Eastern European Spotlight: Croatian & Slovenian Wine

So since I've been hitting on wine producing countries and regions new to the global market, I look to keep the trend growing by introducing Croatia and Slovenia.  Both countries were formerly a part of Yugoslavia and are located just west of Italy.  Both countries have long been favorite European vacation spots and are experiencing prosperity.  Slovenia was admitted into the EU in 2004 and Croatia is targeted to enter next year.  Slovenia has mainly a continental climate with hot summers and cold, dry winters, though there is a bit of Mediterranean influence in the west.  Croatia has a Mediterranean coastal climate of long hot, dry summers and some wine being made inland with a continental influence.  Basically this means that along with good soil they have the capability to make some very good wine.

As far as grapes go, Slovenia uses Bordeaux and Burgundian varietals along with Riesling and some Italian varietals like Barbera, Refosco (known as Teran), Malvasia (Malvazija), Friulano, Glera and Ribolla Gialla (Rebula).  They also grow many indigenous varietals like Pinela, Šipon (Furmint), Kraljevina and Štajerska Belina.  They also have unique styles of wine: Cviček, a light, easy drinking wine made with white and red grapes, and Kraški Teran, a deep, dark red wine with low alcohol and high acid.

In Croatia, they also use Bordeaux, Rhone and Burgundian varietals along with Riesling and Italian varietals Barbera, Nebbiolo, Malvasia (Malvazija) and Trebbiano.  They also use MANY indigenous varietals like Bogdanuša, Grk Bijeli, Plavac Mali and Crljenak Kaštelanski, which is the father of Zinfandel.  They also use Vranec (known as Vranac), a Macedonian varietal known to create very dark red wines full of berry flavor and local Balkan character.

I have a list of some wines you may start seeing in restaurants or wine shops that you may like to try:

  • Saints Hill Winery- Very impressive Croatian wines.  They make their white "Nevina" in Istria with a blend of Malvazija and Chardonnay.  It's rich and full-bodied with minerality, citrus and tropical flavor along with a creamy texture.  Their red "Dingač" hails from the Pelješac peninsula on the southern coast.  It is made from Plavac Mali, an ancestor of Zinfandel, and has dark and dried fruit flavor with pepper spice and mocha.  It is full-bodied, has smooth tannins, a lengthy flavor and aging potential.
  • Matošević Winery- This winery also makes extremely high quality Croatian wine, mainly from Istria.  They have a stainless steel fermented Malvazija, Alba, which exhibits clean, easy drinking wine with citrus and mineral flavor with almond notes.  They make two Malvazija wines aged in oak, Alba Robinia in Istrian acacia barrels and Alba Barrique in French oak.  These wines are richer, with the Robinia tasting a bit smoky, while the Barrique exhibits caramel.  Their Chardonnay, Aura, is unoaked, light and refreshing.  Their Grimalda wines are blends, the white made of Chardonnay, Malvazija and Sauvignon Blanc, and the red made of Merlot and Refosco (Teran).  Both are excellent wines, and the red is smooth with integrated tannins, minerality, dark berry and oak spice.  This is a must try lineup!
  • Piquentum Winery-  Another Istrian winery which makes Malvoisie (Malvazija) full of pear, chalk and a touch of mint flavor.  Their Teranum is made of Refosco (Teran) is stainless steel fermented with natural fruit flavor, licorice and bright acidity.
  • Verus Winery- Slovenian winery using white grape varietals of Furmint, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.  The Furmint is the most interesting and very refreshing with high acidity and peach flavor.  Their Riesling resembles the German style of off-dry, slatey and full of lime, while the Sauvignon Blanc resembles the Loire with minerality and light citrus.

I am very impressed by the Croatian wines I've tasted and am looking forward to trying more Slovenian.  This is very promising as the world of wine continues to expand with different countries, styles and varietals.  Let me know if you've tried these or others, and let me know what you think!

Austrian Wines

It seems everyone is looking for the next new to the market wine producer, and Austria is definitely one of my favorites.  Though they seem new to the world market, they have a history that can be traced by four thousand years.  They were popular in past centuries and were the third largest producer in the world as recently as post World War I.  Unfortunatley, they produced mainly diluted bulk wine, but that changed with government regulations calling for smaller yields, technological advancement and more dry and red wine production.

Austria mainly grows Grüner Veltliner (36%), a white grape varietal with mineral, peach and pepper characteristics renowned for its food-friendly character.  They also produce Riesling and Müller-Thurgau, which is known to be light-bodied and full of green apple and mineral notes.  They are starting to be known for reds, which account for 30% of total production.  Zweigelt accounts for most of it and makes long lasting wines with jammy, cherry flavor along with pepper and soft tannins.  Blaufränkisch (also known as Lemberger) is another serious red making wines higher in tannins with dark fruit and spice notes.  Also made is Pinot Noir, known as Blauerburgunder.

I recently received a couple of samples, and here's how they scored:

2008 Forstreiter Gruner Veltliner Schiefer Kremstal DAC Reserve ($21).  This is a serious white with medium plus acidity, meyer lemon and tropical fruit flavor along with a touch of white pepper, slatey minerality and lemongrass.  Long flavor length and is surprisingly creamy on the palate.  (91 WG)

2007 Tinhof Blaufrankisch Bergenland ($20).  A light-bodied wine full of ripe dark cherry, red peppercorn, and cinnamon along with herbs and minerality.  (86 WG)

A few of my favorites also include Domäne Wachau Riesling Smaragd "Terrassen", Prager Riesling Federspiel, Paul Achs Zweigelt Langer Acker, Heinrich Blaufrankisch and Szigeti Sekt sparkling wines.  I highly recommend trying Austrian wines as I have found them to be, on the average, the highest quality wines in the world.  Ein Prosit!

Santorini Wines

SantoriniA few weeks back I worked with a corporate client on a Greek wine tasting at Athena Restaurant.  The wines are very fun because not only are there some great indigenous grape varietals but there's also alot of wine history.  Earliest evidence shows that wine has been produced in Greece since at least 6500 BC, and also held high prestige in trading during the Roman Empire.  Today, quality is stepping up in many regions, with wines made from Assyrtiko, Moschofilero, Roditis, Muscat, Agiorghitiko, Xinomavro and Mavrodaphne grapes.

I also recently received some samples of wines from the volcanic island of Santorini.  Most farmers grow Assyrtiko, which makes white wines known to be citrusy and full of minerality, though Athiri and Aidani are grown as well.  Due to the fact it is such a small island, Santorini does not produce alot of wine, but produces even less because of low humidity, high temperatures and age of their vines- they're ancient!  But they are able to make high quality white wines and sweet wine known as Vinsanto, which is made from the local grapes being sundried and aged for long periods in oak.  Here's a bit about the wines I tried:

2008 Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko ($22).  A well made white with mouth-watering acidity, lemon, minerality, chalk, salinity and a hint of both grapefruit and tropical flavor.  Would be great with shellfish.  (89 WG)

2008 Santo Wines Nykteri Reserve ($20).  This is a blend of the three white varietals: Assyrtiko, Athiri and Aidani, which are aged in oak for 9 months.  There are bold citrus like meyer lemon and gold grapefruit along with toasted oak spice and cinnamon.  Lacked the great acidity of the former wine, but had a very lengthy flavor.  (88 WG)

Estate Argyros Oak Fermented Assyrtiko ($25).  100% Assyrtiko oak fermented and aged for 6 months.  Acidic bite of lemon, along with almonds and spicy persimmon.  Also has a buttery mouthfeel with vanilla flavor.  I like this with grilled chicken and smoked, mild cheeses.  (89 WG)

1999 Canava Roussos Vinsanto ($188).  This wine is made of all three white varietals which were sundried for 15 days and aged for four years.  Extremely concentrated dried figs, golden honey, toasted nuts, vanilla bean and candied oranges are all jumping out onto your tastebuds.  A very good dessert wine, but many good Vinsanto wines can be had for much less.  (91 WG)

Red wines are also being made on the island from the Mavrotragno and Mandilaria varietals, creating wines much like Zinfandel with jammy red fruit with a hint of berry sweetness and spice.  There is much to be said about these wines as well as many others from Greece as well, as they are currently stepping up quality, technology and production.  We'll look forward to seeing more from this emerging wine country.

Beaujolais AOC and its Wines

So after the awesome tasting I attended of the 2009 vintage Beaujolais wines, I thought it would be a great idea to tell a little about the region the wines come from.  There are many people who like these light and fruity wines, but there's alot more to learn about them- first of all, it's not all Nouveau!  The Gamay grapes used to make Beajolais Nouveau are grown on the high alkaline clay-lime soils of southern Beaujolais.  Just to the north there are 38 villages which make up the Beaujolais-Villages AOC where the grapes are grown on schist, sandy loam and granite.  Finally, you have the ten different "Crus".  They are able to produce higher quality wines which can age anywhere from 3-10 years.  Also, a very small percentage of white wine from Aligote and Chardonnay, while Pinot Noir and rosé wines are produced as well.

The Gamay Noir varietal is a cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais, which was introduced to French soil by the Romans, who started wine production in the region, later to be carried out by the Benedictine Monks.  Gamay was grown all throughout Burgundy and was a huge asset around the time of the Black Plague, as it was easy to cultivate and ripened earlier, giving more and faster fruit to many starving people.  However, due to it's extremely thin skin and harsh acidity, it was not seen as being noble like Pinot Noir, and was eventually pushed out of most of Burgundy to the south, where it flourished on granite soil. 

The name "Beaujolais" hails from the 9th century and a village called Bogenis, a Celt word meaning "fine white bull".  That named was later Latinized, first to Bellibocus, and later to Beaujeu, before it finally became Beaujolais.  In the 19th century, it grew in fame with the expansion of the railroad, and became known for making lower priced wines which required less aging.

Wine production in the area is very unique, as grape clusters are picked by hand and put through carbonic maceration.  The clusters are placed in stainless steel tanks, the bottom third grapes are crushed by the weight of the grapes on top of them, releasing juices which are fermented by native yeasts on their skins.  This releases CO2, which pushes O2 out the top, creating an anaerobic environment.  This triggers fermentation inside the other grapes at an intracellular level.  The grapes are all later crushed, but this process changes the wine's profile: malic acid is significantly decreased, pH is increased, glycerol levels increase ten-fold which brings up the potential alcohol, tropical flavors like banana become highly detectable.  This produces wines are ready to drink, low in tannins and very fruity.

Church of RégniéBeaujolais Nouveau is a very basic red wine, fruity, light bodied and made to drink chilled.  Beaujolais-Villages can be had for a few dollars more (around $10) and while it is very drinkable, it has more body and some darker fruit flavor.  The Crus each have their own character, are available around $12-20, and are much more complex:

  • Régnié.  This region is named after the Roman nobleman Reginus who formerly owned much of the commune.  The grapes are grown on pink granite sand and small amounts of clay.  It's the newest addition to Cru status (1988) and is renowned for it's floral, fruity scents and cherry flavor.  Normally ages up to three years.
  • Chiroubles.  It's the highest in altitude of all the Crus with soil comprised of granite and recognized for violet aroma.  Normally ages up to three years.
  • Brouilly.  This is the largest Cru, accounting for 20% of all Cru wine, and located at the foot of Mont Brouilly.  Silky tannins, plum and minerality highlight the wines, which age up to three years.
  • Côte de Brouilly.  Grown on soils made by the extinct volcano Mont Brouilly, the wines made here are more complex, balanced with minerality and fruit.  Normally ages up to four years.
  • Chénas.  Named for the Roman nobleman Canus, this is the rarest Cru with only 270 hectares of vineyard.  It has tremendous amount of black fruits and is so floral, it's said to be "a bouquet of flowers in a velvet basket".  Renowned for rose scents.  Normally ages up to ten years but can last fifteen.
  • Fleurie.  Ideally backed onto a chain of peaks, this Cru is known as the "Queen of Beaujolais" for it's refinement and nobility.  It produces wines with silky tannins and velvety texture.  Normally ages up to ten years but can last sixteen.
  • Saint-Amour.  Graduated up to Cru status in 1946 thanks to a self taught shepherd-turned-winegrower named Louis Dailly.  The grapes are grown on granite and flint and make wines with aromas of peach and red fruit.  Normally ages up to ten years but can last twelve.
  • Juliénas.  Named for Julias Caesar who once passed through, the grapes are grown on pink granite and schist.  The wines have spice and pepper with loads of fruit and aroma of peonies.  These wines easily age up to ten years.
  • Morgon.  The wine made here is such a great expression of its terroir that the French sometimes describe it as "morgonne".  They stress the "rotten rock" soil (decomposed granite), its exposures and location.  Cherries, kirsch and an earthiness rivaling red Burgundy are present in the wine and easily age up to ten years.
  • Moulin-à-Vent.  This Cru takes its name from an old windmill which was used to mill grain up until the 19th century.  The soil contains a perfect amount of manganese, which normally is harmful to vines, but in this case controls yields.  The wines are normally aged in oak and are easily the longest aged- anywhere from 6-20 years.

90% of the wine produced is made by 30 different négociants like Louis Jadot, Bouchard Pére et Fils and Georges DuBoeuf.  The rest is made up of 20 different co-operative producers and estate bottlers, though both are very hard to find.

The wines are known to be "the only white wine that happens to be red" and is the perfect picnic wine.  They are also easily pairable with dishes many would only drink whites with like appetizers, fish and poultry.  Make sure to try these amazing wines and the value that they bring!

Washington Wine Region: Rattlesnake Hills AVA

Our next stop on the Washington wine trail takes us to Rattlesnake Hills AVA, forming the northern boundary of Yakima Valley AVA.  Wine grapes were first planted here in 1968 by

Chateau Ste. Michelle to make Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon, and has been growing great grapes ever since.  Other varietals include Merlot, Malbec, Syrah and Chardonnay.  The fine slopes, silt loam soil and altitude (rises up over 3500 feet above sea level) makes this a unique growing area, worthy of the AVA status it earned in 2006. 

Twenty-nine vineyards and 17 wineries now call this area home, including certified organic Morrison vineyard, producing excellent Merlot for Bonair Winery.  Other wineries include Agate Field VineyardMasset Winery, Claar Cellars and Two Mountain Winery.  Their wines aren't easy to find in the Chicagoland area, but you can order them off their websites.

Try some of these unique wines and make sure to stop by on your next trip to Yakima Valley!

Washington Wine Region: Red Mountain AVA

Following the Washington Wine Month theme, we're going to look at the state's best growing region: Red Mountain AVA.  This appellation grows fruit that is used to create world-class wines.  Some very special conditions offer one of the best spots in the world to grow grapes.

Let's start off by saying that Red Mountain is not actually a "mountain" but more of a slope.  The slope faces south, toward the sunlight, giving it more warmth and light than any part of the state.  It's located in the eastern portion of the Yakima Valley AVA.  The temperature drops sharply in the evening, great for keeping the acidity of grapes.  The Yakima River runs next to it, keeping cool air flowing.  Floods over 10,000 years ago left a rich gravelly topsoil full of nutrients, calcium carbonate and a high pH, all great to feed the vines.  The mountain gets its name from a grass called drooping brome, or cheatgrass, which turns red in the spring.

Its vineyards are some of the most renowned in the world.  They are Ciel du Cheval, Klipsun, Kiona, Taptiel and Grand Rêve Vineyards.  Though they were also allowed to use both Columbia Valley AVA and Yakima Valley AVA, farmers of these vineyards drove the region to its prominance and eventual AVA status in 2001.  Varietals grown here are Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese and its superstar: Cabernet Sauvignon.  Cabernet Sauvignon from this region was noticed to be more structured than fruity compared to other examples from the state and closely resembles Napa examples. 

Some of my favorite wineries are located or use fruit grown out of this region.  Excellent wineries include: Barnard Griffin, Hedges Family Estate, Blackwood Canyon Vintners, Terra Blanca Vinters, Cañon de Sol Winery, Columbia Crest and Col Solare, which is a joint venture between Chateau Ste. Michelle and Marchesi Antinori.  Some awesome producers who purchase fruit from Red Mountain vineyards include: Cadence, Betz Family Winery, Andrew Will, O S Winery, Seven Hills, L'Ecole No. 41 and Quilceda Creek, which made one of only 16 US wines to receive a perfect 100 score from Robert Parker.  You can only get their wines by gaining membership through a wait list, and I just put my name up for it- excited!

So next time you're thinking of purchasing some great wine, look for the Red Mountain AVA on the label!

Vibrant Rioja at MK

This week I went to a tasting sponsored by The ENYE Group and Vibrant Rioja at MK Restaurant highlighting the wines of Rioja.  The space is excellent for tastings, built in an old warehouse with a skylight that sprays sunshine throughout the space during the daytime.  It also has a bi-level ground floor which segments the tasting rather well.  They also always offer great pairings for the wines that are presented.  For this tasting they had spanish cheeses, ham and sausages, marinated octopus, dried fruits and almonds.  The tasting was very good and gave me the idea to write this post.  Let's talk about: What is Rioja?

Simple enough, Rioja is a region in north central Spain and it is also a name used for the wines which come from that region.  It's a great spot for growing wine grapes because it sits on a plateau 1500 feet above sea level, has a moderate continental climate, is segmented by the Ebro river (providing hydration) and is protected from northern Spain's typical harsh winds by the Cantabrian Mountains. 

The wine region is also divided into three different subregions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja.  Rioja Alta lies to the west at the highest elevation, creating a shorter growing season.  It's dominated by clay soils and gives more secondary "Old World" aroma and flavor along with lighter body to the wines.  Rioja Alavesa brings you to Basque country with local law and traditions granting new bodegas (spanish wineries) just north of the river.  Soil is comprised of limestone and the grapes grown here have higher acidity and allow for fuller body.  Tempranillo is the main grape grown in the two regions.  Rioja Baja is to the east, sits at lower altitude and has a more Mediterranean warmer climate.  Other grape varietals like Garnacha, Mazuelo and  Graciano flourish here and are used to blend with Tempranillo from Alta and Alavesa.  In recent years they've allowed Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to be planted here for blending as well.

Mostly red wines (85%) are made in the region, though rosé and whites are produced.  Red and rosé wine is comprised mostly of Tempranillo, 60% or more, and combined with the blending varietals from Rioja Baja.  White wine is made primarily from Viura (also known as Macabeo) blended with Malvasia and Garnacha Blanca.  The whites are made in two distinct styles, either light and fruity or barrel-fermented and full bodied. 

As far as aging is concerned, Rioja wines can be unoaked or aged in a barrel, along with being released immediately or after 5 or more years.  Age can be indicated on the label:

  1. Joven/Consecha: These wines are released immediately, unoaked and meant to be consumed within 2 years.  They are fresh, fruity and really express the vintage.

  2. Roble/Media Crianza: Aged 2-6 months in new oak.  Imparts alot of oak flavor and influence on the young wine.

  3. Crianza: The wine spends at least 1 year in oak and 1 year in the bottle before release.

  4. Reserva: These are specially selected wines aged at least 1 year in oak and 2 years in the bottle.

  5. Gran Reserva: These are made during special vintages only and aged at least 2 years in oak and 3 years in the bottle.

Many of these wines exhibit high acidity, ripe red fruit, earthiness and a decent amount of tannins, making them good food wines.  They pair well with charcuterie (sliced cured meats and sausages), goat and sheep milk cheeses, grilled fish and meats.

Do yourself a favor and get exotic, prep some tapas, drink Rioja and imagine yourself in Spain.  It's like a mini-vacation!

Washington Wine Region: Yakima Valley AVA

Our next Washington AVA is actually it's first, Yakima Valley.  It was founded in 1983, 1 year before Columbia Valley AVA, which encompasses it.  Most of the state's wine history resides in this valley, started by an immigrant from Alsace-Lorraine named Charles Schanno.  He used cuttings from an Oregon vineyard to start his own vineyard in 1869.  The torch was later passed to William B. Bridgeman, a Seattle attorney who brought about legislation, respect and modernization to Washington wine.  He drafted irrigation laws and planted his first vineyard in 1914.  After Prohibition he started Upland Winery (known today as Upland Estates) and helped create the Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center which became essential to expansion of Washington wine.  The valley exploded in the early 1980's and the AVA was created!  Now let's get to more facts and some of my favorite wineries:

The Valley is shadowed by the Cascade Mountains to the west which create a rain shadow effect, making irrigation critical to vine survival.  The Yakima River runs through the region on it's way to connect with the Columbia River and flow east.  The climate is cooler there with the growing season taking up half  the year.  Along with a loam soil, which allows for drainage and contains many nutrients , the conditions make an ideal spot to plant Chardonnay, which is the most grown varietal in the region.  Other varietals include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Riesling.  The region produces around 40% of state wine and contains one third of the state's vineyards.  In addition to wine, the region produces alot of fruit like cherries, peaches, pears, plums, apples and almost 80% of all hops grown in the US- yay beer! 

Three different AVAs reside in Yakima Valley: Red Mountain, Snipes Mountain and Rattlesnake Hills.  Each of these smaller appellations contain unique character which sets them apart.  They also create borders for the Yakima Valley, making a temperate climate.

Some excellent wineries are in the valley and are centered around three towns: Yakima, Zillah and Prosser.  A few of my favorites are Côte Bonneville, Hogue Cellars, Covey Run and Kana Winery.  If you make your way out to Washington be sure to stop at these spots along with the many other great wineries and vineyards!

Washington Wine Region: Walla Walla Valley AVA

As we continue through Washington Wine Month, our tour takes us deep into Columbia Valley to the Walla Walla Valley AVA.  It is located in the far southeast portion of the state, just east of junction between the Columbia River and Snake River.  It's one of the oldest wine producing regions in the state, sees the most sunlight, and also encompasses some of the greatest vineyards in the country.  A good portion of the valley stretches into Oregon, is that state's warmest region, and produces great Syrah.  Now let's check out some of the vineyards, wineries, and what makes this AVA different:

Walla Walla River Valley is a great place to grow wine grapes.  It sees between 190-220 days of sunlight per year along with hot days and cold nights.  The temperature range give great wine balance and the sunlight allows grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon (which makes up 41% of the region's varietals) enough time to mature.  Other varietals grown are Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc.  The soil composition is of loess, which is wind blown sand and clay, giving the soil excellent drainage.  The vines will dig deep for water and struggle, giving more concentration to fruit clusters. 

The charge to bring Walla Walla back to wine promenance after Prohibition began with the founding of Leonetti Cellar in the 70's, followed by Woodward Canyon Winery and L'Ecole No. 41 in the early 80's.  Shortly afterward, the region gained AVA status in 1984 with but three wineries and just over 60 acres planted.  Now there are over 100 wineries and 1800 acres planted!  Some of my favorite wineries include Tamarack Cellars, Dusted Valley Vintners, Dunham Cellars, K Vintners, Pepper Bridge Winery, Seven Hills Winery, and Isenhower Cellars, to name just a few.  Some of these wineries get their grapes from and own some of the best vineyards in the country like Cougar Hills, Woodward Canyon Estate, Seven Hills, Buty Rockgarden Estate, Mill Creek Upland, and Girasol.

All of this surrounds the city of Walla Walla.  If you get a chance, make your way up there, stay at a vineyard and visit these great wineries!

Washington Wine Region: Columbia Valley AVA

The Columbia Valley AVA was Washington's first American Viticultural Area (established in 1984) and is also it's largest, comprised of about 11,000 acres (1/3 of the state!).  The region also produces 99% of state wine grapes which includes Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Semillon and Merlot (the most planted varietal), along with many others.  It's an ideal locale for producing high quality wines with it's climate and soil. 

A great majority of the AVA resides in Washington, with a small portion dipping into northeastern Oregon.  It borders the Cascade Mountains in the west, shielding it from the heavy Pacific rains.  This makes an arid environment for the Columbia River Basin and its tributaries.

Many factors create extremely favorable conditions for wine grapes.  Lack of rain water forces vine roots deep into volcanic, loamy soils and allows farmers to control growth with irrigation.  The more the vines struggle the more they concentrate on the fruit clusters, making deeper, richer wines.  Days are hot and nights are cool, giving the grapes an excellent balance between acidity and sugar.  Due to the northern latitude, Washington also has a long growing season (over 6 months) and more hours of sunlight.  This gives farmers the opportunity to harvest later during cool temperatures.  This gives the grapes more mature aromas, flavors, tannins and potential.

The fact that the valley is so massive gives many possibilities for the existence of various microclimates.  This is one of the reason why Red Mountain, Yakima Valley, Walla Walla Valley, Wahluke Slope, Rattlesnake Hills, Horse Heaven Hills and Snipes Mountain are considered uniquely distinguished geographic growing areas.  We will be talking about these regions while we navigate through Washington Wine Month!

Washington Wine Country

Washington is so diverse, it's hard to believe you can fit it all in one state!  You have rain forests, beaches and cliffs in the west, mountain ranges in the middle, and desert-like conditions in the east.  Over 60% of the population lives in or near Seattle, with the rest around larger cities like Spokane, Tacoma, and agrarian epicenters.  Washington is a leading state for agriculture in the US and third in liters of wine produced per year, only behind California and New York.

Washington contains ten American Viticultural Areas (AVA), which are regions where the grapes grown are influenced by certain climates and geographic features.  Nine of the ten are east of the Cascade Mountains and produce 99% of the state's wine grapes.  The largest is the Columbia Valley AVA, which covers about one third of the state and is shared with Oregon.  Seven different AVAs are contained within Columbia Valley: Horse Heaven Hills AVA, Lake Chelan AVA, Rattlesnake Hills AVA, Snipes Mountain AVA, Wahluke Slope AVA, Walla Walla Valley AVA, and Yakima Valley AVA, with a few more awaiting acceptance.  The Columbia Valley was accepted as an AVA first, and each of these areas were discovered to contain unique features separating them from one another.

Columbia Gorge AVA is just west of the Columbia Valley and also runs into Oregon.  It is the most diverse of all and is known as a "world of wine in 40 miles".  On the other side of the Cascades, surrounding Seattle, is the Puget Sound AVA.  Only 1% of all wine grapes are planted here, but the state's largest wineries call this home, such as Chateau Ste. Michelle, Andrew Will, Betz Family, Cadence, and Quilceda Creek.

Look for upcoming posts with the spotlight on each of these regions!

Washington Wine History

Washington Wine Month continues with a bit of Washington wine history.  So everyone knows that Washington has become one of the greatest wine producing states in the US, but how and when did it start?  Well, it began all the way back in 1825, when traders from the Hudson's Bay Company brought in the first vines to Fort Vancouver. 

Eventually, Italian and German immigrants brought in their own wines and produced wine in the 1860s and 70s.  Italians from Puglia brought in the Ottavianello varietal, which is related to Cinsault (a French Rhone blending grape).  This little known grape is no longer grown in Washington (though Cinsault is), but a recent indigenous grape revival has put it back into production in Puglia.  In the Ostuni DOC, wines are made up of no less than 85% of the Ottavianello varietal!

Wine production continued until Washington became one of the first states to begin Prohibition in 1916 and all Vitis Vinifera vines were lost.  After Prohibition, Concord grapes were planted, mainly by the Nawico and Pommerelle wineries, and used to create fortified sweet wine.  Finally, in the 1950s, Washington State University began to replant Vitis Vinifera vines (Grenache being the first) and test which varietals grew best in local climates and soils.  Some professors eventually banded together in 1962 to create what is now Columbia Winery, while Nawico and Pommerelle combined to form Chateau Ste. Michelle, and both began to produce premium wines. 

In the 1970s, Washington found a new home for Cabernet Sauvignon.  This grape brought them national acclaim, with Leonetti Cellar being the best example in 1978.  More notariety would come with Chateau Ste. Michelle being named Best American Winery in 1988 and five Washington wines making Wine Spectator's Top 100 for the very first time in 1989.  Today Washington has 650 licensed wineries and countinues to grow every year.  The state has a colorful wine past and a bright future!

WBC or Bust!

I'm always up for a challenge, and wineCHATr.com is putting it out there: 12 citizen wine writers are being given the opportunity to catch a free ride across Washington to attend the Wine Bloggers Conference.

I will now be writing about Washington wine for the next month plus to try to win my behind a seat on that bus!  I've been crazy about Washington wines for quite some time now and for many reasons: good quality, great value, wide range of varietals and numerous subregions.  So I will be sharing my enthusiasm with all of you about this great state for wine.  We'll run through the regions, producers, history and my favorite wines.  So sit back, put your reading glasses on, pop open a bottle and get ready to learn about Washington!