- Sherry vs Port Wine – What is Fortified Wine? - July 9, 2022
- Old vs New World Wine Explained: Which is Considered Better? - July 9, 2022
- Brut vs Extra Dry Wine – What Are These Wines Best For? - July 9, 2022
When it comes to selecting wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Syrah, many may think of looking to a region abroad. In fact, each variety, and over eighty more can be found in Washington State, which has is now touted as one of the best locations for wine in the United States.
If anything, Washington State is an emerging region not known for one signature, as terroir wines such as Champagne in Champagne, France. Rather, Washington State has been praised as a region with great variety and is now the second-biggest producer of wine in the United States, trailing only California.
In fact, Washington State, which used to be considered a modest entity in the wine industry, is now being touted as “a force in the wine world”. As Washington State continues to increase its wine production and cultivation, it’s likely its status will continue to gain a foothold. And certainly, it makes Washington State a region to look for.
But knowing how to find the best wine takes some guidance. In this guide, we’ll break down the best Washington State wine by variety and region so you know how to experience the best this state has to offer.
What are the best Washington State wine selections by region?
In this guide, we won’t be covering all the varieties that Washington State has to offer, but instead focusing on the wine that each region is known for–and even giving you some example selections and a guide of where to buy these wines.
We also are classifying regions based upon designated AVAs.
Columbia Valley is not only the largest but most prominent AVA in Washington State, accounting for over ninety per cent of all Washington State wine and is located in eastern Washington State. It accounts for over eight million acres or a third of all the acreage in Washington State. Arid climate, with abundant sunshine, sloped landscape, and plenty of variety mark it as a region that produces countless types of grapes. The following smaller regions are included within Columbia Valley:
Ancient Lakes is part of Columbia Valley and was officially designated as the 13th AVA in 2012. There is just under one hundred and seventy thousand acres, and is known for the diversity of soil types: there are over eighty-five, though under twenty make up the majority of soil. Lower levels of nitrogen in the soil can result in sharper flavours. The Ancient Lakes region is also known for high altitudes and low rain yields–around six to eight inches per year, making for an arid climate. The Beezley Hills, Evergreen, and Babcock ridges are the most popular place to grow and cultivate grapes.
Wine/ Grape Varieties
- White wine reigns dominate in the Ancient Lakes of the Columbia Valley. Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Riesling are especially well known in this region.
- Riesling is the most popular. Flavour notes include citrus and green apple. Wines tend to be high in acidity and pungent in flavour, with traces of earthy notes.
- Aside from these prominent varieties, there are a few red grapes, grown at lower elevations. These include, in more modest amounts: Syrah and Merlot.
- While white wines are preferred, the variation in altitude allows for a greater diversity of wines than some other regions.
Red Mountain is located at the eastern end of Yakima Valley, just above Horse Heaven Hills. While modest in size, as the smallest AVA and accounting for just six hundred acres of planted grapes, Red Mountain produces fairly revered Washington State wine. Unlike Ancient Lakes, the elevation is also fairly modest, with a range of five hundred to fifteen hundred feet. It’s known for rolling hills, a moderate climate, low rainfall, and gravel based soil.
Wine/ Grape Varieties:
- Red grapes are the most prominent in Red Mountain. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc are found here.
- Small portions of white wines are also produced, but lesser-known.
- Red wines produced here are known to be high in tannins, structured, and balanced, with pronounced berry flavours.
- This region is known to produce a number of acclaimed wines, and have even scored a listing in 100 point wines in the past.
Snipes Mountain is nestled in the western end of Yakima Valley and was recognized as the 10th Washington State AVA in 2009. With just over eight hundred acres of planted grapes, it’s the second to smallest AVA in Washington State but also knows for a variety of grapes, with over thirty types grown. Snipes Mountain includes both Snipes Mountain and Harrison Hill. Interestingly, there is only one winery in operation in this region. Rocky, sedimentary soil, low rainfall, and abundant sun categorizes the microclimate.
Wine/ Grape Varieties:
- Due to its unique soil and microclimate, Snipes Mountain is known for aromatic and more unique wine, mostly white wine. The wine also is noted for vibrant acidity and ripe flavours.
- Many of these wines are used in Columbia Valley blends.
- The most representative wine of this region is Grenache, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
Horse Heaven Hills
Horse Heaven Hills is a prominent Washington State AVA, with around a quarter of Washington State vineyards acres and also known for producing exemplary, award-winning wine. Known for high wind, hot summers, and an arid climate, it’s also a favourite place to visit. There’s a range of elevation, from around two hundred to sixteen hundred feet, with rolling hills and ridged basins. It’s also home to the famous Chateau Ste. Michelle winery.
Wine/ Grape Varieties:
- Horse Heaven Hills is known for a mix of red and white wine varieties, with about two-thirds of the grapes grown red and one-third white.
- Riesling, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon round out the three most prominent varieties.
- This region produces some of the most popular Washington State wine, which calls cult classics.
- Most wine is aged in French or American oat, adding hints of vanilla and nuttier, warm undertones
- Dark, rich berry notes are juicy and luxurious for deeper flavours
Walla Walla Valley
Walla Walla Valley is a popular tourist area, with almost one hundred and fifty million dollars in revenue from the tourism industry in 2019 alone, and sixty million dollars revenue from wine. There are about three thousand acres of vineyards and elevation ranges from four hundred to two thousand feet. About two-thirds of this AVA is located in Washington State, but a third is in Oregon. Rainfall averages anywhere from six to twenty-two inches per year. The Walla Walla Area has four soil types: silt; thick silt; basalt gravel; and especially thin silt.
Wine/ Grape Varieties:
- This region is known for red wine. The top five varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, followed by Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec.
- Syrah is perhaps is the most famed wine. In fact, some consider Syrah from Walla Walla Valley among the best not only in Washington State but for American wine.
- Rich to red berry notes, alongside savoury flavours, are prominent in this region. Wines are mostly nuanced and balanced.
Lake Chelan was designated in 2009 as an AVA and was the 11th in Washington State. Unlike many regions, Lake Chelan has a nearly even split between red and white wine varieties and boasts a mild climate with close proximity to, as the name implies, Lake Chelan. Abundant sunshine, lush landscapes, and local businesses also make it a spotlight for tourists and even weddings. It’s noted for more coarse and sandy soil and also enjoys a long growing season for its small acreage.
Wine/ Grape Varieties:
- A nearly even split between red and white wine
- The wine exhibits minerality and pronounced texture
- A mild climate makes for a balanced wine
- Most prominent varieties include: Pinot Gris, Malbec, Syrah, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, and also Gewurztraminer
Rattlesnake Hills contains twelve wineries and is situated between Union Gap and Outlook of Yakima Valley. Known for fertile, nutrient-rich soil and a relatively warm climate, people travel here for the wine tasting rooms and sightseeing–Rattlesnake Hills overlooks two mountain peaks and is a few hours away from Seattle. Elevation starts at around eight hundred and fifty feet and rises to a bit over three thousand feet. There has been some pushback against an AVA designation
Wine/ Grape Varieties:
- Like Lake Chelan, there is a nearly equal balance of red and white varieties
- Though more than 40 varieties are produced, the most prominent include Riesling, then Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
- Fresh, light and citrus notes are most common. Citrus, green apple, and some stone fruit are emblematic of Riesling. Merlot features bright cherries, while Cabernet has a signature black cherry profile but with lighter, herbal notes.
Naches Heights became a Washington State Ava in 2012 and is distinguished by becoming the first sustainable AVA, as certified through Low Input Viticulture and Ecology certification and promoting biodynamic practices. Another distinction is volcanic soil, due to the longest andesite flow (from millions of years ago) and the fact that it’s situated on a plateau two thousand feet above Yakima Valley. Organic practices are also common. Climate is moderate, with warm days and cooler nights. Just about forty acres of land are currently dedicated to grapes.
- Naches Heights is best known for originally for orchards, especially apples and pears, as well as cherries, but many are pushing to produce more wine here.
- Wine tends to ripen late and tends to be more promising for freshly acidic wine than vintage or aged wine
- Red and whites are grown here, with no one distinct variety. Riesling, Pinot Gris, Barbera and Syrah are recommended choices.
- Bright citrus and tropical notes are common in white wines. Intense to spicy flavours, with some earthy undertones, are common for red wine in this Washington State AVA.
Wahluke Slope earned its AVA designation in 2006. Wahluke Slope is situated in Grant County and home to around twenty vineyards on almost nine thousand acres and borders the Columbia River and Saddle Mountains. Of the Washington State AVAs, it is distinguished by having the aridest and warm climate and faces challenges and a need for complex irrigation systems. The soil types include wind-blown silt; basaltic rock; and gravel.
Wine/ Grape Varieties:
- Many wines from here earn 80 to 90 points, which shows refinement and recognized excellence
- Though both red and white wine is produced here, the most distinguished wine is often the red varieties
- The most popular wine varieties include: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Red Blends, Merlot, Syrah, and, on a lesser note, whites like Riesling, Chenin Blanc, and Chardonnay
- Velvety finish, intense fruit flavours, and prominent tannins are common. In Cabernet Sauvignon, deep fruit becomes jam-like.
Yakima Valley is perhaps among the best-known AVAs in Columbia Valley of Washington State. Touted as the ‘birthplace of Washington States wine industry,’ this AVA features abundant sunshine, low rainfall, and a heavy tourism pull, with outdoor sports and hiking; farms; and successful breweries. The first AVA for Washington State (1983), it boasts eleven thousand acres and accounts for forty per cent of all Washington State wine. Neighbouring AVAs are Rattlesnake Hills, Red Mountain, and Horse Heaven Hills. Yakima Valley enjoys among the most temperate climates for Washington State, as well as windblown silt and silc, which is well-loved for wine. There are around six dozen unique wineries.
- Fresh, fruity flavours are on full display. While there is a decent variety, mineral and savoury notes are the most common compliments.
- Both white and red grapes enjoy popularity, though red wines tend to get the most attention.
- Prominent wines include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. To lesser acclaim but still prominent include wines such as Riesling and Chardonnay
These Washington State AVAs lie outside of Columbia Valley and account for a relatively small portion of all Washington State wine.
Columbia Gorge actually encompasses areas in Oregon as well, but for our purposes, we’re referring to the Washington State AVA that lies beside the Columbia River and the border separating Washington State from Oregon. Just around three hundred acres of grapes are planted here, yet the range of soil and climate types is notable. It lies east of two volcanoes and ranges widely in elevation. In addition, some regions are quite wet, reporting annual rainfalls of over thirty-five inches, while the eastern half gets as well as ten inches per year. High winds and a diversity of soils makes for a region rich in variety.
Wine/ Grape Varieties:
- It’s hard to define a prominent grape variety for the Columbia Gorge AVA, with around forty vineyards growing different grape types.
- Examples of grape varieties include Pinot Noir, Albarino, Syrah, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Gewürztraminer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Pinot Blanc, among many more.
- Wine ranges from intense to exhibiting pronounced berry notes and statement acidity–but all of this depends on where you are within the region.
- Best Wine/ Where to Buy:
- Puget Sound accounts for just one per cent of Washington State wine and lies to the west of the Cascade Mountains. The cool climate produces acidic and tangy versions of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Melon de Bourgogne.
- Lewis-Clark AVA has only a very small stake in best Washington Stat wine–over seventy per cent is located in bordering state.
- Best Wine/ Where to Buy:
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: How many wineries are in Washington State?
Due to expansion year by year, as well as smaller and independent wineries, it’s hard to pin down an exact number. Per reporting by The Washington State Wine Commission in 2017, there were around nine hundred wineries, three hundred and fifty grape producers, and fifty thousand acres. By 2020, there are now around one thousand. That’s approximately the scale of the Napa Valley wine-growing region. While impressive, of course, Washington State is a distant second to California when it comes to wine production.
Question: Where is the best wine region in Washington State?
There is no single best wine region in Washington State. However, a few wine regions tend to make a list of best regions, including Columbia Gorge, Yakima Valley, Walla Walla Valley, Wahluke Slope, Red Mountain, Lake Chelan, Puget Sound, and Columbia Valley Ava.
Question: What wine is Washington known for?
Washington is not known for one wine. Rather, Washington is known for its diversity of wines. The most popular wines from the various regions of Washington State include Syrah, Merlot, Riesling, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Much of the variety of wine in Washington State comes from the Vitis vinifera family, which can also be found in Central Europe, Asia, Meditteranean regions, and from Portugal to Germany to Iran.
Question: What is most widely planted grape variety in Washington State?
The most widely planted grape variety in Washington State is Chardonnay. Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon trail Chardonnay, followed by Syrah and Merlot.
Question: What is AVA? And how many AVAs are in Washington State?
Ava stands for American Viticultural Area, which is an officially marked region intended for grape growing and production. In France, there is a similar designation called an appellation. Essentially, and AVA provides consumers reassurance that the grape and wine production has been verified as legal and helps create standards. Certain AVAs are also noted for flavours and characteristics, so knowing the AVA of wine is helpful for classification purposes. There are now fourteen AVAs in Washington State.
Best Wine/ Where to Buy:
Now let’s round up a shortlist of the best Washington State wine you can buy. Not every AVA will be represented.
This has a wonderful, leafy character with hints of chocolate, tobacco and berries. Full-bodied, but not heavy. Firm tannins and a spicy finish. Very complex. Eccentric. A touch of viognier gives it an edge.
A budget-friendly wine at under forty dollars a bottle, this Syrah comes from Wahluke Slope and features a soft huem, floral notes, cherry, and savoury notes from touches of black olive, all for a balanced and pleasing wine.
Where to Buy: K Vinters
This Resiling comes from Columbia Valley and is produced with organic and biodynamic practices. A more straightforward approach is achieved by taking advantage of grape ripeness and forgoing barrel ageing. Refreshing and crisp, this dry Riesling features inviting citrus, complemented with jasmine and light minerality.
Where to Buy: Pacific Rim Winery
A beautiful, layered red with blackberries, violets and chocolate. It’s full-bodied, yet agile and driven. Such balance and harmony. Lovely length.
From Walla Walla Valley comes a vintage wine, aged for forty months in French oak. Prominent tannins, an intense ruby colour, and layered acidity ad mineral notes is reminiscent of a wine normally found in Italy, You’ll also be greeted with tobacco, sage, tar, rose petals, and black and red fruit or a complex and lasting impression.
Where to Buy: Leonetti Cellar
Co-fermented in a concrete tank, this blend of 68% Pinot Gris and 32% Gewurztraminer showcases the brilliant characteristics of Celilo Vineyard and the refreshing results of merging two traditionally Alsatian varietals into one Columbia Gorge wine. Peach melon and honeysuckle accentuated by spicy notes of pear and lychee make this wine a wonderful companion to a wide variety of globe-trotting dishes.
This white wine blend from Columbia Gorge features Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer for a lively and bright wine well suited for spicy food pairings. Pear, melon, honeysuckle, and lychee complement a refreshing taste and signature flavours.
Where to Buy: Cors Cellars
A rich, flavorful red with blackcurrant and wet-earth character. Full body, lots of fruit and velvety tannins. Flavorful finish. Opulent, but shows tension and form.
This Cabernet Sauvignon, from acclaimed winemaker Chateau Ste. Michelle and the Red Mountain AVA is a classic, with fresh red fruit flavours, nuanced tannins and prominent aromas. Dark chocolate, cardamom, and black cherry make for a complex, layered and luxurious wine.
Where to Buy: Available on company site or here on wine.com.
We partnered with FirstLeaf Wine Club to bring you this special offer: 6 wines for $39.95 + Free Shipping. All you have to do is Take the Quiz and let FirstLeaf take care of the rest.