The Columbia River Valley is a land that is rich in history. From its first formation nearly 90 million years ago it has undergone many reformations and recarvings of its landscape up until now when parts of the river form a natural boundary between the states of Washington and Oregon. Erosion, quakes and volcanic eruptions formed the landmass and blessed it with a rich composition of soil as the northwest took shape, a process millions of years in the making. This was a land rich in people, in tradition and history. A land where horses once roamed free until they were domesticated by the tribes native to the area. Today, it is a land where some excellent wines are produced, thanks in large part, to the geological conditions which formed the area. The 14 Hands Winery is one of the largest and oldest in the area.
14 Hands Wines speak mostly of freedom. The Cabernet is really a trial and error production where the process may change according to taste. The spirit of the wine evokes a memory of the small horses which called the region home. These horses which measured 14 hands high, so only about 4 ½ feet at the shoulder, are an adventurous breed which would leave their mountain homes to graze and drink from the river returning to the coolness of the mountains for the evening. The wine tries to bring that spirit to life with a blend that is new, fresh and bold. A spirit of flavor that shows off the hardy vines, the loamy sand and gravel soil and the freshness of the climate. Interesting to note also is that this is the most widely planted grape in the state.
The winery itself began selling in 2005, so it is still considered a newcomer. As such it is not so expensive as its California cousins, making it an excellent starting point for a novice wine sampler. The wines were originally sold locally, only in restaurants and produced merlot, cabernet and chardonnay. Since that time it has grown and expanded, producing 25 varieties and is now the second largest winery in Washington State. The cabernet, which I recently had, is a blend of 98% merlot and 2% other reds. Sporting a slightly smoky taste, you can also appreciate the flavor of some northwest spice and coffee. This makes the wine “bold,” and by that I mean it stands very well on its own, but can also complement a porterhouse steak or barbecued beef ribs without getting overpowered by the richness of the meat. I’m pretty sure that the ranchers and cowhands who worked the many ranches in this area in days gone by would have been drinking beer with their meals. (I just can’t picture Roy Rogers Wild Bill Hickock ordering a merlot). But today, as time marched on, this area of the country does indeed produce a very good product.
Now, it is worth mentioning that most of the wines are blends. So if you are a purist, note that the emphasis here is on blended wine. You would have to move up to the Reserve category to get a 100% dedicated variety. The cabernet I sampled was a very substantial wine, fruity, dry with a deep purple color. It does decant well but hardly needs the effort. And it does sport an imported taste without the imported price as it is grown and fermented in our own Pacific Northwest.
While this wine is by no means perfect, and what is, it can be an interesting addition to your collection and your table. The label which displays running horses, can stir up conversation and curiosity while the clean taste and expressive tannins are sure to please, or at least be described as “interesting.” Generally, this wine sells for about $10.50 which is why I recommend it for someone just starting to get his palate finely tuned.