the next big thing in Washington

Monday, February 21, 2011

“The Next Big Thing” is an evergreen topic for speculation among growers, winemakers, bloggers and wine industry analysts. It’s fun to peer into the future, to keep on top of emerging trends, and to believe – however briefly – that you know where consumer tastes and trends are heading.

For the past three or four decades, the next big thing from anywhere has been a varietal wine. Pinot noir from Oregon. Cabernet sauvignon from Napa. Malbec from Argentina. Shiraz from Australia. You get the drift.

Washington vintners have had brief rides on such roller coasters. I’m thinking particularly of the bump in merlot sales and interest following the 60 Minutes “French Paradox” story some 20 years ago. And more recently, some momentum seems to be gathering around riesling (again!) But my own crystal ball shows a different trend emerging.

Rather than pinpoint a specific varietal, I’ll call it a swing to Iberian grapes and blends. Grenache and tempranillo are the leading varieties, and both are being successfully grown here in Washington. Quantities are limited, but a mix of veteran and rookie winemakers are exploring these wines, with early success.

I sat down recently with Doug McCrea, whose McCrea Cellars portfolio has traditionally been built around syrah and Rhone blends. McCrea’s new project, however, has a Spanish tilt. The wines, labeled Salida, include tempranillos (so far 2006, 2007 and 2008 have been released) a tempranillo/garnacha/monastrell blend called Tres Viños, and a tempranillo/malbec blend called Fuego Sagrado (the sacred flame).

The genesis of the project, McCrea explained, was simply a phone call from a winemaker who had an extra ton and a half of tempranillo for which he was hoping to find a home. “I thought nothing ventured, nothing gained,” McCrea recalls. “I figured I could always blend it away; so, a win/win no matter what.”

That first wine – just two barrels worth of a 2006 tempranillo – was spectacular. It’s long sold out, but we tasted a bottle together. My notes: A sexy, lush, flat out beautiful nose introduces this dusty, decadent wine. The blackberry fruit – ripe and highlighted with pastry spices and crust, also shows hints of light dried herb. It is starting to move into secondary fruit flavors, lush and round and full-bodied, and the finish adds veins of earth and smoke and forest floor. Really a revelation.”

“It definitely has the right profile of Spanish tempranillo,” McCrea agreed. It led to clonal exploration, working with Joe Hattrup (Elephant Mountain and Sugarloaf vineyards). “At Sugarloaf,” he continued, “we planted grenache, mourvèdre, and tempranillo clone 2, plus three clones of syrah.”

“So a brand was born. I’ve been doing this McCrea thing so how do I differentiate it. First, we can’t call it McCrea. So I came up with a whole different package. First, use a Bordeaux shape bottle. Then, what to call it. That took a while. Salida means exit – to leave – I hoped there would be a subliminal message there (he chuckles). Then I started thinking colors, how to tie the colors into the message. A few years ago I was in Leavenworth in a gallery and we purchased a copper sculpture of leaves there; it’s over our fireplace. I wanted something symbolic, not literal, and the gold colors suggest fall richness. That’s how it all came together. A grapevine being swept in the wind of the fall, changing color.”

PG: I really like these wines, and the direction they are leading. Though very limited, they are worth tracking down. Cordon is distributing, and Tango (in Seattle) is pouring them by the glass. Next Sunday (the 27th) the restaurant will host a food and wine event featuring Salida wines. Call 206/583-0382 for reservations.

“Frankly, I’m having fun!” McCrea concludes. “It’s refreshing to explore new things.” Amen.



Andy Plymale said...

Exciting news! I think that Phil Cline recently planted some white Spaniards for McCrea up there in the Naches neighborhood.

Unknown said...

Yes I feel Spanish varietals have a bright future in the State. Look for even more limited varietals coming on line like such as Albariño and Graciano.
I wish people would consult a native speaker before naming things in other languages. I won’t comment on Salida (or Corrida) but feel free to ask any Spaniard about these. I will say that the word “Viños” does not exist. Just because Wine Spectator has been using this word since I can remember doesn’t make it a real word. Vino is wine, Vid is the grape plant and Viña is vineyard.


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