What you think you know about Washington State, particularly its wine country, likely is wrong.
Quick geography and climate facts. Soaring Cascade Mountains divide Washington east and west. West, identified with Seattle, is image many have of state. It rains all the time, right?
Actually, no. Seattle averages 36 inches of rain a year, less than New York City. But grey skies and slow rains create illusion you must have Starbucks nearby to survive.
Eastern part of the state, beyond rain-cloud-halting Cascades, is high desert with rainfalls of less than 10 inches a year. That’s where the winegrapes flourish.
Fortunately, water is not a problem. The mighty Columbia, draining more water than any other western river, provides generous irrigation resources for the Columbia Valley. Underground reservoirs also abound.
Located on 45th and 46th parallels, the Columbia Valley is among northernmost of world’s major wine regions. Location means growing season is shorter, but also means days are longer—17 hours in summer. Great for grapes. Desert location also means steep nighttime temperature drops—up to 40 degrees. Great for grapes.
Add rocky, minerally soil. Great for grapes.
So Washington is perfect, right? Well, nothing is perfect. Winter is Washington’s problem. Every seven years or so it gets cold enough long enough to kill grape vines. State’s grape growers accommodate; its wineries consistently produce outstanding wine.
We visit Washington’s varietals next week.
Recommended (all Washington State):
• Hogue Fumé Blanc Columbia Valley. Bright, refreshing; flowers, grapefruit, value. $9
• 14 Hands Cabernet Sauvignon. Chateau Ste. Michele second/third label. Sweet cassis, black cherries, velvet tannins. $11
• House Wine. (This is really the name). All purpose; reds and white consistently good. $12
• Cupcake Riesling. Bold, luscious; grapefruit, pineapple, nectarine. $12
• Gordon Brothers Chardonnay. Smooth appeal; pears, apples, good acidity. $16