For a holiday party my now-retired dad threw for his former co-workers, he asked me to help him put together a wine tasting. We decided to showcase Washington (see the Dec. 15, 2010, cover story, “Washington An Open Secret”), for its combination of diversity, great value and exciting evolution. The state offers everything from sparkling wine to fresh, juicy Riesling to balanced Chardonnays to distinctive reds—Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah—all of which can be found for less than $25.
Washington has most consistently succeeded with Cabernet, so we put two into the lineup, both from the exceptional 2007 vintage. The first was from Chateau Ste. Michelle, which is owned by the state’s largest wine company and makes a wide range of varietals priced from less than $15 to single-vineyard and reserve wines that routinely hit outstanding marks. The Columbia Valley bottling, a Smart Buy at only $16, came from a selection of Ste. Michelle’s vineyards across the broad appellation.
The second wine, retailing for $28, was from a small, family-owned winery, Amavi, in the Walla Walla Valley, the state’s easternmost AVA and home to many prominent names. Amavi focuses on Cabernet and Syrah, sourced entirely from estate vineyards, which are certified sustainable by LIVE and Salmon Safe.
The Ste. Michelle—which contains Syrah, Merlot and Malbec in the blend—was the juicier, brighter of the two, with sweet black cherries and berries and supple, subtle tannins. 88 points, non-blind. The Amavi—which had a slightly higher percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon, a touch of Cabernet Franc in place of Malbec in the blend and a little more new oak—was more powerful, showing darker fruit, with earthy, smoky, mocha and mineral notes and more prominent, though polished, tannins. 90 points, non-blind.
Each wine had its partisans, and the contrast triggered plenty of questions. I could see the spark of a new curiosity about wine light in some faces—for me, a true sign of a successful party.
WineSpectator.com members: Read the original blind-tasting reviews for Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2007 (89, $16) and Amavi Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla Valley 2007 (90, $28).
• Plus, get scores and tasting notes for recently rated Top Values among Washington reds.