Washington produces more than 30 wine grape varieties - a ratio of about 50 percent white to 50 percent red. As the industry matures and experiments, it finds many grape varieties that thrive throughout Washington's micro-climates. There are almost 25,000 vineyard acres of red wine varieties statewide. Those most common in Washington are:
The king of the red grapes grows magnificently in Washington. The heady, fruity character of this complex grape develops slowly. In its youth, the wine appears more subtle and restrained than Washington Merlots. Its character can emerge as black currants, cherry, berry, chocolate, leather, mint, herbs, bell pepper or any combination of these. This wine ages beautifully. Frequently, several years of bottle aging are needed for the wine to show at its best. Many of the state's vintners employ traditional blending practices, adding Merlot or Cabernet Franc to the wine.
Washington Merlot, with its cherry flavors and aroma, tends to be more full-bodied, moderately tannic and slightly higher in alcohol than its Bordeaux cousins, and higher in acidity than those from California.
Traditionally used in blends, Merlot gained popularity bottled on its own in the early 1970s. It captured center stage as Washington's star varietal almost 15 years after its first commercial release in 1976. Washington Merlot is known for its sweet cherry and berry flavors and complex aromas that include mint, cigar box, and sweet spices like nutmeg and cardamom.
A relative newcomer to Washington State, the Syrah grape has seen a substantial increase in acreage in the past few years. Syrah is just one of the Rhone varieties gaining popularity in Washington State. A spicy, rich, complex varietal, Syrah grapes turn into big, dark, intensely concentrated wines with aromas and flavors of blackberries, black currants, roasted coffee, tobacco and leather.
Long considered primarily a blending grape, Cabernet Franc has recently captured the attention of Washington's winemakers. A hardy grape, Cabernet Franc has been of primary value for the sturdy core and firm tannins it adds to softer wines. On its own, it offers delicious, spicy notes with mellow coffee and intense blueberry fruit. Washington vineyard acreage devoted to Cabernet Franc has grown six-fold in the past few years.
Washington produces more than 30 wine grape varieties - a ratio of about 50 percent white and 50 percent red. As the industry matures and experiments, it finds many grape varieties that thrive throughout Washington's micro-climates. There are more than 18,850 vineyard acres of white wine varieties statewide. Those most common in Washington are:
Chardonnay is one of the best manifestations of the state's special winemaking character. While the varietal is noted in many other regions as a rich and powerful wine, Washington Chardonnays are often distinctively crisp and delicate, like fresh apples. Oak is often used with a lighter touch, showing off the varietal character. Also, some wineries use secondary malolactic fermentation to add rich vanillin and buttery nuances.
One of the first grape varieties grown in Washington, the state's Rieslings tend to be very floral in the nose, with vivid apricot, peach and apple flavors. Occasionally, the "noble rot" works its magic on Riesling, concentrating the sugars and flavors to produce a late-harvest wine of incomparable intensity. When the conditions are right, Washington vintners also produce incredible ice wines from Riesling, as well as other varietals. Most Washington Rieslings are vinted in a dry to off-dry style to accompany food.
These grapes make wines that appear under two names-Sauvignon Blanc and Fumé Blanc. They are becoming increasingly popular for their distinctive character and are often described as fruity with a touch of herbaceousness and lively acidity. Styles range from slightly tart and grassy to tangy pineapple overlaid with oak.
An early Washington success story because of its ability to withstand the cold winters, Gewürztraminer typically offers allspice, tropical fruit with zesty aromas and flavors. Previously made only in an off-dry, or slightly sweet style, Gewürztraminer is now being explored by Washington winemakers in dry styles that retain its rich aromatics.
Washington is known for its Semillon, and while this wine is most often enjoyed young, Washington Semillons are known to age beautifully into rich, honeyed, nutty wines. When young, it offers a broad spectrum of flavors, ranging from crisp citrus to melon and fig, and fresh pears to vanillin. A wine with somewhat lower acidity than Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon is luscious, yet light. Its lower acidity makes it more susceptible to botrytis, resulting in a fair number of late-harvest bottlings.