April showers in the Pacific Northwest produce beautiful wines for early spring
Remember the song “Just Between You and Me?” April Wine, now THAT was a great band. True, they didn’t have as many radio hits as their fellow Canadian rockers Rush and The Guess Who, but I loved their sound. Or maybe, if not probably, it was just their name that hooked me. All I remember is my senior year, spring break, Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers (when 18 was the legal age), and April Wine…for me, those two words have belonged together ever since. Now it’s spring again, decades later, and wine coolers are still around. Luckily, I’ve moved on from those humble bubbles to more seasoned, venerable vines, perhaps more worthy of the namesake band itself.
Shifting gears, April is also the month of showers, setting up, of course, May flowers. So, this month I’m featuring some wines that hail from a region known for showers, the Pacific Northwest, namely Oregon and Washington State, two great places for early spring wines…and great bands.
Oregon is the fastest growing wine region in the country, with a 17 percent increase in wine sales for 2017. And they’re not slowing down. Both the Willamette and Rogue Valleys are metaphorically on fire, and the wines are spectacular for both whites and reds, with pinot noir leading the way.
Foris Pinot Gris 2016 is the darling of the Rogue Valley. Ted Gerber started Foris in 1971, and it remains to this day the “Northwest’s Southernmost Winery,” mere miles from the California border. Earning 90 points and Wine Enthusiast Best Buy honors, the FPG 2016 is a beautiful take on a classic Alsatian varietal, with aromas of wildflowers, clove honey, pear and green apple. The palate adds nice hints of nectarine, lemon curd, more apple and kiwi, creating a mouthwatering splash of luscious fruit and racy acidity. It’s clean, spring-like fresh, and at $15 on the shelf, you just can’t beat it.
Next, and for a bigger white wine, we head north to the Columbia Valley, Washington State’s largest wine producing area, and home to the wines of the Flannagan brothers’ Ryan Patrick Vineyards. 2015 marks the debut vintage of their Rock Island Chardonnay, and what a premiere it is, garnering gold medals at both the Seattle Wine Awards and San Francisco International Wine Competition. This is a savory yet approachable chardonnay from four of the best vineyard sites in the CV, offering unmatched depth and concentration to the wine. Aged in barrel for 18 months, the Rock Island Chardonnay 2015 offers a bouquet of both tropical and stone fruits including pineapple, ripe apricot, and white peach. On the palate, all those fruits remain present, with additional traces of vanilla and butterscotch leaving a very impressive finish. Priced at around $20, it’s also a great value.
We return to Oregon, this time to the world-famous Willamette Valley, home of the best pinot noir in the country. Pronounced “will-AM-ette,” the valley is dotted with one great independent wine producer after another, and the scenery is truly gorgeous. The WV offers some of the best single-vineyard pinot noirs around, and many exceptional winemakers specialize in producing these cru wines. However, there’s also an abundance of great cuvee wines, blends of pinot noir grapes from multiple sites, and one of my favorites is the Terrapin Cellars Pinot Noir 2016. Founded in 2000 by Rob Clarke and Brenda Kidder, Terrapin Cellars offers outstanding value wines aimed at family and friends sharing an occasion. Interestingly, Rob and Brenda don’t actually own a winery, nor do they have a tasting room. However, they do own a vineyard management company, overseeing 140 acres of some of the best vines in the valley. From those sites they pull their fruit and then produce their wine at another winery…a great way to work if you don’t own land. The 2016 Pinot Noir is a perfect spring red with intense dark cherries and slightly candied raspberry fruit, as well as a touch of spice and some barrel toast accents. You can pair it with just about anything you want, or enjoy a glass with friends. Also priced around $20, it’s a great buy.
Capping it off, we head back to Washington State, to one of the most prestigious wine producing areas in the country, Red Mountain, in the heart of the Yakima Valley. Cabernet sauvignon is king on Red Mountain, and one of the crown jewels is Kiona Cabernet Sauvignon 2014. Kiona, meaning “brown hills” in the native Yakima language, was started by John Williams and Jim Holmes over 40 years ago. From the humbled beginnings of a few acres of vines to their 236-acre estate of today, Kiona has produced cabernet sauvignon on Red Mountain longer than anyone. These days, it’s John and his two sons at the helm, and all of their beautiful wines are estate grown and produced, nothing is sourced elsewhere…a true family-farming tradition. The 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon is a powerful wine, comprised of 76 percent cabernet, with a 24 percent complement of merlot, petit verdot, cabernet franc, malbec and carmenere, giving it a Bordeaux flair. It’s beautifully layered with dark red and black fruits, the tannins are fine grained yet ever-present, and the aromatic complexity is surpassed only by the depth of the mouthfeel. This is a serious wine, to be enjoyed with big foods and great company, no matter the season. Priced at around $25, it’ll show and teach you everything there is to see and learn about Red Mountain.
So yes, April Wine was a great band. And April is indeed a great time for wine. A reminder note from previous writings, these featured wines aren’t shelved at the grocery store chains, nor other big-box outlets. Instead, they are available at your local wine shop, where the wine-buying experience is more personal, just like April Wine’s most famous song. Happy Vino’ing!