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A string of pearls from Washington State

washington.jpgChâteau Ste. Michelle Wine Estates dominates in the Pacific Northwest of the US and can be numbered among the big international liquor companies such as Constellation, Diageo, Pernod Ricard and others in its own distinctive way. Al Portney, Vice President, International Sales, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates was in India this January.

Château Ste. Michelle is the oldest winery in Washington State and has set the benchmark for quality. The estate is located in Washington State's Columbia Valley, a wine region that is unique in North America due to latitude, climate and soil. Although with a similar longitude as that of Napa Valley, the Columbia Valley region lies along the same latitude as Burgundy and Bordeaux. Known for their elegance and structure, the estate wines are often compared to the classic wines of the old world.

"Ours is a unique business model," said Portney. He likened Ste. Michelle Wine Estates to a string of pearls - a collection of companies and wine estates each with a story of its own that complement and do not compete with each other. "You can add or take out a 'pearl' here and there without breaking the strand. The Ste. Michelle company is the "string," providing administrative and financial support for these extraordinary wine properties whose vineyards produce some of the best wines in the world." (See www.smwe.com).

washington2ines.jpgInterestingly, it's not a German or any other European winery that is the leading brand in the world selling Riesling, Portney pointed out, but a brand from the US and a state that people don't know that well. "Riesling was the first grape we planted and our first wine produced in 1997."

Washington grown, but world renowned, as the slogan goes, these wines may already be familiar to Indian wine connoisseurs. The wines can be found in top hotels and restaurants around the world, Portney pointed out, not forgetting Indian five star hotels and fine dining restaurants. They also feature in First and Business Class cabins of several airlines such as Swiss Air, Lufthansa, KLM, Thai Airways, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific.

WINES TO TASTE
Château Ste. Michelle Riesling
A beautiful example of a Riesling and another benchmark wine for the Estate. Tropical fruit notes such as litchi dominate. Some may discern mangoes with peaches and lemons. The three essential components of residual sugar, total acidity and alcohol are perfectly balanced. This a wine that will appeal to many palates. It pairs just as well with sushi and Caesar salad as with more spicy food.

Château Ste. Michelle Chardonnay
Golden hue with nicely layered aromas of green apples, pears and vanilla. Aged in medium toasted barrels and quite well balanced. This is a great food wine. It finishes long and fat and has a little more body which makes it pair well with richer dishes.

Erath Pinot Noir 2007
Sunny golden colour, fruity on the nose with a delicate strawberry aroma and soft tannins. 2005 and 2006 were warmer years producing smaller berries with more concentration whereas 2007 was a more typical vintage with very good fruit. "We used all the tools in the shed to bring out its best. The must was fermented gently in open tanks with micro-oxygenation and spent only a short time in oak barrels to round it off," said Portney.

Erath Pinot Gris

Pale lemon colour with a fresh, racy acidity and a hint of flintiness, this Pinot Gris combines the best of the old and new world with lovely fruit plus the acidity and structure found in wines of the classic wine growing regions of Europe.

" Our region is conducive to allow us to combine both traditions," noted Portney. Pinot Gris is a varietal that our consumers prefer so the Estate responded to this call and is providing some of the best examples possible."


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