The annual Christmas Party is a great opportunity for members of many organisations to get together informally and perhaps mull over the events of the past year.
Last week it was the turn of one of the professional associations of which I am a member - the Circle of Wine Writers. Founded in 1960 and based in the UK, it has around 300 members worldwide and counts amongst its members such illustrious individuals in the wine world as Jancis Robinson MW, Hugh Johnson and Oz Clarke.
This year sees a few changes in its outward presentation in order to keep-up with changing technology and the modern world, with a new logo, new website and easier interaction with all in the global wine industry. It’s objectives, however, remain the same and are designed to assist its members in the promotion and communication of wines and spirits in a global context, maintain standards, whilst contributing to the growing knowledge and interest in wine.
The evening was a great success and I personally enjoyed the interaction with others in my industry, and the chance of rubbing shoulders and exchanging views with the likes of Oz Clarke and other wine communication gurus. The venue was the prestigious One Great George Street in London, around the corner from Parliament Square, Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster. This is a stately Edwardian building, with an opulent interior suited to high profile events.
Our host for the evening was the Washington State Wine Commission, representing just about every wine producer in the State. This was quite enlightening, since I was certainly not alone in my lack of knowledge or experience of wines and producers from this area. To me, it was an inspired choice since I have always been one to ‘beat the drum’ for the lesser known wines - Montlouis rather than Vouvray, Fronsac rather than Saint Emilion, and so forth.
Washington State surprisingly is the second largest producer of wines in the US after California.
It’s development is relatively recent, with expansion from 100 producers to over 800 in just 15 years. There are a number of specific sub-regions, with some of the best wines coming from Columbia Valley and Walla Walla Valley. The climate is greatly suited to production of high quality wine, with more sunshine on average than in California, but rainfall is low due to the rain shadow caused by the Cascade Mountains, leading to the need for controlled irrigation.
Since this party was for Wine Writers, it was naturally preceded by an interesting tasting of nearly 30 Washington State wines from a selection of 17 producers, with some great names such as Whispering Tree Riesling and Forgotten Hills Syrah. Quality across the board was at a high level and a sparkling wine from Chateau Ste Michelle, Washington State’s founding winery, was particularly appropriate for a Christmas Party - made by the traditional method as in champagne, it had lovely appley and citrus notes, with a refreshing lively balanced acidity.
Although, as yet, Washington State wines are not widely distributed in the UK, they can be found and are worth seeking out. The specialist merchant Noël Young wines has a good selection and it’s worth trying Berry Brothers and the on-line merchant winedirect.co.uk.
Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. An erstwhile wine importer, he runs a wine agency and consultancy company called WineWyse, is founder and principal of the Sussex Wine Academy, chairman of Arundel Wine Society and is an International Wine Judge. Twitter @richardwje. Visit www.winewyse.com.
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