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Taste Washington this month | On Wine

Again, my favorite tasting of the year is coming up. It is the 14th annual Taste Washington on March 27. Anyone who knows me appreciates what an avid fan I am of Washington wines.

Washington wines are well-made, delicious and affordable. Even our so-called cult wines cost considerably less than the cult wines from California, Italy and France. For instance, Leonetti cabernet sauvignon, from Washington, is around $100, and Quilceda Creek cabernet sauvignon is  around $200. Many French Bordeaux and Italian super Tuscans are over $300 upon release. Yet, there are many Washington wines from $5 to $10 that grace our tables daily with no apologies needed.

I am not alone in my love of Washington wines. Food and Wine magazine named a Washington winemaker as the Winemaker of the Year in 2009 and selected a Washington state winery as its Best New Winery in 2010. Wine Spectator magazine chose a Washington state wine as number one on its annual Top 100 list last year and devoted an entire cover story to Washington state in 2010.

When I first attended Taste Washington over a dozen years ago, it was held in the Paramount Theatre with the seats taken out. It was crowded then, but there were only about 50 wineries. Now the Washington State Liquor Control Board just licensed the 700th Washington winery, up from 360 wineries just five years ago. Granted, many of these wineries are small, often selling to their wine club members or only to winery visitors. Many are too small to participate in Taste Washington because their entire production would be tasted at this event.

On Sunday, March 27, the Grand Tasting is at the Qwest Event Center. There will be over 225 participating wineries and 75 local restaurants. Tickets are available at Mercer Island’s own Cellar 46, where attendees can avoid the Ticketmaster fee. Early admission tickets from 2-7 p.m. are $125, or two for $240; general admission is $75 from 4-7 p.m.

A part of Taste Washington that is overlooked is the Saturday seminars from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Held at Bell Harbor International Conference Center, these seminars  give participants in-depth information. Each seminar costs approximately $50 and concentrates on such topics as the Seven Hills vineyard, where panelists describe altitude, sun and wind aspects that make Seven Hills grapes different. Grenache, an emerging Washington varietal,  will be discussed. Lunch is included in the seminar fee. There are also tables of wine that can give attendees a head start on the Sunday grand tasting. A complete  list of the seminars and contents is available at www.TasteWashington.org.

One question to ask winery representatives is: How did their vineyards fare during the November freeze? Remember when we Puget Sounders dealt with Thanksgiving snow and cold weather? In Washington wine country — primarily Walla Walla, Horse Heaven Hills  and Yakima Valley — the early deep freeze hit grape vines before dormancy. Many winemakers are waiting until buds break to see how the vines coped. Different varietals respond differently to cold. Whites are the toughest of all. In the reds, cabernet sauvignon is the toughest; syrah is in the middle; merlot is not as hardy; and malbec doesn’t do well at all. After our relatively cold summer of 2010, climate change again rears its ugly demeanor by affecting our harvest for 2011.

I hope that you mark March 26 and 27 on your calendar for all the information you’ll ever need on Washington wines.

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