I knew when I moved to Oregon that I was lucky enough to have vineyards after vineyards at my fingertips. After all, this is Wine Country! I sort of knew that Washington also had some great wine regions and that while Oregon was the place for Pinot, Washington could boast some really great Cabs.
What I didn’t realize until after being here for a couple of years now, is that Washington’s wine country extends far beyond the Columbia Valley, up through the Yakima Valley, further beyond into Wenatchee, the Olympic Peninsula, and I’m sure many other regions and AVAs I don’t even know about yet.
I spent a recent weekend exploring the Yakima Valley during the Red Wine and Chocolate Festival. I know, right? What a great time to visit! I tasted a lot of wine (you’re welcome), and learned quite a bit about some grapes we don’t see much of down here in Oregon. More on the wineries and tasting rooms themselves later, for now — how about a brief little crash course in three awesome (red) grapes: Lemberger, Petite Sirah, and Cabernet Franc.
According to Wikipedia, it’s not just that we first learned about Lemberger in Washington, but that Washington is one of the few wine regions in North America to have significant plantings of the grape. The German name (for this German grape) is Blaufränkisch. It’s a dark-skinned, late-ripening grape used for red wines, and it is really, really good. It grows not only in the Yakima Valley in Washington, but also on the Olympic Peninsula. Beyond Washington, there are small amounts New York State, Colorado, Ohio, and Virginia. The Colorado part doesn’t surprise me, since Colorado’s wine region on the Western Slope is dry, high desert that reminds me a lot of the Yakima Valley.
Speaking of the Yakima Valley, we tasted (and loved) the Lemberger at Two Mountain Winery.
In fact, we bought a bottle and brought it home with us, and after quickly sipping through that on our first night home, we realized we should’ve bought two. Or more. Oh, how I wish this was distributed in Oregon! Guess we’re just going to have to go back for more. Like, a case more.
Lemberger’s flavor characteristics include spicy, with notes of dark red fruit (like cherries, red currants, or blackberries). I definitely thought this wine had a really lovely, jammy, berry-ish flavor to it. Because of the cherry notes, I’d love to try this with some sort of lamb dish, or pretty much anything grilled.
Petite Sirah – Not a miniature Syrah!
Also known as “Durif,” the first thing we need to get out of the way is that Petite Sirah is not Syrah. It’s a totally different grape, though there is also a Petite Syrah. Here’s a little more on that (thanks again to Wikipedia, emphasis mine):
Petite Sirah is sometimes mistakenly spelled “Petite Syrah,” which has historically referred to a small berried clone of the Syrah grape by Rhône growers. In California, immigrant vine growers introduced Syrah in 1878 and used the phrase “Petite Syrah” to refer to the lower yields that the vines then were producing in California. Actual Petite Sirah (Durif) was then introduced in 1884.
We brought home with us a the 2009 The Estate Petite Sirah from Milbrandt Vineyards in Prosser, WA. This was the third of four wines featured on their Aromatic Tasting Menu, and for the Red Wine & Chocolate Festival happening the weekend we were there, they had it paired with a Maple Bacon Chocolate Salt Caramel and Humboldt Fog Chévre (MIND. BLOWING.).
The Estates Petite Sirah is bright and jammy, and like the Lemberger, boasts some dark fruit and cherry flavors that make it really, really lovely.
The experts also think you’ll notice acidity, firm texture and mouth feel, with herbal and black pepper overtones, and other flavors of blue and black fruit (like plums and blueberries).
Something tells me this would also work nicely with lamb, grilled meats, and perhaps some sort of Jerk chicken or pulled pork. I’ll let you know what (if anything) we pair it with.
Cabernet Franc — Not just for blending!
Cabernet Franc is one of the main grapes (a black grape) in a Bordeaux-style blend (which also includes Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot), and is generally softer than Cabernet Sauvignon. I like a big, bold Cab Sauv, but the lighter, more velvety texture of the Cab Francs we tasted in Yakima were smooth and sexy. Of the tasting rooms and vineyards we visited, you can find 100% Cab Franc at these places: Naches Heights Vineyard, Gamache Vintners, Cultura Wine, and Thurston Wolfe.
A lot of the vineyards we visited (and a lot of wineries that make Bordeaux blends in general) use a percentage of Cabernet Franc in those blends, and a few make a single varietal of Cab Franc that is just gorgeous.
There you have it! Three grapes that were either new to me, or hadn’t quite been explored the way we did this weekend. Stay tuned for more on the wineries we visited, more favorite wines, and tasting room highlights.