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Roussanne, a unique and enjoyable white wine, escapes obscurity

Roussanne is a white wine grape that’s probably been around for centuries, and yet, until recently, has remained in relative obscurity in Washington state.

It’s most likely that the grape originated in the Rhone Valley of France, and although it’s primarily used for blending purposes, I’m starting to see it offered by more and more Northwest winemakers as a stand-alone varietal.

The wine’s characteristics are complex and varied, but more often than not you’re likely to find it with herbal and floral aromatics, a flavor profile of pear and dried stone fruits, and good acidity and minerality. Roussanne also has a nice viscous quality, which gives it more of a rich, full-bodied feel.

It can be fermented in oak or stainless still and, while other white wines should be consumed fairly young, offers wine enthusiasts the luxury of cellaring it for as long as 10 to 15 years.

The more I try this wine, the more I enjoy it. You’ll have to do a little searching sometimes to find it, but the payoff is a marvelously unique white wine that you can easily consume now, or tuck away for future enjoyment.

Here are some recommended Roussannes currently available from Washington wineries:

Mount Baker Vineyards 2010 Proprietor’s Limited Release Roussanne (about $13) – This delicious wine is fun and flavorful and offers plenty of bang for the buck. Peachy, grassy aromas and lengthy dried apricot flavors melt into a slightly edgy finish with a bit of bright acidity.

Silver Bell Winery 2011 Marsala Vineyard Roussanne (about $13) – Skagit County’s newest boutique winery in Burlington offers this just-released Roussanne that’s produced in an Old World style. Pear and apple spice cake on the nose with a nice mineral/slate quality make this an excellent choice to serve with cod, snapper or halibut.

Cairdeas Winery 2011 Roussanne (about $22) – West Seattle winemaker Charlie Lybecker has really impressed me with his wines, and has done another first-class job with this Columbia Valley Roussanne. I found it to be a bit on the tropical side, with juicy pineapple flavors, beautiful mineral notes and just the right balance of acidity. Excellent!

A few more options that I’ve yet to try that might be worth considering include Woodinville’s Novelty Hill Winery 2009 Stillwater Creek Vineyard Roussanne (about $22) and Syncline Wine Cellars 2010 McKinley Springs Vineyard Roussanne (also about $22).

DAN RADIL is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at

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Wines sampled at Taste Washington clunker-free

Taste Washington, the state’s largest exhibition of wines under one roof, was held in Seattle March 31 and April 1. The Washington Wine Commission estimates that the 225 participating wineries poured more than 200,000 tastes from the 800-plus featured wines during the two-day event.

After schmoozing and then swirling, sipping and savoring my way through this year’s wines it became apparent, yet again, that the state’s winemakers have much to offer.

Normally, I seem to find a handful of clunkers here and there, but that wasn’t the case this time. Past vintages are maturing beautifully, and new releases are first-rate and diverse, although they might be a bit different from what you’re used to.

Many of the 2009 and 2010 reds are leaner and meaner than their predecessors, with less emphasis on fruit forwardness, good acidity levels, and plenty of structure.

The 2010 and 2011 white wines I sampled were absolutely astounding. Big, crisp, clean acidity, notes of minerality, and superbly balanced fruit levels were the order of the day.

These vintages could truly be among some of the best for Washington white varietals, such as chenin blanc, riesling, sauvignon blanc and semillon.

Here are some of the more noteworthy wines I sampled:


L’Ecole No. 41 2010 Semillon (about $14) – Stone fruit and Meyer lemon flavors explode in this wine I consider to be a great bargain.

Cairdeas Winery 2011 Nellie Mae White Rhône Blend (about $19) – This exquisite combination of viognier and roussanne strikes the perfect balance between bright and viscous.

Page Cellars 2010 Sentimental Blonde (about $20) – Sauvignon blanc and Semillon team up in a tasty blend with splashes of pineapple and tropical fruits.

Buty Winery 2010 Bordeaux Blend (about $25) – This blend is creamy, floral and citrusy, all in one delicious glassful!


Gifford Hirlinger 2009 Stateline Red Blend (about $16) – Dark red fruits and a dense, chewy texture make this an excellent wine to enjoy with beef.

Heaven’s Cave Cellars 2009 Two Degrees Barbera (about $36) – Picture strawberry/rhubarb jam with just the right amount of acidity and you’ve got this incredible red wine.

Hamilton Cellars 2010 Rosé of Malbec (about $18) and 2008 Malbec (about $30) – Winemaker Charlie Hoppes has another pair of winners with an ultra-dark rosé and a malbec with layers of blackberry, espresso, and spice.

Hard Row to Hoe 2009 Estate Cabernet Franc (about $45) – Big, round, unconventional cola nut flavors underscore this guilty pleasure from Lake Chelan.

Mellisoni Vineyards 2006 Reserve Merlot (about $35) – Gorgeous soft, silky black cherry and plum flavors highlight this must-try wine.

DAN RADIL is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at

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Tri-Cities festival showcases top-notch Northwest wines


During November I attended two of the larger wine festivals in the state. Today and next week I will recap my experiences and recommend some wines that stood out at each event.

Kennewick was the site of this year’s 33rd annual Tri-Cities Wine Festival on Nov. 5. This was my 27th year at the festival, which featured over 400 wines from the Pacific Northwest.

The sheer volume of wines, along with the number of new wineries, at the festival is always mind-numbing, but it’s indicative of the continued, explosive growth of the industry in Washington.

Best-of-show honors went to the Smasne Cellars 2007 Block #3 Syrah, which should run you about $35 a bottle according to the winery’s website. I tagged winemaker Robert Smasne as one of my favorites during Seattle’s Taste Washington event last spring, and his wines earned favor with the Tri-Cities judges, including gold medals for a 2008 Petit Verdot and a 2008 Barbera.

Smasne’s 2008 Carménère also was a knockout. Its peppery aromas and flavors are the purest representation of this varietal grown in Washington that I’ve tasted to date.

Several newer wineries also impressed me, including West Seattle’s Cairdeas Winery (pronounced Car-dess), which featured the beautifully crafted 2010 Nellie Mae roussanne/viognier blend, and a white Bordeaux blend from Cloudlift Cellars in Woodinville, a winery so new it’s still launching its website.

Other red wine notables I liked included the Pend d’Oreille Winery 2008 Malbec, the Anelare 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, the Terra Blanca Winery 2007 Red Mountain Onyx and the 2007 Intrigue from Northwest Cellars in Kirkland. The Intrigue, a cabernet-based blend of four red varietals, was particularly enjoyable, with compact flavors of black plum, cassis and espresso that melted into a plush finish.

My favorite guilty pleasure? The peachy, lick-smacking 2010 Estate Grown Viognier from Foxy Roxy, another relatively new winery, one located in the middle of nowhere near the town of Royal City. The wine’s full-bodied sweetness and ultra-long finish made for a refreshing end-of-evening wine after copious tastings of red varietals.

If you’re into awards – and there were plenty given at the festival – you can access the complete list of winners at

Next week I’ll recap the Taste of Tulalip, a two-day, food-and-wine extravaganza held Nov. 11-12 at the Tulalip Resort and Casino near Marysville.

DAN RADIL is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at

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