Monday, March 05, 2012

A Beginner's Guide to Celebrating Washington Wine Month

If you haven't heard March is Washington Wine Month.  In order to celebrate this fantastic occasion the Washington Wine Commission has a lot of things on the docket for the month culminating in the tasting event to end all tasting events Taste Washington on March 31st and April 1st.

In addition to the specials from Washington winery tasting rooms, Safeway groceries (30% off!!) to Seattle area restaurant deals (which can be found here) you're probably wondering what you can do to celebrate?  We're here to help.

First a crash course: second largest wine producing state to California, Washington has about 40,000 acres of vineyards producing over 30 varietals.  Washington has 12 AVAs or American Viticultural Areas, the newest being the very recently established Naches Heights.  It's premier AVAs; Walla Walla Valley and Red Mountain produce some of the finest wine in Washington and really anywhere in the world.  The beauty of Washington wine is that so much does so well here.  Even some cooler climate varietals like Pinot Noir, which have found very successful homes in both the Columbia River Gorge AVA and the Puget Sound, Washington does it all.

How Can I Be Down?
There are a myriad of ways that you can celebrate Washington Wine Month, and none of them have to cost you a mint. Here are five recommendations from the crack staff here at the Anthem on how to "do it up right" this Washington Wine Month

1: If it isn't from Washington don't drink it.  All you really need to survive is water, and unless your one of those pompous bottled water drinkers your water is coming from here, this March make sure the same is true about your wine. (Give yourself an out on coffee, you need that to survive as well.)  Any wine you buy, whether that's in a grocer, wine shop or restaurant make it a Washington wine.  Whether it's by the glass or by the bottle ask your restaurant's waiter or sommelier (the fancy guy) for a recommendation from Washington, if they respond by saying we don't have any wines from Washington, by the glass or otherwise, tell "Well, then, bring me some tap water, that's from Washington at least!"  This will make you funny and will send a message to those spots you frequent that it's time to start supporting the local wine industry.

2: Get down and dirty.  What? Not like that, I'm talking about soils, and soils mean vineyard sites.  The impact that soils, slope and exposure have on a vineyard and ultimately a wine are uncanny.  Do some googling or go to a really well versed wine shop, my favorite is Bin 41 in West Seattle and ask the staff to help you pick out 3 or 4 single vineyard wines that will get a sense of the role that vineyards play on how a wine turns out in the end.  Now ultimately unless there all from the same winery than there is going to be some variability but none the less, give it a shot.  In order to get the most eye opening experience you should be buying the same varietal and the same vintage (year).  Some of my favorite vineyards are Boushey Vineyard in the Yakima Valley AVA, Les Collines in Walla Walla, Ciel du Cheval on Red Mountain and Red Willow also in the Yakima Valley.  (This list is begging for a Syrah btw.)

3: Go visit wine country.  Seriously, there are four weekends in March not including last weekend.  You've got plenty of time.  You've got a lot of options.  While the vast majority of the wine in Washington grows east of the Cascades you can even visit vineyards in the Puget Sound like those at Whidbey Island Winery or Lopez Island Vineyards.  Walla Walla has to be one of the coolest small towns in the Western United States, home to over 70 wineries, some excellent restaurants and obviously the world's greatest veggie burger at the Walla Walla Bread Company.  If you don't want to drive all the way to Walla Walla there are plenty of stops in between, Yakima, Prosser and the Tri-Cities all offer excellent wine and local dining options as well.  If you hunger for dynamic views and want to do a little tax free Oregon shopping on your trip head to the Columbia Gorge AVA, it's Gorge-ous, seriously, all Ithaca jokes aside. Walk through the vineyards, talk with the winemakers and learn what makes Washington such a great place for wine first hand, not just from us.

4: Join a Washington wine club.  So many of the great wineries in Washington, even the smaller ones are making a great range of wines.  Joining a wine club will be a great way to sample that range, over varietals and over years.  Typically your customer loyalty is repaid by free tasting fees, special club member events, member only wines or special blends and ultimately you'll very likely get to know the winemaker and winery staff very well.  You'll eventually learn as I have that it's not just the wine in Washington that's so great, but there are some great people making it.  Some clubs to consider?  Cooper Wine Club over on Red Mountain, there's no one more charming in the Washington wine industry than Neil Cooper.  Syncline Wine down in the Columbia River Gorge is making some of the best wine in the state and at a price point that makes you wonder how anybody gets away with those over $40 price tags.  Laurelhurst Cellars here in Seattle makes some excellent red wines sourcing from some of the best vineyards in the state.

5: Learn more about Washington wine.  This is general I understand but that's because there are a lot of ways you might go about it.  Look for opportunities to go to tastings at your favorite wine shop or bar.  Madrona's Bottlehouse has regular tastings with opportunities to meet winemakers and maybe fall in love with a new favorite.  Wine World in the Wallingford neighborhood has tastings almost daily as does Esquin.  Throw a party where you ask all of your friends to bring one Washington wine, maybe it's the same varietal maybe it's all different, but the way you learn more about Washington and wine in general is to taste more of it.  Read a blog, this one would be nice, or the Washington Wine Report.  Go to Taste Washington, there are over 200 wineries and you could also attend the seminars and learn a whole lot more.  Take a class at Seattle Central CC, visit a tasting room, or better yet, go to a production winery, like the aforementioned Laurelhurst or one of the wineries in the warehouse district in Woodinville and check out the barrels ask questions, get to know everyone from the tasting room staff to the wine makers.  They all love Washington wine or they wouldn't be doing it, it's not easy. Like anyone, they like to talk about their interest and passions.  Ask them.


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