Seek and find Wash. standouts

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We're moving into the fall season of new wine releases, and open houses abound.

Harvest and crush are in full swing, and wineries are humming with activity but almost always happy to receive visitors.

If you are eager for some hands-on experience, it's a good time to call and see if volunteers are needed for sorting grapes or other chores.

If nothing else, it's a perfect opportunity to break out of old habits and try new wines, and new wineries, with the goal of brightening up holiday tables.

Though some in the national wine press insist on putting a gloom-and-doom slant on their coverage of the Washington wine industry, I don't see things that way.

Yes, like most businesses, wineries are facing challenging times. But our locally managed big enterprises -- Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and Precept Brands -- are thriving.

And Washington's family-owned wineries are, for the most part, making the necessary adjustments to pricing and wine lineups, and customers are enjoying the best values they've seen in more than a decade.

Here are some standouts, covering a wide spectrum of grapes. Prices are suggested retail, but these wines may often be offered for less, so shop around.

Milbrandt 2009 Traditions Riesling ($13). Dry and quite fresh, with vivid grapefruit flesh and acidity. Some mint and lemon flavors sneak in.

Efest?® 2009 Evergreen Riesling ($16). Excellent concentration and bracing minerality, with a mix of green berry and apple flavors. A subtle wine with a dry, complex finish.

Nefarious Cellars 2009 Stone's Throw Vineyard Riesling ($18). Estate-grown, bone dry, dusty and lightly floral in the nose. The balance of blossom, yellow fruits, juicy acidity and wet rock is impeccable.

Upland Estates 2008 Gewurztraminer ($14). Spicy and sporting both floral and sweet citrus characteristics, this off-dry wine fills the mouth with candied lemon, sweet papaya and a squirt of fresh lime.

Stevens 2009 AnotherThought Sauvignon Blanc ($19). Sourced from Red Mountain's Klipsun Vineyard, this richly textural, creamy wine has a pleasing intensity. The fruits are tart and racy, a mix of citrus rind and pulp, tangerine and pineapple, finished with natural acidity.

Davenport Cellars 2009 Barrel Fermented S?®millon ($19). New winery, limited production, gorgeous wine with dense fruit flavors of peaches, apricots, pears and spicy apples.

L'Ecole No 41 2009 S?®millon ($14). Blended with sauvignon blanc, this is exceptionally fragrant, satiny and rich, with fleshy, ripe fruits and just a hint of toast.

Forgeron 2008 Late Harvest S?®millon ($14/half bottle). A thick, honeyed wine, loaded with flavors of dried apricots, peaches and papaya. A rich, seemingly endless dive into a vat of sweet nectar.

Dumas Station 2007 Cow Catcher Red ($19). The winery, midway between Waitsburg and Dayton, offers this value blend that drinks like a much pricier wine. Mixed red fruits, baking spices, toasty barrel notes and a smooth, gliding, lingering finish.

Helix by Reininger 2006 Pomatia Red Wine ($16). A mouthful of cherries and earth, tannin and tea.

Stevens 2008 Franc Cabernet Franc ($30). Surely one of the finest cab francs made in Washington, this powerful wine brings in the grape's characteristic green, leafy streaks. Complex, spicy tannins wrap around blackberry, cassis and black-olive flavors, finished with a whiff of dark chocolate.

Nefarious Cellars 2008 Riverbend Vineyard Cabernet Franc ($29). Another fine franc, densely threaded with smoke, earth, black olive, black cherry, cassis and mocha scents and flavors. The tannin management is superb, softening up the hard edges without stripping the wine of its natural character.

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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