March 19, 2019

The Washington Wine Road – Part I. . . by Joel Mann, Staff Wine Tasting Guy

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I’ve been a fan of the Washington wine scene for a number of years. The quality delivered for the value is exceptional, the choices are extensive, and the character often reminds one of classic old-world wine flavor versus the over-the-top fruity ripeness common to many parts of California. I had the chance to visit Seattle recently on a business trip and took a few extra days afterwards to tour Woodinville. Now, I bring you highlights from my trip through Washington wine country.

My last trip to Woodinville was roughly a decade ago. At the time there were basically three tasting rooms open to the public: Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia, and Silver Lake. A 2002 change in the law allowing satellite tasting facilities set Woodinville down the path as Seattle’s wine getaway though. The region now hosts over 100 wineries and tasting rooms. Hours are a little limited as most facilities open predominately on the weekend, begin around noon, and end about 5PM at most locations. But when the weather is nice, a weekend afternoon in Woodinville is a wine tasting paradise.

One of the biggest benefits is that Woodinville is extremely compact versus regions such as Napa or Sonoma. Most of the wineries operate in strip mall store fronts or small warehouses. You can easily drive the entire loop of the town in less than an hour, so your choices are maximized despite the shorter operating time frame. I covered all three districts on the trip (Warehouse, Hollywood, and Pioneer), with the bulk of my visits in the southeast corner Hollywood district.

Some people may scoff at the tasting room being a big commercial winery, but Chateau Ste. Michelle was my first stop. The facility opens at 10AM versus the noon hour at most locations. It’s a great facility to visit first thing as well given the range of sparkling and white wines available. The hospitality was welcoming even for the larger size, and the wines are top quality. The Eroica Riesling is always a must try, and delivered the classic floral notes with a crisp body and bare hint of sweetness one would get from a top-notch German Auslese.

I also want to give thanks to Mary Kae who hosted me for a premium tasting as well. A vertical tasting of luxury wine is a great way to start a tasting day, and Ste. Michelle does not disappoint with Col Solare and Shining Hill. All the wines were complex and balanced with classic Bordeaux Cab flavors.

A recent opening to Woodinville is the Red Mountain AVA wines from Fidelitas. The wines are made by an old Washington veteran in Charlie Hoppes, and feature small lot premium Cabernet done in classic Bordeaux styles. The Optu red blend and Champoux single vineyard selections are highly recommended if you visit. True to Washington’s take on Bordeaux, the wines were complex and balanced with depth of flavor, and that balance of dark fruit and spice that comes from well-made Cab and its Bordeaux relatives.

The Optu Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc white was also a nice touch that reminded me of the fantastic Sem/Savvy whites I used to get in Margaret River, Australia.

Another gem was Brian Carter Cellars. Brian is another old veteran in Washington wines who specializes in red and white blends that cover a whole spectrum of old-world regions and styles. The ladies running the tasting room are the most gracious of hosts as well. The Oriana white blend is a nice Rhône-style white with peachy Viognier and crisp Roussanne, finished with just a bit of Riesling to give pleasant floral top notes. The Byzance GSM blend had that rustic, earthy quality one gets from the wines of Southern France or Spain that screams for a plate of grilled meat with roasted potatoes and vegetables.

The bottle won the contest as to which wine I bought as a gift for my local housing host. I was also pleased to sample their Port-style wine Opulento. I’m a bit of Port snob having worked in Portugal, so new-world Ports typically disappoint. This one uses traditional Touriga based blends though and had the right balance of sweet, tart, and spice that few non-Portuguese Ports achieve.

I did visit several more tasting rooms, and some nice restaurants as well on my trip, but only have so much space to discuss the results. Look forward to a few more highlights next month as I bring you Part II of my trip.

Drink responsibly.

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