Food & Drink

Red wines rules the day at Taste Washington event

Two weeks ago I told you about Taste Washington, the largest single-region food and wine event in the United States.

I attended the Grand Tasting in Seattle on March 28; a showcase that featured an amazing 234 Washington wineries, or about one-fourth of the state’s total.

Informative? Yes. Fun? Absolutely. Excessive? Well … I suppose that depends on your point of view.

With nearly 700 wines on hand and only four hours of tasting time available, let’s just say it paid to be selective about the wines that were sampled.

Normally, my strategy is to split my time about 50/50, with the first half for white wines and the second half for reds. But with whites only comprising about 20 percent of the total, I adjusted my tasting accordingly to allow for this year’s heavily skewed red wine program.

Not surprisingly, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, riesling, and pinot gris dominated the whites. There were fewer choices of viognier as a stand-alone varietal, but more options with it offered as a Rhône blend — usually with roussanne and marsanne — a pleasant trend that seems to be gaining momentum. Also, thankfully, there was a bit of semillon and chenin blanc on hand, along with a relative newcomer to Washington vineyards, albariño.

On the red side, it seemed as if nearly everyone was pouring a Bordeaux or Rhône red blend, with plenty of Washington’s top four red varietals — cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, and cabernet franc — leading the way.

Well-represented second-tier reds included malbec, sangiovese, and grenache. And I love that even some of the state’s more obscure red varietals such as tempranillo, nebbiolo, barbera, carménère, mourvèdre, and primitivo can now be found at these events. It’s this kind of diversity that helps solidify Washington’s increasing presence as a viable choice for wine consumers.

In terms of vintages, the new releases at the tasting consisted primarily of 2013s and a few 2014s for the whites, and 2012s for the reds.

Because 2013 and 2014 were warm growing years in Washington, you can expect more full-bodied, fruit-forward white wines, especially compared to the cooler 2010 and 2011 vintages. I’m a bit concerned that some winemakers might be tempted to be a little heavy-handed with the fruit and alcohol components of their whites, and caution you to watch for that as those wines hit the market.

The 2012 reds, on the other hand, are tasting absolutely gorgeous. Well-balanced wines with fruit, acidity levels and tannins in perfect harmony are the order of the day, and this vintage will only continue to get better as you accumulate the wines for your cellar.

In two weeks: Specific recommendations from this year’s Taste Washington.