AFTER THREE challenging harvests, the relatively easy 2012 season was welcomed by Washington’s weary grape growers and winemakers.
While you will see primarily 2009, 2010 and 2011 wines in winery tasting rooms and on retailer shelves these days, a few wineries already have moved through those vintages and are into their 2012s.
The 2012 season could not have been more normal, with every step of the viticultural annual growth cycle occurring within a few days of Washington’s long-term average. This was a welcome respite after three years of headaches.
They started in 2009, when a normal growing season ended abruptly with a hard frost on Oct. 10 that halted all growth across the Columbia Valley. About half the grapes had been harvested by that point, and growers scrambled to bring the rest in during the next 10 days to avoid having fruit rot on the vine.
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Spring 2010 started slowly, and the vines never did catch up, with harvest starting 10 days late. It was a struggle to bring in grapes at full maturity. And then just before Thanksgiving, a deep freeze caused widespread damage to vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills.
That freeze left the 2011 vintage short because it takes a year for vines to recover. On top of that, 2011 was even cooler than 2010 (which many winemakers didn’t think was possible). Harvest didn’t start until even later that fall.
So 2012’s normal weather made harvest and subsequent winemaking relatively easy, and we’re just now getting a glimpse of the results. If these early wines are any indication (and the grapes for these three wines came from three different areas), then the 2012 reds you’ll see being released over the next two to three years should be stellar.
Barrister Winery 2012 malbec, Walla Walla Valley, $28: This Spokane winery has been crafting some of Washington’s best reds for a decade, and now it’s exploring malbec, one of the hottest red grapes in the state. This is a gorgeous wine with notes of dark chocolate, black olive and ripe dark plum.
Columbia Crest 2012 H3 cabernet sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $14: The affordable H3 tier from Columbia Crest focuses on fruit from the Horse Heaven Hills, a huge area overlooking the Columbia River and northern Oregon. This luscious cab tastes like it should be twice the price, thanks to complex notes of oak, sage, blackberry and a dusting of cocoa.
Milbrandt Vineyards 2012 Traditions cabernet sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $15: Former Chateau Ste. Michelle red winemaker Josh Maloney now heads up one of Washington’s hottest brands. This is crazy good for $15, with stunning notes of wild strawberry, ripe raspberry and black licorice, all backed with bright acidity and modest tannins. Enjoy with grilled meats or spaghetti and meatballs.
Andy Perdue is editor and publisher of Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.