Exotic wine varietals are growing in Washington state. Have you sipped on them?
When you walk into Teatro ZinZanni, part circus, part dinner theatre, you are greeted by brightly colored cabaret performers and a 5-course meal. But on this particular evening, the tent was cleared of the stage and tables to team up with Wine Events and Promotions and Seattle Uncorked to host the 2nd annual “Exotic Wine Festival.”
The sold-out event was designed to showcase some of the more so-called exotic varietals grown in Washington State. If you regularly enjoy a glass of wine that doesn’t come in a box, you probably already know where you can find a good Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay.
What you may not know is where to find (or even taste) some of the exotic varietals such as Malbec, Cinsault, Tempranillo, Roussanne or Viognier. (Of course these days you probably wouldn’t even call some of them “exotic,” since so many of our local wineries are now making Viognier and Malbec!) So I set out to sacrifice myself on a misty evening to try some of them and create a “Must Try” cheat sheet for you, dear readers (you’re welcome).
I’m a wine lover in general, but even more of a sucker for exotic varietals and have been known to squeal in giddy delight at the sight of a 100-percent Mourvèdre on a tasting list. So you can imagine my smile when I was handed the wine list for the evening.
Wineries from across the state brought their finest exotic varietals (the majority of them being reds) and crowded under the tent to give us a little taste of heaven, all while raising funds for the Ryther Child Center. Each winery was pouring two wines (some even more), and I was bound and determined — within the two hours I had — to try them all.
Twenty four wineries times two tastings each. The probability of being doable was not likely, but I’m no quitter. Upon entering the tent I felt as if I had just walked in on a mafia masquerade. From feather boas, Venetian masks and wildly printed clothing to full on Cabaret costume. I suddenly wished I had a feather boa wrapped around my shoulders.
Each winery was set up in stations surrounding the perimeter of the tent, and I methodically started to make my way around the circle, inspecting, swirling, smelling and tasting. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
My circle became more of a zigzag beeline to any station that wasn’t 10-15 people deep, waiting for a tasting. Halfway through, I noticed the food table adorned with an assortment of bread, cheeses, meats and fruit. I stopped to nibble on the essentials while wine tasting; bread and cheese and then made my way back into the swarm of fellow wine lovers.
A short time later, Teatro ZinZanni artists entertained the guests with a sneak peek at a performance from their new show, “Radio Free Starlight.” I had to close my eyes as I watched the man balance on a plank stacked atop eight levels of rolling metal cylinders. He deserved a glass of wine after pulling that off without a hitch.
My two-hour time allotment was coming to a close and despite a valiant effort, I wasn’t able to try all 48+ wines. I did, however, make a good dent in the tasting list and compiled my favorites from the evening. So go ahead: Don’t be shy when it comes to exotic varietals. Give one a whirl the next time you find yourself aimlessly wandering the wine aisle.
Brian Carter Cellars, 2008 Corrida
Flying Dreams, 2008 Monastrell & 2008 Tempranillo
Madsen Family Cellars, 2008 Petit Verdot
Pleasant Hill Cellars, 2007 Petit Verdot/Malbec
Pondera Winery, 2008 Malbec
Reininger Winery, 2007 Malbec
Forgeron Cellars, 2009 Ambiance
NW Totem Cellars, 2007 Late Harvest Viognier
Sky River Meadery, Raspberry Honeywine
Waterbrook, Chocolate Red Wine