Despite difficulties with weather throughout the growing season, 2010 turned out to be another record year for the Washington wine industry.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's final report on the 2010 harvest, Washington crushed 160,000 tons of wine grapes, up from 2009's record 156,000 tons. Moving back into the No. 1 position was riesling, with 33,500 tons. Somewhat surprisingly, cabernet sauvignon jumped to No. 2, with 31,900 tons, up a remarkable 16 percent over 2009. Chardonnay was No. 3, with 28,600 tons, and merlot was No. 4, with 28,300 tons.
Washington is firmly the No. 2 wine-producing state in the country, well ahead of New York, which crushed 52,000 tons last year, and Oregon, with 40,000 tons. At 3.26 million tons of wine grapes, California dwarfs all other states combined.
Because all of Washington's 2010 cabernet sauvignons still are happily aging in barrels and tanks for the next 12 to 24 months, here are a few recently released versions we've tasted:
Walla Walla Vintners 2007 Vineyard Select cabernet sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $48: Blackberry, plum, French press coffee and leather aromas swirl into a drink that bursts with berry flavors in the mouth. The winemakers suggest you serve it with leg of lamb.
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2007 Canoe Ridge estate cabernet sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $28: This vintage marked the 16th year for these vines planted just downstream from sister winery Columbia Crest. They help build aromas of poached plums, stewed cherries, flint and a Rocky Road milkshake. It's a rich delivery of black Bing cherry with boysenberry and strawberry, made more complex with mint leaf. Sturdy tannins, cassis and chocolate give it extension. Enjoy with robust meats such as venison.
Ridge Crest 2007 cabernet sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $10: The second label for Claar Cellars in Zillah continues to provide high quality at a bargain price. Its rich and inviting nose features black cherry, blackberry and mocha notes along with hints of a snapped pencil. There's no bait-and-switch on the palate, which shows integration of tannin and a bit of celery leaf for food-pairing possibilities.
Snoqualmie Vineyards 2008 Naked cabernet sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $12: Winemaker Joy Andersen uses only organically grown grapes for her "Naked" wines, and the price leaves green in your pocket. Hints of Rainier cherry, blueberry, crushed juniper berry, cocoa powder and tobacco leaf filter out. The entry of strawberry, pomegranate and pie cherry give it high acidity, and there are sturdy tannins to match.
Frenchman's Gulch 2007 cabernet sauvignon, Washington, $25: An expressive nose of massive chocolate engulfs hints of poached plum, cordial cherry, toasted cigar leaf and cedar. Pomegranate and pie cherry share leading roles on the palate, which is framed by assertive tannins. It's a robust cab, ideal for an evening with a marbled steak and a cigar.
San Juan Vineyards 2007 cabernet sauvignon, Yakima Valley, $15: Kestrel View Estates fruit, picked Oct. 24 in Prosser, gave island winemaker Chris Primus the building blocks for a drink gushing with cherries and chocolate. Adding to the complexity in the nose are hints of coffee beans, cigar leaf and cedar. There's spiciness to the drink from cassis, then a farewell of devil's food cake.
Covington Cellars 2007 cabernet sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $35: Boysenberry, dusty raspberry, stewed cherry and a sense of inkiness splash inside a juicy structure. There's a finish of cracked green peppercorn, bittersweet chocolate and cranberry.
*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.