Columbia River Landing Riesling 2013

The Columbia River takes it’s time getting from the source in the Canadian Rockies to where it empties into the Pacific ocean.  During the last 309 miles or so of it’s over 1200 mile journey, it serves as the border between Washington and Oregon.  Along the way, it has some of the most breathtaking scenery in the Northwest United States and serves a variety of ecosystems from alpine to wetlands – some perfect for growing grapes.  In fact, the Columbia Gorge winegrowing region boasts over 30 wineries.

Winemaker:  Columbia River Landing
Varietal:  Riesling
Vintage:  2013
Appellation:  Columbia Valley, WA
Price:  $4.99 at Trader Joe’s

Notes:  This cheap Riesling from Trader Joe’s was a vivid yellow color.  Light-bodied, it had decent acidity and 10.5% alcohol.  Not surprisingly, it was sweet and presented mostly fruit flavors of peach and melon.

Columbia River Gorge

Chateau Ste. Michelle Pinot Gris 2014

Pinot Gris – what is it?  Simply put, Pinot Gris is the French name for Pinot Grigio.  Enough said!  In addition, this wine’s label indicates it comes from 100% Vinifera rootstock.  Why is that important?  Well, most grape vines grown in the U.S. and much of Europe for wine production are grafted onto rootstock from another species of grape (such as Vitis Riparia, Vitis Rupestris, and Vitis Berlandieri).  These rootstock species are less susceptible to pests such as Phylloxera and thus help ensure successful harvests.  In this case, however, Chateau Ste. Michelle has gone pure OG by using Vitis Vinifera rootstock.

Winemaker:  Chateau Ste. Michelle
Varietal:  Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio
Vintage:  2014
Appellation:  Columbia Valley, Washington
Price: $19.99

Notes:  The color of this Washington selection was extremely pale yellow. The bouquet had scents of citrus, pear and almond with light floral notes and a hint of spice. Acidity was good. Weight on the tongue was medium, and alcohol was at 13%. Flavors I found included bitter orange and pear with a faint note of cantaloupe.  The finish brought grass and toast.  I found it a fairly complex and interesting glass of wine.  This is one I’d be happy to serve to guests at a cocktail party or with light hors d’ouvres.

Gris/Grigio means gray. You can see why this varietal acquired it’s name. Photo by Andrew Fogg.

StoneCap Chardonnay 2011

I’d never heard of StoneCap Wines when I ran across this on the shelves at a local grocery store.  Label indicates all the grapes used to make this Chardonnay are grown in StoneCap’s Goose Ridge Vineyard – estate grown, as it were.

Winemaker:  StoneCap Wines
Varietal:  Chardonnay
Vintage:  2011
Appellation:  Columbia Valley, WA
Price:  $10.49

Notes:  The bouquet of this Washington selection was fairly light with scents of citrus, grass and wildflowers.  The wine was a very pale yellow, and it was light-bodied with good acidity.  At 12.5% alcohol, it could have been sweet on the palate.  I thought, however, the bright acidity kept it from going too far in that direction.  Flavors I found included lemon, a hint of cream, grass and grapefruit.  On the lingering finish the citrus hung in along with a note of warm baking spices.  Overall it was a pretty decent glass of Chardonnay.  Now I want to sample some of the other StoneCap wines.  Nice discovery for me at the local Giant.

Badger Mountain Pure Red 2012

Here is my third post from a trip I took awhile back.  In this case, I went to dinner at a local Italian eatery on my first night there.  I won’t name the restaurant because the dish I had was not very good.  In fact, it was bland.  I don’t mean to be negative, but bland Italian food?  That’s hard to do!  Disappointed with my dinner, I was hoping to enjoy the accompanying wine.  Not really being familiar with any of the offerings they had listed, I took a chance on a red blend from Washington.

Winemaker:  Badger Mountain
Wine:  Pure Red
Varietal:  Red Blend
Vintage:  2012
Appellation:  Columbia Valley, Washington
Price: $26 (3 liter box) at Total Wine

Notes:  As you can see from the label, Badger Mountain is a certified organic vineyard.  According to the winery’s website, this vintage of Pure Red is primarily Cabernet Sauvignon (73%) blended with Syrah (19%), Merlot (4%), and Cabernet Franc (4%).  In the glass this was another very dark red.  The bouquet brought me copious scents of ripe berries as well as pepper and a hint of oak.  The body was light, acidity was good, and alcohol was at 13.5%.  It was a pleasant glass of wine that played on the tongue a bit.  Core flavors for me were black raspberry and cola, cherry notes throughout with hints of green herbs on the finish.  There were no real tannins to speak of, and it did seem a bit week in the mid palate.  Otherwise, as I said, it was a pleasant red blend.  With this wine being 92% Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, I’m surprised it didn’t have more tannic structure.  That being said, there isn’t anything wrong with having a gentle house red waiting to welcome you home at the end of a hard day.  At $6.50 per 750 ml, it’s definitely a budget-friendly wine.

Amtrak’s Coast Starlight – A Different Kind of Wine Train

I recently learned that Sleeping Car passengers on two Amtrak routes – the Coast Starlight and Empire Builder – are offered a complimentary wine and cheese tasting.  Maintaining a certain balance and harmony with the travel, the wine and cheese selections Amtrak serves are chosen from areas and locales along the respective routes.  The Coast Starlight is a route between Seattle and LA.  Washington and California?  Those are two of the best known and most productive wine regions in the United States.  Now you see what I mean about this being a different kind of wine train!  So … what can you get in a Sleeping Car on the Coast Starlight?  The wines available are Summerland Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Rabbit Ridge Zinfandel, J Lohr Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon, Wente Riverbank Riesling, Firesteed Pinot Gris, Hogue Genesis Syrah, Milbrandt Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Traditions Series, and Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling.

As I live in the eastern U.S., I probably won’t have the chance to experience the Coast Starlight in the very near future.  I would love to, of course.  Can you imagine the scenery passengers are treated to?  [You won’t see it if you’re sleeping, though.  Ha!]  No, that experience will just have to go onto my bucket list.  Instead, for now I will have to content myself with grabbing one of the wines on their menu and doing a wine tasting of my own while I daydream about it all.  Well … it’s better than nothing!

Winemaker:  Chateau Ste. Michelle
Varietal:  Riesling
Vintage:  2011
Appellation:  Columbia Valley, Washington
Price:  $12.99

Notes:  The color of this Riesling was literally a barely-there wash of pale yellow.  I smelled pear and citrus in the bouquet.  This was a light-bodied wine, and the acidity was quite bright.  In fact, there was a very light effervescence to this wine as it first hit the tongue.  I like that in a Riesling.  Alcohol comes in at 11.5% on this Chateau Ste. Michelle selection which makes it a bit sweet.  Thus, you get a back-and-forth on the palate between the acidity and residual sugar – tart and sweet.  Flavors for me were pear and citrus with some hints of kiwi.  On the finish I got a nice zing of lemongrass.  At times – in particular as the wine warmed – the sweetness was very present.  I also tasted some peach as the wine lost it’s chill.  All in all, it was most definitely a pleasant wine.  I could certainly see this paired nicely with a young cheese or (because of the sweet component) with some spicy Asian food.  After all, there are several dishes at my favorite Thai restaurant that include lemongrass.

By the way, this post is a response to the first in a series of wine-blogger challenges.  The Drunken Cyclist threw down the gauntlet and called on us to write a wine blog post around the theme of transportation.  Finally, if you’re interested in taking a trip on the Coast Starlight, here is the Current Schedule.

Important: I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.