Wine adviser Paul Gregutt says if you're tired of the same-old, same-old varietal wines but don't know how to explore more unusual, experimental and limited offerings, the wine club of your favorite winery is a good place to begin the hunt.
WINERY WINE clubs have proliferated in recent years and come in many forms. Some ship wines on a regular basis, some have a minimum buying option, others just send you an offer and you decide what and when to purchase. These are not the same as the high-profile mailing lists that give consumers access to those fortunate wineries who carefully allocate every bottle from every vintage. Most wineries, even the very good ones, have clubs that remain open to new members and offer everything from across-the-board discounts to rare library releases to parties and other special events.
If you find yourself growing tired of the same-old, same-old varietal wines but don’t know how to explore more unusual, experimental and limited offerings, the wine club of your favorite winery is a good place to begin the hunt. And it’s not just the tiny boutiques that can dazzle your jaded palate with a barrel-fermented riesling or a single-vineyard tannat. Even the biggest wineries offer hidden treasures to their club members.
Chateau Ste. Michelle puts out a series of limited-release wines that are priced quite reasonably. Winemaker Wendy Stuckey, an Australian by birth who specializes in riesling, has put her stamp on the 2010 Waussie Riesling, so named because it is made in a dry style more typical of Australia. Ste. Michelle makes up to nine different rieslings already, but Stuckey’s take on the grape is unique and flavorful, juicy and crisp, loaded with citrus and mineral highlights. Suggested retail is $17.
She also has made a limited-release 2010 Viognier, fermented and aged in a large oak barrel called a fuder. It sells for $15. Among a selection of red-wine club offerings, I most enjoyed the 2008 Stone Tree Vineyard Syrah ($36) and the 2008 Mourvèdre ($25), a wine whose vibrant fruit and toasty oak flavors suggested that it may originally have been destined for one of the winery’s prestigious red blends.
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As a comparison, I opened up a flight of single-vineyard club wines from Clayhouse winery in Paso Robles. Clayhouse, along with Washington’s Cadaretta, is part of the Middleton Family Wine group. The Clayhouse wine club, named the Red Cedar Society, offers wines sourced from the estate vineyard. For a rundown of all the options and club rules, see its website (www.clayhousewines.com/wine-club/).
I tasted the grenache blanc along with a white Rhône blend called Cuvée Blanc (each $23), and four reds: a tempranillo, malbec, tannat (each $35) and petite sirah ($23). I don’t believe I have ever had a domestic tannat, but it’s a perfect example of the unexpected discoveries that wine clubs offer their members.
I cannot offer you a complete “best of” list of West Coast wine clubs, or anything close. But thanks to my knowledgeable and opinionated Facebook friends, I am happy to pass along the following recommendations as a starting point. Feel free to write me with more of your own and I’ll do a follow-up on my blog.
In Washington, high praise for the clubs of Buty, Covington Cellars, Dunham Cellars, Glencorrie, JM Cellars, Syncline, Trust, Va Piano and Walla Walla Vintners.
In Oregon, the Carlton Winemakers Studio Liquid Synergy Wine Club gets high marks for small-production wines from up to a dozen producers; David Hill (a personal favorite) is lauded for always including new wines in the mix; and Raptor Ridge “spoils club members with an estate gruner veltliner and single-vineyard pinot designates.”
In California check out Bonny Doon, Cliff Lede, Navarro, Ridge ATP and Tablas Creek.