Wine is a matter of personal preference. This is often made even more evident when wine tasting with friends, as wine preferences can vary greatly. While I am not a wine connoisseur by any means, I do love a sensational vino that lingers in my mind long after the first impression. Often certain wines win you over because they create a feeling or memory or pair well with certain foods.
Recently, I had the opportunity to travel with the Washington State Wine Commission for 8 days to several of the state’s wine regions laced with highways and byways that provide inspiring changing scenery – from Walla Walla Valley to Red Mountain, then on to Prosser crossing the Cascade Mountains.
We drove north to Woodinville, about 30 minutes northeast of Seattle where emerging boutique wineries bring together the state’s broadest mix of winemakers and styles and where tasters can customize their own oenological paradise over several neighborhoods. Our wine finale ended in Seattle for the Taste Washington. Overall, we sipped at least 160 wines over 8 days.
Not only did I meet more female winemakers than anywhere else in the world, I learned that Washington State wine is the second largest producer of wine in America. But the state is having somewhat of a wine identity crisis. Should Washington wine be marketed from the state or the numerous regions like Walla Walla, Yakima Valley, or Red Mountain? Should Washington State be known for one type of wine when so many varietals are being made? There are more than 70 varieties of grapes grown in the state and that number continues to increase as winemakers explore new possibilities. Here I sampled a few wines new to me like Carmenere and GSM (Grenache Syrah Mourvedre red blend).
One thing is certain – Washington State is not hung up on old-world notions. There are over 1,100 wineries to experience in Washington State. But for those of you who can’t make it to the Pacific Northwest right now, here are our favorite vinos in the Evergreen State – all with affordable price points that you might be able to snag online. Learn more about our Favorite Wine Experiences in Washington State on JohnnyJet.com and MSN.com (https://johnnyjet.com/top-washington-state-wine-experiences/)
10 Washington State Wines to Sip and Savor
Spring Valley Vineyard Katherine 100% Cabernet Franc (Walla Walla)
While we don’t see the 2016 Cab Franc online, there is a 2018 and 2019 100% Cab Franc available and all the reds at Spring Valley Vineyard are sensational. Described as “Dark fruit aromas mixed with herbal, dusty and almond notes,” the Cab Franc was one of our absolute favorite wines sipped in Washington State. The family’s roots here date back to the mid-1800s when Shari Corkrum Derby’s grandfather Uriah began farming in the area. Today, every grape is tested by hand, including crop thinning, leaf pulling, and harvesting.
Young female winemaker Kate Derby Raymond who is the great-great-granddaughter of Spring Valley founder Uriah Corkrum reminds us that, “Wine is like a feeling.” The family’s wine labels preserve their history and family stories. Spring Valley’s Vineyard’s Uriah Red Blend was voted 17th and then 13th in the world by Wine Spectator. The spicy 2017 Frederick Red Blend also pleased our palette. Sample all of their extraordinary 100% estate-grown wines by booking a farm supper here any day of the week for six or more.
Fun Fact: Many AVA’s in Washington state are less than 10 years old.
Caprio Cellars 2020 Red Label Cabernet Sauvignon (Walla Walla)
While we also enjoyed the 2021 Estate White Wine Blend, Bordeaux blending is Caprio Cellars’ strength. There are a lot of similarities between Cabernet Sauvignon in Walla Walla and Napa due to minerality from the soil and fractured basalt giving the ability to grow big strong Cabs. The challenge in Walla Walla is the majority of the vines are younger.
Founder and winemaker Dennis Murphy was named by the Wine Industry Advisors as The Most Inspiring Wine Person in 2022. He moved to the area 24 years ago to learn how to make wine and planted his first vineyard in 2005, releasing Caprio Cellars’ first vintage in 2010. He mentioned he would like to plant Petit Verdot, then Caprio Cellars would have all 5 varietals. With Caprio Cellars’ award-winning 100 % estate-grown Bordeaux varietals, be prepared to want to buy every bottle!
The beautiful new tasting room built in 2019 offers a phenomenal food and wine pairing for FREE when you reserve in advance. In-house Executive Chef Kyle Daniel creates seasonally inspired small plates from a custom-designed food truck kitchen next to the tasting room specifically paired to enhance each wine. Guests can expect exquisite offerings like garden salads with local organic produce, duck confit, Italian meatballs, and baklava. There is a 20-person max seating in the tasting room for each wine pairing.
Fun Fact: Situated in southeastern Washington, Walla Walla was named the “Best Wine Region” in America by USA Today for 3 years.
Treveri Cellars Sparkling Wine Brut Prestige (Yakima Valley)
At this sparkling wine house in the Yakima Valley, start your day with bubbles at Washington’s sole sparkling wine house! Owner and head winemaker Juergen Grieb of Treveri Cellars was born and raised in Trier, Germany where he received his formal winemaking and sparkling wine degrees. After applying for a winemaking job in 1982, he has been in Washington State making wine ever since.
Juergen and his son Christian produce cool sparkling wines marrying Washington fruit and German roots – try the Sparkling Muller-Thurgau (hybrid between a Riesling and Silvaner grape) or Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc. Our favorite bubble are the timeless classic that brings the best cuveés for the year into one bottle – the Treveri Cellars Brut Prestige using traditional champagne grapes (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay). Purchase a bottle covered in colored sparkles.
Spend an afternoon sipping handcrafted 100% varietal methode champenoise sparkling wines (sparkling wine or bubbly cocktails) on the wrap-around covered patio seating that extends to numerous outdoor tables with vineyard views on every side; or in colder months find enclosed igloos where cheese and charcuterie plates are available for purchase. With a wide variety of terroir, Washington state can produce expressive wines that are fruit-forward and balanced but the best part is the are affordable – around $20 or less a bottle.
Find Treveri Sparkling Wines at Butcher’s Daughter in L.A. and Morimoto Restaurants around the world. The sparkling wines have been served at the White House and US State Department and on the wine lists of some of the Pacific Northwest’s top restaurants and bars.
Fun Fact: Yakima Valley became an AVA in 1983, a year after Napa.
14 Hands 2019 Reserve Merlot (Prosser)
While we had a hard time deciding if we liked the 14 Hands Reserve Merlot ($40) from Horse Heaven Hills or the 14 Hands 2019 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) better, try them all with their wine and cake pairing – where our favorite Nothing Bundt Cakes are matched with 3 winery-exclusive Reserve wines. Dubbed “Bundt Bites and Wine Flights,” the big fruit-forward reds are extraordinary but don’t miss the crisp juicy whites and bubbly rose.
The inspiration for 14 Hands wines recalls a time when wild mustangs once freely roamed the hills of eastern Washington, measuring 14 hands high. These small horses would travel down from the hills every day to drink from the mighty Columbia River and graze upon the waist-high grasses along the riverbank and then retreat back up into the hills to cool off at night. The little horses became known for their endurance and were revered around the world. The landscape that gave these unbridled horses their spirit and tenacity today feeds the vines of 14 Hands.
SMAK 2021 Spring Rose (Walla Walla)
Owner and female winemaker Fiona Mak is the first Asian winemaker in Washington state. She exclusively makes rosés and her winery is founded on the French concept of drinking rosé year-round as she realized when she moved to Washington state that it can be 100 degrees in July. So why not bring the rose mentality to Walla Walla? Growing up in Hong Kong, Fiona was a wine drinker at age 14, since her dad hosted parties featuring the best. After being a sommelier in New York City, managing Japanese restaurants, and summering in Nice, she set out to create an all-rosé winery based on seasonality encapsulating the French concept of drinking rosé year-round. Even the labels take you to France as bottles are donned with sketches of beautiful happy women in Paris or the south of France.
SMAK (a combination of her name) rosé wines are named for seasons where she manipulates winemaking to evoke different seasons and feelings. The 2021 Spring Rosé ($20) is light and refreshing with notes of honeysuckle, tangerines, and lychees – a Sangiovese bubbly wine easily sipped all day poolside or beachside.
Also, owner/winemaker Fiona Mak also has a takeout dumpling business in the area.
LATTA Wines 2019 Lawrence Vineyard Syrah and 2019 GSM ‘Mayor Bill’ Upland Vineyard GSM (Columbia Valley)
Winemaker Andrew Latta focuses on less common grapes, many with Rhone origins like Roussanne, Mourvedre, and cinsault – often from the most unique vineyards in Washington. Years of sourcing the geologically diverse soils of eastern Washington led to the release of two very special wines, then four, and so on with often extremely small productions. At a winemaker dinner, we were blown away by LATTA’s 2019 Syrah and LATTA’s 2019 GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre).
Founded in 2011, LATTA Wines is the product of years of sweat – from cellar hand to winemaker. Latta Wines can be found in SoDo (South of Downtown) in Seattle, a major new tasting area called SoDo Urbanworks, home now to 10 wineries and tasting rooms.
JM Cellars Ruby Port (Portugal in Woodinville)
A woody, serene 7-acre setting in Woodinville is where you might expect fairies or gnomes to pop out from the trees offering you a sip of vino. Thirty minutes northeast of Seattle, JM Cellars has been crafting wine since 1998 in Woodinville. This former home – once a dairy farm in the Pacific Coast woods – is surrounded by flowers and Douglas fir trees and is now used for weddings and events and tastings. Cuddle up at the fireplace or outdoor fire area by reserving a time online in advance.
Winemaker John Bigelow sources wine from across the state and stomps his own grapes. They make 5-7,000 cases a year with 4 releases annually, almost all sold to wine club members.
Sample JM Cellars Pinot Noir made with Sonoma grapes, a sparkling wine made with Puget Sound grapes, a Chilean wine called Carmemere, or the one we fell in love with – their stellar port made with grapes from Portugal, inspired by John’s trip up the Douro River. This Tawny Port from JM Cellars blends 3 vintages – creating a dark ruby red showing deep cherry, blackberry, and raisin flavors and aromas. No need to finish in one sitting, as this bottle can be stored in a cool, dry environment lasting 4-6 weeks. Sip with dark chocolate desserts or blue cheese.
DeLille Cellars 2019 Four Flags Cabernet (Red Mountain AV)
DeLille Cellars was the first winery in the state to focus on both red and white Bordeaux-style blends. Sample wines in a three-story modern tasting room in Woodinville where over 20 of DeLille’s wines showcase the unique terroir of Washington through the European art of blending.
Delille Cellars’ 2019 D2 red wine blend ($50) that showcases the beauty of Washington State Merlot from the Columbia Valley is very well known and named after the D2 highway that leads through France’s Bordeaux wine region. Our favorite blend was the 100% Red Mountain Four Flags Cabernet with 4 vineyard sites on Red Mountain where winemakers are experimenting with grapes on various elevations on Red Mountain.
Just 30 minutes outside the city, there are 117 wine tasting rooms and 127 wine brands in a 5×2 mile radius. The winemakers in Woodinville said the area’s slogan is “Drinking the entire state.”
The Walls 2018 Wonderful Nightmare Tempranillo and 2019 Mahana Syrah (Walla Walla)
Owner Mike Martin and winemaker Todd Alexander of The Walls are strongly committed to sustainability, showcasing the fruit’s diverse capabilities in Walla Walla Valley. Not only do we love their names and labels, the Wonderful Nightmare tempranillo is unlike any other in Washington state with notes of leather and tobacco grown in the Rocks District where it is a challenge to grow due to frost causing the heat-loving grape to quickly shut down but when done here, “it is the ultimate contrast.”
The 2019 Mahana Syrah from River Rock Vineyard is described on their website as a “rocking nose of red and blackberry fruits as well as flowery incense, peppery spice, and sandalwood.” This juicy goodness is a Rhône varietal from the famed Rocks District too consisting of 61% Syrah, 38% Grenache, and 1% Viognier.
Chateau Ste. Michelle Red Blend Columbia Valley 2020 or Luxe Brut Sparkling Wine
If you can’t visit the state’s oldest and most acclaimed winery, order some of our favorite wines from Chateau Ste. Michelle‘s extensive wine shop straight to your home, like the 2020 Red Blend from Columbia Valley or Chateau Ste Michelle’s Luxe Brut Sparkling Wine.
Others you may like include 2018 Artist Series Red Wine from Columbia Valley or wine from their Limited Release Collection like the 2018 Limited Release Cold Creek Vineyard Red Blend with spice notes drawing out the fruit-driven finish. Planted in 1973, Cold Creek Vineyard is celebrating 50 years as one of the oldest, warmest, and most acclaimed vineyards in Washington producing concentrated powerful wines with great aging potential.
We tried so many sensational wines that it was hard to pinpoint them all.
Don’t miss Frichette Winery, Col Solare, Columbia Crest, Mark Ryan, Cataclysm, Patterson Cellars, Hedges, Dama Wines, Yellowhawk Sparkling Wines, Valdemar Estates, Grosgrain, Liquid Light Rose….
Is Washington State America’s best-kept wine secret? I think so. With the state’s grape diversity and home to 20 wine-growing regions, you’ll never get bored with the state’s exciting wine options. Now order some of these favorite grapes right to your door!
To read more stories about wine, check out our articles about German wine and the Wine Princess OR
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OR other California wine regions:
Santa Barbara wine gems and Downtown Santa Barbara wine fun and where we Wined and Dined in Santa Barbara County in 2017 + Part II
Central California Coast and sipping wine in Buellton
Paso Robles and the Field of Light that is still evolving today along with where you should wine taste in Paso Robles
Sonoma with Avelo Airlines