Taste Washington. The 2012 edition of Taste was "double your pleasure," extending from one day into two. It is the Washington wine industry's opportunity to showcase itself to media, trade (restaurants, retailers, etc.) and, most importantly, to Washington wine consumers. How did Washington do?
The Future is Now:
While Taste Washington 2012 was certainly about this year's releases, one of the main themes I took away was that Washington is in very good hands. You could see the future of Washington wine, and it's a bright one. I'm referring to the number of young winemakers who are setting a new standard for Washington wines: Va Piano's Justin Wylie, àMaurice Cellars' Anna Schafer, Jon Martinez of Maison Bleue, James Mantone of Syncline, Justin Neufeld of JB Neufeld, Efeste's Brennan Leighton among others and the list goes on. (There are also several who weren't even attending Taste Washington, like Ryan Crane of Kerloo Cellars.) Washington's youth movement is exciting on a number of levels, some of these winemakers have been at it for a long time and others are relatively new to winemaking but they're already making some of the best wine in the state. They're willing to experiment, think outside the box and they're learning from and acknowledging the good work that was done by their predecessors. If they're doing this now, what kinds of wines will they be producing in 20 years? We can only speculate but it doesn't take a divining rod to tell you that the future is exciting.
The Real Rhone Rangers:
The other clear point is that the real American home of the Rhone varietal is right here in Washington. There were Washington Syrahs on display at Taste Washington that were just absolutely stunning, the Liberte from Maison Bleue, the Boushey Syrah from Robert Ramsay Cellars, the Amavi Estate, Hedges Estate and Va Piano's Columbia Valley. Syrah is Washington's wheelhouse. In fact, the Rhone varietals in general are doing very well, Viogniers from El Corazon, Maison Bleue (I know I said that already, get used to it) and white Rhone Blends from Tranche, Rotie Cellars and a new winery Cairdeas solidify that case. Don't get me started on the red Rhone blends. The same is true for single varietal Grenache, Mouvedre, Roussanne, the Cooper Wine Company Marsanne, etc., etc. you get the point. Washington is a Rhone away from home for these varietals and the wines are singing, hear them?
Room for Improvement:
I left Taste Washington thinking there was still work to be done in two areas: marketing and Riesling.
Cairdeas Winery. I was drawn to their table for two reasons: the packaging is nice and eye catching and they were pouring a non-vintage Dolcetto and Syrah blend. They were nicely done wines and it's a winery I'll look for in the future.
To the second point, Riesling; I was really looking forward to tasting a few Rieslings and at the end of the day I was left wanting. There were some quite good Rieslings but nothing wowed me. All in all there was a lack of the necessary acidity to bring a brightness and balance to the wine. I know that Washington can make very nice Riesling, but if the standard is Germany (and it is), then the acidity needs to be there and in the most recent iterations of Washington Riesling it has not been. For the time being, I believe that it's the Willamette Valley of Oregon that has become the standard bearer of Northwest Riesling.
Top 5 from Taste Washington:
5: Rose shows the way. In case this is the only Northwest wine blog you're reading, and you haven't caught these stories,(Foodista runs down the Rose and the Washington Wine Report recap) Rose was knocking it out at Taste Washington. My favorite was probably the Rose of Mouvedre from Maison Bleue. Robert Ramsay Cellars also brought out a Rose of Mouvedre that has yet to be released, and it is dynamite. Last year's standout, Tranche Cellars, has once again made one of the best Roses in Washington, though this iteration is completely different varietally.
Vashon Winery, I had to give it a whirl. It was a very, very nice wine, well made, great flavors and acidity in a lighter bodied red wine. I know the Puget Sound and particularly the islands are making great aromatic whites, it turns out there is also good potential for Pinot Noir.
3: Hedges your bets. I have had some of the Hedges Family Estate wine at least each year for several years now and I can't recall being this excited about their wines in a while. While they've always done a brilliant job marketing their product and their Red Mountain cache, these wines will speak for themselves. My favorite was their Syrah, dark and meaty yet with some dried floral aromatics but the Rose and Chardonnay were also top notch.
Two Vintners was an awfully fun wine to try and the first Grenache Blanc from Washington I'd had. Dick Boushey grows the fruit and he actually poured the wine for me. It was at the Boushey Vineyard table, Dick had asked that he be able to pour this wine because he thought it shows that the varietal can stand on its own (Well, mostly. It's 10% Roussanne.) and be very enjoyable. The Grenache Blanc was incredibly aromatic with fruits and blooming floral notes and a fantastic acidity that made this a great summer wine. It sounds like it's only available to wine club members at Two Vintners, but was certainly fun to try.
Rotie Cellars. It's Syrah with just 5% co-fermented Viognier, resulting in a wine with an Old World charm, while also being earthen, funky and deep and savory. The earthen and dark fruit flavors and finish lasted well into my trek to the next table. As soon as I tasted the wine I knew it was the one, it had me at hello, if you will. As acclaim for this winery continues to mount, I urge you to try to get your hands on some of the wines now, before they're harder and harder to find. This one will tell you everything you need to know about what Washington Syrah can be.