Washington State wines are a bit like the Robert Duvall of the wine world. Highly respected, always classy and just does things in the right way, but an actor who was never really the star of the show. But great as a supporting actor. Which is not too dissimilar to how Washington State wines continue to build their reputation. Ahead of next week’s Oregon and Washington State tasting Richard Hemming MW explains why he thinks Washington has so much more to offer.
Anyone going to the Encounter Oregon and Washington State wines event next week will be able to hear what Richard Hemming MW thinks of Washington wines as part of a special masterclass. Here he gives you a sneak preview on why he thinks their wines deserve more of our attention.
What do you think Washington State wines offer UK wine buyers in terms of styles and price point?
Well, they are never going to be cheap, so their natural habitat is mid-range £8-£30 with varieties such as Riesling, Cab Sauvignon and Syrah. We known, classic styles, in other words. That’s a very competitive sector, especially in the UK, but there is definitely potential for them to gain attention as a relatively novel region that is making seriously good wine.
How do you think they compare to Californian equivalents?
Better value, especially at the premium end, and without the over-extraction that some Californian wines suffer from. Stylistically, they share the same sort of plush fruit and full body, so there’s a good amount of cross-appeal.
Would you compare Washington State wines to any Old World equivalents?
I suppose using French varieties makes comparisons inevitable, but Washington wines really aren’t that similar to Bordeaux or the Rhône, for example – and that’s a good thing! They have a good sense of their own identity, and aren’t trying to be something they’re not. Then again, blind tasting comparisons are always fun – and often surprisingly informative.
You say you first visited the region in 2015, what was your perception before going to what you saw when you did?
That it was expensive and niche – which is still true to a certain extent, but what I realised is that they have far greater diversity and quality potential than I realised . The challenge is to get their best wines into our market. Also, the vibe is very laid back and open-minded.
What would you say is the best way for Washington producers to get more traction/listings in the UK?
It needs to be a concerted effort. Tasting events are a great way of getting attention, but to maintain listings and keep the wines at the front of our wines, the campaign needs to be continually active. Not easy – and certainly not cheap – but not impossible. Perhaps some brand ambassadors or pop-up consumer events throughout the year might help? And winemaker visits are always useful.
Any thoughts overall on Oregon wines too – just for balance!
There’s great quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Oregon, of course – and their reputation is probably a bit more established than Washington.
While it makes sense for them to work together, the proposition from each state is quite different. Oregon should continue doing its thing with Burgundian varieties, and the best ones are deservedly ranked among the greats.
You are hosting a masterclass as part of the tasting on March 13. What is happening?
The format is a tasting of a younger vintage (2005) vs the current vintage (2014 or 15) of five top Washington State reds. There are four Cab Sauvignons and one Syrah – and the producers are all top names.
The idea is partly to assess the ageing potential for the wines, but also to discuss how winemaking has evolved in that time. I think this is particularly important for relatively young regions where they are still discovering the full potential of their terroir, and are generally quite open minded about what needs to change in terms of viti and vini in order to improve.
There’s a panel of winemakers joining me for the discussion and I’ll be grilling them about things such as oak usage, appropriateness of varieties (inc clonal selection), the mistakes they’ve made, and lessons for us all.
- Richard Hemming MW is part of a full line up events on both March 12 and 13.
- Including Doug Wregg of Les Caves de Pyrene who will be talking about “Exploring Oregon’s Winemaking Classicists and (R)Evolutionaries” with Kate Norris of Division Winemaking Company between 3pm and 5pm on March 12 at Level 2, Oxo 2, Oxo Tower Wharf, London.
- The full programme of events includes:
- March 13
- 11am, Oregon Seminar for MW Seminar for MWs and MW Students
- 3pm, Oregon Seminar ‘“Exploring Oregon’s Winemaking Classicists and (R)Evolutionaries”
- 11am to 5pm, Oregon ‘Pop Up’ tastings: Oregon Chardonnay and Non-Pinot noir Reds
- 6 to 8.30pm, ‘Magnum Opus’ – Invite Only
- 9pm til late, ‘Secret Sommelier’ tasting – Invite Only
- 10.30am, Washington Seminar ‘The Evolution of Washington reds’, chaired by Richard Hemming MW
- Noon to 5pm, Oregon & Washington Main Tasting
All sessions are on a first come, first served basis, but you can register for the overall events here. For further information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and you can register for all sessions here.