Saturday, December 31, 2011

My winery and wine of the year

Wine Review Online asks me, along with each of its other writers, to pick a winery and wine of the year each year.

It's never an easy choice, and this year I was stymied by the idea that the wineries and wines I most wanted to pick, I had already raved about. I am very impressed by the turnaround at Barone Ricasoli, but I already wrote that story for WRO. I tasted the best Chardonnay I've ever had this year, from Domaine Romanée Conti, but it costs more than $2000, and I wrote that story too. I didn't just want to write a greatest hits piece.

At the same time, there was a thought I haven't been able to get out of my head. I went to New Mexico this year and had, not just the amazing Gruet Blanc de Noirs that I sent my own non-oenophile family for New Year's Eve, but delicious still Pinot Noir. I didn't leave the airport in Texas this year, but I had McPherson Viognier each time through both Houston and Dallas and just adored it. I had a suite of delicious Michigan Rieslings that made me believe that state is soon going to challenge New York for the best Riesling in the US. These aren't just good regional wines, but great wines, period -- yet if you follow the major ratings magazines, you'd never know it.

I have a longtime irritation with San Francisco sommeliers who refuse to carry California wines for whatever snotty hipster reason. I've been to restaurants where they brag about knowing all the farmers for their produce, yet their wines are all shipped across an ocean. Wine is food. If there's a locavore movement, it should include wine.

This feeling comes to me in San Francisco, but sitting in a Washington DC restaurant where I couldn't buy any Virginia or Maryland wine, it really hit home. California's wine industry doesn't need local support. But the other 49 states' wineries do. They get it in Oregon and Washington -- boy, would I love to spend a week in Portland or Eugene drinking only local wines -- but they can't count on it elsewhere.

So I used the opportunity of Winery of the Year to make a statement that Wine Review Online hasn't run yet; I might put it on my blog next week. My Wine of the Year is related: it's not the very best wine I had in 2011, but one that I hadn't stopped thinking and talking about. I could easily have given both to Domaine Romanée Conti. But like the California wine industry, DRC won't be changed in a positive way by you buying a single case of wine, while my Winery of the Year might be (though it's not Otium).

In 2012, maybe I'll be on the lookout for 100-point wines from Jan. 1 and I'll emphasize one if I find it. But this year, I chose a wine not for its overwhelming awesomeness, but for the power it held over my imagination.

Please drink a decent bubbly tonight. See y'all in 2012.

Read the Wine of the Year piece here. We'll see about Winery of the Year.

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Sophia Katt said...

We appreciate your comment about NW wines and how we locals try to support them because... we really do want to see them succeed.

The most common reason I've encountered for the European/S.A. wine preference vs. U.S. wines in restaurants is the unfortunate fact that lots of cuisines are better accompanied by wines with a lower level of alcohol than 13.5-14.5%, and if you want more than one glass with your meal these wines can make you tiddlier than is necessarily a good idea, especially during a casual dinner.

There are certainly some local wines in the Seattle area that can meet the true 11-12.5% range, but those wines aren't found as commonly, take more time to ferret out vs. the relative ease of spotting European/S.A. wines, and can be boutique priced when restaurants presently need recession-friendly values to lure customers back into the place.

There was a flap over this issue in 2011 when a reviewer called out local (excellent food!) restaurant Sitka & Spruce for the lack of WA wines on their list:

Since I prefer lower alcohol wines myself I routinely bring up the issue with winemakers in the area. Unless there really is something about the chemistry of wine making in the area that absolutely necessitates the 13.5-14.5% levels to "balance" what's in their barrels, I remain a bit skeptical, and a larger portion of my wine rack contains those very same European/S.A. bottles than you might like. Sorry!

W. Blake Gray said...

Sophia: I completely agree with Madeline Dow in the link you provided. It's one thing for a restaurant to claim that it's providing the wines that go best with its food, but quite another for a restaurant to boast about farm-to-table cuisine yet completely ignore local wines.

Washington's climate does generally make red wines under 13% alcohol difficult if not impossible. But I've had plenty of lower-alcohol Washington Rieslings that were great with food and aren't expensive. Pacific Rim is one example; I love their Dry Riesling, and I think it's $10 and widely available.

I had two Languedoc wines last night and might have a Franciacorta tonight, so I'm not drinking only local wines. But I love northern California wines and was delighted to have a couple of balanced, low alcohol yet fruit-forward Cobb Pinot Noirs from Sonoma County this week. Drink globally, but don't ignore your own backyard.

Anonymous said...

Should the link instead be{ts%20'2011-12-01%2000:00:00'} ? (Man, whatta URL!)

W. Blake Gray said...

Yes, thanks for letting me know. Not all sites publish the same way and WRO apparently doesn't have a dedicated landing page for these items. But I know more about Virginia Dornfelder than I do about HTML ...

Anonymous said...

Andy here...

A few comments

First -- Wine Specator has written numerous favorable reviews (and given good to outstanding scores) on Gruet, Virginia, Arizona, Finger Lakes and even Michigan wines. None on Texas wines that I can recall, although I';ve had a few good experiences with Texas wines at DFW.

Second, in Sacramento, which is not snotty at all, there are numerous excellent farm to table restaurants which serve only or predomiately local wine that match well with the food (Grange, Enotria, Mulvaneys, Waterboy come to mind but there are many others). FnB, in Scottsdale AZ does the same with Arizona wines

Finally, if I hear another somm say: "The most common reason I've encountered for the European/S.A. wine preference vs. U.S. wines in restaurants is the unfortunate fact that lots of cuisines are better accompanied by wines with a lower level of alcohol than 13.5-14.5%" as Ms katt said, I think will have to gag myself (and certainly bring my own wines when I eat at their restaurants). There are innumerable 14-15+% wines that go wonderfully with food...its about balance not ETOH

W. Blake Gray said...

Andy: I'm glad to read your second point.

Hey, which one of these should I try to eat at when I'm in Sacramento for Unified?

Anonymous said...

Andy here..

The Waterboy has the best QPR and the Grange has an interesting all California wine list. Press Bistro is even better priced although maybe one notch below the others in quality. If you are a pig lover like I am, then Mulvanys rocks. For something a little less pretentious and expensive, the magpie Cafe is wonderful. All are Farm to Table and have a lot of "local" wine selections. Enjoy....

W. Blake Gray said...

Cool, thanks for the tips. I have to confess that more than 50% of all dinners I've had in Sacramento to this point have been at Raley Field.

jo6pac said...

Thanks for the Sacto places something to try when coming through town

Gerry Dawes said...

I bought a few bottles of Gruet Brut Rose for the holidays. Not quite as good as the Blanc de Noirs, but good nonetheless, especially at the price. We had a bottle with some Spanish / Mexican style (hybrid) clams last night and really enjoyed it.

W. Blake Gray said...

Gerry: Good pairing, I love clams or mussels with chorizo and a slightly sweet bubbly is great with that.

Dana Estep said...

Blake - please share the names and wineries for the Michigan rieslings you liked so much. I'm sure the wineries won't ship to the great state of Pennsylvania with its restrictive laws. However, with my son at school in MI, I'll either have him track them down or look myself when up there for a visit.
thanks Dana