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A vineyard along the Columbia River in Washington state. Courtesy photo
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Taste of Wine: Pacific Northwest continues to impress

A short time ago in this column, I made the case for the wines of Washington.

I thought the quality and depth of flavor coming from that No. 2 producing state had exponentially spread to buyer decisions. Shelf space in wine shops are making these wines available, especially the top combination of Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest, combining massive farming, production and distribution tools to make a solid impression in the industry. 

Meritage Wine Market’s tasting room host Jonny Kohl pours a Washington favorite, the Quilceda Creek 2015 CVR. Photo courtesy of Frank Mangio

Among the elite names in Washington, Leonetti of Walla Walla wowed a recent gathering of that state’s wine connoisseurs, with its signature style of blackberry and black tea. Flushed with this newfound discovery, I was attracted by one of the frequent Friday comprehensive tastings at Meritage Wine Market in Encinitas, underlining the Pacific Northwest. The other state featured was Oregon. Both states are a kind of hybrid wine style of the warm stable weather of the West Coast producing lively fruit, combining with the cool nights that create added acidity during the growing season, an “old world” wine attraction.

The lineup at Meritage included a few Oregon picks led by a Ken Wright Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2014 ($30). With Pinot, you are in Oregon’s sweet spot. It excels at this varietal that resembles Burgundies coming out of the district of the same name in France, with rich flavors and muscular black cherry backbone.

By far, the star of this tasting was the Quilceda Creek Columbia Valley Washington Red (CVR) 2015 ($72). This is world-class Cabernet Sauvignon from the winery that was awarded Best Washington State Winery 2017 at Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate event.    The CVR is a blend of 81 percent Cab Sauvignon, 11 percent Merlot, 4 percent Cab Franc and 4 percent Petit Verdot. Meritage called it “a decadent texture that slowly gives way to a vivid display of crushed violets, black plum, dark spices and chocolate dipped raspberries.” 

In 2015, Wine Spectator gave Quilceda Creek the No. 2 wine in all the world for its 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon. This winery is located in the massive Columbia Valley of Washington.

Visit at

Gianni Buonomo had roots in Washington

Keith Rolle was like most of us, he had several careers, migrating from cold Minnesota to hot Ensenada Mexico, all the while developing a passion for Washington wine. He followed his passion, moved to Washington and educated himself in the making of wine.  When the time was right, he set up his own winery in sunny San Diego and in 2010 Gianni Buonomo Vintners was born, eventually to locate in the Ocean Beach district. 

Rolle is emphatic about sourcing the right fruit. “The grapes we use come from some of the top vineyards in Washington state and the Sierra foothills of California near Placerville. We keep our production small, allowing us to monitor how each individual barrel is aging.” About 2,000 cases of wine are made each year. According to Rolle, the wines sell out each vintage.

A little known red varietal that’s become an award winner in some high-powered competition is the 2015 Charbono wine ($20 and up). It won Double Gold in this year’s San Francisco Chronicle event. Charbono is coming back from near oblivion with just 52 acres in Napa Valley and 27 acres elsewhere. This is a deep, bold, rustic essence of ripe black cherry, with lightly toasted oak and an enduring soft finish. Gianni Buonomo has made 176 cases and will be celebrating its big win with a Charbono Fest, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Saturday April 28. A dinner of Santa Maria-Style Tri Tip plus other sides will be served, and will include two glasses of Charbono or another wine of your choice. Cost is $45 per person. Call (619) 991-9911, and visit

Wine Bytes

• The Big Red Fest in Temecula is coming up April 29 with the Deportola Trail wineries, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nine wineries will be serving their best reds plus nine artisan chefs will be serving sample cuisine of their best menu entrees. Three red wines from each winery. This is a self-motivated passport style event that starts at Gershon Bacchus Vintners. Cost is $70 per person. Designated driver tickets for $30. Details at or call (855) DWT-WINE.

• The Junior League of San Diego holds their benefit Food & Wine Festival from noon to 5 p.m. May 5 at La Jolla Cove. A charity auction, dining, wine, spirits and craft beer plus a live showing of the Kentucky Derby. Bring your favorite hats. More than 50 restaurants will be offering their favorite menu items. This is the 18th annual event with proceeds to benefit Junior League charities. Tickets start at $75 available at

• Vittorio’s in the Carmel Valley district of San Diego presents a Foxen Vineyard & Winery dinner at 6 p.m. April 26, with Jenny & Kaitlin from the winery. Cost is $65 per person for a four-course dinner and dessert, all with matching wines from Foxen. Call (858) 538-5884.

• Pala Casino on Highway 76 is planning a DAOU Vineyards dinner and wine tasting at 7:30 p.m. April 26, doors open at 7 p.m. Located in the underground wine cave, it will be a four-course dinner featuring Filet Mignon and Baltimore Crab. Tickets are $85 each. Call (877) 946-7252.

Reach Frank Mangio at [email protected]