NB: The title of this post is assuming that the world still exists on this date. If not, please disregard. 

In this month’s Five Wines Under $15 we take a look at the H3 red wines from Columbia Crest. Since their introduction, the production of these wines has grown dramatically, in no case more so than the winery’s Les Chevaux Red Wine.

Since the first vintage of the Les Chevaux – French for ‘the horses’ – production has grown from 200 cases in 2007 to 9,400 cases in 2009 to – wait for it – 72,000 cases in 2010. And with good reason. With blends rising in popularity with consumers, this wine hits a sweet spot. Is there any irony that it’s mostly Merlot and Syrah, which consumers have spurned in recent years but that they love when the words aren’t on the label? We’ll leave that for another day. Meanwhile Cabernet Sauvignon production for the H3 series has also increased dramatically from 69,000 cases in 2009 to a whopping 149,000 cases in 2010. The sky is the limit here.

This is good news for all as it means that a lot more people are able to get Washington wine into their hands across the country and around the world. Better yet, the H3 wines are consistently high quality and well-priced serving as perfect ambassadors for Washington wine. Of note, Columbia Crest’s production and muscle means that these wines use both a higher percentage and a higher quality of oak barrels than are often seen at this price. For people looking for wines that drink like they are from a higher price bracket, look no further.

Moscato, meanwhile, has been the surprise wine of the last two years, sling shotting to fame with the Millennial set – ‘Moscato mania’ as Wine Spectator called it. It was the third most popular white wine in the United States last year with sales increasing over 70% according to Nielsen. Will this wine remain popular with consumers or is it merely a ‘gateway’ wine to more serious endeavors? Only time will tell but the smart money says that these consumers will move onward and upward. In the meantime, Columbia Crest’s Grand Estates Moscato has them covered.

Moving over to Chateau Ste. Michelle, in the realm of aromatic whites Gewurztraminer is a relatively rare beast in Washington. However, there were 775 acres of the varietal planted in the state as of 2011, making it the fourth most planted white grape, and acreage is on the rise. Over half of the current acreage was planted in 1993 or earlier.

Columbia Crest H3 Les Chevaux Red Wine Horse Heaven Hills 2010 $15
(Excellent) An aromatically appealing wine with toasty oak spices, vanilla, dark, brambly berries, light gamey notes, and coffee. The palate has a creamy feel, loaded with oak and dark fruit flavors with impeccable balance. The oak is often at the fore here but for those looking for this style at a can’t-be-beat price, look no further. 80% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 7% Syrah. Aged 18 months in French and American oak (33% new). 14.5% alcohol. 72,000 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon Horse Heaven Hills 2010 $15
 (Good/Excellent) The first impression is coffee and dark berries followed by light herbal notes. The palate is full of dark chocolate flavors and cherry flavors ending with a cocoa filled finish. 97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Merlot, and 1% Cabernet Franc. Aged 18 months in French oak (40% new). 14.5% alcohol. 149,000 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Columbia Crest H3 Merlot Horse Heaven Hills 2010 $15           
(Good) An aromatically subdued wine with a medley of oak spices, bittersweet chocolate, and dark raspberries. The palate has chalky tannins and subdued fruit flavors. 96% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 1% Malbec. Aged 18 months in French and American oak (33% new). 14.5% alcohol. 64,000 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Columbia Crest Moscato Columbia Valley 2011 $12
(Decent) An aromatic wine with abundant tangerine, peach, and cream. The palate is medium bodied and medium-plus sweet with abundant tangerine and other citrus flavors with a creamy feel leading to a grapefruit and spice filled finish. 48% Muscat Canelli, 15% Muscat of Alexandria, 14% Black Muscat, 13% Morio Muskat, and 10% Gewürztraminer. 10% alcohol. 4.2g/100ml Residual Sugar. 0.68g/100ml TA. 14,000 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Gewurztraminer Columbia Valley 2011 $9
(Decent) An aromatic wine full of spice, mint, floral notes, and kiwi. The palate is spice filled, medium bodied, and off-dry with broad fruit flavors. An enjoyable wine straight down the fairway. 98% Gewurztraminer, 2% Muscat Canelli. 11.5% alcohol. 1.95g/100ml Residual Sugar. Sample provided by winery.