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Northwest Wine: Washington’s wine roots are firmly planted in Yakima Valley

UPDATED: Tue., June 18, 2019, 10:17 p.m.

Morning light on Upland Vineyard on Snipes Mountain. This historic growing region near Sunnyside, Washington, is a source for some of Washington’s top wines and provides panoramic views of the surrounding Yakima Valley. (Richard Duval / Courtesy)
Morning light on Upland Vineyard on Snipes Mountain. This historic growing region near Sunnyside, Washington, is a source for some of Washington’s top wines and provides panoramic views of the surrounding Yakima Valley. (Richard Duval / Courtesy)
By Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman Great Northwest Wine

We’re fond of referring to Yakima Valley as “the cradle of the Washington wine industry.” We say this for the following reasons:

The state’s earliest vineyards were planted here primarily because of the work of Walter Clore, who was based in Prosser.

The Pacific Northwest’s first federally approved American Viticultural Area was Yakima Valley on April 4, 1983, eight months ahead of the establishment of Willamette Valley AVA in Oregon.

Some of the state’s first vines were planted by W.B. Bridgman in the valley as early as 1914 along Snipes Mountain near Sunnyside.

Yakima Valley today remains an important region with nearly 20,000 acres of wine grape vineyards and more than 60 wineries. While it nests in the expansive Columbia Valley AVA, there are three sub-appellations in Yakima Valley: Rattlesnake Hills, Snipes Mountain and Red Mountain. This simply means Yakima Valley is a diverse and growing region.

At this spring’s seventh-annual Cascadia International Wine Competition, 22 wine professionals judged more than 1,000 wines from Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho. Here are gold medal-winning wines from 2019 Cascadia that used grapes from Yakima Valley.

Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or order directly from the winery, and see the full list of medal winners at greatnorthwestwine.com.

Muret-Gaston Wines 2015 Olsen Vineyard GSM Red Wine, Yakima Valley, $45: This Rhône-inspired blend consists of grenache (44%), syrah (15%) and mourvèdre lots from the expansive vineyard near Prosser planted by Dick and Larry Olsen, brothers who were fêted as Honorary Growers for the Auction of Washington Wines in 2014.

Kyle Johnson, who served as their winemaker for now-closed Olsen Estates, used 90% whole-berry fermentation to develop opulent aromas of black plum, chocolate, saddle leather and chorizo. A good acid structure with stylish, tightly woven tannins are a superb foundation for the blackberry fruit flavors infused with pepper, Scandinavian black salt licorice and deep florals.

A pleasant medium-length finish would pair well with barbecued spare ribs and all the fixings.

Sherman Winery 2015 Grenache Reserve, Yakima Valley, $38: Brad Sherman of Michael Florentino Cellars in Woodinville recently opened a Seattle tasting room and launched his eponymous brand to focus on French varieties. He made quite a splash at the Cascadia for his Snipes Mountain fruit in this lush, two-barrel release.

Aromas and flavors of raspberry sauce, plum and dark cherries harmonize as raspberry-plum chutney fills out the palate. Balanced acidity and smooth tannins allow the finish to continue with raspberry.

WIT Cellars 2016 Olsen Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Yakima Valley, $50: Old block cab from the Olsen family, which established its vineyard in 1980, shines in the hands of longtime Prosser winemaker Flint Nelson and his team at WIT, which stands for their “whatever it takes” approach.

The complex nose opens with spice and a medley of black fruit. In the mouth, flavors of late summer blackberries, Van cherries, a dollop of Hershey’s chocolate syrup and smooth tannins end with a long, satisfying finish.

Eleven Winery 2016 La Ronde Red Wine, Washington, $37: Bainbridge Island winemaking cyclist Matt Albee strikes a delicious balance with his wide-ranging blend led by cabernet sauvignon, syrah, malbec and petit verdot sourced from Yakima Valley.

Fascinating aromas of black cherry, fig, vanilla wafer and sandalwood leap out. The texture is akin to satin with a bit of naughtiness that gives it a kick in the midpalate. Its finish is long and slow, with echoes of pâté, incense and Chukar Cherries enrobed in milk chocolate.

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

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