Food Seattle's Select Guide: Washington Wine Country
The first edition of the Food Seattle Select Guide travels to Washington State Wine Country - with the Wine Diva as our guide. If you are unfamiliar with Washington State wine country, wow, are you in for a pleasant surprise!
Beyond the stunning growth in the number of wineries (some say there are currently more than 460), people are often shocked by the dense, luscious reds being produced in what is considered a cool Pacific Northwest state.
But the reality is this - the primary grape growing regions of Washington stake their claim in the eastern half of the state. In fact, most of Washington’s AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) are tucked into south-central and south-east Washington - just above Oregon and flirting with neighboring Idaho.
The senior appellations (and certainly the most recognizable) are Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley, Red Mountain and Yakima Valley, but like any wine region in the world there are “hot new appellations” making waves. These young and vibrant newly recognized Washington State AVAs have been established and recognized within the past five years and include: the Columbia Gorge, Horse Heaven Hills, Wahluke Slope and Rattlesnake Hills.
All of these appellations are protected from the Pacific Northwest’s coastal rains by the Cascade Mountains. And here, ancient alluvial soils with varying terroir create natural meso and microclimates providing perfect growing conditions for numerous grape varieties from Syrah, Merlot, Sangiovese and Cabernet to Chardonnay and Riesling.
These are the approved American Viticulture Areas:
The Columbia Valley appellation encompasses 11 million acres in total and more than 100 wineries. And, within the Columbia Valley are the following individual AVAs: Yakima Valley, Red Mountain, Walla Walla Valley, Wahluke Slope and Horse Heaven Hills.
The more central Yakima Valley is the oldest of Washington’s AVAs and is home to more than 40 wineries. At the eastern tip of Yakima you’ll find the Red Mountain AVA and more than a dozen wineries. The aptly named Red Mountain’s strength is in red varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Sangiovese.
Horse Heaven Hills is an exciting, newly established AVA that is flourishing with more than 20 vineyards located on coveted, steep, south-facing slopes facing the Columbia River bordering on Oregon. The Walla Walla Valley is another keen appellation for growing red varieties. And with more than 65 wineries, a large portion of the Washington States lush, intense red wines are produced in this south-eastern area.
Another newly established AVA is Wahluke Slope. Similar to Horse Heaven Hills it has more than 20 planted vineyards; and, Wahluke claims the title of the warmest AVA in Washington State.
Rattlesnake Hills appellation (like Wahluke received its AVA status in 2006) is a workhorse region whose vineyards supply grapes to many producers in different regions. Rattlesnake Hills sits just above Yakima Valley and is home to more than 17 wineries.
More than just stunning landscape, the Columbia Gorge AVA butts up against the eastern Cascade Mountains and straddles the Oregon Washington border at the Hood River. It is home to more than 20 wineries that focus on growing fresh white varietals like Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling and Gewurztraminer.
And finally, on the west side of the Cascade Mountains we cannot forget the Puget Sound AVA. Home to more than 45 wineries curving from Bellingham, down to Seattle and Tacoma and curving past Olympia all the way to Port Angeles this terroir and cooler climate does well with white and lighter bodied red wines.
As you can see, it’s not possible to visit all of Washington’s wine regions in one trip. Your best option is to pick an appellation and plan a weekend trip. Get to know each region individually - its specialties, its nuances and its wineries. Or, if you are able to attend, I highly recommend you take in the annual Taste Washington event that takes place each spring in Seattle. Taste Washington is loads of fun and very educational – it’s the best way to get to know the wineries of Washington State.
For more details on Taste Washington which runs from April 5-6, 2008, visit their site at:Taste of Washington
Why wait? Get in on the action! Discover why Washington State is gaining world-wide recognition as a premium wine region. Whether you’re an old hand at the sniffing-swirling-tasting-spitting game or just an enthusiastic newcomer - Taste Washington is the perfect place to learn everything about the wines you love to drink! From reds to whites; rosés to dessert wines – whatever your taste, Taste Washington has it all!
*Please remember to designate a non-sampling driver during your wine country tours or use the spit-buckets provided and save the drinking for later!
Daenna Van Mulligen (aka Wine Diva)is a Vancouver based writer, sommelier and wine educator. You can read her cheeky wine reviews at www.winediva.ca.
photos courtesy of the Washington Wine Commission and the Wine Diva
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