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A Cabernet Sauvignon for Cougars

Tuesday, 22 December 2020 12:42

By Dan Clarke

Recognize the red logo on the bottle? 

It evokes a snarling Cougar, the mascot of Washington State University, and incorporates the letters W, S and U.

Its genesis was a nearly identical design created in 1936 by Randall Johnson, an art student at the institution.  In those bygone days, the Pullman campus was Washington State College, but the C in its design was tweaked just a bit and evolved to the U more appropriate for today’s University status.

chuck reininger PicmonkeyWinemaker Chuck Reininger

What does this have to do with its appearance on a bottle of wine? A closer look will reveal the Roman numerals VII below and would give an astute observer reason to believe that this might be the seventh edition of the wine. It is. Many in the state’s wine industry have some connection to the school and a portion of the proceeds benefit the Washington State University Alumni Association.

Kelly and Ann Tucker are partners in Reininger Winery. They are also WSU alums themselves (Kelly received a Master’s Degree in Agricultural Economics in 1987). Their partner is the winemaker Chuck Reininger, who began the Reininger Winery with his wife Tracy in 1997. Their son Reid is a student at WSU.  Kelly explained that each year a different winery having some connection to the University is selected to produce a vintage in the Cougar series. The Walla Walla winery sources fruit from several different vineyards and produces more than one Cabernet Sauvignon bottling each year. The Cougar VII is not just a re-labeled packaging of an ongoing Reininger Cabernet, says Tucker. It is a separate effort vinified just for this project, though most of the fruit comes from a source very familiar to them. Phinney Vineyard is in the Horse Heaven Hills appellation and overlooks the Columbia River and the famed Champoux Vineyard.

This 2018 vintage of Cougar VII is comprised of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Merlot. There’s plenty of fruit here. We found aromas of plums blackberries and dark cherries. More of those cherry and plum qualities come through in the flavors and linger through a long finish. The wine was released in September of 2020 and material explaining Reininger’s Cougar VII was written with a clever nod to football analogies. Unfortunately for the gridders from Pullman, the season was truncated due to responses to the Covid-19 situation and the Cougars won just one of their four-games anyway. We wish all success for Coach Rolovich’s squad for the 2021 season—and may Cougar fans have multiple opportunities to celebrate victories over bottles of Cougar VII. We tasted the wine just a few weeks after it went into the bottle. As a 2018 vintage, it should be only better next fall (and for several seasons beyond that).

You don’t have to be a WSU alumnus to enjoy this wine. Cougar VII is $35 and is available at many retail locations in Washington or by ordering directly from Reininger Winery.

Last modified on Tuesday, 22 December 2020 13:57