An unassuming show-stopper
I often feel that Columbia Crest gets a bad rap. Columbia Crest is a winery that has huge production, putting out hundreds of thousands of cases of wine under their Two Vines and Grand Estates tiers. Because of it’s ubiquity and presence on grocery store shelves, many make the mistake of discounting the brand as a whole, believing that “Columbia Crest” is synonymous with mass produced product of middling quality.
However, that belief does a disservice to the brand. Not only are their Two Vine and Grand Estates tiers of wine surprisingly good for their price, but Columbia Crest also has two other tiers of wine: Horse Heaven Hills and Reserve. The Reserve tier is their top-of-the line bottling, with a track record of awards (in 2009 Wine Spectator awarded Columbia Crest’s Reserve Cabernet their Wine of the Year award). Their Horse Heaven Hills line is larger production than their reserve tier, with correspondingly lower prices. For me, it hits the sweet spot of price and quality that makes it a fantastic buy.
The wine itself is a red blend of Merlot, Cabernet, Syrah, Malbec and Cabernet Franc from Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills region, which is inside the huge Columbia Valley American Viticultural Area. The Horse Heaven Hills vineyards are noted for their high winds, which decreases foliage on the vines – which results in better sun exposure on the grapes, which allows the grapes to come to full ripeness; and smaller grapes – which results in a higher skin-to-juice ratio, which helps produce more flavorful, extracted red wines.
On the nose the wine is deceptively simple, with ripe strawberry and raspberry fruits and just a touch of vanilla from the oak that the wine is aged in. On the palate, the wine is at first all bright fruit, almost deceptively so. As the wine develops in the mouth however, the bright fruit fade to dark berries, cassis, cocoa and a hint of graphite. The tannins are present, but extraordinarily well integrated, making the wine silky smooth. The finish is long and persistent, with a pleasant deep mocha flavor reminiscent of a great Cabernet.
Rarely is a wine this well balanced for the price (expect to pay $16 at the store, $30-$40 at a restaurant).
The Wine: Columbia Crest Horse Heaven Hills Les Chevaux
Appellation: Horse Heaven Hills Washington
Composition:34% Merlot 30% Cabernet Sauvignon 20% Syrah 8% Cabernet Franc 8% Malbec
Production: 5,000 Cases
Where you can find it in Fairbanks: By-the-Glass at Gambardella’s Pasta Bella, off-sale at Gavora’s Fine Wine