Earthier wines from Europe vie for Yakima palates

A wine shop owner in Yakima launches a tasting series for non-Washington wines, with so far mixed success.
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Jim Collins, owner of Cascade Wine Co. (Cascade Wine Co.)

A wine shop owner in Yakima launches a tasting series for non-Washington wines, with so far mixed success.

Adventurous wine drinkers in Yakima have limited choices if they get tired of drinking Washington fruitbombs and thirst to sample earthier wines from around the world. Until recently, the best option was to drive to Seattle.

But Jim Collins, proprietor of the Cascade Wine Co., a two-year-old wine shop in downtown Yakima, is trying to change that. He just started a European tasting series, and opened with an excellent, sold-out program on Bordeaux.

Collins' goal is to expose more people, including local winemakers, to the classic European wines which are the models for American wines — and hopefully move them toward drinking and producing wines with more funky terroir and less fruit jam, oak, and vanilla. Many customers already head straight to his import section, and he'd like to open a second shop selling nothing but international wines, which he personally prefers.

On a recent Thursday night, he had nearly 30 people in his small shop — each of whom paid $150 for the yearlong monthly series — nibbling on cheese and crackers and listening to his description of the Bordeaux appellations and classifications. Most were Bordeaux novices, so they were shy and didn't say much.

But when Collins described how a Bordeaux winemaker could get downgraded in classification, then compared that to a college football team getting demoted to a less prestigious division, one customer finally spoke up. "Jim, that's the first thing you've said that I understood," he quipped.

Collins presented one white and six reds, priced from $14.99 to $54.99, with most in the $20-$30 range, all imported by Chateau St. Martin in Bellevue. He wanted to show that good Bordeaux can be a surprisingly good value compared with Washington wines. He succeeded. I can think of few moderately priced Washington reds as complex and food-friendly as the 2000 Tour Saint André from Pomerol, a blend primarily of cab franc and merlot ($22.99), or the 2005 Chateau Patache d'Aux from Medoc, a cru bourgeois blend mostly of cab and merlot ($24.99).

The 2004 Chateau Pedesclaux, a cab/merlot blend from Pauilliac, was a knockout. If I could afford $49.99 a bottle, that's what I'd drink every night. My wife's comment about the Pedesclaux: "What Washington cabs want to be when they grow up!"

Like the recent wine documentary Mondovino, Collins made it clear he isn't wild about the international style of winemaking — personified by wine consultant Michel Rolland — where you can't tell whether the wine came from France, Italy, Spain, California, Washington, or Mars. (By the way, he served a Rolland-supervised wine, a 2004 Chateau Bellevue, that was atypically subdued for Rolland, more in the classic Bordeaux style).

But Collins made his point in a crafty way. In the middle of the tasting, he poured a 2005 Saint-Emilion, 3 de Valandraud ($54.99) from Chateau Valandraud, a producer portrayed in Mondovino as pandering to wine critic Robert Parker's taste for oaky vanilla fruitbombs. My wife put her nose in the glass and immediately called out, "Smells like home." Indeed, it smelled and tasted more like a Washington red than the other Bordeaux wines we tasted that night.

Not surprisingly, one local winery employee in the tasting group liked the Valandraud best. "The others tasted like dirty barrels," he said. That comment drew a sigh from Collins.

His next opportunity to convert fruit-blasted Yakima palates comes on Oct. 15, when he'll pour Italian wines from Veneto, Friuli, Valpolicella, and Alto Adige. If you're interested, call the Cascade Wine Co. at 509-972-2811.


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