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Wines for the Breaking Barriers seminar at Taste Washington. (Image: Sy Bean / Seattle Refined)

What we learned at Taste Washington

Another Taste Washington week comes to a close, but this wasn’t any ordinary Taste Washington, this was the 20th Anniversary of the Washington Wine industry’s biggest event. With the number of festivities surrounding Taste Washington Wine Month, and as it crested with this past weekend’s Grand Tasting, it was interesting and fascinating to see the trends of how the Washington wine industry has grown and evolved.

With 20 vintages of Taste Washington in the books, now is a good time as any to take a look at the Washington wine world and see how things stand now and in the future. One staggering bit of trivia is that there are now 900+ licensed wineries in the state of Washington. This is a huge increase as there were about 300 wineries in 2000. In terms of acreage, there are now over 50K acres of vines, compared to 30K in 2005. And of those acres, the 2016 vintage brought in a record of 270K tons of grapes. That’s a lot of wine. So much so that Washington is the 2nd largest wine producer in the United States.

Those were some facts of where Washington wine stands now, but what does the future look like? In attending seminars, events, and this weekend’s tasting, the future is very bright. While Washington is ingrained in the conscience of the modern wine drinker, the state’s wine industry is relatively young. Emerging varietals, finding the right vineyards, and the continued talent and drive of farmers and winemakers will continue to propel Washington wine forward. After spending the weekend experiencing Taste Washington, strolling the rows, and visiting the various wineries, here are some trends of Washington wine.

  • White Rhone Blends – Dozens upon dozens of wineries at Taste WA featured their takes on blends of white wine varietals of France’s Rhone Valley. Grapes like Viognier, Roussane, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, and Picpoul. These varietals exhibit unique and delicious traits that are unlike the standard white wines that most are used to. With Washington’s growing cycle of diurnal shifts, long days, and cool nights, these wines can fully develop their flavors to stand out amongst the crowd. Wines like the Roussanne from Warr-King (here is Kelly's story on Lisa Packer of Warr-King), the Nellie Mae White Rhone Blend from Cairdeas Winery, and Latta Wines’ Roussanne all were drinking well and should be on your short list to try.
  • White Bordeaux Blends – While Sauvignon Blanc is well known for a crisp and fresh white wine from Washington (it is the 3rd most planted white varietal in Washington), seeing more winemakers adding Semillon and playing with the ratios of the two grapes is exciting to see. The red wines of Bordeaux are the blockbusters, but these White Bordeaux blends should be experienced. These blends can run the gamut of light and biting from their acidity, or rich and layered. Auclair Winery’s Sauvignon Blanc from Artz Vineyard and their 96 Cedars White, along with Lauren Ashton’s Cuvee Meline and L’Ecole No. 41 are great examples of White Bordeaux and how it shows in Washington
  • More Cabernet Franc – Of the trends I spotted at Taste Washington, this is the one that I’m most excited by. Selfishly so as Cabernet Franc is one of my favorite single varietal wines. Famously known for their wines in France’s Loire Valley, Washington’s Cabernet Franc exhibits the medium body, savory notes, and fresh acidity that makes it so beloved by sommeliers and wine geeks. Ideal as a food pairing wine, more and more wineries in Washington are trying their hand with Cabernet Franc and I couldn’t be more thrilled. You should be too. Be sure to try the Bel Canto from Cadence, the Cabernet Franc from Chinook Wines, and Savage Grace Wines’ Cabernet Franc from Rattlesnake Hills to see what the fuss is all about with these wines. You will not be disappointed.
  • Vineyard Designate – While vineyard designate isn’t a new concept, it seemed that at this year’s Taste Washington wineries were making it a point to feature their single vineyard wines. To level set, single vineyard means just that; wine produced from a single vineyard rather than pulled from various vineyards. The idea is that this will display unique and distinct characters that give a sense of place for the wine; that elusive ideal of ‘terroir’. I’m excited for single vineyard wines as I enjoy discovering new vineyards and judging from winemakers throughout the state, so are they.

Those are just a handful of the trends that I spotted at this year’s Taste Washington Grand Tasting. I'll also mention the disparity in pricepoints. While not something I’m crazy about, the market is starting to see more and more bottles being offered north of the $50 mark. While some are very, very good, it validates the (at times) notion of wine being a luxury product. You may see more and more blending varietals now get center stage. Besides the aforementioned Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot from Sonoris Wines and B. Leighton showed the potential of this grape when wielded properly by the winemaker and from the right vineyard. Malbec is another blending grape getting a starring role at wineries like Col Solare, which shows the pinnacle of what Malbec can do with its flavors of dark berries and spice.

There you have it, trends I’m seeing in the Washington wine industry from a whirlwind of Taste Washington Wine Month. As Washington wine continues to evolve and reveal itself, it’ll be exciting and invigorating to see what’s in store for us. Judging by this past weekend, wine drinkers are in for quite a ride.

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