What’s a Washington red wine? What food pairing to eat? How to drink it?
If you visit states in the US, you’ll notice something similar to when visiting countries in Europe. Each state tends to offer for sale a large quantity of wines produced locally. The idea of ‘terroir’, a nebulous French word for the characteristics and influence of the local climate, soil, culture to what grows on it, is that before modernity people just enjoyed local products. There’s a relationship to eating locally grown tomatoes, honey from the farm nearby. We and the food breathed the same air, drunk the same water. Some say that local foods are better for our immune system than food produce coming from thousands of miles away.
The tradition of drinking primarily local wine is one of the few that has survived times from the past. Hence in the South of France you will find primarily French wines at the store, with a high selection of varieties grown within a few hundred miles, like Provence, the Rhone, or the Marine Alps like the Bandol region. Visiting wine stores in the Bay Area in California, when bringing a bottle to friends who live there, I look for the selection and what is on shelves? Mostly CA wines. At a large supermarket one day, I looked for Washington red wines to bring a bottle from where we live. I could not find any. Washington wine makers had a fruitful idea when they got started. People like to drink local wines.
Washington State has a wide range climates and soils, which makes it feasible to grow grapes from many varietals. Some of the most popular varietals in Washington State:
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Pinot noir
Our story with Washington red wines
We moved to Seattle in 2006. One of the motivating factors to live in Pacific Northwest is the proximity to nature, the abundance of seasons and the diversity of landscape. Using a car you can go from Seattle to the back country in a couple of hours. From a wet climate, you go through the mountain passes. On the other side the air is drier, sunnier. It’s also hotter in summer and colder in winter, inland. Go west and you will find yourself by the Ocean. Take the ferry to an island. The air, the abundance of water, the soil, changing landscapes and seasons have been our experience with the place, and wines from the region reflect that.
How to drink a Washington red wine
If you take a wine like the Italian Chianti, the majority of grapes are Sangiovese. It makes Chianti wines very consistent and also similar in taste. Same region and same grape varietal. In the case of Washington red wines we’re dealing with varietals that are quite different, from Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon in all their exhuberance, to the lighter taste of a Pinot noir. Whether or not to decant or aerate a Washington red wine comes down to how you like the taste. Try a sip of your wine non areated and aerated, and see what works best for your taste.
What aeration and decanting do to wine, is they oxygenate it faster. They blend oxygen with alcohol and other contents, and generally the result is you obtain a smoother, softer wine. If you leave decanted wine for a long time, say an hour or two, you might lose too much of its taste as the alcohol will evaporate and vanish. Aeration and decanting are often great for:
- Strong wines: anything above the 14% alcohol content gets into the higher percentages, as far as wines are concerned. You’ll find Washington red wines up to 15.5%. Well crafted they can be enjoyed non-decanted. For wines with high alcohol content it’s a good idea to try and areate them. It will take the edge off while keeping the aromas intact.
- Tannic wines: tannins sometimes form deposits at the bottom of the bottle. In a decanter they will tend to stay at the bottom of the jar and not make their way into the glass. Some aerators might also trap tannins.
- Older bottles: once a bottle reaches 4 to 5 years its contents have not had a lot of oxygen to interact with in several years. Decanting or aerating helps an old bottle breathe before drinking it.
Washington red wines characteristics and suggestions
So many grapes. How to define a range so vast as reds from the evergreen state? One thing is that California wines, particularly the Cabernet’s, can be very flavorful, sometimes too much for some palates. You’ll find opulent wines like this in Washington, but less frequently. Washington wines tend to be relatively balanced and easy to drink.
Blends are also popular, like the wines from France, even if in France the wine makers advertise this much less. For example in France you’ll buy a bottle of Bordeaux, and the region is sometimes all you see on the label. It may not tell you the varietal, or varietals, unless you research it. “It’s a Bordeaux from 2015” is all you might hear, along with the appellation. Wine labeling in the US tends to go the other way around. People say “It’s a Merlot” or “It’s a a Cab”. The description starts with the grape type. Washington wines make excellent blends.
- Jaja Maison Bleue Red Blend, 2012
What to eat with Washington red wines
- Recipes from the Pacific Northwest: dishes inspired by the region, either by cultural proximity or by the nature of the ingredients.
- Pinot noir wines are great with seafood. Find seafood recipes that pair deliciously with Washington Pinot, and of course with dry white wines.
- For parties or just for your family, empanadas are amazing snacks and appetizers. They tend to be ideal pairs for red wines like those from the Pacific Northwest.
Find more recipes at Laylita’s Recipes.