John Brown has been a wine and food columnist in West Virginia since the 1980’s. His regular columns appear in the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail under the title Vines & Vittles and in The State Journal - a statewide business weekly
Washington State wines: everything in balance !
I present for your consideration the state of Washington which has become, over the past couple of decades, one of the world's premier wine-producing regions! You're probably wondering how I came to this startling conclusion. Suffice it to say, years of personal research (i.e., drinking the stuff) made a believer of me!
In an area of the country perhaps better known for producing cherries, asparagus, apples, apricots and RAIN, thousands of acres of grapes have been planted, and some of the resulting wines are nothing short of stunning.
Of course when an “easterner” thinks of Washington, Seattle comes immediately to mind. However, that beautiful city, in the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains to its east and the Olympic range to its west, is not where the majority of grapes are grown.
While there are some wineries in the Seattle/Puget Sound area actually growing vines, the overwhelming tonnage of vinifera is being produced across the Cascade Mountains in Eastern Washington.
Talk about a change! When you travel through the Snoqualmie pass - just 45 miles from Seattle - you go from a rain forest to a high mountain desert where the majority of vineyards are planted and extend eastward to the border with Idaho.
And in the past 30 years, the wine business in Washington has grown exponentially.
Consider this: in 1981, there were only 19 wineries in the state. Today there are more than 700 scattered over 11 American Viticultural Areas (AVA’s), and the industry continues to grow vigorously.
So what makes this northwest corner of the U.S. so special? Excellent terroir, baby!
That somewhat confusing French word (pronounced tare-wah) means Washington has the requisite soil, climate and geographic location most ideally suited to growing some of the world's greatest wine grapes including, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, chardonnay, semillon and riesling.
I spent a week touring the area more than a decade ago and came to a rapid conclusion, after tasting the best the state had to offer, that the wines are exceptional. Since then, things have only gotten better and the cabernets and merlots are among the best being produced anywhere.
A bold statement? Maybe not, once you've tasted the wines. In addition to intensity, richness, elegance and power, Washington State wines have the potential to achieve a qualitative attribute uncommon in California - or anywhere else for that matter.
That characteristic is balance.
Balanced wines possess a harmony of fruit, alcohol and acid. There are also many sub-components that contribute to balance such as tannins and phenolic compounds and other technical stuff that only a chemist would find interesting.
Washington State, because of its unique terroir, has the ability to produce wines of exceptional quality and balance. I am particularly fond of the cabernet, merlot, riesling and semillon being made in the state.
Here are a few of my favorite labels from Washington State that you should find appealing. L’Ecole No. 41; Columbia Crest; Canoe Ridge; Hedges; Leonetti; Waterbrook; Quilceda Creek; Woodward Canyon; Covey Run; Hogue Cellars; Kiona; Milbrandt; Walla Walla; Chateau Ste. Michelle; Columbia Winery; DeLille Cellars; and Barnard Griffin Winery.