What Grows Together Goes Together – Exploring the Aromas and Flavours of Washington, Oregon and California Wines

Washington, Oregon and California are big players in American winemaking, not to mention agriculture too! All two states have put themselves on the map for great experiences exploring flavour. But did you know that wines in these regions also express the flavour and aroma notes of popular produce grown in each state?

Watch any wine-forward movie like Uncorked, Somm or Sour Grapes, and you will inevitably hear vinophiles rattling off wine notes. Swirling, smelling and tasting their glasses and calling out notes like apples, cherries, cranberries, the list can go on and on. You might be thinking to yourself one of two things. Firstly, there is no way they are smelling and tasting all that in the glass; wine just tastes and smells like wine. Or second, you may wonder if wine isn’t made from just grapes, but instead, a whole concoction of fruits that bring all these flavours to the glass. As mind-blowing as it is to believe, grapes and grapes alone present the various aromas and flavours in wine. It is a pretty nuts notion when you think about it, but it all has to do with a winemaking concept called terroir.

Tasting Somewhereness in Wine 

Terroir is a unique catch-all term in the wine world, summarizing somewhereness. That unique sense of place allows wine grapes to express themselves the way they do in wine form. Everything around the grapes from the vineyard they were growing in, the climate, the weather, and even the winemaker that finally turns the grapes into wine adds to the sense of place that wine communicates in the glass.

Terroir is why you can try the same wine grape made in different areas and find that the wine will taste different. Even in winemaking regions that seem close, there can be many flavour differences. Cabernet Sauvignons from California are bolder than those from Washington, while Chardonnays from Washington and Pinot Noirs from Oregon are leaner than wines made from both grapes in California.

The Nitty-Gritty of Aromas and Flavours 

How wine expresses itself in the glass is one side of the equation, the other half of understanding wine to the fullest is all about diving into the nitty-gritty of knowing aromas and flavours. Yes, this does sound a bit esoteric. However, the more time you take to climatize your nose and palate to understand and form memories of aromas and flavours, the better you will be at truly knowing wine. Washington, Oregon and California grow fruits that are classic flavour notes in each state’s wines. Getting more acquainted with what grows in these regions can improve your abilities and aid in becoming a bonafide wine enthusiast.

Feel, Smell, Taste, Explore – Washington, Oregon, and California

Washington Chardonnay & Apples

Washington grows over 30 varieties of apples. Apples just so happen to be a primary flavour note in Chardonnay. It is a classic note in many Chardonnays around the world, but because many styles of apples grow in Washington, the state offers a unique set of circumstances for getting better acquainted with the apple notes in its Chardonnays.

Washington Chardonnay grapes benefit from the long sunlit days and cool brisk nights during the growing season. Creating Chardonnay wines that are bright and delicate, with ample aromas and a palate to match with a crisp finish. Of all the apples Washington grows, two stand out in their Chardonnays the most – Jonagold apples and Granny Smith. The sweet honey-scent notes of the Jonagold and the soft but lemon-like character of the Granny Smith translate into the glass with Washington Chardonnays.

Oregon Pinot Noir & Cranberries

Heading southbound to Oregon, this state is a significant producer of fresh cranberries. America’s original superfruit, this tangy berry, has been a part of American life since the 1550s. Oregon is one of the few states that grows cranberries while at the same time making stellar Pinot Noir. Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs are even famed for the cranberry flavour notes that they have.

The warm and dry summers of the region, mixed with the ocean air, produces Pinot Noirs with beautiful red berry fruit notes and great acidity on the palate. The character of fresh cranberries is translated through the vine and into Oregon Pinot Noirs. So munching on a couple of cranberries from time to time can help train your nose and palate to pick up on these cranberry notes better.

California Cabernet Sauvignon & Black Cherries

California is the largest winemaking region in the whole of the USA. The state is known for its ability to produce great food and wine. It is also a massive agriculture region as a whole. If you have dipped your toes into California wines, you would already know by now that Cabernet Sauvignon is King in California. Rich in flavour and high in tannins, one of the classic notes that you can find in California Cabs is black or dark cherries.


And just like the wine grapes that started the California wine industry, cherries too were brought to the state by Spanish missionaries. Both industries had their ups and downs. It is easy to remember Prohibition and the Judgement of Paris tasting by Steven Spurrier comparing California wine with French on the wine side of things. However, in the same decade as that famous tasting, where California wines came out on top, the 1970s is when the state went all in on black or dark cherries. With their sweet flavours that pull in woody and nut-like aromas, Black Cherries are a part of the flavours and aromas of California Cabernet Sauvignons. Enjoy a bottle of California Cab Sauv alongside some California black cherries, and from the nose to the palate, you will be able to taste how the wine translates this fruit’s character into the glass.

Understanding wine to the fullest is all about creating aromas and flavour memories. The more you explore, the more you will decode what is happening in the glass!

Renée Sferrazza

Sommelier, wine writer, creator of experiences, and advisor for all things wine!

An active Sommelier with a growing network at home and worldwide, Renée has brought her love of wine into everything she does. She is a wine communicator online under the name @wine.by.renee, a Host of wine parties and experiences, a TV wine personality on Cityline and CHCH in Canada, and a writer in many publications. Including her column The Wine Effect in the Distillery District Magazine, as a Feature Writer in Monarch Wine, as well as Holr Magazine and Waterfront Magazine. She is passionate about bringing a different side of wine to the table. A side that’s romantic, but not pretentious and above all, driven by the intent to enjoy good wine.