Washington's isolated Wahluke Slope Appellation probably doesn't get as much press as it deserves. Today, I'll do what I can to help correct that.
It's easy to get to: Follow Interstate 90 eastbound past Ellensburg, take a right after you cross the Columbia River, and head south about 20 miles to the tiny town of Mattawa, located in both the heart of the appellation and, literally, the middle of nowhere.
It's also home to Gingko Forest Winery, named for the petrified ginkgo trees discovered there in the 1950s. Owner and winemaker Mike Thiede produces a number of solid, boldly flavored yet balanced wines indicative of the warm growing region.
I recently had the opportunity to taste a variety of Thiede's award-winning wines from a number of different vintages and enjoyed each and every one. This is a label you should look for, along with the Wahluke Slope Appellation, and you'll almost certainly be rewarded with reliable wines that won't cost you a small fortune.
Here are my tasting notes (next week I'll give you my favorite, mind-numbingly low-priced Ginkgo Forest wine):
2012 Ginkgo Blanco (about $15) - This blend of gewürztraminer, riesling and viognier is loaded with honeysuckle, pineapple and pear flavors and plenty of honey, almost reminiscent of a late harvest. A pairing with spicy General Tso's chicken toned down the sweetness and provided a nice contrast to this wine.
2012 Riesling (about $15) - In a word: pluot. This tasty wine is the perfect hybrid of white plum and apricot flavors, highlighted with a hint of orange citrus. A beautiful, ultra-long, off-dry finish hints at dried apricot with a trace of almond.
2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (about $18) - Taste this wine blind and I dare you not to draw comparisons with a cabernet from Bellingham's Dynasty Cellars. This differs in that it's a lighter interpretation, with brighter cherry and red plum along with a touch of caramel and spice. Because Dynasty sources its fruit from Walla Walla, it might be the oak that provides some similarity between the two.
2009 Wildwood Blend (about $24) - Over half of this five-varietal Bordeaux blend is comprised of cabernet sauvignon and merlot, but for me, the 20 percent malbec content stands out. The malbec's ripe blackberry and blueberry flavors make their way to the forefront while supple tannins linger in the background.
2009 Grenache (about $26) - Opulent flavors of fig, dark chocolate and black cherry lead off, with a perfectly balanced trailing note of bright red currant on the finish. This is classic "wow" wine you can expect from the Wahluke Slope. Outstanding!
The winery's website lists local availability at the Cordata Community Food Co-op, Purple Smile Wines, and Seifert & Jones Wine Merchants.
Dan Radil is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at danthewineguy.com.