I recently had an interesting experience with vintage variation. I had in my possession, two bottles of K Vintners Northridge Merlot (Wahluke Slope, WA). One, a 2012 and the other 2011. I decided to open 2012 first and what I got was a powerful, nearly over-the-top-fruit Merlot. It had balance and was well made, but it smacked of a Robert Parker (retired now) high-scoring wine. It was loaded with ripe currant and dark cherry notes with a touch of chocolate underneath. It was good, but it was starting to go south as far as aging is concerned. It was ready to drink and I’m glad I popped the cork when I did. If you happen to have one, I suggest you drink it soon. The bottle I enjoyed was properly collared, so that was not an issue. To my point, the other K Vintners Northridge Merlot was 2011. I was a little worried this one was on its last legs so I needed to consume it soon.
I popped the cork on the ’11 and was totally shocked at the difference between the two vintages. I would say they were polar opposites. The ’11 had vibrant acidity that carried the wine front to finish on the palate. Notes of violets, tobacco, plums and cherries. It was mouthwatering, structured and balanced. It could easily age another five years. How can a wine from the same producer and the same vineyard site be so different? Vintage!
2012 was considered a great vintage in Washington State and 2011 was a tough vintage. Many of the ’12s received top scores from wine critics. Most were open-knit and ready to be consumed. 2011 was a cool and wet year, challenging the winemaker’s ability to deal with fruit that was phenolically challenged. Granted, many winemakers are up to the challenge of a tough vintage. A lot of the wines from 2011 did not receive high acclaim from critics. However, it was obvious that they needed some age on them if they were going to show their stuff. I have had quite a few reds from the 2011 vintage in Washington State and they are really starting to come out of their shell. It is exciting to me when a winemaker lets the vintage speak in the wine. Charles Smith did a fantastic job with the 2011 K Vintners Northridge Merlot. the ’12 was exactly what one might expect from that vintage and Charles is never shy about making unctuous reds. However, he didn’t attempt such an approach with the ’11 vintage and the result was a wine that I hope to get my hands on again and give it some more cellar time.
I am very excited today, because I am going to open some older Rieslings with some friends of mine that are even more geeky about Riesling than I am. We are talking a ’93 and ’96 Riesling from Alsace. Riesling from this region of the world is notorious for being able to age for many years. We will find out today, how they have held up and I am certain that you will hear the results either in this segment or a separate article. We are also going to open a ’94 Pinot Gris from Alsace. I am very curious about this one because I have never even considered aging a Pinot Gris. However, it is from Alsace and it is from a top producer. I am super stoked.
Stan The Wine Man