One of the best things about visiting my college friend, Bruce, in suburban Seattle is the proximity of his home to the Woodinville wine country.
He lives in Redmond, Washington, best known as the headquarters of Microsoft. The city of 65,000 is about 16 miles northwest of the Pike Place market, but 6 miles south (a drive of fewer than 15 minutes) from the heart of Woodinville.
Woodinville wasn’t always known for its wineries. Originally a logging and farming center, it developed as a wine destination after the establishment of the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery (the world’s largest riesling producer) in the mid-1970s. By the 1980s, other wineries, notably Columbia, saw value in locating closer to the Northwest’s largest metropolitan area. That growth accelerated in the 21st century, and today, more than 130 wineries and tasting rooms are located in Woodinville.
Western Washington is not, however, an ideal region for growing grapes. The vast majority of wines produced and/or poured in Woodinville are sourced from vineyards in the drier, hotter eastern part of the stay, including the Yakima Valley and Columbia Valley.
The same is true of DeLille Cellars and Brian Carter Cellars, side-by-side wineries beside a roundabout in the heart of this small town of 12,000 people. I have long been a fan of the wines from both of these wineries.
Chris Upchurch, the executive winemaker at DeLille Cellars, was one of the four original founding partners in 1992. Sourcing its red grapes almost exclusively from vineyards in the near-legendary Red Mountain American Viticultural Area, near the Tri-Cities, he and winemaker Jason Gorski specialize in Bordeaux blends with cabernet sauvignon, syrah, merlot and malbec, and smaller amounts of cabernet franc and petit verdot.
DeLille’s best known wine, perhaps, is its D2 blend. The 2014 offering is headlined by merlot (58 percent) and cabernet sauvignon (36 percent). Dark ruby in color, this is a “very berry” wine, with blackberries, raspberries, marionberries and even cranberries prominent in the aroma and on the palate. But if you look on the finish for minty chocolate, toasty oak and vanilla characteristics, you won’t be disappointed. The 2014 vintage is priced at $45.
The winery also makes a bone-dry rose ($32), a blend of 46 percent grenache, 42 percent mourvèdre and 12 percent cinsault. Although there’s lots of fruit up front, especially watermelon and cherries, its ultimate tartness makes it a good match for cheese and crackers on a hot day.
DeLille’s most unusual offering is Chaleur Estate Blanc, its only white wine. This Columbia Valley meeting of 73 percent sauvignon blanc and 27 percent semillon grapes doesn’t taste at all like either of its parents. The whole-cluster pressing spends four months in new French oak before chilling in a stainless-steel tank.
Winery tasting notes describe the mouth of “almond butter, pineapple upside-down cake, apple crisp and campfire smoke framing dried fruit and honey.” That sounds a little closer to a baklava dessert than the wine I tasted. I could identify lemongrass, grapefruit and vanilla. Either way, it’s a nice purchase: The 2015 is now available for $38.
Winemaker Brian Carter established his own winery with partner Mike Stevens just 10 years ago, but he has been producing new vintages in Washington state since 1980. Carter is known for his hand-crafted wines in small lots and reinventing his unique blends each year.
In particular, he likes European-style wines — French, Italian and Spanish. Production includes oriana, an off-dry viognier-roussanne blend that pairs well with seafood and spicy foods, and Abracadabra Rosé, a sangiovese-dominated blend of five grapes with notes of strawberry. Both are delicious and modestly priced at $25. But with residual sugar between 0.4 and 0.5 percent, they are not for the wine enthusiast who prefers an exceptionally dry wine.
Reds include tuttorosso, byzance, corrida and le coursier. Tuttorosso, a super Tuscan-style wine, is a 66 percent sangiovese blend with cabernet sauvignon and syrah. Corrida features 63 percent tempranillo, along with garnacha (grenache) and the graciano grape, native to Spain’s Rioja region. Both go for $34.
LeCoursier ($40) is a French Bordeaux-style blend dominated by merlot (62 percent), and includes cabernet sauvignon, malbec, cabernet franc and petit verdot. Like the corrida, it has been honored with a 91-point rating by Wine Enthusiast.
I’m particularly fascinated with byzance, whose five component varietals are sourced from 10 different vineyards most of them Yakima Valley and Wahluke Slope.
A Southern Rhone-style red modeled after Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it is made with 54 percent grenache — albeit from four different Washington vineyards. It also features 22 percent syrah (two vineyards), 15 percent mourvèdre (two vineyards), 6 percent counoise and 3 percent cinsault. That’s a lot of blending.
Carter has been making this wine since 2005. The ripe, black cherry character of grenache shows through in the 2012 vintage ($38). Syrah injects mild white-pepper spice, mourvèdre inserts earthy minerality, and the smaller percentage grapes add complexity. The Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker scored it 91 points.
“This is a great match for a wide range of foods,” Carter suggests. “My favorite would be a medium-rare duck with cherry sauce.”
— John Gottberg Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.