For the next 5 weeks, we’ll explore these interesting grape varieties — and why they perform so well here
THE RHONE REVOLUTION began its sweep through Washington wine country a decade ago. Like a cowboy riding the range, Rhône reds are complex in their simplicity and now boldly account for some of the most interesting wines in the state.
We will spend the next five weeks exploring the grape varieties involved in making Rhône, and why they perform so well in Washington. More than an upstart import from France, it turns out our state’s history with Rhône grapes stretches back more than a century, with the past 30 years cementing Washington’s position on the world wine frontier.
Three to try
These are three superb examples of GSM-style blends made by Washington wineries.
Schlagel Santo 2013 Red Heaven Vineyard GSM, Red Mountain, $45: An astonishing first wine from a tiny new producer in the Tri-Cities, this wine unveils aromas and flavors of spicy blackberry, lavender and ripe plum, backed by bright, sassy acidity and firm tannins. A beautifully balanced red.
Palencia Wine Co. 2012 Casa Amarilla, Yakima Valley, $36: Lush aromas of ripe plum, dark chocolate and spices give way to flavors of cured meats, alder smoke and black raspberries, all backed by tannins that manage to be firm without being assertive.
Barnard Griffin 2015 Côte de Rob, Columbia Valley, $30: Classic aromas of smoke, toast, chocolate and bacon are followed by ripe flavors of dark fruit, including plum, strawberry and cherries.
Rhône wines refer to wines from the Rhône Valley in the south of France.
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In the northern part of the Rhône Valley, syrah rules in such famous regions as Côte Rôtie, St. Joseph and Hermitage. As you move south, grenache, mourvèdre, coinoise, cinsault, carignane, petite sirah and other obscure grapes are added to the mix. The halfway point of the Rhône Valley is an area known as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where the valley’s most interesting wine — Château de Beaucastel — comes from. Though this wine is traditionally a blend of a dozen grapes, in the United States it is emulated in the GSM blend (grenache, syrah and mourvèdre). In a region flooded by red blends, GSMs are by far the most interesting.
The Rhône revolution in Washington actually can be traced to 1914, when William Bridgeman, then mayor of Sunnyside, planted a grape called black prince on Harrison Hill, not far from what is now Interstate 82. It turns out “black prince” is another name for cinsault, a minor Rhône red.
There’s no indication Bridgeman planted it because he had a vision for what Rhône varieties could do in Eastern Washington. More likely, it’s because those vines were available at a nursery.
Though that vineyard was converted from Rhône to Bordeaux varieties in the early 1960s, with the grapes dedicated to DeLille Cellars in Woodinville, it still serves as a harbinger of how well Rhônes would acclimate to our region.