Col Solare: Shining on Red Mountain

By Kori ~ August 4th, 2010.

Col Solare, located on Red Mountain in Washington State, is a partnership between Marchesi Antinori of Italy and Chateau Ste. Michelle of Washington State. Italian for “shining hill,” Col Solare produces one Cabernet Sauvignon-based wine each year with the goal to reflect the characteristics of both Old World and New World styles. The idea for this project began back in 1992 when Marchese Piero Antinori visited Washington State’s Columbia Valley. He was taken by the emerging wine region and decided to partner with Chateau Ste. Michelle, Washington’s oldest winery, to produce a Washington Cabernet-based wine with a European influence. Col Solare’s first release was the 1995 vintage.

Several years later, Antinori and Ted Baseler, President and CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, decided to build a winery solely dedicated to this project. In 2005, they purchased 40 acres on Red Mountain to build a winery building and plant an estate vineyard. Construction of the winery was completed in time for the harvest of 2006. The 2006 vintage was the first vintage produced at Col Solare’s state-of-the-art facility, which officially opened in April 2007. In addition, Col Solare planted a 28-acre estate vineyard on the property in 2007 and is expecting the first full crop from it during this year’s (2010) harvest. Currently, the fruit for Col Solare is sourced from vineyards around the Columbia Valley. The sourcing breakdown for the soon-to-be-released 2007 vintage is as follows: Red Mountain (31%), Columbia Valley (36%), Wahluke Slope (14%), and Horse Heaven Hills (19%).

“Twenty years from now, we would like to be using all estate fruit from Red Mountain.” –Marcus Notaro, winemaker

Like the partnership, the Col Solare facility itself reflects a mix of Old World and New World. The winery sits high on Red Mountain with an Old World bell tower visible from far away. Inside, though, it boasts a modern cellar and a contemporary, New World décor in the tasting room. The fan-shaped estate vineyard emanates out from the winery building like rays of sunshine, which are illustrated in the Col Solare logo.

While we have previously had Col Solare wines and attended their events in Seattle, we had the opportunity to visit the winery for the first time on Monday and visit with winemaker Marcus Notaro. Marcus oversees the day-to-day winemaking operations at the winery. He also works closely with Renzo Cotarella, managing director/chief enologist of Marchesi Antinori, and Doug Gore, Senior Vice President for Winemaking and Vineyards for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates to evaluate the final blends for each vintage. Marcus went to work for Chateau Ste. Michelle in 1995 and became winemaker for Col Solare in 2006.

During our visit, we tasted the current 2006 vintage, the soon-to-be-released 2007 vintage, and a barrel sample of the 2008 vintage, which is being bottled this week and will be released in 2011. In addition, we tasted the 2008 vintage of Shining Hill, their second label, which is released one year prior to the flagship Col Solare and serves as a preview of what is to come. Col Solare produces between 10,000 to 11,000 cases per year of its main wine plus an additional 1,000 cases of Shining Hill.

We first tasted the 2007 vintage at the release event for the 2006 vintage last fall shortly after it had been bottled. We were struck by it then, and it has only continued to develop in the bottle. It is truly an outstanding wine. While 2008 was not considered to be as good a vintage in Washington State, the 2008 Col Solare is already showing excellent promise even though it is very young.

If you are in the Red Mountain area, I encourage you to visit Col Solare. During the summer (May-September), Col Solare is open for Saturday Sole and Sunday Afternoon Tours. Otherwise, be sure to call ahead to schedule an appointment.

2006 Col Solare Red Wine (Columbia Valley, Washington): 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Syrah. Deep, dark purple in color. Dark, black fruits, chocolate, and mint come through on both the nose and palate. Medium to full-bodied with soft tannins and a long finish. Well-balanced and smooth.
Quality: 4 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 1 bang for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Winery, $75

2007 Col Solare Red Wine (Columbia Valley, Washington): 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Franc. Deep, dark purple. Gorgeous nose with aromas and flavors of black cherry, blackberry, vanilla, and spice. Full-bodied yet elegant with smooth tannins. Well-balanced with a long finish.
Quality: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 4 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Winery, $75

2008 Shining Hill Red Wine (Columbia Valley, Washington): 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 5% Syrah, and 4% Cabernet Franc. Deep, dark purple. Aromas of oak, vanilla, and black cherry lead to flavors of black fruits and spice. Medium-bodied with medium tannins and a long finish.
Quality: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 2 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Winery, $40

Filed under: American Wine, Red Wine, Vineyards, Washington State Wine, Wines Over $25

Reader's Comments

  1. Steve Howe | August 4th, 2010 at 8:46 am

    Planning a wine tasting trip to Oregon/Washington. I’ve added Col Solare to my list of wineries to visit. Thanks!