Washington state high-performance wines

Destiny Ridge Winery. Photos courtesy of washingtonwine.org/ and winesnw.com/wahome.html.
  Wayne Crawford
  Wayne Crawford

Wayne On Wine
By Wayne Crawford

Washington is the second largest wine-producing state in the U.S., with a remarkable track record since 1969 when the barriers holding up the Washington wine industry were repealed, legalizing retail wine sales off-premises.

In 1970, less than 10 wineries were operating. Today, the state has more than 43,000 acres under vine in 740-plus wineries, with the majority of vineyards east of the Cascade Mountains. Many Washington state wineries are small and family-owned, producing exceptional boutique wines.

It is likely readers are more familiar with the large conglomerate wineries. Associated Vintners founded in 1962—renamed Columbia Winery— is now owned by E. J. Gallo Winery.

Chateau Ste. Michelle is the oldest winery in Washington state. Founded as the American Wine Company, a 1954 merger of the National Wine Company (NAWICO), founded in 1934, and the Pomerelle Wine Company is owned now by Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris. Chateau Ste. Michelle is the world’s leading producer of Riesling wine. Both large companies produce great wines at highly competitive prices.

horseheavenhills destinyridge vineyard280
Destiny Ridge vineyards in Horse Heaven Hills.

Washington’s climate and location place it in a unique class for wine cultivation. The Cascade Mountain range in western Washington is wet, with a marine climate, while eastern Washington is much drier, with irrigation essential to wine production. Given its northern latitude, roughly parallel to Bordeaux and Burgundy, it enjoys 17 hours of sunlight daily in the summer and substantially cooler nights, both creating a near-perfect climate for growing grapes.

The birthplace of wine in Washington is centered in Walla Walla, east of the Columbia River in the southeast corner of the state, where cinsault grapes first were produced in the 1950s. Washington growers cultivate a diverse collection of grapes in 12 American Viticulture Areas (AVA) with Columbia Valley AVA the largest.

The best guide to Washington wines is “Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide,” by Paul Gregutt, one of the leading wine experts and writers on the region. Also see washingtonwine.org/ and winesnw.com/wahome.html.

Understanding great wines in Washington is recognizing the best vineyards. Boushey, Cayuse, Ceillo, Champoux, Canoe Ridge, Alder Ridge, Two Blondes and Ciel Du Cheval are a few highlights of the premier growing vineyards in Washington. Look on the wine labels and many of the great wines grapes were grown in these vineyards.

Washington does not have a unique wine style like many exceptional growing regions, in part because it produces a potpourri of grapes with the leading vines in cabernet sauvignon, Riesling, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, semillon, cabernet franc, merlot and syrah. Easily another 70 grape varieties are flourishing in Washington from gewurztraminer to viognier and zinfandel.

wa wine comm

Washington wines to consider include: Chateau Ste. Michelle 2012 Chardonnay Indian Wells, $15; Charles Smith Wines Kung Fu Girl Riesling Columbia Valley 2012, $12; Matthews Winery Blackboard Sauvignon Blanc Columbia Valley 2012, $14; Amavi Cellars Semillon Walla Walla Valley 2012, $21, Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon Horse Heaven Hills 2010, $15, Tyrus Evan Walla Walla Syrah 2009 (winemaker Ken Wright of Oregon’s Pinot Noir fame), $38; Tulpen Cellars Merlot Columbia Valley 2009, $38; and Fielding Hills Winery Cabernet Franc Riverbend Vineyard Wahluke Slope 2009, $30. Many of these wines are available in Georgia or easily accessible from online retailers licensed to sell in Georgia.

‘Wines drinking well now’
Stevens 2011 Viognier Divio Yakama Valley, Washington, $18. Yellow straw in color with aromas of lemon and tropical fruit, this wine was aged in Frehasnch barrels and stainless steel, which added texture while still allowing the fruit to stand out. A good viognier, well crafted. Best buy.

Andrew Will Winery 2008 Sorella Red Wine Horse Heaven Hills Washington, $65. This ruby-red wine is 80 percent cabernet sauvignon, 14 percent cabernet franc and 6 percent merlot. Aromas of plum, spices and cedar oak and flavors of raspberry and cocoa combine to make a smooth, well-balanced complex wine that grows smoother with age. Long finish. Highly recommended.

Tamarack Cellars 2009 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Reserve Red Mountain, $49. Half cabernet sauvignon, 25 percent merlot and 25 percent cabernet franc, this dark-red wine has rich aromas of cassis and elderberry with minerality and offers a rich, yet vibrant, finish. A complex wine that will age.

Col Solare 2005 “Red Wine” Columbia Valley Benton City Washington, $85. A collaboration between Tuscany’s Marchesi Antinori and Washington state’s Chateau Ste. Michelle, this wine has aromas of black cherry, berry and dark chocolate with hints of vanilla and spice. On the palate, black fruits and vanilla with a long finish.

Cadence Tapteil Vineyard 2003, $55. This wine is 56 percent cabernet sauvignon, 30 percent merlot and 14 percent cabernet franc. Dark-purple in color, its nose is of currants and mocha. A complex wine with layers of blackberry, dark currant and plum fruit, with plenty of tannins on a long finish. Highly recommended.

‘Drink what you like’

In my next article a visit to Southern Italy red and white wines.

Wayne Crawford is a certified specialist of Wine CSW and a member of the Society of Wine Educators and the American Wine Society.


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