Tasting Wine: Check out Columbia Valley chardonnay

The interesting thing about the Columbia Valley is that it straddles the border between Oregon and Washington. While the Washington side has more vineyard land and most of the wineries, Oregon is part of the story. But not this story; for the sake of focus, I’m going to stick to the Washington side of the border in today’s column.

There are several American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) in eastern Washington. The Columbia Valley is the largest. Technically, it encompasses several others, including the Walla Walla and Yakima valleys, Red Mountain, Wahluke Slope and Horse Heaven Hills. While there are differences in microclimates, the Columbia Valley has a desertlike climate of cold winters, hot summer days with significant cooling at night and a long growing season.

Chardonnay seems to work well here, because it receives enough heat and sunlight to have ample fruit, but the cool evenings help the wines retain good acidity. Of course, there is more to it than that — and not all producers make good chardonnay — but nature has given these areas a leg up.

Here are three Columbia Valley wines you should not miss:

Woodward Canyon Chardonnay, 2007: Woodward Canyon, which sprang up in 1981 from a former wheat field, is one of the standards in Washington state wine … it never disappoints. The grapes are grown right on the Columbia River in soil that has an intense mineral content that makes its way into the wine. Full-bodied with rich apple, pear fruit and a toasted brioche-like aroma, this is still young, but tasty all the same. Suggested retail: $39

Tamarack Cellars Chardonnay, 2006: Now 10 years old, Tamarack Cellars is the love child of Ron and Jamie Coleman. The wines have been getting better with each vintage and this chardonnay is absolutely fab! Medium- to full-bodied with peach, butterscotch, citrus, nuts and minerals, it should be a favorite for both California chardonnay and white Burgundy drinkers. Suggested retail: $16

Forgeron Cellars Chardonnay, 2006: Winemaker Maria-Eve Gilla went to the University of Dijon and trained in Burgundy; her experience with chardonnay is evident in this wine. With one-third new French oak, it has a little toastiness, yet there is more than enough fruit to match, and acidity to keep everything in balance. Suggested retail: $25

Pamela S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.

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