Big Companies Still Make Good Wine! Surprise!
Chateau St. Michelle is the oldest winery in Washington state. Two million cases produced a year. That is Big. Huge. Very mainstream. However, I cannot lie…I’ve heard they make consistently good wines. Further looking reveals they were the Wine Enthusiast magazine’s Winery of the Year in 2004. I found it necessary to get off the beaten path and back onto the wine super highway
I was rather taken aback by this glass!!! This Chateau St. Michelle Riesling has big flavors of lime, bruised apple, peach and nectarine jumping out of the glass. Honey and notes of petrol, to me, and minerality, to others, kind of clinging to the edges. Screaming acidity — ya, I like it like that! So, I turn the bottle around and look at the back label for more information. ABV 12% and they have a sweetness scale! According to the label, this wine is balanced right smack in the middle of Medium Dry and Medium Sweet. I consider that to be waaaaaay too sweet and I am not sure how this bottle ever made it into my shopping cart. But it wasn’t too sweet, at all.
That screaming acidity that I loved kept any sugar in the wine from being cloying and tongue coating. The wine was refreshing. My wine instructors have pointed out several times that acid has that effect in wine. I have often found with inexpensive wines, sweet is still just sweet. In this case, my mouth’s perception was on the dry side. That was the real surprise. And the price is surprising too! $10. Available everywhere.
An extra knowledge tidbit…
When you look at this Chateau St. Michelle Columbia Valley Reisling label, it says, “100% Vinifera Rootstock”. The fine wine grape species, Vitas vinifera, is susceptible to a microscopic, sap sucking aphid called phylloxera. Sadly, the aphid was introduced to Europe in the mid 1800’s because it traveled on some vines sent from the United States. Within 3o years the aphid had made its way through much of the Old World vineyards causing almost complete destruction. Although the aphid was native to US soils, our native species of grape vines were resistant.
To our good fortune, several horticulturists worked on this phylloxera problem and found that those vitis vinifera vines could be grafted onto a variety of hybridized American root stock and become resistant to phylloxera. Let those aphid suckers choke on that American Sap! (I think that is how it worked!) This grafting technique seemed to be very effective. European vineyards replanted their beloved vines onto the new American rootstock and the vineyards thrived. All was well until the aphid crossed the ocean again in the early 1900’s and attacked all those wonderful vitis vinifera vines that we had imported from Europe. So we had to make the same changes here — European originated Vitis vinifera vines grafted onto hybridized American rootstock. And just to be sure you understand, although our native species of vines were resistant to phylloxera, their grapes were not particularly wine worthy. The vitis vinifera species is the hands down, fine wine making winner. Thank God for good science!!!
So, if we were grafting all those vinifera vines onto non-vinifera rootstock, why does the label say “100% Vinifera Rootstock’? It appears those sap sucking aphids don’t survive well in the sandy, desert soils in Columbia Valley Washington. Chilean wines are also planted on their original vinifera rootstock. The Mosel area in Germany, the Greek Islands and some scant acreage in Montalcino, same way. Areas of Australia remain phylloxera free due in parts to their soils and also their strict laws regarding the movement vineyard equipment, planting materials, and vines from area to another.
So, to all my friends looking for some daily consumption wine…grab some chopsticks, order in some dumplings or a little tuna tartare or salmon. Or just pour. Pouring is good. And $10 to pour a Chateau St. Michelle Riesling means you can be downright cheerful about it!! I love good surprises!
If you want to try a higher tiered Riesling from Chateau St. Michelle, give Eroica a shot. This wine has been a partnership between Chateau St. Michelle and the Dr. Loosen Estate in Germany since 1999. Better vineyard site selections mean enhanced flavor and minerality. $22. Still a great deal!