take the long way home

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A line from a great old Supertramp song – take the long way home – speaks to one of the basic tenets of great winemaking. In my book – Washington Wines & Wineries: the Essential Guide – I assign wineries to a rating scale of five, four, and three stars, along with "Rising Stars" for the newest. For each category, there is a requirement that a certain number of vintages have been made.

Some of the four star wineries are every bit as good as the five star wineries, but they have not produced the mandated minimum of 10 vintages. Why is this important? Because anyone can make a good wine in a good year. Anyone can hit one out of the park once in awhile. But doing it across an entire lineup of wines, year after year, in good vintages and not-so-good vintages, is what demonstrates greatness.

The same principle applies to almost any creative endeavor. Can you do it consistently well, in a wide range of circumstances, over a considerable timespan? Or are you what the radio industry used to call a "one hit wonder"?

I recently tasted through a lineup from DeLille Cellars and their sister label, Doyenne. Winemaker Chris Upchurch has been at it a long while, and it shows. There is a consistency not only across the spectrum stylistically, but also a stylistic thread that runs through the vintages. The wines express not only a sense of place, but a sense of time – a reference to the particular vintage in the bottle. It's a level of complexity that few wineries – few winegrowing regions – can attain.

Some favorites from the tasting:

DeLille Cellars 2009 Chaleur Estate Blanc. Deep gold, toasty and scented with olive oil, walnuts and loam. It hits the palate full-on with a rainbow flavor mix of citrus, stone and tropical fruits, accented with the toast, oil and nuts from the barrel aging. Riveting, delicious, and unique.

Doyenne 2009 Métier Blanc. This is 90% Viognier and 10% Roussanne, with precisely cut layers of lime, lemon, Satsuma orange and grapefruit rind, beautifully rendered and underscored with a racy minerality. A wine in perfect balance, vivid and penetrating, it could accompany a wide range of foods, much as a top of the line unoaked Chardonnay, but with more complexity.

Doyenne 2008 Métier Red. A compelling blend of 40% Grenache, 40% Mourvèdre, and 20% Syrah, this wine captures your attention from the first sniff. The aromas have a rare mix of fruit, soil, barrel and animal, the sort of complexity that eludes language. It fills the mouth with wild and arresting flavors, sweet cherry fruit, animal, loam, cut tobacco and coffee grounds, all folding into dense, dark tannins.

Doyenne 2008 Signature Syrah. Co-fermented with 2% Viognier, this elegant Syrah rests on a base of toast, coffee grounds, loam and savory herbs. The fruit – pie cherries and plums – is subservient to the details of earth and mushroom and leather. All is beautifully integrated, balanced, and long. A wine to savor.

DeLille Cellars 2008 D2 Red Wine. Always a fine "second" label, the D2 from DeLille is no wimp. Alcohol is listed at a hefty 14.7%, and the blend – 55% Merlot/39% Cabernet Sauvignon/4% Cab Franc/2% Petit Verdot – would stand proudly alongside most winery's top wines. This has it all, sappy, tangy fruit, a mix of blue and purple; streaks of herb and leaf; smooth but firm tannins, and a buttery coating over the polished tannins.

The passage of time inevitably redefines our impressions of things. Songs, movies, paintings, theater, dance – all these and more can age well or badly. They may look outdated and tired, or they may acquire a new luster with the passing of time. Timelessness is the word we most often attach to great art.

Individual wines are ultimately going to fade with time. But the reputation and credentials of a winery can continue to grow, if the people involved at every level are willing and able to take the long way home.

1 comment:

Rand Sealey said...

Yes, DeLille Cellars is a winery that consistently produces excellent wines across the board, something few wineries achieve.

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