Did you know that the state of Washington is the second largest producer of wine in the United States? It’s a quirky fact because while it is second, it trails far behind leader: over 90 percent of the US wine production market is California, followed by Washington, at around 4 percent.
Nonetheless, Washington holds its own when it comes to wine. With over 750 wineries and 13 viticulture areas (no small feat in a state where a lot of the land is unsuitable for grapes), you’re bound to find a Washington wine you’ll love. I recently attended the Taste of Washington, the country’s largest single-region food & wine event, and sampled a variety of Washington wines.
I’ve shared some of my favorites below; maybe they’ll tempt you into a wine trip to Washington, or at least to talk to your local wine shop about carrying some of these tasty libations.
Washington Wine Crowd Pleasers
Chateau St Michelle (pictured above) in Woodinville, Washington, is one of the oldest wineries in the state, and perhaps one of its most well-known. The Cold Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is an excellent place to start and develop a taste for the Washington terroir.
Along the Columbia River Gorge, a wine-growing area that covers both Washington and Oregon, you’ll find a variety of delicious Washington wines (and this region is quite accessible from Portland). White Salmon Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir is one of the best.
A very accessible wine at an excellent price is the series from Thorny Rose. They’re owned by a larger wine company, but that doesn’t mean they skimp on flavor.
For a bit of bubbly, you can’t go wrong with the Domaine Ste Michelle Luxe (not to be confused with the chateau, above). Luxe is produced in the traditional methods, and aged to perfection. Another Washington sparkler that’s worth celebrating are those from Treveri, a small family-owned winery in the Yakima valley.
Need something light for the grill or outdoor party? Try the Waterbook Rose or Waterbrook First Press, though I have tried nearly all of Waterbook’s current wines and like them all. Their tasting room in Walla Walla (below) is gorgeous.
Lastly, you’ll probably have a harder time finding these in your local shop, but the Cascade Valley Wine Country wines are another great find. Horan States & Stemilt Creek are two wineries to start with.
Unique Sips from a Unique State
Right now, one of our “house” wines is Renegade Wine Co., from Sleight of Hand Cellars. Their wine branding is a little funky, but that’s how we roll here in the Northwest, and their wines are value priced and very, very tasty, perfect for a weeknight treat.
Another fun choice (and again, great branding) is Secco Italian Bubbles, an Italian prosecco made by Washington wine maker Charles Smith. Yum! If you happen to be buying Charles Smith, be sure to also pick up a bottle of their bold & fruity “Chateau Smith” Cabernet Sauvignon.
My favorite wine of the Taste of Washington was the 2011 Walla Walla Bordeaux Blend from Proletariat Wines. The oddity of Proletariat is that their wines are served on tap, so they aren’t quite ready for the consumer market – but be sure to look for them at these restaurants in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.
Urban Wine Tastings
If visiting any of the wineries in Woodinville or central Washington, you’ll probably start your journey in Seattle. I suggest booking with one of my favorite hotel brands, Kimpton. They actually have a wine-themed hotel in Seattle, the Vintage Park, where you can enjoy a complimentary wine tasting every evening in the lobby (photo below). If you haven’t, be sure to sign up for Kimpton’s rewards program – In-Touch – because it gives you free Wifi, as well as a $10 in-room bar credit (and Washington wine is on the menu, naturally).
Before or after your stop at the iconic Pike Place Market, be sure to duck into The Tasting Room, which is undoubtedly the best wine tasting room in the city. It’s located in “Post Alley,” between Stewart and Virginia Street, next to Kell’s Irish Pub and across from the Pink Door Restaurant. Kind of hard to find if this is your first visit to the market, but worth it.
Portland is a better starting point if you are looking to explore the Columbia River Gorge region, which has wineries on both sides of the gorge. Kimpton has another wine-oriented hotel in Portland, the Vintage Plaza, that’s a perfect spot to relax. If you prefer to stay in the gorge area itself, you’ll find plenty of B&Bs and hotels in Hood River.
Regardless of where you decide to stay, Washington and Oregon are very proud of their wine heritage, so you’ll have no trouble locating local libations to enjoy and to take home with you.
Final Tips: Want to fly and have lots of wine purchases? Fly Alaska and your wine flies free. And is this your first time on a wine trip? Don’t miss our Wine 101: How to Swirl, Sip, and Pour Like a Pro.
Editorial Disclosure: Portions of the author’s travel were sponsored by the Washington State Wine Commission, but all opinions reflected here are the author’s own. All photos were provided by the wineries & hotels featured.