Cascade wine country’s best: oak-aged nectar
When Daniel Wampfler, a winemaker from Columbia Crest, visited Japan earlier this month, his job was to endorse quality wines from Washington State at trade events and winemaker’s dinners. Columbia Crest is a popular brand from the reputable Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Estate that sprawls across fertile lands stretching east from the Cascade Mountains. Since its establishment in 1978, the vintner has won countless awards for its “value-for-money” wines made with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grape varieties from Bordeaux. Chateau Ste. Michelle currently distributes 4 million cases annually worldwide.
The Columbia Crest varieties ― from Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot and CS ― have earned a reputation as casual, affordable and widely appreciated by Korean wine lovers.
What distinguished the Columbia Crest winemaker’s visit to Korea from Japan was the introduction of two upscale wines: the 2003 Syrah Reserve and the 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. Nara Foods, the distributor of Columbia Crest in Korea, introduced the two wines to expand the range and fortify the value of the familiar label. On the evening of March 7, Nara Foods organized a winemaker’s dinner for 23 key sommeliers and local wine club members at a Chinese restaurant inside the Imperial Palace Hotel in southern Seoul.
Mr. Wampfler explained that the Reserve line takes up only about 2 percent of the winery’s total production, making the wine limited in quantity and higher in price. A bottle of the Reserve wine in Korea costs between 90,000 won to 110,000 won ($90-110).
Prior to the main course ― braised king prawn in garlic sauce and sauteed Chinese-style beef filet with sweet and sour sauce ― partnered with the two Reserve wines, were Columbia Crest’s popular choices: the 2002 Two Vine Sauvignon Blanc, the 2002 Grand Estate Chardonnay followed by the 2000 Grand Estate Merlot. They were served with classic Chinese appetizers: braised shark’s fin in oyster sauce, braised sea cucumber with vegetables, asparagus with scallops and steamed soft pork belly with oyster sauce.
The meeting with the winemaker offered more than a chance to take notes ― the personal passion of the 27-year-old enologist, a graduate from Michigan State University, enchanted the local connoisseurs.
“You’d have to really love what you do in Patterson Village where there are only 50 residents,” Mr. Wampfler said. “I get up at 4 a.m. to drive an hour-and-half to get to the winery and spend all day tasting hundreds of glasses of wine.”
When the Chardonnay was poured into a Spiegelau glass, Mr. Wampfler’s blue eyes twinkled. “From picking the grapes to fermenting to tasting to bottling, I was involved in every step. This is my baby,” he said, affectionately appraising the taste of the oak-aged golden nectar. “You can taste pear, banana, apple and creamy butterscotch.”
Diners couldn’t agree more with the jubilant winemaker, who continued to explain the best of what Columbia Crest had to offer. He described the deeply ruby-colored Syrah as tasting of “elegant oak” that enticed its imbibers with “powerful fruits in the beginning but calmed once inside the mouth with its subtle, simple yet lasting aroma.” The classic CS, according to Mr. Wampfler, was a “nuance-based” wine that was versatile in matching food and mood. As the evening progressed, fastidious tasters gave more nods to the charming 2003 Syrah Reserve, a winner of the evening.
by Ines Cho
With reporting by Cho Jae-eun