Every day is a good day for wine from Washington, but in March we spend 31 days patting ourselves on the back for being so darn good at making—and drinking—it. Officially, the celebration is known as “Taste Washington Wine Month,” but around here, we just call it “The Best Month Ever.” Here’s how local wine insiders suggest you make the most of it.
- By the glass
Erik Liedholm, wine director for Seastar and John Howie Steak, is smitten with the 2014 Schloss Howie Riesling, his favorite selection from the current by-the-glass list. “This was a custom wine made in a partnership with Long Shadows,” he says. “It is fresh and bright with just a bit of residual sugar. So good with charcuterie”
Over at Purple Café and Wine Bar, wine director Chris Horn (pictured at right) picks the Kerloo “Majestic” Grenache, Columbia Valley 2013. “Ryan Crane adds a touch of Mourvedre to the mix, which brings some darkness and depth,” he says. “Wickedly good.”
- By the bottle
Daniel’s Broiler wine director Victoria Antilla’s favorite bottle is a perfect pairing for the restaurant’s signature USDA prime: “We have so many amazing Washington wines, it is hard to pick just one, but Grammercy Cellars’ “The Deuce” Syrah pairs beautifully with the nice bit of char that we put on our steaks,” she says.
From the impressive wine list at El Gaucho Bellevue, wine director Josh Lehman picks the 2007 Côte Bonneville estate blend, while Purple’s Horn loves the Reininger Carmenere, Walla Walla Valley 2012. “They were nice enough to let us have a few cases of this small production wine,” he says. “It shows off the grape—herbs, dark fruit and mouth drama.”
- At a dinner party
Horn is positively effervescent in his praise for Analemma’s “Atavus” Blanc de Noir Brut, Columbia Gorge, 2010. “I’ve never had a better sparkling wine from Washington,” he says. “And who doesn’t want to start a party with bubbles?”
“Blends are a great choice for parties and not only does Chris Gorman make some of the best in the state, but the names on his wines always make for great conversation starters,” says Antilla. “Gorman Winery’s ‘The Devil You Know,’ a classic Bordeaux-style red wine, is always a crowd pleaser.”
“Anything at the a’Maurice tasting room,” says Horn. “Really. Anything.”
Liedholm is a bit more specific. “A’Maurice Malbec,” he says. “A great pour from a knowledgeable and very friendly tasting-room team.”
- After a chilly hike
“I hate being cold,” says Horn. “It’s my least favorite thing in the world. So I would rely on the warming nature of the B. Leighton ‘Olsen Brothers Vineyard’ Petit Verdot, Yakima Valley 2012. It’s a bear skin rug of a wine.”
“If it was a really long hike, perhaps the 2012 Feather Cabernet Sauvignon. That would be a worthy reward,” says Liedholm. “If I had just hiked up Mount Rainier, it would naturally be Gramercy Cellars’ ‘The Third Man’—the name is inspired by the occasional hallucinatory effect of climbing at high altitudes.”
- On the first warm day of spring
When the temperature finally begins to climb, Lehman uncorks the Fidelitas Optu white, and Horn breaks out the Dowsett Family “Celilo Vineyard” Gewurztraminer 2013. “It’s good any day, but it smells like spring in a glass,” he says.
Antilla chooses Sleight of Hand’s “the Enchantress.” “Halibut season starts in the spring, and this wine is so good with halibut lightly pan-seared in butter with just a bit of sea salt and lemon,” she says. “Deck dining weather is almost here!”
- At a picnic
“When I picnic, I usually pack antipasti, cheese and cured meat,” says Antilla. “A white wine that hits all the right notes with so many different flavors is Viognier, and Steven’s Winery’s “Divio” has just the right amount of stone fruit on the nose and creamy lemon on the palate to wash down my hamper full of treats.”
“When I think spring, I think Sauvignon Blanc,” says Horn. “And when I think of which Washington Sauvignon Blanc I most want to pound in a park, it’s Avennia’s ‘Oliane,’ Yakima Valley 2014.”
- When you’re watching the sunset
“The end of the day calls for something smooth and sippable,” says Antilla. “Long Shadows’ “Saggi” is modeled after a Super Tuscan wine, Sangiovese being the dominate grape with some Cabernet and Syrah providing a nice rounded flavor profile.”
Lehman also chooses a red blend to bid farewell to the sun: Rotie Cellars’ Southern Blend, while Horn is partial to saying goodnight with a white: “Toasting the sun with a glass of Lullaby Viognier is attitudinally correct both in name and flavor,” he says.
- When you’re saving for a rainy day
Liedholm’s bargain pick is Columbia Crest’s “Grand Estates’ line. “The wines are consistently delicious and despite an enormous production output, they have a sense of place and taste much more expensive than they are,” he says. “Just because they are inexpensive doesn’t make them cheap.”
“Tamarack Cellars manages to make great wines for great prices,” says Horn. “Be it the Chardonnay or their Firehouse Red—both over deliver.”
- After you win the lottery
Even when the sky’s the limit, Horn is loyal to local, choosing Woodward Canyon’s Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon 2012. “I could afford something pricier if I won the lottery, but there’s no reason,” he says. “It’s the best Cabernet from one of the best Cabernet vintages I’ve seen.”
Lehman would choose the 2007 Quilceda Creek Cabernet, and Liedholm would splurge on the 1989 Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon. “I first tried this wine at a restaurant in Michigan (where I grew up) and it was the proverbial ‘game changer’ in my thoughts about New World wine,” he says.
If you still haven’t satisfied your curiosity about our local wines, we suggest a visit to nearby Woodinville Wine Country, home to more than 100 tasting rooms and wineries, all with distinctive characters and vintages.
Among our favorites is sleek-but-convivial Novelty Hill | Januik, which features a lovely terraced garden, a bocce court, delicious wood-fired pizzas and, most importantly, an extensive tasting menu. We also love the charming DeLille Cellars Carriage House Tasting Room, with its inviting covered patio, rustic wine-barrel tables and coveted pours of limited-production wines.
And no trip to wine country would be complete without a visit to Chateau Ste. Michelle, where a stunning setting, trout ponds, a resident peacock and gourmet cheeses are just the icing on the cake—the cake being a sampling of the winery’s award-winning and premium wines.
We could go on and on about the wonderful wines—and wineries—of Washington, but March is quickly approaching and we need time to plan our celebration. We hope you’ll join us.
(Photo Credits, Top to Bottom: Jay Mantri via Stocksnap.io, picture of Chris Horn courtesy of Purple Cafe & Wine Bar, Jay Wennington via Stocksnap.io, JM Cellars Wine Glass courtesy of Althea Conyers Achem, Sharon Linton, Woodinville Wine Country, Pexels.com, Luis Llerena via Stocksnap.io, Novelty Hill Januik)