Washington Wines - An Overview

Washington wines are now a must try.

Yes, it is a newer wine region in comparison to many other wine regions throughout the US, but in just a short time, Washington is really producing some fantastic wines.

Washington’s climate is perfect for Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon

I’m talking of course about Washington State wines which has nothing to do with the nation’s capital, Washington D.C. on the East Coast.  This West Coast state, just to the north of Oregon actually shares an AVA with Oregon.  When we think Oregon wines, Pinot Noir comes to mind first and foremost as Oregon has long been producing amazing Pinot Noirs. Washington, in comparison, is known for making great wines with a wide range of varietals but they are mostly known for Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, which makes up about 55% of their overall production. Washington is much more Northern than California so the characteristics of the wine are also very different. For those who are completely unfamiliar with Washington wines, they have identical latitude as the famous regions Bordeaux & Burgundy. Most of the vineyards are to the east of the Cascade Mountains other than the Puget Sound AVA.  The Cascade Mountains divide Eastern and Western Washington, with Canada to the north, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and Oregon to the south and Idaho to the East.

Washington State has so much natural beauty; it is simply stunning.

Seattle does have the reputation of being incredibly rainy but the eastern part of Washington is quite dry and some regions get less than 10 inches of rainfall a year!  Eastern Washington is continental with hot summers and cold winters with a lot of sunshine, which is great for vineyards. There are over 800 wineries in Washington; however, vineyards still only make up about 2% of their agriculture.  The Olympic and Cascade mountains block the rain creating a very different climate between Western Washington (think rainy Seattle) and Eastern Washington which is a dry, perfect grape growing territory where most of the wines in Washington are from.

Washington State produces predominantly red wines yet can also pride itself with making some amazing whites.

Riesling is the most grown white Washington wine but they are also producing late harvest Riesling and even ice wines some years.  The Rieslings from the region are typically light and dry so it makes for a great easy drinking wine.  The recent cooler 2006, 2010, and 2011 Washington vintages were suited for making Ice Wine.  Moscato is also doing really well here.  Thinking about the region geographically, Okanagan Valley wines in Canada are only about 4 hours away.

Also, 95% of Washington wines are sold out every year, so these wines are in high demand.

As for some of the regions within Washington, Columbia Valley is the largest AVA.  Quilceda Creek from Columbia Valley has gotten 100 points by Robert Parker 3 different years and is very highly rated in tons of different publications which should give everyone an idea of the wine quality this region is able to produce.  This region is largely influenced by the Columbia River climate and many of the AVA’s are within Columbia Valley.  Yakima Valley, Horse Heaven Hills and Walla Walla are among the most important regions.

Red Mountain is red wine country.

Red Mountain, the smallest AVA in Washington is red wine country making mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and this region has the most prestigious wines.  Two of the most famous vineyards Kiona, Ciel du Cheval are both located within Red Mountain.  This region has smaller grapes so you get a higher skin to juice wine.  This results in some really tannic Cabernet Sauvignons and surprisingly tannic Merlots.

Another useful bit of info is back in the last ice age, there was something called the Missoula floods (13-15,000 years ago) which pumped a ton of water through Washington and down into the Willamette Valley of Oregon.  You can see areas that show how the alluvial soil and basalt bedrocks were deposited throughout the valley.  The soil types here are part of what enables Washington wines to be so complex.  The gorge is the part of the Cascade Range that is open.  With constant fierce wind, the skin of the grapes has to be thick and the grapes are small as a self-defense.  Ripening is more of a challenge in the gorge more than anywhere else.

Walla Walla has a more continental climate.

Another important region is Walla Walla, which isn’t a big wine region either and has about as many vines planted as Red Mountain.  Christophe Baron, Garry Figgins, Leonetti are some of the pioneers who put Walla Walla on the map.   Walla Walla is warmer than Yakima and a bit more continental, and in winter Walla Walla is faced with more frost, which can lead to more vintage variation.  The Eastern boarder for the AVA is the Blue Mountains.

Overall, Washington has the ability to produce some amazing wines because of the great climate, low rainfall and great soils.  It is a newer wine region and they are using modern wine making techniques.

Following are some of the wines I love, which are a must try from Washington along with a few tasting notes:

Long Shadows "Poet's Leap" Riesling, Columbia Valley 2013

A bright wine with some petrol, floral notes, stone fruit, exotic fruits and guava. There is a high acidity to this wine which makes it very food friendly.

Amavi Cellars Semillon, Walla Walla Valley 2012

There is a creaminess to the wine which I like; it is nutty, aromatic, and yummy.  It’s a dry wine but waxy, undercurrent of acid.  I get lemon curd and fig.

Efeste "Feral" Sauvignon Blanc, Ancient Lakes 2012

There is some oxidation and a little neutral oak.  Grassy, hay, lime, high acid, green notes, pepper, scallions, citrus, lemon, orange, herbs Pair this with light salads, crudité.

AMaurice "Sparrow Estate" Viognier, Walla Walla Valley, 2012

This wine is floral, peachy, stone fruit, and vanilla, pretty delicious.  Long finish.

Milbrandt Pinot Gris 2013

Crisp, bright, lemon, lime, stone fruits, melon.  Overall refreshing and food friendly.

Analemma Wines Oak Ridge: Pinot Noir, Columbia Gorge 2011

Fruit forward, berries, rose, floral, tannins are grippy.

Va Piano "les Collines Black Label" Syrah, Walla Walla Valley 2012

Green pepper, black fruit, very purple in color.

Rotie Cellars "Southern Red," Washington 2011

High acid, black berries, plum, raspberry, earthy.

Idilico Monastrell, Snipes Mountain, 2011

Blue fruit, tart, grippy, tannic, floral, pepper. Really pretty.

Cor Cellars Cab Franc, Horse Heaven Hills 2010

Red, blue fruit, purple flowers, pepper.  Interesting, spicy, kind of nice.

Fall Line "Red Willow Vineyard" Yakima Valley 2010

Blue fruit, spicy, flowers, this is a bigger wine.  Long finish and balanced.

Leonetti Cellar Merlot, Walla Walla 2012

I get meat on this wine.  Bacon as well.  Dessert, caramel, sweet tobacco, beautiful, juicy, wonderful.  Tannic, long finish.  Beautiful fruit and lots of tannins.  Most polished perfect versions of Merlot.  I love this wine.

Andrew Will "Champoux," Horse Heaven Hills 2010

Smokey, raisin, ripeness of fruit, nice acid, balanced, sweet fruit, less new oak, very tannic.

Cadence "Ciel du Cheval," Red Mountain, 2010

This is ripping high tanning.  Cranberries, raspberry, red plum, violets. Wow, kind of an awesome wine but it needs food.

Col Solare Red Wine, Columbia Valley 2001

Wow, developing, really well integrated.  Stewed red fruits.  Earthy, rose petals, tobacco, and black raspberry.  Still has a lot of tannin, yum.


Follow Alexis Morgan Bell at www.AlexisBell.com


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