When I was planning my trip to Seattle, I knew very little about Washington wines. I had been told that Washington was the nation’s second largest producer of wine, but only produced about one-twentieth of what California produces. Although I would be in Seattle only a few days, I decided to devote at least one day to wine tasting. A fellow blogger recommended I stick with Woodinville, about 30 minutes from Seattle. While I was in Seattle, the grand poobah of Masquerade Wine Company, Bill Kimmerly, told me about a tasting flight at the Woodland Park Zoo, so I spent an evening and a day tasting Washington wines mostly from small, boutique producers.
Woodland Park Zoo Tasting Flight
Animale: Animale is perhaps the smallest producer of the wines I tasted at only 200 cases total per year of red wines with grapes sourced from family farms in Yakima, Columbia, and the Willamette Valley. I tasted the Petite Sirah and Zinfandel, which were both European-inspired, intense red wines with lots of dark berry flavors and silky texture.
Convergence Zone Cellars: Convergence Zone wines, named after the weather phenomenon in the Puget Sound, are family-produced. The winery offered a couple of the best price-to-quality wines I tasted while in Washington. The Dewpoint Dry Riesling was acidic and refreshing, with apricot and pear flavors. The Storm Front red blend showcased grapes from four vineyards and was truly a convergence of chocolate, dark berries, and dark fruits.
Masquerade Wine Company: Masquerade wines are produced by a husband and wife team, Bill and Jennifer Kimmerly. There were two wines officially offered for tasting, the Effervescing Elephant Brut (which I missed, as I arrived late) and the Les Collines Cabernet Sauvignon, but I also tasted some others, including a dry Gewürztraminer, Viognier, Rosé of Cabernet Franc, and a Syrah. My favorites were the aromatic, floral, fruity Gewürztraminer, perfect with my favorite spicy Asian foods, and the Rosé of Cabernet Franc, full of melon and strawberry, the perfect accompaniment to the warm, Seattle weather I experienced while there.
Tempus Cellars: Tempus Cellars is basically a one-man show, Joe Forest, with assistance from his wife, Mollie Delaney Forest. This boutique producer from Walla Walla offered a dry Riesling and a Grenache. The Riesling showed delightful fruit flavors of apricot and white peach. I was particularly intrigued by a Washington-produced Grenache, and I was not disappointed. It was made in the Rhône-style, with nice acidity, a lavender aroma, and dark raspberry flavor.
Whidbey Island Winery: This winery is located on Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains. The winery offered their Island White (Puget Sound) and Malbec (Yakima Valley). My favorite was the estate-produced Island White, a unique blend of Madeleine Sylvaner and Madeleine Angevine grapes. It was a perfect, light-bodied, fruity summer wine.
Alexandria Nicole Cellars: Alexandria Nicole Cellars is named after the winemaker’s wife (smart move!) and was the 2011 Washington Winery of the Year. I tasted six wines: Pinot Gris, Shepherds Mark (68% Roussanne, 16% Marsanne, 16% Viognier), a squared Cabernet Franc Rosé, a squared Cabernet Sauvignon, Quarry Butte Red Table Wine, and Jet Black Syrah. All of the award-winning wines were delicious, but my favorite was the Shepherds Mark, another perfect summer wine bursting with melon, peach, and pear flavors.
Chateau Ste. Michelle: A visit to Woodinville would not be complete without a visit to the grande dame of Washington wines, Chateau Ste. Michelle. Most of us know the winery from its readily available and affordable Riesling, but it offers so many more wines than most of us realize. I opted to taste some of their different wines instead of the famous Rieslings, since I had tasted a lineup of three during a recent ThirstyGirl tasting. I tasted the Domaine Ste. Michelle Luxe, a Pinot Gris, Limited Edition Petit Verdot, and a Merlot. I purchased the Luxe, a classic Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay), méthode champenoise sparkler, and the Limited Edition Petit Verdot, a wondrous wine full of black cherry and dark chocolate.
Gorman Winery: Chris Gorman is a former wine importer rep who started making his own wines, which become commercially available in 2002. He produces under 3000 cases per year, primarily focusing on Red Mountain reds. The tasting room hostess told me the names of the wines describe the characteristics of the grapes, such as The Big Sissy (Chardonnay) and The Pixie (Syrah). I tasted The Big Sissy (Chardonnay), Zachary’s Ladder (Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot), The Evil Twin (70% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon), The Pixie (100% Syrah), and The Bully (85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Petit Verdot). Although the award-winning reds were magnificent, I found myself drawn to The Big Sissy Chardonnay, Conner Lee Vineyard, Columbia Valley (100% malolactic fermentation), which I do not usually like. It was luscious and creamy, with flavors of butter, caramel, and tropical fruits.
Mark Ryan Winery: Last, but certainly not least, Mark Ryan McNeilly is a self-made winemaker, Seattle Magazine‘s 2011 Winemaker of the Year, whose winery was named in the Top 100 Wineries of 2011 by Wine & Spirits Magazine. Similar to Gorman, McNeilly focuses primarily on award-winning, Red Mountain reds. His wines are interestingly named as well, with names like Long Haul (red blend) and Lost Soul (Syrah). At least three are named after Pearl Jam songs/lyrics: Crazy Mary Mourvedre, The Dissident (red blend) and Wild Eyed (Syrah). The only wine without a name is the Viognier. I wondered why. I tasted the Viognier, The Dissident (red blend), Wild Eyed (Syrah), and Dead Horse (red blend). After tasting The Dissident, I was sure I would purchase it, but once I tasted Dead Horse, I realized I had discovered the best wine of the day. It was a stunning: a complex, yet balanced blend of dark berries, cocoa, spices, and vanilla.
If you’re interested in viewing more photos of my tastings, please visit this public link. If I’ve whetted your palate for a Washington Wine destination getaway, please contact me at this link for assistance in planning and booking.