Use caution when buying Washington wines from 2011 vintage

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 15, 2014 

On March 29, I had the opportunity to attend Taste Washington in Seattle.

Co-sponsored by Visit Seattle and the Washington Wine Commission, the two-day Grand Tasting event featured over 200 Washington wineries, 65 Seattle-area restaurants and 50 exhibitors. It was estimated that more than 200,000 wine pours were made from the 800-plus wines at the event.

All I can say is that these people really know how to throw a great party.

That isn't to say everything was picture-perfect. I've got a few gripes to air, so let me get them off my chest this week and then I'll get back to the good stuff.

For the first time in recent memory, I came across more than a few wines, particularly from the 2011 vintage, that fell into the "perfectly average" category. If you follow me on a regular basis, you know I've given you fair warning about this testy, cooler-than-normal vintage, which took its toll on some Washington vineyards.

My experience is that good winemakers have the ability to coax flavors and character from challenging vintage grapes. Marginal winemakers do not.

So be very, very careful when purchasing 2011 wines, especially the reds. Taste first if you can, or follow the lead of critics and recommendations. If not, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment by paying for something that's generally lackluster and underdeveloped.

Which leads me to my second complaint: High prices.

I was shocked by the number of wines at the tasting that were priced over $50, with a fair number in the sky-high $75- to $100-a-bottle range.

Yes, I understand that Taste Washington is an opportunity for wineries to pull out their "big guns" and try to impress people. I'm just not certain how more and more wineries, especially those with little or no winemaking pedigree, feel justified charging, say, $70 or $80 for a bottle of wine. Have consumers simply become blasé about these prices?

That said, I'd like to commend pioneering wineries such as Kiona Vineyards, Chinook Wines, Milbrandt Vineyards, and Pontin del Roza, which offered plenty of solid choices in the $15- to $25-a-bottle range.

I also found a number of excellent wines in that price category from relative newcomers, such as AntoLin Cellars, Airfield Estates, Treveri Cellars, Palencia Winery, Tempus Cellars, and Waitsburg Cellars.

The bottom line: Washington has an incredible array of wines and wineries to choose from. Shop wisely and by all means splurge when you can, but remember that higher-priced wines need to be held to a higher standard.

Next week: Some of my favorite wines from this year's Taste Washington.

Dan Radil is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at danthewineguy.com.

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