Most Canadian wine drinkers are pretty familiar with California wines. Their Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays have been celebrated in such movies as Sideways and Bottleshock, and their top-of-the-line Cabernet Sauvignons, like the 2007 Screaming Eagle Cab, can command prices of $2,400-3,400 a bottle (US pricing)!
A visit to the Yukon Liquor Corporation (YLC) will yield the better part of an aisle of diverse choices. California has led the way since the ’60s with innovation and a focus on single grape wines, rather than the blend of different grapes more common in famous European wines.
By bringing mass marketing to the world of wine, they have profoundly changed the wine world.
But one downside is that California has greatly overshadowed several other superb wine growing areas of the United States, particularly Washington State and Oregon.
For those of us living toward the left coast of Canada, and familiar with the growing strength and quality of the BC wine industry, it should come as no surprise that good wines are also made across the border south of BC.
Until now, the YLC has focused on California wines in its US selection but has recently added three terrific wines from Washington State’s premier vineyard, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.
This is the state’s oldest vineyard, established in 1912 on the property of a lumber baron northeast of Seattle.
Apparently, following the end of Prohibition in the early ’30s, two companies, the Pommerelle Wine Company and the National Wine Company, were formed. They merged in 1954.
In 1967, the merged company planted premium vinifera wines under the name of Ste. Michelle Vintners and hired famed Californian Andre Tchelistcheff to apply his skills to making great wines in Washington State.
Today, they grow grapes on more than 3,500 prime vineyard acres in the Columbia Valley.
The YLC currently carries three Chateau Ste. Michelle wines, a very tasty Cabernet Sauvignon ($22.25), and two whites, a nice dry Riesling ($17.85), and a very respectable Chardonnay($19.50)
All three are from Chateau Ste. Michelle’s most modestly priced (relatively speaking – they’re about $11.00 a bottle if you buy them across the border) Columbia Valley range of wines.
I’ve had the Cabernet Sauvignon a number of times in the past, but not for at least five years, so I was delighted to find that it continues to be an excellent wine for the price.
Fruitier and less tannic than most California Cabs, it starts with a very pleasing bouquet, with deep plum-like notes, even when the bottle is freshly opened. Left to breathe for an hour or so, this wine truly comes into its own.
A friend and I had this off the wine list at Burnt Toast Café several weeks ago. Over the course of a terrific series of appies, it just got better and better.
The bouquet got more complex and deep, the taste smoothed out with lots of bright red fruit flavours (think red cherries and currants), some spiciness, and a hint of cocoa, and a very pleasing and lingering finish.
Success with the Cab led me to pick up a bottle of the Riesling later that week. Again, it was definitely an above-average experience.
Rieslings can sometimes be disappointing … too sweet, or just flat, one-note flavours … but this one was a delight!
Chilled down, and served with bread and creamy cheese, it was terrific. Fresh flower and apple bouquets and a taste that started out tasting almost sweet, but finishing dry, with some citrus and more hints of apple.
As I drank it, I thought that it would be a delicious wine to take on a summer picnic, perhaps with some cold chicken. Yum!
Chardonnays are not usually my “go-to” white wines. I think I OD’d on them in the ’80s, but the Chateau Ste. Michelle take was worth drinking. Buttery, toasty and slightly sweet notes, along with citrus characterize the bouquet, and the taste has nice bright apple flavours.
But with some citrus acids and the oak dialled back compared to what you often encounter in Australian and California Chardonnays, this one works.
If a friend asked for a Chardonnay recommendation, this might be the one I’d steer them towards.
It’s been fun trying different products from one wine estate. Next time I’ll report on a series of wines from BC’s Gray Monk Estate Winery that I’m tasting with friends this week.
It might be interesting, on the heels of this very successful experience with a Washington State vineyard.