By Rick Riozza

So my friend, fellow tennis player &Total Wine Team associate, Tom Leavitt, and I both received an invite to taste through an outpouring of wonderful Washington State wines.  Actually, Tom’s invite welcomed him to an exclusive private residence over in millionaire-acres up in La Quinta; mine was from Ralph and Jack, owners of the coolest place in town, The Wine Vault of the Desert

Tom and I compared notes.  His invite was set for Tuesday evening, mine for Wednesday. Easy to figure out that, no matter the venue, we were ready to jump on board with this Washington wine wagon passing through our valley with their showcase of stellar wines. 

And we were not disappointed!—actually that’s mis-phrased. We were thrilled with purple smiles on, and, amazed with the outburst of the choicest stuff.  It’s no joke about the “purple gang”.  The extracted color of wines of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah, especially from the Walla Walla region, are dense with the darkest of fruit.  Wine “doctors” are always quick to declare that the darker the wine—the more polyphenols and anti-oxidants it stocks in the juice.  Thus, drink-up and live long!

Probably old news for you enthusiasts, but the state of Washington is the second largest producer of wine in the United States.  And dare we say that Walla Walla may well represent the best of the Pacific Northwest wine industry.

My wife and I traveled to Washington state wine country a few years ago, wondrously winding up in Walla Walla.  It’s a very scenic city with that small-town feel.  A walk down tree-lined streets reveals a trendy eclectic mix of vintage shops, boutiques, cafes, bookstores, tasting rooms, restaurants and more.

This valley is one of the most fertile agricultural areas in the nation and has been a regional agricultural hub for more than a century; and it still abounds with crisp apples, juicy strawberries, tender asparagus, and of course their famous and sumptuous sweet onions.  Now there’s nearly 3,000 acres of prime vineyards and more than 100 remarkable wineries representing a wide range of varietals. And the stuff that’s especially bowling us over is their red wines: Syrahs, Cabs, Merlots, and red blends.

Washington wines have the potential to combine the structure and polish of French wines with the ripeness and fruit of California wines.  They exhibit fresh acidity with bright intense fruit flavors. The Cabs, Syrahs and Merlots we just spoke of unveil lush textures with very concentrated berry flavors reminiscent of the wild fruit found in the Pac Northwest, such as blackberries, boysenberries, cherries and raspberries all balanced out with firm and ripe tannins.  Our own California vino lovers are being seduced by the Syrahs sweetly singing, and won over as we speak of the New World fruit alongside Old World style.

Even though we think of Washington as being a very rainy place, the Columbia Valley where Walla Walla sits, the terroir includes conditions like 300 days of sunshine a year and a desert-like annual rainfall of just 6–10 inches, due to the “rain shadow effect” from the Cascade Mountains. And for you vino nerds, the area also boasts an average 40 degree diurnal shift, which is the difference between daytime and night time temperatures.  That variance provides the grapes great complexities in the wine.

The Washington wine industry has a reach. The Auction of Washington Wines is an organization whose mission is to promote Washington wines while hosting one of the most celebrated wine charity auctions in the country. Indeed, they are very proud to have just made Wine Spectator’s 2016 list of Top US Wine Charity Auctions.   This is the 30th year of the Auction of Washington Wines (AWW) and this year’s event will benefit Seattle Children’s Hospital and WSU’s Viticulture and Enology programs.

It was this organization that facilitated the wine tasting events here in our Coachella Valley bringing our attention to what the AWW does, the panoply of Washington wineries existing, how we can keep in touch with the certain wineries we love, and providing us the opportunity to taste through a bevy of beauteous beverages, aka, vino!

For those lucky readers who will be traveling up to Washington wine country this summer—well, be informed that August is Washington Wine Month, which means 31 days of celebrating the state’s winemakers, winegrowers, and all the people that comprise the industry

And the good news continues: Simply go on to the colorful and detailed website, auctionofwashintonwines.org, to check out their lists of events for the entire month, and specifically August 17, 18, and 19, and how to make reservations for them that would include the Winemaker Picnic & Barrel tasting auction and Winemaker Gala where dozens of wines will be paired with area chefs showcasing their cuisine, both held at the Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery.

Further, we have been invited to reach out to the AWW anytime we’re visiting Washington wine country for special consideration on winery and tasting visits.

My current wine love affair is Syrah from Walla Walla.  The terroir—if you will, appears to work as a heavenly garden garrison allowing the Syrah to shine with vibrant and complex flavors producing a wine of elegance and balance that’s a splendid match for a meal. The classic profile includes aromas of cured meat leading to flavors of dark fruit, blueberry, black pepper, black tea and earthy minerality backed by smooth, approachable tannins in the lengthy finish.

Tom Leavitt and I tasted through a luscious series of Syrah and other varietals, and, will be sharing our notes and recommendations next time. Here’s to purple rain in a bottle! Cheers!

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