After a vintage like 2008, when everything went right and there was excellence across the board, 2009 presented problems for Oregon vintners. They had to be nimble to respond to a hot summer and early September rains that put considerable pressure on the vineyards. In a compressed vintage, the ripeness could easily get out of hand.
Now that I have tasted more than 150 wines (and published reviews of some five dozen, with at least as many more to come), I am beginning to get a handle on how the wines came out. It's not easy, because it's all over the board. I am tasting light, zingy, delicate wines from some producers, and dark, rich, plush ones from others. I expect the rest of the wines I taste to fit a similar profile.
As twist-off wine closures become more and more prevalent to prevent the foul effects of cork taint, a critical minority claims to find more wines under screw caps affected by sulfides. A new study from Oregon State University disproves that notion. Researchers tested the same wines under corks and various types of alternative closures in real-world conditions, and found no difference at all.
The study, due later this year, debunks the idea, promoted by screw-cap skeptics, that sulfur dioxide and naturally occurring hydrogen sulfide in wine can get worse or develop into other, nastier-smelling taints, such as dimethyl sulfide, in the low-oxygen conditions of a bottle sealed under a spiral closure. In other words, if you sense these taints in a bottle of wine, blame the winemaker, not the closure.
James Laube and I have a standing joke. In our blind tastings, whenever we pour ourselves a sample from a bottle that feels heavy for its size, one of us is bound to mutter, "It must be a great wine. I can hardly lift it."
Of course, the rule of compensatory judgment suggests that we probably make it tougher on those wines, because it's almost like the wine is bragging. Nobody likes a showoff. Well, apparently, consumers do, because wineries use extra-heavy bottles to send exactly that message—that the wine must be really good, otherwise why would the vintner spend so much on a fancy container?
The bottle of Henschke Hill of Grace 1996 rested in my cellar for about a decade, waiting for the right occasion. It came out Sunday night at the annual dinner I donate, along with my longtime friend Archie McLaren, to the Central Coast Wine Classic auction. Last year's lot centered on Rhône-style wines—French wines from Archie's cellar, Syrah- and Viognier-based bottles of Australia and Washington from mine.
We had some great names in the lineup, including top vintages from Jean-Louis Chave, M. Chapoutier, Paul Jaboulet Aîné and Château de Beaucastel. But the HoG stole the show. As well it should, being the greatest single-vineyard wine in Australia in the greatest vintage there of our lifetime.