Washington State is best known for its red wines, and in most instances they are what it does best. Many of the Washington white wines are either overripe, overoaked, both, or just plain boring. However, there are some Washington white wines that shine. The state has been known for some time for its riesling; indeed, Ste Michelle Wine Estates is the largest riesling producer in the world. Similarly, some professionals in the wine industry think that viognier has a bright future here. Below are rated several Washington whites that I have had the recent opportunity to try. Some have proven to be quite pleasant; others have been merely serviceable.
At the prices that Washington producers ask for their white wines (often over $20, regardless of quality) a consumer would be correct in assuming that other international regions might provide a superior product for a lower cost, even after the price increases inherent in importation. Delicious Loire Valley sauvignon blancs and chenin blancs, for instance, provide a remarkable quality of wine at what is often a ridiculous value. Similar things can be said for German rieslings, New Zealand sauvignon blancs, Argentine torrontes, and so forth. Why, one might ask, would a wine enthusiast ever consider Washington white wines to be a category of interest?
The answer to that question lies in the inherent locality of wine production. The concept of terroir and the local food movement combine in the Northwest to produce a pride in our winemaking that, frankly, is sometimes undeserved. However, this site is dedicated to following Northwest wine and food trends, and we therefore watch developments in all Northwest wine fields with great interest. Quality of Washington white wines is improving. Finding cooler microclimates that are suited to the production of delicate white wines- such as Celilo Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge and the fantastic Evergreen Vineyard in the proposed Ancient Lakes AVA- is an essential part of this process.
Oregon, on the other hand, is producing some delicious white wines, particularly with chardonnay and pinot gris but increasingly with riesling, pinot blanc and even melon de Bourgogne. At least one producer, Domaine Serene, is producing a white out of Pinot Noir that has been getting a lot of attention. These wines are so often crisp and delicious, but consumers might be worried about the price tags.
Bottle Variations will continue to track the trends of Washington State white wine production. Here are some of our latest tasting notes for both Washington and Oregon.
Gorman Winery 2007 "Big Sissy" Chardonnay. Connor Lee Vineyard. Columbia Valley. 14.3% alcohol.
100% malolactic fermentation. Aged in 100% new French oak.
Medium lemon color. The nose is an exuberant combination of oak and butter, exactly what you might expect from an emulation of Napa Valley chardonnay. The palate is equally oaky, creamy and lemony. The mouth weight is pleasant, and it is certainly an exuberant wine. The richness excites, but the alcohol is entirely too evident, and ruins the experience. If it were better integrated, this might be a great wine. 6/10
Mark Ryan 2007 Viognier. Columbia Valley.
Drank out of a 375ml bottle.
Very pale hay color. Honeydew melon and citrus fruits dominate that nose, but are underlaid with a distinct floral aspect. The palate is surprisingly weighty. Tart citrus acidity and mellow tropical fruits are enjoyable, but a bit of yeasty saltiness on the back end disrupts the whole thing. 5.5/10
O'Shea Scarborough 2008 Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc "Visionnaire." Klipsun Vineyard, Red Mountain.
This is exactly the type of hot growing climate that I think is poorly suited to white wine, but O'Shea Scarborough manage to make a remarkably tasty Bordeaux blend here. This winery is (thankfully) dedicated to using less new oak and maintaining higher acidity than the majority of Washington producers.
Pale yellow/hay color, quite brilliant. The nose is rich; lemon and cream notes dominate, along with a subtle herbaceousness. The palate displays remarkable acidity, which combines with a leesy richness to become a balanced wine. It is crisp, refreshing, and delicious. Recommended at its $20 price tag. 7/10
L'ecole #41 2007 Fries Vineyard Semillon. Wahluke Slope
Lemon-colored. The nose is muted, but shows hints of lemons and cream. The palate does its best to make up for the low level of aromatics in this wine. It is rich and citrusy, with a very distinct lemon zest note. The mouth weight is noticeable and enjoyable. The acidity is moderate and balanced. The wine does drop off of the palate a little quick, but in general it is a tasty beverage. Would be recommended at $15, but I think it's $20. 6/10
Tyrus Evan 2006 Del Rio Vineyard Viognier. Rogue River AVA. Oregon.
Bright lemon color. The nose is intriguing; it shows a fascinating artificial lime aroma, along with melons and a unique spiciness. The palate is much drier than expected, and tastily tart, but it drops off the palate entirely too quickly. This is the ghost of a great wine. 6/10
Tyrus Evan 2007 Del Rio Vineyard Chardonnay. Rogue River AVA. Oregon.
Rich lemon color, brilliant. The nose is a combination of cream and green apple with a little spice, vanilla, oak. The palate is unpleasant. It's very little apple-juicy, and a little oaky and creamy. I wonder about the oxygen contact this wine has had. It tastes like bottled apple juice. I really didn't like it. 4/10