Can you taste a vineyard? Are wines made with grapes from the same vineyard similar? Our taste testers were willing to find out.
CAN YOU TASTE a vineyard in a wine? If you believe the idea of terroir — a French term that refers to the characteristics of a specific location based on all environmental factors — then we should be able to taste a vineyard.
It makes sense: Provide fruit from the same vineyard to different winemakers, and all the wines should taste similar — or at least carry similar traits.
The Seattle Times reader tasting panel put this to the test by tasting six wines made with grapes from Stillwater Creek Vineyard in Eastern Washington’s Columbia Valley.
Six Stillwaters to try
These wines have one thing in common: fruit source. All the grapes come from Stillwater Creek, a vineyard in the Frenchman Hills above the community of Royal City, Wash. These are presented in the order they were tasted by The Seattle Times’ reader wine-tasting panel.
JM Cellars 2014 Nietos, Columbia Valley, $55: This Southern Rhône-style blend of 50 percent mourvèdre and 50 percent syrah is a big, firm wine with hints of oak, and ripe, dark flavors. It’s all backed by supple tannins.
Novelty Hill Winery 2013 Stillwater Creek Vineyard cabernet sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $30: Rich, dark fruit backed by firm, cellar-worthy structure with less reliance on oak notes for flavor.
Novelty Hill Winery 2013 Cascadia, Columbia Valley, $50: This was the only one of the six wines that didn’t rely entirely on Stillwater Creek (31 percent came from Stillwater). Smooth, with flavors of black cherry, molasses and smoky notes. A big, complex red.
Novelty Hill Winery 2013 merlot, Columbia Valley, $28: Full mouth feel with notes of new leather, spice and black licorice, all backed by spicy notes and firm tannins.
Pondera Winery 2013 Reserve cabernet franc, Columbia Valley, $35: Flavorful notes of coffee, with hints of cardamom, followed by bold, complex and rich flavors.
Finn Hill Winery 2012 Merveille merlot, Columbia Valley, $35: A smooth, fruit-driven red from a Woodinville producer. The bold fruit flavors are backed by rich tannins and bright acidity.
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The group gathered at Novelty Hill Winery in Woodinville for the blind tasting, first meeting with winemaker Mike Januik. Januik, former head winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle, suggested that Novelty Hill owner Tom Alberg plant the vineyard back in 1999. It’s a fascinating site that is high in elevation and far enough north that grapes can hang a little longer without sugar accumulation. This results in wines with greater balance between ripe fruit, structure and alcohol.
We asked our guest tasters to see whether they could pick out the one wine that was not 100 percent Stillwater Creek (they couldn’t), but they found consistency between the wines, particularly dark color, great flavors and balanced structure.
Three of the wines were made by Januik for Novelty Hill, while the other three were from other Woodinville-area wineries.
Dozens of Washington wineries buy grapes from Novelty Hill, so look for Stillwater-designated wines to try.