Some of the today’s best wines are grown in America’s Pacific Northwest. Located along the 45th parallel, as are some of the world’s most famous vineyards, the many and varied microclimates make a great home for such diverse grape varieties as pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and reisling.
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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.
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 and diverse terrain combine to form cool microclimates. Also, dry air can cool quickly after dark.
Because of the dryness of south central Washington’s landscape, most vineyards are planted along the mighty Columbia River and its tributaries, notably the Yakima, for irrigation.
Newer appellations include southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley and Walla Walla in eastern Washington.
Washington State cabernet sauvignon often shows a delicious combination of New World fruit flavor with a bit of Old World finesse. This is true of Chateau Smith Cabernet Sauvignon, from Charles Smith, 2009 Winemaker of the Year for Food & Wine Magazine. Retail price app. $20.
Chateau Smith is a perfect name for winemaker Charles Smith’s Cab!
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.