Taste Washington: A Carnival for Washington Wine Lovers
March 16, 2011 by Doug Haugen
Just a dozen years ago, in 1999, Washington State was the proud home of 160 bonded wineries. Nine years later, when we started this little publication in June 2008, the list had grown to an exciting roster of over 540 wineries. We observed and celebrated as that number hit 600, and now the number is climbed well into the 700s.
These numbers speak to Washington’s enthusiasm for vino, but what does it say about quality? We’re not the only ones that have been singing the praises of Washington Wine, some of the biggies have too. In September of last year, the Washington Wine Commission reported that Jay Miller of Wine Advocate, one of America’s most influential wine publications, rated 469 Washington wines above 90 points, up 40% from 2009. He also put 561 wines on the recommended list, up almost 45% from the year before. He had nice things to say, too: Riesling “is capable of big things in Washington,” and “the overall quality of Washington Merlot is high and better on average than that produced in Napa and Sonoma.” He said that Cabernet Sauvignon “leads the parade,” that Cab Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot have “become hot tickets,” and that “in due time Syrah is likely to approach the Bordeaux varieties in overall quality.”
In December, Wine Spectator wrote:
The state may still be better known for apples and computer codes, but over the past couple of decades it has become a world-class wine region, and one that is only going to get better with time. Whether you favor Riesling or Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah, Washington can deliver pure fruit flavors and distinctive character at prices that won’t break the bank.
Of course, all of this is just preaching to the choir. We in Washington have known this for quite some time, and we’ve been enthusiastically imbibing in the juice as if each vintage, each glass, was our last.
The fact is, for those who love Washington wine, it’s been a little difficult to keep up with the rapid pace of expansion. It’s a challenge to keep up with the current releases of all your favorite wineries, let alone try all the new ones. Every wine event I go to, like the recent Seattle Food and Wine Experience, Exotic Wines Festival and Taste Walla Walla, I circle the room looking for wineries I haven’t tried before, then new wines from old favorites. It’s no easy task, but a worthwhile and delicious one.
I write about a lot of wine events, it’s true, but perhaps the mother of all wine events in the state–the summum bonum–comes to us in the form of Taste Washington.
Organized by the Washington Wine Commission, the Grand Tasting on March 27 at the Qwest Field Event Center includes hundreds of Washington wineries (too many to list here), each pouring a variety of selections from their portfolios. You cannot possibly taste vino from every exhibitor (believe me, I gave it a run the first time I attended, and failed), but the enormous number of wineries presents your best opportunity to taste what you’ve been longing to try, and discover all the new kids on the block that will be your favorites tomorrow.
The restaurant list is impressive as well, offering bites from eateries that are sure to entice you through their doors once Taste Washington is long over. Not only is the nosh a necessity when tasting through so many wines, but it’s a sweet and savory addition to a larger Taste experience that encompasses the gastronomic gamut.
While the Washington Wine Commission’s purpose is “to raise positive awareness of the Washington State wine industry and generate greater demand for its wines,” their tactics aren’t limited to parking you squarely in front of a bank of Washington wines. On the contrary, the Commish facilitates a larger exploratory and educational conversation about Washington wine that begs for participation. On Saturday, March 26, there are a variety of seminars at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center that do just that. It will be difficult to choose between the seminars that occur in the same time slot, like between the morning session’s “Washington’s Emerging Varieties: Grenache Panache” presented by Seattle Magazine, and ” Common Ground: A Seven Hills Vineyard Investigation,” or the afternoon session’s “In Search of Washington’s Singular Style” and “With a Rebel Yell: Washington’s Rock-N-Roll Winemakers.” There are actually four seminars in each session, all of which are worth attending, and with your ticket price for either session, lunch by Michael Mina is included.
Following the seminars is the 5th Annual Winemaker’s Dinner at the Washington Athletic Club featuring keynote speaker Bob Betz, Master of Wine and the wines of Betz, L’Ecole, Kiona, Barnard-Griffin, Tsillan, Long Shadows Vintners, and Pepperbridge, all award winners in Seattle Magazine’s 2010 wine awards.
All in all, Taste Washington is more than just a wine event, but rather a carnival or mardi gras for Washington wine and food lovers. If the WWC is trying to deliver the Washington wine message, consider Taste Washington Weekend both an epistle and a gift. No lesson ever tasted so good.