‘E’ Wine of the Week
By Bruce Cochran
This week we’ll look at the Pacific Northwest, with an overview of what may be the most diverse wine area in the western hemisphere. Just about everything grows well there, from cold-loving riesling to heat-loving syrah and just about everything in between.
Try a new wine this week!
To be so close to each other, the major wine regions of Washington and Oregon have little in common. Different climates have led to emphasis on different grape varieties, with a resulting diversity that adds a lot to a wine lovers trip to the beautiful Pacific Northwest.
Most of Oregon’s vineyards are on the cool, ocean side of the Cascade Mountains, along the Willamette River Valley in the northwestern part of the state. There, the most important and widely planted white wine grape variety is pinot gris, and the most widely planted red is pinot noir. Being members of the pinot family of grapes, they tend to grow best in this relatively cool climate. To the south, the warmer Rogue Valley is becoming known for Mediterranean varieties like muscat (moscato), viognier and syrah, as well as cabernet sauvignon.
Most of Washington’s vineyards are across the Cascade Mountains from the Pacific. This is the warm, dry side, just the opposite of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Instead of pinot gris and pinot noir, they grow more cabernet sauvignon and syrah.
It may seem a little odd that the ultimate cold-loving grape, riesling, was the grape that first put Washington wines on the map many years back. The second one, merlot, also likes cool weather. A combination of northerly latitude, higher altitude and diverse terrain combine to form cool microclimates. Also, dry desert air can cool quickly after dark.
Because of that dryness of south central Washington’s landscape, most vineyards are planted along the Columbia River and its tributaries, notably the Yakima, for irrigation. And a few miles east of Yakima is Washington’s Walla Walla region, with its volcanic subsoil topped by sediment from glacial lake floods many millennia ago.
“BoomBoom!” Syrah 2008, from Charles Smith Wines “Modernist Project,” can open a window into the vibrancy and skill of today’s Pacific Northwest wineries. Deep in color, rich in fruit, with a smooth finish, it retails in the $15-$20 range. It’s 52 percent Yakima Valley, 20 percent Wahluke Slope, 19 percent Columbia Valley. It also contains 0.5 percent primitivo grapes.
Bruce Cochran has traveled to every major wine region on four continents. A 30-year veteran of the wine trade, he taught continuing education wine classes for 26 years at colleges throughout Arkansas.