Cave B Estate Winery adjacent to the Gorge Amphitheater uses fruit from estate vines that overlook the Columbia River. (Photo by Eric Degerman/Great Northwest Wine)

Ancient Lakes fascinates as young Washington wine region

Some of Washington’s oldest vines are in the state’s newest American Viticultural Area.

Vineyards planted in the 1970s are in the Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, Washington’s 13th federally recognized AVA.

The Ancient Lakes, approved in 2012, is an area of about 160,000 acres around the North Central Washington communities of George and Quincy. About 1,600 acres of vineyards are planted, the oldest of which are at Cave B Estate Winery adjacent to the famous Gorge Amphitheater.

The Ancient Lakes — completely within the Columbia Valley — is in an arid region of the state, much like the rest of Eastern Washington, yet it is most famous for its white wines, particularly riesling, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. In fact, one of the state’s top vineyards — Evergreen — is in the Ancient Lakes.

The region is part of the Channeled Scablands, an area carved and shaped by the ancient ice age floods some 12,000 years ago. There are about 30 lakes in the area, hence the name.

Here are a few examples of wines from the Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.

Milbrandt Vineyards 2015 Evergreen Vineyard Traditions Sweet Katherine White Wine, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $13: Two decades ago, in 1997, brothers Butch and Jerry Milbrandt began to establish their vineyards along the Wahluke Slope and the Ancient Lakes. Evergreen Vineyard is arguably their most prized planting, and the Milbrandt brothers named this off-dry riesling for their late mother — Katherine Leone Milbrandt. Few rieslings from famed Evergreen are made in a sweet style, but this one is spectacular and complex, big and luscious with peaches, apricots and Key Lime pie. Clementine acidity explodes to create a long and lovely finish. (10.5% alcohol)

Cave B Estate Winery 2015 Roussanne, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $25: This longtime winery overlooks the Columbia River next to the world-famous Gorge Amphitheater (which was founded by Cave B’s owners.) Roussanne still is a bit unusual in Washington, but the white Rhône Valley grape is revealing great promise in arid Eastern Washington. This is a beautifully crafted wine with hints of unsweetened ice tea and spiced pear, followed by flavors of peach and ripe apple in the finish. This won gold at the 2016 Wenatchee Wine &Food Festival wine competition. (13.8%)

Wit Cellars 2015 Pinot Gris, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $18: Milbrandt-owned Evergreen Vineyard is a go-to site for crisp whites, and the new Prosser winemaking brand belonging to Flint Nelson and Cat Warwick focuses on this planting for riesling and this pinot gris. Beautiful aromas of ripe pear, pink grapefruit, kiwi, cardamom and lavender lead to juicy flavors of Asian pear, Granny Smith apple, yellow grapefruit and honeydew melon. A blend of lemon and clementine adds a pulsating burst for an energetic finish. (12.5%)

L’Ecole No. 41 2015 Evergreen Vineyard Chardonnay, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $35: Perhaps the most precious gem in the Milbrandts’ collection of vineyards is this caliche-laden site. While it forms the baseline of Marty Clubb’s large-scale Columbia Valley Chardonnay, Evergreen Vineyard gains the spotlight for this chardonnay. Its expressive nose of coriander, starfruit, Red Delicious apple and lemon zest leads to a smooth and creamy entry of pear butter with nuttiness and toastiness. The zingy finish of lemon juice screams out for steamed mussels. (14.5%)

Crayelle Cellars 2015 Neve’s Blanc Sauvignon Blanc, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $21: For the better part of two decades, Craig Mitrakul has a well-earned reputation as one of the top winemakers in north Central Washington for different producers. Crayelle is his own project, and this stunning sauv blanc is named for his daughter and uses grapes from Cave B Vineyards. It opens with aromas of tropical fruit, including pineapple and kiwi. On the palate, this zesty wine provides flavor of sweet herbs, passion fruit and apple, all backed by bright acidity. (13.6%)

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.

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