When Washington State winemakers are asked to describe how their wines compare with those of their more famous neighbor two states south, they frequently point out that they fall somewhere between California and Europe stylistically. There is that generous ripe-fruit quality one expects in a New World wine but, because Washington generally has a cooler climate than California, the wines are able to retain a greater degree of acidity for a more elegant, food-friendly European style.
Or, if I were going to be catty with these gross generalizations, they show neither the jammy, cola-wine characteristics of California's worst, nor the thin, underripe qualities of inferior European wine.
Washington's winemakers, while acknowledging the influence of these two esteemed regions on their nascent industry, are also keen to carve out their own distinct identity, and a fine example of this effort is the latest Wine of the Week, the Abeja Chardonnay, Washington State 2008 ($36).
Obviously a New World chardonnay, in that it has that luscious, mouth-filling ripe-fruit quality, but it's no California oak-bomb. Rather it's all balance and harmony, redolent of peaches and pears tinged with lemon and burnished with a seductive veneer of gravel-like minerality.
As such, it's an eminently food-friendly chard combining the best of the New World with the best of the Old.
"Food-friendly is exactly what I am trying to go for," winemaker John Abbot explained to me when I queried him about his purpose. "I wasn't trying to say, 'This is the closest we can get to Meursault in Washington.' I was trying to make a style of wine with a pretty acidity that went with Pacific Northwest-style foods."
"When I had the opportunity to form the partnership on Abeja," Abbot continued, "I went down the road of saying I want to make classic chardonnay that has the stamp of Washington … but can compete with anything worldwide."
And compete the wines of Abeja certainly do.
To find Abeja near you, try www.wine-searcher.com
When to Drink: Now
Breathing/Decanting: Half an hour's breathing helps
Food Pairing: Salmon, pork, lighter pasta
Appellation: Washington State
Region: Washington State
Web Site: www.abeja.com