Last Saturday we joined our wine tasting group for barrel tasting at Brian Carter Cellars in Woodinville. This was real treat, as wine maker and co-owner Brian Carter hosted our tour and spent several hours with us.
Unlike other wineries that focus on single-source vineyards or varietals, Brian Carter Cellars prides itself on artisanal blended wines, created in the European tradition.
As he siphoned small samples from barrels containing last year’s vintage, the winemaker shared his philosophy for blending wines. He is inspired by blended wines from Bordeaux, the Rhone region, Italy and the Iberian peninsula.
He framed our barrel samples event as an experiential lesson. He planned the sequence of barrel samples to ensure we could detect in our nose or mouth what he looks for before deciding what will be blended into the finished product, and in what proportion.
Characteristics such as:
- Structure and complexity
- Roundness or subtlety in the mid-palate
- Vegetal, herbal or spicy notes
- Fruity qualities
- Overall balance
- Degree of toast and other flavor elements imparted by the barrel itself
- The impact of using largely “native yeasts”
Our timing was fortuitous, as our tasting occurred just a few days before the winemaker will be making key decisions to shape his 2012 vintage blending “recipes.” Sipping small samples from a dozen barrels give us a sneak preview how he was perceiving the component wines himself.
- Afterwards we moved from the cellar itself to their tasting room a mile or so away. There Brian Carter hosted a tasting of many of the winery’s current releases. We were able to see how well each wine paired with our picnic lunch. They all did quite well.
- My personal favorites (based on lunchtime tasting): Byzance, Tuttorosso and Trentenaire. My husband loved the Opulento, although this port-style dessert wine was not well suited to tasting during the heat of a hot summer’s day.