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Producer to Rely On: Chateau Ste. Michelle

14 May

With year after year of excellent vintages, it’s a great time to drink Washington wines. And for consistently high-quality, very reasonably priced wines, I recommend those of Chateau Ste. Michelle, Washington’s biggest and oldest winery.

It’s also one of Washington’s best. It has a worldwide reputation for quality and has received much recognition from the wine media. It has, for example, been chosen as a “Top 100 Winery of the Year” by Wine & Spirits magazine 22 times, more than any other U.S. winery.

Founded in 1934, the Chateau Ste. Michelle ( label dates back to 1967. CSM pioneered vinifera grape growing in Washington under the guidance of famed California winemaker André Tchelistcheff. At the time, there were only 12 wineries in the state and 88% of their production was fruit wine or fortified dessert wine, according to Ted Baseler, president and CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Chateau Ste. Michelle’s parent company.

As it flourished, Chateau Ste. Michelle played a pivotal leadership role mentoring other Washington wineries, turning the state into one of the world’s premier wine regions. Among other things, it helped establish-–and continues to fund–a world-class Viticulture & Enology program at Washington State University; sponsors a scholarship fund at state universities for high-achieving, low-income students; helped create the Washington Wine Commission; and employed numerous winemakers who eventually went on to improve other wineries in the state.

CSM attributes its success in part to having vineyards in the Columbia Valley, which affords ideal conditions for grape growing. (It’s in the same latitude as Bordeaux and Burgundy, France’s most-esteemed wine-growing regions.) In the valley, warm days and cool nights ensure a long growing season. The grapes ripen fully and maintain crucial acidity.

Chateau Ste. Michelle is best known for Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and especially Riesling. Its Rieslings have garnered attention since 1974, when its 1972 Johannisberg Riesling won a now famous Los Angeles Times blind tasting. Today it’s the largest single producer of Riesling in the world.

CSM offers some of the best values available. There are many different varietals ripe for exploring. At these prices, it’s hard to go wrong.


Chateau Ste. Michelle wines are available in all 50 states and more than 100 countries. It produces five tiers at different price levels: Columbia Valley, Single Vineyard, Indian Wells, Ethos Reserve and Artist Series Meritage. I’ve listed the $20-or-under wines below that have been well received by the wine media, as seen on CSM’s website ( There you’ll also find more expensive, well-rated wines.

Riesling Columbia Valley 2016 $9

Riesling Columbia Valley Dry 2016 $10

Gewurztraminer Columbia Valley 2016 $10

Pinot Gris Columbia Valley 2016 $15

Merlot Columbia Valley 2015 $15 Food & Wine magazine’s Ray Isle included this Merlot in his list of 50 of the world’s most reliable, inexpensive wines—bottles that offer amazing quality for their price year in and year out.

Syrah Columbia Valley 2016 $15

Sauvignon Blanc Horse Heaven Vineyard 2016 $18

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2015 Indian Wells Merlot $20

Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 Indian Wells $20

If you’re a fan of sparkling wines, I recommend the following wines of Domaine Ste. Michelle (

Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut Columbia Valley $13

Domaine Ste. Michelle Extra Dry Columbia Valley $13

Domaine Ste. Michelle Rosé Columbia Valley $13

Pinot Meunier: Champagne’s undersung grape

7 Sep

All wine lovers are familiar with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They’re stars, both in Champagnes and on their own. But Pinot Meunier, well, that’s another story entirely. It’s the overlooked Champagne grape. And while it usually takes just a supporting role, Meunier plays a very important part in Champagnes.


For one thing, it makes up 32 percent of grapes grown in the region, a bit more than Chardonnay (30 percent), a little less than Pinot Noir (38 percent). Meunier yields more juice than its partners. And it’s a hardy black grape, the only major Champagne grape that ripens in extremely cold seasons. (The Vallée de la Marne, in the northwestern part of Champagne–where most Meunier is grown–tends to be a little cooler than other parts of the region.) Because Meunier buds later than Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, it’s less likely to be affected by early spring frosts. And because it matures faster, it skirts problems with mold and mildew that sometimes follow late season rains. In other words, Meunier is the grape growers can count on.


Peter Liem, author of, says this reliability is a huge factor in its importance. But, he adds, “Meunier offers something the other grapes don’t.” In non-vintage wines, that’s “exuberance and fruitiness.” And “when treated seriously and in the right terroir,” Liem continues, “Pinot Meunier produces very high-quality wines. In the past 10 to 15 years, there’s been an explosion of interest among high-quality growers.”

Grower Champagne importer extraordinaire Terry Theise agrees. “Good vine material,” he says, “grown in good vineyards and vinified in a careful–i.e., not slapdash–manner can give excellent results.”


For the first time, for example, two 100% Meunier Champagnes, which Theise imports–the Spécial Club and the Rosé Spécial Club, both from Moussé Fils–have been featured by the Club Trésors ( This organization of 28 artisan winemakers is known for high-quality wines from the best areas of the Champagne region. Its Club wines are generally produced from the oldest vines in the finest vineyards.

Winemaker Cédric Moussé, whose family has been cultivating vines since 1750, is one of the early wave of winemakers now celebrating Meunier. Eighty percent of his production is Meunier. Theise describes Moussé’s wines as “highly flavory and loaded with Meunier charm” and elegance. Moussé’s wines often receive excellent reviews. Two that have include the currently available Or d’Eugène Brut NV and the Millesime Terre d’Illite Brut 2012.


Meunier means miller in French. Pinot Meunier gets its name because the downy white undersides of its leaves look as if they’ve been dusted with flour.

Meunier is thought to be a genetic mutation of Pinot Noir.

Some consider Meunier to be the least ageworthy of the three major Champagne grapes. That’s why it’s usually found in non-vintage blends–to add youthful accessibility.

When its buds are destroyed, Meunier can produce another batch, thereby recovering as much as 70 percent of its original yield.

Few Grandes Marques–i.e. the major, most prestigious producers–boast of their Meunier with one notable exception: Krug, one of the most prestigious Champagnes of all. It values the spiciness and fruitiness of Meunier.


In 2015 some Meunier producers and advocates founded an association to draw attention to it. Members of the Meunier Institut ( include Champagne Eric Taillet, Champagne Météyer Père et Fils, Champagne Roger-Constant Lemaire, Champagne Serveaux Fils, Champagne Roger Barnier, Champagne Moutardier, Champagne Heucq Père et Fils, Champagne Didier-Ducos, Champagne A. and J. Demière, and consultant oenologist Pierre-Yves Bournerias.

Additional Meunier enthusiasts in Champagne include René Geoffroy, Gaston Chiquet, Chartogne-Taillet, Aubry, Egly-Ouriet, José Michel, Michel Loriot, Laherte Frères, Jérôme Prévost, Françoise Bedel , Déhu Père et Fils, Bérêche & Fils, Dehours et Fils, Lelarge-Pugeot, René Collard, Benoît Tarlant, Franck Pascal and Christophe Mignon.


Although most Champagnes are white, they’re made mostly from black grapes that are very lightly pressed.

Meunier is not the least well-known grape in Champagnes. The other approved but truly rare grapes are the white Arbane, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc and Fromanteau (aka Pinot Gris)–which together make up less than 0.3% of plantings.

Gifts: A Book and a Bottle

15 Dec

The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil, Workman Publishing, $24.95 (paperback)

The holiday season is here in full force, which for many of us means it’s time to buy presents galore. While finding perfect gifts is the hard part of the season, this year there’s an easy choice for the wine lovers on your list: Karen MacNeil’s The Wine Bible has just been revised and updated.

MacNeil is a multi-award-winning, preeminent wine writer, educator and consultant. says, “No one combines style, knowledge, skill, passion and presentation better than Karen MacNeil.” And The Wine Bible is a classic that belongs in every wine library. Because it’s so comprehensive, I think it should be one of the first books in that library.

For one thing, it’s simply lots of fun. Not every book that’s 996 pages is. But this eminently browsable tome is chockablock with informative asides, tips, engaging anecdotes, definitions, glossaries, photos, maps, labels and recommended producers. It informs and, thanks in part to MacNeil’s colorful, dramatic writing, entertains.

I especially enjoy the many short, creative topics. For example, in her chapter on Burgundy, MacNeil includes sections titled “History, Monks, the Establishment of Terroir and the French Revolution”; “Where’s the Boeuf?”; and “The d’Or in Côte d’Or.” Other intriguing sections include “Sauerkraut, Skunks, and Sweaty Socks” and “Chateauneuf-du-Extraterrestrial.”

For this second edition (the first dates to 2001), MacNeil has tasted more than 10,000 wines and visited dozens of wine regions around the world.  Sections on the wines of China, Japan, Mexico and Slovenia are new. The history, food, wines, grapes and wineries of each region are, of course, covered. So are tasting wine, shopping for wine, choosing wine glasses, matching wine and food, cooking with wine, storing wine, and many other -ings. And much more.

Bottom Line: The Wine Bible makes wine almost as enjoyable to read about as it is to drink.

If you’re looking for a bubbly wine–a sparkling gift for many people–I recommend Lucien Albrecht’s Crémants d’Alsace–and so does MacNeil. She includes Albrecht in her “Alsace Wines to Know” section.

Romanus Albrecht started the winery in 1425, and over the centuries other Albrechts have been responsible for significant innovations and advancements. In 1971, for example, Lucien Albrecht helped gain Appellation d’origine Contrôlêe status for Crémant d’Alsace; he’s considered one of the founding fathers of this AOC regulated category.

Crémants d’Alsace are some of the best French sparkling wines from regions outside Champagne. Lucien Albrecht Crémants are especially well regarded by many. In 2004 they won an unprecedented four gold medals at the Crémant Wine Challenge tasting. French wine expert Jacqueline Friedrich calls Lucien Albrecht wines “excellent … on every level” in her book The Wines of France.

There are two versions–a white and a rosé (which I prefer):

Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut (50% Pinot Blanc, 25% Pinot Gris and 25% Riesling): Fine and elegant bead (bubbles); light, delicate palate; crisp acidity. Well balanced, fruity finish.

Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé (100% Pinot Noir, the only red wine grape allowed in Alsace): Aromas and flavors of strawberry, rhubarb and cherry. Exuberant mousse (the sparkling effervescence of a wine). Crisp acidity. Creamy texture. Long finish.

The suggested retail price for both is $21.99, but I’ve seen them on for as little as $15.

Some Don’t Like It Hot: Temperatures to Serve Wine At

2 Jun

I want to share an easy way to remember good temperatures to serve wine at. I came across it in the “Welcome to Wine Country” brochure from Uncork New York!, which suggests two mnemonics to remember: 45-55-65 and 3-2-1.

1) Sparkling wines, including Champagne, should be served at 45° F. It takes three hours of refrigeration to achieve this temperature.

2) White table wines and late harvest and ice wine dessert wines should be served at 55° F. A good two hours in the fridge should be sufficient to cool them.

3) Red wines, port and sherry should be served at the cool room temperature of 65° F. It takes about one hour to reach this temperature.

This is an easy system to remember, but it benefits from some tweaking. After doing more research, I came up with other numbers that suggest serving:

Sparkling wines and Champagne at 40° F to 50° F

Light- to medium-bodied whites at 40° F to 50° F
Full-bodied whites at 47° F to 60° F
Rosés at 40° F to 55° F

Light, fruity reds at 50° F to 62° F
Complex, rich, mature reds at 60° F to  68° F

White dessert wines at  40° F to 50° F
Port at 60° F to 65° F

Unfortunately, the nifty mnemonic doesn’t work for these temperatures. Such is life. I suggest you try out different temperatures and post your favorites on the refrigerator. For many of us, just getting in the ballpark of these temperatures will be sufficient.

Wine Importers to Rely On: Jorge Ordoñez’s Fine Estates from Spain

26 Aug

by Sharon Kapnick

For more than two decades, Jorge Ordoñez has brought many great Spanish wines and inexpensive Spanish wines of great value to the U.S. via his Dedham, Mass., firm. He’s played a leading role in modernizing Spanish wines and then creating a market for them. As wine lovers in the U.S. started to move beyond Rioja and sherry, Ordoñez was exploring, discovering and improving wines from other regions. And then, after Americans embraced wines from Rías Baixas, Priorat and Ribera del Duero, Ordoñez partnered with some of the best winemakers in Jumilla, Montsant and Calatayud.

Wine figured in his life from his early childhood in Málaga, where his family ran a wholesale food and wine business, selling to restaurants along the fashionable Costa del Sol. Ordoñez managed the company for several years before moving to Boston, his wife’s hometown, in 1987. There, importing Spanish wines seemed a promising business for him.

Ordoñez is a savvy, hands-on businessman. He’s guided his producers in all stages of winemaking, suggesting blends, emphasizing quality control and solving problems. He knows which grapes will thrive in each region and ensures that the appropriate grapes are planted in the correct spot. He convinced vignerons to keep their old vines of native Spanish grapes instead of replacing them with better-known non-indigenous grapes. Ordoñez claims to have brought the first Albariño, Spain’s seafood-friendly signature white wine, to the U.S. in 1991. He also introduced Godello, Monastrell and Txakoli to American consumers. He was the first to  insist on refrigerated storage areas and refrigerated shipping. He basically revolutionized the Spanish wine trade.

Ordoñez’s talents have received much recognition. In 1997 Food & Wine magazine gave him its Golden Grape Award, which honors “visionaries in America who are not only changing the way we think about wine but also determining what we will be drinking in the 21 st century.” Influential wine critic Robert Parker Jr. twice named Ordoñez one of the Most Influential Wine Personalities of the Last 20 Years. In 2012 he was nominated by the James Beard Foundation as Outstanding Wine & Spirits Professional.

In a recent interview with the online Shanken News Daily, Ordoñez said, “Today Americans know Spanish wine regions better than most Spaniards.” That, in large part, is due to the efforts of Jorge Ordoñez.

When shopping for Spanish wines, you’d do well to look for Jorge Ordoñez Selections or Fine Estates from Spain on the label.