OTB # 8 – Iconic Differences – Chateau Ste. Michelle and Sineann 2006 Cold Creek Cabernet Sauvignon

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After the WBS Buster bus rolls past Mattawa it will hug the Columbia River as it curves back to the east.  By the time you get to the next bridge, you will be heading pretty much due east and the bus will turn right onto Highway 24 and cross over the Vernita Bridge into Benton County.  If you want to use a restroom without risking sagebrush burns or using a grape leaf, the rest area on the right is your best and only chance for the next while.  Unfortunately they don’t serve wine tasting here though.

Past the rest area, the road will climb up a smallish but fairly steep switchback onto a plateau and you’ll approach an intersection.  Straight ahead is Rattlesnake Mountain, Richland and the Tri-Cities and the back way to Benton City and Red Mountain.  To the left, you’ll see a military style guard shack and entry post which is the Yakima Gate to the Hanford Site.  The bus will take a right to remain on Route 24 and will start up a gradual incline. Within a mile or so, you’ll see spread out before you and climbing up the slopes on the right side of the road large tracts of vineyard.  On the left are orchards and more vineyard behind those.  There is nothing remarkable about this area unless you start wondering where they get water to grow all this green in the middle of a desert, or unless you notice the yellow road sign to the dead end cross road.  Or unless someone tells you you are at one of the oldest, most well known vineyards in the Chateau Ste. Michelle family and in the state of Washington.  This is Cold Creek.

I could try to explain the history of Cold Creek but I’m going to be lazy and quote the back labels of the two bottles of wine I’ve chosen from here.

From the Chateau Ste. Michelle 2006 Cold Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon:

Planted in the 1970’s, Cold Creek is heralded as one of Washington’s iconic vineyards.  The 2006 harvest started slowly with a damp spring, but steady summer heat coaxed out intensely flavored small berries with excellent structure.  A harvest note of “let it hang” indicated the lengthy hang-time which allowed for full ripeness and flavor developement.

From Sineann Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 Cold Creek Vineyard:

Imagine our surprise and delight at the opportunity to make wine off this vineyard.  Cold Creek is one of the oldest and most renowned vineyards in Washington.  The wine is one of our favorites of 2006.  Its intense, exuberent, pure black cherry fruit and terrific structure make us happy every time we taste it.  We’re thrilled to be able to make others happy as well. 

Yes, labels are designed to sell the wine and the language used is always glowing, particularly on vineyard designate wines.  But I believe Peter Rosback when he says it was a delight to make wine off this vineyard.  Peter has made wines from the best vineyards in Oregon, Washington, California, and even New Zealand (?)and from what I’ve read this is his first, and so far only, Cold Creek designate release.   For Chateau Ste. Michelle this is their 27th vineyard designate Cabernet Sauvignon from Cold Creek.  The 1980 release of this Cabernet Sauvignon was the first vineyard designate wine made in Washington state.

But what about the wines?  These two wines from the same grapes picked at the same place at the same year must taste the same, non? 

Non, is the answer.  In fact, if the labels weren’t staring me in the face as I tasted these side by side, I’d be hard pressed to say these were even the same grape variety, much less same vintage and vineyard.

Immediately on pouring there were differences, the CSM is a deep garnet with a very black core, the edges are bright reddish purple; the Sineann is more of a deep burgandy, equally as black, but the edges are a burnt amber color.  On the nose, the CSM is bursting with dark black fruit, blueberries, black cherry, licorice, and saddle leather.  The Sineann is subtler at first then brighter on the nose, fruit is lighter with cassis, raspberry, and cherry;  the background is more cured meat than leather.  I smell bacon. 

The first taste of CSM is a rush of black cherry and cassis and (as copied from the bottle notes) has an excellent, terrific structure front to back.  The tail of the wine is not too dry, not too sweet, not too tannic, right in that spot where you go, “hmmm”.  The Sineann first taste is quite odd following the CSM, there is cola and dark burnt chocolate up front with some tart cherry near the back followed by a bit of funk on the finish.  On second taste, however these flavors are no longer odd to the palate and they begin to sing together and make a taster very inquisitive. 

I went back and forth between these wines over the course of about 45 minutes, Barb sampled also, and at the end we concluded the CSM is a more “traditional” Cab Sauv, well balanced, nicely structured and a solid wine.  Barb prefered this one.  The Sineann is more of a wild child Cab Sauv, where unusual flavor profiles are ultimately blended to meet at a spot in the back of your mind that says either “this is really odd” or “this makes me really happy”.  I chose happy and I preferred the Sineann.

Another difference here that I’d doubt has much, if any, difference in the short run on these wines (which I opened relatively young) are the closures.  CSM uses a traditional wood cork with foil seal, Sineann uses a glass cork seal with various plastic overwraps.  There are arguments on both sides for various types of closures and I may discuss those at a later date but my first reaction is that it’s really hard to get a cork screw to penetrate the glass type.

I have no idea which wine is more representative of Cold Creek terroir since this is my first tasting of any wine from this vineyard.  All I can safely say is that whenever you find wines made from the exact same vintage and vineyard, you can expect them to taste exactly opposite from one another.

OTB Fun Fact:   The Hanford Reach National Monument  surrounds the former Hanford Nuclear Site and contains the only free flowing section of the Columbia River above the Bonneville Dam.  The Wile E. guy in the picture isn’t on the Reach when this picture was taken, but he likely roamed from there to our back yard.

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