Wines of the Week
Ste. Michelle Wine Estates
Occasionally you come across a big company filled with the passion of a small one. These are places to treasure, because they have huge resources, can buy raw materials in quantity, and they are usually willing to make a substantial investment in making new ideas come to life. One of the best is Washington's Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.
They own or distribute 19 wineries, including Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest, Col Solare, NorthStar, Villa Mt. Eden, Erath, and Stag's Leap. Instead of creating a monolithic, top-down organization, company leader Ted Baseler sees Ste. Michelle as a string of pearls, each winery separate and independent but held together by the invisible string of the corporation. Nice analogy.
That concept trickles down to Columbia Crest, the best large winery in the U.S., where winemaker Ray Einberger has teams working independently on each wine. That way, workers invest their own enthusiasm in making a wine they can be proud of. Stem to stern, Columbia Crest wines are bargains, whether you're drinking the $8 Two Vines wines or the $13 Grand Estates wines. If you're new to the two lines, try getting a Merlot or Shiraz from each to get an idea of where your extra money goes.
It's a little more dicey to try to make a bargain $75 wine, but winemakers Marcus Notaro and Renzo Cotarella have figured it out with Col Solare. Notaro works for Ste. Michelle, and Cotarella works for the Italian company Marchese Antinori, whose world-famous Solaia wine runs north of $150 per bottle. The goal is to use fruit from Red Mountain in the high desert of Central Washington to make a wine as profound as the Solaia. I think Col Solare accomplishes that goal.
Washington is the most exciting wine area in the U.S. right now. Luckily, both Columbia Crest and Col Solare are widely available. The Columbia Crest is in almost every grocery store in town, and the Col Solare is available at better wineshops.
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