Thursday, July 21, 2016

Chateau Ste. Michelle: Woodinville Winery Visit

French style chateau at Chateau Ste. Michelle

Chateau Ste. Michelle is Washington State’s founding winery. It is also the world’s largest producer of Riesling. Its chateau in Woodinville should be on your “must visit” list.

Woodinville’s Star Attraction

One would think since Woodinville, Washington, has more than 100 wineries and tasting rooms it would be difficult to name one star attraction. But it really isn’t close.

Chateau Ste. Michelle, the first winery in the state, is the kingpin of this wine community about 30 miles from Seattle. It produces more than 24 million bottles of Riesling alone on an annual basis, so its name is well known. The wines are loved by sophisticated palates as well as wine “newbies.”

A reason the winery is a popular tourist site is that it is a true destination winery. Many of the wine stops in Woodinville are tasting rooms and can be as simple as a bar with a few stools. By contrast, Chateau Ste. Michelle boasts its own chateau built on an 87-acre estate formerly owned by a lumber baron. Peacocks strut around the manicured grounds and visitors frolic on the lawn.

Tastes Of The Northwest

A classy wine pairing tasting with Alex
What has always intrigued me about Chateau Ste. Michelle is its range. You can stock up on Columbia Valley Riesling at a mere $9, but you can also explore the upper tier of wines with an Ethos Syrah at $55 or an Artist Series red blend at $65. All told there are 68 different wines.

With the expert assistance of Alex, we adjourned to the library room for a private pairings tasting. We started with the 2014 Oak Oval Gewürztraminer, Columbia Valley. This was paired with creamy Ford Farm Double Gloucester cheese and onions.  The wine is aged in fudors (large German barrels) and it has a touch of spice and rosewater.

A spectrum of Chateau Ste. Michelle library wines

Our pairing with Rouge Creamery LaDiDa Lavender cheese was the delicious 2012 Austral Red Wine, Columbia Valley. This is 58% Grenache, 12% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre – a proper Rhone style blend. It is delicious with earthy, exotic flavors. It was also a treat to enjoy the lavender flavors after seeing their bright purple flowers everywhere in Washington.

The 2012 Stone Tree Vineyard Syrah, Wahluke Slope is an exceptional wine, with lush, jammy flavors. It was paired with Dry Coppa, a spiced pork shoulder, which brought out the savory, caramel flavors of the wine. It retails for $36.

Chateau Ste. Michelle has the advantage of three wonderful estate vineyards: Canoe Ridge Estate, Horse Heaven Hills Vineyard and Cold Creek Vineyard. It is from the later that our next wine came. The 2012 Cold Creek Red is 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, 12% Petit Verdot, 7% Syrah and 2% Cabernet Franc. This is a wine that has power and concentrated flavors with a focus on black fruit taste. The Spanish Manchego cheese was a great pairing.

The 2014 Muscat Canelli, Columbia Valley, is a flavorful sweet wine. The residual sugar is just 4.5%, so it isn’t a sugar explosion. The sweetness is balanced with crisp acidity and it has ginger and pear flavor notes. Served with Peach Chamomile Preserves, the sweetness was dialed in to a very pleasant level.

Chateau Ste. Michelle's spacious tasting room

Our afternoon adventure continued with a personal tour of the winery. This is a huge operation. All the red wines are made at Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Canoe Ridge Estate, but all the whites are made at the Woodinville winery. The production line bottles 17 cases per minute in order to keep pace with the thirst for Chateau Ste. Michelle wines.

The winery tasting room and retail shop was bustling with activity. Chateau Ste. Michele hosts more than 300,000 visitors each year. In addition to the vino, the winery hosts a concert series at its 4,300-seat outdoor amphitheater. Some of the upcoming acts are Don Henley, Earth Wind and Fire, Jackson Browne, Rob Thomas and Ray Lamontagne. At Chateau Ste. Michelle, the good taste goes beyond the wine.

A visit to Chateau Ste. Michelle is a highlight for any wine lover. Whether you are a Riesling fanatic or delight in Washington State reds, make it a point to become acquainted with these wines.

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