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The Cellar: Washington State Stand-Outs

Friday, May 06, 2011


After California, Washington is America’s largest wine producing state, boasting 700 wineries and with vineyards covering more than 40,000 acres. It is amazing to think that what began 150 years ago with German and Italian immigrants planting primarily white grape varietals near Fort Vancouver has turned into such a robust, diverse, and highly lucrative three-billion-plus dollar industry today.

While Washington is probably better known for its wet climate near Seattle, the fact is that there are desert-like conditions in much of the eastern part of the state. The diverse climate makes ideal growing conditions for a wide variety of grapes ranging from Riesling to Cabernet Sauvignon. So bring your raincoat, as well as your swimsuit, as we explore the wonderful wines of Washington's Columbia Valley.

2008 Milbrandt Traditions Riesling, Columbia Valley

The backstory: One of the most widely planted white varietals in Washington is the popular Riesling grape. The style of Riesling made in Washington is unique to the Region and makes very fruity wines heavy on the

stone fruit flavors and dry to off-dry, making them great food companions. The ‘Traditions’ label is the Milbrandt brothers entry-level wines offering a good value for around $12. The 2008 ‘Traditions’ is 100% Riesling, but the grapes are sourced from both Milbrandt Estate vineyards and neighboring vineyards throughout Columbia Valley.

The wine: Like I said, this is an entry-level Riesling. I am not getting the crispness or raciness I like so much about Rieslings in general. The nose is a little tight and the wine needs swirling to release its aromas which eventually end up revealing nice green fruit and citrus notes. This is a medium bodied wine with ripe stone fruit flavors. The wine lacks acidity and finishes a little heavy with hints of otherwise interesting petrol-like flavors. (B-)

2008 Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley

The backstory: If you’ve ever had a Washington wine, chances are that it has been a wine from Chateau Ste. Michelle's vast portfolio. Not only is Chateau Ste. Michelle one of the state’s largest producers and its wines widely distributed across the country, it is also considered one of the most consistent large-scale domestic producers in terms of quality, making some of the top values on the market. So in switching to red wines and

turning the attention to the state’s most widely planted red grape varietal Cabernet Sauvignon, it is no surprise the label reads Chateau Ste. Michelle.

The wine: When I saw that Wine & Spirits magazine had rated the readily available 2008 Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon 93 points, I had to taste it. If there ever was a wine you should be able to find, this is it. This wine has nice smoke and chocolate aromas on the nose, along side hints of dark fruit and subtle oak. On the palate the wine comes across smooth and rich in dark fruit flavors, with a hint of acidity. The tannins are well-integrated making for a delightful sipping experience. While it says ‘Cabernet Sauvignon’ on the label the reality is that this wine is only 77% Cabernet Sauvignon. The rest? 9% Syrah, 7% Merlot, 3% Mourvedre, 2% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec and 1% Grenache! (B)

2008 Columbia Winery Gewürztraminer, Columbia Valley

The backstory: Columbia Winery is another large producer and one that has experienced a lot of success with their Gewürztraminer plantings over the years. Gewürztraminer is a cool climate grape and a Washington

success story because of the grape's ability to withstand the state’s cold winters and overall cooler climate. The 2008 Gewürztraminer, made from grapes sourced from Red Willow vineyard and Phil Church vineyard primarily, benefited from an unusually cool spring that year that translated into a late bloom and even later harvest, allowing the grapes to ripen slowly during the cool days of mid-autumn.

The wine: As is typical of Washington Gewürztraminers, the 2008 Columbia Winery Gewürztraminer offers loads of spice, alongside tropical fruit on the nose as well as on the palate. This is a medium-bodied wine, deliciously creamy-textured and off-dry-to-medium sweet - but unlike this week’s Riesling, the sweetness/acidity balance is well-struck, making for a more balanced sipping experience. This wine has seen no oak treatment. All its body and spice (which can be overwhelming to some) are the natural characteristics of Washington Gewürztraminer. (B)

If you have any wine-related questions, comments or concerns feel free to contact Steffen Rasch by emailing [email protected]. And as always, don’t forget to follow GoLocalProv’s Wine Cellar on Facebook.


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