Truly enjoying wine is by its nature both social and experiential. Bringing together friends to open that special bottle brings an added element of satisfaction to the occasion. Another method to enhance your wine appreciation experience is through travel. Living in the southwest we are fortunate to be within easy striking distance to most of the best wine regions the United States has to offer. Visiting wineries, walking through the vineyards and having an opportunity to speak with winemakers provide unique insights and context that enriches one’s wine drinking experience. Another benefit to wine travel is the opportunity to sample wines from smaller, craft producers that aren’t typically available in our area.
I recently had an opportunity for a day trip to Woodinville, a Washington wine tasting destination located 20 minutes outside of Seattle. This area has become popular for the huge number of tasting rooms and small production wineries drawn to this area by the wine tourism generated from two large-scale production wineries that call Woodinville home. Much of the 16 million cases of wine produced annually in Washington actually come from grapes that are grown hundreds of miles away in the eastern half of the state. Many of the tasting rooms in Woodinville showcase wines that are produced in the Yakima, Columbia and Walla Walla Valleys or one of the other 10 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) in the state. Woodinville is home to more than 100 tasting rooms and with just a little research (www.woodinvillewinecountry.com) it is possible to identify a handful of tasting rooms that will appeal to your interests and can make your visit manageable. While in town I selected a few wineries that provided me a diversity of tasting experiences.
Chateau Ste. Michelle is the largest winery in Washington State and although the Woodinville facility focuses on white wine production, all of their wines can be sampled here. The estate is a destination in itself with beautiful grounds, a concert venue and department store sized tasting room and shop. Visitors can choose from among all of their portfolios starting with solid wines readily available in most grocery stores, to the premium Col Solare line - complex red blends that are produced in partnership with Italy’s Antinori family. While it is easy to become overwhelmed at Chateau Ste. Michelle it is a must visit while in the area.
Intermediate sized producers, such as DeLille Cellars and Obelisco Estate Winery offered a great experience on a smaller, genteel scale. Both tasting rooms offer diverse and very well made selections: DeLille specializes in wines made in an artisanal, French style and Obelisco produces complex, age worthy reds from vineyards in the Red Mountain AVA.
For a truly intimate experience I highly suggest visiting Adams Bench Winery. Located in a rural, residential setting and open only on Saturdays, you will most likely have an opportunity to speak with Tim or Erica Blu, the winery’s owners, who carefully craft Cabernet Sauvignons that are both concentrated and elegant. Unfiltered and matured in French oak these wines are refined expressions of the new world style of Cabernet.
Two Washington state wines that can be reliably found close to home and are my recommendations of the month are:
2014 Barnard Griffin Rosé of Sangiovese (Columbia Valley AVA): This is a serious, attractively priced, dry Rosé. The 2015 vintage recently won the Sweepstake Award for best Rosé at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. The wine possesses a deep, bright color with intense red fruit aromas and flavors. Retailing for about $14, it has recently been available at World Market, but don’t delay as I suspect it will be in demand. Served chilled this is a great afternoon wine for the monsoon driven humidity in August.
2013 DeLille Cellars D2 (Columbia Valley AVA): This Merlot-based red blend has characteristics reminiscent of a Grand Cru Classe red from St. Émilion, but with a more accessible, riper fruit profile typical of wines from Eastern Washington. The wine is fresh and flavorful with a full body, possessing aromas of dark berry and cassis with elements of sweet spice, and well-integrated oak notes. This wine would complement steak or roast beef and falls into the category of a special dinner wine; opened and enjoyed when good friends come in from out of town. It is currently available at Total Wine for $43.99.
Tom Oetinger holds an advanced certification in wine & spirits from the WSET in London, England