60+ wines reviewed below, including the latest from 10,000 Hours, Andrew Januik, Aquilini, Chasing Rain, Chehalem, Chemistry, Covale, DeLille, Dixie & Bass, Januik, Johan, Kerloo, Métier by DeLille, Novelty Hill, Seven Hills, Soléna, Sparkman, and Stoller.
Sauvignon Blanc is having a moment in Washington. As recently as 10 years ago, there was a limitefd number of high quality bottlings in the state. Now, there is a long list of producers making consistently excellent or better offerings, headlined by Devison, DeLille (specifically the winery’s designated Sauvignon Blanc), Avennia, Goose Ridge, Novelty Hill, Sightglass, Foolhardy, and others.
Simultaneously, production of Sauvignon Blanc in Washington has more than doubled, from 5,700 tons in 2013 to 12,800 tons last year. This makes Sauvignon Blanc the state’s second fastest growing variety over that time. (Pinot Noir is first but was starting from a much smaller number.) Sauvignon Blanc is also now Washington’s third most-produced white grape after overtaking Pinot Gris in 2020. (It should be noted that Sauvignon Blanc remains a very distant third behind Chardonnay and Riesling.)
Styles have also broadened, from racy stainless steel versions to fuller-bodied offerings aged in oak and everything in between. Some producers, like DeLille, Devison, and Matthews, have begun reserve programs. Overall, it’s an exciting time for this variety in the state and mirrors the rise in interest in Sauvignon Blanc with consumers nationally.
Pinot Gris, meanwhile, is something of a conundrum. On the one hand, it is one of the most planted and produced varieties in the U.S. On the other, it can often make very innocuous wines.
Two conversations summarize the problem. In the first, I once overheard a sommelier say in casual conversation, “Even if you’ve got the world’s best Pinot Gris, it’s still just Pinot Gris.” Ouch. Similarly, when I once asked a producer of Pinot Gris why the variety was so popular, he responded, “Some people want a wine that smells and tastes like nothing.” Double ouch.
This is part of what makes Willamette Valley Pinot Gris an exciting category. The wines come in a wide variety of styles and price points. They bring the nervy acidity that is the hallmark of white wines from the valley. Despite a world of often dreary Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley Pinot Gris remains well-worth caring about.
Woodinville’s Sparkman Cellars does something that few other wineries are able to accomplish. Often a broad focus can lead to a decrease in quality across the entire portfolio. Not so at Sparkman. The winery makes over 30 different wines per year, ranging from Sauvignon Blanc to Touriga Nacional. They make them all at a very high level.
I frequently tell the story of trying Sparkman’s first Touriga from barrel with founder Chris Sparkman. We were at the winery when Sparkman said, “Let’s go back into the barrel room. I want you to try this dry Touriga.”
At the time, there was much hand-wringing in Washington about the state’s lack of a signature variety. I thought “The last thing in the world Washington needs is someone making dry Touriga!” Then I tried the wine and could only say with begrudging admiration, “It’s really good.”
To me, this story is important for two reasons. First, it’s indicative of what a wide assortment of grapes Washington is able to grow well. Second, it shows how equally facile Sparkman Cellars is across a range of varieties. I can’t think of another winery in the state making such a wide assortment of wines at such a high level of quality as Sparkman.
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