The owner of a very fine Washington boutique wrote me this week with a question that I’m sure is on the mind of almost anyone with a more than full-time business and only a mom ‘n’ pop staff to run it. Not that I have all the answers, but maybe a few of them, and anyone who calls me Obi-Wine Kenobi deserves my best effort.
Many of you posted comments (on last Friday’s blog) about specific Washington wines that you’ve recently opened – older wines that often have aged well. Here are some further thoughts in response to your comments and questions:
Q: If you were told that you had to put together a mixed case of Washington wines from the '07 vintage that you could not touch for 10 years, what would be in the case?
After many years as a journalist – most of it outside of the wine world – I’ve developed a twitch. My twitch acts up when a story appears to withhold more than it discloses. That's when the reporter in me wants to hunt down the rest of the story – when I see a spin-meister at work. I’ve been twitching since last Thursday, when Bloomberg reported that Altria, the tobacco company that more or less accidentally acquired Ste. Michelle Wine Estates a year ago, will “hold on to its wine unit... because it wouldn’t currently fetch enough in a sale.”
I recently was given several books written by the late Harry Waugh, a British wine merchant turned author and lecturer. Waugh died in 2001 at the ripe age of 97. His obit in the London ‘Independent’ noted that “Harry Waugh will be remembered as the éminence grise whose enthusiastic championing of quality wines initiated a new era in wine drinking and appreciation. He was the man who presided over a new golden age of fine wines for Harvey's of Bristol which, thanks to his influence, became one of the country's leading fine wine merchants in the two decades after the Second World War.
Two of the world’s largest wine companies – Gallo and Constellation Brands – have recently learned, thanks to investigative work done by the French regulatory authorities, that some of their wines marketed as pinot noir were likely made from less expensive grapes. In the case of Gallo (actually it was more like a million and a half cases) it was Languedoc merlot and syrah that wound up in the $12 Red Bicyclette pinot noir. Decanter’s Guy Woodward called it correctly when he noted that this was a “clumsy attempt to ride the post-Sideways pinot noir craze by peddling Red Bicyclette as an authentic French pinot.”
Art writes: “I'd like to see some discussion of the ageworthiness of Washington wines. This has come up before, and I doubt that I'm the only one who has been disappointed with a bottle that I've stored perfectly for 3-5 years only to find that it's already WAY over the hill.”
Great question. I could honestly write a book on this subject, but before getting into specifics about the ageworthiness of Washington wines, let’s step back and consider aging wines in general.
Setting out on this daily slog – check that – blog, I find no lack of appealing topics to explore. They spring up like mushrooms in the Cascade foothills, waiting to be gathered, lightly sautéed (in wine, of course), and devoured. Some might be steamed, others fried, a few overdone. But on balance, most are quite delicious.
The story that caught my eye this morning was the lead on the Wine Business website.
Challenging economic times may force wine lovers to drink down the cellar – not necessarily a bad thing. But keeping up to speed on new releases is not out of the question. For the price of a bottle or two, some outstanding events will give you a look at and a gulp of some pretty interesting juice. Here are some upcoming opportunities, listed soonest to most distant. Except as indicated, I will not be attending and have no financial interest in these events.
I’m not usually a numbers guy, but these grape report stats have me going.
The most recent revised numbers (I blogged the highlights yesterday) actually cover 2005 thru 2009. I also pulled up the previous report, which covered 2000 thru 2004. Here are some ’00 to ’09 comparisons.
A couple of interesting items crossed my desk last week, and offer some further insight into the state of the Washington wine grape industry. Across the Business Wire came this story from Nielsen (bold-face mine):
Part five in this week's quick tour of the most essential varietals grown and made in Washington. A decade ago there were fewer than 20 Washington wineries making syrah. At the time that represented an explosion of interest in what had been a rather obscure grape. Bearing acreage was up ten-fold and on track to double again within a year. At 12 years of age, the first commercial syrah ever made in Washington (from Columbia winery in 1988) was alive and still drinking well.
Part four in this week's quick tour of the five most essential varietals grown and made in Washington. In a point/counterpoint article co-authored awhile back with Steve Heimoff, my cohort at Wine Enthusiast, I stuck my neck out (what else is new?) and suggested that single vineyard, 100% cabernet sauvignon – when done right – has potentially just as much specificity and focus (in plain English, terroir) as pinot noir.
Part three in this week's quick tour of the five most essential varietals grown and made in Washington. I say it’s time for merlot to raise its battered flag and reclaim its position as a broadly-fruited, texturally satisfying, food-friendly red wine. In truth, the wine never lost its popularity, just its cachet. The reasons are easy to spot: the impact of “Sideways,” the glut of watery plonk labeled merlot, the emergence of other, trendier Bordeaux varietals. But all that said, merlot still warrants a place in your cellar. Because when it’s good, it’s very good.
Part two in this week's quick tour of the five most essential varietals grown and made in Washington. I am often asked to name Washington’s signature grape, or to predict the next great varietal to emerge from this state. But sometimes it is more instructive to think about the most notable underperformers.
The third annual Bloggers Conference is coming to Walla Walla in June, and a number of bloggers have already been kind enough to recommend my book as a valuable reference tool. As the dates draw closer I will from time to time, dedicate this blog to offering some background information on Washington state viticulture, wine and wineries. This week I’ll take you on a quick tour of the five most essential varietals grown and made in Washington. For each I’ll suggest an affordable, widely available “benchmark” version, and a more expensive “iconic” wine that represents the best this state has to offer.
I met Lou Kapcsandy and his son Louis some years ago in Seattle, where Lou had recently retired from a very successful career in construction. They had begun importing fine wines from Bordeaux, and talked of plans to one day make Bordeaux-style wines of their own.
Those plans have come to fruition, amazingly quickly by wine industry standards.
Once in awhile, inevitably, something I do, or don’t do, or write, or didn’t write, really ticks somebody off. Believe it or not, most journalists really do want to get the facts straight, and most critics really do take their jobs seriously. I am no exception. If I make a mistake – a factual error – I want to hear about it, and I will correct it. But before launching an all-out attack on me, my work, and all I’ve ever done or ever will do, it would be useful to have some understanding of media and how it operates.
A few years ago I was startled to hear from my editor at Wine Enthusiast that a winery had contacted them to demand that a review I had written not be published.
There is a unique magic to old vines, and at Old Hill Ranch, just outside of Glen Ellen in the Sonoma valley, the oldest vines in the county are still producing. The property is named for William McPherson Hill, who reached San Francisco in the summer of 1849, the height of the gold rush. Seeing a money-making opportunity, he purchased 2000 acres and set about planting orchard fruits and grapevines – reportedly the first non-Mission grapes in the state.