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Northwest Wines: Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Rosenthal takes over white wine program

Not too many years ago, David Rosenthal was reading a “Wine for Dummies” book while he and his father were driving from Colorado to California.

It was 2001, and Rosenthal — a University of Puget Sound grad — was heading to Napa Valley, where he had picked up a harvest job at Robert Mondavi Winery. Rosenthal, a Colorado native, earned a degree in marine biology, so this gig was just to keep him busy while he figured out what was next for his life.

Nearly 15 years later, Rosenthal is in charge of white winemaking at Chateau Ste. Michelle, Washington’s oldest and largest winery.

“Going into it, I knew nothing about wine. Zero,” he said. “I was 95 percent sure wine came from grapes — but I wasn’t 100 percent sure.”

After working for Mondavi during harvest, Rosenthal headed north to Seattle and ended up as a lab technician in Woodinville at Washington’s largest wine company. He was there for four years before leaving to work in the Australian and Oregon wine industries. In 2007, Rosenthal was back at Ste. Michelle as an enologist. In 2011, he was promoted to assistant white winemaker, focusing primarily on Chardonnay.

When Wendy Stuckey left Ste. Michelle this spring to become a leader in the New Zealand wine industry, Rosenthal took over her position as head white winemaker. Along with head winemaker Bob Bertheau, Rosenthal will oversee production of more than 1 million cases of Riesling and at least as much Chardonnay, along with Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, Semillon and other varieties.

Here are three Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnays we’ve tasted in recent weeks. All should be available from Northwest wine merchants or directly from the winery.

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2013 Cold Creek Vineyard Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $22: Each year, this historic site produces some of Washington state’s finest Chardonnay, and this vintage represents the 40th anniversary of the establishment of Cold Creek Vineyard, across the Columbia River from the Wahluke Slope. Ste. Michelle works only with French oak barrels on this program, and nearly half of those barrels are fresh out of the wrapper. There are plenty of fleshy stone fruit aromas — white peach and dried apricot with dusty lemon — while vanilla cream and the toastiness of the oak slowly emerges as the wine warms in the glass. It’s a big, delicious yet balanced Chardonnay on the palate, which offers flavors of Gala apple, pear and butterscotch.

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2013 Mimi Chardonnay, Horse Heaven Hills, $20: There is no vineyard named for Mimi Nye, but she got in on the ground floor as the vineyard manager at Ste. Michelle’s Canoe Ridge Estate and has served as its steward since it was established in 1991. The program for this wine strikes an impeccable and complex balance of fruit, oak and acidity, which is formed with 76 percent of the lot undergoing six months of aging in French oak and the rest fermented in stainless steel. It leads to aromas of light butter and fresh-baked bread that’s backed with fruitiness of a mango lassi, Meyer lemon, pear, white pepper and coriander. The bold entry brings delicious loads of juicy tropical fruit along with pear.

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2013 Canoe Ridge Estate Chardonnay, Horse Heaven Hills, $30: Back in the early 1990s, Chateau Ste. Michelle established Canoe Ridge Estate Vineyard on a sagebrush-covered hill overlooking the Columbia River in the southern Horse Heaven Hills. Here, Bertheau brings in some of his favorite grapes. This vineyard-designated Chardonnay opens with aromas of lemon zest, a hint of toast and dustiness and a bit of tropical fruit. On the palate, it bursts with flavors of Mandarin orange, pineapple, banana and a bit of butterscotch. It is backed with a round mouth feel and lovely richness throughout.

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com.

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