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Originally published Sunday, September 20, 2009 at 12:12 AM

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Wine Adviser

Three small Washington wineries are proving the value of good 'value' wines

Some small Washington startup wineries are proving that they not only can offer good, drinkable fare at a value price but also that they can make it pay.

Special to the Seattle Times

Pick of the week

Balboa 2008 Mirage Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon; $18

Remarkable concentration, density and grip. The flavors are sappy and solid, with cassis and black cherry fruit, substantial tannins and a streak of licorice in the finish. (Cordon distributes)

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MANY SUCCESSFUL, family-owned Washington wineries produce at least one white and one red wine selling for under $20. Catchy names (Calico White, Firehouse Red, 3-Legged Red, Wild Z, Lady in Red) and catchy labels — often an animal or a sexy woman — add appeal. Most are blends, not single varietals, nor vineyard-focused. And they keep the winery in business, providing steady cash flow when the pricier, fancier wines rest in barrel, bottle or warehouse.

What has not been seen much in this state are small, startup wineries whose express mission is to offer value wines. But given the constrained economy and the bloody competition for shelf space, that is changing, and consumers benefit.

Here are three small brands with a focus on value wines that cut no corners.

ARDENVOIR

Ardenvoir is the white-wine label of Chateau Rollat, the Walla Walla winery whose Bordeaux-based consultant, Christian Le Sommer, crafts exceptionally powerful red wines. Last fall, Le Sommer turned his attention to the classic Bordeaux white grape, sémillon, and released a rich, barrel-fermented version under the Ardenvoir label.

This fall he has added an Ardenvoir 2008 Sauvignon Blanc ($19) to a new Ardenvoir 2008 Sémillon ($22). Each is loaded with fruit, with layered, concentrated flavors that retain the acidic vibrancy that distinguishes Washington's best white wines. I would be amazed if a glass of this marvelous wine from Ardenvoir didn't impress you. Compared with, say, most $22 chardonnays, it's the bomb.

BALBOA

Balboa's Thomas Glase makes wines for both Beresan and Balboa, whose country-barn tasting rooms border the Pepper Bridge vineyard. Balboa set out from the start to offer value-priced, varietal wines. Though the brand has expanded to include some super-premium offerings, the new releases of the classic Balboa varietals — merlot, cabernet sauvignon and syrah — are as good as ever.

One difference: The childlike, colorful labels, drawn by Amy Glase, have been replaced, along with the screw-cap closures. I was told, upon questioning, that research had convinced Glase that the new labels and recycled (composite) corks carry less of a carbon footprint.

Balboa's current single-vineyard releases are sourced from the Mirage vineyard, managed by Beresan's Tom Waliser. Glase's winemaking skills are top-flight, and, given his connection to Waliser, he knows where to find excellent fruit at an excellent price.

New this fall are a trio of 2008 vintage reds from the Mirage vineyard, all $18. The 2008 Balboa Merlot is a juicy blend of cherry, berry and hints of prune; a bottle to drink now, while in the bloom of youth. The 2008 Balboa Syrah is no slouch, either. It captures the complexity and earthiness of Washington syrah without becoming too heavy. Its raspberry fruit is backed by peppery herb — not the sweet and jammy style of California, but delicious in a different way. The 2008 Balboa Cabernet Sauvignon, my favorite by a slim margin, is the Pick of the Week.

SULEI CELLARS

SuLei Cellars is one of dozens of wineries that have debuted this year, but their initial releases stand out — not just for being very well made, but for the prevailing philosophy of the owners, Tanya Woodley and Elaine Jomwe. "We are focused on making quality wines while maintaining reasonable pricing," they write on their Web site, and here's the proof. The SuLei Cellars 2007 Beet Red ($19), a cabernet/syrah blend, wraps delicious caramel around bright berries and plums. It's nicely focused, smooth and compact, but feels like a wine that will flesh out with a bit more bottle age.

SuLei Cellars 2008 Roussanne ($18) is the first roussanne I've seen from Walla Walla fruit. A crisp mix of melon, pineapple and lime, it's tart and fresh and lightly minty.

Paul Gregutt is the author of "Washington Wines & Wineries." Find him at www.paulgregutt.com or write to paulgwine@me.com.

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About Wine Adviser

My column is all about sharing the joy of exploring all the world of wine. I want to guide people to make inspired choices, and encourage them to try as many different styles of wine as they can. I will always seek out the best wines at the best prices. Wine Adviser runs on Sunday in Pacific Northwest Magazine.
paulgwine@me.com

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