We're putting the final touches on our annual California Rhône Rangers report on the state's Syrah, Grenacha and Mourvèdre wines, which will run in the March issue, and this is clearly a pivotal year.
The 2007 wines are the best ever from appellations up and down the state, so this is the perfect time to stock up on a great vintage.
The pivotal part of this equation is that once the 2007s disappear, the next two vintages, 2008 and 2009, will be much more variable in quality. And here we're not just talking about Rhône reds such as Syrah, Grenache or Petite Sirah, but other California varietals as well.
Let me say up front that there will be some sensational Pinots, Zinfandels, Cabernets and Syrahs from 2008. But as a vintage, well, I've yet to talk to one winemaker who has said, in effect, I'd love to have another 2008 vintage.
No, 2008 was a re-occurring headache. Spring frosts cut the crop severely and led to an uneven fruit set. Summer fires caused some smoke damage to grape clusters in areas such as Mendocino, and I've already tasted some smoke-tainted wines that should have been sold in bulk and not bottled.
Then there were heat spikes and rainstorms during harvest, prompting some to pick earlier than they might have liked. On top of that, 2008 produced a small crop, which can be a mixed blessing. Short crops can lead to exceptional wines, and surely few vintners need excessive inventory at this stage.
As one Napa winemaker explained to me after the 2008 harvest, "If you only looked at the dates of budbreak [early March] and harvest [early October], 2008 would look pretty much like 2007. It's all the 'in-between' information that made the vintage a dramatic and challenging year."
2009 proved equally challenging and it's too early to know the level of quality (although winemakers are starting to get handle on what they have after malolactic fermentation). But like with 2008, you won't hear winegrowers praying for a repeat of 2009.
What that means for consumers is this: Be more selective when buying 2008s. Early signs are the wines are lighter in body, depth and concentration, without the richness and mid-palate complexity most people prefer in their wines. Fans of more austere wines should be thrilled, though, as many of the wines I've tried so far are dilute, simple and somewhat hollow.
The big focus for many should be on the 2007 Cabernets (and just about anything else from 2007), since they will be on the market this year and offer the best buying opportunity from a grand vintage. Once they're sold—and that could take longer than usual—Cab producers will be in the same boat as other vintners and have to sell their 2008s.
Vintners need be wary of assessing quality in regard to price, as well. I expect most vintners will try to hold the line on prices for 2008 for what appears to be a much lesser vintage. I expect wine lovers will realize the mixed level of quality, focus on the cream of the crop and buy accordingly.
Michael Bonanno — CT — January 15, 2010 8:34pm ET
Don R Wagner — Illinois — January 16, 2010 9:05am ET
Andrew J Walter — Sacramento, CA — January 16, 2010 12:18pm ET
James Baciak — Gainesville, FL — January 16, 2010 10:05pm ET
Brad Schier — Texas — January 16, 2010 11:19pm ET
Adam Lee — Santa Rosa, CA — January 17, 2010 7:28am ET
David Rossi — Napa, CA, USA — January 17, 2010 10:32am ET
Brian Loring — Lompoc, CA — January 17, 2010 5:31pm ET
Tablas Creek Vineyard — Paso Robles, CA — January 18, 2010 2:02pm ET
Adam Wallstein — Spokane — January 18, 2010 5:26pm ET
Donald C Young — des moines,ia — January 19, 2010 3:03pm ET
William J Magister — Milwaukee,WI — January 19, 2010 5:12pm ET
Doug Toler — watsonville, ca — January 19, 2010 11:07pm ET
Jamie Sherman — Sacramento — January 20, 2010 1:44pm ET
Patrick Mullane — san mateo, ca — January 20, 2010 5:03pm ET
Tom & Nancy Brown — Louisville, KY - USA — January 23, 2010 6:58am ET
Dennis D Bishop — Shelby Twp., MI, USA — January 24, 2010 8:18am ET
Don Rauba — Schaumburg, IL — January 24, 2010 10:59am ET
Jeffrey Matchen — New Jersey — January 24, 2010 9:21pm ET
Gisle Sarheim — London, UK — January 26, 2010 10:19am ET
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