According to marketing director Tom Cottrell, Washington Hills Cellars is, "either the largest small winery in the region, or the smallest large winery, depending on your point of view." At 60,000 cases a year and growing, this producer is helping bring Pacific Northwest wines to the broader market they deserve. The Washington Hills 1998 Merlot is smooth and balanced with lush plum fruit, smoky notes, and a balanced finish.


While Chardonnay still continues to bask in the limelight of public affection, Semillon is a work-horse grape and one of the more unappreciated white varieties. In Bordeaux, Semillon is blended with Sauvignon Blanc to make some of the best French whites, but it has also been widely grown in Australia, possibly arriving there from South Africa. Aussie winemakers use it for both bone-dry table wines and lusciously sweet late-harvest dessert wines. Earlier Australian efforts were often misleadingly labeled as Riesling, Chablis, or white Burgundy, but thanks to truth in labeling, Semillon now proudly bears its own name on Australian bottles.

Australia's Rosemount has taken a new tack with Semillon, blending it with the more trendy and showy Chardonnay. Given Semillon's uncomplaining, accommodating character, the marriage works beautifully. This juicy and bright Chardonnay Semillon from the 2000 vintage has tangy tones of apple and spice, leading to a long, clean finish. The price makes it appropriate as a house white for day-to-day quaffing.


In the headlong plunge toward astronomically priced, limited-edition boutique Cabernets, it's nice to know that someone is still making Cabs that don't run into three figures. This one won't even make a two-figure dent in your wallet. The Coastal Ridge label is the latest creation from Bronco Wines, a large California producer offering a large selection of good-value bottles. If you're an enthusiastic bargain-hunter, some other Bronco labels to round up include Napa Ridge, Hacienda, Montpellier, and Forest Glen.