WOODINVILLE, Wash. -- Never has wine country been so close to Washington's largest population base.
Woodinville, a community of 11,000 across Lake Washington from Seattle, is far from the state's vineyards, but it long has been home to Washington's oldest and best-known winery.
And thanks to the success of that producer -- Chateau Ste. Michelle -- more than 70 wineries and tasting rooms now crowd Woodinville.
Ste. Michelle, which started in Seattle in 1934, opened its chateau in 1976. At the time, few understood the move to what was then a remote area of King County. But wine lovers came in droves, and today, more than 300,000 visit Ste. Michelle each year for wine tasting, events and concerts.
Across the street is Columbia Winery, which was purchased by Gallo this summer. It started in the 1960s as Associated Vintners and has been one of the state's best producers for its entire history.
With this foundation, Woodinville has grown to a superb destination. Between new wineries that call Woodinville home and producers that have opened satellite tasting rooms, visitors will find more than 70 places to visit in the town.
With the explosion of wineries in the past half-decade, Woodinville's lodging and restaurant scene also have developed.
The Herbfarm -- arguably the Northwest's finest dining experience -- is across the street from Ste. Michelle and shares a parking lot with Willows Lodge and the Barking Frog restaurant. And a short walk away is Purple Cafe, which succeeds with great food and wine.
One easily can spend a long weekend in Woodinville or make it an afternoon trip from Seattle.
Here are a few wines from Woodinville producers we've recently tasted. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or order directly from the wineries.
Pondera Winery 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $28: This big, bold wine opens with aromas of boysenberries, black tea, blueberries, mint and fresh-out-of-the-oven brownies. On the palate, it shows off rich flavors of black cherries, blackberries, blueberries and chocolate. It's a big wine in every way and should be enjoyed with grilled meats.
Baer Winery 2009 Ursa, Columbia Valley, $39: A blend of Cabernet Franc (44 percent), Merlot (38 percent), Cabernet Sauvignon (9 percent) and Malbec, this brings hints of blueberry cobbler, dried cranberry, violet and sweet oak tones of tobacco and black pepper. The drink is dang delicious with its theme of inky blue fruit, bittersweet chocolate and Aussie black licorice.
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2008 Ethos Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $38: The attraction begins with its inky nose of black cherry extract and includes raspberry, root beer and woodruff, backed by humidor aromas and the cured meat mark of Syrah. The presentation to the palate shows lovely extraction with juicy black cherry, black licorice, black olive and Belgian chocolate. Its growth of tannins in the finish is resolved, yet this wine should continue to evolve for the next five to eight years. In the meantime, enjoy with a porterhouse.
Columbia Winery 2008 Merlot, Columbia Valley, $15: Black cherry, blueberry, Van cherry, tobacco leaf and earthy accents swirl amid assertive tannins and abundant oak tones of Baker's Chocolate and drip coffee.
Convergence Zone Cellars 2009 Storm Front, Red Mountain, $28: This blend of Merlot (39 percent), Cabernet Sauvignon (26 percent), Cabernet Franc (20 percent) and Malbec shows off heady aromas of black cherry, cinnamon and milk chocolate and the palate follows through with pleasing balance.
William Church Winery 2009 Philip's Vintage Gamache Vineyard Malbec, Columbia Valley, $30: This Bordeaux variety is made with a fruit-forward approach that's filled with intoxicating aromas of blueberry, boysenberry, plum, dried currant, fresh fig, chai and Jolly Rancher grape candy. Jammy and juicing blueberries and Marionberries ply their way onto the palate with opulence. There's not much oak, little tannin and delicious pie cherry acidity. It's polished off with hints of black olive and mocha espresso.
*Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, a website that provides news and information about the wines of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho.