The rupture of Patagonia's Perito Moreno glacier the other day made ancient history come alive for wine aficionados who attended last week's Pacific Northwest wine essentials tasting class at Cooking with Class. As captured on video, Mother Nature's Patagonian ice wonder provides a mini-version of events that sculpted Pacific Northwest terrain 15,000 years ago.
Unaware of the the Argentine glacial break to come, I'd begun the wine essentials class the week before by describing cataclysmic floods that laid waste to huge swaths of eastern Washington and Oregon at the end of the last Ice Age. Those glacial megafloods, with flows estimated at ten times that of all the world's rivers combined, recurred over a thousand years as water refilled ancient Lake Missoula. Every 50 years or so, a huge backlog of water formed by glacial blockade of the Clark Fork River crashed through ruptures in the ice dam. Each time, titanic waters, massive glacial ice chunks and huge boulders careened from present-day Montana to the Pacific Ocean in just a few hours with energy scientists estimate as equal to that of 4,500 megatons of TNT. That's big.
So what does any of this have to do with wines of the Pacific Northwest? It's the dirt, silly – ancient floodplain, rocky, silty, loamy, volcanic, windblown loess and every meta-combination of soils. Mix great dirt, plenty of high-latitude sunshine, an abundance of microclimates and winds with climate-appropriate grape growing, wine-maker savvy and rugged entrepreneurship and you have a recipe for success in Northwest wines.
Even if some class attendees couldn't wrap their heads around the magnitude of those ancient glacial flood cataclysms, no one had any trouble tasting the beauty and singularity of Northwest terroirs expressed in these five glasses of wine.
Find these wines around town and at Cooking with Class. Or, try your own version of a Pacific Northwest wine tasting at home with your own picks. There are plenty more terroirs and grape varieties to explore, enough to satisfy a range of palates and budgets.
Wine Essentials − Wines of the Pacific Northwest, 26 February 2012:
A to Z 2010 Pinot Gris
Two Vines 2010 Riesling
Lemelson Thea's Selection 2009 Pinot Noir
Purple Hands 2009 Oregon Red Blend
Columbia Crest H3 2008 Merlot
Coming soon, we'll recap this past Sunday's French wine essentials and share sure-fire ways to understand and choose French wines – no French required.