Food & Drink

Northwest Wines: Brian Carter Cellars excels at eye-opening Washington blends

Brian Carter, owner of Brian Carter Cellars, walks through Klipsun Vineyard on Washington’s Red Mountain during harvest. He was collecting samples of grapes before deciding when he wanted to pick Cabernet Sauvignon.
Brian Carter, owner of Brian Carter Cellars, walks through Klipsun Vineyard on Washington’s Red Mountain during harvest. He was collecting samples of grapes before deciding when he wanted to pick Cabernet Sauvignon. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

When Brian Carter decided to make his way back to the Pacific Northwest, Mount St. Helens had just erupted and there wasn’t much of a wine industry north of the Columbia River.

But the Oregon native was determined to make his mark when he came to the Seattle area in 1980, and he has accomplished greatness in the decades since.

Carter was the head winemaker for Paul Thomas Wines and Washington Hills/Apex Cellars before launching his own brand in the late 1990s and establishing his winery in Woodinville in 2002 with business partner Michael Stevens. When Carter opened his tasting room not far from Ste. Michelle, he was one of the only wineries there. Today, Woodinville has more than 100 tasting rooms.

Carter’s focus is on blends, and today he crafts no fewer than 10 different wines. All are blends that focus on established Old World regions, including Bordeaux, Tuscany, the Douro Valley and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

And he does them all extremely well. In 2014, his wines have won best of show in three regional competitions, including the Seattle Wine & Food Experience, the Northwest Wine Summit and the Washington State Wine Competition.

Here are several Carter wines we’ve tasted recently. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the winery directly.

Brian Carter Cellars 2012 Abracadabra, Columbia Valley, $22: Brian Carter’s entry-level red wine truly is a magical and eclectic blend of 12 varieties, leading with Cabernet Sauvignon (28 percent), Merlot (19 percent) and Syrah (12 percent). It takes on a theme of dark purple fruit, starting with aromas of blueberry taffy and black currant that are joined by lilac, lavender and roasted coffee. There’s a ton of fruit sitting in the mouth, featuring sweet blueberry and elderberry, followed by Bing cherry skin tannins and pepper. Potential pairings include pasta, grilled pizza or Rabbit Cacciatore. (14 percent alcohul)

Brian Carter Cellars 2010 Byzance, Columbia Valley, $34: This Southern Rhône blend leads with Grenache (58 percent%), followed by Syrah (18 percent), Mourvèdre (18 percent), Counoise (4 percent) and Cinsault. There’s a gamy quality to the nose of dark blueberry, mulberry, mocha and roasted coffee. Its structure features delicious acidity and medium tannins among flavors of black currant, elderberry and blueberry. In the back, there’s a fun blend of black plum skins, anise and black olive. Carter shows so much pride in this release that he asks fans to enjoy this alongside a bottle from Châteauneuf-du-Pape then send him a note describing their impressions. (14.2 percent alcohol)

Brian Carter Cellars 2011 Opulento, Yakima Valley, $22: This high-octane dessert wine made in the Portuguese tradition uses such red varieties as Souzão (36 percent), Touriga Naçional (33 percent), Tinta Cão and Tinta Roriz. Whiffs of toasted marshmallow, Nutella, coconut and brown sugar are followed by plums, Raisinet, agave nectar and steamed milk. Big, rich flavors focus on black plum, dark toast and lingering chocolate. The residual sugar (4 percent) is far from cloying, while the alcohol is managed brilliantly. It’s a complete package to be enjoyed with a wedge of Stilton and a fistful of toasted filberts. (19 percent alcohol)

Brian Carter Cellars 2012 Oriana, Yakima Valley, $22: This white wine is combination of Viognier and Roussanne with a touch of Riesling. The name is derived from the Latin term “golden lady.” It yields aromas of pineapple, pear and apple pie, with notes of clove, anise and lemon. The palate steers toward Granny Smith apple and sweet lime, backed by dried apricot. (13.6 percent alcohol)

Brian Carter Cellars 2009 Tuttorosso, Yakima Valley, $34: This Super Tuscan-style blend is a fascinating wine with aromas of red cherry, allspice, mocha and a bit of toast, followed by flavors of bright, approachable flavors of red plum, ripe raspberry, white chocolate and a twist of black pepper. Perfect with lasagna or grilled meats. (14.2 percent alcohol)

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Learn more about wine at