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Northwest Wine: Ancient Lakes is home to distinctive wines

Cave B Vineyards is an estate planting for picturesque Cave B Estate Winery in Washington state near the Gorge Amphitheater in the Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley American Viticultural Area. (Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)
Cave B Vineyards is an estate planting for picturesque Cave B Estate Winery in Washington state near the Gorge Amphitheater in the Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley American Viticultural Area. (Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)
By Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman Great Northwest Wine

QUINCY – One of the most fascinating sources of wine in Washington is known as the Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, a region that has a long history with agriculture but only in recent years began gaining a reputation for growing wine grapes.

It is in Central Washington and surrounds the Columbia Basin towns of George and Quincy. It was Washington state’s 13th American Viticultural Area, approved by the federal government in 2012. The Ancient Lakes spans nearly 170,000 acres and is home to about 2,000 acres of vineyards.

While much of Washington has a reputation for red wine grapes, the Ancient Lakes is best known for having a cooler climate and ideally suited for white varieties such as riesling, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc.

In fact, the wines coming from the Ancient Lakes are among the most distinctive in the Northwest, not unlike Burgundy’s Chablis region, home to several of the world’s most acclaimed white wines.

Some of the earliest grapes were planted in the region in 1980 by a winery called Champs de Brionne, a property that eventually became Gorge Amphitheater. The vines are still there, now part of Cave B, a stunning destination estate winery between the Columbia River and Interstate 90 near George.

The Ancient Lakes takes its name from a series of 35 lakes that are remnants of floods that swept through the Columbia Basin at the end of the last ice age more than 10,000 years ago. The resulting soils are varied and perfect for growing world-class wine grapes, and high-end producers crave grapes from the region for crafting distinctive wines.

Here are four examples of top wines using Ancient Lakes’ grapes, all of which earned a gold medal or better at this spring’s Cascadia International Wine Competition. Ask for the wines at your favorite wine shop, or order directly from the winery.

Jones of Washington recently opened a tasting room at the new Quincy Public Market, which Larry Jones and his farming family have built and modeled after the popular Pybus Public Market in downtown Wenatchee.

Jones of Washington 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $15: The stellar white grapes that the Jones family grows produce this award-winning sauvignon blanc. Classic grapefruit and lime with a hint of dried sweet grass start things off on the right note.

The palate is easy with acidity in check but giving the fruit flavors perkiness. Passion fruit joins the citrus, green apple and dried tarragon for a tasty combo. Chicken, pork chops and clams would be happy to share the table.

Cave B Estate Winery 2016 Estate Malbec, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $38: The vineyards of Ancient Lakes AVA also are producing some beautiful reds, including this malbec grown by the Bryan family and crafted into wine by their son-in-law, Freddy Arredondo.

Raspberry, sweet cherries and crushed flowers perfume the air above the glass. The palate is bright with pretty flavors of blueberry, raspberry, vanilla, dried florals and spice. Its bright structure would love the company of duck confit or paté.

Palencia Wine Co. 2018 Albariño, Ancient Lakes, $25: Victor Palencia calls his premium-tier wines “El Viñador,” and this 2018 albariño lives up to his faith in it. It shows off the highly aromatic fruit of the Ancient Lakes, with a nose of lime, pink grapefruit and citrus zest.

On the palate, the lime dominates, with a hint of Asian pear, backed brilliantly by crisp acidity. Enjoy it alongside a seafood salad with grilled shrimp, octopus and scallops.

Milbrandt Vineyards 2018 Evergreen Vineyard Estate Riesling, Ancient Lakes, $13: The Milbrandt family’s Evergreen Vineyard provided the fruit for this off-dry riesling, making for a highly aromatic wine that leads off with lime and lemon aromas and minerality.

It delivers more lemon, lime and a bit of Mandarin orange. Its beautifully crisp acidity will make you wonder just how “off dry” it really is. This past spring, Wine Press Northwest magazine named Milbrandt Vineyards as its Washington Winery of Year for 2019.

Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman operate Great Northwest Wine. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.

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