Columbia Valley covers 99% of the vineyard area in the state of Washington and offers a fascinating study in what wine geeks like to call “terror”. These conditions can include climate, soil type, and even unique plant characteristics.
In the Columbia Valley the terror includes conditions like 300 days of sunshine a year and a desert-like annual rainfall of just 6–10 inches. The area also boasts a 40 degree diurnal shift, which is the difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures.
Large differences in daytime and nighttime temperatures are wonderful for growing grapes. Columbia Valley also has extremely unique soil types caused by the Missoula Floods during the Ice Age 20,000 years ago.
These soils allow vines to thrive and also impart unique mineral characteristics to the grapes. Costco delivers a Red Mountain Cab at an unheard of price, the North Forty-Six Cabernet Sauvignon.
A sparkling rosé made from 100% Sarah from the Buckshot vineyard in … Developed by Long Shadows founder Allen Shop and named after Shop’s granddaughter, Dazzle is crafted by Wall Walla-based winemaker Gilles Pinault using Pilot Gris fruit (which takes on a pink hue as it ripens) from across the Columbia Valley.
The bowling-pin shape of the bottle is striking, and the wine inside is even better, offering a dry, brisk mix of melon and citrus fruit, finishing clean and refreshing. Fest 2016 Feral Avignon Blanc Ancient Lakes, Evergreen Vineyard, $20 Our White Wine of the Year, also the winner of our Best Avignon Blanc category, from Woodinville-based Fest, underscores the argument that Evergreen Vineyard, in the Ancient Lakes AVA, is Washington’s finest site for white wines.
The core of pure marionberry fruit is complicated by savory threads galore: green olive, nor, and bacon fat, to name a few. Winemaker Bob Bertha and his team craft this wine mostly from the warm Warlike Slope AVA, and the flavors tend toward riper stone and tropical fruits.
Judicious use of new oak (35 percent) adds subtleties of vanilla and baking spice to a dry, balanced, attractive Chardonnay. Michelle 2015 Chardonnay Columbia Valley, Cold Creek Vineyard, $30 The grand master strikes again, with Bob Bertha and his Woodinville-based Château Ste.
Michelle’s crown jewels, and it was fermented dry and raised entirely in French oak, 61 percent new. The warm 2015 vintage shines through in the ripe, luscious, citrus fruit, complicated by smoky oak and ready lees notes.
Abuja 2016 Chardonnay, Washington State, $40 Abuja Chardonnay has long been a benchmark white wine for Washington, and Wall Walla-based Dan Sampler and Amy Alvarez-Wampfler keep the tradition going with this gorgeous vintage, drawn from a trio of vineyards scattered across the state: Cello, Conner Lee and Abuja’s own estate Mill Creek Vineyard. Long Shadows 2016 Poet’s Leap Riesling Columbia Valley, $20 Wall Walla-based Gilles Pinault (in collaboration with German winemaker Armin Died) takes his second prize this year (he also made our rosé winner, Julia’s Dazzle) with Long Shadows’ classic reference-point Washington Riesling, drawn from sites across the Columbia Valley.
The layered fruit (lime, tangerine, peach) is complicated by persistent generality and balanced by a striking vein of acidity. Pairs With: A loaded baked potato, bursting with pardons and melted cheddar.
Sparkling wine is in its nascence in Washington, with the scene still mostly dominated by the longtime winner in this category, Ste. Nevertheless, we see more and more boutique bubbles popping up each year, and we intend to continue evaluating this small but quickly growing (and delicious) category of wine.
This is an approachable bubbly, with lemon and apple fruit, and the generous dose adds a kiss of sweetness to balance the wine’s high natural acidity. Savage Grace 2016 Sarah Yakima Valley, Red Willow Vineyard, $28 This year’s Winemaker to Watch, Woodinville-based Michael Savage, scores a win in the mid-range Sarah category with his single-vineyard offering from Red Willow Vineyard.
The complexity here is off the charts, as notes of berry and flower and meat and mineral interweave harmoniously. Crane is a master of texture, and his Sarah manages to convey wonderful intensity with its moderate (13.7 percent) alcohol.
Marty Club and Mike Sharon source Merlot (along with small amounts of Cabernet Franc, Male and Petite Vermont) from 10 vineyard sites scattered across Washington and masterfully blend them into a balanced package bursting with black cherry fruit, mocha and violets. For many vintages, Pepper Bridge’s Merlot is an imposing beast that takes years to unwind.
Not so for the warm 2015 vintage, which offers loads of pleasure up front in its densely packed layers of black cherry and fig fruit. As with all the reds in the Collins/Tranche family, this is notable for its extended bottling time, which adds complexity and allows tannins to soften.
Blackberry and blueberry fruit is shot through with persistent mineral streaks and framed by fine-grained, rapidly integrating tannins. Pairs With: Portabello burgers topped with roasted peppers and slathered with miss mayo.
Cabernet Sauvignon comprises 87 percent of this wine, the remainder being Petite Vermont and Merlot, sourced primarily from Red Mountain. This powerful red is a melding of blackcurrant fruit with subtleties both herbal (bay leaf, rosemary) and savory (black olive).
The result is an exotic mix of spice (star anise especially) and citrus peel, plum and violet. The Grenade shines through with notes of brambly berries and dried herbs, and the texture is lovely here, supple and seamless.
Despite the warm 2015 vintage, this wine dazzles with the purity and freshness of its red fruit flavors and floral tones. Seattle Magazine's Washington Wine Awards program is produced and managed by Bashar Shaman.
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VIRTUAL BOOK CLUB Last Thurs of month EMAIL JEN Join Our Email List We are a first-generation winemaking family working together to craft outstanding, classically-styled Washington wines that are meant to share the table with great food, friends, and family.
Our goal is to let every Armstrong wine express the unique character of the vineyards and the many fascinating people who are part of each bottle’s story. We invite you to learn more about our winery, enjoy our stories, visit our Wall Wall or Joinville tasting rooms, and discover wines to enjoy for years to come.
An important wine growing state increasingly recognized for its high-quality reds and whites, Washington ranks second in production in the U.S. after California. Washington wines continue to gain well-deserved popularity as they garner higher and higher praise from critics and consumers alike.
Irrigation is made possible by the Columbia River. Temperatures are extreme, with hot and dry summers and cold winters, during which frost can be a risk.
Washington’s wine industry was initially built on Merlot, which remains an important variety to this day, despite having been overtaken in acreage planted by Cabernet Sauvignon and Sarah. Bordeaux blends and Rhone blends are common as well as single varietal bottling.
Washington's reds tend to express a real purity of concentrated fruit. The best examples have a bold richness, seamless texture, plush or powdery tannins and flavors such as licorice, herb, forest floor, espresso and dark chocolate.
In terms of white wine, Riesling is the state’s major success story, producing crisp, aromatic examples with plenty of stone fruit that range from bone dry to lusciously sweet. Chardonnay and Avignon Blanc perform nicely here as well, and Pioneer is beginning to pick up steam.
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