Cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and syrah dominate red wine production in Washington. However, vintners make a wide assortment of red wines and exploration continues in the state. Here are a few varieties on the Washington wine frontier.
Washington had grenache plantings dating back to the 1960s but most were lost by severe winter freezes over the years. Recently, a number of winemakers have shown renewed interest in the grape. The 2011 Maison Bleue Le Midi Grenache Boushey Vineyard Yakima Valley ($45) is one of the finest examples of the variety I have ever tasted, exploding with notes of pomegranate, dark raspberries, and white pepper. It’s a showstopper of a wine that is well worth seeking out.
Iberian Peninsula Varieties
These have been on the rise in Washington, though production of many of them remains microscopic. Graciano is primarily grown in Spain and is just getting started in the state. The 2011 Idilico Reserve Graciano Upland Vineyard Snipes Mountain ($30) shows great promise for the variety here with abundant notes of pepper, cherry, and herbs with a soft, textured feel.
This variety hails from Portugal where it is one of the grapes used to produce port. In Washington, several winemakers are experimenting making it as a dry red wine. The 2011 Sun River Vintners Souzão Red Heaven Vineyard Red Mountain ($30) brings notes of coffee, vanilla, and cherry with firm tannins and mouthwatering acids – a wine that will benefit from a few years in the cellar.
Another name for zinfandel, it often seems to struggle to fully ripen in Washington but Oregon-based producer Angel Vine consistently excels with the variety. The 2011 Angel Vine Primitivo Columbia Valley ($20) brings notes of brambly red fruit and cranberry with full bodied, lip smacking fruit flavors.
It’s best known as a minor blending component for Bordeaux-style blends, but numerous Washington winemakers are excited about the potential for the variety as a standalone wine. Petit verdot is known for its light aromatics and big, brawny tannins and we see that on the 2010 Tero Estates Petit Verdot Walla Walla Valley ($38) along with notes of soil, dark coffee, and cherry.
Emerging varieties like these tend to be made in smaller production, so buying directly from the winery—or asking your local wine shop to order a bottle for you—might be your best bet for finding these wines. Enjoying wine is partly about exploration, so step off the beaten path and check out all that the state has to offer.