Best Wines of Washington's Winegrowing Regions

Posted April 09, 2013

The Columbia Gorge is a unique growing area, with about 500 acres planted in vinifera grapes. Steep cliffs above the Columbia River moderate the temperature, keeping vines from freezing in many places in winter and keeping the nights cool in the summer. Cool marine air rushes through the Gorge to meet the hot desert air going down the river, making the Gorge a great place for cooler climate grapes on the west end, such as Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer, while grapes that need warmer conditions, such as Grenache and Syrah, do well on the east end of the Gorge.


Dowsett Family 2011 Gewürztraminer, Columbia Gorge, Celilo Vineyard, $22

Chris Dowsett has a special touch. His enchanting Gewürztraminer won White Wine of the Year last year, and he has been co-winemaker at award-winning Buty Winery since 2008. He started with some pretty special fruit, from the cool Celilo Vineyard in the Columbia Gorge area, known as a great place to grow Alsatian and German aromatic varieties, which have more intense scents of flowers and fruit than, say, Chardonnay. The aromatic varieties grown here are Pinot Gris and Riesling, and of course, this “spicy” (the translation of “Gewürz”) ’traminer, which shows a beautiful white rose, lemon and nutmeg aroma, with a crisp citrus acidity, and fresh peaches and lychee flavors.
Columbia Gorge Aromatic White Finalists:

Analemma 2011 Gewürztraminer, Columbia Gorge, Atavus Vineyard, $27
Ross Andrew 2011 Pinot Gris, Columbia Gorge, Celilo Vineyard, $20
Syncline Wine Cellars 2011 Grüner Veltliner, Columbia Gorge, $20

Memaloose 2010 Primitivo, Columbia Gorge, Idiot’s Grace, $25

Father and son Rob and Brian, along with wives Barbara and Maria McCormick built Memaloose on the steep cliffs, 250–1,000 feet up the Columbia Gorge, to create Old World–style wines using Washington fruit grown in the state’s coolest AVA. In the last decade, The Gorge has been recognized for its desirable hot days and cool nights that lock in grapes’ acidity and flavors. It is also a hub of experimentation; growers plant everything from Albarino to Zinfandel. Brian McCormick planted Primitivo (Italian version of Zinfandel) in 2003, hoping it would thrive in the long growing season. He was right: this dry, deep red—full of blackberry bramble, black cherry and toast aromas—pairs nicely with grilled meats and rich tomato-based sauces.
Columbia Gorge Eclectic Red Finalists:

Memaloose 2011 Cabernet Franc, Columbia Gorge, $25
Syncline 2010 Pinot Noir, Columbia Gorge, $30