Dive into Washington State’s Wine Oasis

Undiscovered quality and value prevail in Washington state’s wine oasis

Leonetti Cellar has been a pioneer in the Walla Walla wine scene since opening in 1977.

California may receive the most attention among American wine drinkers, but savvy oenophiles know that Washington state is one of the most compelling wine regions in the world.

Although vines were planted in Washington as early as 1925, the area didn’t blossom until the second half of the twentieth century. The state’s oldest winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle, was founded in 1954. Then, in the late 1970s, Columbia Winery, under the direction of David Lake, planted the first Cabernet Franc, Pinot Gris, and Syrah. Today the state ranks second to California in production, and its 1,000-plus wineries are mostly concentrated in Walla Walla and the Columbia and Yakima valleys. Here, we highlight a few standouts.

Quilceda Creek: The nephew of legendary California winemaker André Tchelistcheff, Alex Golitzin spent his summers visiting his uncle in St. Helena, garnering an early education in all things viticulture. In 1978, he and his wife, Jeannette, founded Quilceda Creek in the Columbia Valley, and it’s now one of the country’s top Cabernet Sauvignon producers. Robert Parker has bestowed perfect scores to its 2002, 2003, 2005, and 2007 vintages, and many of Quilceda Creek’s bottles retail for around $200.

DeLille Cellars: This Columbia Valley gem was established in Woodinville in 1992 with David Lake as the consulting enologist. It specializes in a portfolio of Bordeaux- and Rhône-style blends that have won widespread critical acclaim. Current releases of note include 2018 Chaleur Blanc (a 71-percent Sauvignon Blanc and 29-percent Sémillon blend, $37), 2016 Four Flags Cabernet Sauvignon ($63), and 2016 D2 (a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, $45).

Leonetti Cellar: Gary and Nancy Figgins founded Walla Walla’s first winery on a one-acre plot of Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling in 1977. The winery has expanded since then, but the entire production is sold through a mailing list, and there’s a wait to get on it. After-market prices for current vintages include 2017 Merlot ($95), 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon ($125), and 2016 Reserve ($180).

Woodward Canyon: The founding of Woodward Canyon in 1981 and the launch of L’Ecole No. 41 two years later also helped cement the reputation of the Walla Walla appellation, which was granted AVA status in 1984. The winery produces estate Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, as well as red blends including Charbonneau (an homage to the Médoc), Old Vines Cabernet, and Artist Series Cabernet, priced from $30-$75.

Long Shadows: In 2003, Allen Shoup had a radical idea: recruit some of the world’s best winemakers, give them access to the state’s best grapes, and produce seven ultra-premium Columbia Valley wines. The superstars include Randy Dunn, Michel Rolland, and Philippe Melka; the wines span a range from Pirouette, Melka’s Bordeaux blend (2016, $65), to Poet’s Leap Riesling (2017, $20), crafted by Germany’s Armin Diel from the celebrated Schlossgut Diel in the lower Nahe.

Two wines from Chateau Ste. Michelle are also worth seeking out: Northstar, world-class Merlot, Cabernet, and red blends made by David Merfeld, and Col Solare, a joint venture with the Antinori family of Tuscany, showcasing Cabernet from the Red Mountain appellation.

Looking for some bottles to put in the fridge and drink on a daily basis? Check out the wines from bad boy Charles Smith, a former rock band manager turned winemaker. Kung Fu Girl Riesling, Velvet Devil Merlot, and Boom Boom! Syrah are all under $20 and excel in their own way. «

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