The day started off innocently enough. Our, as wine writer Christine Haven’s referred to it, “Motley crew” of reviewers and sommeliers from around the US awoke, had a cup of coffee, and headed to the ferry. There’s Jay, our host, who is a prolific reviewer, and whom I regards as the expert on Washington wine. He’s a member of every club, knows every winemaker, and loves Washington wines above all. Then there’s Gordon, another reviewer who is, by day, a flight attendant, and has a consistent and contagious laugh. Next there’s Scott, a sommelier from Ruth’s Chris in Minneapolis who is earnest, kind, knowledgeable, and probably part bear based upon his stature. I round out the group, a wine writer from Nebraska who recently invested in a distribution company for the purpose of promoting “the little guy” who I value greatly. I brushed my teeth with my special toothbrush, which never touches toothpaste and thus does not threaten to make my wines minty, and we piled into Jay’s classic 1956 Chevy, headed for Taste of Washington, our collective reason for being in the Pacific Northwest right now.
We hadn’t driven more than five minutes when, rounding a heavily wooded turn with gorgeous evergreens on our left and the Puget Sound on our right, an eagle flew out of the thickly wooded area on our left. Failing to gain altitude and in danger of being struck by a car, it jettisoned its cargo — a house cat, which struck the ’56 Chevy’s bumper with a sickening thud. We sat in shock for a moment before discussing what had happened, debating what the creature was, and talking about eagles. Jay took the event in stride, even after we arrived at the ferry terminal to find a significant dent and chunks of bloody animal on his bumper.
The hour-long ferry ride brought back memories of my childhood, and summers spent partially in this neck of the woods. That’s another story. Upon landing in Seattle, we caught a Lyft to the Charles Smith winery, tasted some great stuff, had lunch, and then caught a Lyft back and got in line for Taste of Washington.
I’ve been writing about wine for a long time, and drinking it for far longer, and I will say unabashedly that Taste of Washington is the single greatest wine event that I have attended to date. This is largely because of the people there. The folks who organize the event are great, and the winemakers, owners, and their staffs at each winery booth friendly, passionate about their wines, and happy to be there. At table after table, I spoke to winemakers with whom I was familiar and many more whom I had never met. They told me stories, spoke passionately about their wines, and poured countless tastes of incredible Washington wines.
Further, there was the cuisine, which was also noteworthy. Countless local eateries set up miniature kitchens and bring their chefs, turning out amazing bite-sized nibbles to compliment the amazing wines juxtaposed immediately next to them. I had sliders and ceviche, faux gras, octopus, Korean steak bowls, charcuterie, and more. The entire event was almost overwhelming, but in a good way. While Jay, Gordon, and Scott committed themselves to the spreadsheet that Jay created, hitting certain stops for certain wines, I preferred to stroll casually around the room, speaking with whomever had the smallest line, chatting with winemakers, and in the back of my mind wondering whose amazing wines I could bring to Nebraska for distribution. Fun and fruitful conversations ended with my having a pocket full of business cards, and another pocket full of the branded waiter’s wine keys I have been collecting for so many years. It was a terrific day, and I’m excited to return this morning for round two!
All told, I tasted around 125 wines yesterday, acclimating myself to less familiar terroir and varietals with a unique sense of place. I spit the entire time, of course, and left after four and a half hours entirely sober, and entirely gratified. Below are a few of the many standout wines I had yesterday. Perhaps you’ll recognize a few of them:
We got back to Jay’s house in time for dinner, his wife, son, and son’s girlfriend having made delicious homemade pizza in our absence. We opened a magnum of 1982 Groth Merlot that I’d brought along and everyone sat around discussing what an excellent day we’d had. Eventually, the conversation returned to the incident with the eagle. Jay’s wife insisted that when she drove back it was not a cat but a crow laying in the road. I posited the theory that this was because a crow had alit atop the cat to eat it, and that the eagle, incensed, had killed the crow and retrieved his cat. It doesn’t stand up to Occam’s razor, I’ll grant you, but I’m sure that was a cat!
Taste of Washington is an eye-opener for me. I knew I enjoyed Washington wines, but I don’t think I realized how diverse they can be, and how consistently exceptional. I spoke with the other writers, and from Vivino’s five-star standpoint, I didn’t taste anything all day that was under 3.5. With such consistent excellence, it does become difficult to distinguish the true standouts, but what an exciting problem to have! I need to go hop in the shower now so I can get back for another day of Taste. If you love wine, if you even like it a lot, I can’t recommend this event too strongly. I’ll see you here next year.