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White water

Washington’s Columbia Valley moves away from some American styles to produce white wines with an Old World sense of restraint.

Greg Horton January 18th, 2011

Reason No. 1 to shop the Washington section of your favorite wine shop is probably price. According to Wine Spectator magazine’s Augustus Weed, “Exploring Washington’s white wines can be easy on the wallet, with most of the bottlings … priced at $20 or less.”

However, price alone won’t bring you back. Fortunately, as a general rule, the quality is exceptional.

“I was talking to a retailer the other day, and we had to think for quite a while before we could name a bad wine from Washington state,” said Scott Witherby, a wine rep with Premium Brands.

Witherby had this conversation as he and Matt Sterr, managing partner of Spirit Shop, 1117 Garver in Norman, were stacking cases of one of Washington’s best wineries: Milbrandt. Although not as renowned in the metro as Charles Smith — maker of Kung Fu Girl Riesling and some world-class, critically acclaimed Syrahs — Milbrandt is well-known to Smith. He buys fruit from the winery to make some of his wines.

Smith, known for his in-your-face reds, exercises the kind of restraint in Kung Fu Girl, a Columbia Valley Riesling, that Milbrandt prefers in its own Traditions Riesling. Rather than the over-the-top sweetness often associated with Riesling, the Milbrandt is dry and crisp, making it exceptionally food-friendly. It’s fruitier than an Alsatian Riesling, but the Old World sensibility is there in the low residual sugar, petrol notes and complex layering of fruit, minerals and spice.

Snoqualmie makes an organic Riesling, Naked, that’s widely available in the metro. Naked is sweeter than Milbrandt, but it has enough minerality and zest to keep it from being too sweet. It’s a solid food wine, especially for light pastas, salads and soups. Stone fruit flavors, especially apricot and peach, are dominant, and the acidity is sufficient for a clean, not cloying, finish.

Kamiak is a second label for the well-respected Gordon Brothers winery in Pasco, Wash. Kamiak produces a 90 percent Sauvignon Blanc, 10 percent Chardonnay blend called Windust White that is a Wine Enthusiast magazine “best buy,” thanks largely to its foodfriendly character. Fruity and toasty, the Kamiak seems to be characteristic of another trend from Washington: oak without being oaky.

For the last few years, Washington and Oregon have produced a number of stainless steel Chardonnays. The trend was a nice change of pace from the “barely taste the grapes for the oak”-style we had learned to expect from California Chardonnays. The trend will likely not die completely; Chardonnay is delicious in its own right, but several wines are now starting to appear in the metro with wellintegrated oak, including Gordon Brothers Chardonnay.

Available at Ranch Steakhouse, 3000 W. Britton, and The Metro Wine Bar & Bistro, 6418 N. Western, the Gordon Brothers Chardonnay is an elegant, foodfriendly wine that also borrows from Old World winemaking styles.

“This is no butter bomb,” Witherby said. “Think Burgundy, especially Chablis, for this style. The wine sees oak, but the toasty qualities are integrated so that it’s an accent, not a dominant flavor.”

The same style is apparent in Charles Smith’s Eve Chardonnay. Available by the glass at Republic Gastropub, 5830 N. Classen Blvd., the Eve has a moderately oaky character with green apple, crisp acid and floral notes. It is very approachable, and at less than $15 a bottle, it’s one of the best price-to-quality Chardonnay values in the metro.

If you’re looking for a complete change of pace, try Hedges Cellars CMS White. A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and a touch of Marsanne, the CMS is Sauvignon Blanc heavy (77 percent), but it lacks the wheatgrass- and grapefruit-only quality of much Sauvignon Blanc. Pear, caramel, fruit zest and floral notes combine with an eye-opening angularity. It’s an unusual wine, but at less than $15, it’s an affordable choice for the wine geek in you.

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