PICK of the RACK: Chateau Ste. Michelle | Indian Wells | Cabernet Sauvignon | Washington State | Columbia Valley | 2008 | $18 | 87 pts

Aromas:  candied plum; vanilla; spice
Character:  dry; full-bodied; moderate tannins and acidity; oaky
Flavors:  blackberry; cured tobacco; dark chocolate; raspberry jam
Food Pairing:  sharp cheeses; steak; hearty dishes


In my perennial search for high-quality “everyday” wines, I somehow keep coming back to Washington State ~ and in particular Chateau Ste. Michelle. It is Washington State’s self-proclaimed “founding winery” and the state’s largest wine producer. A winery that, like its sibling Columbia Crest, churns out hundreds of thousands of cases of wine each year (not exactly a boutique operation), but which produces reliably solid, high quality, expressive wines at reasonable prices. Their Indian Wells line of wines ~ including a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay ~ is a fitting example of the winery’s success in balancing quantity, quality, and price. Crafted from fruit grown in and around the warm-climate Indian Wells Vineyard located in the Wahluke Slope region of the Columbia Valley, on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains, these are full-bodied, fruit-forward, and approachable wines.

A case in point, the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon exudes aromas of candied plum, vanilla, and exotic spice that lead to generous flavors of blackberry, sweet cured tobacco, and dark chocolate, with a dash of raspberry jam on the finish. All surrounded by a seductive smokiness that adds complexity and conveys a warm, mellow mouthfeel. As important as what the wine offers is what it avoids ~ the excessive oak, harsh tannins, and underripe (“green”) flavors so common in Cabernets at this price point. A close look at the winery’s fact sheet for this wine provides a glimpse into how they achieved its luscious character:  blended with the Cabernet Sauvignon (82%) are Syrah (16%), Merlot (1%), and Malbec (1%).  Flavorful, well-balanced, and meaty, this red is ready to drink and should pair successfully with a juicy steak or other hearty fare.

Availability:  Chateau Ste. Michelle is a big winemaking operation (alongside sister winery Columbia Crest, it ranks as Washington State’s biggest wine producer), and it produced 75,000 cases of this wine.  You shouldn’t have too much trouble finding it or more recent vintages at large wine retailers or even grocers with fine wine inventory.  If you’d like to take a closer look on the winery’s website, click here.

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