Thursday, April 29, 2010

Exploring a Big Production Washington State Wine

The story: It is easy, and common, for serious wine drinkers to bag on really large production wines. Names like Gallo, Kendall Jackson, Yellow Tail and many others come to mind when thinking of companies that make mind-boggling quantities of wine. But in reality large production does not have to mean completely inferior product. There are many gigantic producers who have successfully split into multiple brands, labels, and series in order to offer a hugely diverse product line to as many wine consumers as possible. These companies, while surely chasing profit, also are capable of holding an ethic towards value and quality.

One such producer in Washington State is Columbia Crest. Since I will be traveling to Washington specifically to learn about wine in June, I am interested in the wide spectrum of what their producers have to offer. A part of the larger Ste. Michelle Wine Estates Columbia Crest has been instrumental in bringing Washington wines into the place of respect and prominence they hold today. They also were some of the first producers of single varietal Merlot bottlings in the United States, which eventually led to it becoming the most prominently drunk red grape amongst Americans. Columbia Crest was awarded the #1 wine of 2009 from Wine Spectator with their $28 2005 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. Additionally they bottle wines from around Washington State under labels such as 14 Hands, an entry-level offering of Washington's most well known grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Riesling. While this label produces over 200,000 cases of wine annually, it still strives to provide quality wine at an affordable price.

The wine: The 14 Hands Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 is labeled with Washington State as the appellation, indicating that while much of the fruit may come from the winery's own Horse Heaven Hills vineyard it is less than the strict 95% required by Washington state in order to label a specific AVA or vineyard. 14 hands is made by winemaker Keith Kenison who also makes the white wines for Columbia Crest. It is a dark cherry red with a purple core, slightly translucent wine. It has a fruity nose with blackberry and cherry, with a touch of tar, earth, and coffee. The wine has a nice mouthfeel and medium body, tasting of cherry fruit and a darker fruit liquer. The finish exhibits notes of espresso, milk chocolate and mild vanilla that are quite pleasant and long, with the whole experience framed by some present but relatively mild tannins.

The verdict: The wine is not particularly complex and does not require much thought, but it tastes really good. Other online reviews indicate that it is primarily marketed to restaurants and I can see it being an outstanding house Cabernet at around $7 a glass. It retails directly from the winery for $12 and some online reviews indicate that people have found it occassionally in some Northwest grocers and other wine retailers often associated with a restaurant. I like this wine and give it a score of 3 out of 5.

So it looks like another example of how Washington fruit is being used to produce some very good quality to price ratio wines, even in large quantities. This is evident in their critical acclaim, and in the way their large production wines (such as this) offer us great everyday wine drinking experiences.
This wine was received as a sample to participate in exploration of Washington wine.

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