Washington winemakers harvested 71,100 tons of cabernet sauvignon grapes last year.
WINEMAKERS AND GRAPE GROWERS are fond of saying cabernet sauvignon is king. Now that also is true in Washington wine country.
In recent years, cab’s stock has risen at the same speed as its acreage and tonnage. It achieved a new level last fall, when winemakers brought in an astonishing 71,100 tons. That’s more than the entire Washington wine industry produced of all wine grapes in 1999.
Cabernet sauvignon now makes up 26 percent of the state’s production. In California, cab accounts for 13 percent of the production, trailing only chardonnay.
Three to try
Three Washington cabs of varying prices, styles and availability:
Mosquito Fleet Winery 2013 Reserve 34 cabernet sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $90: A spendy but remarkable wine from a Belfair winery on the Kitsap Peninsula, this features aromas of rose petals, nutmeg and dark chocolate, followed by massive flavors of ripe black fruit backed by sublime tannins.
Ross Andrew Winery 2015 Glaze cabernet sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $15: This always-reliable and affordable bottling begins with aromas of leather, vanilla, baking spices and black cherry, followed by flavors of blueberry, cola and bittersweet chocolate.
Fidelitas Wines 2014 Blackwood Canyon Vineyard cabernet sauvignon, Red Mountain, $60: Made from 31-year-old vines, this 100-percent cab opens with aromas of spice, black cherry and dark chocolate. Flavors of black licorice, plum, a hint of sage and black olive are backed by firm yet pliable tannins. Available only to Fidelitas wine club members.
Washington has reached a tipping point where it finally has a signature grape, and that grape is cabernet sauvignon. In the past, Washington’s focus has been a nebulous problem: Was it about cab, merlot, riesling or chardonnay? It should be seen as a great thing that Washington winemakers can successfully make beautiful wines from a plethora of grapes.
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But that diversity drives winery sales and marketing teams crazy.
Here’s a quiz: Mention a prominent wine region. Does a signature grape come to mind? Here’s an easy one: Oregon. Pinot Noir is 62 percent of its production, which makes for a more precise story and easier sales.
With cab, we throw our lot in with Napa Valley and Bordeaux. That’s pretty solid company.
Charlie Hoppes, owner of Fidelitas Wines, couldn’t be happier. He makes five separate bottlings of cab — four of them from Red Mountain. His customers can’t buy it fast enough.
Hoppes is working with nine clones of cabernet sauvignon. The hard work is discovering which versions grow best in which area of Washington, probably Red Mountain and the Horse Heaven Hills. The natural next step is for winemakers and grape growers to establish Washington’s signature style for cabernet sauvignon.
This is where the fun begins, because there are exciting, exploratory times ahead as cab matures into its reign.