Based on last month’s reader survey, April’s Virtual Tasting will be Columbia Crest’s 2006 Grand Estates Shiraz. The tasting will take place on Wednesday April 22nd.

At over 1.7 million cases per year, Columbia Crest is by a good stretch Washington’s largest wine producer. The winery, whose first release was in 1985, is based in Paterson, Washington in the southern part of the state near the Columbia River.

The consistent question is how Columbia Crest manages to do such large volume production at excellent an quality-price-ratio (QPR) throughout their portfolio. Columbia Crest has four basic tiers of wine. The Two Vines is their value brand which constitutes the vast bulk of their production. These wines are priced under $10 and are good daily drinkers. Next up is the Grand Estates – the subject of this month’s Virtual Tasting – at $12. These wines have consistently received high Wine Spectator scores, with the Grand Estates Merlot even landing in Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the Year (Note: See the “poor man’s vertical” of the Grand Estates Merlot done at a previous Virtual Tasting here). About two years back the winey added the H3 label, named after the Horse Heaven Hills AVA where the winery is located. These wines are priced around $18. Columbia Crest recently took this label to nationwide distribution. Columbia Crest provides a good .pdf describing the Horse Heaven Hills AVA here. Finally, at the top tier are their Reserve Wines generally priced about $30. At each tier is good wine at exceptional values. To wit, their 2005 Reserve Cabernet received a 95 point rating from Wine Spectator, an outrageous accomplishment for a $27 wine. As I noted previously, look for this wine to land in this year’s Spectator Top 100.

Ray Einberger serves as winemaker for Columbia Crest. Einberger joined Columbia Crest in 1993 and assumed the head winemaker position in 2002. Einberger had previously worked as part of the Opus One winemaking team as well as Silverado Vineyards and Round Hill Cellars – now Rutherford Ranch Winery – in Napa Valley.

As usual, I will be opening the bottle about 7pm. Please join us in trying this wine and posting your notes. As always, I encourage you to pull a few friends together. If you can’t join on the 22nd, feel free to send comments any time before or after. Links to previous virtual tastings are below. Also if you have suggestions for next month’s wine, send em along.

March 2009 Virtual Tasting

February 2009 Virtual Tasting

January 2009 Virtual Tasting

December 2008 Virtual Tasting

November 2008 Virtual Tasting

October 2008 Virtual Tasting

September 2008 Virtual Tasting

August 2008 Virtual Tasting