Washington Wines to Uncork This Spring

Paul Zitarelli recommends the best wines for springtime
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 
Every American city experiences its own transition into spring, but have you noticed that Seattle’s springtime shift feels accelerated somehow? That where other cities amble from winter to summer, Seattle hurtles? It’s not our imagination. At our northerly latitude, each day in March and April adds nearly three and a half minutes of daylight. That’s almost a half hour of extra sunshine (or, more likely around here, “cloudshine”) each week. 
We humans aren’t the only ones to notice the extra light. This is the time of year when plants get to work. Root vegetables begin to disappear from farmers markets amidst a wave of green, whose vanguard in recent years has been a proliferation of raabs (sometimes also called “flower buds” or “sprouts”). This bounty from overwintered vegetables is a culinary revelation: cabbage raab, which tastes like a sweeter, milder version of its parent; mustard raab, with just the right spicy bite. Raabs are followed in rapid succession by radishes and asparagus, pea vines and pea pods, all the rewards for a winter’s worth of patience.
 Green foods call for “green” wines, and there are two common varietals that fit the bill. The first is Sauvignon Blanc, which is often described as having a grassy component. That green note can disappear if the grapes are allowed to ripen too long (replaced by fruitier notes such as peach and nectarine). Fortunately, there are areas in Washington that are perfectly cool for growing Sauvignon Blanc, nailing the flavor trinity of grass, grapefruit and mineral.
The second green-tinged varietal is Cabernet Franc. The grape is often grown in vineyards that are warmer than optimal, which yields wines generously described as weak-sauce versions of Cabernet Sauvignon. However, grown in proper climatic conditions (much of eastern Washington is just right), the grape produces a Franc with a banquet of green aromas: arugula and watercress, poblano and jalapeño peppers—marvelous, intriguing and unique to this varietal.
Traditionally, many sheep farmers have aimed for late-winter-born lambs, which can be moved directly from mother’s milk to the tender grass shoots of early spring. That timing underpins the idea of lamb as a spring food, and if we’re eating lamb, there’s one varietal we should be drinking. Bold, briny, beautiful Syrah is a splendid pairing with the robust gaminess of lamb, each highlighting the intrinsic allure of the other.
Spring is also the season when the first salmon begin to arrive in local markets. Pinot Gris is the most common pairing with this fish, and it’s lovely. You notice each bite of salmon; you notice each sip of Pinot. Another member of the Pinot family works even better. Pair salmon with the right Pinot Gris and the only thing you notice is how deeply contented you feel. It’s a less showy pairing, but more deeply satisfying.

Every American city experiences its own transition into spring, but have you noticed that Seattle’s springtime shift feels accelerated somehow? That where other cities amble from winter to summer, Seattle hurtles? It’s not our imagination. At our northerly latitude, each day in March and April adds nearly three and a half minutes of daylight. That’s almost a half hour of extra sunshine (or, more likely around here, “cloudshine”) each week. 

We humans aren’t the only ones to notice the extra light. This is the time of year when plants get to work. Root vegetables begin to disappear from farmers markets amidst a wave of green, whose vanguard in recent years has been a proliferation of raabs (sometimes also called “flower buds” or “sprouts”). This bounty from overwintered vegetables is a culinary revelation: cabbage raab, which tastes like a sweeter, milder version of its parent; mustard raab, with just the right spicy bite. Raabs are followed in rapid succession by radishes and asparagus, pea vines and pea pods, all the rewards for a winter’s worth of patience. 

Green foods call for “green” wines, and there are two common varietals that fit the bill. The first is Sauvignon Blanc, which is often described as having a grassy component. That green note can disappear if the grapes are allowed to ripen too long (replaced by fruitier notes such as peach and nectarine). Fortunately, there are areas in Washington that are perfectly cool for growing Sauvignon Blanc, nailing the flavor trinity of grass, grapefruit and mineral.

The second green-tinged varietal is Cabernet Franc. The grape is often grown in vineyards that are warmer than optimal, which yields wines generously described as weak-sauce versions of Cabernet Sauvignon. However, grown in proper climatic conditions (much of eastern Washington is just right), the grape produces a Franc with a banquet of green aromas: arugula and watercress, poblano and jalapeño peppers—marvelous, intriguing and unique to this varietal.

Traditionally, many sheep farmers have aimed for late-winter-born lambs, which can be moved directly from mother’s milk to the tender grass shoots of early spring. That timing underpins the idea of lamb as a spring food, and if we’re eating lamb, there’s one varietal we should be drinking. Bold, briny, beautiful Syrah is a splendid pairing with the robust gaminess of lamb, each highlighting the intrinsic allure of the other.

Spring is also the season when the first salmon begin to arrive in local markets. Pinot Gris is the most common pairing with this fish, and it’s lovely. You notice each bite of salmon; you notice each sip of Pinot. Another member of the Pinot family works even better. Pair salmon with the right Pinot Gris and the only thing you notice is how deeply contented you feel. It’s a less showy pairing, but more deeply satisfying.

Efestē 2014 Feral Sauvignon Blanc, Evergreen Vineyard, $20

High-elevation, cool-climate, chalky Evergreen Vineyard (part of the Ancient Lakes AVA, near the Gorge Amphitheatre) is among Washington’s finest sites for white wines. With its fruit, winemaker Peter Devison of Woodinville-based Efestē has created a Sauvignon Blanc with bracing varietal character. Green notes of sweet pea and lemongrass frame a vibrant core of citrus and mineral.

PAIRS WITH: A salad of cabbage raab, farro and roasted almonds, dressed with a warm bacon vinaigrette. 

Savage Grace 2014 Cabernet Franc, Copeland Vineyard, $26
Woodinville-based Michael Savage teams up with the Rawn brothers, who grow exquisite Cabernet Franc at their family vineyard high in the Rattlesnake Hills of the Yakima Valley. With the vineyard’s 1,300-foot elevation, even a warm year like 2014 couldn’t suppress the cool-climate character of this Franc, which dazzles with its aromatic expressiveness: brambly raspberry and rhubarb, poblano pepper and beetroot.

PAIRS WITH: Why have children if not for their little fingers, seemingly invented for shelling English peas in springtime? Sauté child-labor-shelled peas with garlic, butter and a splash of cream, and toss with sausage ravioli. 

Nine Hats 2014 Pinot Gris, $13
Nine Hats is a value label for Walla Walla’s Long Shadows Vintners. Here, Gilles Nicault takes fruit from The Benches vineyard and makes a dry, full-bodied (14.1 percent alcohol) Pinot Gris, more in keeping with an Alsatian style than a lighter Italian Pinot Grigio. (Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are different names for the same grape.) The extra palate weight is perfect for a fatty, robustly flavored slab of salmon. The wine has a pale pink tinge, and it mixes apple and pear fruit with chalky mineral tones. 

PAIRS WITH: Aforementioned fatty slab of (sockeye) salmon, simply poached and served with spring potatoes and a salad of asparagus spears and pea vines.

Stevens 2012 Black Tongue Syrah, $32
Woodinville winemaker Tim Stevens pulls fruit from a sought-after section of Yakima Valley’s Dineen Vineyards called Catherine’s Block. The block’s rows run over the top of the crest, where the soil is extremely shallow and rocky, giving natural yields of tiny, concentrated berries. The resulting wine is brackish, briny and black-fruited, a fine example of Yakima Valley Syrah. 

PAIRS WITH: The pitch-perfect notes of olive and game are exactly what’s needed for a slow-braised lamb shank, nestled onto a bed of polenta and complemented by a fava bean salad with mint, radish and ricotta salata.