Cataclysmic events lead to true typicity

The Yakima Valley AVA was formed by a series of cataclysmic events that began 15 million years ago.  Volcanoes created lava, ash, and volcanic sediment while ice age glaciers and floods brought pebbles, stones, granite, and quartzite to the region.  The earthquakes compressed and wrinkled the land creating ridges running east-west. In the terms of wine quality, these historic occurrences translate into soils that allow grapes and wines to be completely true to their varietal character, or typicity.


The 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens laid down ash deposits to the Yakima Valley soils.

Typicity is used to describe the degree to which a wine reflects its varietal origins, and thus demonstrate the signature characteristics of the grape from which it was produced.  It is the standard of the varietal. 

Following are three popular wine varietals grown in Washington, and the standard tasting profile of each.

CABERNET SAUVIGNON   When choosing a Northwest Cabernet Sauvignon, expect a fruity character from this complex grape. In its youth, the wine appears subtle and restrained. This wine ages beautifully, its character can emerge as black currants, cherry, berry, chocolate, leather, mint, herbs, bell pepper or any combination of these.

SYRAH  The first Syrah grapes in Washington were planted in the Yakima Valley in 1986. Syrah is one of the Rhône varieties sparking great interest in the Valley. A spicy, rich, complex varietal, Syrah grapes turn into big, dark, intensely-concentrated wines with aromas and flavors of blackberries, black currants, roasted coffee and leather.

MERLOT   Plantings of Merlot in the Yakima Valley date back to 1972 when the wine became popular as a single varietal. Merlot is often used as a blending grape as it adds softness, depth, and complexity to the wine. It tends to be full-bodied with complex cherry aromas and flavors of red fruit, mint and spices such as nutmeg or cardamom. It has moderate tannins and slightly higher acidity than those from California.

Now that fall is here, it’s time to get more serious about darker, fuller red wines. The following Yakima Valley wines are easily accessible and outstanding values to enjoy as we venture into the season of robust red wines.  Compare the profiles of the following wines with the characteristics above and see if you can identify how these wines compare to their varietal origins. 

VanArnam Vineyards 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Yakima Valley, $36.00
This wine has aromas of dark fruit and flavors of plum, red fruit and spices. Supple tannins and good acidity make for a pleasant wine. Owners Kent and Allison VanArnam are two of the most enjoyable and energetic winery owners in the region.  They will greet you with a smile, a story, and a glass of great wine. 

Airfield Estates 2014 Syrah, Yakima Valley, $18.00
This dark, concentrated wine possesses flavors of dark berry, clove, and pepper coating the palate with a plush round mouthfeel and leading to silky, smooth tannins on the finish. Another excellent wine by winemaker Marcus Miller. 

Two Mountain 2014 Merlot, Yakima Valley, $22.00
Aromas of rich toasted barrel, bright vibrant Bing cherry, blackberry and coffee followed by inviting flavors of ripe red fruits, hints of toffee and vanilla, and soft integrated tannins.

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