A friend of mine recently hosted a wine tasting party at her home featuring wines from her beloved Washington State. The tasting opened my eyes to the variety (and deliciousness) that the Washington wine industry has to offer. Prior to the wine tasting, my primary experience was Chateau Ste. Michelle, specifically their Riesling, and maybe a few other commonly available brands. Now, I’m not knocking Chateau Ste. Michelle or any of the others, but the wines my friend served at the wine tasting from some of her favorite wineries had so much depth, character, and variety that I became a firm believer in the value of Washington wine.
Grapes have been grown in Washington since the early 1800s, so they have a lot of history working with different varietals to find out what works and what doesn’t in their climate. At first, wines made with grapes were primarily for home use, but in the 1960s winemakers started seriously experimenting with different varietals. Since then, the Washington wine industry has steadily grown into the 2nd largest in the U.S.
While many people think of the Washington climate as being rainy and overcast, the state actually gets more sunlight than California’s primary growing region. Most vineyards in Washington are to the east of the Cascades. This mountain range helps shield the eastern part of the state from the rainy weather Seattle is so well known for. The drier air also helps protect the vines from many diseases that require a humid climate to develop. Washington winters can get rather cold, which forces the grapes to lie dormant and store energy. Summers are quite warm and sunny, which allows the grapes develop. It’s also pretty dry in the grape growing region, which many grape varieties actually like because it stresses them. Another stressor that actually makes grapes turn into delicious wine is a large temperature shift between day and night. Grapes love warm, sunny days and cool nights. This large shift in temperatures helps balance the sugar and acidity in the grapes, which creates a good foundation for wine.
So what does all this history and climate get you? A large variety of wine with really good flavor from many different wineries. There are nearly 70 varieties of grapes grown in the state and over 900 wineries. The sheer number leads to a ton of options for the wine drinker. They grow everything from Riesling, Chardonnay, and Viognier, to Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Petit Verdot. There is really something for every palate. They even make ice wine, which requires the grapes to be left on the vine until they freeze. This creates a very concentrated, sweet wine.
My friend who hosted the wine tasting was kind enough to share wines from several of her favorite wineries. A few of my favorites were from Flying Trout and L’Ecole No 41. I liked them so much I’m seriously considering joining their wine clubs.
I know I’m always singing the praises of Texas wines (which are delicious and amazing), but Washington wines are also really good and worth a try, especially if you can sample the fantastic variety available.