Can you imagine your next trip to Italy without a nice bottle of Chianti Classico or Barolo? Not long after we wrapped up the blind tasting for our Washington Wine Awards last November, Seattle Weekly ran an article shining a light on a gap in the locavore food movement: For all the emphasis Seattle restaurants put on serving locally grown food, why aren’t more Washington wines on their lists?
I had never really noticed the problem–probably because I look at wine lists through Washington-wine-colored glasses and zero in on those bottles anyway—but it’s true. If you were plunked down in Seattle from outer space you likely couldn’t guess, from dining at many of our restaurants, that you were in the second-largest wine-producing state in the country.
To be fair, many restaurants showcase local wines well: We’ve honored Taste at SAM, Waterfront Seafood Grill, Barking Frog, Purple and The Herbfarm for their deep local wine lists. Walla Walla restaurants flood their lists with Washington wines. Even Portfolio, the culinary school restaurant at the Art Institute of Seattle, teaches its students well by offering a Washington wine list for its deal of the century: superb three course meals prepared with locally sourced foods for only $23—served with a view of Elliott Bay.
I don’t expect to see many Washington wines at a place such as The Harvest Vine, where the cuisine is Spanish, or at Campagne or Rover’s, where the focus is French. But with all the local-farm name-dropping on restaurant menus, diners should be hit over the head on the wine side too.
So what gives? Some chefs interviewed for the Weekly story ascribed the lack of Washington wines on their lists partly to affordability—boutique Washington wineries typically don’t have the economies of scale larger wine producers do. But Ryan Pennington, the Washington Wine Commission’s communications director, pointed me to this year’s first issue of Wine Spectator, which recapped all wines it reviewed in 2010. Washington had a higher share of its reviewed wines—50 percent—score above 90 than any other state or region except Germany. Oregon had 49 percent, France 41 percent, Italy 35 percent and California 29 percent. The average prices of bottles from these regions? Washington State, $41; Oregon, $48; Germany, $50; Italy, $55; California, $74; and France, $96. (Take heart: Many wines in this issue cost less than $20 a bottle.)
Some chefs chalk it up to lack of awareness and education. I will go so far as to say that as high as we like to wave the local flag, for many people things from somewhere else—the supposed “best” places for something to be from—will always be better, even if they aren’t. Is it possible that our beloved local farm-market culture is only a glorified lemonade stand to some?
Pennington surmises that some chefs fear “their cuisine won’t be taken seriously by critics or the media unless they also have a ‘serious’ wine list—largely imports or cult wines.” Supporting the Washington wines and being a world-renowned restaurant, he adds, don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
And so we continue evangelizing with our sixth annual Washington Wine Awards story. Paired with our Best Restaurants feature, which zeroes in on restaurants, from über affordable to ultra pricey, that provide true value regardless of price point (yes, a $330 meal can—and dang well should—be worth every penny!), it will serve you well on your local dining adventures.
Until next month,