Tag Archives: Decanter World Wine Awards

Book Review — Washington Wines and Wineries

A few thoughts on Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide by Paul Gregutt.

Overview

The Washington wine industry is the second largest producer of premium wine in the United States behind California with more than 900 wineries and over 350 vineyards.

Top 100 lists from publications like Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast are frequently dotted by Washington wines including the 2005 Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon that was named the #1 wine on Wine Spectator’s 2009 list. Numerous Washington wines from Quilceda Creek, Cayuse and Leonetti have earned perfect 100 point scores from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

In 2014, the 2011 L’Ecole Ferguson won Best Bordeaux Blend in the World at the Decanter World Wine awards.

Yet, while you can easily find literally hundreds of books to learn about California wine, the pickings on the people, places and wines of Washington are much more slim.

Thankfully, Paul Gregutt, a former columnist for The Seattle Times and Wine Enthusiast, has helped fill that gaping hole with the best reference standard to date about the Washington wine industry.

With the first edition released in 2007 and an updated, expanded 2nd edition released in 2010, Gregutt’s work is broken into two parts.

Part one includes a brief history of the Washington wine industry from Walla Walla’s first plantings in the 1860s, W.B. Bridgman’s 1917 plantings of Vitis vinifera on Snipes Mountain, to the rise of Associated Vintners and the birth of the modern Washington wine industry in the 1970s & 1980s. In the first edition, Gregutt also discusses the 1825 plantings at Fort Vancouver.

An example of the varietal pages where Gregutt list some of the best Washington examples of several varieties (like Cabernet Franc)

Gregutt then moves into a chapter exploring the (then) 11 AVAs of Washington. Since 2010, the number has grown to 14 AVAs with Naches Heights (2011), Ancient Lakes (2012) and Lewis-Clark Valley (2016) joining the ranks with The Burn likely to soon follow.

The third chapter goes into the major grape varieties grown in Washington State, profiling the wine regions, flavor characteristics and top producers for many of the nearly 70 different grape varieties grown in Washington. Gregutt hits not only the big varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot but also touches on the history and importance of Riesling in the Washington wine industry as well as some of the more obscure but notable varieties grown such as Chenin blanc, Roussanne, Viognier, Barbera, Counoise, Petite Verdot, Tempranillo and Zinfandel.

The final chapter in Part 1 examines 20 of Washington’s most important vineyards, including many that would be considered the “Grand Crus” of the state such as Boushey Vineyards, Champoux and Ciel du Cheval. In each profile, Gregutt talks not only about the history and terroir of the vineyards but also notes which grape varieties and wineries tend to showcase each vineyard’s unique qualities.

Betz, one of the Five Star Wineries profiled by Gregutt.

In Part 2, Gregutt profiles over 200 different Washington wineries–breaking them into categories like Five Star wineries (such as Betz, Cadence, L’Ecole, Quilceda Creek and Woodward Canyon), Four Star wineries (like Boudreaux Cellars, Gordon Brothers, Hedges and Sheridan Vineyard), Three Star wineries (like àMaurice, Apex, Camaraderie Cellars, Chinook, Gamache, Kiona, Otis Kenyon and Tagaris) and then finally Rising Stars (like Efeste, Hestia, Lost River, Doubleback and Whidbey Island Winery).

Some Things I Learned

In the history chapter, I was particularly fascinated with the era following Prohibition where liquor laws that still severely restricted access to hard alcohol and cocktails discouraged the nascent Washington wine industry from focusing on dry European-style wines in lieu of producing sweet, fortified wines.

The rise of Merlot in the 1990s was also an interesting read, especially hearing that Jed Steele, while consulting winemaking for Northstar Winery, was promoting the Walla Walla winery as “Washington’s answer to Ch. Petrus.” I enjoy Northstar quite a bit but I think we should forgive Steele of the hyperbole.

In the AVA chapter, I developed more of an appreciation for the “workhorse wine regions” of the Wahluke Slope and Horse Heaven Hills that often get overlooked in favor of the “Sexier AVAs” of Red Mountain and Walla Walla. With more than 80,000 acres, the Wahluke Slope is responsible for around 15% of all the wines produced in Washington while the Horse Heaven Hills is responsible for 25%–and was also home to the state’s first 100 point wines from Quilceda Creek’s Champoux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.

Even at 14 years of age, this 2003 Gorman Pixie Syrah from Red Mountain still had that zesty lemon-lime note Gregutt describes along with some gorgeous bacon fat!

In Chapter 3, Gregutt does an outstanding job explaining the typicity and unique characteristic of grape varieties grown in Washington soils which are invaluable for folks studying how to blind taste. I know now to look for things like the blueberry and light-olive notes of Cabernet Franc, the distinctive “streak of lemon-lime zest” in Washington Syrahs and the mix of Japanese pears and green apple flavors that tend to show up in the state’s Pinot gris wines.

Wines I Want to Try Because of This Book

Throughout Washington Wines, Gregutt name drops many intriguing wines (particularly in the grape variety and wineries chapters). But after reading Gregutt’s book, I think I’m most interested in doing comparative tastings of Washington terroir.

One tasting that particularly intrigues me is investigating the 10 different Wahluke Slope Vineyards manage by the Milbrandt family–including Northridge, Sundance, Clifton Hill, Pheasant, Katherine Leone and Talcott Vineyards. Ideally I’d want to compare with the same variety (like Merlot or Syrah) and find as many vineyard designated examples from the same winery as I can. Looking on Wine Searcher, I see that Bunnell Family Cellar and Charles Smith’s K Vintners have some individual bottlings from these vineyards.

The history geek in me would also love to try a Muscat of Alexandria from the 1917 W.B. Bridgman plantings in what is now Upland Vineyard on Snipes Mountain.

New Reading Recommendations I Got From This Book

Because Gregutt was blazing new trails in this in-depth overview of the Washington wine industry, there wasn’t a lot of other source material that he could point uber-geeks like me to.

From a historical perspective, it’s worth seeking out Leon Adams’ Wines of America which included the first critical acclaim of a Washington wine–a 1966 rosé of Grenache made by Associated Vintners.

One book that Gregutt does cite is The Wine Project: Washington State’s Winemaking History by Ron Irvine and Walter Clore (“The Father of Washington Wine”). This was actually a required text book during my time at the Northwest Wine Academy when I was earning my wine production degree. Prior to the 2007 release of Gregutt’s Washington Wines, this was virtually the only book that seriously looked at the Washington wine industry.

Final Thoughts

In the very first chapter, Gregutt recounts a story from Master of Wine Bob Betz about promoting Washington wine on the East Coast of the United States. One time after a long presentation about the history of the state, the many AVAs and grape varieties grown in Washington, Betz opened the session up for questions from the audience. The first query he got was someone wondering on what side of the Potomac were Washington’s wine grapes grown.

That anecdotal story encapsulate very well the issues that the Washington wine industry has in distinguishing itself–not only on the world’s stage but also at home in the United States where California casts a very long shadow. Throughout Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide, Paul Gregutt does an outstanding job highlighting the terroirs, wineries and people that make Washington unique.

It is not only a must-read for people who want to learn more about the 2nd largest producer of American wines but also for folks who have already discovered and fallen in love with the bounty of wines that Washington offers.

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Book Review — Washington Wines and Wineries

A few thoughts on Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide by Paul Gregutt.

Overview

The Washington wine industry is the second largest producer of premium wine in the United States behind California with more than 900 wineries and over 350 vineyards.

Top 100 lists from publications like Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast are frequently dotted by Washington wines including the 2005 Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon that was named the #1 wine on Wine Spectator’s 2009 list. Numerous Washington wines from Quilceda Creek, Cayuse and Leonetti have earned perfect 100 point scores from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

In 2014, the 2011 L’Ecole Ferguson won Best Bordeaux Blend in the World at the Decanter World Wine awards.

Yet, while you can easily find literally hundreds of books to learn about California wine, the pickings on the people, places and wines of Washington are much more slim.

Thankfully, Paul Gregutt, a former columnist for The Seattle Times and Wine Enthusiast, has helped fill that gaping hole with the best reference standard to date about the Washington wine industry.

With the first edition released in 2007 and an updated, expanded 2nd edition released in 2010, Gregutt’s work is broken into two parts.

Part one includes a brief history of the Washington wine industry from Walla Walla’s first plantings in the 1860s, W.B. Bridgman’s 1917 plantings of Vitis vinifera on Snipes Mountain, to the rise of Associated Vintners and the birth of the modern Washington wine industry in the 1970s & 1980s. In the first edition, Gregutt also discusses the 1825 plantings at Fort Vancouver.

An example of the varietal pages where Gregutt list some of the best Washington examples of several varieties (like Cabernet Franc)

Gregutt then moves into a chapter exploring the (then) 11 AVAs of Washington. Since 2010, the number has grown to 14 AVAs with Naches Heights (2011), Ancient Lakes (2012) and Lewis-Clark Valley (2016) joining the ranks with The Burn likely to soon follow.

The third chapter goes into the major grape varieties grown in Washington State, profiling the wine regions, flavor characteristics and top producers for many of the nearly 70 different grape varieties grown in Washington. Gregutt hits not only the big varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot but also touches on the history and importance of Riesling in the Washington wine industry as well as some of the more obscure but notable varieties grown such as Chenin blanc, Roussanne, Viognier, Barbera, Counoise, Petite Verdot, Tempranillo and Zinfandel.

The final chapter in Part 1 examines 20 of Washington’s most important vineyards, including many that would be considered the “Grand Crus” of the state such as Boushey Vineyards, Champoux and Ciel du Cheval. In each profile, Gregutt talks not only about the history and terroir of the vineyards but also notes which grape varieties and wineries tend to showcase each vineyard’s unique qualities.

Betz, one of the Five Star Wineries profiled by Gregutt.

In Part 2, Gregutt profiles over 200 different Washington wineries–breaking them into categories like Five Star wineries (such as Betz, Cadence, L’Ecole, Quilceda Creek and Woodward Canyon), Four Star wineries (like Boudreaux Cellars, Gordon Brothers, Hedges and Sheridan Vineyard), Three Star wineries (like àMaurice, Apex, Camaraderie Cellars, Chinook, Gamache, Kiona, Otis Kenyon and Tagaris) and then finally Rising Stars (like Efeste, Hestia, Lost River, Doubleback and Whidbey Island Winery).

Some Things I Learned

In the history chapter, I was particularly fascinated with the era following Prohibition where liquor laws that still severely restricted access to hard alcohol and cocktails discouraged the nascent Washington wine industry from focusing on dry European-style wines in lieu of producing sweet, fortified wines.

The rise of Merlot in the 1990s was also an interesting read, especially hearing that Jed Steele, while consulting winemaking for Northstar Winery, was promoting the Walla Walla winery as “Washington’s answer to Ch. Petrus.” I enjoy Northstar quite a bit but I think we should forgive Steele of the hyperbole.

In the AVA chapter, I developed more of an appreciation for the “workhorse wine regions” of the Wahluke Slope and Horse Heaven Hills that often get overlooked in favor of the “Sexier AVAs” of Red Mountain and Walla Walla. With more than 80,000 acres, the Wahluke Slope is responsible for around 15% of all the wines produced in Washington while the Horse Heaven Hills is responsible for 25%–and was also home to the state’s first 100 point wines from Quilceda Creek’s Champoux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.

Even at 14 years of age, this 2003 Gorman Pixie Syrah from Red Mountain still had that zesty lemon-lime note Gregutt describes along with some gorgeous bacon fat!

In Chapter 3, Gregutt does an outstanding job explaining the typicity and unique characteristic of grape varieties grown in Washington soils which are invaluable for folks studying how to blind taste. I know now to look for things like the blueberry and light-olive notes of Cabernet Franc, the distinctive “streak of lemon-lime zest” in Washington Syrahs and the mix of Japanese pears and green apple flavors that tend to show up in the state’s Pinot gris wines.

Wines I Want to Try Because of This Book

Throughout Washington Wines, Gregutt name drops many intriguing wines (particularly in the grape variety and wineries chapters). But after reading Gregutt’s book, I think I’m most interested in doing comparative tastings of Washington terroir.

One tasting that particularly intrigues me is investigating the 10 different Wahluke Slope Vineyards manage by the Milbrandt family–including Northridge, Sundance, Clifton Hill, Pheasant, Katherine Leone and Talcott Vineyards. Ideally I’d want to compare with the same variety (like Merlot or Syrah) and find as many vineyard designated examples from the same winery as I can. Looking on Wine Searcher, I see that Bunnell Family Cellar and Charles Smith’s K Vintners have some individual bottlings from these vineyards.

The history geek in me would also love to try a Muscat of Alexandria from the 1917 W.B. Bridgman plantings in what is now Upland Vineyard on Snipes Mountain.

New Reading Recommendations I Got From This Book

Because Gregutt was blazing new trails in this in-depth overview of the Washington wine industry, there wasn’t a lot of other source material that he could point uber-geeks like me to.

From a historical perspective, it’s worth seeking out Leon Adams’ Wines of America which included the first critical acclaim of a Washington wine–a 1966 rosé of Grenache made by Associated Vintners.

One book that Gregutt does cite is The Wine Project: Washington State’s Winemaking History by Ron Irvine and Walter Clore (“The Father of Washington Wine”). This was actually a required text book during my time at the Northwest Wine Academy when I was earning my wine production degree. Prior to the 2007 release of Gregutt’s Washington Wines, this was virtually the only book that seriously looked at the Washington wine industry.

Final Thoughts

In the very first chapter, Gregutt recounts a story from Master of Wine Bob Betz about promoting Washington wine on the East Coast of the United States. One time after a long presentation about the history of the state, the many AVAs and grape varieties grown in Washington, Betz opened the session up for questions from the audience. The first query he got was someone wondering on what side of the Potomac were Washington’s wine grapes grown.

That anecdotal story encapsulate very well the issues that the Washington wine industry has in distinguishing itself–not only on the world’s stage but also at home in the United States where California casts a very long shadow. Throughout Washington Wines and Wineries: The Essential Guide, Paul Gregutt does an outstanding job highlighting the terroirs, wineries and people that make Washington unique.

It is not only a must-read for people who want to learn more about the 2nd largest producer of American wines but also for folks who have already discovered and fallen in love with the bounty of wines that Washington offers.

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Wine Competitions — Should Wine Drinkers Care?

The 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang has wrapped up. However, the medals will be flowing all year long in the wine world.

So far this year we’ve had the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition give out over 4000 gold, silver and bronzes. Meanwhile, the American Fine Wine Competition announced 14 pages worth of winners. Oh and the Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition also gave out a hefty haul of hardware.

Still to come:

Finger Lakes International Wine Competition (March)
Sommelier Wine Awards (March)
California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition (March)
Seattle Wine Awards (April)
International Wine Challenge (April)
International Rose Championship (April)
Decanter World Wine Awards (May)
Los Angeles International Wine Competition (May)
Dan Berger’s International Wine Competition (May)
Concours Mondial de Bruxelles (May)
International Women’s Wine Competition (July)
And oodles and oodles and oodles more.

There are so many competitions out there giving wineries boatloads of awards that I’m honestly surprised that Oprah has not gotten in on the action with her own wine competition.

YOU get a medal! YOU get a medal! Everybody’s getting a MEDAAAAAAAAL!!!

God knows how many medals the Tasters Guild International Wine Judging gives out.

Unlike the Olympics where there is a finite amount of medals awarded for each event, wine competitions can give out virtually a limitless number–which stack the odds in a winery’s favor.

In 2015, Victoria Moore of The Telegraph noted that of the nearly 16,000 wines entered in the Decanter World Wine Awards, around 70% won some kind of award. At the International Wine Competition (IWC) they gave out 490 golds, 2,110 silvers, 3,426 bronzes and 3,668 commended awards.

For their 2012 event, W. Blake Gray of Palate Press highlighted that the San Francisco Chronicle Competition (one of the largest and most recognized wine competitions in the US) gave medals to more than 80% of the wines entered.

Who benefits from all these competitions?

I don’t think you can be blunter than Master of Wine Sarah Jane Evans in her article “So you want to be a wine judge?”

Remember that ultimately you are doing the judging for the winemaker and brandowner. They want to enter or remain in your market, and the medals and scores enable them to do so. Like a good parent or teacher, try to find the good points in any wine. — Sarah Jane Evans 2/20/2018 WSET Blog

Wine competitions are all about marketing for wineries. Paying a $55-175 entry fee per wine and sending in 4 to 6 bottles is pretty darn cheap economics if you happen to strike gold (pun intended). Even a lowly bronze medal has benefit for wineries.

Not Mortally Flawed.

Granted, it mostly plays off the ignorance of wine consumers who assume that winning a bronze medal meant that the wine was the 3rd best out of thousands. Most folks don’t realize that a bronze often says that a wine was “not mortally flawed”–as Lenn Thompson of The Cork Report describes. In that same post, Thompson goes on to explain why he and his team no longer participate as judges for wine competitions.

Plus, you can take that obscure award you won 7 years ago and use that sticker for everything.

Think of how much mileage that Gallo has gotten off of touting the 2000 medals that their Barefoot brand has won from entering practically every wine competition in existence? It doesn’t matter if they were gold, silver, bronze or whatever. Likewise, Constellation Brands widely advertises their 50+ gold medals (from whom?) for their Black Box wines.

Gallo and Constellation didn’t become multi-billion dollar companies by throwing away money. They know there is a benefit in flooding wine competitions with their wines.

There is also a strong argument that the competitions themselves are the biggest beneficiaries–generating revenue from not only entry fees but also sponsorship & naming rights (for instance, the San Francisco Chronicle Competition is not run by the newspaper, they’re merely a sponsor), tickets to tastings featuring award winners and selling medal stickers to wineries.

Is there any value for consumers?

A little…

The shiny stickers are very pretty though.

You have to start with acknowledging that, as Ronald Jackson notes in Wine Tasting: A Professional Handbook, the purpose of wine competition is to increase market awareness for wineries–to get your attention. They don’t exist for the benefit of giving you an unbiased and objective recommendation of what to drink.

It’s okay to give them that attention and maybe even buy their wines to try. Just like with everything in life, you will never know how much you like something until you try it. If being curious about a medal winner is a reason for you to trade out your same ole, same ole for something new then go for it.

But you should keep a few considerations in mind.

1.) Know that it’s okay to disagree with the results — because most likely the judges themselves disagreed after 30 minutes

Any post about wine competitions would be remiss without acknowledging the studies by Robert Hodgson into how inconsistent judging is at competitions and how seemingly random the results are. Wines that were gold medal winners in one flight of tasting were just as likely to be scored as bronze winners in the next flight by the same judges.

Tasting wine is highly personal and extremely subjective. There are so many things that influence how we perceive a wine and whether or not it gives us pleasure from the ambiance of the room, the glassware, our mood that day, the wine we just had before, etc. Wine itself is also a moving target that not only changes in the bottle but changes in our glasses as well. Plus, just as some of us weren’t great “test takers” at school, some wines simply don’t show well being “tested” on their own and often need the context of food and social occasion to give pleasure.

That is why you have to view wine awards (as well as critic scores) as only a single snapshot of how that wine tasted at that moment to that particular judge. Just like if your friend had this one great bottle of wine at dinner that you have to try, take a wine competition result with the same “your mileage may vary” caveat. While that wine may have been great for them at that one moment, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be great for you and your moment.

2.) Pay attention to who gave out the medals

A Platinum winner that was likely judged by at least 2-3 MWs and Master Sommeliers might be worth taking a look at.

With no offense to Podunk State Fair, there is a bit more cache to having your wines judged by a panel of Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers that competitions like the IWC, Decanter World Wine Awards, TexSomm and a few others regularly have.

Even if MWs & MS are stacking the juries, there is still something noteworthy when you look at the lists of judges for competitions like San Francisco Chronicle Competition and Seattle Wine Awards and see acclaimed writers, sommeliers, educators and winemakers.

Yes, these events still give out way too many medals. Yes, the judging of even highly trained professionals is still subject to vagaries. But if you are going to pay attention to the results of any competition, it’s worth having an idea of who was doing the judging.

Be extremely skeptical of any competition that doesn’t have a published (and updated) list of who their judges were and their credentials.

3.) Give Double Golds a double look

In the Seattle market, the high esteem of the judges and caliber of wines entered into the Seattle Wine Awards gives their Double Gold and Best of Class winners a fair amount of cache.

While all the caveats above about wine competitions being just a single snapshot of a wine hold, there is something to be said when that snapshot involves all the judges of a panel unanimously thinking that a wine is worth a gold medal. This

Then you have “Sweepstakes Winners” and “Best in Show/Best of Class” that often require the wines going through another round of judging with different tasting panels. This is like a second snapshot taken. If a wine does well there, you know that it had to have impressed around a dozen or so people.

The wine still might not be your personal style but the odds of a Double Gold/Sweepstakes winner from a reputable wine competition being “junk” is fairly low.

Don’t be afraid to try the highly touted “Award Winners” but still keep a healthy amount of skepticism–especially if someone is giving you a hard sell on their bronze medal winning wine from the Podunk State Fair.

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Wine Geek Notes 2/27/18 — Wine Competitions

Photo by Javaongsan. Released on Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-4.0I’m doing research on how effective wine competitions are for wineries and how much they may benefit consumers. This is what I’ve been reading today.

Interesting Weblinks

Understanding Wine Competitions (Nov. 2006) by Lisa Shara Hall at Wine Business Monthly.
Great PDF file at the end with listings of several major American Wine Competitions.

The truth about wine awards: why medals don’t mean great bottles (May 2015) by Victoria Moore at The Telegraph.
Interesting stats about the medal award rates at the Decanter World Wine Awards and International Wine Challenge (IWC)

Marketing Matters: Wine Competitions That Help You Sell (October 2007) by Tina Caputo at Wines & Vines.
A pro-wine competition slant, especially in the case of regional wine competitions.

We Won’t Participate as Judges in Wine Competitions: Here’s Why (August 2010) by Lenn Thompson at New York Cork Report.
Talks about some of the behind the scenes vagaries with judging. The story about different judges responding to Brett in wine had resonance for me.

How American Consumers Select Wine (June 2008) by Liz Thach at Wine Business Monthly.
Downplays the role of medals in influencing American consumers’ decision to buy wine. The fact that the #1 influencer for both retail and restaurant consumers is previous tasting experience with a wine is something worth exploring more. Bookmarking this link because this has a lot of good info.

Photo by Concoursmondial © Concours Mondial de Bruxelles - Giuseppe Napoli. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-3.0

Tasting at the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles competition in 2010.


Wine Competition: For Whom the Medals Toll? by W. Blake Gray at Palate Press.
More behind the scenes judging insight and differences in American vs European competitions. Also pointing me in the direction to read more about Robert Hodgson’s studies.

An Examination of Judge Reliability at a major U.S. Wine Competition by Robert T. Hodgson on wineeconomics.org.
The aforementioned study with interesting charts.

Good Ole Fashion Books

Wine Tasting, Third Edition: A Professional Handbook by Ronald S. Jackson.
Chapter 6: Qualitative Wine Assessment goes into the value of wine competitions for wineries and the importance in having judges who are trained in sensory evaluation and experienced in the wine styles they are judging.

The Business of Wine: An Encyclopedia by Geralyn and Jack Brostrom.
Section F: Festivals, Trade Shows and Competition goes into the usefulness of wine competitions for marketers and retailers. Also emphasizes the importance and qualification of the judges.

Wine Marketing & Sales, Second edition by Janeen Olsen, Liz Thach and Paul Wagner.
Chapter 8: Wine Budgets and Pricing goes into the cost associated in entering competitions and their potential impact on wine pricing. Also makes the interesting point that for supermarket wines, having a floor stack is far more valuable than a gold medal.

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