Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Cellarmistress Does Woodinville Part One: Chateau Ste. Michelle

Well, I'm back from Washington state! Most of you have probably figured this out from my never ending tweets--screaming how thrilled I was to be there! So, how was it anyway? Well, it all started on the evening of June 22nd, when I departed my humble abode for the thrill of the Pacific Northwest. A flight that was late, a run through the airport (again), a second flight that was a rollercoaster ride (sat next to some people from W. Virginia-their first flight-thought they were going to scream bloody murder!) and a long wait at the airport for my hotel shuttle...But, I finally made it, sleepy-eyed and dead to the world at 1 AM (which was really 3 AM my time!). Four hours later, my wake-up call rudely awakened me and I stumbled into the bathroom to make coffee, only I forgot to put the actual coffee pot under the coffee maker and made a complete mess all over the floor! Could it get any worse? I made it downstairs, woke up, ate breakfast and soon I was off my airport shuttle and in the lobby at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Seattle, waiting to begin my big journey-- for WBCorBust to begin! I sure hoped so!

After a few formal introductions, myself and my fellow WBCorBust winners, climbed aboard our bus and took off for Woodinville!!! First stop--a tour and private food and wine pairing at Chateau Ste. Michelle!

Most people are familiar with this winery in some way or another. (If not, I am not sure where you've been hiding all these years!) I have to be up front and say that I was not sure what to expect with this visit. I knew they were famous for their Riesling. (I did a post about this awhile back) But that's all I knew. This was a large-production winery and its parent company, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, owned many wineries including Snoqualmie, Columbia Crest, Spring Valley Vineyard, Northstar Winery and Col Solare (along with a few others in Oregon and California) The winery also owned 3500 acres of land in the Columbia Valley and made many, many wines. What was I in for? I'd never visited a winery this large before.

My mind was put completely at ease when we were joined by Lynda Eller, Director of Communications for the winery and winemaker Wendy Stuckey, who oversees the production of white wine. Both were very personable and informative as they led us on a tour of the production facility. As they walked us through the facility, I noticed large billboard displays showing their vineyards, wines and special joint projects lining the walls. Down below and through safety glass, one could watch wine being bottled. The moment I was there, they were bottling Chardonnay. We walked downstairs to the stainless steel tanks and I witnessed cold fermentation, with frost on the outside of the tanks! I had never seen this before. The barrel room was absolutely huge, with row after endless row of oak barrels. The smell of those barrels was just intoxicating! I loved it!

We went outside for a moment, then back inside into another room where they had set up the private tasting for our group. The room was intimate and there were tables lined with white linens and many tasting glasses set-up on each table. Each person had their own little private menu printed on paper and each glass was set on on a labeled tasting chart, so you'd be able to tell the wines apart. We all took our seats and Wendy introduced us to the winery's culinary director, John Sarich. This winery knows how to pull all the stops! What commenced was an amazing marriage of beautiful food paired with elegant wines and made for a memorable morning!

We began with our first plate, which had Indian Spiced Prawns with Tomato Chutney, Sesame Seared Halibut with an Orange-basil Thai Curry, Coconut Rice and Citrus Salad, and some Currywurst. The three appetizers were paired very nicely with three Rieslings: the 2008 Eroica Riesling from Columbia Valley (a project between the winery and famed German winemaker, Dr. Ernst Loosen-$24), 2009 Dry Riesling from Columbia Valley ($9) and 2009 Cold Creek Vineyard Riesling from Columbia Valley ($15). I have to say Riesling is one of those wines I've always overlooked and don't drink much of. However, this tasting has saved me! These plates, paired up with these wines, have succeeded in making me a Riesling fan for good! Wendy talked about the wines while John explained the pairings and the thought behind them. (later on at the Wine Bloggers Conference, we all received a copy of John's book, "Chef In The Vineyard"--a gorgeous book with many recipes and photos! I'm excited to start cooking!) Before moving on to the next plate, we were given the opportunity to barrel taste a sample of the 2009 Eroica, which still had a ways to go but showed promise. I will attempt to pair up all my spicy dishes with Riesling going forward and see how they fare! All three of the above Rieslings are available through the winery and in most U.S. markets.

Next up, we all received a second plate which featured Roast Duck with Cherry Merlot Sauce, a Sweet Potato Cake and Manchego Cheese. This plate would pair up with Merlot. There's nothing to fear about the Merlot from Chateau Ste. Michelle! The flavors are huge-lots of dark chocolate, spicy cherries! We had 2007 Canoe Ridge Estate Merlot from Horse Heaven Hills ($22), 2006 Cold Creek Vineyard Merlot ($28) and a very special wine, their 2006 Artist Series Meritage (which contained Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot-$50).

After much swooning, I embraced what was next, dessert! Basque cookies with Rasberries were paired up with the 2005 Ethos Late Harvest White Riesling from Horse Heaven Hills ($35) It was liquid heaven! So rich and sweet-tasted almost like honey!

I have to say, in retrospect, it couldn't have been anymore perfect! I came home from Washington with a whole new respect for this brand and its wines and people! I am really looking forward to getting to know them better! After a perfect morning, we were whisked off to another tasting in Woodinville but got to enjoy some of the Ste. Michelle wine portfolio again later in the week at the Wine Bloggers' Conference in Walla Walla. There's a lot more to this adventure so please stay tuned in the coming weeks for a lot more excitement! I'd like to thank my two WBCorBust co-horts in crime, Bill Eyer (who took the wine photo) and Tom Plant (who took the food photos) for allowing me to use their photos which were better than mine! Cheers to everyone!


  1. I was never much of a Riesling fan until my daughters turned 21 and wanted me to suggest wine for them to drink. When I poured them glasses of Ste Michelle Rielsing, they thought I was a real expert. They had found a wine they loved!

    Now it's my wine of choice with spicy Thai food. It's a great wine that's readily available.

  2. Welcome to the world of Riesling lovers! :-)
    Very nice post, getting hungry looking at the nice pics!

  3. I like visiting and reading your blogs since you always post your experiences with wines with such detail and 'gusto'. And I really love the way you describe the food and the wines that goes with it!