Washington gained its 15th appellation September 2nd, with the approval of the Royal Slope, the U.S.\u2019s latest American Viticultural Area (AVA).\r\n\r\n\u201cI personally think it\u2019s the best overall appellation in the state,\u201d says Aryn Morell, who makes wines for G\u00e5rd Vintners, as well as his own A. Morell Wines, using grapes from the Royal Slope.\r\n\r\nWhile some newly approved growing regions are in early stages of viticultural exploration, the Royal Slope has already proven its mettle. Grapes have been grown in the area since 1984, and produced Wine Enthusiast\u2019s first 100-point Syrah in the state, the Charles Smith 2006 Royal City, named after a town in the new appellation.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe raw material from The Slope for both Syrah and I think even Grenache, to a certain degree, is pretty spectacular,\u201d says Morell.\r\n\r\nSyrahs tend to exhibit a combination of Yakima Valley meatiness and Walla Walla Valley brine. Currently, 20 varieties are planted across 1,900 acres, with the slope capable of producing everything from high quality sparkling wines to Cabernet Sauvignon.\r\n\r\n\u201cMost appellations just can\u2019t do that,\u201d notes Morell.\r\n\r\n\r\nWhat sets the new Royal Slope AVA apart?\r\nLooking at a map, the Royal Slope is immediately identifiable.\r\n\r\n\u201cWhen you look on satellite images, it\u2019s easy to draw a line around [the region],\u201d says Dr. Alan Busacca. Along with Richard Rupp, Ph.D., he was contracted to write the AVA application by local growers.\r\n\r\nTo the west, the appellation is bounded by the Columbia River. To the north is the ridge of the Frenchman Hills, and to the south is Crab Creek Coulee and ultimately the Saddle Mountains. The Royal Slope is immediately south of the Ancient Lakes appellation and 10 miles to the north of the Wahluke Slope.\r\n\r\nAs a growing region, the Royal Slope has two defining features: the generally south-facing slope that gives the area its name, and its higher elevation, which ranges from 610 to 1,756 feet.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt is considerably higher than most of the state\u2019s growing regions,\u201d says Mike Januik, owner of Januik Winery and winemaker at Novelty Hill. The latter sources most of its fruit from the Royal Slope.\r\n\r\nJosh Lawrence, whose family first planted crops on the Royal Slope in the 1960s and who now farms 450 acres of grape vines there, says the range of elevation is part of the slope\u2019s strength.\r\n\r\n\u201cNot only do you have this long stretching south slope, but you have a pretty big range in elevation, which provides you a lot of microclimates,\u201d says Lawrence.\r\n\r\nThe Royal Slope is part of the Yakima fold belt, a series of ridges that define a number of Washington\u2019s grape growing regions, including Horse Heaven Hills, Red Mountain, Snipes Mountain and Rattlesnake Hills. The southern aspects of these slopes are ideal for grape growing.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nDue to its elevation, one of the defining characteristics of Royal Slope wines is higher natural acidity.\r\n\r\n\u201cMany of the white wines tend to be beautifully bright and fresh,\u201d says Morell. \u201cAt the same time, red wines show a sense of vibrancy and energy.\u201d\r\n\r\nMorell even planted vines for sparkling wines with impressive results.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe can produce 10, 10 and a half [percent alcohol by volume] base sparkling wines without having to manipulate any acid profiles or any other aspect of the wine,\u201d he says.\r\n\r\nBut this is where the Royal Slope\u2019s diversity impresses. \u201cIf you go 200 yards to the southeast, all of the sudden, you pick up 400\u2013600 heat units and now you\u2019re growing beautiful Cabernet,\u201d says Morell.\r\n\r\nThe grade of the Royal Slope also allows cool air to drain, protecting against frosts and freezes and offers extended hang time.\r\n\r\n\u201cYou could leave your grapes hanging until sometime in November in most years,\u201d says Januik. He notes that Royal Slope red wines are remarkable for their \u201cintense\u201d color.\r\n\r\n\u201cI am always surprised at just how much color there is,\u201d he says. \u201cMy wife said one year, \u2018Do you think it\u2019s possible for a wine to have too much color?\u2019\u2009\u201dLook for Royal Slope labeled wines on shelves soon to decide for yourself.\r\n\r\nWines to Try from Royal Slope AVA\r\nAlleromb 2017 Corfu Crossing Vineyard Grenache Columbia Valley (WA); $62, 92 points.\r\n\r\nNovelty Hill 2018 Stillwater Creek Vineyard Chardonnay Columbia Valley (WA); $23, 92 points. Editor\u2019s Choice.\r\n\r\nG\u00e5rd 2017 Thunderstone Lawrence Estate Wines Lawrence Vineyards Syrah Columbia Valley (WA); $45, 91 points.