The Devil is in the Details: Col Solare!

Today, as an interlude to the Non-Traditional Wine Series, we bring you a post that we have been excited about for quite a that has been waiting for the perfect moment to write. It's like the Catalina Wine Mixer, for all you Will Ferrell fans. That's right, friends, the Catalina Freakin' Wine Mixer. We bring to you a portrayal that will certainly not do justice to both a wine and an experience that is second to none: Col Solare.

We fell in love with Col Solare a few months ago as previously chronicled, so when presented with the opportunity to do a private tasting at the estate in August you couldn't get me in the car fast enough. For the time being, I'm going to focus more on the experience than the wine, but rest assured there's a glass of 1998 Col Solare in my hand right now as I write that we paired with pumpkin gnocchi and halibut cheeks. It's amazing.

As some background, Col Solare is a fascinating partnership between Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington and the Antinori family from Tuscany. Formed with the intent of making Washington's best cabernet based wine, they certainly have hit the map in a big way by combining old and new world styles. In 2008, Col Solare opened an estate on Red Mountain, and winemaker Marcus Notaro put out the 2006 vintage as the first from that facility.

On The Oregon Wine Blog's Eastern Washington wine tour this summer, Col Solare was first on the agenda and set the standard for the rest of the trip. All we knew going in was that we were to meet Wendi Warner, the winery manager, at the estate at 1:30 for a tasting and tour. Before we passed through the gates, it was obvious that this estate was different, unique, and special. Literally on the top of Red Mountain, the Col Solare tasting room (including a barri cai and winemaking cellar) overlooks many of the vineyards it sources from on the mountain. A 300 foot stone and concrete wall line the 30-acre estate vineyard, consisting of predominantly of six unique clones of Cabernet Sauvignon, along with individual blocks of Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Syrah. We were quickly met by Wendi and engaged in perhaps the most enjoyable hour and a half of wine I've experienced.

As Wendi took us through the vineyard, production area, winemaking cellar, and barrel room, it became apparent that not only had Col Solare committed to making Washington's best cabernet based wine, they also put their money where their mouth was. Immediately evident was the presence of a true hospitality professional in Wendi as manager. I made a mistake in coordinating arrangements with the Chateau Ste. Michelle public relations staff and we showed up with one more staff member than originally anticipated, and Wendi gracefully covered for it without batting an eye. In fact, the two colleagues I was with didn't even know I had made a mistake she did such a phenomenal job. The staff is just the beginning. The devil is literally in the details and Col Solare takes NOTHING to chance in ensuring they are producing the absolutely best wine possible.

Col Solare is special in so many ways. The location of the estate vineyard, which should produce it's first vintage within a years, was specifically selected to capitalize on the airflow off of the Yakima river on Red Mountain. The vineyard blocs were laid out in a way that takes advantage of the sun rise and set pattern based on the needs of the grapes. The grape press is specialized for Col Solare and the rest of the equipment is brand new, top of the line. Even the split of the vines is unique to produce the best quality fruit. Winemaker Marcus, who we were lucky enough to meet on our tour, has first selection of fruit from the Chateau portfolio, in addition to sourcing from the best vineyards in the state. Even the winery is designed to look like a graphic image of the sun, as Col Solare is Italian for shining hills. To make a comparison, the Oregon State University two-time NCAA champion baseball team finds success using a philosophy of "small ball". It's one play at a time, fundamentals that make for an overall win. Col Solare pays attention to every single detail, producing a wine of synergistic effect.

Our tour with Wendi ended with a sampling and formal pairing. A tasting at Col Solare isn't just a tasting, it's another example of attention to detail and a quest for excellence. Wendi took us through the 2005 and 2006 vintage, paired delectably with 6 local cheeses selected specifically for the vintages. Ranging from a smokey blue to an irish porter to a coastal cheddar, Wendi expertly helped us navigate the different notes of the wine that the cheese accentuated - all the while taking our feedback and opinions to heart. And really, how can you beat an ambience where every time you look up from your delicious wine and cheese you are looking through a glass window into the barrel room of a world-class winery?

Would it be too over the top if I said again how amazing this experience was? As we preach here on the blog, wine is as much about the experience as it is the wine, and Col Solare has hit a homerun on both accounts. The estate is definitely one of the best kept secrets on Red Mountain. They are open to the public, by appointment only, and for $55 per person you can have same formal pairing experience I just described. While our tasting was comped by the winery (hey, there are a few perqs here and there to our hours of labor drinking wine), I PROMISE you it is worth every penny and more. It is a must see next time you are in the Red Mountain area, and if you run across a bottle of Col Solare in the store pick it up.

At a price point of around $75, it is tailor-made for those special dinners and with a consistent 92+ rating it is sure to please. For more every day drinking, Col Solare makes a second label in Shining Hills. Haven't tasted it yet, but there is a bottle on the shelf. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the 1998 was wonderful with an outstanding balance, smooth intake, and slightly spicy finish.

Cheers...and what are you waiting for, book your trip to Eastern Washington!