2011 vintage – a blanc canvas?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The much-delayed harvest is officially underway in Washington as this announcement from Woodward Canyon (sent yesterday) confirms:

"Crush began at Woodward Canyon’s Walla Walla Valley Estate Vineyard this morning. Four clones of Sauvignon Blanc are being harvested in a field blend.

Rick Small, Owner and Director of Production, is particularly pleased with the quality of the fruit. 'The weather has been perfect, with moderate daytime temperatures and cool nights which have maintained acidity, with low pHs. The fruit is at optimum physiological maturity and we are excited to be bringing it in today.'

In a winery tradition, the Harvest Bell will be rung at the winery when the first load arrives for processing."

It’s not necessarily news when a Washington winemaker, commenting on newly-picked grapes, notes that perfect weather, a perfect climate for wine, etc. etc. has resulted in something akin to “optimum physiological maturity” etc. etc. But when that winemaker is Rick Small, for whom 2011 is his 31st professional crush, the words carry authoritative weight.

As it happens, my column in last Sunday’s Seattle Times was all about Washington sauvignon blanc, a grape that thrives in this state but rarely attracts much acclaim. I am not sure if it is just a matter of the winds of fashion blowing in some other direction at the moment (moscato, anyone?) or if the confusing history of California Fumé/Sauvignon/Chardonnay Wannabe Blanc has somehow polluted consumers’ ability to taste the real deal.

In any event, my Times column did have some praise for current California releases that are doing the grape proud, as well as the best I’ve tasted recently from here in Washington.

“Most of the big California brands include a sauvignon blanc in the lineup, and the price is usually right – around $7 or $8,” I wrote. Continuing: “But few of these deliver anything but rather watery, generic flavors. They are not bad, but not particularly good either.

Some recommended new releases (all under $20) are the 2009 and/or 2010 sauvignon blancs from Benziger, Clos Pegase, Girard, Guenoc, Matanzas Creek, Mondavi, Navarro, Patianna and Voss. As is so often the case, the best value in an under–$10 bottle is Bogle's. Though simply labeled California – meaning the grapes have been sourced from here, there and everywhere – Bogle's 50,000 case offering captures the varietal flavors of pear, tangerine and green apple flavors, with fresh acidity and some finishing spice notes.

Here in Washington we have an embarrassment of sauv blanc riches. Recent (2009/2010) vintages have been very fine for lovers of high acid, peppery/crisp white wines. My top-rated Washington sauv blancs under $10 (in order of preference) are: Barnard Griffin 'Fumé', Washington Hills, Chateau Ste. Michelle 'Columbia Valley', Hogue and Snoqualmie.

My top-rated Washington sauv blancs over $10 (in order of preference) are: Woodward Canyon, Efesté 'Feral', Barrister 'Klipsun', Cadaretta 'sbs', Novelty Hill 'Stillwater Creek', Woodinville Wine Cellars; Stevens, SuLei Cellars, Apex Ascent, Jones of Washington, Ardenvoir, Saviah Cellars ‘Star Meadows’ (an sbs style blend), Chateau Ste. Michelle 'Horse Heaven Vineyard', Guardian Cellars 'Angel' and Waterbrook.”

Given the track record for quality that Woodward Canyon has established with this grape – certainly not the wine it is best known for – a press release such as the one quoted above bodes well for the vintage. At the moment, 2011 in Washington looks to be a little light in terms of quantity, but on track for exceptional quality. Let’s hope the good weather holds.

1 comment:

Sean Horrigan said...

I enjoyed the 2009 Buty "Beast" Sauvignon Blanc from Spring Creek Vineyard the other night. Stunning. Really great on the acid level and crisp. $18.

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