So what does a California boy think of these furrin' wines?
|image from downtownseattle.com|
This is an annual two-day tasting affair. It's fairly expensive to attend, but very well done in a huge building with plenty of space. There were also food vendors and the eats were excellent. There were food demos going on throughout the afternoon.
There were a lot of wines in the $15 to $25 range at the tasting, more than I would find at a local Sonoma/Napa tasting event. I was sampling mostly the $30-and-up wines. Quite a few wines poured topped $50; the most expensive I saw was $89.
I didn't taste many whites-- a handful of bubblies, a couple Rieslings, a couple white blends, and a few Chardonnays. The Chards were pretty good. The most expensive Chardonnay there was oaked and buttered beyond recognition in the true California style of the 1990s, but most were pretty clean tasting.
Tasted (and spit) lots of reds--mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Cab blends, Merlot, Syrah, and Syrah blends. First word I would use is "tannins." Lots of mouth-drying tannins. Over-the-top with tannins. Guess I made my point. Not all, but most of the Cabernet Sauvignons fell into this category. The weather in WA is different that CA so there you go. Even the Merlots were a bit tannic.
The Cabernet Francs were pretty good and it seemed like the better deal to stick with the ones in the $30s rather than going for the expensive versions.
The Syrahs and Syrah blends are where Washington does best. The GSM blends may be the star of Washington. A number of the Bordeaux-style blends were quite nice, too, as the blending seemed to cure the tannins on some of these.
I found the prices to generally be a little less expensive than California. WA has a reputation for this. From my limited knowledge on these two days of tasting I'd say the sweet spot is probably in the $15 to $30 range.
I generally liked the red wines from the Red Mountain appellation. Per a Washington state web site, Red Mtn is a desert climate with very little rainfall and summer temps of 90 degrees during the day, but dropping to 50 at night. That cool nighttime temp is probably a key factor.
I drink northern California wines almost exclusively so my tastes are trained for this style of wine. So that's my disclaimer because IMO Washington has a ways to go to be truly competitive in the premium price range. Where they do well is in less expensive wines, definitely with Syrah, and maybe Cabernet Franc.
Washington's wine industry is young and small compared to California's. They are in a period of rapid expansion and are maybe still finding their way in the world of premium wines. We met lots of nice people and wish them luck!