‘Wine is sunlight held together by water’ —Galileo Galilei
Terroir is an elusive French word, often associated with wines. Simply put, it means a sense of place. When it comes to wine, terroir is what makes a Riesling from Washington different from a Riesling from Germany, even if they’re produced using the exact same winemaking techniques. Eschewing fancy descriptions, terroir gives wine a local, regional flavor.
With it’s high-altitude, long summer days, and great sources of water—Eastern Washington’s topography helps in crafting some truly world-class wines here. August is Washington wine month—a great opportunity to celebrate The Evergreen State and its wonderful wine culture. We’ve been burning the candle at both ends of late, with after-hours zoom calls from our living rooms. Take a much-deserved break with some vino and reclaim your couch as your favorite place to unwind (and uncork!). You could even step out in the last of August’s golden evening light, to enjoy an idyllic picnic with some amazing wine.
Here are some spectacular terroir-driven wines, made with passion by the state’s best winemakers, with a little help from mother nature, of course. There’s a wine for everyone here…
Delille Cellars 2019 Chaleur Blanc ($35)
“At DeLille, we believe that Washington State is a Grand Cru wine-growing region, created 10,000 years ago. The challenge for us has always been and remains: to create special wines from the uniquely expressive terroir that Mother Nature gave us a long time ago.” —Founding Winemaker Chris Upchurch. When you think of Bordeaux-style wines, it is red wines that come unbidden to mind. Crafting a white Bordeaux-style blend was unheard of in Washington when the winery first created Chaleur Blanc. The 2019 Chaleur Blanc made from Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes makes a strong, strong case for white Bordeaux-style wine. It smells of zesty, invigorating citrus – fresh grapefruit, lemon butter, and candied lemon peel. On the palate, it is buttery smooth with brilliant acidity and lemon cheesecake flavors. It is a full-bodied wine with a lingering, creamy finish. To pair it with some fresh Seattle shellfish would be a marriage made in heaven. This succulent wine is also incredibly age-worthy (up to a decade!), so you can consider laying down a bottle (or few!) for your future-self to enjoy.
Delille Cellars 2017 D2 ($45)
D2 takes its name from the grand route du vin, or great wine road that travels through the historic chateau region of Bordeaux. D2 is sourced from a whopping 15 fine Columbia Valley Vineyards, including Red Willow, Harrison Hill, Ciel du Cheval, Klipsun, Boushey, DuBrul, Upchurch, and Grand Ciel to create the ultimate expression of Washington State terroir. This is a flamboyant Bordeaux-style blend, smacking of ripe red fruit flavors. Ruby-red in color, with ripe blueberries and maraschino cherry flavors – this blend is pure genius. Oak aging brings secondary flavors of coffee and leather. The wine is juicy and perfect for cool summer nights. Given its excellent structure, it will cellar exceptionally well. Pair this powerhouse wine with umami dishes—pot roast, a truffle mushroom and pepper jack cheese sandwich, and parmesan truffle fries. An unexpected but delicious pairing? A ramen bowl with shiitake mushrooms and lots of nori seaweed.
Nota Bene Cellars 2015 Una Notte ($30)
At Nota Bene Cellars—Master Vintner Tim Narby has perfected his craft over four decades of winemaking in the Pacific Northwest. He highlights under-the-radar varietals and blends intricate gorgeous wines known for their big flavor spotlighting the under-appreciated and sophisticated Washington grape varieties.
This Southern Rhône style blend is a rather fine example of his incredible winemaking techniques. Rich and incredibly fragrant, it leads with Grenache with small amounts of Syrah and Mourvèdre. It begins with a lovely aroma of orange zest and raspberries. Ripe red berries go on and on in this delicious wine. There is a distinct cinnamon flavor, along with notes of clove and pepper. A few years of aging will bring some softness to this wine. This is a pretty powerful wine, with a full body and soft tannins. This spicy, forward-fruit wine needs some bold, robust food to pair with. Think shepherds pie, Moroccan tagines, chickpea stew, or grilled meats. A heartwarming meal and a glass of this red on a chilly summer evening (we have plenty of those in the PNW!) is pure bliss. It doesn’t get better than this.
Nota Bene Cellars 2015 Ciel Du Cheval Vineyard: Red Mountain red blend ($40)
Rustic and elegant, the 2015 Ciel Du Cheval red blend is a compelling wine that showcases the best that this region has to offer. The grapes are sourced from Ciel du Cheval, one of the state’s finest vineyards. In this blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cab Sauvignon, there is a great balance of layered fruit flavors and forestry, grassy notes. Peppery, earthy aromas give way to ripe, jammy blackberry and plum flavors. It can be enjoyed now, or cellared well for many years to come. With its lively acidity and rich tannins, this wine pairs well with tomato-sauce based dishes, like Margherita pizza or pasta in the arrabbiata sauce. A simple salad of blistered cherry tomatoes and creamy burrata with balsamic vinegar will also be a lovely accompaniment.
Nota Bene Cellars 2015 Syrah ($40)
The 2015 Syrah is meaty, big, and absolutely yummy. It is a mahogany-colored wine, with a saturated inkiness. On the nose, there are peppercorns, eucalyptus, and soft, floral aromas. It fills the palate with its deep savoriness and minty, herbaceous taste. This is an unbelievably food-friendly wine, and you can pair it with whatever food you’re really craving at the time. That said, drinking it slightly chilled on a summer grilling night must be the best bet. It goes particularly well with barbecued food—burgers, tofu, and oh, even grilled summer peaches. Middle Eastern spiced meats and pilafs are a great accompaniment to the wine’s own spicy undertones as well.
2017 MCM Wine Company Superlio Viognier ($25)
MCM Wine Co. is all about wines born in Eastern Washington, raised in Seattle with the taste and feel of the past. Viognier is a full-bodied, rich white wine originated in Southern France. Washington is one of the very few Viognier growers in the United States. This 2017 vintage from MCM cellars is a rather fine example. This oak-aged wine explores two exciting grapes from Dineen Vineyard in Zillah, Washington—primarily Viognier, and a bit of Roussanne. Deep honey-gold in color, the wine smells of wonderfully exotic flowers, the kind you get smitten by on sun-kissed vacations to tropical countries. It tastes of tangerine and ripe apricots and finishes with zesty bitterness. This oily wine pairs very well with coconut so Thai curries are a great idea! For a simple, protein-fueled dinner, try grilled river fish or lobster with a side of roasted root veggies. The earthiness of root vegetables like beetroot, turnips, and carrots really complements the wine.
2016 MCM Wine Co. Marveluxe Chardonnay ($25)
Oak and butter. Two adjectives commonly used (read: overused) to describe Chardonnay. And for the right reason, as a lot of chardonnays are oak bombs. It’s said that Chardonnay is made in the winery versus the vineyard, as winemaking techniques really influence its trademark oakiness, creaminess, and buttery notes. In Tim Narby’s expert hands, this versatile grape takes on the most delightful expression. Stick your nose in the glass, and you’ll be enveloped in the scent of Bosco pears and key lime. Some oak (just the right amount!) on the wine brings toasty vanilla flavors.
With its woodsy notes, distinctive pear flavors, and balanced minerality—this is a carefully crafted, artisanal chardonnay. It’s peak white wine season in Washington and we couldn’t be happier. For white wine aficionados—try this Chardonnay, and you’ll want to be sipping it the rest of the summer. For maximum enjoyment, savor this wine outdoors, alfresco style. For pairings, a simple picnic spread or charcuterie board works wonderfully. Fresh strawberries, smoked salmon, creamy brie, and toasted nuts are great additions.
2017 Januik Red Mtn Cabernet Sauvignon ($40)
Januik wines are an expression of the Columbia Valley’s oldest, most prestigious vineyards, a result of winemaker Mike Januik’s long-standing relationships with some of Washington’s most talented growers. “I’ve been making wine in the Columbia Valley since 1984, and I’ve worked with vineyards in every part of Eastern Washington. While the state can grow a wide range of wine grapes exceedingly well, I think Cabernet Sauvignon is the wine that best defines Washington State and is our favorite at Januik. Red Mountain Cab is particularly distinctive, notable for it bold, ripe flavors and ageability.”, said Mike Januik. If Oregon is Pinot Noir country, Washington is definitely the land of Cabernet.
The grapes for the 2017 Januik Red Mtn Cabernet Sauvignon are sourced from Quintessence and Ciel du Cheval—two of the best vineyards on Red Mountain, and they combine to produce this exceptional example of Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine has ripe blackberry and rich dark chocolate notes, and silky smooth tannins that make for superlative, distinctive WA ‘King Cab’, as known in winemaker circles. This is the perfect wine for a romantic dinner date. It cellars exceptionally well too! A great pairing? A juicy cheeseburger with all the fixings would be lovely with this supple wine. Now, that’s date night done right.
2017 Novelty Hill Stillwater Creek Vineyard Syrah ($28)
Novelty Hill focuses on estate-grown, single-vineyard wines from Stillwater Creek. Deep-purplish red in color, this luscious Syrah reflects the best that Washington state has to offer.
Aromas bring heady floral scents—like a garden in springtime. This wine explodes with flavors of jammy raspberry, espresso, savory black olives, and black pepper. Velvety- smooth and structured, it will blow your mind away. While great for drinking young, with all its fresh fruit flavors, this wine also has great aging potential. For a fabulous pairing, don’t shy away from robust, spicy flavors. Go for Indian food—tender chicken tikka, tandoori cauliflower, or saffron-spiked biryani are great options. The spices in the food and the wine will beautifully enhance and offset each other.