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Washington state’s winning wines

ZEV ROVINE, contributing Record writer

The wines of Washington State are of an unusual breed. If you are to imagine Washington you will probably drum up a picture of rain. This is an accurate projection if you are considering the region west of the Cascade Mountain range but if you to travel east, past the range, you will experience an entirely different terroir that is dominated by more desert-focused climate.

Washington has also experienced a serious development not only in volume but also in quality over the last 20 years. In 1960, state had 15 wineries and by 1988 it had 88. Today it has 354 and it covers more than 30,000 acres of land. The increase in volume of wine is huge but the real news is the increase in quality. Something about the terroir offers the best of the Washington State wines a concentration of fruit that is almost Port like.

Washington was known for its Northern-style whites in its early years. Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Chardonnay were initially the dominating grape varieties but now it seems that Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah have taken grip as some of the region’s greatest wine ingredients.

The state now boasts six independent "American Viticultural Areas" that do indeed hold their own distinctive characteristics. The Columbia Valley is the workhorse of the state holding over 150 of its wineries. Many of the states most boring wineries are held in this area, however, there are sub-appellations within it that make gorgeous wines of true character and distinction. One, the Yakima Valley, contains the famed Red Mountain where many of the most concentrated and powerful Cabs are made. The Walla Walla Valley has always been one of my favorite places to find values and is the home of L’Ecole No. 41, one of my favorite houses in Washington.

One of the things I like most about the state’s style is their propensity to experiment. A very popular grape in Washington is the Lemberger. Lemberger is an obscure variety from Germany that when planted in the Pacific Northwest, makes dark, spicy, and seductive wines. They have also spent some time experimenting with the grape Madeleine Angevine which is most widely planted in England! In Washington these wines can be very easy going, floral, and fruity whites.

Zev Rovine is the sommelier and resident cheese monger at the Spotted Frog Bookstore Cafe and Wine Bar where he teaches weekly wine classes. His wine education comes from the American Sommelier Association in New York City. He tries his very best not to spill the Pinot on the bestseller section. If you have any wine queries or comments, he is easily contacted via e-mail at zev@spottedfrogbooks.com .


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