Fifteen years ago, Woodinville winemaker Brian Carter decided to go European. U.S. winemakers typically label wines by the variety, or grape, name, but Carter adopted the Old World approach of creating wines that are blends of several grapes. For him, blending is a more artistic approach to winemaking, and a chance to add complexity and create a wine that’s greater than the sum of its parts. But the winemaker was also initially drawn to the process for the same reason as French and Italian winemakers centuries ago: It lets him produce wines that remain consistent and balanced in the face of weather whims and the particularities of a single grape. “Rarely does one variety planted in one location make spectacular wines year in and year out,” he says.
Blends are increasingly appealing to local winemakers and consumers, who are accustomed to varietally labeled wine. Though they’re but a rivulet of our overall wine consumption, blends are currently one of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. wine market, and Washington blends are helping fuel that growth. One survey found that sales by volume of Washington red blends rose more than 26 percent nationally in the last year.
Carter believes this is because the state’s increasingly diverse grape plantings have inspired winemakers to get creative. Having access to varieties like malbec, petit verdot, or roussanne 30 years ago would have been nearly impossible, he says. In the past two years, his winery used 20 different grape varieties, all grown in Washington.
Some blends are clearly marked, but most domestic wines that don’t list a variety on the label are good bets. These recommended Washington blends will get you drinking New World wine in the Old World style.
Washington winemakers favor this time-tested combination that is predominantly cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc grapes. Sometimes winemakers add a little syrah for a uniquely Washington twist.
Dumas Station Cow Catcher Red Wine Walla Walla Valley 2009 $24
Tulpen Cellars Coalescence Red Wine Columbia Valley 2008 $28
Brian Carter Cellars Solesce Red Wine Columbia Valley 2006 $50
These are two grapes that grow exceedingly well in Washington, leading a number of winemakers to try blending them.
Rulo Winery Syrca Columbia Valley 2009 $15
PB Red Wine Kiona Vineyards 2009 $29
Recently, Rhone-style blends using grenache, syrah, and mourvedre have become popular as more of these grapes are available in the state.
Maison Bleue Jaja Red Wine Yakima Valley 2010 $25
Rotie Cellars -Southern Blend Washington State 2010 $40