It’s an overcast afternoon in Atlanta. On the 28th floor of a Buckhead high-rise, a group of 12 winos gather together to taste some Washington State vintages. I walk into the room, and watch as the staff pours us two flights of red wine. On the bar are 8 wines covered with brightly-colored socks with funny sayings.
Concerned that I was going to embarrass myself, I begin brushing up on my wine knowledge by reading excerpts from Wine Folly as we wait for more people to arrive. As the industry professionals begin filing in, I introduce myself to them and ask what they do. I feel relief as I find that I am not the only novice in the room.
Jokingly, I ask the winemaker, Juan Munoz-Oca, who brought blindfolds for our blind tasting. Munoz-Oca, a former Argentinean native, became Columbia Crest’s head winemaker in 2011 the same year Wine & Spirits Magazine names the winery one of its “American Wineries of the Year”. He begins sharing all of the progressions he’s helped make with the winery, such as live concerts on their property with performers every weekend, with headliners such as John Legend. Interrupted by the tasting facilitator, we are asked to take our seats. Munoz-Oca begins by telling us about his background and his passion for making wine. In front of each taster were two rows of red wine and a spit cup. Our challenge is to decide which wine of row one and row two we like best and make a vote as to if the wine is from California or Washington State.
I look around the room as each individual is entranced in their glass; smelling, sipping, spitting and shifting to their next glass as I begin to mimic. “Conclusions?” asks our winemaker as we all sit back waiting to cast our selection. He goes through each wine and waits for hands to raise, while keeping score on his tasting mat. “There was a tie between Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 from Napa and Columbia Crest Reserve 2012 from Washington State” says Munoz-Oca as our facilitator removes the socks from the flight’s bottles. We repeat the process with the second flight and find yet another Washington State wine is selected as a favorite. Munoz-Oca begins explaining to us the advantages Washington State wineries have over wineries in California. Terrior, reasonably priced land, and a larger amount of grapes grown which results in yielding a better selection (more grapes, more selection). “It feels like how California must have felt in the ‘60s. It’s an exciting time in Washington for wine.”
Columbia Crest cabernet was mixed into our selection, including their H3, Columbia Crest Reserve 2012, and Columbia Crest 2015. A takeaway we all agreed on was bang for buck with these elegant Cabernet Sauvignons. Rich and flavorful with nice tannins, Washington State vintages pleasantly surprised a few of our more advanced sommeliers on price and complexity. Munoz-Oca is right: it’s an exciting time for wine in Washington State and even more exciting for the consumer to find a great price on an elegant wine.