a look back and a glimpse ahead

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

In just a few weeks I will celebrate 10 years of writing a weekly wine column for the Seattle Times. At the conclusion of my first year, I wrote a Christmas Day wrap up entitled “Gifts and Blessings.” I thought it interesting to look back at some of what I was thinking, and add a current comment or two (in boldface).

“Today is a day for opening gifts and counting blessings, and in the words of my favorite fictional hero, Captain Jack Aubrey, ‘I give you joy of them.’ As we prepare to embark on a new year’s worth of wine adventuring, here is the course I would like to sail together.

A wine journalist is a bit of a wandering comet; riding in from the outer limits, streaming past the steady orbits of the grape growers, the vintners, the négociants, importers, distributors, wholesalers, retailers and marketers; extracting from the fruits of all of their labors the best information, the most interesting anecdotes, the most thrilling wines and above all the very best wine values, always with the reader’s interest foremost in mind.

Here in Washington we are situated in one of the most wine-rich environments on the planet. We have close at hand the exciting wines of an emerging, world-class wine region, the Pacific Northwest. We have ready access to virtually all the wines of California. Thanks to the diligence of dozens of small importers and distributors, our wine shops and grocery stores are well-stocked with many of the great wines of France, Italy, Germany, Portugal and Spain; along with exciting New World wines from Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina. Hunt around a bit and we can even find bottles from Greece, South Africa, Austria and other far-flung, but improving, wine regions. It is difficult to imagine any place with better access to such a broad representation of the world’s great wines.”

Still true. And in the past decade, both the quantity and more importantly, the quality of both Washington and Oregon wines have improved dramatically. The region’s reputation among those who take the time to taste the wines, whether by visiting the Northwest, or seeking them out in their local markets, has grown considerably. Even the major pubs and critics are taking notice of the amazing QPR (quality to price ratio) of the region’s wines. BUT... the vast majority of the wine world outside the U.S. remains focused on Napa, with little interest or knowledge of wines from the rest of California, let alone the rugged frontier that lies to the north.

Continuing with the quotes from 2002: “Here are a few more gifts I’d like to see the industry place under next year’s tree:
1) An end to so-called “Reserve” wines that aren’t. Reserve is an unregulated word, which means anyone can put it on the label of any wine they sell. Consequently, it is absolutely meaningless. (Still true, sadly.)
2) Stop labeling wines fumé blanc. It’s sauvignon blanc, thank you very much. There is no grape called fumé blanc, nor any identifiable style of sauvignon blanc consistent with that name. It just creates confusion. (Happily, fumé blancs seem to be vanishing.)
3) Stop worrying about vintage ratings. Good wines are made by good wineries even in difficult years. It’s the producer, not the vintage, that matters most.” (Truer than ever. And I do believe more and more consumers are coming to realize this.)

In 2012, if the courts agree, the state of Washington will finally say goodbye to post-Prohibition laws that stifle choice, access, and competition. Consumers will benefit. And the changes will be felt across the spectrum of producers, wholesalers, and retailers. Personally, I embrace change. I can’t wait to see what happens.

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