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How do you Describe Washington Wine? Reflections on TasteWashington @TasteWashington


Washington Wine Dazzles at Taste! 

I don't always develop a relationship with my facebook followers, this month though, I've been interacting with a new follower, Kimihiro. For the last two months he's been quick to “like” many of my photographs and posts. As I've learned, he is a fan of Washington wine, but little Washington wine is available to him. He's been quite taken with what I've shared on facebook about Taste Washington and I've encouraged him to attend next year. But he told me, “I can't attend that because I'm in Japan! But I really love WA wine:).”

This has driven home, again, how important I feel it is to showcase the treasures produced by Washington winemakers. It is a privilege and responsibility to share my Washington wine experiences with my readers and followers. My conversation with Kimihiro began with Taste Washington. My “reflections” on Taste Washington have grown into this post. Admittedly, it is no simple task to encapsulate Taste Washington with these few words and photographs.

Hopefully, my efforts will help educate you and Kimihiro a little more about Taste and Washington wine; and maybe you will find an opportunity to attend Taste Washington yourself. At a minimum, I hope to help you identify wines to purchase for home. Consider yourself invited to visit Washington Wine Country and Taste Washington.

- William

Taste Washington "Drink - Eat - Learn"

Taste Washington 2015

"There's a lot of Washington wine waiting to be experienced!...Prepare to be dazzled."

How do you describe Washington wine? How do you learn about Washington's wineries, winemakers and 13 AVA's? How do you do it all in four days? Taste Washington (Taste)!

Appropriately, the tag-line for Taste Washington is “Drink – Eat – Learn.”

Taste the Red Mountain AVA.
An Experienced Palate

Washingtonians drink a lot of Washington wine. We are rather proud of the quality of wine produced by our wineries. With over 850 different wineries in the state, how do you go about selecting which wines to purchase? Whose palate do you trust? 

I acknowledge that I have a diverse preference for wine: white, red, rose', blends, single varietal, common and obscure grapes, bold, subtle, predictable, sweet, savory, and the unexpected discovery. My preference for wine is influenced by my moods, food I prepare, the seasons, social situations and body chemistry. The more wine I experience, the more in-tune I am with my wine drinking preferences. It's all about an experienced palate developed over decades. And there's a lot of Washington wine waiting to be experienced! 


Taste Washington 2015 - Learn

Today, I am sharing with you some reflections on my experiences at Taste Washington 2015 Seattle. Now in its 18th year, Taste Washington is the nation’s largest single-region wine and food event and the premier showcase of Washington State wines and culinary experiences.

If you listened to our April “The Wine Muse” podcastthen you already heard me pontificate about the wonderful wines I enjoyed at Taste Washington as well as some Taste related information.

Taste Washington Grand Tasting.

Taste Washington 2015 Statistics:

Participating wineries: 234
Participating restaurants: More than 65
Participating hotel packages: 11
Exhibitors: More than 50
Featured wines: 800
Overall Attendance: 6,307
Grand Tasting Attendance: 4,991
Total estimated number of wine pours: 200,000

Yes! That's a lot of wine. This year I only sampled a few of the more than 800 wines poured. I drank less, even though this year there was more to experience.

Columbia Gorge AVA Seminar.
New This Year
Taste expanded to four days, which included: the second annual Red & White Party, the newly created Taste Washington on the Farm Lunches offered the opportunity to meet farmers, winemakers, chefs, expert oyster growers, artisan cheese makers and urban farmers, and the upbeat event, The New Vintage with a backdrop of celebrity chef tasting stations, DJ Tina T and winemakers. On the weekend were educational wine seminars held at the Four Seasons Hotel, culminating with the Grand Tastings on Saturday and Sunday at Century Link Field Event Center.

I manged to attend the Grand Tasting on Sunday, an educational session on the Columbia Gorge AVA on Saturday and a special, “invite only” wine tasting Friday. Whew!

Visit Seattle did a wonderful job with Taste Washington. I was impressed. Attendance was strong at the Grand Tasting both days. Even though Taste Washington is the nation’s largest single-region wine and food event, flow to and from winery and restaurant booths was smooth and never did I feel crowded or uncomfortable. Wineries pouring had only positive comments about the event. Bravo!

Standing in line for Taste Washington Grand Tasting.
CenturyLink Field Event Center

Taste Washington is held in Seattle, Washington, typically around the Easter holiday. The Grand Tasting is hosted at the CenturyLink Field Event Center. CenturyLink Fields is home of the NFL Superbowl 2014 champs Seattle Seahawks. CenturyLink Fields is a premier event venue that's also home to the Seattle Sounders FC pro soccer team. Adjacent to the Field is the WaMu Theater, part of CenturyLink Field located in Seattle's Pioneer Square. Events taking place here are extremely diverse, from the Seattle Kennel Club Dog Show to a Volbeat metal concert.

The Taste Washington Grand Tasting was held at the CenturyLink Field Event Center, a 200,000-square-foot space that hosts many trade and consumer shows.

*Tip: When you attend Taste Washington next year, because I know you want to, the size of the venue may overwhelm. My recommendation is to walk around the facility to get a feel for the size and awareness of the food and wine options.

**Tip: I also suggest making a list of wineries and exhibits you don't want to miss. Make them the priority. I suspect you will be distracted many times over. I certainly was this year.

Anthony's Restaurant.
The Restaurants - Eat

More than 65 Pacific Northwest restaurants offered bites of food to go along with the wines poured. Restaurant booths were placed alongside wineries throughout the venue. The only line I saw was for the fresh Oysters served strategically at the back with many wonderful wine options. It seemed everyone knew about the oysters as the line formed rapidly.

This year I made an effort to visit as many restaurants as possible. It was a convenient way to expose myself to many different Seattle area restaurants and cuisines in one afternoon. I'll likely never have the opportunity to visit each of these restaurants. At least I had a taste thanks to Taste Washington. Expect more about the restaurants in a future post. 

The Wine - Drink

Ultimately, Taste Washington is about the wine. With 230 featured wineries and more than 800 different wines poured this year, Taste provided a unique opportunity to explore and discover Washington wine. I did not count all the wines I tasted, or how many I drank, but I will re-count my memorable wine experiences below. The greatest challenge to Taste is deciding which wineries and which wines to taste. Daunting if you go without a plan.

A Plan

My friend Jameson Fink shared good advice on his blog about how to "survive" Taste Washington. He suggested picking one variety/style of wine to learn about, and then only taste that one type. He used Cabernet Franc as an example, “Get to know Cabernet Franc at Taste Washington.

The Taste Event Program Guide, showed that 26 Cabernet Franc wines were to be poured. A wonderful and special opportunity to taste and learn about Washington Cabernet Franc. My friend Sara followed this advice and tasted all 26! Great idea Jameson.

Pick a wine to pair with fresh oysters.
The Wines, The Wines
I was invited to attend Taste as a media representative. Admittedly, even with a plan in hand, my head was turned more than once by winemakers and growers. Taste provided wonderful and sometimes unexpected experiences.

As I began exploring the venue at Taste, I walked around and down row after row of tables with wines new to me and familiar. The occasional "hello" and "I'll be back" responses as the smells of cooking food and welcoming smiles greeted and teased the senses. I smiled and paused to take photo after photo, "I'm taking pictures first, I'll taste later" was my initial comment, "I'm taking it all in."


Taste the Vineyards - Kiona Vineyards - Red Mountain

The first table I stopped at to taste was in the "Taste the Vineyards" section. There were nine featured vineyards in this section of Taste. JJ Williams of Kiona Vineyards saw me walking past and flagged me down with a tempting selection of wines. He was pouring wines made from Kiona Vineyards grapes. JJ was friendly and engaging as always. I could sense the family pride he felt for the grapes they grew, which I was enjoying in the wines he poured. It takes quality fruit to make quality wine.

*Note: Kiona Vineyard was the first vineyard planted on Red Mountain. Kiona Vineyards and Winery pioneered what would later become the Red Mountain AVA in 1975 by planting Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Riesling. That original planting was followed by Merlot, Lemberger, and Chenin Blanc in 1976. Kiona grows more than 20 Vitis vinifera varietals on approximately 250 acres on Red Mountain.

JJ Williams poured eight wonderful wines featuring Kiona Vineyard fruit. Wow! This was part of the unexpected experience at Taste. Stunning examples of what can be done with fruit from one vineyard. Educational and inspiring. I strongly recommend all eight wines JJ poured. Look for the vineyard specific showcase next year.

Here are the wines JJ poured for me.

Helioterra 2013 Mourvedre.

1. Helioterra 2013 Mourvedre (Oregon winery)
Kiona grows 4.5 acres of Mourvedre.
Helioterra makes this one Washington wine.
Pretty wine, lovely color, spicy, gamey, very good.

2. Walla Walla Vintners 2012 Bello Rosso 
Blend: 50% Sangiovese (Kiona vineyard), 50% Cabernet Sauvignon (Bacchus vineyard)
Very drinkable. Restrained style. Pretty wine.

3. Sparkman Cellars Yonder 2013 Cabernet Franc
Not released (May?) - Wow!
Planted in front of the Kiona tasting room, next to the Lemberger.
Kiona has 4 acres planted of Cabernet Franc.

4. Ward Johnson 2012 Syrah Pier 89
Small Seattle, urban winery.
A good food wine, with a pretty finish.

5. Kiona 2012 Old Block
100% Cabernet Sauvignon.
A Kiona wine made from the original 1975 Kiona vineyard (very first Red Mountain vineyard planted). A special bottling, as Kiona does not make it every year. Just released to Kiona wine club.
Gorgeous. Elegant wine. Ready to drink.
Old and mellow vines, mellow wine, mellow tannin. leaf roll on these vines delayed maturation, reduced need to crop, allowing more hang time (a benefit in hot zone because of reduced photosynthesis).

6. Rasa Winery 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Added to my must visit list. They are a Walla Walla winery started in 2007 by two brothers. I am not familiar with them and must fix.

7. Native Sun 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon 
100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Truly beautiful wine. I am friends with owners/winemaker Kyle and Amy Johnson. Became an instant fan the first time I sampled their Native Sun label. Lovely.

8. Kiona 2014 Ice Wine Chenin Blanc
Picked day after Veterans day, frozen on vine.
Kiona still grows Chenin Blanc, and allows some for Ice Wine when nature cooperates. A true treat. Attractive price too. Delicious.

Three generations of the Williams family are involved in the day-to-day operations of Kiona Vineyards and Winery. I could have spent most of my time in the "Taste the Vineyard" section as there were other vineyards being showcased. Except, JJ told me to go to Auclair and taste. So I did.

Charlie Auclair, Auclair Winery.
Auclair Winery - Woodinville

Charlie Auclair was pouring a special bottle of Petit Verdot made from Kiona fruit. Thank you JJ. Charlie established his Woodinville winery in 2008 after years of appreciating wine and exploring wine regions around the world. I first met Charlie last year at Rendezvous on Red Mountain. He makes a style of wine I enjoy.

His "Right Blend" is Merlot dominant and the "Left Blend" is Cabernet Sauvignon dominant. He also makes a second label named "96 Cedars." I keep bumping into Auclair Winery and one of his friends. One of these days I'll make it over to the tasting room. Add Auclair Winery to your list. Fun visit and tasting.

Charlie and Lacey Lybecker, Cairdeas Winery.

Cairdeas Winery - Lake Chelan

I met winemaker Charlie Lybecker in 2013 during a special Lake Chelan sparkling wine brunch. So I was eager to visit and sample some of the other wines they make. Cairdeas is a small winery started in 2009 by Charlie & Lacey Lybecker. Their winery was founded in West Seattle, but is now in the Lake Chelan Valley.

Cairdeas Counoise, Tri Red Blend, Southern White.

Cairdeas (pronounced ‘Cardis’) is an ancient Gaelic word meaning friendship, goodwill or alliance. Their style of winemaking is inspired by the the Rhône valley of France.

Dick Boushey visiting with winemaker Charlie Lybecker.
Wines were beautifully crafted. The TRI Red Wine Blend was my favorite at this visit. Though the Counoise and Southern White were both very good. I recommend these wines and would likely appreciate them even more at home. Super nice people too. A must visit when you go to Lake Chelan. Strongly recommended.


Aniche Cellars - Columbia Gorge

I met owner/winemaker Rachel Horn and her husband Todd Mera three years ago at a wine tasting dinner at Maryhill Winery in the Columbia Gorge. That night I became an instant fan of her delicious red wines. Aniche Cellars is a small family winery with a personality that hits all my buttons. They are also the only all female winemaking team in the Columbia Gorge.

At Taste I sampled the Aniche Cellars Goat Boy (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot), 7 Gables (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Counoise, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul) and Moth Love (Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache). Lovely red blends. Contact the winery direct for wines, they don't make a lot of these delicious red blends. Strongly Recommended.

Swiftwater Cellars - Cascade Mountains

Swiftwater Cellars is a destination in the Cascade Mountains. They focus on Bordeaux style wines. Hoist House is their on premise restaurant with a view of the Cascade Mountains. Their winery also has room for private events and corporate functions. With a 2500 seat amphitheater for summer concerts, this is the place to be for wine, food and music. I have to stop by and visit them. At Taste I sampled their Proprietary Red blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc) which I heartily recommend. Unexpected tasting. Cool.

Stottle Winery - Olympia

Amy and Josh Stottlemyer are a talented and friendly winemaking couple. Their winery is located north of the state capitol, Olympia. You'll find on my blog that I have reviewed several of their wonderful wines. I had to have a taste of their 2012 Tempranillo, last year the Stottle 2011 Tempranillo was a Wine of the Week and Strongly Recommended. The 2012 was also a wonderful food wine, perfect for home or restaurants. Seek out these wines.

Southard Winery - Yakima Valley

Winemaker Scott Southard makes truly delicate and sublime wines. I have not tasted a Southard wine in a couple of years, stopping by and tasting had to be done. Scott was wandering about Taste, so I did not have a chance to visit with him this time. His mother was pouring and she was friendly as always. The Southard family winery is located in Selah, Washington, not far from Yakima. Scott makes food complimentary wines. I highly recommend visiting Southard wines, delicious and compelling at attractive prices. They ship too.

Delicious juice in these bottles. 

Somme des parties - Walla Walla

This is a boutique winery, 200 cases is boutique, in Walla Walla. Winemaker David Rudnick is making truly spectacular wines. He has an impressive and diverse winemaking background. This winery was on my list to visit. Somme des parties (the sum of the parts) keeps popping up in dialogue with my wine loving friends. These were the only wines I wanted both front and back bottle shots. Zzow! Some of my favorites tastes at Taste. Strongly Recommended.

Somme des parties pour.

They presently have three wines, 2012 Syrah, 2102 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012 Tinta Cão. Gorgeous wines with cool labels. They have moved up to my next winery to visit. By appointment only. Get the word out.

Javier Alfonso, Vinateria Idilico.

Vinateria Idilico/Pomum Cellars - Woodinville

Another winery I had to visit was Pomum Cellars. I met winemaker Javier Alfonso two years ago and wanted to touch base. If you read my review of Pomum Cellars 2009 Syrah, then you know why. When I stopped by, Javier was not at his table, he was pouring wines at Vinateria Idilico. Vinateria Idilico is a second label for Pomum Cellars, "Spanish Vines, Washington Wines." The Idilico wines are food friendly, lower priced wines. Javier is making Albariño , Garnacha and Tempranillo, Spanish grape varieties. I was impressed.

Note: I had dinner at Anthony's At Columbia Point last week, I ordered the Penn Cove Mussels. Happily, I noticed they had glass pours of the Idilico Albariño. One of the best food pairings I have had in a while. Thank you Taste, if I did not know Idilico was made by Javier, I likely would have missed it. Spectacular. Go find the Vinateria Idilico wines for home.

Martinez Martinez - Prosser/Horse Heaven Hills

A friend was pouring for the Martinez family. I stopped by for a taste of their Rose' of Cabernet Sauvignon. Ahhh, that was good. This is a winery which has grown grapes in the Horse Heaven Hills for more than 30 years. They are family owned and focus primarily on Cabernet Sauvignon from the Horse Heaven Hills. Currently the winery uses two vineyards from the AVA. The Martinez Estate Vineyard and Alder Ridge Vineyard located just a few miles from their estate location on an extremely steep Southern facing slope, overlooking the Columbia River. I've also enjoyed their Viognier, the next time you are passing through Prosser, stop by their tasting room and stock up for summer.

Kaella Winery - Woodinville

My next stop was at Kaella Winery. Dave Butner, Owner/Winemaker was pouring. I only stopped for a taste of his Red Mountain, Ciel Du Cheval Rose'. Yes, go find this wine before it is all gone. A shame I could not taste his red wines - he does wonderful reds. I was trying to pace myself. I met Dave last year in Woodinville at RESERVE. Super nice guy and talented winemaker. Recommended.

Winemaker Anna Schafer middle.
a'Maurice  Cellars - Walla Walla

My friends know I am a fan of a'Maurice Cellars. We even interviewed winemaker Anna Schafer last year on the podcast. Naturally I had to stop by and say hello. And taste some Syrah.

The wines of a'Maurice Cellars are wines I drink and seem to forget to take tasting notes. Tasting the a'Maurice Syrah at Taste was no exception. A gorgeous red wine. No notes. I manged to get notes on their 2008 Syrah/Grenache earlier this year on another podcast. Add them to your must visit list when you visit Walla Walla wine country. Thank me after. Highly recommended.

Amavi Cellars - Walla Walla

At this point I was in a Syrah mood. Amavi was pouring their 2012 Walla Walla Valley Syrah. Buy it. Amavi is a small, family owned winery. Two generations are active in management of the winery and the vineyards, led by the Goff, McKibben and Pellet families. Winemaker Jean-François Pellet is a third-generation winemaker and grape grower. Amavi is 100% Certified Sustainable. 100% Estate, 100% Sustainable, 100% Walla Walla. They are monitored by a variety of organizations: IOBC, Salmon Safe and LIVE. They use approximately 50 acres of vines for each vintage. All grapes are picked and sorted by hand. They are another winery on my must visit list. I think I need to organize a tasting trip to Walla Walla. Wines of contemplation. Strongly recommended.

Canoe Ridge Exploration Wines for Alaska Airlines - Walla Walla

During the final hour of Taste, I wandered about. Which is when I stopped at the Alaska Airlines exhibit. Alaska Airlines was the Welcoming Sponsor and a Premier Sponsor for Taste Washington. The hostess at Alaska Airlines was pouring wine designed for flying at 35,000 feet. As I learned, taste buds are dulled at high-altitude. Wine tastes different on the ground than it does on an airplane. Alsaka Airlines has worked with Canoe Ridge winery to develop a white and red wine for air travel. You won't find the Canoe Ridge Exploration wines on the shelf. They are only available in the air! These wine are a little sweeter than their ground-based counterparts. Look for them the next time you fly Alaska Air. Very fun and friendly discussion. Pretty cool.

Prepare to be Dazzled

Oysters are for Washington wines.

A taste of Red Mountain.

If  you wish to experience Washington wine in a weekend, in Seattle, Taste Washington is the event to attend. I encourage you to make plans to attend Taste Washington 2016. Do your research before you walk through the doors and you will be rewarded with some truly remarkable wine experiences and an expanded  palate for describing Washington wine. Prepare to be dazzled!

Washington State AVA Map

Washington State Wine Facts

Washington state is the second largest premium wine producer in the United States and its wine industry contributes in excess of $14.9 billion to the national economy and supports more than 27,000 jobs in Washington state.

Number of wine grape growers: 350+
Acres planted to vine: 2013 Approx. 50,000 acres (20,234 hectares)
Number of wineries: 2014 = 850+ wineries

American Viticultural Areas: 13

About Visit Seattle

Visit Seattle, a private, nonprofit marketing organization, has served as Seattle/King County’s official destination marketing organization (DMO) for more than 50 years. The goal of these marketing efforts is to enhance the employment opportunities and economic prosperity of the region. For more information, visit

About Washington State Wine

Washington State Wine represents every licensed winery and every wine grape grower in Washington State. Guided by an appointed board, Washington State Wine provides a marketing platform to raise positive awareness of the Washington State wine industry and generate greater demand for its wines. Funded almost entirely by the industry through assessments based on grape and wine sales, Washington State Wine is a state government agency, established by the legislature in 1987. For more information, visit

Related Information

I have shared many of my Washington wine experiences on this blog, in particular:
These destinations were wonderful weekend wine country experiences. I learned a great deal about each region, the wines, people and venues. You are encouraged to read more of my posts and then make your plans to visit Washington.

Yes, still Wild 4 Washington Wine, more soon. 


"I made wine from the lilac tree
Put my heart in its recipe
It makes me see what I want to see...
And be what I want to be
When I think more than I want to think
Do things I never should do
I drink much more that I ought to drink
Because It brings me back you..."
- Nina Simone

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