Washington is the current rising wine region in the US. Nestled up in the northwest corner of the country, there are over 800 wineries and 13 official American Viticultural Areas (4 unofficial ones) producing over 80 varietals. What California was to the wine world in the 1970s, Washington is today. Next to California, it is ranked 2nd in US wine production, catapulting it to international fame, and Washington wines have begun to make waves at international wine competitions and attract attention from major reviewers such as Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Robert Parker. Washington Wines demonstrate everything from subtle, delicate tones to big, bold, complex flavors. The variety in flavor comes from the unique climate of the state.
Washington State shares a similar latitude to that of the famous Bordeaux and Burgundy regions of France. The Cascade Mountains provide a divide, creating a cool climate for the Western Puget Sound region and a semi-arid to arid climate for the eastern part of the state.
The Washington AVA Regions
Columbia Valley - Established 1984
Columbia Valley is the largest wine region in Washington, with 99% of the grapes in Washington being grown here. Within this region are several other smaller AVA regions: Yakima (and it's sub-appellations), Walla Walla Valley, Wahluke Slope, Horse Heaven Hills, Lake Chelan, Naches Heights and Ancient Lakes.
(Picture: Columbia Valley AVA within Washington State.)
Yakima Valley - Established 1983
Yakima Valley is Washington's first recognized AVA region; currently 1/3 of the vineyards in the state are located here. While it is a part of the Columbia Valley AVA, within the Yakima Valley region, there are yet three more sub appellations: Red Mountain, Snipes Mountain, and Rattlesnake Hills. Over 40 different varietals are grown here, the continental climate allows for great variety.
(Picture: Yakima Valley AVA within Washington State)
Red Mountain - Established 2001
Located in the Eastern part of the Yakima Valley, this area is the hottest growing region in the state and as a result, big red varietals are primarily grown here: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Sangiovese and Merlot.
Snipes Mountain - Established 2009
Located just North of the Yakima River, Snipes Mountain in the Yakima Valley is one of the smallest AVA areas in the state. There are only 6 wineries and 759 acres of commercial grapes. Thirty different varietals are grown here though, and 25 different wineries from around the state source their grapes from this location. Grapes have been grown in this area since 1914.
Rattlesnake Hills - Established 2006
Walla Walla - Established 1984
Walla Walla Valley, also located within the greater Columbia Valley AVA, has been an area for wine making since the 1850's. The region boasts the most wineries, some of which are the oldest in the state. Thousands of acres are dedicated to dozens of varietals, though Cabernet Sauvignon is the leading varietal.
(Picture: Walla Walla AVA within Washington State)
Wahluke Slope - Established 2006
Wahluke Slope, located close to the Columbia Basin, Northeast of Yakima is also one of the warmer, drier areas of the state with very dry soil. Red wine grapes are the focus here, and about 20% of the state's grapes come from this area.
(Picture: Wahluke Slope AVA within Washington State)
Horse Heaven Hills - Established 2005
Wine Makers have been growing grapes in the Horse Heaven Hills region since 1972. Located Southeast of Yakima along the Columbia River this is the growing region for some of the finest, most expensive wines in the state; thirty seven different varietals are grown here, both red and white.
(Picture: Horse Heaven Hills AVA within Washington State)
Lake Chelan - Established 2009
Grapes have been grown in the Lake Chelan area since 1949. Located on the East side of the Cascades, North of Wenatchee, the area has a higher elevation than many of the state's regions, this, combined with the "lake effect" make for a more temperate climate. The area is rich in minerals, and this quality can be found in the grapes from this region.
Naches Heights - Established 2011
Naches Heights sits on an ancient volcanic bedrock plateau, with rich windblown soil, rich in clay. It is the only region in Washington that is largely organic, biodynamic, and salmon-safe in it's growing practices. Located West of the city of Yakima, it is not part of the Yakima Valley AVA, but is still in the Columbia Valley AVA.
(Image Credit: NHVwines Wikipedia | License )
Ancient Lakes - Established 2012
Located close to the popular Gorge Amphitheater in the area of George, Washington, it is the newest AVA region in Washington. There is very diverse soil in this area, and it is the only area where white grape varieties outnumber the red.
Columbia Gorge - Established 2004
The Columbia Gorge AVA is located in a narrow region along the Columbia River, bordering Oregon with an unusual climate that allows for almost every type of grape varietal.
(Columbia Gorge AVA)
Puget Sound - Established 1995
This is the only wine region in the Northwest part of Washington. The climate here is the coldest and wettest, and only about 200 acres of vines are planted in this whole region. Cool-weather varieties are grown here; Madeleine Angevine, Siegerebbe and Muller-Thurgau, Pinot Noir and Riesling are the lead varietals.
(Attribution: Benjamin D. Lukoff | License)
Non AVA Regions of Note
While it is not an AVA region, mention should be made of Woodinville (located in the Puget Sound AVA, near Redmond). Woodinville is home to over 130 different wineries, including the famous Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia wineries. Most of these wineries source their grapes from the eastern part of the state. Some of the best wine makers reside here. If you are in the area, check out the passport special, which allows you to taste at over 60 different wineries, and receive discounts at special events.
Wenatchee has Pending AVA status. It is located within the Columbia Valley AVA and centrally located within the state. Wenatchee is renowned for its fruit, especially its apples. Its nickname is the "Apple Capital of the World", but each year the number of wine grapes being planted here increases, causing the area to have a larger noticeability in the US wine industry.
(Attribution: Jennifer Gottwald | License)
The area surrounding the City of Spokane, on the eastern part of the state, has a growing number of vineyards and wineries. Some really lovely stuff is coming from this area, and a great number of varietals are being planted.
West of Wenatchee up in the Cascade Mountains is the little town of Leavenworth, styled and modeled after Austrian and quaint German country towns. The Wenatchee river flows nearby and several vineyards are planted along its banks and the surrounding area.
Washington is unique in the US in that it is the only state where wine is being grown pretty much entirely throughout the state. Check out this list of all the Washington Wineries.
As previously mentioned, estates and vineyards are growing pretty much every wine grape varietal in Washington. In the beginning, the focus was largely on white varietals, focusing on Chardonnay and Riesling. Cabernet Sauvignon now leads in popularity, along with Syrah and Merlot. There are over 80 different varietals being grown, including several lesser known ones. While you should try the single varietal offerings Washington has to offer, you would be remiss if you didn't explore some of the excellent blends available, this is really where Washington wine makers excel.
Washington wines are often described as mixing the best of Old and New World styles. If you haven't explored the flavors of Washington yet, it's time to do so. Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, Wine Advocate and Robert Parker have all been jumping on the Washington bandwagon, and Washington wines have been receiving 90 point and higher ratings. Cayuse Impulsivo Tempranillo has even rated 100 points from Robert Parker TWICE! At the 2015 Indy International Wine Competition, Barrister Winery from Spokane, Mercer Estates from Prosser, Two Vintners Winery from Woodinville and Zerba Cellars from Walla Walla all won the coveted Double Gold award. Washington Wines also excelled at the San Francisco International Wine Competition.
(License | Attribution: Agne27)
10 Washington Wines $50 & Under to Try
Red Washington Wines $50 & Under
1. Mark Ryan Winery - 2013 Long Haul (Wine Advocate 93-95 points), $50.
Mark McNeilly is my favorite wine maker. His wines blow me away every time, and I don't think you can't go wrong with any of them. Long Haul is a gorgeous blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot. This is a prime example of an incredible Washington red blend.
2. Balboa Winery - 2012 Merlot, $36.
Tom Glase is another of my favorite wine makers. Balboa is his label, but he is also the winemaker for Beresan (try the Carmenere $35). The Merlot is a fine example of Washington Merlot, full of dark fruit and earthiness.
3. Brian Carter Cellars - 2011 Corrida (Gold Medal at 2015 Seattle Wine Awards), $34.
Brian Carter also specializes in blends with a European influence. Corrida is his Spanish blend with Tempranillo, Merlot, Graciano, Garnacha, and Cabernet Sauvignon aged in Oak. It's amazing
4. Cuillin Hills Winery - 2012 The Dungeon Syrah, $45
Washington does some amazing Syrah, but in my humble opinion, Derek DesVoigne does it best. Cuillin Hills is a small winery, and the Dungeon is amazing. With 4% Viognier, this is a big, bold Washington Wine.
5. Dunham Cellars - 2012 Trutina $29.00
The late Eric Dunham was an incredible wine maker. His family and friends are keeping on his tradition, and the Trutina is another remarkable Washington blend. Made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Syrah and Petit Verdot.
White Washington Wines $50 & Under
1. Mark Ryan Winery - 2014 Viognier (Wine Advocate 90 points), $30.00
Again, I love Mark. This Viognier is scrumptious full of tones of lovely stone fruits, citrus and honey. It's one of my favorite Washington Whites.
2. Buty Winery - 2011 Semillon, Sauvigon & Muscadelle, $65 (ok it's over $50... but it's worth it.)
This Washington interpretation of a White Bordeaux is really lovely and you should try it. If you don't feel like splurging that much, their Chardonnay, $35.00, is also amazing (91 points, stainless steel barrel aged).
3. Alexandra Nicole Cellars - 2014 Marsanne Destiny Ridge (90 points and BTI World Wine Championship - Gold), $28.00
Alexandra Nicole Cellars makes some lovely wines. The Marsanne consistently gets really good reviews. A lesser known varietal, it's a medium bodied white with lovely tropical and honeysuckle notes.
4. Efeste - 2013 Evergreen Riesling (93 points, Wine Enthusiast top 100 wine for 2015), $20.00
A lovely Washington Riesling sourced from the Columbia Valley with complex character. Efeste has delicious offerings. The Riesling is a wonderful demonstration of one of the most popular varieties of the area.
5. Woodward Canyon - 2013 Washington State Chardonnay (92 points Wine Spectator), $44.00
Aged in French Burgundy barrels, Woodward Canyon does a beautiful job with Chardonnay (and all their other wines). Just the right amount of oak. This Chardonnay demonstrates creaminess, lemon curd, pear and floral tones.