With its 300 days of sunshine, the north central Washington wine region is shaping up to be one of the state’s most exciting.
More vineyards are being planted in areas famous for apples and cherries — like the area surrounding the Wenatchee Valley, Lake Chelan and Leavenworth, tucked into the Cascade Mountains. These vineyards have banded to form an association now branded as Cascade Valley Wine Country.
Membership stands at 68 wineries and tasting rooms. Its proximity to the Cascades prompts the group to refer to itself as “Washington’s Peak Wine Experience” and, as is often the case in Washington state, a port commission stepped up to assist with infrastructure, marketing or both. Here, it is the Port of Chelan County.
In addition to a climate for grape growing, this portion of the state already had a history of drawing tourists. That’s a blueprint for success for wineries. When tasting rooms sell wine directly to consumers and sign up wine club members, that’s more profit for wineries.
If holiday travel takes you to the Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth, plan to spend some time in some of the two dozen tasting rooms there. Lake Chelan Wine Valley, the marketing arm for that American Viticultural Area, boasts 31 wineries and tasting rooms.
The industry started just 20 years ago. The first commercial plantings of merlot, pinot noir, cabernet franc and chardonnay were established in 1998.
Here are some of the top wines from this year’s Wenatchee Wine Festival competition, which benefits the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center. Some of these wineries have additional tasting rooms around the state. In the meantime, ask for these wines at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.
Chris Daniel Winery 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $35: A year ago, this young winery in the Columbia Basin town of Quincy splashed onto the scene with gold medals. This year, it returned with a gold for this big, bold red, which reveals classic herbaceousness in the nose, followed by notes of white pepper, black plum and black currants. The tannins are there but don’t beat you up, revealing grace over power.
Plain Cellars 2015 Summer Solstice, Columbia Valley, $30: This cab-leading blend from a Leavenworth winery has a big dollop of syrah, which reveals itself in the aromas of chocolate chip cookies, powerful midpalate and complex finish. This is a delicious, full-bodied red with notes of black currant, sage and thyme.
Rio Vista Wines 2017 Sunset on the River, Columbia Valley, $32: The Little family continues its gold-medal streak with this beautiful white blend of pinot gris, gewurztraminer and viognier that, of course, is quite fragrant and loaded with flavors of raspberry, watermelon, apricot and guava, all from grapes grown along the Columbia River near the Lake Chelan cutoff.
Radiance Winery 2016 Pinot Gris, Lake Chelan: $28: Based on the north shore of Lake Chelan, this young winery in Manson has crafted a voluptuous white. Fresh and engaging aromas lead to flavors that are beautiful, tropical-leading with starfruit and refreshing. A glass of this would be a perfect way to finish a day on the lake.
Sigillo Cellars 2016 GSM, Columbia Valley, $35: This Southern Rhône style blend, leading with syrah but expertly blended with grenache and the sturdy mourvedre, results in a wine so smooth and silky it invites sip after sip with complex aromas of forest floor, blueberries and a faint trace of incense. On the palate, this reveals flavors of brambleberry, dark chocolate and black pepper, with hints of teriyaki beef jerky in the finish. A completely satisfying wine.
Ginkgo Forest Winery 2012 Petit Verdot, Wahluke Slope, $30: This should be no surprise that heat-loving petit verdot would do well on the western edge of the Wahluke Slope. This wine offers complex aromas of dill, black pepper, tobacco and a hint of cedar, leading to classic flavors of black currant, ripe plum and blackberry jam.
Jones of Washington 2017 Rosé of Syrah, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $14: Annually, this ranks among the most consistently delicious pink wines coming out of north central Washington, thanks to the deft touch of winemaker Victor Palencia. Opening alluring aromas of black raspberry and cherry lead to flavors of plum, red currants and blackberry. It’s all framed by bright acidity, a touch of tannin and highlighted by purity of fruit.
Stemilt Creek Winery 2016 Ascent Mourvèdre, Columbia Valley, $42: Richard Hood, a product of famed University of California-Davis, continues to elevate the wine program for the Mathison family and their estate vines planted at 2,000 feet elevation. His work with these three barrels of young mourvedre — a product of his first vintage in Wenatchee — is stellar as notes of blueberry jam, plum and cedar, backed by raspberry acidity, combine for a lingering finish.
Goose Ridge Vineyards 2016 Cascadian Outfitters Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $4.99: Wine in a can is becoming popular, and this delicious version from Richland’s Goose Ridge Vineyards is among the best you’ll find, thanks to gorgeous, layered flavors of Golden Delicious apple, pineapple and notes of lemon verbena, backed by racy acidity and complex minerality in the finish.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman operate Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at www.great northwestwine.com.