Isenhower Cellars. Aroma of Northern Rhône in the cellars of the American Northwest.

Sometime ago, while looking for a few missing wines to complete my lecture, I found a little wine shop called Arista Wine Cellars in Edmonds, WA. The shop has an interesting wine choice and a friendly staff, and there are thematic wine tastings held there on Saturdays. The week that I happened to visit, they happened were tasting wines from Isenhower Cellars, a winery in Walla Walla, WA. The shop offered seven wines for the tasting. The first glass I was handed had white wine and was said to be: “77% Marsanne with Roussanne and some Viognie”. I was a bit confused as I estimated the distance between Walla Walla and the traditional place for Marsanne with Roussanne. All things considered, my glass contained a smooth rich wine with a Northern Rhone aroma.

I should explain. Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognie are classics of the Northern Rhone white wines. While Viognie is spread widely throughout the world, it is a rare luck to meet Marsanne and Roussanne outside the Rhone valley. In this case, it was also a very tasty bit of luck.

What followed were the 2013 pure varietal Cabernet franc, Petit verdot, Cabernet sauvignon and Syrah, each with a very satisfying taste complexity, saturation and brightness. I couldn’t find any fault. The 2006 Cabernet sauvignon and Syrah gave a perfect finish to the tasting, the aging having clearly suited them well.
I was really impressed and immediately found out that the winery has tasting rooms not only in Walla Walla, but also one in Woodinville, near Seattle. I couldn’t resist and visited that tasting room the next day.
I was not disappointed. Nine wines were offered for the tasting, each of them really good. I won’t talk about them all, as you’d better try them for yourself, but I will describe the ones that were most remarkable to me.

2014 Blanc de Blanc Sparkling Roussanne Extra Brut
Sparkling wine made by traditional method from 100% Roussanne. It is very unusual to use Roussanne for sparkling wine, but the result is interesting and quite good.

2014 Barrel fermented Roussanne (75% Roussanne 25% Viognie)
Roussanne is one of a few white wines that are responsive to oak. Isenhower himself says that Chardonnay should not be the only wine to drink, and I completely agree with him. The wine is full-bodied, smooth, with good acidity. Aroma of peaches, apricots and exotic fruits with butter note. Pronounced minerality.

2015 Columbia Valley Cabernet Franc Rose
Bright, refreshing wine with citrus aroma and pronounced minerality. A rose for red wine lovers.

2013 Dutchman Vineyard Syrah
Full-bodied, aromatic, rich, very smooth wine. Aromas of blueberry, flowers and rock. The Syrah is from 25-year olds vines, quite old for vines in Washington, and this definitely has a good impact on the wine taste. A quarter of the grapes was fermented in whole uncrushed bunches (carbonic maceration), and this brings an interesting soft velvet note into the wine taste.

2014 Rara Avis
68% Grenache, 26% Mourvedre, 6% Syrah.
This is a typical blend of Southern Rhone. Full-bodied wine with aroma of ripe cherry, strawberry and pepper, and with soft tannins and pronounced minerality. Complex interesting taste.

This winery has a high level approach to its business. They are very selective about the choice of vineyards in Washington and Oregon for their grapes. Grape is harvested by hands only. Only free run juice is collected for red wine. White grape is pressed in whole bunches to keep the taste gentle. I could continue to describe their standards with a list of features that are necessary for production of high quality wine.

The tasting room in Woodinville is very pleasant. The staff are friendly and thoughtful. There is a detailed description for every tasted wine that includes the vineyard’s location and the winemaking peculiarities. I personally love such details. The diversity of the offered wines is significant. The poured volume is pretty high for good tasting, and you can revisit any wine. The decoration of the tasting room is peculiar, which is an additional good point.

The winery definitely impressed me. It is possibly the first winery in Washington that made such a good impression, and I should say that I visited enough. I even decided to put aside my visit to the couple of tasting rooms next door to this one so as to keep my impression intact.

If you want to try high quality New World wine with strong influence of old Rhone, Isenhower Cellars wines are for you.