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Taste Washington.

Gala bacchanal, but the food (Puget Sound) and the wine (eastern desert) are from different galaxies. Pop for VIP tx.

     Give the Saturday seminars a pass. Go early on Sunday for the extra $50 ~ otherwise the best wines will be gone by the time you get in. Avoid the lengthy sweet-wine-and-chocolate queue. Hit the top wineries first. Then find some good white wines and start noshing. Finish with a third pass through the room to discover great reds from lesser known wineries.

Seattle Wine Scene

     The State of Washington is more than a little schizophrenic on the subject of wine and food. On the one hand, the citizens are very enthusiastic. Well-regarded Seattle restaurants (e.g. Elliott’s, Poppy, Wild Ginger, Ray’s Boathouse) are gigantic in size, well patronized, and far from cheap. Local culinary celebrities are lionized, and everyone is justifiably proud of locally produced foodstuffs. On the other hand, cheering for the home team is not exactly taste discrimination. A parade for third-graders, where everyone gets an award of merit, is not the crucible of competition from which great sophistication and a continually improving top-end generally result.
     Western Washington, where most of the people live, is a maritime climate with a maritime cuisine. Puget Sound is loaded with boats, with shoreline vistas, and with extraordinary seafood. There is a significant Asian influence. Eastern Washington, on the inland side of the Cascade Mountains, is a desert. By definition. It gets ten inches of rain per year or less. That’s where the grapes are grown. Many of the wineries are in western Washington, near the people. Seattle gets 60” of rain per year on average. But the grapes are grown 4 to 6 hours east in the Columbia River Basin on the opposite side of the Cascades. That is where summer temperatures are higher, necks are redder, and nothing but sagebrush would grow were it not for irrigation water from the Columbia River and its tributaries. Washington may call itself the Evergreen State, but that’s only true of the western half. To get one’s arms around Washington, one has to embrace a split personality.

Wine Event Description

     Taste Washington is an annual celebration of food and wine, which was held in Seattle last weekend. Two hundred Washington wineries participated, and about 75 Seattle restaurants. Therein lie two stories warring with each other. The room was awash with excellent Merlot and Syrah. There were some fine Cabernet blends, an occasional noteworthy Sangiovese, and one or two pleasant Malbecs. Meanwhile the best, most original food was heavily skewed toward great chowders, wonderful ceviches, fabulous salmon tartare, and to-die-for crab cakes. Only about a third of the wineries even brought a white wine, and less than 20% of the total wines on offer were white. Let’s face it: the Washington wine industry has more in common with Kansas or Texas than it has with Seattle. No shame in that; geopolitical boundaries were not drawn by locavores. Little hard for the PR agency and the civic boosters to accommodate, but heh, that’s why they live in those big condos.

Wine & Food Matching

     The best wine matches for the fabulous local cuisine of Seattle today come from Germany and Austria, and from New Zealand. It may be political heresy, but the Willamette Valley of Oregon and the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia also produce exquisite wine pairs for Seattle food. I’m talking Pinot Gris and bone-dry Riesling. Now, both these wine regions bristle with indignation if one fails to cite their red wines. And it’s certainly true the Pinot Noirs of the Willamette Valley are world class. (Perhaps not so true re many red wines from the Okanagan Valley.) But it is a gigantic oversight to miss the spectacular Pinot Gris of Oregon and British Columbia, especially with salmon or with something as delectable as a crab empanada. Yet it is almost impossible to find an Okanagan Pinot Gris on a Seattle restaurant wine list. Regional rivalry? Definite mistake.
     Savor this irony. Okanagan wineries sell almost everything they make in Vancouver. Okanagan Valley is not a big region, and Vancouver is a thirsty market. NAFTA notwithstanding, small Okanagan wineries view the considerable red tape of selling across an international border into Seattle as a major impediment. These producers don’t get much money for their Pinot Gris in the provincial wine stores of Vancouver. Hence the wine doesn’t get much respect. Meanwhile British Columbia wine journalists are extremely eager for Merlots and Cabernets from the Okanagan Valley to be seen by visitors as comparable to the Merlots and Cabs from Washington’s Columbia Valley. This eagerness seems to have something to do with perceived virility (and maybe bottle price). It completely ignores the market potential for world class Okanagan Pinot Gris in Seattle, in San Francisco, and in San Diego. Where, incidentally, bottle prices would likely be much higher than in Vancouver. If I were to stipulate hockey is the world’s toughest sport, could we just agree that nobody’s Merlot goes well with a scallop ceviche? Even if it’s great Merlot. And that five or six producers in the Okanagan Valley make Pinot Gris comparable to just about the best from Alto Adige, Alsace, or pretenders from anywhere else on the planet?

Wine Education Background

     This game of misplaced priorities and mismatched foods and wines is far from over. Seattle seafood fanciers may well find some Washington wineries eventually catering to their needs. Chinook Winery, for instance, offered both a crisp Sauvignon Blanc and a well-balanced Chardonnay at Taste Washington. Charmingly named Buty Winery had both a White Bordeaux blend and a very nice Chardonnay. Several wineries were experimenting with Rhônish whites, and the occasional Viognier showed good promise. A couple of new AVAs have been approved in cooler areas of Washington (Columbia Gorge and Lake Chelan) where the potential for wines with greater delicacy and stronger natural acid will be enhanced. Riesling is still very widely planted in Washington, and once in a while (e.g. Ch. Ste. Michelle’s ‘Eroica,’ where Ernest Loosen is the consultant) one of those wines seems to indicate a quality break-through may be imminent.
     At the same time several very high-end Washington producers of red wines (Col Solare, Quilceda Creek, DeLille, Leonetti) are gaining international stature, to the point where they are routinely tasted blind against the best from Napa, Tuscany, and Bordeaux. That’s a different venue; a red wine venue; a steakhouse venue. Washington State wines compete favorably in those circumstances, but they are usually brought by collectors. They are not automatically included when the tasting is in Chicago, or New York, or London. Perhaps the problem is that Seattle image of salmon being tossed around the Pike Place Market. Maybe Washington wine marketers need more images of Marlboro men and fewer of Microsoft-Amazon-Starbucks geeks. Talk to Boeing.

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Visit Argentina:

Dark hair; blue eyes. Tango. Late night Malbec with grass-fed beef, grilled.

Wine Background

     Argentina is romantic in very many ways. First, they all think they’re Italian. Second, they’re sooo good looking. Third, in the sexual sense of the word, I give you tango, and the factoid that Buenos Aires is the No. 1 lingerie market on the planet. Fourth, in the adventure sense of the word, Argentina sports such wonderful, barely populated, high-elevation frontiers. The highest vineyard in California is about 3,600 ft. The highest in the world, accessed through the airport at Salta in northwest Argentina, is at about 12,000 ft. Sure, that’s high, but the whole area is still in the rain-shadow of the 22,000-ft Andes. That not enough for you? Try the Euro-ski-elegance of Bariloche in Patagonia. Or the steamy Wild West atmosphere of Iguazu Falls on the northern border shared with Paraguay and Brazil.

Argentine Wine Tourism

     Mendoza is the primary wine district of Argentina. It is actually nearer to Santiago, Chile than to Buenos Aires. That’s convenient, re a flight from the US, because Santiago is also a little bit east of Miami and New York. Except in the dead of Winter (our Summer), the bus trip from Santiago to Mendoza is run regularly. It is also inexpensive, comfortable, and affords spectacular views of the Andes, particularly Mount Aconcagua (the biggest).
     Once you arrive in Mendoza, you’re going to need two things: a car; and a copy of the latest edition of …

Read this post in its entirety at the Stanford Wine Blog called Straight from the Vine. Includes recommendations for Uruguay.

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