July 18, 2019

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

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Last month, I reviewed of a handful of Woodinville wineries from a recent spring break trip to Seattle. That was just a small taste of the potential that Woodinville holds for visitors. The region has a number of respected wineries and tasting rooms from the Washington wine scene, which provides a wide range of taste options given the state’s various growing regions and the fact that Washington produces everything from cool climate Rieslings to hot and dry GSM blends. This month, I present additional highlights from the trip, and share a bit more of what Washington wine has to offer.

While Woodinville may be a hub for wine, there is also a developing craft distillation scene. A colleague from Microsoft, whose corporate offices are just down the road from Woodinville, dropped a hint to go visit the Woodinville Whiskey Company. I’m not one to pass up a good recommendation, so I paid a visit. The facility is located in the southwest corner of the region in a newly built production and tasting center. Woodinville Whiskey Co. manufactures three spirits at the moment: a Bourbon whiskey, a rye whiskey, and a grain vodka. The spirits all have a youthful character as the developing company has yet to build an extensive aging stock.

The quality is apparent though with the Bourbon having the classic sweet corn and vanilla nose, and the rye having that hint of spice character which comes from rye grain. My personal favorite was the vodka, which by nature is a young spirit. It had a nice bright floral/vanilla character on the nose with a smooth, clean finish that marks a well-made young white spirit. The company also manufactures a barrel-aged maple syrup that is rich and decadent. I’m not usually a pancake, waffle, or French toast fan, but I’d order a plate any day if this was the syrup topper.

Darby Winery was one of the gems from my visit. The tasting room occupies a somewhat rough, minimalist room that feels a bit industrial, but manages to do so in an artistic way. The ambiance lighting in the room for example comes from a few riddling racks hung over wall lighting, illuminated by a number of clear bottles hung in the rack. It’s the wines though that make the visit worthwhile. Darby focuses primarily on Rhône style wines, with a heavy presence of Syrah.

There’s a few Bordeaux based red blends as well to mix things up. All the wines were fantastic but the two I preferred most were the Le Deuce, which is a white blend of Viognier and Roussanne, and the Discovery Vineyard Syrah, which possessed that distinct black pepper spice that a good balanced Syrah often obtains. The tasting room manager is also a knowledgeable and gracious host who is clearly popular with the local wine community given the number of club members that arrived to pick up their allocation during my visit.

Another small family operation that combined warm hospitality with excellent wine was Sparkman Cellars. Their focus is on sourcing from top vineyards around the Red Mountain area, which sets a foundation of quality for each wine produced. The winery produces a number of wines from all sorts of different varieties, touching on Rhône, Bordeaux, and even Burgundy styles, giving every palate a tasting option. I personally am a fan of exploring things that are a little different, so Sparkman’s willingness to produce single varietal wines from the likes of Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Petite Verdot, and Touriga Naçional was satisfying to me.

The wines all possessed what I value from Washington, a good balance of fruit and spice flavors without being over-ripe, and having a refinement that matches the classic wine regions of Europe. A few standouts were the Darkness Syrah, which was inky dark purple with a hint of gaminess that Syrah can sometimes get, and the Underworld Petite Verdot, which had a very complex nose and flavor profile from the concentrated fruit coming from tiny berries on a steep hillside vineyard.

I’ll end this portion of the story with a quick mention of food in the region. Just over the hill to the south is the town of Redmond. One of the best meals I had on my trip was from an Indian restaurant named Kanishka. The samosas and vindaloo were fantastic. Be prepared to wait, as this place is deservedly popular, especially with the contingent of Indian tech workers from Microsoft a few blocks away.

Drink responsibly.

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