Wahluke Slope the backbone of the Washington Wine Industry

Harvesting grapes on the Wahluke Slope.

A crew works a mechanical harvester at a vineyard on the western edge of the Wahluke Slope during harvest 2013. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

Follow the Columbia River up through the middle of the state, and you’ll run into the Wahluke Slope, an 81,000-acre American Viticultural Area that serves as the backbone of the Washington wine industry.

Approved as an official AVA by the federal government in 2006, the region has long been home to vineyards. Today, about 9,000 acres on grpes are grown on the 13-mile-wide gravel bar that is a remnant of the Ice Age floods, which occurred some 12,000 years ago. It vies with Red Mountain as the warmest region in Washington wine country, and can always be counted on by winemakers for ripe Surah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Here are a dozen delicious examples of Wahluke Slope wines we have tasted recently. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.

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Milbrandt Vineyards 2013 Northridge Vineyard The Estates Malbec, Wahluke Slope, $45

Northridge Vineyard is one of nine Milbrandt sites in Washington state’s Columbia Basin and perhaps the most prized among the company’s six plantings on the Wahluke Slope. Joshua Maloney allowed this lot of Malbec to hang until Oct. 22, and the barrel program of 18 months in neutral oak explains why the dark blue fruit tones of plum, pomegranate and black cherry remain at the forefront with cherry tomato undertones. Gravelly tannins akin to plum skins mix with bright acidity to make for a mouth-filling drink, capped by black olive, pepper and dark chocolate, making for an easy and long trail to the finish. Suggested pairings for Northridge Malbec include Grilled Northwest Salmon with Saffron Rice and Blood Orange Champagne Butter from John Williams, chef at Doc’s Marina Grill on Bainbridge Island.

Rating: Outstanding!

Production: 94 cases

Alcohol: 15.5%

Winery website

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