Taste Washington Preview

On the eastern side of Washington State, the land gives way to arid rolling hills. Vineyards stretch over the landscape, making it a prime wine growing region. Here, the lure of the grape has turned into a modern day gold rush.

Over the past 30 years, Washington’s wine industry has grown exponentially. In 1981, there were 19 wineries. Today, there are over 650 wineries registered with the state. The economic impact of all that wine? Tops $4.7 billion, nationwide.

Showcasing Washington State wine is a three day extravaganza called Taste Washington. The last weekend in March, wine enthusiasts flock to Seattle. Festivities begin with an awards ceremony on Friday, followed by a full day of seminars on Saturday (see schedule here). Taste Washington culminates on Sunday with a Grand Tasting, featuring 200 wineries, paired with 75 Seattle-area restaurants.

Clearly, I have been missing out! I’m thinking Taste Washington is a great excuse for a weekend in the city. Book a room downtown and skip the designated driver detail. Drink, eat, then slip into a cab. Sounds perfect, no?

Last night’s Taste Washington preview was pure decadence. Nine wines and eight courses later…our party hit three restaurants and Tweeted throughout the night (see #TasteWA). We sampled several small run wines, and food was of the “last meal on earth” variety. Think: sweet Dungeness crab, tender octopus, smoked black cod, briny oysters…you get the idea.

I stuck close to Seattle Magazine’s wine writer, Shannon Borg. At one point, I buried my nose deep into a glass of red. Surfacing, I gasped for air and blurted “It smells like popcorn!” Convinced my glass may have a wee bit of funk, I took another cautious sniff. Second round... another blast.

Afraid my lack of sophistication was becoming obvious, mercifully, Shannon stepped in with a bit of reassurance. “It’s not the glass; it’s the wine.”

Others detected the scent, and offered “Buttered popcorn.”

Another added, “Microwaved.”

“That’s it!”

Experts debate the exact figure, but approximately 80% of taste is attributed to aroma. Under the watchful eye of a journalist noting our taste adventure, I attempted to hold my breath and sample the wine again. The difference was remarkable!

Shannon explained that the buttery flavor in wine is often an attribute—like a buttery chardonnay, for example. To evoke that flavor, the winemaker chooses to execute a secondary fermentation. All wines go through a primary fermentation, but it is the optional secondary – or malolactic fermentation where this butter profile is achieved. During this process, the malic acid converts to lactic acid (think: dairy)…hence, the notes of butter.

As we moved to our second stop, I noticed a change in wine glass shapes. I’d heard the shape of the glass has an effect on wine and asked Shannon her thoughts. Building on our scent conversation, she explained how the shape of the glass impacts the amount of air flow. The shape also effects how the wine travels through your mouth. With a narrow glass, like a champagne flute, the liquid travels straight across your tongue. A wide-mouth glass is a different experience. The broader opening allows the wine to travel throughout your mouth, including the sides of your tongue.

Shannon & Seattle Magazine’s editor Rachel Hart bowed out early and I turned my attention to other folks at the table…Q13 Fox News anchor Lily Jang, Foodista’s Melissa Peterman, Serious Eats' Leslie Kelly, and event maven Nicole Logan.

Finally, after months of watching Lily on TV, I got a chance to ask, “Why are the cooking demos always so rushed?" While the morning news program spanned four hours, inevitably, chefs raced to complete their dishes. "Can’t they allocate more time?”

Lily shrugged her shoulders and said, “They get five minutes.” Then added, “That’s an eternity in TV time!”

Okay people, on with the photos…


FIRST STOP: Matt's in the Market

Vin du Lac 2008 Columbia Valley "Les Amis" Riesling
Tamarack Cellars 2008 Columbia Valley Chardonnay
Isenhower Cellars 2007 Horse Heaven Hills "River Beauty" Syrah

First wine of the night is a Buty

Grilled octopus skewer with potatoes and chimichurri aioli

Housemade country pate with pistachios, pickled, salumi, and cheese.


SECOND STOP: Steelhead Diner

Kyra Wines, 2008 Columbia Valley Chenin Blanc
Cadaretta, 2007 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Barnard Griffin, 2007 Columbia Valley Reserve Malbec

Reserve, baby! Their website has fun tasting notes: Estery, spicy, black pepper nose with hints of dark chocolate. Approachable, agreeable attack boasts rich, plum flavors followed by coffee, toffee and vanilla notes. The smooth, mouth-coating texture gives way to a fresh, bright finish.

Humbolt oysters direct from the Squim acquaculture farmer. Granita is made with red wine vinegar, shallot, white peppercorn, and salt. Chef says, "Essentially, it's nothing more than a pickling brine."

Smoked Alaskan black cod with oil-cured black olives, roasted red pepper on base of roasted spring garlic mojo aioli.

House cured Washington beef bresaola (salumi) with crispy shiitake mushrooms, Pleasant Valley peppercorn gouda, and Tuscan extra virgin olive oil



Chinook Wines 2008 Yakima Valley Chardonnay
Hedges Family Estate, 2008 Columbia Valley "CMS" Sauvignon Blanc
Côte Bonneville 2009 DuBrul Vineyard Yakima Valley Cabernet Franc Rosé

Local oysters on the half shell - Fanny Bay, Deer Creek, Pebble Beach, Deep Bay, Penn Cove Select, Evening Cove (all are here, though I can't vouch for the order.) Served with a pepper mignonette --tabasco, champagne vinegar, and a touch of honey.

Dungeness crab Louie roll

Parting libabtion: espresso cocktail

Disclaimer: Washington State Wine Commission and Taste Washington extended the invitation. Thankfully, I was dining on someone else's dime. Many thanks to the folks who made it happen. Fabulous evening!