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Columbia Valley essence
Owen Roe's Sharecropper's cab comes from Washington State

You wanna light me up? Turn me on to a new vineyard.

One of my real joys is “discovering” wines from vineyards I have not sampled before. I sometimes feel like I’m in a wine rut, a pleasurable but well trod path littered with the same corks.

Such was my joy before Christmas when offered some sips of wines from Owen Roe. These folks have been making small quantities of wine since 1999 – sourcing mostly from the Columbia Valley of Washington State. These wines are lush and wonderful – and each possesses an odd little back–story – the kind of tale that makes the brand stick in your brain.

Carefully managed aging in mostly French oak insures firm tannin development; fastidious handling guarantees enough tactility to brand these wines are handmade. But what stuck with me most was the experience – the smells, the flavors – all from Washington wines that rely heavily on Cabernet Sauvignon.

A cold winter’s day ramped up my Cab craving, and I was happy to bump into Owen Roe 2008 Sharecropper Cabernet Sauvignon. It is the essence of Columbia Valley Cab.

According to the wine maker, a beautifully long Indian summer in 2008 set the stage for the ’09 Sharecropper. The crop of perfectly ripe fruit gave life to wine that has a nose ripe with blueberries, black currants, dark cherries and wild strawberries.

A nice long finish lingers with flavors of licorice, olives and cedar. With all that darkness you might expect Sharecropper to be bold, even muscular – but it’s not. Balance and pleasing acidity are hallmarks of Sharecropper. You can drink it today and enjoy it – or lay it down for another half decade and still find it pleasing.

It’s assertive enough to stand up to meats, game and powerful sauces and stews – but gentle enough to be an enjoyable sipping wine.

I found mine for around $20 at FORM. I’m anxious to get personal with other Owen Roe bottlings, which climb the price ladder from here.

Bargain Cab

Wine newbies tell me they steer away from wines like Sharecropper because their untrained palates are over–sensitized to acid and tannins.

Start fruitier is my advice. Find a Cabernet with training wheels.

Such is Pennywise 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s mostly Cab, with splashes of Syrah, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Grapes are sourced from Lodi, Paso Robles and Monterey primarily – and tend to create a wine that is heavier on sweet fruit, like raspberry and strawberry. Count on rich sweetness, like from figs or dark molasses.

Pennywise Cab also goes great with big red meats – it’s simply a slightly sweeter interpretation of the grape. Score a bottle for $10–$12.