When I learned that Olympic Cellars had created a lavender-infused wine, I was skeptical. Yes, I adore lavender and I also appreciate wine. However when it comes to using lavender in food or drink, I’ve found that a little goes a long way. Use too much and what should be a delicately flavored dessert reminds me of an over-perfumed aunt or a bar of soap.
What piqued my interest was the noble attempt to create a wine that celebrates the flavors of the Olympic Peninsula. Sequim, after all, is well-known as “the lavender capital of North America.” And grapes grown in the relatively cool temperatures of the Olympic Peninsula’s coastal climate are especially aromatic bringing citrus notes to the palate.
Around 2006, a few local vineyards began harvesting Madeleine Angevine and Siegerrebe grapes. According to Kathy Charlton, owner of Olympic Cellars, “the local vineyards and our lavender fields started coming together first in conversation, and later in a new local wine.”
Olympic Cellars’ winemaker then, Benoit Murat, created the wine using locally grown grapes. And Charlton, along with her business partner and tasting room manager, Molly Rivard, experimented with infusing the wine with locally grown culinary lavender. The lavender buds were wrapped in cheese cloth and added to the wine. After 4-6 hours, the lavender was removed. “We went through this process until the bouquet included the lavender and there was the barest change in taste.” She emphasized, “We were not trying to overshadow the wine and were not aiming for the wine to taste like lavender.” Pleased with the result, Olympic Cellars named their new “baby” Le Mélange Noveau (French for “A New Blend”). The first limited vintage (2006) produced only 28 cases.
Drinking wine with food ideally enhances the dining experience. Pairing food and wine can be complicated. So experts use the expression “What grows together, goes together” as a rule of thumb. Crab, salmon, clams and oysters, organically grown fruit and vegetables and artisan creameries all contribute to the rich and diverse flavors that have become known as Olympic Peninsula cuisine. With the introduction of Le Mélange Noveau, a local wine is now available to complement the region’s food.
Last month, I bought a couple of bottles of Le Mélange Noveau 2010. Because the spring and early winter were cooler than usual grapes on the Peninsula did not ripen, the 2010 vintage was made with Mueller-Thurgau grapes grown in the Columbia Valley. This varietal was selected because the vineyard was located on a cool temperature site and the grapes mature in the same way as the ones grown on the Olympic Peninsula. The wine is sold sale at Olympic Cellars off U.S. Highway 101 between Sequim and Port Angeles. You can also buy the wine at their online store. Only 150 cases of Le Mélange Noveau (2011 Vintage), was produced, so you may want to get a bottle while it’s still available. (Cost per bottle is $14.99)
In Seattle on a hot September afternoon, my writing group sat around my dining room table. Although we don’t make a practice drinking wine at our weekly meetings, I invited members to participate in a wine-tasting session. I opened the ice-cold bottle of Le Mélange Noveau and poured a taste for everyone. The label, a picture of white grapes with a lavender bouquet, made me think of late summer.
The white wine sparkled in the afternoon sun. The room became quiet. Each of us experienced the bouquet and then our first sip. Like a group of connoisseurs, we began describing the wine with words such as “crisp,” “dry,” “light,” “refreshing.” Then, “I can’t taste lavender,” “I like it,” “A perfect summer wine,” “I detect a citrus taste,” and “This would be great with a fruit salad.”
Although I still consider myself a purist when it comes to wine, I would proudly serve this wine for a summer brunch. My taste buds come alive as I visualize a table with fresh berries, goat cheese, muffins and crab & asparagus Quiche served with the dry and delicate, Le Mélange Noveau.
Kudos to Olympic Cellars! They got this wine exactly right. When it comes to lavender, less is always more!