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Wines of Château Ste Michelle

by Tom Cannavan, 11/01

Château Ste Michelle pioneered vinifera grape-growing in the Pacific Northwest state of Washington, where they have been producing wine since 1967. The slightly confusing range of brands are all owned by a parent company called Stimson Lane, and its best vineyards include Cold Creek and Canoe Ridge: their premium wines are bottled under these names. Villa Mount Eden is Château Ste Michelle's Californian outpost, making wines with fruit from Mendocino down to Santa Barbara.

The vineyards in the Columbia Valley benefit from the "rain shadow" created by the Cascade Mountains. A volcanic region (part of the "Pacific Ring of Fire"), the bedrock is basalt, layered with sand, gravel and loam. The marine influences on the otherwise Continental climate gives low rainfall but cooler temperatures and some cloud cover; ideal for viticulture. The vineyards are moving towards non-biological farming, with a programme of integrated pest management that relies on natural predators and organisms for control disease and pests.

White

Columbia Crest Sémillon/Chardonnay 1999 - £5.99
Restrained peach and butter aromas, a little suggestion of hazelnut. On the palate good fruit, with notes of orange and fresh, crisp lemon. Juicy and fresh with nice acidity, in a light and racy style. Good.

Columbia Crest Chardonnay 1999 - £6.99
Light butterscotch aromas over ripe apple and lemon fruit. Very crisp and fresh on the palate. Medium-bodied, with succulent pear and a little weight of pineapple richness, but nicely balanced, long and clean. Good/very good.

Villa Mount Eden Chardonnay 1999 - £8.99
More pronounced oaky, toasty notes on the nose with peachy, light fruit and a hint of pear. On the palate quite creamy and densely-textured, lots of lush apricot and peach fruit lightened by a shot of orange acidity. Warmer style, but still balanced and elegant. Good/very good.

Château Ste Michelle Chardonnay 1999 - £9.99
Nutty, ripe, gently herbaceous fruit on the nose with a layer of sweet, toasty oak. A fine mealiness about the palate and creamy texture; dense with good pear and apple fruit and again a crisp acidity to add finesse. Very good.

Canoe Ridge Chardonnay 1998 - £14.99
Nutty nose, with peach and apricot kernel, pure pear fruit and a little background toastiness. The palate is really juicy and succulent with lots of citrus in a medium-bodied format. Quite fine, with hints of brioche and nuts, lovely length and again very good balance. Very good/very good indeed.

Red

Columbia Crest Grenache 1997 - £5.99
Very bright, zingy crimson colour. The nose is earthy and sweet, with mulberry fruit. The palate is dry, with notes of raisins and juicy, grapy fruit. Light-bodied and Beaujolais-like in some ways. Good.

Columbia Crest Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 - £5.99
Nose has a slightly dull, leafy herbaceousness. The palate is also has that slightly dull, fuzzy character. Not keen so tried a second bottle: much cleaner, with deep, ripe, savoury black fruit and a clean well-balanced length. Second bottle very good.

Château Ste Michelle Merlot 1998 - £14.99
Sweet, pure chocolate and plum aromas. Lots of ripe black fruit on the palate; blackcurrant and bittersweet damson and plum, hints of sour cherry acidity and a background of cedar. Decent tannins, and quite chewy and savoury on the finish. Very good.

Canoe Ridge Merlot 1998 - £17.99
Real creamy density of thick, ripe fruit here. There's a lush, almost minty blackcurrant focus leading to a medium-bodied palate displaying very sweet, dense, solid black fruit, a dry tannic grip and fine weight and concentration into the finish. Very good indeed/excellent.

Villa Mount Eden Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 - £8.99
Bright, blackcurrant pastille and cassis nose. Similarly brightly-focused fruit on the palate, almost confected intensity. A little too jammy perhaps, but then big dry tannins sweep in. Slightly disjointed if impressive. Good.

Château Ste Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 - £11.99
Lovely dark, full, sweet fruit. Some subtle oaky, cedary quality. The palate has a fine quality of fruit, with a drying tannic background checking the ripeness and good, though gentle acidity. Lots of character and fine length. Very good indeed.

Cold Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 - £21.99
Full, savoury nose with smoky, tobacco scents, vanillin and solid blackcurrant fruit. Hints of sweet cassis, super-ripe fruit on the palate with a blue/black savouriness and chocolaty depth. There is a refined quality here in a medium- to full-bodied format, plenty of richness and a long, savoury, gently spicy finish. Very good indeed.

Villa Mount Eden Zinfandel 1998 - £8.99
Big, sweet and ripe. Lots of raspberry and pepper, hints of darker mulberry fruit. Bright, focused fruit on the palate. Very clean, with slightly jammy overtones, but mouth-filling, fruit-driven and forward stuff that's easy to enjoy. Very good.