Washington State's Red Mountain AVA was carved out of the large and unwieldy Columbia Valley appellation in April of 2001. With a little more than 700 acres of vines planted, this is Washington's smallest AVA, but it hosts some of the state's best growers, including outstanding vineyards such as Klipsun and Ciel du Cheval. Cabernet Sauvignon still leads in acreage, but the Red Mountain Merlots are equally impressive, and Syrah is also up-and-coming. The appellation's distinguishing characteristics are power and balance, as well as the potential to make truly age-worthy wines.

Waterbrook Winery is not actually located within the Red Mountain appellation, but owner Eric Rindal has been sourcing fruit from this distinctive terroir for more than a decade. Rindal got his start in wine at nearby L'Ecole No. 41 (a winery, not a boarding school) and built Waterbrook with his wife Janet in 1993.

Melville estate Chardonnay Santa Rita Hills 2001 ($20)


Santa Rita Hills is a relatively new AVA in Santa Barbara County, California, created in July 2001. It's situated near the town of Lompoc, on the western side of the Santa Ynez Valley. Ron Melville grew grapes for wineries in Sonoma before he began developing 82 acres of vineyard land in 1996, in what was to become the Santa Rita Hills appellation. Melville's estate vineyards are planted with 11 different clones of Pinot Noir and three clones of Chardonnay, as well as Syrah and Viognier.

This array gives winemaker Greg Brewer quite a broad palette of flavors to work with when blending the Melville wines. The Chardonnays are particularly successful. Melville also sells grapes to some of Santa Barbara's most prestigious boutique wineries. The 2001 vintage is pure and elegant with lovely acidity and pretty fruit. There's only a subtle hint of oak, which gives this wine a very Burgundian style that's unusual for California.