Since 2012, the Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley has been a federally designated American Viticultural Area — the 13th in Washington. Entirely within the vast, arid Columbia Valley, the Ancient Lakes is around the Columbia Basin towns of George and Quincy. It has a reputation as a cool growing area.
It embraces this reputation, with some of the state’s best Chardonnays, Rieslings, and Sauvignon Blancs coming from the Ancient Lakes.
The name comes from the small, pothole lakes that dot the region, a remnant of the Ice Age floods the carved out the region between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago. It has been a popular hiking and recreational area for decades. Thanks to basalt cliffs, it is a dramatic landscape.
Such vineyards as Evergreen, Spanish Castle, Cave B, Ancient Lakes, Two Gun and more are relied upon by dozens of producers across Washington. Some fruit is going to Idaho winemakers as a result of the winter kill that’s crippled the 2017 vintage in the Snake River Valley.
Here a few examples of wines made from Ancient Lakes fruit. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.
L’Ecole No. 41 2016 Evergreen Vineyard Chardonnay, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $35: Perhaps the most precious gem in the Milbrandt collection of vineyards is Evergreen, a caliche-laden site in this young appellation. While it forms the baseline of Marty Clubb’s large-scale Columbia Valley Chardonnay, Evergreen Vineyard warrants the spotlight with his reserve Chardonnay program. Bright apple, citrus and spice aromas lead to a creamy entry of pear butter with nuttiness and toastiness. Its lemony finish screams for steamed mussels. (14.5 percent alcohol)
Wit Cellars 2015 Chardonnay, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $22: Flint Nelson and Carolina Warwick launched this vibrant brand in Prosser, Wash., on the heels of their success at Kestrel Vintners. Their debut Chardonnay from Evergreen Vineyard began with stainless steel fermentation and ended in neutral French oak barrels. Orchard fruit aromas of Honeycrisp apple and Asian pear make their way to the palate with delicious acidity. Suggested pairings include Lemon Chicken with Artichoke Hearts, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Greek olives. (14 percent alcohol)
Jones of Washington 2015 Riesling, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $10: Victor Palencia, longtime winemaker for the Jones family, ranks among the Northwest’s elite with aromatic whites. This Riesling offers aromas and flavors of peach, apple, pineapple and passionfruit, making for a tropical that’s capped by a steely finish. (12.7 percent alcohol)
Cave B Estate Winery 2015 Roussanne, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $25: Cave B’s roots reach back to the creation of the now-famous Gorge Amphitheater near the town of George. Roussanne, a white Rhône Valley grape, shows promise in the Columbia Basin. Hints of unsweetened ice tea and spiced pear are followed by flavors of peach and ripe apple. (13.8 percent alcohol)
Succession Wines 2016 Evolution White Wine, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $24: A year after losing their home to the massive 2014 fires in north central Washington, Brock and Erica Lindsay set sights on this wine project near the northern shore of Lake Chelan. Their path to success in the wine industry includes this stunning work with Sèmillon. It blends tropical highlights of jasmine and kiwi fruit with gorgeous notes of nectarine, pear and scintillating acidity. This merited a double gold medal at the 2017 Wenatchee Wine and Food Festival Wine Competition. (13.8 percent alcohol)
Palencia Wine Co. 2013 El Viñador Tempranillo, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $40: While this region has earned acclaim for brilliant whites, there’s plenty of potential for red wines when placed in the hands of talented winemakers. Tempranillo, the early-ripening Spanish grape, earns a spot in Palencia’s own tasting room in Walla Walla, and his work with La Familigia Vineyard pays tribute to his father, “The Vineyard Worker.” Bright cherry and strawberry candy aromas funnel into cherry, blackberry and dark chocolate flavors, backed by crunchy tannins and cocoa powder. (14.5 percent alcohol)
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue operate Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.