Over the years, Columbia Crest—by far Washington’s largest winery and part of the Ste Michelle Wine Estates Family—has established itself as one of the world’s greatest producers of high quality-to-price ratio wines.
The winery is located in Paterson in the Horse Heaven Hills appellation, the source of much of its fruit. Despite its distance from Seattle (about three and a half hours), it’s more than worth the trip to see the mammoth production facility, with football field-sized rooms full of winery equipment. A visit also offers the opportunity to sample a number of tasting room-only wines.
Columbia Crest might be best known for its entry level Grand Estates series (its lower tier label, Two Vines, was recently spun off into its own winery). These wines are consistently as good a value as you can find—Washington-wise or otherwise. Nothing from California comes remotely close. The 2012 Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley ($12) is a big-time winner for the winery, one of its best in recent years, with abundant chocolate, coffee, and dark fruit flavors.
Moving up a notch in price are the H3 series wines, named after the Horse Heaven Hills. The star of the current lineup is the 2012 Columbia Crest H3 Les Chevaux Red Blend Columbia Valley ($15). Mostly syrah and merlot with a handful of other varieties mixed in, it pops aromatically with an assortment of plum, blueberry, and smoke with a silky smooth feel—easily one of the best values to come out of Washington this year.
In addition to its value-priced wines—which are made in large production—Columbia Crest also has essentially a winery within a winery with its reserve tier. Here, winemaker Juan Muñoz Oca makes a series of stunning limited-production wines. Of the latest releases, none is more impressive than the 2011 Columbia Crest Reserve Red Blend Columbia Valley ($30). A Rhone-style blend of principally syrah and grenache, it’s redolent with aromas and flavors of blueberry, coffee, and baking spices and drinks like a wine nearly twice the price. Production is a mere 300 cases.
At the top of the winery’s price ladder is its reserve cabernet sauvignon, a previous vintage of which was named Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year—a first for a Washington wine. The 2011 Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley ($45) does not disappoint with tightly packed coffee, blackberry and black cherry flavors, speckled with barrel spices. Just a baby now, it’s worthy of a decade or more of aging.
What’s the secret to Columbia Crest’s success? How do they make wines so delicious at such fair prices? It’s a question I often ponder as I take a sip of one of their wines. And then another.