What I’m Drinking Now: Washington State Wine

Washington State wine makers and representatives have been in town this week hosting a few wine dinners around the city, with lucky attendees tasting and learning why wine from Washington State is so impressive. 

Monday night Kate Derby Raymond of Spring Valley Vineyards, granddaughter of vineyard owners Dean and Shari Corkrum Derby and great-great-granddaughter of founder Uriah Corkrum of Spring Valley in Walla Walla, teamed with the folks at Perry’s Steakhouse and Grille for a lavish 5-course dinner featuring both the red wines of Spring Valley Vineyards and the white wines of their sister winery, Chateau St. Michelle

While sipping a crisp and dry Erocia Riesling Kate talked about the history of Spring Valley, a 1000 acre of wheat farm started by her family in the late 1800’s.  In 1993 her grandparents decided to take a chance and see if a few of these acres could produce wine.  In 2000 they debuted their Nina Lee Syrah, in 2001 Frederick, their Cabernet blend and in 2003 Uriah, their Merlot blend all from estate grown fruit.  Today about 115 acres are planted with grapes producing lush, expressive Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Syrah.  Merlot and Syrah are two grapes that really shine in Washington, capturing great minerality from the soil, with herbal notes and intense fruit flavors. 

Spring Valley Vineyards Nina Lee Syrah

Production remains small, about 6000 total cases, with all of the wines named for a family member or for a historical reference, for instance their Muleskinner Merlot is named because Kate’s great-grandfather was the head Muleskinner, driving the mules for their wheat farming before tractors were around.   Though Kate was raised outside of Walla Walla, she would spend summers with her grandparents on the ranch, eventually leading her to move to Walla Walla, join their team and become a part of the next generation to run the Spring Valley farm.  The favorite red of the night was the 2007 Uriah Merlot based blend filled with fresh berries, wild flower and herbal aromas, followed by raspberry, chocolate and bing cherry flavors with a hint of caramel on the finish from the 18 months of 100% French oak aging prior to release.  Perry’s paired this with a fork tenderPrime Strip Suvee over baby mache with pickled beets and goat cheese.  The subtlety of the steak balanced with the round flavors of the wine beautifully.   The Chateau St. Michelle Canoe Ridge Estate Chardonnay was also a stand out with the pairing of Kona Hamachi in a ginger-kumquat vinaigrette with kiwi, cilantro and hazelnuts.  The spice of the ginger brought out a hint of spice in the tropical fruit rich white, with the delicate fish accentuating the creaminess of the wine. 

Perry's Kona Hamachi with Ginger-Kumquat Vinaigrette

Tuesday night David “Merf” Merfeld, winemaker for Northstar and Marcus Notaro, winemaker for ColSolare joined Chef Brian and Courtney Luscher at The Grape for a spot-on pairing dinner. 

Northstar has been making high quality, distinctive Merlot in Walla Walla since their inaugural vintage in 1994.  Merf is a champion for Washington State Merlot, explaining that the Columbia Valley area on the Eastern side of Washington State is ideal for the grape with free-draining, mineral rich soils,  limited rainfall (about 7 inches a year), 17.5 hours of sunlight in the summer with temperatures ranging from a high in the hundred degree range during the day and a low in the mid fifties at night, allow grapes to develop intense flavors with balanced acidity and a vivid-full body.  The 2007 Northstar Columbia Valley Merlot is extremely rich and concentrated, with blackberry, cherry and plum aromas with nutty, chocolate and cherry flavors layered with a hint of fresh herbs like mint and sage.  This was paired with an aromatic Parmesan Gnocchi with house made Sweet n’ Spicy Italian Sausage in an Arugula Pesto Cream.  The light, creamy pillows of gnocchi with the fresh, herbal pesto married with the herbal notes in the wine, creating an elegant pairing, highlighting the full-flavors and roundness of the wine.

Parmesan Gnocchi with Italian Sausage and Roasted Peppers in an Arugula Cream at The Grape

ColSolare is a joint winery venture between Italian wine master Marchesi Antinori and Washington States Chateau St. Michelle, begun in 1995.  Their goal was to produce an intense, vibrant Cabernet Sauvignon based wine from the best fruit in Washington State.  In 2007  the team opened the winery on the estate vineyard in Red Mountain, a sub-AVA in the Columbia Valley on the Eastern side of Washington.  With strict attention to quality and detail, they are producing complex, expressive Cabernet Sauvignon, accuratenly representing the vision that Antinori and Chateau St. Michelle had when they started.  Though the ColSolare Red Wine is bold, it is also refined and subtle with black cherry and licorice layered with silky milk chocolate.  Paired with a Herb and Garlic Pork Roast with Shiitake Risotto the earthy flavors of the wine are revealed, with hints of coffee, spice and violets.