Taste Washington Seminar: Intro to the World of Wine

Guest Post by Juli Crompe.

Another year has come and gone at Taste Washington Seattle (Taste). I feel so lucky and grateful for the opportunity to attend for the third year in a row. On top of the wonderful event itself, Taste now offers seminars before the event, four on Saturday and three on Sunday, on a variety of extremely interesting and educational topics (check them out here).

On Saturday, I chose to attend "Intro to the World of Wine", with moderator Sean Sullivan of Washington Wine Report, and panelists Dr. Kevin Pogue of Whitman College, Thomas Henick-Kling of Washington State University, Thomas Price MS of the Metropolitan Grill and Linda Murphy, author of "American Wine, an Honest Drink." Quite the caliber of experts for a 90 minute synopsis on the world  of wine. Luckily, they chose to focus mainly on Washington and a few basics. I thought this would be the perfect seminar to share with you; regardless of if you're new to wine or knowledgeable, the odds are that you will learn something. I know I did!

Panel set up for Intro to the World of Wine seminar.

Some general facts:
  • Washington state is the 2nd highest grape producer in the country, second to California, producing approximately 188 tons of grapes each year.
  • In 2004, there were approximately 320 wineries in Washington state, today there are almost 800.
  • The main varietals Washington grows are riesling, chardonnay, merlot, syrah and cabernet sauvignon.
  • Washington state grows about 40 different varietals.
  • Most varietals grow well in our state due to the many climates and rich soil.
  • Most of our soil is volcanic, basalt based rock, a great foundation for grape growing.
  • There are 13 AVA's in Washington recognized by the US Treasury Department.
  • Terroir is a term used quite often in wine discussion, and it means the qualities that are inherent in a wine based on the geography of where the grapes are grown. This includes climate, direction the sun hits the vineyard, soil, chemistry of the land, slope of the vineyard and many other factors, all of which interact with the flavors that are exhibited in a specific bottle of wine. In other words, the sum of the effects that the local environment has on the total production/flavor/qualities of a wine.
  • Syrah is a tough sell in the market as it is one of the least consistent grapes. Flavors can change significantly based on the environment it was grown in, so many people are hesitant to buy syrah (while I personally LOVE it!).
  • Washington state and Bordeaux are the only two good merlot growing regions in the world!
  • Read more facts here!

The format for the seminar was a blind tasting of sorts. There were 6 wines poured in front of us, numbered 1-6, and they were tasted in sets of two. The varietals were given for each set of two, but each of us had to decipher which was which in each set.

Set one was riesling and chardonnay, set two was syrah and merlot, and the final set was cabernet sauvignon and a red blend. With each set, Thomas Price went through his two or three "tells" or standards that each grape should exhibit in flavor, to be able to tell which was which.

  • Riesling: Peach, Lime, High Acid.
  • Chardonnay: Tropical, Apple, Banana, Oak, Butterscotch, Vanilla, Coconut.
  • Syrah: Smokey, Bacon, Black Pepper, Red/Blue Fruit.
  • Merlot: Raspberry, Fruit.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon: Black Fruit, Dense, Black Olive, Oak, Baking Spice.
  • Blend (based on the grapes in it): White Pepper, Raspberry, Thyme/Rosemary.

  • 2012 Kung Fu Girl, Charles Smith Riesling, $12: really good, smooth, not too sweet, and balanced. A great buy! Notes
  • 2011 Novelty Hill Stillwater Creek, Columbia Valley Chardonnay, $23: smooth, light, good structure with tree fruit flavors. Notes
  • 2010 Proper Wines, Walla Walla Valley Syrah, $36: Deep color, fruit forward, tannic/long finish, plum & berry flavors. Notes
  • 2009 Obelisco Estate Reserve Merlot, Red Mountain, $45: young with strong flavors that will develop over time. Notes
  • 2009 Chateau Ste Michelle Canoe Ridge Estate, Horse Heaven Hills, $28: tannic, concentrated flavor, Sean calls this a superb value for the depth, flavor & sophistication. Notes
  • 2011 Syncline Subduction Red, Columbia Valley, $20-a blend of grenache, mouvedre and syrah, light, fruity, with hints of pepper, cherry & berries. Notes

Felt very lucky to have this in front of me. Some really great wines!

More facts about Washington soil and growing regions:
  • Basalt, the majority of our wine growing soil, crushed our crust millions of years ago causing low elevations, and made for dense soil. It absorbs heat very well, and is iron heavy. There are very few basalt based growing regions in the world.
  • Huge floods millions of years ago created layers and layers of complex soil. Some of the vines today are still rooted in those layers.
  • Washington state has cold weather & low levels of clay, a perfect combination for keeping common disease away from our vines.
  • Horse Heaven Hills region is warmer, more ideal for red wine growth, as reds need more sun.
  • Yakima Valley is cooler, more ideal for white wine growth.

If you're new to wine tasting (and/or struggling with the "tasting" part), one of the best takeaways from the day was from Thomas Price who said "Everyone has the ability to taste. If I give you an apple, and then a peach, you'll know the difference." Wine tasting doesn't have to be difficult. I'm certainly no expert, and while I've made a hobby of learning about wine, there are always challenges in picking out certain notes. I find myself saying often "What is that I'm tasting?" but with the help of the label notes (cheating!) and people around me, I continue to learn and expand my palate. Don't be discouraged!

The final note I will leave with you, that will guide some of my wine buying over the next few years: 2012 is predicted to be an incredible year for Cabernet Sauvignon! I can't wait to get my hands on some to see if the experts are right.


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