Weekend in the Columbia Valley



By Kori ~ August 11th, 2008.

We recently spent a long weekend in the Columbia Valley visiting a number of wineries, some we had visited years ago and others we had not previously visited. The Columbia Valley, established in 1984, is Washington State’s largest AVA (American Viticultural Area). Six other AVAs are located within the borders of the Columbia Valley AVA, including Yakima Valley, Walla Walla Valley, Red Mountain, Horse Heaven Hills, Wahluke Slope, and Rattlesnake Hills.

In our three days there, we visited eight wineries and tasted 65 different wines. We rated 16 wines as being 4-star quality or higher. Five wineries had two or more wines that received a 4-star or higher rating. Those top five wineries are, in alphabetical order: Alexandria Nicole, Barnard Griffin, Columbia Crest, Fidelitas, and Gilbert. You will find a complete list of all the wines we tasted at the end of this post.

In addition to tasting at the eight wineries, we had the pleasure to tour the facilities at Gilbert and take a vineyard tour at Columbia Crest.

Our first stop took us to the brand-new tasting room for Gilbert Cellars located in downtown Yakima. Sean Gilbert, the General Manager for Gilbert Cellars, was our host. We first met Sean in March at a tasting at Esquin Wine Merchants in Seattle. I have been impressed with what Sean and the folks at Gilbert Cellars are doing since that first meeting. Their tasting room opened in July and is different from many other tasting rooms. In addition to offering tastings, they offer their wines for purchase by the bottle or the glass to enjoy in their beautifully appointed wine bar and lounge atmosphere. They also have plans to offer hors d’oeuvres and live entertainment in the future. This tasting room is sure to become a popular spot in Yakima, for tourists and locals alike. After our visit to the tasting room, Sean took us out to the family’s winery near Wiley City for a tour of their production facilities and treated us to numerous barrel samples. Based on these samples, look for good things to continue from Gilbert Cellars. I’m looking forward to tasting some of these again when they are released in a year or two.

In stark contrast to our wonderful experience at Gilbert, our next stop was at Sheridan Vineyard. We had recently had the Sheridan Syrah in a blind tasting and were looking forward to trying some of their other wines. However, you will notice that there are no Sheridan wines in the complete list of wines we tasted. That is because they were not serving any of the Sheridan wines in the Sheridan Vineyard tasting room. That’s right, zero! Instead, they were serving five wines from their second label, Kamiakin. To me, this is an example of a “bait and switch” tasting room policy. They get you in the door based on their Sheridan label wines but then serve you something else, a much lesser product. And as you will see from my ratings below, the Kamiakin wines are terrible. So if you plan to be in the Columbia Valley wine tasting, don’t bother going to Sheridan.

On a better note, we had an opportunity to take a vineyard tour at Columbia Crest in Paterson, Washington, which is near the Washington-Oregon border. We have long been fans of Columbia Crest wines and continue to be amazed at the quality they are able to produce in such large quantities. It was nice to get to see some of their estate vineyards; however, I must admit that this visit was a bit disappointing in terms of their customer service. We, along with about eight others, had made reservations and paid in advance for the vineyard tour. I’ll spare you the long story but the bottom line is that the tour started late and was disorganized. It would be one thing if it had been complimentary but we definitely did not get our money’s worth out of the tour. We did, however, enjoy a nice tasting outside on their patio afterwards and then went into their tasting room for a Walter Clore vertical tasting.

One tip to keep in mind when you are visiting wine country: If there is a winery/tasting room that you really want to visit, be sure to call ahead and verify their hours. We have learned the hard way that in some cases you cannot even trust the information on a winery’s website. Case in point on this trip was Chandler Reach Vineyards. After Colby and I discovered their wines at the Toast to the Northwest in May, we had been looking forward to visiting their winery this summer. When we planned our itinerary for this trip, I verified hours on each winery’s website knowing that the information in books, magazines, and brochures can be outdated. I expected a winery’s website to provide the most up-to-date information. According to Chandler Reach’s site, they are open on Mondays. However, when we arrived on Monday afternoon, they were closed and had a sign posted that indicated that they are never open on Mondays. Very disappointing and certainly not a smart way to run a business.

Even though we had a few visits that did not go as we had hoped, all in all this was a great weekend in wine country.

Here’s a breakdown of the wines that we tasted. Under each Quality heading, the wine name and region will be listed along with price and QPR rating. Wines in bold type received a QPR rating of 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5).

Quality: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
2005 Gilbert Syrah, Wahluke Slope, $26, QPR: 5
2002 Columbia Crest Walter Clore Private Reserve Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $40, QPR: 5
2000 Columbia Crest Walter Clore Private Reserve Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $45, QPR: 4
2001 Columbia Crest Walter Clore Private Reserve Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $45, QPR: 4

Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
2007 Barnard Griffin Rose of Sangiovese, Columbia Valley, $12, QPR: 5
2007 Barnard Griffin Late Harvest Muscat Canelli, Columbia Valley, $25 (375 ml), QPR: 5
2005 Barnard Griffin Reserve Merlot, Columbia Valley, $30, QPR: 5
2005 Alexandria Nicole Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $35, QPR: 5
2005 Fidelitas Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $40, QPR: 5
2005 Barnard Griffin Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $40, QPR: 5
2005 Gilbert Malbec, Columbia Valley, $26, QPR: 4
2004 Columbia Crest Walter Clore Private Reserve Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $35, QPR: 4
2004 Barnard Griffin Ciel du Cheval Merlot, Red Mountain, $35, QPR: 4
2003 Columbia Crest Walter Clore Private Reserve Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $40, QPR: 3
2005 Alexandria Nicole Block 17 Syrah, Horse Heaven Hills, $42, QPR: 3
2005 Fidelitas Boushey Vineyard Red Wine, Yakima Valley, $50, QPR: 2

Quality: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
2006 Columbia Crest Two Vines Gewurztraminer, Columbia Valley, $8, QPR: 5
2005 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $13, QPR: 5
2006 Barnard Griffin Syrah, Columbia Valley, $17, QPR: 5
2005 Barnard Griffin Syrah Port, Columbia Valley, $17 (500 ml), QPR: 5
2005 Gilbert Cabernet Sauvignon, Wahluke Slope, $26, QPR: 5
2007 Gilbert Riesling, Yakima Valley, $15, QPR: 4
2006 Desert Wind Ruah (Red Blend), Wahluke Slope, $20, QPR: 4
2005 Barnard Griffin Reserve Zinfandel, Columbia Valley, $25, QPR: 4
2005 Goose Ridge Merlot, Columbia Valley, $27, QPR: 4
2004 Fidelitas Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $30, QPR: 4
2005 Barnard Griffin Reserve Syrah, Columbia Valley, $30, QPR: 3
2004 Goose Ridge Vireo (Red Blend), Columbia Valley, $30, QPR: 3
2005 Fidelitas Champoux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $60, QPR: 2
2007 Barnard Griffin Reserve Viognier, Columbia Valley, $25, QPR: 1
2005 Barnard Griffin Reserve Malbec, Columbia Valley, $35, QPR: 1

Quality: 3 stars (out of 5)
2006 Barnard Griffin Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $17, QPR: 5
2006 Barnard Griffin Fume Blanc, Columbia Valley, $9, QPR: 4
2006 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $13, QPR: 4
2007 Barnard Griffin Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $14, QPR: 4
2005 Columbia Crest H3 Merlot, Horse Heaven Hills, $15, QPR: 4
2005 Goose Ridge Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $18, QPR: 4
2006 Gilbert Claret, Wahluke Slope, $20, QPR: 4
2005 Alexandria Nicole Quarry Butte (Red Blend), Horse Heaven Hills, $20, QPR: 4
2005 Columbia Crest Reserve Syrah, Columbia Valley, $20, QPR: 3
2006 Desert Wind Viognier, Wahluke Slope, $15, QPR: 2
2006 Barnard Griffin Reserve Pinot Gris, Columbia Valley, $17, QPR: 2
2007 Alexandria Nicole Steel Horse Sauvignon Blanc, Horse Heaven Hills, $18, QPR: 2
2005 Fidelitas Merlot, Columbia Valley, $25, QPR: 2
2004 Goose Ridge Syrah, Columbia Valley, $28, QPR: 2
2005 Desert Wind Syrah, Wahluke Slope, $28, QPR: 2
2007 Alexandria Nicole Shepherd’s Mark (Rhone Style White Blend), Horse Heaven Hills, $20, QPR: 1
2007 Alexandria Nicole Crawford Viognier, Columbia Valley, $20, QPR: 1
2005 Barnard Griffin Reserve Barbera, Columbia Valley, $25, QPR: 1

Quality: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
2006 Gilbert Chardonnay, Wahluke Slope, $17, QPR: NR
2005 Desert Wind Bare Naked Chardonnay, Wahluke Slope, $15, QPR: NR
2006 Columbia Crest Reserve Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $19, QPR: NR
2004 Barnard Griffin Vino Rosso Red Table Wine, Columbia Valley, $13, QPR: NR
2006 Barnard Griffin Merlot, Columbia Valley, $17, QPR: NR
2007 Goose Ridge Riesling, Columbia Valley, $14, QPR: NR
2006 Kamiakin Merlot, Yakima Valley, $15, QPR: NR

Quality: 2 stars (out of 5)
2007 Desert Wind Sauvignon Blanc, Wahluke Slope, $15, QPR: NR
2007 Alexandria Nicole Back Room Rose, Horse Heaven Hills, $14, QPR: NR
2007 Goose Ridge Pinot Gris, Columbia Valley, $18, QPR: NR
2006 Fidelitas Semillon, Columbia Valley, $20, QPR: NR
2006 Kamiakin Red, Yakima Valley, $15, QPR: NR
2006 Kamiakin Cabernet Sauvignon, Yakima Valley, $18, QPR: NR
2005 Kamiakin Syrah, Yakima Valley, $18, QPR: NR

Quality: 1.5 stars (out of 5)
2007 Kamiakin White, Yakima Valley, $15, QPR: NR


Filed under: American Wine, Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Five-Bangs For Your Buck Wines, Gewurztraminer, Malbec, Merlot, Moscato/Muscat, Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris, Port, Red Wine, Riesling, Rose Wine, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Shiraz/Syrah, Viognier, Washington State Wine, White Wine, Wine Travel, Wines NOT To Buy (1 & 2 Star), Wines Over $25, Wines Under $10, Wines Under $15, Wines Under $20, Wines Under $25, Zinfandel

Reader's Comments

  1. J Pagenkopf | August 12th, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    Please explain how wines rate at the same quality level, e.g. 4, and priced the same, would not receive the same QPR? There is something flawed in your methodology.

    example of 2 wines above both rated at Quality=4:
    2005 Barnard Griffin Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $40, QPR: 5
    2004 Barnard Griffin Ciel du Cheval Merlot, Red Mountain, $35, QPR: 4

    Other examples abound.

    I expect the quality to be somewhat of a personal subjective opinion (and have had no objections to your quality ratings), but when that is related to price, there should be a direct correlation.

  2. Kori | August 12th, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    Hello J,

    Thanks for asking about our QPR ratings. For a complete explanation, please visit our Wine Ratings page.

    While you are correct in that the Quality ratings are subjective, the QPR ratings are based on the average price of the wine’s peers (i.e. within the same varietal). This is why in your example, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Merlot have different QPR’s when they have the same Quality rating and similar price point.

    Thanks for reading!
    Kori

  3. J Pagenkopf | August 15th, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    Thanks, point taken about average price within a varietal for its quality rating.

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