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Wines of the Pacific Northwest

Immortalized by Lewis and Clark as a splendorous land of discovery, the Pacific Northwest is also one of the best places to explore magnificent wines. Offering power-packed Merlots and Cabernets, world-class Pinot Noirs and elegant whites -- along with a number of delightful surprises -- this region is a boundless paradise for modern wine adventurers.


Second only to California in terms of production volume among U.S. states, Washington is an even closer rival in terms of quality, according to experts. Odds are, when you pick up a bottle of Washington wine, the grapes will have been grown in Columbia Valley, the state's biggest vineyard region.

Although smaller, the nearby Yakima Valley region shares a similar growing climate and reputation. Tucked away in Washington's southeastern corner, the tiny Walla Walla Valley region is home to more than its share of the state's high-end wineries.

As for styles of wine, Washington boasts an ever-expanding, wide-ranging assortment. In addition to the state's established stars -- massive Merlots and Cabernets -- reds such as Syrah and Cabernet Franc have lately been proving themselves worthy of similar esteem.

If white wines are your fancy, you're probably already familiar with Washington's classy Chardonnay and Riesling. And on the rise is Sémillon, a sumptuous French variety currently causing a stir in Northwest wine circles.

For something unusual, how about popping open a Lemberger? Don't worry -- you won't need to stand back when you do; the wine has nothing to do with smelly Limburger cheese! Indeed, the spicy aroma of this unusual red wine won't make your eyes water, but it might make you lick your chops. Because of its northern climate, Washington is one of the few places outside Germany and Austria where this unique variety utterly thrives.


How can an unheralded wine region make waves on the international scene? By embarrassing prestigious French wines in competition, that's how. Oregon Pinot Noirs did this back in the '70s and '80s, placing near the top in a field packed with famous pinot noir-based French Burgundies. A specific climate is necessary for making great wines from Pinot Noir grapes: The cool, damp weather of Oregon's top wine region, Willamette Valley, is virtually unmatched. But don't take our word for it -- ask the French vintners who have established their own wineries there.

Even though Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is an international star, Oregon is anything but a one-hit wonder. The state also receives raves for Pinot Gris, the same grape variety as ever-popular Pinot Grigio. In Oregon, however, Pinot Gris takes on an entirely different character from its typical cousin, with an opulent texture and exhilarating floral aromas. Also look for Oregon Chardonnay -- the number of delicious examples of this favorite is definitely on the upswing.

Spuds and wine?

Although lagging light years behind the state's highest profile crop, Idaho wines are beginning to generate a jumbo-sized reputation of their own. The grape industry is still in the pioneering stage, so experimentation with loads of different varieties is currently underway. For now, check out Idaho's whites, including Riesling, Chardonnay and ice wines.

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