Washington State wines are killing it right now. If you want to talk about a single geographical area that can offer such disparate wines as a powerhouse cabernet sauvignon and a delicate chardonnay, this is it.
A few weeks ago I went to Taste Washington, the biggest gathering of Washington wineries and winemakers anywhere in the world. And this past Saturday I escaped up to Woodinville, just a 30-minute drive from downtown Seattle. Most of the state’s grapes are grown on the other side of the Cascade Mountains and some are trucked back west for winemaking.
These operations coupled with the satellite tasting rooms of wineries in the eastern or southern part of the state make Woodinville a top destination for bridal shower debauchery. You’ll see more plaid, facial hair and dark wood than in a Portland coffee house. It is not exactly the day clubbing and chauffeured town car experience like in Napa where you feel like you’ve stumbled onto the set of a Town & Country shoot. There it can be intimidating to ask questions. In Washington, the winemakers are more accesible, often stopping by the tasting rooms at midday to pour wine and answer questions. It must be the surrounding evergreen forests attracting people who like clean air and avoid pretense.
But don’t mistake that the wines aren’t serious -they are. The Columbia Gorge, Yakima Valley, Tri-Cities, Walla Walla Valley and parts of the Cascade Valley fall right on the 46° north latitude, which also crosses over Bordeaux. The winemakers in these areas feel a certain sense of responsibility for this shared parallel. It is not by accident that their best known creations are Bordeaux blends. Some wineries even specialize in Right Bank (merlot dominated) or Left Bank (cabernet sauvignon dominated).
But The fire and ice geological makeup leaves a distinctively Washington mark on the blends. Tasting room associates are well versed in the Missoula Floods phenomenon. In this catastrophic event, glacier barriers burst and water came barreling through the Washington plains leaving layers of glacial silt. Silt is the ideal particle size to regulate water supply at the rootstock level. The regulation tends to work in tandem with the hot, dry Washington summers that taper off quickly starting in September.
Chateau Ste. Michelle was the first to set up shop in 1976 when Woodinville was still just a logging and farming community. The Chateau is today the biggest producer of riesling and their wine shop includes a whole section devoted strictly to this varietal.
Just east of the Chateau, down NE 145th St., you’ll find the Hollywood Winery District. Between this and theWarehouse Winery District, there is a higher concentration of tasting rooms than nearly any other place in the country. The Hollywood area is made up of upscale outdoor cottage-style outlets with over 40 tasting rooms and eateries. The Warehouse District is more industrial, but you can try several wineries from different AVAs in one go. There are over 100 tasting experiences in the area.
And, all around there are spots to stop, pull over and pick lavender, try great food, see goats, pick up fresh produce or take a shot of whiskey. There are several spirits distilleries in the neighborhood.
- Woodward Cannon Washington State Chardonnay (Walla Walla AVA) – Lemon curd, spice, toasted hazelnut, restrained oak, though still quite present
- Mark Ryan Winery Long Haul – Whoa! What! Plush blackberry and blue fruit. Toasty nuts and oak; silky and vibrant. Rising star Washington winemaker. Also look for The Dissident (64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot), Lonely Heart (90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot), Wild Eyed (100% Syrah), Viognier (100% Viognier), and Crazy Mary (79% Mourvedre, 21% Syrah). Consistently scores in the mid 90s and had two Triumph motorbikes inside the tasting room. Need I say more?
- Fidélitas 2012 Red Mountain Merlot– Slate, ripe tannin, white pepper, chewy cherry candy, medium acidity, earth
- Fidélitas 2011 Champoux Vineyard Horse Heaven Hills Merlot- colder vintage so more acidity than previous, great structure, rich cassis, less earth than above, very fragrant, medium acidity, no slate, cherry color with bright ruby rim