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Washington sets out credentials at London tasting

Published:  21 March, 2023

Washington State Wines put in one of its strongest showings yet at its March UK tasting, with ‘vivacity’ and ‘diversity’ being two of the clear stylistic takeaways from this London outing.

The event, which took place at Tanners Warehouse in Borough, brought together a mix of some twenty plus wineries, including those with UK representation and others seeking importers.

As the trade has come to expect from this State, however, the varietal range far outstripped the number of producers. Stalwarts such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet blends sat alongside a host of other varietal wines, ranging from Cabernet Franc, Gamay, Mourvedre, Touriga Nacional and Syrah to Chenin, Riesling, Semillon, Pinot Gris, Albarino, Riesling and Marsanne.

    • Read more: Ste. Michelle Wine Estates acquires A to Z Wineworks

And it’s this diversity card that Washington is playing, alongside a signature ‘freshness’ found across many of the wines, to back its renewed push into markets such as the UK.

“Interest is rising for Washington and people are inspired by the freshness in the wines,” said Rory Benham, sales director at West Coast specialist importer The Wine Treasury.

He agreed that a strength of Washington is that it can provide fertile hunting ground for buyers looking to add points of difference to their portfolio, while delivering some good relative value, not least when set against its southerly neighbour, California.

Joe Ruben-Broad, director of wine at rival US specialist Vineyard Cellars, elaborated on the appeal.

“There’s real acknowledgement that [Washington] offers some exceptional variety, and in restaurants it's working very well indeed,” he said.

“The wines are slightly European in style, but also have some of that vivacity that you find in California.”

What was apparent tasting through the room is that stylistically there has been evolution over recent years – as confirmed by several winemakers – with a reining in of oak, gentler extraction, and more experimentation with alternative vessels for fermentation and ageing. An emphasis on terroir is increasingly to the fore.

As Martin Steed of Collectivino put it, showing wines from the biodynamic Hedges Family Estate, “we like wines that just show what the vineyard gives”.

This goes as much for Merlot, which is “having its comeback now”, according to Long Shadows Vintners, as for the often limited production/acreage (but growing) medley of varieties mentioned above.

“Washington can do a lot of things well, which can be confusing for the customer. But usually the quality level is pretty high and there’s some good value for money for the quality,” said Ester Wines founder Adam Dugmore, who focuses on smaller, family-run estates from around the world.

His aromatic Rhône-leaning Reynvaan Family Vineyards Viognier/Marsanne blend was a good case in point, along with many examples at other stands, including a perfumed, supple Gramercy Cellars L’Idiot du Village Mourvedre or Grosgrain Vineyards Grenache, brought in by Ally Wines.

Jennifer Williams of Ally Wines seeks out “innovation – looking for the non-traditional face of what is happening in America”, and while admitting that “not a lot is planted” of varieties such as the Chenin and Albarino (among the wines she was showing), says there is room to grow a “niche presence” for such outliers in the UK market.

All in all, it was an inspiring snapshot of where Washington is at, rounded off for some with an immersive wine, food and Seattle-inspired music pairing session.

This mixed the likes of Nirvana’s Teen Spirit with Gramercy John Lewis Syrah and venison, and Hole’s Celebrity Skin with Chateau Ste Michelle’s Eroica Single Berry Select TBA-style Riesling and rhubarb panna cotta, in a message clearly designed to say, ‘we’re Washington, we’re different’. And, judging by the buzz at the tasting, it’s a message that is going down well.