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Getting across the Cascades to the vineyards and wineries in Eastern Washington is not an easy feat. So it’s lucky for us that the industry has brought the wine west to the doorstep of Puget Sound. Less than an hour north of Seattle (about 15 miles) lays the city of Woodinville which has become ground zero for the Washington wine industry. In fact, the beautiful river valley is not only home to over 100 wineries and tasting rooms; it is also home to cideries, distilleries, and craft breweries. Whatever adult beverage you’re in the mood for, chances are you will find a taste in Woodinville.

Woodinville is divided into four distinct districts – Downtown District, West Valley District, Warehouse District, and Hollywood District – each with its own vibe. Downtown is where you will find the Chamber of Commerce as well as the Woodinville Farmers Market, which is open on Saturdays between May and September. The West Valley is fast growing and currently features a handful of wineries. Literally housing dozens of boutique wineries in a series of warehouses within a square mile, the Warehouse District is the perfect spot to park and wander from door to door discovering the distinctive wines of Washington. And while you may not have the grand scenery of a lovely vineyard estate, your chances are good of chatting it up with the winemaker who may be pouring you a glass. A bit more spread out and featuring lovely open green spaces, farms, and bike trails, the Hollywood District is home to the acclaimed Chateau Ste. Michelle among other pioneers of Washington wine.

Of course with so many wineries from which to choose, narrowing it down truly becomes a challenge – a good one – but a challenge nonetheless. For a first time visit, or if you’ve missed any of these in the past, these are five wineries that will give you a solid foundation of the Washington wine industry, not to mention the opportunity to taste some critically acclaimed wines. All of these are in the Hollywood District except for one. And yes, all of these can be done in a single day.

Chateau Ste. Michelle

This is the one that started it all and should be on every must-visit list. Chateau Ste. Michelle was founded in 1934 and is the oldest winery in Washington State. Along the way, it has had some amazing winemakers, many of which went on to start their own wine ventures. Situated on a hill in the Hollywood District, the grounds are quite beautiful and scenic.

For tasting, CSM offers a complimentary behind-the-scenes tour and tasting. No need to make a reservation – just show up. But to get a taste of what truly makes them special, opt for the Estate Tasting (which also does not require a reservation) or better yet reserve the Library Pairings Tasting. And as they’re known for their world class Riesling, be sure you taste a few. Do this even if you think you aren’t a Riesling fan.

While not officially on the tasting menu, I was also able to get a taste of their Port style wine which was phenomenal. This is a little known production effort by CSM and I don’t know why it’s not marketed more.  Of course we had to take some home.

We also bought some Cabernet Franc and Barbera to take home.

Col Solare Bottega

While Chateau Ste. Michelle provides the solid historical foundation of the Washington wine industry, Col Solare Bottega is definitely a nod to its present and future. Col Solare is a partnership between Chateau Ste. Michelle and Marchesi Antinori of Tuscany. If you’re already at CSM, just look for the glass box in the middle of the winery. Just note that a reservation is generally required.

Col Solare’s focus is crafting the ultimate Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated blend using the fruit of the highly acclaimed Red Mountain AVA. These are some bold, structured, intense and yet elegant wines. Ripe fruit and well integrated tannins all melded together to create some truly fine wines. And if you’re not in the know, Red Mountain is one of the darling regions of Washington State and considered one of the premier winegrowing regions.

Col Solare initially just produced one wine, its Col Solare Cabernet blend but added Shining Hill as a second wine. Once the blending for the flagship Col Solare wine is completed, the remaining lots of wine are used for Shining Hill.

Our tasting consisted of the 2012 and 2013 vintages of Col Solare and the 2014 vintage of Shining Hill along with a few nibbles of cheese.

I’d had Col Solare on a few occasions but the Shining Hill was new for me. And I’ll say that as big a fan as I am of the Col Solare, I really loved the Shining Hill. It has less Cab Sauv than the Col Solare vintages (both of which check in with well over 80%) and is smoothed out with higher doses of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. And because I can’t get Shining Hill at home (at least not that I’ve seen) I bought a few bottles to take home.

Novelty Hill – Januik Winery 

Washington wine royalty doesn’t get more prestigious than Mike Januik. Once named one of the world’s ten “Masters of Merlot” (screw you Sideways), Januik is the mastermind behind Januik Winery and Novelty Hill and has had several of his wines appear on the Wine Spectator “Top 100” list. He spent many years as the winemaker at Chateau Ste. Michelle before setting up his own shop – Januik Winery. He is also the winemaker for Novelty Hill, a separate and independent winery which shares a tasting room and production facility with Januik in Woodinville. But there’s more. Mike’s son Andrew, who learned the ways of wine from his dad, also has his own label which is available at the winery. So when you visit Novelty Hill – Januik, it’s like getting three wineries in one!

The first thing you’ll notice about Novelty Hill-Januik are the beautiful grounds. So many fantastic spots to sip on a glass of wine.

And then inside, the sleek modern tasting room is just as welcoming. It was a chilly day when we visited and I could have sat at the fireplace all day. I physically had to move The Husband away from it.

Andrew Januik treated us to a great behind the scenes tour as well as a massive tasting of wines. And while I knew we’d tasted many wines while we were there, after reviewing my notes I was amazed (OK shocked) to see that we’d tasted fifteen wines with Andrew. Definitely took one for the team there (that’s my story). And while we really enjoyed the wines, it was Andrew as well as the other staff that made the visit so worthwhile.

We started with three different white wines and very much enjoyed the Januik Sauvignon Blanc.

But this is Washington, home of those bold, intense red wines, so I was quite eager to try the reds. We tried a combination of wines from Januik, Novelty Hill, and Andrew Januik and had a few instances to try some of the wines side by side to compare and contrast.

The Merlot, as expected as very well done and I very much enjoyed the Cabernet Franc (as I often do) as well as Andrew’s Lady Hawk. But this was also a prime opportunity to experience the greatness of Red Mountain. Preparing for the trip and conducting my usual research, I had read so much about Red Mountain so my interest was definitely piqued. And even though I’d had Col Solare at home, I still didn’t quite “get” how special the region really was. Well after my visit here (as well as my other stops) I definitely get all the Red Mountain hype now.

We tasted both the Januik and the Andrew Januik Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignons side by side.

It was quite interesting as Andrew discussed the differences in his and his dad’s styles of winemaking – Andrew manages his cap with a punch down while Mike prefers the pump over. Additionally Andrew likes a bit longer maceration than his dad. Both wines had classic dark cherry fruit and nice mocha notes. The Januik was a bit bolder with more spice while Andrew’s wine seemed to have a tad more acidity and slightly brighter fruit. So yeah, we got them both.

There were some very nice red blends which we also compared and contrasted (absolutely loved the Novelty Hill Cascadia blend).

Then it was off to the Syrah. Now here’s a disclaimer – I have always had a love/hate relationship with Syrah/Shiraz. Occasionally I find one that I’m OK with, but overall it’s just not my favorite varietal. The new world versions tend to just be so “big” and hit me upside the head. And I always am reminded of pickles and dust when I drink the Syrah from the Northern Rhone.

Well Washington has definitely changed my attitude about this much maligned (by me) wine. These are some fantastic wines with bold fruit, firm tannins, yet they are also very approachable and offer nice layers of complexity. Tasting the Januik and Novelty Hill Syrahs side by side certainly made a believer of me. And the Januik Syrah from Red Mountain just reaffirmed my appreciation for Red Mountain that I’d gained from tasting the two Cab Sauvs.

To finish things up, Andrew poured a very interesting Novelty Hill Late Harvest Semillon which he says they make very 3 or 4 years. Packing 29.5% residual sugar, I could already taste the blue cheese or ice cream with this one.

So we ended up buying one bottle less than a full case here. And that was after we had to place limits on our buying and consider how we would get it home. I prefer to take all my liquid gold with me rather than have it shipped so some restraint was certainly in order.

EFESTĒ

EFESTĒ (pronounced F-S-T like the letters), was our one stop in the Warehouse District. I first heard about EFESTĒ during a Twitter Chat. Whenever I see various wines on social media, I like to do some digging to see what I can find out to decide if I should order or even visit. Everything I found about EFESTĒ was so positive that I knew I had to make it one of our stops.

And let me just say that I want to be adopted by owners Daniel and Helen. Talk about a tasting where you were one of the family! We talked about cooking and family and Helen even gave me tips (which I wrote down) for my ‘one day’ trip to Greece. They were an absolute joy to taste with and it’s obvious that Helen has her hands full with Daniel!

Daniel explained how they embrace reductive winemaking at EFESTĒ and how the Washington wine industry is a big family. They all look out for one another and really do root for each other. In fact, it was Chris Upchurch of DeLille Cellars (I talk about them next) who helped him get access to premium vineyards when he was starting out. And FYI, the logo on the bottles is the aboriginal symbol of a kangaroo. Now you know.

Given that Washington is home of Big Reds, I was quite surprised at the number of white wines offered by EFESTĒ.

The Evergreen Riesling was dry, but a bit creamy with lower acidity than I was expecting. For some reason, I really wanted some boiled crawfish with it. Of the Sauvignon Blancs, the Feral had a bit more citrus and acidity than the Sauvage. But both were screaming for oysters. The Lola Chardonnay was a nice surprise with touches of light oak, citrus, and nice acidity.

Then it was on to the reds. So I love the naming of the Upright Merlot. It was so named because of the movie Sideways which very much maligned Merlot. So instead of being “sideways” this Merlot is “upright.” Get it? Anyway, this was more Red Mountain deliciousness from Klipsin Vineyards. Smooth like velvet. We bought two bottles of this but I’m kicking myself that I didn’t get more.

Next up we’re three Syrahs, which I was quite excited about given my newfound love of Washington Syrah.

The Ceidleigh Syrah from Red Mountain exhibited the big fruit and big tannins as expected. But again, it didn’t beat me over the head. The Eleni Syrah from Yakima Valley was definitely a bit more subdued with its fruit and showed more earthy flavors and was actually quite elegant. The Jolie Bouche Syrah was somewhere in the middle. As we couldn’t decide which we liked best or eliminate any, we bought all three.

Next up was the flagship wine Big Papa, a Cabernet Sauvignon, which was definitely a treat.

This one was massive and I could already taste my Texas beef to go along with it. Black fruit, smoky, with a lingering finish. The trick will be finding the patience to give it some time in the bottle. And as The Husband and I were visiting during our 15 year anniversary, the EFESTĒ family treated us to a bottle. ❤

The final wine of the day ended up being my favorite.

Tha aptly named Final Final is a Cabernet Sauvignon / Syrah blend and I absolute loved it. In fact, it is their top selling wine and it’s easy to see why. This was downright sexy! Berries and chocolate balanced by some mineral and earthiness, it really is a testament to two varieties that Washington does well. Of course, multiple bottles made the trip home with us.

DeLille Cellars

Also located in the Hollywood District, DeLille Cellars was our last stop of the day. While normal tastings take place at DeLille’s Carriage House, we were in town for the Fall Release Party (and what a party it was) and had the opportunity to hang out at the lovely Chateau. The grounds were so relaxing and quite beautiful. I was ready to have a picnic right then and there.

After touring the grounds and learning a bit more about DeLille from winemaker Jason Gorski, it was time to taste the wines. We tasted five wines here.

The 2015 Chaleur Blanc was the only white wine of the group. 73% Sauvignon Blanc and 27% Semillon, this one had lovely floral notes along with apple, honey as well as some herbaceous and citrus qualities.

The 2014 Doyenne was a 50/50 Red Mountain Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon blend. Black fruits, earth, with some mocha this one was practically decadent.

The 2014 Signature Syrah was a little bit of a surprise with 98% Syrah as well as 2% Viognier ala Northern Rhone. The Viognier is co-fermented with the Syrah. Smoky, with dark cherry and plum this is the Washington Syrah that I’ve come to appreciate.

The 2014 D2 was probably my favorite wine of the evening. Combining 58% Merlot, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot it was smooth and offered up red and black fruit, vanilla and oak.

The 2014 Four Flags was 100% Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon and as you’ve seen, I’m totally crushing on Red Mountain. This wine was no exception. Ripe fruit, nice structure, and integrated tannins.

So we bought everything we tried. I was so impressed by everything I’d tasted that I purchased their flagship wine, the Grand Ciel Cabernet Sauvignon, without even tasting it. At $160. Don’t tell The Husband. So yeah, I’m a believer. (Please let it be great).

And I seriously could have spent all evening sipping wine in front of this fire.

OK, so an important question. How were we able to get from Seattle and back and taste all that fabulous wine in between? I hired the folks from Seattle Wine Tours, who took excellent care of us. My first thought was just to hire some random limo company but I kept seeing references to these folks and finally decided to check it out. As I’d already reached out to most of the places we would be visiting, I didn’t want a “tour.” No problem, as they will guide as much or as little as you want. We had Mary as our driver and I just can’t say enough about her. She is quite well known in the industry and really was a treasure trove of information. I don’t regret for one second not hiring the random limo company. And even better as no one had to be the designated driver! Money well spent.

To find out more about Woodinville and all that it offers, check out the official Woodinville Wine Country page.

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