Washington State enjoys growing reputation as world-class producer, a status achieved in less than 40 years.
Which means Washington winemakers are still sorting out what works in their desert wine country.
Merlot and Riesling were initial efforts because early maturing Merlot seemed right for state’s short growing season and Riesling resonates in cooler, northern vineyards.
Washington Merlots tend to have more acidity than California’s and are fuller in body, more tannic, and higher in alcohol than Bordeaux offerings. Sweet cherries, berries, and plums abound.
Washington Rieslings are floral with strong apricot, peach, pear, and apple flavors. When winter comes early, state produces outstanding ice wines.
Chardonnay was another natural play, given Chard’s boom as Washington’s wineries came online in the 1980s. Unlike California’s rich and powerful Chards, however, Washington’s are distinctly crisp and delicate, aided by sparing use of oak.
You must make Cabernet Sauvignon if you want to be taken seriously in the wine world. Voila! Maybe, more correctly, Walla Walla! Washington did Cab. Washington Cabs often require bottle aging to achieve their best. Worth the wait. When Columbia Crest released their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley Reserve in 2009, Wine Spectator crowned it “Wine of the Year.”
Well and good, but Washington’s story continues to unfold. Many experts bet Syrah will become Washington’s signature grape. Compared to Rhône and Down Under offerings, Washington’s Syrahs are earthier and have more minerality. [cq] They also show more concentrated fruit: blueberry, blackberry, plum, currant, black olive, tobacco, and leather. Stay tuned.
Washington State: more than aggravating computer software and over-priced coffee.
Recommended (all Washington State):
• Hogue White Riesling Columbia Valley Late Harvest. Sweet, balanced; pears and apricots. $9
• Chateau Ste. Michelle-Dr. Loosen Riesling Columbia Valley Eroica. Delicately sweet, pears and flowers. $25.
• Fidelitas Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley. Cherries and plums, superb balance. $42
• Doyenne Syrah Yakima Valley. Supple, graceful, plums and pomegranates, polished tannins. $42