For a state that's relatively new to the wine game, Washington's best wineries have certainly developed an impressive worldwide reputation. The first commercial wineries started here in the 1960s, and grew fast: today, Washington is second only to California in total wine production. And despite Seattle's (just) reputation as a place with the reliably rainy weather, the state is actually home to a wide variety of microclimates, including arid near-desert. Paired with long summer days, and winemakers that aren't afraid to innovate, and you'll find a diverse wine touring and tasting experience across the state's nine AVAs.
This is Washington's largest wine region and encompasses seven of the states other wine regions, including Red Mountain, Yakima Valley, Walla Walla, Horse Heaven Hills Wahluke Slope, Rattlesnake Hills, and Lake Chelan. It received its designation in 1984 and has more than 16,000 vineyard acres and 100 wineries.
Specialties: chardonnay, Riesling, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and Syrah.
Puget Sound isn't Washington's largest wine area, but it's the closest to Seattle and makes for a convenient day trip. There are over 100 wineries here, but only 130 vineyard acres, so many of the wineries buy their grapes from elsewhere—or they're pretty small. Puget Sound vineyards feature unusual grapes and varietals.
Specialties: Madeline Angevine, Muller Thurgau, Siegerrebe, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.
The Columbia River Gorge, which divides Washington from Oregon, is easily one of the most dramatic scenic areas in America. Steep cliffs, a temperature- moderating river and volcanic soil have proven a hospitable and beautiful home for a number of wineries on both the Washington and the Oregon side. The gorge itself is divided lengthwise into two wine areas—the southernmost region of the huge Columbia Valley AVA extends down to the eastern portion of the Gorge, while the Columbia Gorge AVA proper, established in 2004, is clustered around Lyle, Washington and includes 350 vineyard acres and about 15 wineries.
Specialties: chardonnay, gewürztraminer, riesling, pinot gris, pinot noir, and zinfandel.
This was the state's first AVA, established in 1983. Here you'll find 11,000 vineyard acres and more than 65 wineries.
Specialties: chardonnay, riesling, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and syrah.
Walla Walla Valley
Walla Walla received its AVA designation in 1984 and is also a part of the Columbia Valley wine area. Walla Walla's downtown offers a sophisticated and varied tasting room experience, its airport area offers another cluster of more quirky tasting rooms, while you can visit wineries with dramatic scenery to the east and south of the city, as well as vineyards to the east. The Walla Walla Valley has more than 1,200 vineyard acres and over 100 wineries.
Specialties: Cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and syrah.
Established in 2001, Red Mountain is Washington's smallest wine area in terms of the number of wineries it's home to—not quite 15, although there are more than 700 vineyard acres. But the wineries here are prestigious and growing ever more buzz-worthy. And from a visitor's perspective, Red Mountain's tiny little slice of the world is surrounded on three sides by the Yakima AVA and the Columbia Valley on the other, so a visit here is often combined with other Tri-Cities area wineries, especially Prosser.
Specialties: Cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, lemberger, malbec, cabernet franc, and sangiovese.
Horse Heaven Hills
Horse Heaven Hills is in south-central Washington, tucked in under the Yakima Valley and extending down towards the Columbia Gorge. It's the third of five wine areas carved out of the Columbia Valley AVA, and accounts for a large share of vineyard acres over 6,000 vineyard acres—if not wineries—there are only 20 here. But one of them is one of the state's best known, Columbia Crest.
Specialties: Cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, riesling, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc.
The Wahluke Slope is also within the Columbia Valley wine area and accounts for about 20 percent of the state's grape production. It's one of the driest and warmest parts of the state, so the amount of water that grapes receive here is controlled almost completely by irrigation, allowing growers more control over the finished grape product. There aren't many wineries that you can visit in the AVA itself, but a couple of wineries have tasting rooms in other areas around Washington wine country.
Specialties: merlot, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, riesling, chardonnay, and chenin blanc.
Rattlesnake Hills is inside both the Columbia Valley AVA and the Yakima Valley AVA, but it sits at a higher elevation than its surrounding areas. With 1,500 acres of vineyards and about 20 wineries, the area provides many Washington winemakers with their grapes.
Specialties: cabernet sauvignon, malbec, merlot, syrah, chardonnay, and riesling.
Snipes Mountain is among Washington's newest AVAs, established in 2009. It's carved out of the Yakima Valley wine area, just below Rattlesnake Hills, and it's tiny—only the Red Mountain AVA is smaller. There's only one winery here, Upland Estates, and just 665 vineyard acres, but the diversity in such a small space is impressive: 30 different wine varieties are grown here. You can also taste Upland Estates wine at their in Yakima, at the Taste of Washington tasting room, 312 East Yakima Avenue.
Lake Chelan became an AVA in 2009, and it's also part of the Columbia Valley wine region, although unlike other new AVAs established within the Columbia Valley, Lake Chelan is in the northern part of the region. The lake for which the area is named moderates the temperature in the area, and there are now 15 wineries here and some 260 vineyard acres.
Specialties: Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.