It’s time to sip and savor By Colin Anderson
You can get a bottle of liquor in just about any flavor these days, from cucumber mint vodka to peanut butter whiskey. Just about every well-known brewer is also expanding into the hard seltzer market with a wide range of tropical citrus flavors and combinations. While these industries battle it out over what’s currently hot in the market, experienced winemakers know that the secret to a good product isn’t anything new and flashy, instead utilizing proven methods, harvesting quality grapes at the appropriate time, and aging wine to each grape’s perfection.
A recent article in Forbes shows wine sales up 16.8 percent in 2021 over 2020, and Americans are on track to drink more than 1.1 billion gallons by the end of 2022. About one in three U.S. adults consumes wine, with higher concentration of wine drinkers in the 50-plus age category.
Consumers are also now more willing to step away from the grocery store aisle and purchase higher quality wines directly from the winery. A big reason for this is visitation to the numerous wineries or tasting rooms located all throughout the Northwest. While on property or at a tasting room, guests can sample from many varieties and speak directly with staff in regard to flavor profile. In Washington, there are 60,000 acres dedicated to wine grapes, and the state produces the second most wine nationally behind only California. Access to so many vineyards has helped grow the state’s number of wineries from just 200 in 2002, less than 400 in 2012, to a whopping 1,050 in 2022.
While much of the grape-growing region is found in South Central Washington, savvy winemakers have opened tasting rooms both on-premise and also in concentrated areas of the state. Popular places to visit and wine taste include: Woodinville to the west, Wenatchee and Leavenworth in the central part of the state, Walla Walla to the south, and Spokane to the east. Each offers dozens of wineries from which to sample and can provide for a wonderful long weekend with friends or loved ones.
If you haven’t tasted before, it might be intimidating at first, however, it’s not as formal or stuffy as you might expect. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you sample from our bountiful region:
Cleanse your Palate
In order to get the most out of your tasting, avoid strong-tasting foods or beverages before you taste. Pairing wines with foods is fun, and many foods can change the flavor of the wine for the better, but lingering bitterness from coffee or spice from lunch fajitas can have a negative effect. The same goes for smells. Use neutral-smelling lotions or cleaners on your body the day of your taste, and also avoid perfumes or other scents that might get mixed in with the aromas of the wine.
Choose a Flight
While some wineries offer just one tasting flight, others will offer two—and sometimes a wine club exclusive tasting flight. Typically flights include four to eight 1-ounce to 2-ounce pours and run in the $10 to $15 range at modest wineries and upward of $20 to $30 at higher priced venues. The standard serving size for a glass of wine is 5 ounces, so keep in mind that each tasting is equivalent to a glass or two of wine.
Sip and Savor
Your flight will be poured by and attended or marked in a suggested order. Lighter-tasting white wines are usually the leads, followed by medium-body reds and blends. Full-body reds round out your taste. Start by taking in the color of the wine by holding it up to a light. Next, swirl the wine a little and place your nose in the glass. Inhale and gather the unique smells that each wine will produce. Take a sip and let the wine linger in your mouth for a moment. Now comes the fun part: finding the many unique aromas and flavors with each sip. Do you taste something different than what the tasting notes say? Try again and see if you can pick up an additional note. If you don’t care for one of the wines, it is very much acceptable to pour it out into the receptacle at the table, but hopefully with each taste you are discovering something new and enjoyable.
Concluding the Taste
After you’ve finished your taste, an attendant will ask if you would like to “revisit” anything (i.e. have another pour of a wine you previously tried). There is almost always no charge for this and is helpful if you are debating on whether to purchase a glass or perhaps a bottle to-go. Most tasting fees are refunded with the purchase of a bottle, however, some require a minimum spend or two-bottle purchase. You are not obligated to purchase a bottle or join a wine club, and paying for just the taste is very much acceptable. Gratuities for staff are always appreciated, however, you don’t need to tip on the bottles you purchase to bring home.
With more than a thousand wineries to choose from, you won’t soon run out of Washington wine in which to explore. Having a few quality bottles on hand for celebrations and holidays adds a nice touch to gatherings, and knowing it was produced regionally adds even more to the celebration.
So, what is your new favorite wine? You won’t know until you taste it!