of $1,276.
Then consider the cost of aging red wines from 12 to 24 months in expensive oak barrels, while many white wines are aged for just a few months in stainless steel vats. All this factors into a wine's price, so reds tend to be less friendly to the bank account than whites. Fortunately, several wineries still produce affordable reds. Here are a few Washington reds we've tasted recently, all of which are delicious and cost less than $15 per bottle:
Columbia Crest 2008 Two Vines merlot, Washington, $8: Toasty oak doesn't get in the way of the fruit aromas of dried cranberry, ripe Bing cherry, blueberry and rose hip. Barrel notes show up more on the palate, where pie cherries are met by caramel. Blueberry acidity and bold tannins merely elevate the drink.
Covey Run Winery 2007 cabernet sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $9: This cab's stylish nose displays plums, dried strawberry and orange zest with milk chocolate, cedar, leather and soy sauce in the distance. There's a greeting of black cherry on the palate with fresh-brewed coffee and white pepper notes, framed by distinctive tannins.
Ridge Crest 2008 White Bluffs syrah, Columbia Valley, $10: Five years ago, Claar Cellars near Pasco began producing syrah under this second label, and the results are remarkable at any price. Opulent oak aromas of cinnamon and cocoa are backed by blackberry, black cherry, crushed mint and smoked meat. Hedonism reigns on a palate that emulates the nose and continues to give.
Washington Hills NV Rainier Red, Washington, $10: The red blend of cabernet sauvignon, lemberger, syrah, cabernet franc and merlot is light, simple and satisfying with cherries, strawberries and ample blueberry acidity. Its herbaceousness and light tannins will do well with an artisan pizza.
Kestrel Vintners NV Lady in Red, Eighth Edition, Columbia Valley, $12: Few family-owned wineries have created a following for an annual release that can match this one from Prosser. A college marketing class developed the concept and sexy prototype label, while the price and blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, sangiovese and viognier make it an easy sell.
Silver Lake Winery 2008 merlot, Rattlesnake Hills, $12: This fragrant drink features notes of high-toned red fruit, cocoa powder, slate, sandalwood and pink peppercorns. There's a flourish of blueberry and huckleberry on the midpalate, with gritty tannins and more cocoa in the finish.
Long Tail Lizard 2008 cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $13: A perfumy nose takes you down a different path with sagebrush, violets, bay rum, horehound and A1 Steak Sauce. The drink evolves into bright flavors of raspberry and western serviceberry, accented by tarry oak and green peppercorns, and nicely bound in a restrained structure. This wine is a label of Preston Premium Wines north of Pasco.
Kana Winery 2006 Workingman's Red, Columbia Valley, $14: A supercharged blend headed by zinfandel, it offers a dense nose of plum, black cherry, chocolate, espresso, root beer and Wheat Thin crackers. The zin sweetness on the plummy attack, combined with its quaffable and soft structure, makes it a good introduction red. Cinnamon, cookie dough and coffee in the finish add to the conversation.
*Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, a website that provides news and information about the wines of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho.