The CenturyLink Field Event Center this past weekend was truly an all-sensory extravaganza. Bookended by the highly-anticipated Red & White Party on Thursday night and the epic Grand Tasting on Saturday and Sunday, the 22nd annual Taste Washington was four pack-filled days of culinary and enology genius.
Sandwiched between the celebration, attendees had opportunities to experience firsthand whence many of these fresh ingredients originate by way of an On the Farm tour; go all out exclusive and swanky at The New Vintage with a private after-event hosted by Chef Edouardo Jordan; and learn a little somethin’, somethin’ at up to six mid-morning seminars.
The usual suspects were on hand to pour sumptuous Cabernet Sauvignon, velvety Merlot and age-worthy Syrah at the Grand Tasting main event. Although Grenache is still climbing the ladder of appeal for consumers, it was finessed Cabernet Franc that piqued my palate. With party hats still warm from the flurry of activity, here were some take-aways from 2019.
I counted over two dozen opportunities to taste Cabernet Franc and that’s just the producers who brought their bottle to the table. “Big Papa,” as it’s affectionately named (Cabernet Sauvignon is a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc), is a versatile food wine that can sometimes be had for considerably less than it’s better known offspring and, with warmer weather kissing our cheeks, Cab Franc is perfectly acceptable to serve slightly chilled for some heartier patio sipping.
Two of note were Isenhower Cellars 2016 Road Less Traveled and Walla Walla Vintners Columbia Valley 2016 Cabernet Franc. The former a Yakima Valley-sourced beauty that exhibits a floral component of violet mixed with black pepper. Bright plum and Bing cherry meet midpalate with hints of dried herbs, cigar, black raspberry and a whisper of orange zest on the finish. The latter opens with bell pepper, black fruit and tobacco, and carries with dusty cherry, blackberry, baking spice and a ribbon of vanilla and cocoa on the long finish.H
One can hardly make a case for a trend with only two wineries offering a varietal — and one of them didn’t even bring their expression to Taste Washington — but both Callan Cellars and Syncline Winery source their Picpoul from Boushey Vineyards. A varietal with a Rhône heritage, Picpoul is rarely seen in the U.S. but when it is, it is a beautiful white to pair with shellfish for its intoxicating aroma and lively acidity. Bordeaux-style reds have been the backbone of Washington wine and it’s refreshing to see winemakers branch out into this lesser known grape as well as Bordeaux whites such as Semillon and Semillon blends.
A botanical bouquet, vermouth is like the perfect marriage of a cocktail and wine, and it’s always a pleasant surprise to meet winemakers willing to set up their own lab apothecary to draw out the nuances of this European aperitif. At Taste, DiStefano Winery poured its Cabernet Sauvignon-based Poppi Bittersweet Vermouth from the Columbia Valley and Hard Row to Hoe sampled its vermouth of Pinot Gris from Lake Chelan, fortified with brandy and locally-sourced herbs.
With 40 years in the cellar, Washington winemakers have not emerged with “the” grape. Instead, they have laid claim to over 70 varieties that thrive in the broad landscape of a state that is nearly 3.5 times smaller than France yet is securing a firm foundation on every front. From the obscure Picpoul Blanc to rosé, Grenache, Malbec, Semillon, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, sparkling and Pinot Gris, Washington winemakers are crafting the essence of diversity in every bottle and Taste Washington is the ultimate annual platform to bring it all to the surface.