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  • Writer's pictureMallory Warner

France and Washington State's Wine Parallels

Updated: Sep 3, 2022



To those living outside of Washington state, the area's wine regions are relatively unknown. One may be familiar with the Chateau Ste. Michelle, which is relatively accessible in supermarkets nationwide. While far reaching, these wines barely provide an introduction to what Washington's wine industry has to offer.


I first learned about Washington wines in a Geography of Wine course at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. It was in this course that I discovered the parallels between Washington AVAs (official wine zones) and the regions of Bordeaux in France. Yes, the vineyards of Bordeaux and Washington state sit near the same geographical latitude, the 45th Parallel. The same can be said about Oregon's Willamette valley and the wines of Burgundy, which share a similar geographical marker and boast similar wine styles. But there is much more to consider when drawing connections between these regions and the wines they produce.


Geography & Climate

If you have ever traveled through Eastern Washington, it could not look more different than the western half of the state. Eastern Washington is a desert, carved away by post-ice age floods leaving behind gravel, sands and soils that are part of the key to region's wine growing success. Long warm sunny days in the summer mean longer growing season.


The Bordeaux region sits between the Garonne and the Dordogne rivers. The region is divided into subsets, generally described as the left and the right bank. On the left bank, or the west side of the Garonne, you find the sub-appellations of the Medoc and Graves. On the right, east of the Dordogne, you find the well-known wines of the Pomerol and St-Emilion.


This region, like that of eastern Washington, owes its soil to the freezing and melting of glaciers millions of years ago. In their study of terroir in their book "The Sommelier's Atlas of Taste", Rajat Parr and Jordan Mackay explain that "the freezing of glaciers and subsequent melting during warming periods caused intense erosion and runoff, resulting in the depositing of incalculable amounts of rocks and gravel." Beneath the gravel, which provides drainage, lies a bed of clay, that helps absorb and store water deposits. It is this gravel and clay soil that provides the ideal conditions for wine growing in the region.


Varietals


The two main grapes in Bordeaux are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The blending of the two, along with others such as Malbec or Cabernet Franc. Though often lesser known, Bordeaux is also home to a number of white wines deriving from the Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes.


In Eastern Washington merlot is queen. Washington wineries observed the success of the branding efforts of Napa's Cabernet Sauvignon growers and wine makers. Hoping for similar notoriety, Washington branded itself the merlot state. In recent years, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet France, and Syrah have also gained a significant footing. The blending of these grapes, and the immersion of sub-regions and increase in wineries, provides a wide variety of wines found across the state.


Wineries to Visit in and around Seattle


While the grapes are grown in Eastern Washington, Seattle is fortunate to have a large variety of tasting rooms both in the city and in the small northwestern suburb of Woodinville. To try some of these spectacular wines, I suggest the following spots.

Visiting Walla Walla? Check out these great food options.

Be sure to make reservations at any restaurants or tasting rooms, as spots fill up quickly


Sources and Additional Reading

  • Gregutt, P. 2010. Washington Wines & Wineries, 2nd Ed. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  • Parr, R. & Mackay, J. 2018. The Sommelier's Atlas of Taste. New York: Ten Speed Press.


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