The United States is the world’s 4th largest wine producer (behind Italy, France and Spain) and, surprisingly, every one of America’s 50 states has some commercial wineries. Yes – even Alaska, apparently, despite its location way further north than the normally accepted limits for ripening grapes. Top of the tree is California – that state makes almost 90% of the USA’s entire wine output including some of the world’s most expensive bottles as well as many for more every day drinking that you can find on any supermarket shelf.
But, for today, I’m going to ignore both of these extremes and focus on Washington state. It actually has the 2nd largest wine production after California – a very distant 2nd, admittedly, making less than a tenth as much wine as that giant, but look around the shelves and you’ll find some interesting and attractive wines from there in a diversity of styles.
The majority of the state’s vineyards are away from the Pacific coast, to the east of the Cascade Mountains and in their rain shadow, which means that much of the area is semi-desert and growing vines is dependent on irrigation using water from the local rivers. Washington’s location, straddling the 46°N line of latitude (which equates to northern Bordeaux/southern Burgundy in European terms), is ideal for vineyards and the short, hot, sunny, dry summers are perfect for ripening both red and white grapes.
We opened a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon recently from Chateau Ste Michelle, easily the state’s biggest producer (Majestic, £14.99). Lovely deep colour with subtle black fruit and cinnamon on the nose. The palate is fresh with more black fruits – blackberries and black plums – soft tannins and a distinctly oaky overtone. The finish is, perhaps, a little shorter than you might expect from a wine at this price but it’s a very drinkable glassful, nonetheless, particularly when paired with a tasty beef or game casserole.
It may be easier to find something from California but, on the strength of this and a few others I have tasted, Washington state has some attractive offerings, too.