A full body Taste of Washington

By Dee Hitch

Wine Tips

I want to tell you about the Taste of Washington coming up the weekend of April 8, 9 and 10. My husband and I have attended this event since it started in 1998. Each year the Washington Wine Commission tweaks and fine-tunes it so that it is more educational and easier to navigate.

The Taste of Washington had been a one day wine and food event. Originally held in the Paramount Theatre with 40 wineries and 40 restaurants, it outgrew the Paramount after four years and moved to the Seahawk Stadium in 2002. Last year, 150 wineries and 100 restaurants participated!

Also last year, the Washington Wine Commission added two more days Friday and Saturday. Friday is the gala evening. A silent auction pairs magnums of wine with gift certificates to restaurants. Last year, tables were labeled with ``Tried and True'' which had the varietals which we all know: chardonnay, merlot, etc. ``New and upcoming'' were relatively new: viognier, pinot gris. Appetizers and desserts were also available.

Saturday morning is breakfast with the main guests. Labeled ``Education Day,'' there are two seminars followed by lunch and two afternoon seminars. Some of the choices are ``The Glass Palate'' presented by Riedel glassware; ``Washington's Emerging Regions;'' ``Seductive Stylish Syrah;'' ``New and Different: Washington Diverse Wine Grapes.'' I have to mention lunch which was a gourmet extravaganza last year. The woman seated next to me happily announced, ``No rubber chicken here!'' The W Hotel chefs received a standing ovation! This year Friday and Saturday events will be headquartered at the Bell Harbor International Convention Center on the Seattle waterfront.

After the final seminar, participants convene again for ``Tasting with the Masters.'' There were nine wines last year from all over the world: Three from Washington state, two from France, one from Germany, one from California, and two from Australia. One wine was so hard to get that Jancis Robinson, wine author and luncheon speaker, had to use her influence to obtain it for the tasting. We tasted these nine wines with Jancis Robinson, Bob Betz of Betz Family Winery and David Lake of Columbia Winery. While these three luminaries sat on the stage and chatted about each wine, the audience could add their comments and observations. The audience was made up of celebrities also including Dr. Loosen from Germany as well as many winemakers from Washington state.

Two interesting questions were asked: ``What is your favorite wine grape?'' and ``What is your favorite beverage after wine?'' The winemakers almost unanimously voted for riesling for their favorite grape because it was more versatile. Tea was their favorite other drink.

Sunday was in Seahawk Stadium. Again, I marvel at the hard work by the Washington Wine Commission and their volunteers. Intensive coordination is needed to synchronize each restaurant's offering to each winery's pourings. Last year the varietals were on tables, i.e., chardonnay was on one table, merlot on another, etc. A huge flavor wheel was on the wall to educate. The seafood bar was spilling over with oysters and shrimp; the dessert area was overflowing with sumptuous treats. Thus, this event is suitable for the enophile and novice alike -- entertainment and education abound.

The three day event was a huge undertaking and so successful. The amount of work and coordination is awe-inspiring. The emphasis placed on education is wonderful. Again, kudos to the Washington Wine Commission for a job well-done. Proceeds benefit FareStart and the Washington Wine Education Foundation.

And while we are on the subject of Washington wines, there are two new labels available. Red Diamond and 14 Hands are both under the umbrella of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, formerly known as Stimson Lane. Red Diamond was exclusive to restaurants previously and was recently made available to supermarkets and other retail outlets. Restaurant patrons have been eager to have the wine available at home, and those unfamiliar with Red Diamond have been enticed by the $9 price tag. Buyers have purchased one bottle and been back for a case. Red Diamond is available in merlot, chardonnay and cabernet. Merlot was the restaurants' favorite. In fact, the merlot was on Wine & Spirits magazine list of top restaurant merlots. But I encourage you to try the cabernet which was my favorite. However, all three are well-made and well-priced.

14 Hands is now being released to restaurants only. It also has the three varietals of merlot, chardonnay and cabernet. The name 14 Hands honors the wild mustangs which once roamed the Horse Heaven Hills which rise up from the Columbia River. These horses were small, measuring an average of 14 hands high but they were strong and tenacious. The horses are on the label in bright, vibrant colors. Horse Heaven Hills should be an official appellation soon. It takes about two years of paperwork to get a designated region from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which is the federal agency responsible for declaring wine-growing appellations.

14 Hands won't be poured at the Taste of Washington but look for Red Diamond. For more information on The Taste of Washington, call 206-667-9463 or log onto

Dee Hitch can be reached at

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