John Freeman of Browne Family Vineyards and historic Waterbrook Winery is one of the most talented winemakers in the Walla Walla Valley. (Richard Duval Images)

John Freeman of Browne Family Vineyards and historic Waterbrook Winery is one of the most talented winemakers in the Walla Walla Valley. (Richard Duval Images)

Grapes native to Rhone Valley thrive in Washington vineyards

Success with syrah has inspired winemakers and grape growers to seek out other Rhone varieties.

One of the biggest revelations to come out of the Pacific Northwest in the past decade is just how well it grows grape varieties native to the Rhone Valley, a region of southern France that is the source of some of the world’s top wines.

Anchored by syrah, the Rhone Valley is home to more than 20 varieties and is blessed by sun-drenched summers and autumns that invite hangtime for the grapes.

Washington state winemakers have embraced Rhone-style wines since Mike Sauer of Red Willow Vineyard planted syrah as the request of the late David Lake in the Yakima Valley in 1986.

Thanks in part to the prescience of Lake, Columbia Winery’s winemaking Master of Wine, and the Sauer family’s skill, syrah has grown to be the state’s No. 3 red grape. It trails only cabernet sauvignon and merlot.

Success with syrah has inspired winemakers and grape growers to seek out other Rhone varieties, using them as anchors in blends as well as stand-alone varietal wines.

Here are several Northwest wines crafted using Rhone varieties. They all won a gold medal or better at this year’s Cascadia International Wine Competition. Ask for them at your favorite wine shop or order directly from the winery.

Browne Family Vineyards 2018 Premier Collection Rhône-Style White Blend, Columbia Valley, $32: Veteran winemaker John Freeman deftly blended grenache blanc (62%), marsanne (27%) and the obscure picpoul in this white blend for Precept Wine CEO Andrew Browne’s brand in Walla Walla. Peach and apricot, yellow pear and honeysuckle flowers make up the theme for the beautiful and delicate profile that finishes with exciting brightness and citrus pith complexity for food applications.

College Cellars 2018 RVM, Walla Walla Valley, $20: Red varieties of the Rhone get most of the ink, but the winemaking program of Walla Walla Community College makes a convincing case to pay more attention to the whites that call Rhone home. By blending roussanne, viognier and marsanne — RVM — students and instructor Tim Donahue created a wine with tropical aromas, including banana, papaya and lime, then lime, orange, mango and minerality in the mouth. Just enough acidity pops out with the finish to balance a bit of residual sugar.

Cinder Wines 2018 Rosé of Cinsault, Snake River Valley, $23: Boise’s Melanie Krause has once again crafted a beautiful rose using this lesser-known grape. Wonderful fruit-forward aromas of red cherry, rosewater and stone fruit invite the first sip that turns into white peach, cherry and a hint of strawberry to go with pomegranate acidity. This sipper would be terrific with selected cheeses and fresh fruit on a warm summer day.

Cascade Cliffs Vineyard and Winery 2017 Petite Sirah, Wahluke Slope, $60: The Columbia Gorge community of Wishram pulled from Milbrandt plantings for the grapes for this bold wine with black pepper, herbs, blackberry and rose petal in its nose. Next come flavors of black pepper, blackberry, blueberry and black currant. It sports chocolaty tannins within its juicy finish that would serve it well with ribeye or sizzling barbecued ribs.

Cellardoor Winery 2016 Sur La Rivière, American $25: This East Coast winery calls its grenache-led red blend “Sur la Rivière,” a tribute to loggers from Quebec who traveled by river boat. The bottle is labeled as “American” because winemaker Aaron Peet, who learned his trade at Walla Walla Community College, obtains Washington grapes for many of the wines he makes for the Lincolnville, Maine, winery. He’s created a winner with aromas of caramel, pomegranate and red currant, which are repeated in its flavors, augmented by smooth, lingering tannins.

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

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