The Columbia Crest H3 Les Chevaux Red 2016 is a blend of Merlot, Syrah, and Malbec, (along with other Red varietals) sourced from vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA (also known as H3) inside the Columbia Valley AVA of Washington State.
The Horse Heaven Hills AVA is located east of Vancouver and west of the Walla Walla AVA and situated along the northern banks of the Columbia River. Like the name suggests early settlers found herds of wild horses in the area.
Columbia Crest is the second label for Chateau Ste. Michelle. I have read that the Chateau Ste. Michelle’s family of wines accounts for 50% of the wines produced in Washington. The Columbia Crest label was started in the early 1980s.
Do not let Columbia Crest’s 2nd label designation fool you, their wines have been featured in many “Best Of’ lists and in 2009 one of their reserve wines, a Cabernet Sauvignon, was Wine Spectators Wine of the Year. Their wines may not be expensive, but they have a history of quality.
This review is for the 2016 vintage, the 2017 vintage is also available. They changed the label completely for 2017, it went from a dark label to mostly white.
The name Les Chevaux translates to “the Horse” in French. Columbia Crest does not go into great detail on the making of the Columbia Crest H3 Les Chevaux Red 2016. But they do mention a couple of important things.
One thing that stood out is this Red Blend was aged in French and American oak barrels for twenty-two months. That is an impressive amount of oak conditioning for a wine I found on sale for under twelve bucks and I think is even cheaper at Costco.
Most Red wines in the general $10 range are intentionally made to come together quickly. That typically means less oak barrel aging or maybe no oak aging at all. The rule of thumb with oak barrel aging and there are variables, is that the wine needs to age one month in the bottle of each month of aging in the barrel. This is not a hard, fast rule, but it gives you an idea of much aging a wine had, by how soon after harvest it was released for sale.
Wines that can be released sooner are often less expensive than wines that need more time to develop. So a wine that has extensive (for the price point) oak aging is an excellent surprise.
Winemakers have learned to do a commendable job of adding oak flavoring to wines that do not have a great deal of oak contact. But the one thing that they can not replicate is what happens to the wine it has been in barrel for almost two years. The melding of flavors can only come with time.
The 2nd production detail that caught my eye is they only could name tree of the grapes in the blend, they simply said “along with other grape varietals”, how do they not know what grapes they used? You would figure they would know something like that. It actually occurs fairly often in Red blends. There must be a reason for the uncertainty, some legalese, some state labeling requirements, who knows? The alcohol content is 14.5%.
Columbia Crest H3 Les Chevaux Red 2016 Tasting Notes
The color is barelt see-thru black cherry red. The nose is rich, intense blackberry, black pepper, spice, black cherry, dark chocolate, a hint of vanilla, and raspberry.
This is a rich, mostly smooth Red blend that has a rich spice counter-point to the smooth ripe flavors. It starts with blackberry, tea, exotic spice, licorice, and a touch of cream. The mid-palate shows tart cranberry, black pepper, a nutty, salty sensation, and dried strawberry bits.
The tannins are smooth and the acidity allows the flavors to unfold.
- The Columbia Crest H3 Les Chevaux Red 2016 is a solid red blend, full of flavor and detail that sells for a bargain price.
- The 2017 vintage is available now and I am sure it is ready to go and drinks great, but if 2016 is also available alongside 2017 I think I might grab 2016.
- When you have an affordable wine with a nice bit of oak barrel aging an extra year in the bottle will usually do the wine some good.