Drinks

Try these top Washington wine and beer picks

Oct. 21, 2011 at 9:59 AM ET

Washington's wine industry has become one of the fastest-growing agricultural sector in the state. The number of Washington wineries has increased 400 percent in the last decade, and it's now the second largest premium wine producer in the United States with over 700 wineries. Yakima Valley and Walla Walla Valley are some of the more well-known grape growing regions. Among the top for whites are Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio and the top reds are Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre.

Washington's beer industry has an even longer history but the explosion of craft brewing began in the early to mid-1980s. At that time you could count the number of American microbreweries on two hands -- and two were in Washington state. Today, you can find craft beer in every city, but the Washington brewers continue to create new and innovative beers regularly. Today, Washington has 150+ breweries; 12-15 just opening the last 8-10 months.

Seattle wine expert Barbara Evans shares her picks for Washington wines to try, and WashingtonBeerBlog founder Kendall Jones shares his favorite Washington beers.

Barbara’s wine picks:

'O' Chardonnay 2008/2009, $12-$16

Chardonnay absolutely shines in Washington state. If you haven’t had Chardonnay outside of California, it should be on your to-do list! Most Washington Chardonnay trades in those big buttery oaky characteristics that you see in California for a clean, crisp, lighter, more fresh Chard. Plus, this women-owned non-profit winery donates 100% to fund school scholarships for low-income high potential youth.

Hard Roe to Hoe: Shameless Hussy Merlot '09, $24

I'd like to showcase an up and coming wine region in Wash., the Lake Chelan region. Most wines in this state come from Walla Walla, but here is one winery that produces extremely amazing wines, quite far from the major grape growing region. As for the wine, Merlot is one of Washington’s most beautiful wines in my opinion, and it is also one of the top three most widely produced in the state.

Gramercy Cellars 'Third Man' 2009 CMS (Cab, Syrah, Merlot blend), $45

One type of wine that can be highly underrated are blends! Washington has created some of the most beautiful Grenache blends, which is a grape that originates from France, but grows spectacularly here. I would stress to TODAY viewers to not shy away from blends, seeing them as lower quality. On the contrary, they are some of the most elegantly made wines in the world!

Le'Ecole No. 41 Syrah 2008 $25

What a unique little winery, with huge award winning wines! Situated in a little school house in Walla Walla, this winery is staffed with super nice people, who pour seemingly endless samples of top-notch, very highly rated, yet affordable wines. It’s one of my all-time Washington favorites.

Kendall’s beer picks:

Tap beer: Coche de MediaNoche, by Elysian Brewing:

This is a delicious Mexican-themed pumpkin ale with cumin, cinnamon, black pepper, chilies, roasted pumpkin seeds and ursa orange.

Auld Acquaintance Hoppy Holiday Ale, by Pike Brewing,:

This popular, seasonal beer is brewed for the winter months by one of Seattle's best known and most loved breweries. It is festive and flavorful with hints of orange peel, coriander, cinnamon and nutmeg. 5% ABV.

Redhook Extra Special Birthday Beer, by Redhook Brewery,:

This one is brewed by Seattle's very first microbrewery (one of the first microbreweries in the USA), to commemorate the 30th anniversary. It is a highly modified, extra special bitter brewed with a unique Belgian yeast strain that lends notes of spicy banana and clove. It’s intended to be reminiscent of the original Redhook beer brewed 30 years ago. 6.5% ABV.

Ginger Pale Ale, by Trade Route Brewing,

A popular beer around Seattle, it is a light and refreshing pale ale brewed with ginger, galangal and orange peel. The aromatic spices combine to create a perfect accompaniment to Asian Pacific cuisine. 5% ABV.

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