With the first six months of 2010 behind us, we are beginning to see wines from the 2009 vintage trickle into winery tasting rooms and onto merchants' shelves.
Last year's vintage was strange, especially for Washington. The growing season began slowly, then warm temperatures helped the vines catch up in a hurry. Then it ended abruptly and historically Oct. 10, when freezing temperatures across the Columbia Valley did widespread damage and forced wineries to bring in any remaining grapes quickly. British Columbia was struck by the same chill, and Oregon did not go unscathed.
White and rosé wines show up first after every vintage, as most of them do not see much, if any, time in oak barrels. Rather, winemakers ferment and age them in stainless steel tanks (with such exceptions as chardonnay and semillon). After a few months -- often depending on whether the prior vintage is sold out -- new wines will be bottled and released.
We have seen some as soon as two months after harvest, though it usually takes three to six months before we see enough new wines to begin to evaluate a vintage. Red wines usually are released 18 to 36 months after harvest.
Take a look at a handful of 2009 new releases we've tasted recently.
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2009 Harvest Select riesling, Columbia Valley, $9: A new style of riesling emerges from the variety's biggest champion. It shoots for a sweet spot of 11 percent residual sugar. An invitation of tropical fruit and Pink Lady apple aromas funnels into fruit cocktail flavors in a medium syrup. Succulent acidity drizzles into a finish of pears.
Patterson Cellars 2009 Late Harvest roussanne, Columbia Valley, $22: A mid-November harvest off Willard Farms near Prosser, and three months of used French oak yeast gave owner/winemaker John Patterson the tools for a fascinating dessert wine. There's a kaleidoscope of descriptors, including apricot preserves, baked pear, grilled pineapple, some brown toast, butterscotch and honey. Orange zest acidity and orange marmalade bitterness keep the residual sugar (18 percent) in balance. Try serving this with peach cobbler.
Alexandria Nicole Cellars 2009 Crawford viognier, Yakima Valley, $20: Inviting notes of lychee, orange Creamsicle and talcum powder turn complex in the mouth with a tropical cocktail feel. Sweet orange flavors, light cream and late citrus make this quite a quaffer.
Rio Vista Wines 2009 Antoine Creek Vineyards viognier, Columbia Valley, $20: John Little's winery is a short boat ride downstream from Wells Dam on the Columbia River, and Ed Haskell's vineyard is nearby. The collaboration features citrus fruit flavors, some midpalate creaminess, then a return of citrus in the finish.
Abacela 2009 Estate albariño, Umpqua Valley, $18: By eschewing oak, winemaker Andrew Wenzl allows a cross-current of fruit to gush out, and the amazingly complex aroma profile includes quince, dusty apple, Circus Peanut candy, orange and pineapple. The annual hallmark of this wine is its bracing acidity and minerality on the entry. And yet there's peach, pineapple, apple and french vanilla flavors, ending with a remarkable lemon cream note.
Tualatin Estate 2009 Semi-Sparkling muscat frizzante, Willamette Valley, $15: Evaluating this release each year comes with perhaps the biggest challenge a wine judge faces -- how do you avoid swallowing? The folks at Willamette Valley Vineyards craft this in such a fun style that it's nearly impossible not to come back for a satisfying sip. Huge tropical notes include lychee and honeysuckle, joined by tangerine, apricot and pear juice.
Cinder Wines 2009 viognier, Snake River Valley, $17: It's no surprise this took Best Idaho Wine at the Northwest Wine Summit. Fascinating aromas start with pineapple upside down cake, blood orange, cottage cheese, alder smoke and creme brûlée. There's tremendous presence in the mouth, with tasty pineapple and apricot.
*Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, a website that provides news and information about the wines of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho.