Note to self: Drink outside California more often. With Sunset headquartered in the San Francisco Bay area, it’s too easy to just revel in NorCal wines. So this week, I reminded myself why that would mean missing great stuff, by tasting from the Northwest—specifically, bottles from Washington’s Yakima Valley, which happens to be the oldest official AVA (American Viticultural Area) in the Northwest. Every bottle spoke of what I love about Washington wine: It manages to be earthy and fruity at the same time, savory and sweet. Here’s a knockout trio:
Efeste 2011 Boushey Vineyards “Sauvage” Sauvignon Blanc (Yakima Valley; $20). This one’s proof that stoniness mixed with citrus blossoms is a beautiful thing in a wine. Crisp green apple, tart stonefruit, and lemon zest balance delicate green herbs, lemongrass, and limestone. This is a Sauv Blanc with some oak on it (in the white Bordeaux tradition), for a rich mouthfeel without sacrificing verve.
Chinook 2009 Cabernet Franc (Yakima Valley; $23). A classic beauty. Cabernet Franc—one of the five red Bordeaux grapes and, in fact, one of Cabernet Sauvignon’s genetic parents—is typically highly aromatic, with a finer structure than its more famous son. And Chinook’s is an elegant version, with violets floating over spiced cherry, plum, white pepper, and mocha, with a long, minty finish.
Doyenne 2009 “Signature” Syrah (Yakima Valley; $44). A dense, dark splurge from DeLille Cellars. At a bold 15.2 percent alcohol, this Syrah pulls no punches, but it pulls off the high octane with fine-tuned balance that carries wild blackberry, plum, and sweet smoked meat layered with crushed herbs, tobacco leaf, floral notes, and mocha, spiked with mint and pepper. I kept wishing for Mexican mole as I sipped.