It’s always exciting to find a tasting festival with dynamic new wines and the Taste Washington (held in Seattle in late March) was a fantastic discovery. Wonderfully spacious aisles, decadent food interspersed among the vibrant wines, and the warmest of hospitality greeted us both days at the Grand Tasting.
The Taste Washington (the largest single-region wine and food event in the U.S.) presented wines from over 230 wineries and food from 65 restaurants/vendors ranging from a wonderful chocolate smorgasbord, to smoked meats, diverse cheeses, and fresh seafood. The festival ran over 4 days including daily “explore Seattle” events and nightly tastings along with weekend educational seminars all culminating in two days of Grand Tastings. This was a perfect way to taste some great Washington wines all in one place as the state is notoriously large and spread out when it comes to visiting wineries.
As background, Washington has 14 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) that are spread out from the cool maritime west end of the state to the dry, arid, and very warm east end. The Cascade Mountains play a key role in protecting the eastern end of the state from the Pacific Ocean rains. These diverse climates produce world-class Riesling, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon among many other varieties which combine the pure fruit flavors of New World wines with the acidity and tannins of Old World styles.
From a wine tasting perspective, there were too many festival highlights to count but here are a brief few. The most interesting grape we tried was the Siegerrebe from Whidbey Island Winery. Whidbey Island is a cool growing site located an hour from Seattle. Siegerrebe is a white German grape and the 2015 Estate Siegerrebe ($18) had tingling acidity backed by cascading citrus flavors – a unique alternative for Sauvignon Blanc lovers. Whidbey Island Winery also made a terrific 2016 Sangiovese ($22) with grapes sourced from Columbia Valley in eastern Washington as the island is too cool for red grapes.
Long Shadows Vintners was one of our favorites from the festival featuring Michel Rolland’s 2014 Pedestal Merlot ($65), John Duval’s 2015 Sequel Syrah ($60), and Gilles Nicault’s 2014 Saggi Red Blend ($55) all from the Columbia Valley AVA. Long Shadows Vintners employs a unique concept of pairing a handful of the world’s best winemakers with some of Washington State’s best grapes to produce several ultra-premium wines. These were all wines of great depth, robust in nature, yet elegant in style.
Three Rivers Winery ($14) had one of the most interesting rosés in their 2017 Columbia Valley Rosé. Made from 70% Syrah, 27% Sangiovese, and 3% Riesling, this wine ran the entire fruit gamut intermingling grapefruit, strawberry, and guava flavors with its clean vibrant finish and firm structure.
Cadence Winery was another great find. Their owners, Benjamin Smith and Gaye McNutt, named the winery and all of their wines after musical terms. Their two Bordeaux Blends from the Cara Mia Vineyard in Red Mountain AVA were exceptional. The 2014 Camerata ($60) was Cabernet Sauvigon-dominant and tasted of concentrated black fruit, spice, and earthy notes. The 2014 Bel Canto was Cabernet Franc-dominant with white pepper, violet, and cherry flavors. Both wines were smooth, regal, and possessed subtle exuberance and power.
Stemilt Creek Winery won the award for most charismatic staffers. Shelly and Karen were hugely entertaining and enthusiastic about pouring their wines. The 2015 Ascent Estate Cabernet Franc ($48) and the 2015 Ascent Estate Syrah ($45) were highlights here. Richard Hood also recently joined Stemilt Creek as their General Manager and Winemaker bringing a wealth of experience to the winery.
We also enjoyed Cloudlift Cellars’ 2014 Halycon Cabernet Sauvignon ($30) and the 2014 Panorama Merlot ($27). The Halycon was firmly structured with black fruit, spice, and mocha notes while the Panorama was an enticing style of black cherry, blue fruit, and coffee flavors.
Vendor wise, the food was glorious and intelligently placed among the wines within each aisle. Such a simple change, it made the flow of the tasting smoother and much more enjoyable to be able to easily eat while not missing any wineries in each aisle.
Capital Grille’s steak sandwiches were a huge hit as well as AQUA by El Gaucho’s oyster and fresh seafood bar. The Groves on 41 (a Templeton, CA olive tree farm) ran a contest to see which new olive oil flavor to keep – jalapeno or chipotle (jalapeno won). Incidentally, this family-friendly farm offers tours and tastings along with a large, elegant farm house vacation rental on the property if you’re looking for a unique experience.
There was fantastic cheese everywhere and along one side of the room was a large array of desserts and chocolate. jcoco was one of the best, offering 10 different flavored bars including Bali Sea Salt Toffee Milk, Arabica Espresso Dark, Black Fig Pistaccio Dark, and Vanuatu Coconut Pecan Milk among others. Their women-owned company’s mission is also noteworthy as they donate a fresh meal to someone in need for each chocolate bar purchased; so far 2.6 million servings have been donated. Look for this chocolate nationally at Williams-Sonoma.
We also stumbled upon a “chocolate of the month” club in Chococurb which partners with various chocolatiers to create monthly chocolate collections delivered right to your door for either $20/month or $35/month depending on your selection.
As you can see, we happily ate and drank our way through our Seattle weekend and had a blast at this incredibly well-run event. It is definitely one to visit again and to put on your calendar for next year.
If you go, Seattle is a beautiful city with ever-changing weather and incredible sea views. It has San Francisco’s exotic feel mixed with Boston’s quaint brick buildings and winding streets in the older section of town. If you’re a foodie, you’ll be in heaven as the list of eclectic restaurants is long and fulfilling combing world-class food with a down-to-earth vibe. Try The Pink Door, AQUA, and Matt’s in the Market for some excellent options.
There is also much to see and do in Seattle starting with glass blowing which it’s well-known for. The famous Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum is spectacular and the Seattle Glass Blowing Studio lets you watch live demonstrations all day long (and purchase gorgeous items). Seattle has the advantage of a temperate climate which we were told aids in glass blowing as the ovens used are over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Underground Tour is a fascinating part of Seattle’s history and consists of 25 blocks of subterranean storefronts and sidewalks entombed after the town rebuilt itself following the 1889 Great Fire.
If you want to see great views, consider skipping the Space Needle and heading to the top of the historic Smith Tower which has a beautifully ornate and charismatic bar where you can walk outside and see the city as well as enjoy panoramic views in all directions.
Then there is Pike Place Market which is nothing short of amazing both in its 100+ year old history and vast selections of shops, restaurants, fresh food, and entertainment. Definitely check out the fish-throwing that occurs right in the middle of the market throughout the day. There are several levels to the market and over 500 small businesses so you can easily get lost for a good part of the day.
There are multiple hotels located strategically along the waterfront with glorious views and easy access to all of the above. We stayed at the Marriott Waterfront which was steps away from Pike Place Market and perfectly situated. And if you go, don’t forget a raincoat as we were not disappointed in Seattle’s reputation for rain. There’s a reason that REI was born in Seattle but it was worth every drop.