Words and Photos by Liam Carrier
Edited by Sheila MacCallum
The first winery on the tour was the iconic Chateau Ste-Michelle, Washington State’s oldest winery. We visited their appealing Chateau and took the free tour of the on-site facility that produces the winery’s white wines. (The red wines are made closer to where the grapes are grown in Eastern Washington, at their Canoe Ridge Estate.)
Navigating the selection of brands that Chateau Ste-Michelle produces can be a bit daunting. They make everything from entry-level whites and reds to single-vineyard terroir-driven wines. They also have a couple of interesting partnerships with two formidable European houses: Germany’s Dr. Loosen (the “Eroica” Riesling) and Italy’s Familia Antinori (the “Col Solera” super-Tuscan).
We tasted three wines as part of the tour. Sadly, they were not pouring the two partnership wines; Col Solera and Eroica.
Sadly, they were not pouring the Col Solera or the Eroica, but we did taste three wines as part of our tour:
2007 Indian Wells Chardonnay – Oak-aged Chard with tropical fruit flavours.
2003 Columbia Valley Syrah – Muted fruit flavours with Viognier and Cincault added to the final blend.
2007 Columbia Valley Muscat Canelli. Semi-sweet sipper with nectarine/apricot flavors.
I didn’t have enough time to fully score and review these wines, but I will say that the Muscat and Chardonnay impressed us (as did the friendly guide who took us on the tour, despite his excessive use of the word “especially”). However, the Syrah was bland and disappointing, an example of a unfortunate trend at some wineries to refer to their muted-palate Shiraz as “in the French style” and label it a “Syrah”, ignoring the fact that with a syrah, you still need to deliver a complexity of flavours.
Chateau Ste-Michelle has a great patio area near the entrance to the wine shop which gets lots of sun on a good day. They also have lovely picnic spots around the property, should you plan ahead and bring your own food. Looking at the hot, sunny patio we decided to buy a bottle of the 2007 Viognier and sit down to enjoy it in the sunshine.
The Chateau Ste-Michelle 2007 Viognier ($17) is a happy little wine out to please. It has crisp tropical flavours with just a touch of spice and residual acid. 25% is barrel fermented, adding a bit of gold to the colour and melon to the palate. An enjoyable summer sipper. Pair with seafood or a hot patio. 85pts.
We re-corked the Viognier from Chateau Ste-Michelle after consuming half of the bottle, to save our senses for the rest of the wines we would taste that day. We didn’t have far to go. Across the street from the Chateau Ste-Michelle gate is the entrance to Columbia Winery, which is currently undergoing renovations to revamp its tasting room and event facilities.
Columbia Winery sources their grapes from numerous vineyards east of the Cascade Mountains and like, Chateau Ste-Michelle, produces an array of brands ranging from their entry-level “Core Series” to their “Vineyard-Designate” wines from the Red Willow, Otis and Wyckoff vineyards.
At Columbia we tasted:
Yakima Valley 2007 Viognier - $26.00
Slight oaky and tropical fruit flavours with some spice and mineral notes. Tasty, but over-priced. 86pts.
Wyckoff Vineyard 2005 Chardonnay - $20.00
Lightly oaked Chard with apple, citrus and mineral flavours. 84pts.
Otis Vineyard 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon - $28.00
95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot blend. Medium garnet colour. Cassis and cherry notes with good tannins and acidity. Restrained flavours and subtle layers. Still developing. 88pts.
Red Willow Vineyard 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon - $30.00
95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec blend. Dark garnet core with vanilla, berry and pencil shaving notes. Full tannins and acidity. Shows good promise with more time to mellow. 90pts.
Red Willow Vineyard 2002 Syrah - $30.00
3% Viognier. Nicely matured Syrah ready to drink now. Pepper and smoke flavours with a lengthy finish. 88pts.
Tasting the Red Willow Cabernet Sauvignon side-by-side with the Otis Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is an exercise in the difference terroir makes on any grape variety. Both vineyards have old plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon, both have steep southern slopes and sandy soils; however, the Otis vineyards yield wines that are more challenging and best enjoyed with food, whereas the Red Willow product is more accessible, with bold flavours that can be enjoyed solo. Discover for yourself which single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon you love best and experiment freely. There are many examples in Washington to choose from. - LC