The Pacific Northwest wine scene is dominated by just a few specific geographic designations, ones that are well-known to most. Yet the most exciting trend in PNW wine is definitely the way in which relatively new (or less recognized) regions are producing some of the most rousing wines in the area, broadening the possibilities for the entire region.
That said, one of the biggest challenges for some wineries is whether or not to label their wines with these less-familiar names. As some designated areas are wholly contained within larger appellations, producers may choose to use those more common locations on their labels for simplicity’s sake. Yet as we look for more and more wines with a sense of place, these are places that are well worth getting a sense of. Here are four regions that I’ve recently become fascinated with, and will be watching closely in 2017.
Ancient Lakes (est. 2012): Not only has the Ancient Lakes American Viticultural Area (AVA) become the go-to source for Riesling in Washington (it’s at the heart of several of the most iconic bottlings in the state), it’s proving to be well-suited for other whites, particularly Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The limestone-rich soil and cooler temperatures have helped create a new paradigm in Washington whites: ripe, yet still loaded with acidity and shot through with minerality.
Rattlesnake Hills (est. 2008): Sitting higher than many of the other vineyard sites in the greater Yakima Valley, grapes here tend to avoid some of the devastating frosts that can sweep through. Basking in the sun for long days, yet cooling down rapidly at night, Bordeaux and Rhône varietals seem to thrive here… yet it’s the last few pockets of Lemberger, that relic of a bygone era in Washington wine, that always seem to captivate me most of all.
Rogue Valley (est. 2000): Cabernet Franc is finally starting to get its due here in the Northwest and the versions coming from this somewhat forgotten part of southern Oregon are right at the vanguard of the movement. Soils rich in quartz provide a similar platform to much of France’s Loire Valley and the purity of the fruit that comes through in these wines is staggering. Yet the Rogue is much more than a one-trick pony: Syrah has boomed here, as has Sauvignon Blanc, and there are slightly cooler pockets that turn out Pinot Noir that you’d swear was from the heart of the Willamette.
Similkameen Valley (est. 2006): Located southwest of the more familiar Okanagan Valley, this stunning piece of British Columbia boasts a staggering range of varietals, as conditions can be vastly different just a few miles (or really just a few hundred feet) apart. In cooler pockets at the floor of the valley near the Similkameen River, Riesling and Chardonnay crackle with acidity, while nestled against the soaring valley walls, soaking up loads of sunlight, you can find surprisingly firm Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, while complex and savory Syrah sits somewhere in between.