2016-04-01 / Wine Notes

West by Northwest

Robert D. Richards, CSW

The undisputed state leader in producing American wines is California. With its 4 million tons of wine grapes harvested annually, no other state even comes close to that yield.

Yet size isn’t everything, and the runner-up in terms of grape production — Washington — has much to be proud of in terms of the quality of wine it produces.

Many consumers have a mental picture of Washington state as having a dreary, rainy climate and wonder how such a place could be hospitable to growing wine grapes. It’s useful to think of the state as divided in two — one area to the west of the Cascade Mountains and one area to the east.

The western region is the wet side. Places like Seattle get plenty of rainfall — averaging about 40 inches per year and, at times, as high as 60 inches. By contrast, the eastern side of the Cascades — the premium winegrowing region — averages only about eight inches annually, making it the perfect spot for the varietals it showcases.

White grapes lead the harvest, with Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris ranking at the top. For reds, the top three varietals are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. In total, Washington boasts more than 40 grape varietals that thrive in the region.

Nearly 900 wineries harvest, crush, press and ferment these grapes, making them into premium wines that can be found all across the country. Here’s a sample of what is available locally.

Eroica Riesling 2013 (#49765, $21.99)
With aromas of apple, lime and other tart citrus, this wine also shows minerals and a great fresh taste.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Syrah Columbia Valley 2011 (#38205, $14.99)
This Syrah is fruit forward and exhibits softer tannins. It was fermented with the white grape, Viognier, which gives it floral characteristics.

Mercer Canyons Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2013 (#47339, $18.99)
This Cabernet was blended with Merlot and Syrah to exhibit a nice complexity. It was aged in oak and shows notes of black cherry and spice.

14 Hands Pinot Gris Columbia Valley 2014 (#47148, $11.99)
This wine showcases hints of green apples, melon and peach. It has just the right acidity to make it crisp but not sour. The winery made 40,000 cases.

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