Mention Horse Heaven Hills (HHH) cabernet sauvignon to folks in the know and a look of deep appreciation comes over their faces. Ask them to explain where the AVA is located and that expression turns to confusion.
“Well, it’s not in Walla Walla and it’s not really in Yakima but it’s kind of in that area, generally” they might say, tripping over themselves as they reach for their electronic device to better illustrate its location.
Technically, it’s a sub-AVA within the vast Columbia Valley AVA and the wineries of note have addresses like Paterson and Prosser. Its southern border is along the Columbia River and its northwest border skirts the Yakima Valley AVA. If you remember nothing else, check this; HHH is where the grapes were grown for the four 100-point wines from Washington State according to Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.
By last account, cab sauv constituted the largest grape plantings in the HHH AVA at about 42 percent and over 5,700 acres. Established in 1972, many of the vines are decades old adding to the complexity and terroir-driven profiles. Dusty is a common descriptor with Horse Heaven Hills cab and for good reason.The dry, arid climate with marine influence from winds sweeping through the Columbia River is similar to conditions found on the Left Bank of the Garonne River in Bordeaux.
In cooler climates, less ripe cab sauv will present with undeveloped herbal notes and an overall off-putting bitterness. Common traits of the HHH interpretation then are rich, even ripening, bold, blackberry, black cherry accented by earthy and minerally notes as well as hints of vanilla and cedar from oak aging. Cocoa, coffee, leather, savory aromas and even a hint of licorice will be found as the wines age.
Some notable wines to try:
- Chateau Ste. Michelle Canoe Ridge Estate 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon – Don’t let the uber producer fool you. The depth of flavors in this wine made it the hands down winner in this lineup for me. 88 percent cabernet sauvignon. $36.
- Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2013 “Quarry Butte” Red Blend – A beautiful representation of a terroir-driven blend from their estate vineyard—Destiny Ridge. Deep plum, strong floral components, baking spice. Excellent value at $25.
- McKinley Springs 2012 Unbroken – This blend romances with a full mouth feel of balanced yet bold tannins that keeps it approachable while still being big enough for grilled meats. $28.
- Coyote Canyon 2010 Big John Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve – At 85 percent cab sauv this wine is aptly named. Black currants dominate with a lasting finish that peals back the cocoa, vanilla and leather mentioned above. A big, food-friendly choice. $42
- Columbia Crest 2013 H3 Cabernet Sauvignon – This is probably the most commonly distributed bottle in the group and for good reason. Approachable, easy drinking and food-friendly. $15
- Mercer Estates 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon – Meaty and savory notes hit the nose on this 75 percent cab sauv blend. Strong tobacco and heavier tannins hint to the promise that this wine will evolve with more time in the bottle. $28