One day, perhaps, I’ll figure out how the multi-national wine companies make brand decisions. For example, why would the company that owns Chateau Ste. Michelle also own two grocery store brands, Columbia-Crest and 14 Hands, that make the same kind of Washington state wine that sell for about the same price?
Until then, I will appreciate the value and quality that these wines offer. The 14 Hands ($12, sample, widely available) was just as pleasantly surprising as the Columbia-Crest cabernet was, making it yet another example of the first rule of wine writing — taste the wine before you decide whether it’s worth writing about.
Look for lots of cherry fruit in the 14 Hands, though the fruit is not as sweet as in similarly-priced California cabernets. It also has some heft and the appropriate tannins, and people who are determined to notice chocolate in cabernet will probably pick up a little of that, too. In this, the wine reflects Washington state’s style and terroir, which doesn’t happen much in $12 wine. Though it’s not as big a wine as its corporate sibling, the 14 Hands is definitely cabernet and not cabernet lite.
Call it a safety wine — something you can buy or order when you’re stuck somewhere and the wine selection is decidedly limited. It will pair with most red meat dinners, as well as a very gooey sausage pizza.