They don’t figure into GSMs, but cinsault, counoise and petite sirah add their own value and complexity to our state’s wines.
WHILE GRENACHE, syrah and mourvèdre are the stars of the red Rhône revolution in Washington, several supporting cast members help add complexity to the wines and showcase the diversity of grapes grown in the Columbia Valley.
After all, Château de Beaucastel — the most famous Rhône red in France — is a blend of 13 different grapes.
Here’s a look at three “best friend” red Rhône grapes you’re likely to encounter in Washington alongside the headliners:
Three Washington Rhônes to try
Martin-Scott Winery 2012 Needlerock Vineyard Counoise, Columbia Valley, $28: From grapes grown near Wenatchee, this delicious wine reveals aromas and flavors of Rainier cherries, dried strawberries and a hint of blood orange.
Cairdeas Winery 2014 Cinsault, Yakima Valley, $34: This Lake Chelan winery makes its reputation with Rhône varieties. This rare cinsault offers aromas and flavors of cranberry, cherry pipe tobacco and black pepper, backed with sturdy tannins and steely acidity.
Thurston Wolfe Winery 2013 Reserve Zephyr Ridge Vineyard Petite Sirah, Horse Heaven Hills, $30: This incredibly balanced red opens with aromas of dark chocolate, Bing cherry and raspberry filling, followed by rich flavors of plum, blackberry and sweet herbs. Unlike other petite sirahs, this wine’s tannins are downright delicate, and it relies on acidity for balance.
• Cinsault: This red grape has been planted in Washington since at least 1914, using the stage name Black Prince when it was planted near Sunnyside. It’s an early-ripening sun worshipper that winemaker Bob Betz appreciates for the complexity it brings to blends. Pronounced sin-sew, it rarely stands alone as a varietal bottling, although a few risk-takers have tried it. Doug McCrea of McCrea Cellars worked with grower Dick Boushey to successfully plant cinsault in the Yakima Valley.
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• Counoise: This is an exciting grape that brings flavors of red-toned fruit and black pepper, along with complexity and acidity, to blends. McCrea worked with Jim Holmes of Ciel du Cheval Vineyard on Red Mountain to plant counoise (coon-waz) and begin to work with it. Holmes now makes a counoise under his own label. While you see it here and there in blends, it is rarely sighted.
• Petite sirah: This is an odd grape because, while almost none of it is planted in France, it is most famous in California. It’s likely considered a Rhône variety because of its syrah pedigree (it’s a cross of syrah and peloursin). Petite sirah grows well in Washington, particularly in the Horse Heaven Hills, and it has a solid future in the Columbia Valley.
All Rhône varieties are considered Mediterranean. Because of their originating climate, they are winter-tender and, unless planted in just the right spot, often can’t handle the Columbia Valley’s occasionally frigid temperatures.
Washington is fortunate to have a climate where many types of grapes will grow — even those that are as tender as those from the Rhône — because more than any other style of grape, Rhône reds have added a layer of interest and complexity to our state’s wine industry.