Not all wine in the Pacific Northwest is made from grapes. In fact, we have a long history of making wines from whatever fruit is available.
Only as recently as 1965 did dry table wines overtake dessert wines as Washington’s dominant style. Granted, the style for many of those dessert wines were inexpensive and fortified. A good number also were from fruit other than wine grapes.
Westport Winery, just west of Aberdeen in Grays Harbor County, first built its reputation with delicious fruit wines. They came fruit from their farm as well as nearby farmers on Washington’s Cranberry Coast. Today, a third of the Roberts family’s more than 30 bottlings still feature fruit other than grapes.
Wine snobs can turn their noses up at fruit wines, but crafting a bright, balanced and delicious fruit wine can require as much skill to produce as any wine. Many vintners will note that a heavily toasted barrel or use of spicy oak can mask certain flaws, particularly in red wines. Oak is rarely involved in the production of nongrape wines.
And then there’s mead, which historians point to as the world’s original alcoholic beverage. Honey wine production is enjoying a renaissance in the Northwest, and professional wine judges are appreciating them. Last fall at the Tri-Cities Wine Festival, more than a dozen gold medals were awarded to meads from Washington and Montana.
These styles of wine rarely appear on the pages of leading national wine publications, however they can be viewed as a first step to wine appreciation and a gateway to wines made from grapes.
At last fall’s Platinum Judging, staged by Wine Press Northwest magazine, judges were presented with nearly 20 fruit or nongrape wines. Each needed to win a gold medal at a respected wine competition to gain entry into the Platinum, and a number went on to earn top awards at the 19th annual judging. Here are several of the winners, including a trio from Westport. All are available by contacting the wineries.
Westport Winery Garden Resort NV Dawn Patrol White Wine With Natural Flavor, Washington, $27: This perennial crowd-pleasing blend of raspberry with Riesling is lightly sweet thanks to the balance provided by the high-acid brambleberry and the baking spice finish. It’s built by Dana Roberts to be paired with crab cakes at his family’s on-premise Sea Glass Grill.
Westport Winery Garden Resort NV Shiver Me Timbers, Washington, $27: As the Roberts family enters its second decade of wine production near the Pacific coast, they pay a special tribute to their many years on Maui with this Hawaiian imitation of a Sauterne. They blend POG juice with Riesling from one of the Yakima Valley’s top producers, which offers something akin to a nutty marmalade in aromas and flavors, backed by lots of acidity. At the Sea Glass Bistro, they suggest a pairing with the Cobb-like Salmagundi Salad.
Westport Winery Garden Resort NV Rapture of the Deep Carbonated Cranberry Wine, Washington, $28: While the vast majority of their fruit comes from the Columbia Valley and famed growers such as Red Willow Vineyard and Discovery Vineyard, Dana Roberts and his family continues to pay delicious homage to the nearby “Cranberry Coast” of Washington. There’s a purity of fruit within this fun, frothy and lip-smacking cranberry wine. It’s more Craisin than cocktail juice with its touch of cranberry-skin tartness, which makes for a long and brisk finish that nicely balances the 12 percent residual sugar. Without such a level of sweetness, the natural bitterness of the raw berry would be overwhelming. Rapture of the Deep is an ideal accompaniment to turkey or chicken, and the only two days when the winery restaurant is closed are Thanksgiving and Christmas. These wines also are available at their new satellite tasting room on the Oregon Coast in Seaside.
The Sky River Meadery NV Solas Honey Wine, Washington, $26: Denice Ingalls in the fishing community of Skykomish ferments and ages this lot of honey wine in Dry Fly whiskey barrels. This mead dances across the palate in ballet slippers, not wooden clogs, presenting notes of lemongrass and starfruit. It merited a Platinum last fall and has earned a gold or better the past two years at the Tri-Cities Wine Festival.
Maan Farms Estate Winery 2016 Raspberry Dessert, Fraser Valley, $27: This third-generation Lower Mainland berry farm began producing nongrape wines in 2012, and Gaurav Maan seems to have been a quick study. His fortified raspberry wine involves at least two pounds of raspberries for each bottle, and the fluid is pure, fresh-off-the-cane raspberry. In fact, the flavor is so vibrant and intense that it is difficult to pick up on the fortifying spirits. Those seeking framboise deserve to seek out this unique product across the border from Bellingham.
Forbidden Fruit Winery 2017 Pomme Desiree Iced Apple, Canada, $26: The Venables family launched their winery in Cawston, British Columbia, in 2005, and winemaking son Nathan continues to change the way that many think of non-grape wines. They start with estate-grown, certified-organic fruit, and this well-crafted iced apple wine incorporates six varieties of apple.
Forbidden Fruit Winery 2017 Flaunt Sparkling Plum, Similkameen Valley, $22: Nathan Venables turned the heads of judges at the 19th annual Platinum by returning a trio of Platinums to his family’s certified organic program. Here, he goes with a frizzante style for the three varieties of Asian plum from their estate near the U.S.-Canada border. He left it off-dry with 5 percent residual sugar, making it fun and fizzy as notes of jasmine, watermelon, rose petal, sweet herbs are backed by stunningly clean finish of plum juice.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman operate Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com