Thursday, March 31, 2011

Is All US Wine The Same?

A lot of wine from California started tasting all the same a few years ago.  Last year it really peaked.  Yes, this is a broad generalization that's unfair to many highly unique and well crafted wines.  But for all the accuracy in representing varietal characteristics CA winemakers are achieving, there is an awful lot of homogeneity out there- and at every price level. 

So, is all wine in the US the same? 

No.  For two reasons:  First, there are all the exceptions - the ones you're reading this blog to find.  But second, California does not represent the sum total of winemaking in this country, despite what those flashy ads would have you believe.  And, so, in an effort to expand our horizons and make new discoveries, we're going to be making a deliberate shift in focusing on wines from Washington to see if a different status quo applies.  Other locales will join in the mix, but the theory is that there are much better values finds to be had in those places not spending so much on marketing.

We've heard of (and tasted and reported on and liked - a lot) some terrific wines from Washington, but mostly from larger producers like Columbia Crest and Chateau Ste. Michelle.  But, like California and Oregon, the landscape of eastern Washington state is littered with smaller, and remarkable, wineries.

Word is that Merlot, Cab, and Syrah can achieve insane heights of drinking pleasure in these parts, so that's what we'll focus on.  To help get us kicked off, here are a couple of reds - one of which merits your immediate attention.


2006 Canoe Ridge Merlot Columbia Valley $9
I think I read somewhere that Time magazine did a round up of the best wines from all 50 states and that it picked this one for Washington.  It's decent and priced right, I'll give it that, but it's no homecoming queen.  But before you discount this completely, a newer vintage of this wine will deliver more freshness and round fruit than this one did.  All things considered, respectable at this price point.

2007 Mercer Cabernet Columbia Valley $20
Well, well, well, what do we have here?  Lovely translucence in the glass - pricey looking, and classy, like Sophia Lauren.  Lofty aromatics moving fast, dancing - an indicator of wanting to be decanted to settle down a bit.  But once it touches your lips - whoa - this is a real wine.  Complex, full flavored, and layered without being dense or chunky.  A lovely, generous wine that unfolds with time and could hold its own against Napa wines triple-plus its price.  Sheer drinking pleasure!


  1. I really like the way you write - it's lively, fun, and gutsy - making it a treat to read your entries. Thanks!

  2. Thanks, Julie! Kinder words never written.

  3. I've had the Canoe Ridge and youre right that its better young. Haven't had the Mercer, but I will soon - as their Merlot is kick ass!

  4. The eloquence of a wine lover... Jerry, your spot on! The Cab contains a hatful of the famed Merlot and a touch of Cab Franc to tease in the nose, finished with judicious amounts of oak and ample time in bottle the 08 is rockin!
    Not biased at all BTW.

  5. Sorry, I meant the 07! 08 not yet released.

  6. Jerry- thanks for the tipcs. The Merlot will be part of a Washington State Up Close piece. Stay tuned!

  7. Chris,

    Looking forward to trying your other wines soon. See you in a couple of weeks!

  8. Washington? It's Napa or nothing for me.

  9. Dear Anonymous,

    Penetrating insight, and not the first time I've heard that phrase. Thanks.

    A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of being the guest of Napa Valley Vintners, the marketing/PR/lobbying association dedicated to the protection of Napa's prestigious reputation (and margins). Though I'm sure other organizations of this type exist elsewhere, I doubt any are as well-funded or aggressively protective of their brand.

    In a nutshell, NVV exists to make sure there are plenty of people out there who use your same phrase. Big props to them for being so effective at it. Knowingly or not, you've been conditioned by a perception management program. And you're not alone. If it weren't for consumers like you, Napa's economic reckoning might be far worse than it's already been. Big props to you for being so loyal to a single source for your drinking pleasure.

    An interesting statistic to leave you with: of all the incredible wine production world wide, New Zealand produces the most expensive wines with an average of around $14 a bottle. Napa? All varietals baked in (including Sauvignon Blancs and other less expensive grapes): $43.


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