The state set a record for wine grapes harvested in 2016. Perfect conditions allowed for a longer season, resulting in red wines that are big, ripe and delicious.
THE 2016 VINTAGE in Washington went down as a record haul in wine grapes, weighing in at 270,000 tons, obliterating the previous vintage’s record of 227,000 tons.
Size does not always equal quality, so it remained to be seen whether winemakers and, ultimately, consumers, would be rewarded when the wines began to arrive on store shelves.
As the first 2016 reds are being released, it appears we’re in for a treat. They are big, ripe and delicious.
Three to try
Here are examples of 2016 reds from Washington, just now arriving in stores.
Barnard Griffin 2016 Syrah, Columbia Valley, $17: Aromas of fresh-brewed espresso, plum and smoked salami give way to smooth flavors of ripe, dark blackberries; dark chocolate; and plum jam. Mild tannins leave you reaching for a second glass and grilled meats.
Ryan Patrick Wines 2016 Redhead Red, Columbia Valley, $15: This syrah-leading blend from the Wenatchee area opens with alluring aromas of spices, plum and black cherry, followed by flavors of blackberries, vanilla and milk chocolate. Track this down at the new Milbrandt Vineyards/Ryan Patrick tasting room in Woodinville.
Intrinsic Wine Co. 2016 Red Wine, Columbia Valley, $25: Leading with cabernet franc, this Ste. Michelle project reveals fresh-cut herbs, mint and black currants, backed by smooth flavors of blackberries, plum and dark chocolate.
For winemakers and grape growers, it all came together in 2016. It was a long, dry season with no problems with frost, disease or other farming issues. When fall arrived, the typical Columbia Valley magic kicked in, with an endless string of warm, cloudless days that persisted through October, giving winemakers the luxury of letting the clusters hang and develop complexity before harvest.
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Winemakers were so thrilled with the quality of grapes when they started to flow in, nobody was interested in leaving any grapes in the vineyards. Thus began a scramble to find tank space to handle a crop that was 5 to 10 percent larger than anticipated.
At least one winemaker told me that while the quality of the 2016 vintage doesn’t quite rise to 2012 levels (my high-water mark of Washington wines), it doesn’t miss by much. In the months to come, as we get the opportunity to sample more 2016 reds, a true assessment of quality will become more apparent.
As this comes into clearer focus, what becomes apparent is that Washington winemakers could have a real bonanza on their hands, with high-quality wines — and massive amounts of it. The Washington wine marketplace could see a longer sales cycle of 15 to 16 months of 2016 reds, rather than the normal nine to 12 months.
I have a lot of 2012 Washington reds in my cellar. With the quality of the 2016 vintage becoming apparent, that will remove any pressure of feeling like I need to wait a couple years before touching the 2012 wines.
This also could mean a leveling of quality from the top to bottom. In other words, wineries traditionally offering wines at the lower end of the price scale will have quality comparable to those at higher prices. And there will be more available.
Leading the way is cabernet sauvignon, which clocked in at an astonishing 71,000 tons, easily making it the most important grape in the state. Arguably, this variety serves as the benchmark for quality because of its prominent role in Napa and Bordeaux. Combined with the potential greatness and girth, the 2016 vintage could further solidify Washington’s place on the world wine stage. Only time will tell.