Northwest Wine

Northwest Wine: Red blends among Washington’s most interesting wines

Brian Carter, one of the Northwest’s premier producers of proprietary blends, has long-term contracts with some of Washington’s top vineyards.
Brian Carter, one of the Northwest’s premier producers of proprietary blends, has long-term contracts with some of Washington’s top vineyards.

Many of Washington’s most interesting and creative red wines now are blends. Built in the European tradition, these are wines crafted as the sum of their parts, rather than reliant on one variety.

This concept is most famous in France’s Bordeaux region, but can also be found in the Rhône Valley, Spain’s Rioja and throughout the world.

Typically, a winemaker will start with a favorite dominant grape, then blend for flavor and structure. The goal is to create a wine without holes that perhaps emulates the region that provides inspiration.

If there is any thread of continuity with Washington blends, that often would be the inclusion of Syrah, which adds heft to the flavors as well as midpalate depth.

Here are six Washington red blends we’ve tasted recently. Ask for them at your local wine shop or contact the wineries directly.

Cadaretta 2014 Windthrow Red Wine, Columbia Valley $50: The Middleton family uses its Windthrow as a Rhône-inspired wine for its Cadaretta brand in Walla Walla. In the 2014 edition, the sources for this Syrah-heavy blend with Mourvèdre (15 percent) and Grenache (9 percent) go beyond the Middleton’s Southwind Vineyard and nearby young Monette Vineyard in the southern part of the Walla Walla Valley to include acclaimed StoneTree Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope. Classic Syrah notes of grilled meat and blackberry syrup include clove, coffee beans, malted milk balls and horehound.

Cadaretta Wines overlook
Cadaretta Wines, owned by the Middleton family, created a special facility overlooking the Walla Walla Valley to showcase its wines and its vineyards. Courtesy Richard Duval Images

Mercer Estates 2016 Sharp Sisters Red Blend, Horse Heaven Hills, $20: The Mercer family named this Syrah-based blend after Carma Sharp Mercer and her sisters, and it’s among the rambunctious wines from the winemaking era of Jessica Munnell. Indeed, there’s some bustiness in the structure from Bordeaux varieties, but the influence of Syrah runs high. Dense aromas of plum, chai spices and gaminess funnel into ripe and jammy red fruit flavors joined by cinnamon powder, sandy tannins and zesty acidity. Enjoy with a hearty dish, and suggested pairings include Texas-style brisket, pasta with tomato sauce and meat kebabs.

Gård Vintners 2014 Lawrence Vineyards Vaucluse Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $35: The Lawrence family in the Columbia Basin and winemaker Aryn Morell continue to grow this Rhône-inspired red blend, and this bottling signals the tripling of its production from the 2012 vintage. Its components remain similar with Syrah (68 percent) leading the contributions of Grenache (29 percent) and Viognier (3 percent), but now concrete fermentation plays a much larger role than stainless steel (35 percent).

Brian Carter Cellars 2014 Trentenaire Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $50: Brian Carter could well be Washington’s master of blends, with his long tenure as a top winemaker and his enthusiasm for blending. His 2014 Trentenaire, which is Petit Verdot-focused, is named in recognition of his three decades of winemaking, and it’s a suitable tribute with elegant blackberry, blueberry and blackcurrant aromatics and flavors.

Brian Carter winemaker
Woodinville winemaker Brian Carter routinely drives around Washington’s Columbia Valley to check on his grapes prior to harvest. Courtesy Richard Duval Images

Ryan Patrick Wines 2016 Redhead Red, Columbia Valley, $15: Washington State University grad Jeremy Santo put this bargain to bed not long before returning to his hometown of Prosser as winemaker for the Mercer family. His work with Cabernet Sauvignon (56 percent), Merlot (22 percent), Syrah (17 percent) and Petit Verdot from three Milbrandt vineyards – Clifton, Northridge and Wahluke Slope – leads to head-turning notes of blueberry cobbler, dark Bing cherry, leather. The balance of earthiness and fruit is a treat, and the acid is just right to keep things tight, fresh and food-friendly. Earlier this year, this bottling picked up a gold medal at the Cascadia International Wine Competition.

Columbia Winery 2016 Red Blend, Columbia Valley, $14: This wide-ranging blend is stitched together by Canadian winemaker Sean Hails for historic Woodinville brand Columbia Winery, Gallo’s growing project in Washington state. Syrah and Merlot lead this affordable melange, which leaned toward the Horse Heaven Hills for the balance of the fruit. It opens up with dark cherry, plum, fig and a heavy dose of baking spices. Boasting fruit-forward richness and restrained tannins, it provides a solid structure to pair with tomato-based pasta dishes and flatbreads. And judges at the Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition awarded a gold medal to this bargain last month in Hood River, Ore.

Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman operate Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at