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Northwest Wines: Columbia Crest Grand Estates wines shine

Since launching its Grand Estates line of wines about 15 years ago, Columbia Crest has been setting the standard for high-quality, value-priced wines. That trend continues.

Columbia Crest, owned by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, is a remarkable winery in the tiny community of Paterson, Wash., overlooking the Columbia River. It is run by Juan Muñoz Oca, a native of Argentina who arrived in Washington more than a decade ago and has quickly risen through the ranks to become one of the state’s most talented and prolific winemakers.

The Grand Estates series of wines is impressive. The wines retail for $12 (and usually sell for a couple of dollars less at groceries). They’re priced for everyday enjoyment, yet they fight well above their weight class.

We recently tasted through all of these Grand Estates wines, and each of these earned our top “Outstanding!” rating under blind conditions (meaning we didn’t know the producer or the price until after the wine was evaluated).

These wines are widely available in grocery and liquor stores throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Columbia Crest 2013 Grand Estates Syrah, Columbia Valley, $12: This opens with a fruity yet complex nose of blackberry jam, plum, Black Forest cake, crushed walnut and a whiff of bacon fat. Inside, the profile is very berry and mouthcoating as bright tannins and juicy acidity lead to a hedonistic finish of caramelized sugar. (13.5 percent alc.)

Columbia Crest 2012 Grand Estates Red Blend, Columbia Valley, $12: This is a blend of Syrah (57 percent) and Cabernet Sauvignon (25 percent) that also receives a healthy boost from Viognier (9 percent) and Merlot. The 16 months in 25 percent new oak lead to aromas of ripe plum, dark blueberry, milk chocolate and vanilla, followed by matching flavors that also pick up blackberry. There’s attractive sweetness to the fruit that carries into a finish of white chocolate and vanilla bean. (13.5 percent alcohol)

Columbia Crest 2013 Grand Estates Merlot, Columbia Valley, $12: The barrel program shows an abundance of dark toast, coffee and smoke aromas that meld with black cherry, anise, cedar and chalkboard dust. On the palate, the oak program takes a backseat to flavors of cherry and black currant as vanilla and chocolate fill in behind. Its medium structure creates nice balance as the fruit keeps pushing into the finish. (13.5 percent alcohol)

Columbia Crest 2013 Grand Estates Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $12: The nose is quite giving with vanilla, apple blossom and baking spices while picking up dusty pear and Key Lime pie with Graham cracker crust aromas. Its enjoyable mouth feel starts with an entry of lemon custard, followed by creamy butterscotch and pear. Elegant citrusy acidity and a finish of peach pie makes it versatile, both as a cocktail wine or alongside chicken pot pie, crab cakes and pork tenderloin. (13.5 percent alcohol)

Columbia Crest 2013 Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $12: Alluring aromas of smoky and dusty oak run alongside black currant, pomegranate, tar, coffee and black pepper. On the pour, there’s remarkable balance with black cherry, black currant and plum flavors as the structure shows no edges, just round and smooth tannins with pomegranate acidity. In the back, there are some hints of earthiness and coffee. Indeed, it’s a rich, big and juicy Cab. (13.5 percent alcohol)

Columbia Crest 2013 Grand Estates Limited Release Gold, Columbia Valley, $12: This blend of Cabernet Franc (70 percent) and Merlot spent 17 months in 32 percent new French oak. It offers lots of freshly brewed espresso aromas, joined by Chukar Cherry, dried plum and roasted plum. A pour yields rich and dark flavors of milk chocolate, sweet blueberry and raspberry. There’s is no sign of the herbal notes often associated with Cabernet Franc, and graceful, fine-grained tannins make for a suave and delicious finish.

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