Washington & Oregon Wines Tread the Line
Columbia Valley, Columbia Gorge, and Walla Walla Valley: a triumvirate of outstanding wine producing regions with a fascinating twist. While there are numerous ways in which these three areas are vastly different from each other, they have one key similarity. Their acreage spans across both Washington and Oregon states. I spent a week traveling through the three regions. There were times when I was standing in a vineyard, tasting wine, and unsure if I were in Washington or Oregon. State borders don’t always follow the rules of the vine. These three areas, regardless of state lines, share characteristics that impact the wine in question. Another thing all three regions have in common is that an impressive number of well-made wines are available at an incredible price to quality ratio. Everywhere I visited, wines of proportion loaded with typicity and flavor greeted me. Now I’m excited for them to greet you.
These are by and large wines that have relatively low alcohol by new world standards. This was particularly true in Columbia Gorge which is a treasure trove of excellent, aromatic white wines. Columbia Valley and Walla Walla Valley also had some tasty whites but I was generally more taken with the reds in those areas.
Over my time tasting in these three terrific regions many dozens of wines passed my lips. From that I’ve culled my 16 favorites. These are the bottles I’m still thinking about, the wines I’m going to badger my local bottle shop to stock, and the producers I’m most likely to revisit the next time I’m in the area. These are also the bottles you should make a strong effort to acquire. Distinct and delicious wine abounds in each and every bottle. While you’re at it, plan your next wine vacation to the area and pick up a few bottles on site.
Vital Winery 2015 Rosé ($15)
Here’s a Rosé produced from Sangiovese sourced at Seven Hills Vineyard in Walla Walla Valley. This Rosé has a beautiful pale pink hue. Aromas of wild strawberry are dotted with bits of crème fraiche. Red fruits flavors dominate the palate and lead to a crisp, refreshing finish. All of the profits from this wine go to a no questions asked clinic right in Walla Walla. So drinking this wine is good for you since it’s delicious and it does some good as well, a win win.
All of the fruit for this Gewürztraminer was sourced at the Oak Ridge Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge. Asian pear and spices elements highlight an absolutely stunning nose. Peach, apricot and bits of Lychee fruit dominate the lovely palate. Bits of spice and continued white fruits appear on the finish. This beautifully dry wine has a gorgeous mouthfeel and texture.
Cor Cellars 2015 Alba ($20)
This is a blend of Gewürztraminer (56%) and Pinot Gris (44%) from the Celilo Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge. Aromas of pineapple and citrus are prominent. Toasted hazelnuts, tangerine zest and fleshy yellow fruit flavors rule the palate. Spice notes mark the crisp, zippy finish.
Viento 2012 Dry Riesling ($20)
The Columbia Gorge vines this fruit came from had 31 years of age on them. White flowers and bits of linseed oil are apparent on the nose. Peach and dried apricot flavors are abundant through the palate. White pepper and continued white and yellow fruit flavors are abundant on the finish. This Riesling will age well for many years to come.
Fruit is from Alder Ridge Vineyard in Horse Heaven Hills, WA. Dark fruit aromas with a slight bit of tar emerge from the immensely appealing nose. Lots of dry, dark berry flavors and savory herbs mark the even-keeled palate. Bits of chicory and cranberry emerge on the finish. Excellent acid and firm tannins provide great structure. Grab some sharp cheese, salami, bread and a bottle of this wine for an outstanding evening of pleasure.
Maryhill 2012 Barbera ($26)
This is entirely Barbera from the Estate Vineyard located in the Columbia Valley. This killer food wine shows off toasty oak and dark berry fruit aromas. The palate is stuffed with an interchanging mélange of red and black fruit flavors. Savory herbs and spices are present on the luscious, mouthwatering finish.
This Tempranillo was made from fruit sourced at Sugarloaf vineyard in the Yakima Valley. Red cherry aromas and bits of cigar box are apparent on the nose. The palate is stuffed with lush red fruits, savory herbs and hints of leather. A cornucopia of spices such as cinnamon and clove are part of the long finish alongside continuing red fruit flavors.
This Zinfandel was sourced at The Gunkel Vineyard in Wishram, WA, which is part of the Columbia Valley. Black and red raspberry aromas are joined by a touch of eucalyptus. Savory herbs, black cherry, and red plum flavors dominate the palate. Hits of mint and spice as well as more juicy fruit flavors are present on the long finish. This is a distinct expression of Zinfandel.
The Red Mountain district was the source of this fruit. Bay leaf aromas are at play alongside red and black plum flavors. Copious spice elements, subtle red earth and continued dark fruits are all part of the above average finish. Firm tannins and acid provide excellent structure here. Delicious now this Mourvédre will age gracefully for a dozen years.
The fruit is from the Volcano Ridge Vineyard in Columbia Gorge. The nose here is filled with red plum aromas. Raspberry and red cherry flavors dominate the full flavored and well-proportioned palate. Juicy red and black fruits are joined by pepper spice on the long finish. This is an impeccably balanced example of Zinfandel that will pair with an astounding array of food styles.
Fruit for this wine was sourced in both Columbia Gorge and Walla Walla Valley. Pineapple and papaya aromas leap from the nose here. Tons of fresh yellow fruit flavors fil the lively palate. Anjou pear, green apple and baking spices are in evidence on the above average finish. The use of oak here was judicious and it lifts the fruit to a higher plane, doesn’t detract from it. This is a really terrific example of well-made Chardonnay.
This Sangiovese was produced entirely from Sangiovese Grosso planted on Red Mountain in 1975. Occasionally a wine will stop me dead in my tracks, such is the case here. Red cherry, leather and bits of cinnamon appear on the nose. Raspberry, bay leaf and black cherry tell the story of the generous, deep and layered palate. Succulent red fruits and continued bits of spice are part of the prodigious finish. I wasn’t expecting to find a Sangiovese with the soul of a Brunello in the PNW, but I did. Drink it now or lay it down for a decade either way it’ll be a delight.
The Seven Hills Vineyard was planted in Walla Walla Valley in 1980. Rosemary, sage and black raspberry aromas are prominent. A deluge of black cherry flavors lead the palate alongside bits of toast and vanilla. Roasted espresso and a dusting of cocoa emerge on the elegant finish. This is a lovely and refined example of Cabernet Sauvignon
This wine is composed entirely of Yakima Valley Syrah. The nose is big and a bit booming with blackberry and a host of spices leading the way. Boysenberry, black raspberry, cherry and savory herbs are present on the dark fruit-driven palate. Chicory, dark chocolate and pepper are all evident on the finish. This will be a great accompaniment for grilled meats.
This Pinot was made from Estate fruit grown in the Hood River section of Columbia Gorge. Bits of red currant and spice emerge on the nose. Wisps of cherry, pomegranate and cranberry are all apparently on the palate. Black tea, finely ground earth and a bit of bay leaf present on the long finish.
Delmas 2012 Syrah ($65)
All of the fruit comes from the Estate SJR Vineyard in the newly designated “The Rocks” district within Walla Walla Valley. Delmas makes one wine each year and this is it. The Syrah is co-fermented with Viognier. The lifted nose shows red fruit as well as white flower aromas. Blueberry and gentle wisps of appealing tar lead the dense and layered palate. Cherry, spice, Savory herb and hints of blackberry are present as well. The finish here is long, lush and engaging with fruit minerals and more. What I love most about this spectacular Syrah is the absolutely wonderful mouth-feel that has excellent weight and gravitas.