1999 Kiona Estate Reserve Cabernet, Red Mountain, Washington

Ruth and I had the pleasure of having dinner at some friends’ house this past weekend, and it turns out that the husband’s family has been growing grapes for some time just outside of Walla Walla, Washington — the heart of Washington Cabernet country. Discussion turned to wine, of course, and in particular Cabernets, specifically from a growing region in the area that I had not heard of before: Red Mountain. Our host was kind enough to trot out this wine as a demonstration of the potential and characteristics of the region. I must say I was impressed.

It turns out that this was a particularly representative wine. Kiona Vineyards was actually the winery that put this Red Mountain area on the map from a winemaking perspective. Kiona, which means “brown hills” in the Native American dialect common to the region, was established in the mid- to late 1970’s by John Williams and his business partner Jim Holmes, and had its inaugural vintage in 1980. Since then, they have been operating pretty much under the radar (with the exception of an occasional high score or medal in a competition or small publication) until the late 1990s and more recently when it became impossible to hide the fact that they were producing consistently top notch wines. In 2002, someone at Wine Spectator took notice and this particular wine scored a 92 and was included in the top 25 of that magazines 100 best wines of the year list, and Kiona rocketed from being the winery that only a few had heard of to the Washington State cult producer everyone wanted to get a piece of.

In that time Kiona has gone from a small producer to being one of the area’s largest family owned wineries, producing upwards of 25,000 cases of over 11 different varietals annually. Areas of primary focus include Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, Riesling, and an extremely limited and sought-after Chenin-Blanc-based ice wine. Scott Williams, the founder’s son, now serves as winemaker and vineyard manager.

In that time Red Mountain has also gone from a small pocket of growers to one of Washington States newest designated appellations and the home of Hedges Cellars, Ciel de Cheval, Tapteil Vineyards, and Klipsun Vineyards, among others.

This estate Cabernet is produced from 28 year old Cabernet vines on the family’s property to the tune of about 1300 cases annually. The wine is aged in French and American oak for 18 months.

Tasting Notes:
Very dark ruby in color, this wine has a sumptuous nose of dark black cherry with notes of blueberry, tobacco, and mint. On the palate it is lush and smooth with velvety tannins surrounding strong cherry cola flavors and a nice bright finish incorporating a bit of vanilla. Very different from most Napa or European Cabernets in most of its character, though done in somewhat of a Claret style. Excellent, and tastes like it should cost at least twice what it does.

Food Pairing:
I’d love to serve this wine with Argentinean style grilled steak or a Central American Churrasco.

Overall Score: 9

How Much?: $35

Chances are that there’s no 1999 left anywhere, but the 2001 is available from the winery and online. Try Froogle.