Washington: Vine varieties and wine styles

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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Virtually all wines are vinifera, and are generally distinguished from those of California by bright fruit and relatively crisp acidity. Although the state was initially celebrated for its Merlot, later followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, there were just as many white wine grapes as red according to the 2013 vine census. Riesling (6,320 acres/2,558 ha) is a variety that the state grows particularly well, for both drier wines and sweeter late-harvest ones, some of the latter being botrytized. The Eroica joint venture (see below) together with Allen Shoup and Armin Diel’s joint venture Poet’s Leap have raised Washington’s Riesling game and, as a result, many fine examples have emerged. Washington has been closely associated with Riesling since the dominant company Ste Michelle claims to be the world’s biggest producer of it and hosts international Riesling events. Nevertheless, Chardonnay dominated vineyard and cellar alike in Washington throughout the 1990s and continues to be so widely planted that total acreage was 7,654 acres/3,097 ha in 2013. Washington Chardonnays range from merely good to very good, with a handful of committed winemakers intent on achieving complexity and terroir expression. White wine varieties with good track records from more limited plantings are Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Sémillon, and Viognier. Chenin Blanc and Gewurztraminer, once workaday in quality, have steadily declined in acreage yet can achieve great heights in the state. Müller-Thurgau can succeed in the scattering of vineyards in the cool Puget Sound basin.