peddle to the medal

Monday, January 10, 2011

My headline is a bad pun, not a typo. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t receive some e-mails touting the latest medals won by some winery or other. Only the wineries themselves seem to assign much value to these things; every tasting room in the world is adorned with them. The Europeans clutter up wine labels with gold medals won in the 1800s; do they really think it matters?

But medals must sell wine, because many, perhaps most wineries peddle wine using their gold, silver, bronze, zirconium, etc. medals as some sort of quality gauge. And once in a blue moon, a medal-winning wine comes along that really means something.

At the just-completed San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, which invites around 50 judges to evaluate and award wines from among more than 5000 entries, Washington’s Barnard Griffin has just won the Sweepstake award for best rosé. Only six wines (in six different categories) get the Sweepstake awards – the best of the best. This year, the judges selected the Barnard Griffin 2010 Rosé of Sangiovese as the best in its category.

So what? Big deal? Well, here’s why it is a big deal. This is the sixth year in a row that this wine has won gold or better at the event. Such a track record directly reflects the winery’s longevity and consistency, two of the qualities I most respect. It is a big part of the reason that Barnard Griffin was one of just 20 wineries to be awarded a 5 star ranking in my new book. In this specific instance, over a span of six consecutive vintages, judged by six different tasting panels, in the midst of six different groups of wines being blind tasted, the B-G rosé rose to the top.

In response to my e-mail request for more information, Barnard Griffin owner and winemaker Rob Griffin sent a quick note from Las Vegas. He writes:

“The vineyard sources are quite similar to '09. Prior to '09 we got Sangiovese only from Maurie Balcom's vineyard north of Pasco. Last year we added fruit from Gunkel in Maryhill and a small planting near Sagemoor owned by Doug Van Batavia. If memory serves we made 6500 cases in '09 and about 6,000 in '10.”

In his inimitable, self-effacing style, Griffin goes on to say “I'll spare you the paragraphs about our almost orgasmic passion and how 35 years of winemaking have made me into an artistic talent equal to Picasso and Michelangelo rolled into one little ball! The deal here is to grow the fruit properly and get out of the way. A very Zen sort of winemaking. By growing properly I mean (for rosé) as much tonnage as the plant will reasonably ripen so that fruit flavor is maxed at 22.5-ish sugar with enough acidity to melt the concrete or your teeth. If you grow Sangiovese for red you've already lost the rosé game, high sugar and moderate acid make better red but flabby, hot, non-refreshing rosé. Letting the grower max tons (7-8/acre) also keeps the wine price 'real' and lets the farmer vacation somewhere (hopefully not in Vegas). It's interesting that even though ‘09 and ‘10 were polar opposites as growing years, the flavors and the chemistry of the wines are strikingly similar. The wine to my mind has aggressive strawberry/ pomegranate fruit, a tart attack and a round but bracing finish. Flavors are strawberry and melon rind, dry but not grippy.”

PG: I have yet to taste this new vintage, which will be released in about six weeks. But I have every confidence that it more than deserves the accolade, and will inaugurate the spring release of 2010 rosés in grand style.


Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Paul,

I hate to throw sulfur on your must, but I was a judge at the SF Chronicle Tasting. If that doesn't invalidate the award, I don't know what would. Alas, I did not judge the Rose competition, but I did have a say in the Sweepstakes winner, and the Barnard Griffin was a clear standout. Lovely Rose, just gorgeous.

I am of the opinion that the only Roses worth drinking are made from Grenache or Sangiovese. There are exceptions, but they are few. And, clearly, Mr. Griffin recognizes the importance of using grapes dedicated to Rose, as opposed to the dreaded Saignee style of Rose.

As a further clarification, it should be said that Mr. Griffin's real accomplishment is getting to the Sweepstakes round six years in a row as opposed to winning six years in a row. Where the judges decide between roughly 45 red wines to pick a Sweepstakes Red (and this year there was a tie so there are two Sweepstakes Reds), there are but two, yes two, "pink" wines to choose from, a Rose and a Blush (higher residual sugar). Which do you think will always win with wine judges?

Nonetheless, the Barnard Griffin deserves all its accolades. But it amazes me that he can get the 2010 bottled and released and tasting so good so quickly!

PaulG said...

Hey Ron, had I known your palate was in the mix I might have joined in the fun. Thanks for the insight and clarification.

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