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Wine tasting 101 at Washington’s first winery

Beginners head to Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville

Learn about wine tasting at Chateau Ste. Michelle. (Credit: Marguerite Cleveland)

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Washington is second behind California as the state with the most wineries in the United States. With that designation come fancy wine dinners, tasteful tasting rooms and premier wine estate destinations like Woodinville and Walla Walla, equivalent to California's Napa Valley wine region.

Wine is a big part of the culture in the state, and while stationed in this area, you might want to learn more about it. Wine should be fun and not intimidating. However, for many new to wine, heading into a tasting room at a winery or going to a wine dinner can be a nerve-wracking experience.

That isn't the case at Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville, where the tasting room hosts welcome you warmly. Plan to spend some time here exploring the winery, tasting room and the lovely grounds surrounded by lush gardens and vineyards, as well as the French-style chateau for which the company is named.

Start your day by taking a tour and learn about the history of Washington's oldest winery. The tour is free and gives you a behind-the-scenes look into what goes into making a great bottle of wine. At the end you will have the opportunity to sample Chateau Ste. Michelle wines. The tour starts every half hour and is first come, first served. It lasts approximately 35 minutes.

Some notes on tasting wine for newbies: No question is too dumb; enjoy the experience and ask questions; tasting room hosts can give you advice on how to taste wine, why you swirl a glass and much more; you don't have to like everything you taste; use the spit bucket (it is there for a reason, and no one will look at you funny if you use it); describe what you like to the host and ask for recommendations; wine tasting is not about getting trashed, so know your limits and plan accordingly (it is perfectly acceptable to split a tasting with someone).           

The main tasting room at the winery offers a feature flight (a selection of wines). This is an opportunity to step up your game and sample premium wines. The flight includes five reserve wines and the selection changes monthly. A tasting lasts about 30 minutes and costs $15 per person. Insider tip: Military servicemembers receive a free tasting and 15 percent off the purchase of bottles.

If you decide you are really interested in wine, Chateau Ste. Michelle offers a variety of experiences. Throughout the building there are small boutique wine areas where you can experience more premium tastings. There are also unique experiences like "Winemaker for a Day," allowing you to blend your own bottle of wine to take home with you. "Sensory Sojourn" will help you identify the smells and tastes in a glass of wine or splurge on; "Artfully Paired" lets you enjoy five premium wines perfectly paired with small bites.

A day at Chateau Ste. Michelle will have you feeling like a sommelier and ready to embrace all Washington Wine Country has to offer.

Chateau Ste. Michelle, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily, 14111 NE 145th St., Woodinville, 425.488.1133,

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