Reflections on a Year of Wine

The following article was written by Ryan Messer. Read previous articles by Messer here.

I drink a lot of wine, and prior to 2013, I thought I knew a lot about wine. Last year proved otherwise and taught me two things: to never think I know a lot about something and to never stop learning. I hope you gleaned something of value from my articles last year and learned a little, as I did.

Here are six things I did not have an opportunity to share over the course of last year.

1. Taste Washington - This was my first time attending the annual event in Seattle, founded in 1997. If you do not have an opportunity to frequent tasting rooms, this is a can’t miss experience with over 200 wineries to taste and enjoy. There will inevitably be one or two wineries that will be all the rage. 2013 was the year of Avennia, and I heard no fewer than 20 people say, “You have to try them!”

2. Vineyard management is a year round job – I had the opportunity to participate in classes at Terra Blanca on Red Mountain in spring. We walked the vineyard and discussed pruning in February and bud break in May. One thing I had not realized is that early pruning could delay bud break, when desired, and ultimately allow select fruit to hang longer when needed. The next time you see an offer from a winery to ‘walk the vineyard’ I highly recommend you explore it.

3. Washington wines can age well - While I didn’t necessarily think this wasn’t true, I had not tasted many 15+ year old Washington wines to argue the statement either way. At the new ‘Celebrate Walla Walla’ event (a re-envisioning of ‘Vintage Walla Walla’) numerous wineries opened some lovely library selections. Two that stood out were the 1997 Woodward Canyon Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and the 1987 Waterbrook Merlot - both exceptional at 16 and 26 years of cellar time. During Holiday Barrel Tasting weekend in Walla Walla, Seven Hills Winery poured a pair of 1998 reds. The Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was lovely and the Klipsun Merlot, which they suggested on the original tasting notes that it should cellar well for 5 years, was still showing great signs of life.

4. Cellar doesn’t mean sealed chamber - I had an opportunity to visit Charles Smith’s personal wine cellar this spring. With his knowledge, experience and financial success, I was envisioning an impenetrable structure holding temperature within a tenth of a degree. I was so wrong. Smith explained the beloved juice in bottle was a living thing, always evolving. While the temperature should never spike one way or the other, he did not believe it needed to dwell in a climate controlled environment the industry tells us we should keep it in today. When he asked me how some of the finest wines ever produced could have survived prior to electric refrigeration, I had no retort.

5. The year of the Wineumentary - Three incredible wine documentaries premiered in 2013: SommRed Obsession, and A Year in Burgundy. Each offered an entirely different glimpse into the world of wine. I thoroughly enjoyed all three on their own merit, but Somm was the standout for me. The film follows four Advanced Sommeliers preparing to take their Master Sommelier (MS) exam. Anyone believing they know all there is to know about wine will be humbled and shocked to see what it takes to pass this test. This film led to a fascination with both the title and those willing to sacrifice so much to achieve it.

6. Dinner with a Somm - Following my obsession with Master Sommeliers after watching Somm, I persuaded Greg Harrington, founder and winemaker of Gramercy Cellars and current Chairman of the Court of Master Sommeliers, to teach and taste with a small group of fellow wine lovers. We all learned volumes in a short amount of time about how to properly taste wine and what we should be picking up from the swirl, the smell and the taste. One of my favorite takeaways from the night was the knowledge that a Master Sommelier, while infinitely wiser than me in the world of wine, still has to study, taste and learn, the same as you and I do every year, as terroir and vines evolve, growing seasons change, and new wineries appear. Seven Master Sommeliers currently reside in Washington State; I suggest you seek them out.

I have started a list of goals for myself this year on what I want to learn about wine. If you are more than a modest wine drinker, join me in setting a few goals and learn something new about the juice we love. Here’s to a great 2014!

Sean P. Sullivan

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