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Updated Friday, January 18, 2013 at 01:01 PM

Ste. Michelle's Limited Release wines: fun, passion and fewer inhibitions

By Paul Gregutt
Special to The Seattle Times

ON OCCASION, I've written about the advantages of joining winery clubs and mailing lists, with a focus on limited-production, boutique wineries. But there's no reason a big winery can't play this game and play it well. I queried Bob Bertheau, who is responsible for overseeing winemaking at Ste. Michelle, about the winery's Limited Release wines. These are wines that fall outside the mainstream, often featuring a single grape variety and vineyard.

"There is a part of all of us," Bertheau replied, "that longs for making smaller, unique wines that allow a little bit more license ... and push the limits of style and complexities. This is where our Limited Release wines come into play."

A dozen or more Limited Release wines are produced annually in case quantities of roughly 200 to 600 — tiny by Ste. Michelle standards. Some are sold to club members, some through the tasting room. A few are offered to restaurants. Bertheau calls them "wines of fun, passion and less inhibitions on style." They don't always resonate with everybody, he admits, "but that is OK and somewhat expected. These are wines to discuss and have fun with."

Agreed. I found it especially interesting to compare these Limited Release selections to the chateau's mass-produced wines. For example, the 2011 Ste. Michelle Chardonnay, which sells for $13, is pleasant, with apple and pear fruit, and buttery, toasty accent flavors; 650,000 cases are in production.

The 2011 Ste. Michelle Limited Release Unoaked Chardonnay sells for a few dollars more. To me, it's a far more interesting wine, with pinpoint detail. A spicy burst of yellow and green fruits splashes across the palate, ripe, tart, focused and showing interesting textures. A whopping 210 cases were produced.

Winemaker Wendy Stuckey, who hails from Australia, made a bone dry, 2011 Ste. Michelle Waussie Riesling ($22). If you've ever enjoyed a bracing bottle of riesling from Australia's Eden Valley, you have a good idea of the style Stuckey was aiming for — and delivers. It's fresh and lively, with excellent balance, and finishes at just 12 percent alcohol.

The red-wine offerings are more expensive, though still well within the price range for comparable efforts from other Washington wineries.

The 2009 Chateau Ste. Michelle Limited Release Mourvèdre ($25) is sourced from the outstanding Stone Tree vineyard. Light touches of chocolate, clean earth and mineral underscore plum and cherry fruit flavors.

The 2009 Chateau Ste. Michelle Limited Release Malbec ($25), sourced from the Canoe Ridge Estate vineyard, offers compelling blue and black fruits, wrapped in a finish of coffee and cream.

For information on joining the Limited Release Club, visit www.ste-michelle.com/wines/limitedRelease.

Paul Gregutt's email: paulgwine@me.com.

Pick of the week

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2010 Canoe Ridge Estate Merlot; $25

NOT IN THE Limited Release series, but limited to a few thousand cases, this shows off the great strengths of the vineyard and the AVA. Dark, dusty fruit is firm and concentrated, and finishes with a tasty mix of cocoa, coffee grounds and Asian spice. (Distributed by Young's-Market)


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