Stroll down the aisles of any Northwest wine shop, liquor store or supermarket, and you’ll encounter shelves loaded with red wine blends. In the past decade, they’ve become so prolific and popular that at any regional wine competition, they outnumber every other category of entries.
White blends, on the other hand, are downright scarce. For example, in the recently concluded 23rd annual Platinum Awards by Great Northwest Wine, there were about 680 entries. Only 23 white blends were among them, compared with 122 red blends.
As someone with many more vintages past than vintages future, I’ve recently concluded I’ve little need to spend much time perusing all those reds. I likely have more than I will consume, even if I live for a couple more decades. Whites are another matter. My wife and I now drink far more whites and rosés than reds. Consequently, white blends have become a fascinating new field of discovery.
So, as a counterpoint to all those winter-season recommendations you’ll see for hearty reds and inner-warming Port, I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite white blends made in a variety of styles, many of them inexpensive and consistent award winners.
DeLille Cellars 2021 Chaleur Blanc, Columbia Valley ($42) leads with Sauvignon Blanc, followed by Sèmillon. You’re most likely to find the 2021, but don’t shy away from a bit older version. It’s great with seafood, chicken, turkey or on its own. It’s rather refined from its time in French oak and layered with subtle complexity from underpinning acidity and minerality.
L’Ecole N° 41 2021 Seven Hills Vineyard Estate Luminesce, Walla Walla Valley ($24), a bright blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sèmillon, offers aromas of Key lime, grapefruit, gooseberry and stone fruit, joined by fresh peaches, honeydew and lemon on the palate with a squirt of salinity at the end. This one calls for oysters on the half shell, scallops, shrimp, mahi mahi or halibut.
Brian Carter Cellars 2019 Oriana, Yakima Valley ($25) is a blend of Viognier (49%) and Roussanne (41%) with a bit of Riesling to bolster its fruit profile. Like all Brian Carter blends, his Oriana (golden lady in Latin) slides seamlessly from the front to the back of the palate. Eric Degerman, co-founder of Great Northwest Wine, describes this version as “well-measured as it rolls out fresh peach, guava and nectarine, but wet stone and minerality give it a spot at the dining table rather than the back patio.” He suggests “scallops on a bed of mushroom risotto” as a pairing.
Barnard Griffin Winery 2021 Côtes du Rob Blanc, Columbia Valley ($28) with 90% Viognier and 10% Roussanne. During the years, the percentages have varied — in 2017, it was 85% Viognier, 15% Roussanne, for example — but the quality is always excellent. This bottling leads off with aromas of apples, mango, cardamom and a hint of lemon, then on the palate adds a dash of lime and a bit of apple banana. It’s a great food wine with scallops, most chicken dishes or a risotto.
Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2021 Shepherd’s Mark, Horse Heaven Hills ($28) presents Roussanne (43%), Viognier (38%) and Marsanne (19%). Marsanne tends to be the silent partner in Rhône-style whites because it’s a variety that blends seamlessly and seldom stands out. However, experience of tasting ANC’s Marsanne reveals it can add depth, fleshiness and even a touch of elegance to Roussanne and Viognier, as it does here. Shepherd’s Mark, named for the stone cairns that sheepherders of a century or so ago dotted the Horse Heaven Hills with, displays white peach, mango, pineapple and pear on its nose, then honeysuckle, lemon and melon on the palate.
Gehringer Brothers 2021 Gewürztraminer-Schönburger, Golden Mile Bench ($19), from Walter Gehringer’s 50/50 blend of Germanic grapes grown by his brother, Gordon, catches your attention with aromatic hints of spice and grapefruit from the Muscat heritage of the Schönburger grape, a cross of Pinot Noir with a Chasselas-Muscat Hamburg cross. It’s a versatile wine that pairs well with a variety of foods such as ambrosia salad, most chicken dishes, lightly spiced pork and Asian dishes. While no longer available at the winery, it may be available in some bottle shops. If not, the 2022 should arrive next spring.
Thurston Wolfe 2021 PGV, Columbia Valley ($16) in Prosser, Wade Wolfe is among a handful of Northwest winemakers who can claim more than 40 years working to craft fine wines from the region’s grapes. His widely acclaimed PGV is 51% Viognier from the Horse Heaven Hills and 49% Pinot Gris from Crawford Vineyards in the Yakima Valley. It’s a staple on many Northwest restaurant menus. It delivers aromas of peach and tropical fruit, carries flavors of lime and mango, then finishes with bright acidity and minerality. It’s a great aperitif and seafood wine, especially with oysters on the half shell, shrimp or scallops.
Huston Vineyards 2021 Chicken Dinner White, Snake River Valley ($16). Gregg Alger’s blend of Riesling (83%), Muscat Blanc (13%) and Roussanne (4%) presents a delightful nose of tropical fruit, then green apple, apricot and honeysuckle on the palate. Asian fare featuring ginger and lime, sushi and, as the name implies, chicken go delightfully well with this superb sipper.
Wine Words: Tête de cuvée
This rather simple phrase in French is anything but simple in meaning. Literally, tête de cuvée (tet du coo-VAY) means “best of the cuvée.”
The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia defines it as the first flow of juice from grapes, noting, “It’s the easiest juice to extract and the highest in quality, with the best balance of acids, sugars and minerals.”
Other common uses of the term derive from this concept. It is applied to the best barrel(s) from a harvest, an outstanding vineyard, or, in Champagne, to the first press of the grapes.