What we’re drinking: Washington wines

Mary writes:

At Taste Washington, we took advantage of a couple of the seminars that were available. Not only could we sit and sip fabulous wines at eleven in the morning but the panelists are industry giants.

Saturday I attended the Intro to the World of Wine seminar because Washington vs. the World was sold out. And amazingly after 27 years in the industry, I learned more about what makes Washington wines so special.

Dr. Kevin Pogue, geology professor at Whitman College has written a few papers regarding the soils of eastern Washington from a different perspective. He thinks Washington has a unique place in the world of wine. And the terrior, which includes soil, has everything to do with that uniqueness.

There are very few vineyards in the world planted on loess with basalt bedrock.  Pronounced luss, and loosely translated means loose. This is silt-sized sediment, which is the accumulation of wind-blown dust left over from the Missoula Floods. Basalt is heavy and creates a warmer climate. This is what makes Washington wines so special. And so resistant to phylloxera, the dreaded root louse.

Benches of basalt are now covered in vineyards. Great examples would be the Wallula Gap or Horse Heaven Hills.

Thomas Price, Master Sommelier at The Metropolitan Grill and Linda Murphy, author of “American Wine, An Honest Drink” talked about the deductive process of tasting wine.

“You have to build up the card catalogue in your memory,” Price said. And to each their own card catalogue.

This was emphasized when they both described the flavors of the Kung Fu Girl Riesling 2012 hailing from Ancient Lakes AVA’s Evergreen Vineyards. It’s composed of calcium carbonate that adds limestone to the soil. That limestone element results in more mineral than fruit flavors in a wine. It’s also important to note that the lime flavors Price was describing, Murphy described as tangerine.

Panelist Thomas Henick-Kling, Washington State University by way of Australia and Germany, explained how Syrah is the most expressive grape and the best at revealing the vineyard terrior. As a result, the flavor range varies by terrior.

Black fruits, smoky, bacon fat, violets, licorice, earth and black pepper are some of the typical flavor profiles found in a Syrah depending on the soil and whether it’s a hot or cool vineyard. The Proper Wines 2010 Syrah had the black fruits and smoky bacon flavors of the warmer Walla Walla region.

Other wines tasted with panel comments:

Novelty Hill Stillwater Creek 2011 Chardonnay is from a higher elevation in the Frenchman Hills and a cooler site.

Obelisco 2009 Merlot was sourced from Red Mountain AVA where the Missoula Flood cobblestone gravels produce wines with elevated tannins. Red Mountain is a small AVA with 15 different soil types.

Chateau Ste Michelle Canoe Ridge 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon was luscious with black fruits, black olive, baking spices and clove and vanilla from the oak barrels. Canoe Ridge produces succulent texture to Cabernets accessible when young, planted in 1992 200 yards from the Columbia River. With 30 to 40 mph winds there, the vines don’t get very big.

Syncline Columbia Valley 2011 Subduction Red is a blend with a base of Grenache. Grenache in cooler vintages is all white pepper nose and raspberry with a brilliant purple rim.

The final round was an interesting question about what varietal the panelists would like to see more of in Washington State. Murphy had consulted in Washington in the early years when Hogue had four Chenin Blancs available. Now this grape is hard to find.

Price thought the Picpoul grape has a place in the dry warm regions of the state. McCrea vineyards Picpoul was mentioned.

Henick-Kling, having spent time in Australia, would like to see more Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon planted here.

Curious, isn’t it?  With total wine production in 2012 at 12 million cases, the ratio of reds to whites is 50.3 percent to 49.7 percent. They all mentioned white grapes. Maybe to even things up?