"Washington Wines Pack High Alcohol Wallop, Little Else," John Mariani.
What astounding ignorance on Mariani's part. He picks *three* high-alcohol wines (2 giant cabs and a big Bordeau) by two wineries and generalizes about 1-dimensionality of the wines from >750 producers in 13 AVAs?
Thankfully, the hit piece disclaims: "The opinions expressed are his own."
This sounds like what our friends in Gaul used to say about California...
re: Ricardo Malocchio
Danger! Danger! Warning, Will Robinson -- vast generalizations approaching . . .
/ / / / /
a) The average Merlot from Washington State is much better than the average Merlot from California.
b) The very finest Washington State reds -- Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah -- will cost less than their California counterparts of equivalent quality.
My personal favorites are Andrew Will, DeLille, L'Ecole No. 41, and (the expensive) Quilceda Creek. Other wineries I like include Cadence, Chinook, Dunham, Eroica, Hedges, Isenhower, K Vintners, McCrea, Northstar, Reininger, Thurston Wolfe, Waterbrook, and Woodward Canyon, among others . . .
Part of the problem for me is lack of availability of WA wines (I'm in Mass, and cannot order from out-of-state despite certain court rulings and Drew Bledsoe's righteous complaining).
And the ones that are available? Kinda expensive. Like more than the handful of BDXs I still purchase that don't pack the "high alcohol wallop" (Poujeaux or Cantemerle or even Chasse-Spleen that's a bit more extracted than I tend to like).
The one wine that was foremost in my mind here is Quilceda Creek. It is widely available here, though quite costly as you note, and among the few WA wines I have some experience with.
And, for my palate, it certainly packs an (unappetizingly) high alcohol wallop. And, as well, an extreme amount of oak. High ABV - say over 14% - can still be an attribute of a balanced wine, but that level of oak treatment ALWAYS puts me off. It obscures terroir, as well as varietal typicity. It may cover up a myriad of sins, but it also obscures nuance and the subtle complexity of what might otherwise constitute a great wine.
That headline clearly paints with too broad a brush, but I think there's a kernel of real truth in this criticism.
re: Ricardo Malocchio
Hi, RM: "...there's a kernel of real truth in this criticism."
Yes, like all myths and stereotypes, there is a kernel of truth. Sit down for this one because it is a Secret of the Ancients: If you pick a high ABV wine, it's going to have a high ABV, and may be out of balance. Secret #2: Secret #1 applies in France, Greece, California, South Africa, New Zealand, even Washington.
For me as a winemaker, the more interesting question is why anyone would choose to make monster ABV wines. Like Nancy Kerrigan's plaintive cry when she was kneecapped, I scream "WHYYYYYYYYYYY?" I mean, many things can go wrong by dint of fate, error and oversight to put your wine out of balance, but you typically have to work *hard* to push a wine as high as 15%.
The answer, IMO, is the quest for ratings. The Maryland Wine Satan, his winged monkeys and the class they favor (strictly not for money, don't you know) have steered the market and popular wine culture toward high ABV. When a maker sees a competitor's wine--with little difference in the berries, terroire, viniculture, etc.--given high 90s and command $75 or more a 750, and their more food-friendly wine fall like carrion to the liquidation market, what do you think happens?
The Mariani article reminds me of the parable of the blind wine critics and the elephant. I was in the Cook Islands a few years ago, and Lo!, I couldn't find a non-NZ wine to save my ass. And all of the Kiwi wines I had there were piss-poor. Is there therefore a "kernel of truth..." to the generalization that NZ wines are piss-poor?
I buy Quilceda's used barrels on occasion, and I can tell you that not one has been played out to neutral, i.e., there's substantial oak left. I use them because they come pre-loaded with the *best* malolactic bacteria, but there's usually enough oak left in them to do the job I want.
It really is a shame you Easterners have a difficult time obtaining a better variety and selection of Washington wines. My bet is that Mariani didn't do his homework, and may never have set foot outside Seattle.
What is the writer referring to here?:
"Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, is a much- ballyhooed cult favorite that sells in stores for between $300 and $400. At 14.9 percent alcohol and a decade old it was a blockbuster, but once it exploded in the mouth, there was no finish of any kind."
I can't find a reference to a winery called "Columbia Valley" anywhere. Quilceda Creek produces Cabs from that AVA in that price range. Is that what this guy is talking about? Typo or poor writing?
Ridiculous article. I've had more well-balanced moderate abv Washington wines than I can count.