Washington Malbec growth continues

Malbec grapes ripen on Red Mountain during the 2013 vintage. (Photo by Niranjana Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

Malbec not only is a fast-rising star in Washington wine country, but it also is becoming a global phenomenon.

The French red variety is not only a big player in Argentina, but also in South Africa, Australia and some areas of California, particularly the arid Central Valley.

In Washington, Malbec plantings are ramping up, particularly in the Horse Heaven Hills, where plantings have doubled to more than 200 acres in the past half-decade. In the Walla Walla Valley, it’s the No. 5 variety with 131 acres. On warm Red Mountain, Malbec makes up 3 percent of the plantings with more than 70 acres.

Here a dozen examples of Northwest Malbecs we’ve tasted in recent months. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the winery directly.

Waterbrook Winery 2014 Reserve Malbec, Columbia Valley, $23

John Freeman and his team at this historic Walla Walla Valley brand produce Malbec under both tiers that are sold beyond the tasting room, and the combined production of approximately 10,000 cases shows how serious Waterbrook is about this Bordeaux grape. Freeman’s mid-October harvest from Canyon Vineyard Ranch (Yakima Valley), Blue Mountain (Walla Walla Valley) and Doval (Wahluke Slope) spent about 18 months in 26% new American oak. Those factors have this now offering aromas of Marionberry and pomegranate with spice, mint and earthiness. Its dense texture packs flavors of dark purple fruit joined by malted milk balls, taut tannins and lingering juiciness of elderberry.

Rating: Excellent

Production: 3,481 cases

Alcohol: 14.4%

Winery website

Mercer Estates 2015 Malbec, Horse Heaven Hills, $25

The Mercer family continues to pluck gems from its Spice Cabinet Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills near Alderdale, and the balance displayed in this young planting – established in 2009 – allowed for an 11 percent growth in this Malbec program from the 2015 vintage. A harvest made pristine first by a Pellenc optical sorter and then by hand-sorting at the crush pad leads to purity of fruit in the glass that’s focused on dark purple fruit akin to blackberry jam and blueberry preserves. Cherry skins, pleasingly bold tannins and a pulse of pomegranate juicy still leaves room for the telltale HHH dustiness in the finish.

Rating: Excellent

Production: 955 cases

Alcohol: 14.8%

Winery website

Browne Family Vineyards 2014 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $35

Summit View Vineyard, a Walla Walla Valley site just south of Seven Hills Road and west of Milton-Freewater, Ore., is dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon, but Waterbrook winemaker John Freeman also admires the Malbec he works with from there so he produced a 100% varietal wine for Precept CEO Andrew Browne’s pet Browne Family Vineyards project. The 20-barrel bottling also serves as a homage to Browne’s wife, Courtney, and shows the style that some with 35% new French oak. Lovely aromas of light toast, cherry sauce, blackberry jam and brown sugar include lavender candy. Its fluid is rich with plum and blackberry flavors, backed by cherry pie filling, cranberries, a sense of earthiness and chalk dust elegance.

Rating: Excellent

Production: 483 cases

Alcohol: 14.7%

Winery website

Rocky Pond Winery 2015 Double D Vineyard Malbec, Columbia Valley, $42

As Double D Vineyard grows and matures, the Dufenhorst family will look to sell more of the fruit from this site along the Columbia River 15 miles downstream from Chelan. Consulting winemaker Ron Bunnell showed a deft touch with these four barrels of Malbec, investing 13 months in 100% new French oak. The Sept. 25 harvest underwent a hot ferment of 85 degree Fahrenheit to bring out aromas of plum, cherry, blueberry taffy, caramel and black pepper. Its texture is comfortable and cozy as the pleasing extraction creates deep blue fruit flavors with baking spices, refined tannins and long and juicy finish. Find it at the Rocky Pond tasting rooms in Woodinville and downtown Chelan, then enjoy with London Broil, lamb or chicken.

Rating: Outstanding!

Production: 93 cases

Alcohol: 14.1%

Winery website

Clearwater Canyon Cellars 2015 Verhey Vineyard Malbec, Washington, $28

The Umikers continue to nurture their own vineyard in the Lewiston Orchards and support other growers in the bi-state Lewis-Clark Valley, but they won’t give up their prized relationships with viticulturists in Washington state, a circle that includes the Verhey family. Their site in the Yakima Valley’s Rattlesnake Hills allows Coco Umiker to offer a veritable tableau vivant of purple berries with lightly sandy tannins and some toast, backed by plums.

Rating: Excellent

Production: 208 cases

Alcohol: 14.5%

Winery website

Malaga Springs Winery 2015 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $24

Winemaker Al Matthews made just two barrels of this superb Malbec. It opens with aromas of chocolate-covered cherries, a whiff of smokiness and ripe raspberry. The richness of the midpalate is tempered by tannins that are prevalent without being harsh. Thanks to the rich acidity, this will pair well with a grilled steak, and could benefit from a little time in your cellar.Won gold and best in class at the 2017 Wenatchee Wine Awards.

Rating: Outstanding!

Production: 50 cases

Alcohol: 14.2% alc.

Winery website

Horan Estates Winery 2014 Musicians Malbec, Columbia Valley, $26

A superb Malbec from this small Cashmere winery, this red opens with aromas of black and blue fruits, cardamom and black cap raspberries on the palate. Sweet, juicy tannins provide a delicate structure that is both inviting and approachable. Won gold and best in class at the 2017 Wenatchee Wine Awards.

Rating: Outstanding!

Production: 98 cases

Alcohol: 14% alc.

Winery website

Tunnel Hill Winery 2015 Estate Malbec, Lake Chelan, $32

Using grapes from Antoine Creek Vineyards outside of the Chelan AVA on the banks of the Columbia River, winemaker Guy Evans has crafted a delicious and remarkable Malbec loaded with classic aromas of black pepper, black and blue fruit and even hints of blackcap raspberries. On the palate the bright acidity and tame tannins allow the ripe flavors of raspberries and Bing Cherries to sing. Won gold and best in class at the 2017 Wenatchee Wine Awards.

Rating: Outstanding!

Production: 144 cases

Alcohol: 14.8% alc.

Winery website

Milbrandt Vineyards 2014 Ravenscliff Vineyard Single Vineyard Series Malbec, Wahluke Slope, $42

Winemaker Emily Haines crafted this stunning Malbec from estate grapes on the warm Wahluke Slope. It’s a rich, complex effort with aromas of bacon, chocolate, purple plum and smoked meat, followed by flavors of red fruit and boysenberry. Thanks to incredibly balanced acidity, this is loaded with bright fruit flavors. Won gold and best in class at the 2017 Wenatchee Wine Awards.

Rating: Outstanding!

Production: 200 cases

Alcohol: 15% alc.

Winery website

Chris Daniel Winery 2014 Malbec, Columbia Valley, $28

This father-son operation in the Columbia Basin town of Quincy has son Chris Stewart making the wine. He also is a Napa Valley winemaker. This superb Malbec reveals complex aromas of violet, black pepper and black fruit, followed by flavors of chocolate ice cream and black cap raspberries backed by startling acidity and mild tannins. This won double gold at the 2017 Wenatchee Wine Competition. Won gold and best in class at the 2017 Wenatchee Wine Awards.

Rating: Outstanding!

Production: 145 cases

Alcohol: 15.1% alc.

Winery website

Northwest Cellars 2013 Scooteney Flats Vineyard Malbec, Red Mountain, $48

Grapes don’t come cheaply on Red Mountain, but Kirkland vintner Robert Delf and Woodinville winemaker Matt Loso continue their success with Malbec from Scooteney Flats Vineyard, meriting our top rating for the second straight vintage. Gorgeous aromas of rose hips, black cherry, blueberry and white pepper led into a graceful presentation on the palate of the same descriptors. Those lush berries and well-managed tannins make for a bright, juicy and long mouth feel.

Rating: Outstanding!

Production: 68 cases

Alcohol: 14.1%

Winery website

Flying Trout Wines 2013 Windrow Vineyard Block Two Malbec, Walla Walla Valley, $36

Block 2 is among the youngest plantings within the oldest commercial vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley, and Ashley Trout produced a stunning Malbec for the TERO Estates tandem of Mike Tembruell and Doug Roskelley. This vintage signals a move away by Trout from the older Mary’s Block, but there’s still the sense of The Rocks influence in the hint of funk and minerality among the theme of blackberry, black licorice and chocolate. The grape’s inherent acidity lifts those berry and cherry flavors, while the tug of tannin merely provides some framework for the finish of black currant and bramble. This earned a gold medal at the 2017 Walla Walla Valley Wine Competition, the fifth annual scholarship fundraiser for College Cellars.

Rating: Outstanding!

Production: 92 cases

Alcohol: 14.4%

Winery website

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