Discover the wines of Washington State

Washington State, nestled in the top left hand corner of the US in the Pacific Northwest region bordering Canada, is not necessarily the first wine region that comes to mind when you are looking for a nice fruity Riesling or perhaps a Bordeaux-blend, yet the state has some up and coming wineries that Jodie says were a delight to explore on her four day wine-finding mission.

Accompanied by Osetra Bay’s sommelier Franceso Sibilio, Jodie toured the farming region of Columbia Valley, Red Mountain and Walla Walla County, marveling at the scenery along the way.

“We would drive for hours through a vast plain above the mountains and only see endless wheat fields. Then suddenly, like an oasis in the desert, we’d come upon a little green patch of countryside that would be irrigated especially for grapes,” she confirms.

“Then as we dropped down into the valley there would be green fingers of land where the Columbia River springs up through the rocks providing further irrigation to this rain-parched land.”

Jodie says that the state is no stranger to wine-making but it wasn’t until the 1970s that it made a name for itself within the winemaking world with wines from Chateau St Michelle.

“Now, wine experts are watching as Washington state comes into its own,” she confirms.

Jodie describes the differences in style that come from the three main wine producing areas of the state: “Red Mountain produces more structured, Bordeaux-style wines while Columbia Valley produces more fruit forward wines. The single vineyard producers from these regions are making some truly interesting, complex and amazing wines. Walla Walla produces wines that bridge these two regions wine styles.”

Jodie says that there, the terroir is comprised of layer upon layer of volcanic and ice age mineral deposits, giving red wines a more complex structure and a white wines a lighter mineral finish.

“Watch out for wines from this exciting and up and coming region,” Jodie suggests. “You will be pleasantly surprised with the different types of wines you can discover.”

Luca restaurant provided the perfect cuisine against which to pair the wines, with a fantastic selection of charcuterie as an appetiser followed by tender lamb, tasty chicken and pasta that packed a delicious flavour punch, all served up for tasters to enjoy.

The wines
Domaine St Michelle Brut (CI$21.49)

Jodie gives some background to this winery: “Chateau St Michelle is the biggest winemaker in the region, overseeing 3,525 acres of its vineyards. They make fruity wines but with an old world style, so there is not too much oak involved. The winery own all their own vineyards and so get to choose from the best fruit across the board, selling left over grapes for grape juice or to other producers. Their whites are made fresh and clean to preserve the natural delicate fruit flavours.” 

The winery first created this sparkling wine in 1974 and has been perfecting it throughout the years. It’s made in the traditional Champagne method from 60 per cent Chardonnay and 40 per cent Pinot Noir grapes and offers a classic brut taste with lovely clean bubbles, Jodie offers. “This wine is aged in oak for 18 months prior to release and it makes a wonderful Champagne alternative.”

Francesco enjoys the creaminess of this wine and says: “It’s really pleasant to drink – it has the delicacy of Champagne with a beautiful finish.”

Hedges CSM Sauvignon Blanc (CI$19.49)
Perched on the edge of a beautiful rolling hill, falling away towards the Red Mountains, are the Hedges Family Estate vineyards. It’s a small, family-run business and patriarchs Tom and Anne-Marie have worked to build their winery from the roots up. 

This particular wine is brand new to the family: CSM stands for Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Marsanne, the grapes that make up this blend.

“Years ago Chardonnay was the predominant grape in the blend but now this brand new blend is mainly (77 per cent) Sauvignon Blanc, hence the name,” Jodie explains. “You get a lovely light zestiness from the Sauvignon Blanc, structure from the Chardonnay and softness from the Marsanne.

Jodie notes the lovely lychee and grapefruit notes on the nose while Francesco points to the tropical flavours on the palate.

“This is a soft wine that is not too acidic as with some Sauvignon Blancs,” he says. “It definitely has something that other Sauvignon Blanc wines cannot give.”

Eroica Riesling

Chateau St Michelle used the wine making techniques provided by the famous Mosel winemaker Ernst Loosen to help create this Riesling, the first five vintages of which earned a place in the Wine Spectator’s top 100, and in the past ten years the wine has almost always scored at least 90 points. 2008 is the 10th vintage and each berry is hand selected, to produce an elegant soft wine with the right amount of vibrant acidity.

“This Riesling has great acidity, it’s fruity and tangy,” Jodie says. “It’s approachable and is great drunk by itself or as a pair to food.”

L’Ecole Nº 41 Semillon (CI$19.49)

Built in 1915, the winery (formerly a schoolhouse) is located in historic Frenchtown, a small community just west of Walla Walla, Washington. Frenchtown derived its name from the many French-Canadians who settled the valley during the early 1800s who pioneered winemaking at that time. The name – L’Ecole Nº 41 – French for “the school” located in district No. 41 – pays homage to these ground breaking vintners.

L’Ecole Nº 41 has been making Semillon since 1983 and is recognised in the industry as one of the top producers of this varietal.

“The wine derives its mineral qualities from its surrounding terroir,” Jodie says. “The wine drinks well young but will also age well.”

“Don’t be put off by the nose,” warns Francesco, which does indeed have a somewhat musty, old cupboard smell, “as it’s clean with a great finish on the palate.”

Hedges Family Estate,
Red Mountain, CSM red (CI$19.49)

Hedges wines are French in style, lighter bodied than their California counterparts, well structured and reminiscent of earthy Bordeaux wines.

The red CSM stands for Cabernet Sauvignon (46 per cent), Syrah (6 per cent) and Merlot (48 per cent), and is a rich well structured wine with manageable tannins and earthy notes.

Also of note is a range produced by son Cristophe Hedges, which goes by the name of Independent Producers (so named because they eschew any ratings or marketing). They produce a Merlot and a Chardonnay, both retailing at CI$17.49. Blackbeards Roberto Logaio calls these wines the “singing” wines because once you’ve drunk them you cannot help but sing.

Merlot, Chateau St Michelle, Columbia Valley

Columbia Valley is an ideal spot for wine making as there is sparse rainfall so irrigation controls the growth of the vines. Jodie explains that this Merlot comes from Indians Wells vineyard, slightly to the south of the Columbia Valley, giving the wine a lush, fruit-driven and juicy style.

Northstar Merlot, Columbia Valley

This is 100 per cent Merlot, made by winemaker David Merfeld, who produces very small amounts of each wine, each of which is handcrafted from single vineyard grapes. All wines are only 100 per cent varietals; they don’t produce any blends. Jodie says this is Northstar’s flagship wine and is rich, concentrated and elegant, with lovely spicy, licorice notes, big earthy tannins, a great structure and a dry finish.

Uriah, Bordeaux blend, Spring Valley

This wine is made from 54 per cent Merlot, 33 per cent Cabernet, 7 per cent Petit Verdot and 6 per cent Malbec and the grapes are grown in a 40-acre vineyard situated 1200 to 1500 feet above sea level in Walla Walla County.  The land has been owned by the Corkrum family for five generations, and the bottle labels bear the image of first generation winemakers who also lend their names to the wines. Initially the ground was laid over to wheat farming but over the years vines replaced the wheat, to increasingly greater success.