01/24/07 – Washington (part 1 of 2)

By Jesse on January 22, 2007


Well, it seems we finally did it: like some post-modern Lewis and Clark, we’ve reached the last wine-producing state in the USA, thus completing our yearlong exploration of all the major wine regions of the world.  Specific to our arrival in Washington, I believe the appropriate metaphorical concept might be “Manifest Destiny”: the whole of the country is now under the dominion of the Young Winos of LA.  (That’s not true, of course.  States like New York, Virginia, and Texas also have significant wine production.  However, given the relative difficulty people have had finding wine from even a state as prolific as Oregon, I think that once we’ve completed the three Pacific seaboard states, any further US wine exploration would best be saved for “bring a wine from your home state” day.)

One would expect Oregon to be colder than California, since it’s further north — and it generally is.  By that logic, Washington should be colder than Oregon.  However, as we saw in California — where some of the warmest regions in the state (like Napa or Lodi) are far north of cooler regions (like Santa Barbara) — the topography plays a much bigger part in determining the climate of a particular wine regions.  While some parts of Washington may indeed be cooler than Oregon, remember that Oregon’s wine production is centered in the Willamette Valley, on the ocean side of the Cascade mountains, resulting in a cool maritime climate.  By contrast, Washington’s wine regions are mostly on the inland side of the Cascades, and thus receive almost no rain at all.  As the Bible explains: “were it not for several cold mountain rivers (Columbia, Snake, etc.), eastern Washington would be a virtual desert.”  Also, since it’s further north, the vines get an average of two more hours of sunlight per summer day than vines in Napa.  While that means the grapes are always warm, it’s never too hot — again, since it’s that far north — and the combination of sun, warmth, and lack of severe heat makes the grapes ripen very easily, which “contributes to a wine’s elegance and finesse.”  Got it?

       This week we start with the whites.  There’s a lot to choose from in Washington if you take the time to look and maybe ask your friendly liquor merchant for his help in getting you drunk creatively.  The most widely-planted white grape is Chardonnay, as we might expect.  Other familiar names include Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Semillon.  (The Bible claims that the Gewurztraminer made in Washington state is often not worth the money.)  You may find a nice Chardonnay-Semillon blend.  Those who are feeling adventurous should seek a bottle of Washington’s obscure white grape, Madeleine Angevine.  This is a rare, floral-tasting white that is mostly grown in England.  Talk about obscure.  Finally, there are good dessert wines in Washington, including dessert Semillons, and also Muscat Canelli, the grape we tasted at Keyways in Temecula, among other places.

Please feel free to bring any of the varietals listed above, or any other Washington white that you manage to find.  In terms of region, we’re going to take the state as a whole, but we will discuss the different appellations in the meeting. The Yakima Valley is home of some of the best wineries, while the Columbia Valley is the largest and easiest to find in stores.  The two remaining AVAs, Puget Sound and Walla Walla, are quite small.

We’ll be meeting at Noah and Sasha’s apartment in Santa Monica.  Chill your bottle of white, bring some tasting notes if you can find them, and wear a smile…. as we all know, Washington is a depressing place.  See you Wednesday at 9pm!