It also turned out to be the largest wine grape harvest to date. Grape growers picked 212,000 tons.
WE ARE JUST beginning to see a number of red wines being released from the unusually warm 2013 vintage, and what we are tasting so far bodes well.
While the 2012 vintage might go down as one of the all-time classics in Washington wine country, 2013 started early and stayed hot all summer long. Heat spikes in June set up the wine grapes throughout the vast and arid Columbia Valley for early ripening.
However, 2013 ended up being a tale of two vintages, thanks to the September interruption of Typhoon Pabuk. The storm caused considerable damage in the South Pacific in September, and the tail of that typhoon brought unprecedented rain to Oregon’s Willamette Valley and even stretched into the Columbia Valley east of the Cascade Mountains.
Three to try
Buried Cane 2013 cabernet sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $14: This cab from Cadaretta, a top Walla Walla winery, is a succulent red with aromas and flavors of ripe blackberry, rich chocolate sauce and luscious vanilla on the finish.
Cascade Cliffs Vineyard & Winery 2013 barbera, Columbia Valley, $60: This small winery in the Columbia Gorge town of Wishram, Klickitat County, is crafting superb high-end wines. This is bright and racy with notes of elegant spices and ripe raspberry and Rainier cherry.
Whidbey Island Winery 2013 grenache, Horse Heaven Hills, $29: Based in Langley, this is just a short ferry ride from Mukilteo. And this wine is worth it, thanks to aromas of minerality, raspberry and cherry and rich, red fruit flavors.
What followed in Washington wine country was a glorious 30 days of sunshine and cool temperatures that rarely rose about 70 degrees. This allowed the wine grapes — mostly red varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec, tempranillo and mourvèdre — to hang on the vine and slowly ripen without much additional sugar accumulation.
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What this means to us is that alcohol levels weren’t likely to go much higher despite the long hang time, and whatever natural acidity was left in those grapes ended up sticking around.
It also turned out to be the largest wine grape harvest to date. Grape growers picked 212,000 tons, making it the first time the state has brought in more than 200,000 tons. And for the first time in state history, a red grape — cabernet sauvignon — became Washington’s No. 1 grape in total tonnage.
As a result, 2013 was a bit of a roller coaster for Washington grape growers and winemakers without concerns about the fruit getting ripe. Instead, everyone focused on balance.
Now that we are just beginning to see several 2013 Washington red wines hit store shelves, we can start to evaluate the vintage. Ripeness certainly is not an issue and, so far, balance is not, either.
We are likely to continue seeing 2011 and 2012 reds being released this year, so do not expect a flood of ’13s for another 12 to 18 months. But enough are out there that you can start to make your own evaluations.