Wahluke Slope not much for wine tourism, but great wines start there

The Wahluke Slope is in the middle of nowhere and unlikely to be on many lists for a wine-touring destination.

Yet this warm region around the town of Mattawa has long been the backbone of the Washington wine industry.

The Wahluke Slope (pronounced “wah-LUKE”) is a 13-mile-wide gravel bar east of Yakima that was formed near the end of the last ice age when huge floods followed the course of the Columbia River, which surrounds most of the region. It is mostly irrigated farmland now, with orchards, row crops and grapes dominating the landscape of the 81,000-acre region. With about 6,000 acres of wine grapes planted, the Wahluke Slope makes up about 10 percent of Washington’s vineyards.

Growers and winemakers alike love the Wahluke Slope because the grapes consistently ripen, and they can count on the region for providing fruit that is plush and delicious.

Here are a few Wahluke Slope wines we’ve tasted recently, all of which are superb examples of what the region can offer. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.

Rulo Winery 2012 Sundance Vineyard Chardonnay, Wahluke Slope, $25: This Walla Walla Valley winery thinks so much of Sundance Vineyard in the middle of the Wahluke Slope that it makes a vineyard-designated Chardonnay from it. This opens with aromas of lemon, melon, apple and lemon pepper, followed by flavors of ripe Bartlett pear, lemon and lime with Gala apple peel bite in the back. (14.2 percent alcohol)

Ginkgo Forest Winery 2010 Ginkgo Red, Wahluke Slope, $15: Wahluke Slope grower/winemaker Mike Thiede blends and prices this Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot to move quickly through his Old Town Tacoma tasting room. It accounts for about a quarter of his annual total case production, but he takes time with the wine by aging it in neutral oak for 30 months. The nose hints at crushed red currant, pie cherry, Marionberry and cherry SweeTart, joined by notes of barrel spice and cedar. There’s a smooth entry leading with cherries and currants, wrapped in bright acidity and a raspberry finish. (14.3 percent alcohol)

Kyra Wines 2010 Sangiovese, Wahluke Slope, $18: This operation near the airport in Moses Lake ranks among of the best boutique wineries in the state, excelling with whites and reds. Kyra Baerlocher’s expression from her estate Pheasant Vineyard site on the Wahluke Slope reveals elegant aromas of sweet herbs, raspberry, smoky white pepper and charcuterie. Inside is a delicious entry of red cherry, black currant and dried strawberry with soft tannins, bright acidity and a hint of fresh caramel. (13.7 percent alcohol)

Lopez Island Vineyards and Winery 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Wahluke Slope, $30: Aromas of sweet cherry pipe tobacco, candied dark cherry, plum sauce with allspice and fresh potting soil give way to a rustic, Old World feel to the palate with bright raspberry, Royal Ann cherry and juicy acidity. In the background are notes of graphite and pleasing yet firm, tannins with a finish of chocolate-covered pomegranate. (14 percent alcohol)

Tamarack Cellars 2011 Cabernet Franc, Wahluke Slope, $28: Venerable Weinbau Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope is the primary source for this Cabernet Franc. The nose presents hints of black cherries, espresso and sweet herbs, and there’s a match on the palate. Consider pairing this with lamb chops and mint jelly. (14.2 percent alcohol)

Milbrandt Vineyards 2010 Clifton Vineyards Mourvèdre, Wahluke Slope, $28: The Milbrandt brothers have helped put the Wahluke Slope on the map, and the appellation’s success with Rhône varieties continues with this red wine from their three Clifton sites along the western edge of the American Viticultural Area. It offers aromas and flavors of cherry and raspberry, backed by pinches of thyme, tarragon and chips of bittersweet chocolate.

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Listen to their podcast at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.

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