Washington on the March
by Jeff Cox, Wine and Beer Merchandiser
It must be Taste Washington Wine Month. In grocery stores throughout the state you’ll see displays of Columbia Crest, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Hogue, Sagelands, Barnard Griffin and a host of others (On Sale! Save Big! Featured Item! Use Your Club Card For Added Savings!), proclaiming the fact that Washington is well on its way to becoming California.
That’s right. In gallons, sales, acreage planted and, perhaps most importantly, in Wine Spectator Ratings, Washington has done a Cinderella — metamorphosed from “Other U.S. Wine-Producing Region” to “World Class Contendah.” We’re a player, baby.
Gone are the backwater days when a few quixotic farmers valiantly toiled at playing clumsy renditions of Napa Valley classics. We have our own rock star winemakers now and the hits just keep on coming!
“Garagistes” hit the charts with $50 a bottle cult hits. “Barrel program,” “green harvest,” “brix” and “ph” are beer-time topics in taverns and we, too, have 100-point wines that none but the well-connected and appropriately anointed are permitted to buy.
And, for the successful professional seeking to diversify the portfolio and create a gracious, wine country lifestyle, Washington offers an array of enticing options. A faux villa or château is just as ostentatious in Walla Walla as in Calistoga.
Tastings of Washington wines often resemble episodes of “American Idol” where variations on a Whitney Houston theme are sure avenues to success. Sing it loud, sell ’em sentiment with the sheer volume of the delivery. Or, make big, impressively ripe, massively extracted, alcohol-drenched wines, all layers of achingly focused berry flavors, and sweet, toasty, vanilla oak. Et cetera.
One California is plenty. Sniff the air in Mattawa, Yakima, Benton City or Paterson and tell me that Washington doesn’t have its own charms. Then tell me why you’d want to obscure sun-baked basalt, sagebrush, rain-dampened gravel, underbrush or Ponderosa pine with oak and alcohol.
One of the charms of French (and Italian, German and Spanish) wine is how the wines weave a counterpoint of fruit and terroir. You can taste the difference between Gigondas and Cairanne and Rasteau — and they’re all within a few kilometers of one another. Wineries like Chinook and Syncline and Longshadows are showing that it’s possible here, too. Yakima smells different than the Gorge, which smells different at Wishram than it does at Celilo. And so forth.
The word is out, the upper left hand corner of the United States map has the sunshine, dirt and brains to be a major force. It’s time to secede from California and show the world the real character and taste of Washington.
About the author
Jeff Cox is the wine and beer merchandiser at PCC. Over the years, he's built close relationships with vineyards worldwide and in our neck of the woods. He's even worked with select local vineyards to create some of the spectacular wines we carry.
In addition to this monthly column, check out his featured wines list.