I moved to Seattle only four weeks ago and I wondered how long it would take before I stumbled upon some interesting local wine. The answer, apparently, is four weeks.
Washington is known for making good wine; fantastic wine, as a matter of fact. But what gets me excited is unusual wine. Wine-geek wine. Wine for the jaded; for those in love with obscure little French appellations making funky light-bodied wines. And, I’m happy to say, I found some.
At the invitation of a friend, I made a trip to an industrial park 30 minutes from Seattle in a town called Woodinville, to taste wine. Industrial park wine tasting is not a thing that might sound appealing to you but what I found was surprisingly awesome.
Several years ago one or two wineries set up tasting rooms and production facilities in an industrial park which housed mainly light industries and—like winery immigrants—they soon attracted their kin and before long the neighborhood had become overrun by wineries.
I discovered a few winemakers producing light-bodied eminently drinkable, food-friendly wines made in the spirit of the Loire and other cool regions of France in this short trip. Chances are good that subsequent explorations will yield more surprises.
Savage Grace winemaker Michael Savage, looks to the Loire for inspiration when crafting his superb reds. Standouts for me were his Malbec (Cot) which, unlike the South American fruit bombs we’re used to, tips the scales at only 12.7% alcohol and drinks like a Cru Beaujolais. Light yet plush and velvety with a tangy finish that winkingly suggests you eat something with it. The Savage Grace Cabernet Franc was also a beauty and akin to Chinon had pleasant cherry notes set against savory tomato and tomato leaf notes and, of course, a nice dollop of minerality on the finish.
The highlight of my trip though, was what I discovered at the Refuge & Prospect Winery tasting room. Like discovering a turn of the century hunting lodge in a nondescript industrial park, the tasting room is as interesting as the wines that winemaker Jason Baldwin is crafting.
Using primarily Bordeaux varietals with a few cameos by Chardonnay and Syrah, Baldwin is creating wonderfully balanced, terroir-driven wines. His top three reds are Bordeaux blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec in various proportions. The Hallowed Ground bottling features Cabernet Franc, the Mortal Remains bottling focuses on Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Dark Arts cuvée puts Merlot center-stage. Each is as meticulously crafted as the intricate lithographs on the labels. My favorite, however, is the winery’s sole white wine, As Above. A blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier, this wine was made in a style that, even the winemaker will admit, is challenging for the average wine drinker to enjoy right off the bat. Baldwin wanted to create an homage to some of the funkier whites from Alto Adige that he had fallen in love with so he really focused on acidity. The result is a wine with piercing acidity and a slightly oxidized note, a dead ringer for a white from Jura, one of the hottest French appellations in wine-geekdom. This wine, however, is not a sipping, aperitif wine for the casual drinker, though more masochistic wine lovers will revel in the tug-of-war between the acidity and nutty oxidized notes. For the average drinker, it needs food for sure. So though it isn’t for everyone, Balwin should be commended for achieving serious acidity in a white wine from America’s West Coast, a category that, in my opinion, could benefit from more acidity across the board.
The sad news though, is that I don’t think any of these fabulous wines are in the New York market. Maybe if enough of us ask our wine buyer, David Hunter, he’ll bring these gems to a shelf near you.
– Elyas Beria, Chelsea Wine Vault Team Member