When I first moved to the Northwest almost 7 years ago and was introduced to wine, it was rare for me to spend more than $12 on a bottle. There's no question that this was due, in part, to my income at the time. As I have gotten a bit older, and more interested in wine, it's become more common for me to spend over $25 on a bottle of wine I've never had before and occasionally as much as $35 to $40 if it's a wine I really enjoy.
I am now in my mid-thirties and as part of our mission as a blog, I'm a wizened veteran of our demographic. One of our purposes, apart from relaying enjoyable experiences we're having, is to make wine more approachable to the 25-35 crowd.
No matter how fun and entertaining we might make wine for you, our readers; no matter the the stereotypes about wine makers and the process we may break down, the one thing we can't change is your income. A sad fact of life is that young people make less money than older people, at least generally. As much as a 26 year old education administrator may appreciate your $50+ bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir, there is no way he can justify buying it on his budget.
Bloggers and the younger readers with the tight wine budgets aren't the only ones aware of this. Josh Klakring and Jason Baldwin are The Cartel Wine Group, and they're out to help the younger demographic experience Northwest wines that show characteristics that makes Washington such a fine producer.
The Cartel Wine Group is committed to providing a Northwest signature wine without the high price tag. Josh believes that most of the Washington wine that is priced at over $20 is a product of real costs, not gouging. High production overhead and expenses come in the form of expensive equipment and payrolls and sometimes from the producers who opt for fancy tasting rooms and glossy marketing campaigns. Josh does acknowledge - and we've all tasted - Northwest wines that push the envelope with their price tags and don't really deliver with what's in the bottle. Happily, that is the exception and not the rule.
The Cartel Wine Group is making three wines, sourcing their grapes from some of the same locations in Washington where wines cost two or three times the price. They have kept their overhead way down, and they bring you wine you can drink every day and not bat an eye at the price tag. Wine that lets you buy a case of it for your house party and give your guests a signature Northwest wine experience.
Josh at the Cartel Wine Group dropped off three bottles for me to sample; their entire line of wines. Cartel oaks their red wines for between 18 and 24 months, while their Chardonnay is fermented in steel tanks.
Seeing Red is 82% Cabernet and 18% Merlot from the Columbia Valley. The nose on this wine is a clear highlight, with its oaky and dark floral notes making for a definite treat. Seeing Red is aged in new American and neutral French barrels. The American Oak makes a real impression. On the palate the wine has notes of cherry, cola and light pepper. The wine is medium-bodied and the tannins are present but subtle on this Cabernet.
Seeing White is a Chardonnay but a bit of a chameleon, with a hint of Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc in the mix. This wine is unoaked and shows up as a bright and crisp Northwest Chardonnay.
The Surveyor, a Columbia valley blend of Cabernet and Merlot, is a garnet-colored wine that spoke of Northwest fruit. The oak is present yet subtle and we found cherries on the nose with plum notes and smokiness on the pallet.
I enjoyed all three of the Cartel wines. Jason and Josh have roots in the Northwest and share a love for Northwest wine; not an uncommon story, but always relevant when that love shows up in their wine. I would say they have succeeded in their efforts to produce affordable wines that showcase Washington characteristics. Their wines can be found in a variety of places in the Seattle area, including 106 Pine and the Magnolia Thriftway.