May 4, 2011

Wine: Washington winemaker dares to put sense of place first


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Hedges intervenes in the cellar as little as possible: minimal filtration, no artificial acidification, no oak (except in their big red) or malolactic.

Relatively early harvests preserve the liveliness of the fruit and keep alcohol levels at bay: 13.6 percent is the upper end -- uncommonly low for Washington, but not for a guy who loves food (the list he rattled off of favorite foods sounded like a Maine farmers market in July) and whose mother is from Champagne.

Of course, there would be little point in homage to terroir if the wines were not, in fact, pleasurable to drink. Hedges says his wines have "a disciplined angularity about them, a liveliness."

This goes beyond pleasing to the tongue, and will appeal to those patient enough to suspend preconceptions and consider uniqueness.

Hedges CMS White 2008, Columbia Valley, Washington, $13: Two-percent Marsanne amidst Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, but that tiny percentage of honeysuckle is remarkably harmonizing. The wine feels like harmony itself, integrating the Sauv Blanc's zippy forthrightness and Chardonnay's sleek comfort.

Independent Producers Chardonnay 2007, Columbia Valley, Washington, $10: So soft and delicate, despite Hedges' refusal to submit the wine to malolactic fermentation. It's also wonderfully ripe, in an almost damp way. There are pears and woodsmoke, but then a lemony spritz at the end. So much character.

Hedges CMS Red 2008, Columbia Valley, Washington, $13: A blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah, at first decidedly Cab-y: mint, eucalyptus and a touch of cassis. Thirty minutes into my meal, the integration took hold, with Merlot's cocoa and cedar and Syrah's smoke, roasted plum and tar. I've never been to the Columbia Valley, but I'm there now.

Independent Producers Merlot 2008, Columbia Valley, Washington, $10: This is what first got me fascinated with Hedges and Score Revolution. The wine itself is deep, deep, deep, like a Oaxacan mole with cocoa, pumpkin seeds and innumerable other stealthy spices and dried fruits.

Hedges Red Mountain 2008, Yakima Valley, Washington, $24: This is the single-vineyard big daddy from Hedges, a mind-bogglingly complex blend of the classic Bordeaux varietals plus (pre-Classification Bordeaux) Syrah. A friend of mine who does a slow, fluid, almost trance-inducing belly dance, dressed in black with scarves and thick eye makeup, would love this.

Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. His blog,, continues the conversation, and he can be reached at:


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