Love is blind

Taste Washington is only the local tip of the Washington Wine Commission's promotional iceberg: So far this year, the Commission has presented a road-show version of its annual wine-and-food extravaganza in Portland, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, with Miami and Atlanta yet to come before the big hometown blowout at the Paramount Theater April 22. The SF edition, held at the Golden Gate Club February 27, was particularly satisfying to Commission director Steve Burns. In a blind tasting there, California experts sipped eight "Bordeaux-style" reds: four 1998s from Washington, two '97s from California, and two '96s from France. The ranking? Washington's wines came in first, second, third, and fifth, with Gordon Brothers Tradition marque (a 56 percent cabernet sauvignon/44 percent merlot blend, $40) heading the list. California took fourth (a $140 Opus One from Robert Mondavi) and fifth place, while the mighty Bordeaux chateaux of Cos d'Estournel and Mouton-Rothschild had to be satisfied with next-to-last and last. "There were gasps round the table when the covers came off," recalls Burns. Though the competing wines were selected at home, the playing field was, if anything, tilted in favor of the out-of-towners. "'98 was a lousy vintage in California, so we gave them another year of bottle age advantage," says Burns. "Same for Bordeaux; we didn't want anybody to be able to say, 'You're comparing a good year of Washington to a bad year for us.'" Even if the Washington products hadn't done so well in the numerical ranking, they would have been impressive in the price category. The most expensive Washington wine in the tasting was Chateau Ste. Michelle's Col Solare—at $70, just two dollars more than the least expensive of the Californian and French competitors, a bottle from the Napa Valley's Caymus Vineyards. Mouton-Rothschild, of course, won the price sweepstakes with a princely $235 tab. The poshest picnic ever Party animals who scorn the very idea of putting on a tux in August will have no excuse this year: The annual black-tie Auction of Washington Wine at Chateau Ste. Michelle has spawned a casual little brother, also to benefit Children's Hospital. Instead of $500 a head, the tab for the Auction's "PICNIC Preview" (8/23) runs a mere $125. How can you resist? Call 667-9463 x204. Kudos keep coming The California wine press aren't the only ones impressed with Washington wine just now. In mid-February, England's Decanter magazine awarded five stars each to two Bordeaux-style '98 Washington reds: Delille Cellars' Chaleur Estate Red ("This was a blockbuster, with spicy, rich, blackcurrant and blackberry fruit allied with cigar boxes and chocolate. . . . Wow!") and Harrison Hill ("Extremely smooth and voluptuous"). DeLille, founded in 1992, is on a bit of a roll. The Chaleur Estate Red that so pleased Decanter also was runner-up for Best in Show in February's WWC blind tasting in San Francisco. Hats off to DeLille winemaker and part-owner Chris Upchurch, who pioneered the trend away from single-varietal wines that is proving so successful for other Washington vintners as well.

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