As we prepare to venture into the New Year, it's impossible to think about wines without taking a look back at years past.
Overwhelmingly, the word I'm hearing most often about the 2012 grape harvest is "normal." That's good news when you consider how challenging the 2010 and 2011 vintages played out in Washington. But more on that in a bit.
First, let's recap 2012. The year started with a cool spring, but the summer weather was near-perfect. Then warm days during September and early October with cool nights and virtually no threat of rain or frost topped things off, resulting in an outstanding vintage in terms of both quantity and quality.
Winemakers throughout the state are sounding very optimistic about 2012. Tim and Kelly Hightower from Hightower Cellars note, "We are very impressed with the high quality of the 2012 vintage. The weather was of the sort that goes easy on a winemaker's worrying soul. Combined with the skills of attentive experienced grape growers, (it) yields grapes ... that can be crafted into wines of elegance, depth and complexity - just what we strive to do!"
From winemaker John Morgan at Lost River Winery: "Two positive aspects of cool nighttime weather were very apparent in the grapes at harvest, these being high acid and deep color. Another result was longer 'hang time,' particularly in white varieties like Chardonnay, leading to more tropical and citrus notes with the bright acid normally associated with more herbaceous flavors. One thing the 2012 vintage will not be is boring."
As we move into 2013 you'll see more 2010 reds being released, as well as some from the 2011 vintage. These were cooler-than-average years, and if you're expecting fruit-forward Washington wines similar to those in years past, forget it.
These vintages are going to be higher in acidity, with much more reserved fruit flavors. They should, however, have excellent food-pairing potential.
The challenge for winemakers will be to create a decent flavor profile from grapes that suffered from a lack of heating degrees, particularly during 2011. The skill levels of Washington winemakers will be tested as consumers discern between the "contenders" and the "pretenders."
New Year's wouldn't be complete without mention of a Champagne or sparkling wine, and local winery Masquerade Wine Company has just released its Evervescing Elephant II for $34.99. A gift box option with two flutes and chocolates is also available.
Give it a try and ring in the New Year in style. Cheers!
Dan Radil is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at www.danthewineguy.com.