You might expect you'd be drinking a very fine wine if you knew it had been made by a winemaker with millions of gallons of wine experience.
But it would likely come as a surprise to learn that the winemaker is still in his 20s.
Victor Palencia began his winemaking career at some of Washington's best wineries before he was old enough to legally drink. Now 29, he's head winemaker for Jones of Washington, one of the region's most awarded wineries. The Quincy winery was picked Winery of the Year last year by Wine Press Northwest magazine.
Palencia is also director of wine making for J&S Crushing at its Columbia River's Edge Winery in Mattawa. There, he oversees production of more than six million gallons of wine annually for clients like Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest.
The very fine wine I was drinking the other night is crafted on a much smaller scale. Palencia is making wine under his own labels in addition to his other day jobs. He sent me a few sample bottles of his limited production, mainly sold through his new tasting room in Walla Walla.
Wines are available at two different price levels. The Monarcha label wines — 2012 Columbia Valley Chardonnay, 2011 Pinot Noir Rosé and 2010 Wahluke Slope Merlot — sell for around $15. His Palencia label selections are his pride and joy and are definitely worth the few extra dollars he charges.
I liked the bright, crisp flavors of the Monarcha Chardonnay. It's a fine example of the new style of Washington chardonnays that are fun and easy to drink and go with pretty much anything. Just a hint of oak here.
The Monarcha Merlot has that wonderful ripe cherry, earthy flavor that comes from merlot grapes that thrive in the intense heat of the Wahluke Slope.
The wine I recently enjoyed — really enjoyed! — is the Palencia 2010 Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a big wine, full of ripe blackberries and dried dried cherry, vibrant and alive with fruit, but layered with earthy flavors of pepper, tobacco and wood. It would be nice to have a couple bottles of this one to put away for a few years.
I haven't opened the Monacha Rosé of Pinot Noir or the Palencia 2012 Columbia Valley Sauvignon Blanc, but I know they will be knockouts. Palencia is a master of many wines, but the Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé he makes for Jones of Washington are truly exceptional.
And that's good to know. Palencia's own wines will likely be hard to find for awhile. He made only about 600 cases this year. He hopes to increase production to about 1,500 cases next year and expand varieties.
But the Jones of Washington wines are readily available here. They all carry Palencia's wine-making mastery and, to my tastes, are among the best wine bargains to be found in the state. I can't wait to taste the new spring releases just bottled. Jones of Washington has tasting rooms at Pybus Market and in Quincy and can be found in most grocery stores and wine shops.