No Cabaret, Merlot, or Riesling Here

These local pours are of the “odd” variety.

According to stats from the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers, "other" grapes—those not considered one of the 20 or so popular varietals—count for just over 1 percent of Washington's total wine-grape acreage. Some of these other grapes have even more of an affinity for our climate than the most popular kids in the wine shop. Whether native to the chilly Loire valley of France, or crossbred in a German laboratory, if a varietal is Washington, white, and completely unfamiliar to you, you might want to sound it out. One rule to live by with wine grapes—if you can't pronounce its name, it's probably German. Half of Whidbey Island Winery's white wines come from WTF white grapes, including one that I think thrives in the Puget Sound: siegerrebe (see-geh-ray-buh). Would you expect a grape whose daddy is gewürztraminer to be easy to pronounce? This wine is capable of all the sweet eccentricities of Riesling yet still offers a mouthful of tart, racy fruit. When you drink siegerrebe with oysters, it's like having your wine and mignonette all in one, and with Pan-Asian, it's out of sight. Whidbey Island Winery also produces wines from siegerrebe's mommy, Madeleine Angevine. Whidbey Island's version may be bone dry, but it smells like a lusciously ripe cantaloupe. And would you believe that Madeleine has a sister, Madeleine Sylvaner? This grape lends her character to the winery's crisp, grapefruit-scented Island White. Some of these vines, which grow just outside of Langley, are 20 years old and have at least a decade on half the white-grape vines in eastern Washington. The Puget Sound, in fact, has its own bona fide AVA (American Viticultural Area, or appellation). Our local region specializes in cool-climate varietals that flourish in a marginal grape-growing climate like our stomping grounds and make delicate, aromatic wines. Hoodsport Winery, outside Olympia and at least as picturesque as its label, specializes in fruit wines, but it also makes a mean bottle of Madeleine Angevine with grapes from the San Juan Islands. The Hoodsport mad angie is loaded with perfumed fruit, pear, and melon flavors, and has a light, crispy acidity. Off waters closer to Seattle, Vashon Winery makes an "Isletage" blend (a play on Meritage) from siegerrebe and chasselas doré (shah-suh-lah dor-ay), another white rare to Washington; the winery also bottles chasselas alone. In Switzerland, fondue all but requires chasselas, both in the making of and in the drinking with the fromage. Chasselas from the island carries on the theme of Puget Sound whites, with soft aromatics, light and pretty fruit, and marvelous acidity. If you must have a grape with pedigree, aligoté (al-ee-go-tay) has been a perennial favorite for paycheck-challenged wine geeks who can only covet Burgundy's main white squeeze, chardonnay. Aligoté ranks among the most-planted white grapes in the world, mainly in Eastern Europe. It produces vibrant wines with a mineral streak that reminds me of green tea and with a nose that smells like the first hint of spring green. It's as if aligoté inherited sauvignon blanc's personality and chardonnay's flavor. Though Jed Steele's Shooting Star label is based in California, its aligoté hails from a few acres near Sunnyside, Wash. It's also my pick for a rare white that can handle asparagus season. Wine drinkers have more confidence than ever in trying new things, especially when we're paying $15 or less for a bottle. If you want to try something off the beaten path, start with our little, local AVA. Its unpronounceable whites may surprise you—and I didn't even get into the reds. Did you know there's a grape named Leon lazing near the Columbia River?

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