As the story goes, in the late 1960s, a 14-year-old Corvallis, Ore., boy decided to make a batch of blackberry wine. That first experiment ended rather explosively, and the young man quickly added "house painter" to his growing resumé as he covered up the pink splotches on his mother's kitchen walls and ceiling.
This volatile beginning didn’t result in the end of Brian Carter’s winemaking career.
Indeed, Carter went on to graduate from Oregon State University, where he took a wine appreciation class while earning his microbiology degree and realized his path in life. He continued his formal education at the University of California at Davis famed School of Enology. After visiting the young Washington wine industry in the late 1970s, Carter arrived in 1980 to work for Paul Thomas Wines in Bellevue. He quickly gained notoriety by winning the Seattle Enological Society’s coveted Grand Prize at its annual Northwest wine competition. In fact, he is the only winemaker to have earned that award three times.
In 1988, he helped launch Apex Cellars and Washington Hills Winery in the Yakima Valley town of Sunnyside, where he stayed for more than 15 years. In 2004, he and business parter Mike Stevens launched Brian Carter Cellars, opening his Woodinville tasting room two years later.
Carter’s focus today is with distinctive, hand-crafted blends. He produces nine wines, including seven reds, a white and a rosé.
Here are five wines we’ve tasted recently:
Brian Carter Cellars 2008 Abracadabra, Columbia Valley, $15: When Carter first made his entry-level blend, the product of the 2004 vintage earned rave reviews and retailed for $20. Four years later, only the price and breakdown have changed. Eleven varieties and showy oak make for aromas and flavors of black cherry, black currant, blueberry, tobacco and Muscovado sugar. It’s an intense drink with big acidity and brawny tannins meant for marbled meat or maturity.
Brian Carter Cellars 2008 Oriana, Columbia Valley, $20: Here’s a complex production of Viognier (51 percent), Roussanne (31 percent) and Riesling with part of the blend spending six months in neutral oak. Aromatics range from dried mango, baked apple, a dusting of facial powder, yellow rose, lemon and Lipton chicken noodle soup mix. Bosc pear joins the apple and mango on the palate, where there’s more oak toast. A zesty finish features lemon juice and some pleasing pith.
Brian Carter Cellars 2007 Corrida, Columbia Valley, $36: Carter gave this red blend of Tempranillo, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Garnacha the Spanish name for “bullfight” — and even put a bull on the label. Its aromas remind us of a baked cherry turnover with hints of vanilla and roasted coffee beans. On the palate are rich flavors of black cherries and black currant jam, all backed with bold yet well-managed tannins.
Brian Carter Cellars 2007 Solesce, Columbia Valley, $50: A blend of the five major Bordeaux varieties — Cabernet Sauvignon (59 percent), Merlot (20 percent), Cabernet Franc (10 percent), Petit Verdot (6 percent) and Malbec — it melds aromas and flavors of marionberry, black currant, pomegranate, Tennessee red cedar, Mexican chocolate, caramel and sarsaparilla. Remarkable juiciness and its pervasive chocolate should lend itself to chicken in a molé sauce.
Brian Carter Cellars 2006 Tuttorosso, Yakima Valley, $30: A Super Tuscan-style creation, it leads with Sangiovese (69 percent), backed by Cabernet Sauvignon (19 percent) and Syrah from vineyards such as Boushey, Solstice, Snipes, Stone Tree and Outlook. Aromas are based around blueberry, cranberry, cherry and chocolate tones with red peppercorns and tar in the background. It’s similar on the entry with raspberry, then the palate darkens up with boysenberry and marionberry. Sangio’s bright acidity races to the finish with cranberry and fresh-picked president plums, backed by bittersweet chocolate tannins.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman are the editors of Wine Press Northwest. For more information, go to www.winepressnw.com.