WHAT: Wines from the Pacific Northwest fascinate me. They keep getting better and better every year. I visited Washington state and British Columbia a couple of years ago and was blown away by the high quality of the wine there.
Don’t go looking for the Canadian wines because their government severely restricts where the wines can be shipped.
But you can find all kinds of great Washington and Oregon wines as the rest of the country discovers the many gems produced there.
Hedges Family Estate wines are among the best. Their top-of-the line La Haute Cuvée runs $120 for a 1.5-liter bottle, but it is worth it.
You can come down in price without losing much quality with the Red Mountain blend. It is a gorgeous wine full of muscle and grace, with dense tannins and well-defined acidity. It could be a special-occasion wine, but it is priced so you wouldn’t feel guilty drinking it with a weekday dinner.
It is deep purple in color, but not quite opaque. It is well-structured, with a nice balance of fruit and acidity. The wine is still closed, and though it is excellent now, it holds a promise of being spectacular in a few years. The winery suggests it could continue to develop for 25 years or more.
The blend is 44 percent cabernet sauvignon, 33 percent merlot, 16 percent syrah, 3 percent cabernet franc and 4 percent malbec. The wine spends 11 months in oak, 33 percent French, 60 percent American and 7 percent Hungarian. New oak accounts for 31 percent while neutral oak makes up 69 percent.
This is the flagship wine of the estate and is always a majority cab/merlot blend. After opening it, let the wine breathe for 45 minutes to an hour. You won’t regret waiting.
WINERY: Tom and Ann-Marie Hedges began working with wine in 1986 when they formed an export company called American Wine Trade, Inc., to ship California and Washington state wines to Taiwan.
The company kept adding clients and eventually created a negociant-inspired wine called Hedges Cellars. This 1987 blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot was sold to the Swedish Wine and Spirit Monopoly, Vin & Sprit Centralen, the company’s first major client.
The Hedges realized the success of their venture would depend on the vineyards where the grapes were grown. Ann-Marie, who grew up in the Champagne region of France, understood well the concept of terroir, and Tom was beginning to learn about it.
They found property they thought had great potential three hours southeast of Seattle in a developing wine region called Red Mountain. In 1989, they bought 50 acres on Red Mountain in the Yakima Valley and planted 40 acres of Bordeaux grape varieties.
The company changed from negociant and wine traders to the classic model of a wine estate. The Hedges became pioneers in the Washington wine industry, specifically the Red Mountain AVA.
The biodynamically-farmed property continues to be the foundation of the Hedges’ family holdings, which now include 125 acres of Red Mountain vineyards.
Anne-Marie Liégeois was born in Champagne, France, in a small village. She was steeped in the French wine and food culture as three generations of her family worked on the Dupont-Liégeois family business.
Tom was born in Richland, Wash., a government-conceived engineering town for nuclear science. His father had been raised on an apple and dairy farm but worked for the Department of Energy.
Tom and Anne-Marie were married in Champagne in 1976, and traveled the world working in the produce industry before starting their wine adventure in 1986.
It takes several generations to establish an authentic wine estate, and the second generation has started at Hedges Family Estate with Christophe and Sarah. Relying on her mother’s French heritage, head winemaker Sarah Hedges Goedhart tries to let the terroir express itself in each vintage with minimum human intervention.
Brother Christophe is the general manager of the company, getting involved in many aspects of the business. He farms the property using biodynamic principles, which are much stricter than organic measures.
He also travels to share his knowledge of the estate and the terroir. He and his sister plan to expand from a simple vineyard to an estate farm.
Hedges has won many awards, including being named among the top 100 wines of 1996.
The company offers several wines at different price categories. The top wines are from the Red Mountain AVA, including La Haute Cuvée, a 100 percent cabernet sauvignon, the first Demeter-certified biodynamic cabernet sauvignon made in Washington state. It is a bold, complex wine made to last decades.
The third Red Mountain wine is the DLD Syrah, also a rich, deep wine that is made to last. It sells for about $27. DLD stands for Descendants Liegeois Dupont in honor of Ann-Marie’s family.
Wines of the Columbia Valley AVA include CMS Red (a cab/merlot/syrah blend), CMS White (a sauvignon blanc blend), HIP merlot, HIP chardonnay and HIP cabernet sauvignon. All are under $20.
GOES WITH: My wife, Teri, had something to do one night so I was left to eat anything I wanted. Of course, I chose pizza, one of those perfect comfort foods. I love all kinds of pizza, especially deep dish Chicago pizza. (Lou Malnati’s is the best.)
I picked up a sausage, tomato and onion pizza from Giuseppe’s, my favorite Augusta pizza restaurant. It has just the right cheese-to-sauce ratio, with a thin, crispy crust. And they are generous with their toppings.
The pizza and wine were perfect together, with the ripe fruit flavors and oak undertones making a nice match to the spices in the sauce and sausage. I had to show some restraint, or I would have finished the full bottle because it tasted so good.
This wine also would go well with flank steak, grilled vegetables, chocolate or blue cheese.