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Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide Hardcover – October 19, 2007
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"I never miss a chance for lunch or a tasting with Paul Gregutt. He is an eclectic student of wine and an astute taster who never takes himself too seriously. But his Washington Wines & Wineries is a serious publication. The number of Washington wineries has exploded since the turn of the millennium. There are several important new AVAs. Many wonderful wines are being made. So there was an urgent need for this splendid new guide, written with passion and authority. No one who loves Washington wines--in fact, no one serious about wine--should fail to get a copy."Oz Clarke
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His first chapter is a brief (13 pages) history of the wine industry in Washington. He then discusses Washington's eight AVA's (American Viticultural Areas) in considerable detail (21 pages with 6 color maps). This is followed by a comprehensive discussion of the 15 white wine grapes and the 20 red wine grapes found in Washington - and includes which wineries he thinks do the best with each grape (31 pages). He discusses the best ten vineyards (as opposed to wineries) in the state (28 pages).
This is followed by an extensive discussion of 120 different wineries, broken down into four categories: 1. The best (14 wineries in 32 pages), 2. Specialists - 30 wineries which are particularly focused on one or two wines, where they are particularly reliable (40 pages), 3. The third group mentioned is 30 wineries which show potential for excellence in one or more wines and have released at least five vintages (27 pages), 4. The fourth group (46 wineries) is similar to the third, but have released fewer than five vintages(30 pages). These discussions include a short history of the winery, the owners, wine-makers, and other important people. It discusses their philosophy and goals, their principle wines, experiments, and side lines, their production, their plans, and their contributions to the wine industry.
The only drawback to this book is the "new age" tasting notes, which ascribe very improbable flavors to the wines tasted. (e.g., "[The Walla Walla bottling of Seven Hills Syrah] sports an invigorating, lifted nose that combines lemon and lime and orange peel with raspberry syrup and mocha. A rare Walla Walla Valley-grown tempranillo is dark and gamy and exotic; a beguiling blend of roasted meats, vanilla, licorice, clove and black cherry." or "[Long Shadows] Pedestal...Lovely notes of bacon and smoked meats permeate the thick, juicy fruit,") Friends, if you get a syrah which tastes like lemon, lime, orange peel and raspberry syrup, you might want to make sure you didn't get the Sangria by mistake. If you get a wine that tastes like bacon or other smoked meats, I would strongly recommend that you send it back.
However one couldn't help notice that 16 of 17 previous reviews were all from the Washington State reviewers which, in some ways, exemplifies one of the challenges to the Pacific Northwest Wine industry. Of course eating and drinking locally is all fine and good and should be encouraged as much as possible but lack of a greater wine world perspective on comparative quality, pricing and value on wines from around the world seems to be a routine challenge when dealing with the wine merchants and sommeliers in this area, of course there are exceptions, but the more dialed in these tastemakers within the state are the more they can demand of their wineries and in the long run, help to raise further the bar of quality within the state.
Lastly, the issue of how the majority of the State's production is corporate big wine might have been broken down and dissected further explaining how in the end, these wines lack a sense of place - so do little for WA.
It would have been nice if it was easier to see where the wineries and tasting rooms are located (this information wasn't hard to find, and we fairly quickly marked up the winery list with locations, but it wouldn't have been to hard to include, either). Also, we found that generally Paul's rating system was spot on-- except for the larger wineries. There were several large wineries that we felt got inflated reviews. These were small quirks, though, and overall we got so much more out of our weekend in Walla Walla by using this book than we would have otherwise.
It was also nice that there were some blank pages at the back of the book, as we filled these with notes. We kept a list of the wineries we visited and made note of our favorites, and also kept the tasting notes from the wineries in the back of the book.
Thank you Paul for helping a couple of novices to better enjoy local wines.