One thing I love about Washington is the diversity of wine varietals grown here — it is both a blessing and a curse.
When you think of Napa Valley, you think of Cabernet Sauvignon Chardonnay and, to a lesser degree, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. When you think of New Zealand, it is all about Sauvignon Blanc.
Washington doesn’t have a single varietal to hang its hat on; we do many well, including some rather obscure whites that would be perfect for our summer fare.
Washington state produces more than 30 wine-grape varieties — a ratio of about 50-percent white and 50-percent red.
As the industry matures and experiments, it finds many grape varieties that thrive throughout Washington’s microclimates. There are more than 18,850 vineyard acres of white-wine varieties statewide, according to the Washington State Wine Commission.
There is more Chardonnay planted in Washington than any other white varietal, followed by Riesling. Yet, none of these varietals is even listed under white varietals planted in Washington state because there are so few acres of them planted here.
Grenache Blanc is currently the fourth-most-planted white grape in France. Grenache Blanc originated in Spain and still plays a role in the wines of Rioja and Navarre. From Spain, it spread to France and has thrived in the vineyards of the Rhône valley and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
In the Rhone valley, Grenache Blanc is almost always blended, and it contributes rich mouth-feel and good acids to the blends in which it is present.
Grenache Blanc made its first appearance in California as a part of Tablas Creek’s importatio of several Rhone grapevine cuttings from Beaucastel in 1992.
In 2002, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms recognized Grenache Blanc as a varietal distinct from Grenache Noir.
Cuttings from Tablas Creek made their way to Washington state, where Dick Boushey, of Boushey Vineyard in the Yakima AVA (American Viticultural Area), planted a small parcel.
Grenache Blanc does well in hot climates and is good about retaining its acidity. It is a great wine for fresh oysters and seafood.
McCrea produced the first wine labeled Grenache Blanc in the state. Two Vintners out of Woodinville also does a nice version of Grenache Blanc.
Grüner Veltliner is another white wine varietal that has little planted in Washington state. This grape is Austria’s most significant white-wine varietal.
The wine owes its success to its food-pairing abilities. It goes with everything, from green salads to salmon and chicken. It typically has flavors of white pepper and stone fruits (especially peach).
The classic variety of this wine is fairly easy to identify when tasted blind. Syncline here in Washington makes an amazing version of this varietal. It uses fruit from Underwood Vineyard in the cooler Columbia Gorge AVA. This is where Grüner Veltliner was first planted in the state.
Albariño is planted mainly in the Rías Baixas region of Spain, as well as in Portugal. The wine is known for it distinctive aromas of peach and apricot, and the classic wines have a lime component that I love. It is one of my favorite seafood wines.
There has been an increasing interest in the varietal outside of Europe in recent years, especially in California and to a lesser degree in Washington state.
Coyote Canyon, in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA, makes a nice version of this wine, and a few other wineries do as well, most notably Salida.
So seek out some of these unusual white varietals from Washington state this summer and beyond. They are a great alternative to the usual whites you see on every store shelf.
JEFFREY DORGAN is the wine director at the Space Needle.
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