Berger: Wine industry style trends

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The national wine judging circuit has ended for 2015, with the last competition held in late November in Sonoma County.

The Grand Harvest Awards attracted more than 1,500 entries, a record, and the judges wound up making the 2012 from Balletto in the Russian River Valley its Wine of Show, an excellent value at $24.

As a judge at about 10 wine competitions this year, I tasted some 2,000 wines double-blind and saw industry style trends that I might not otherwise pick up, some of them fascinating.

Alexander Valley cabernet sauvignon seems to be generally more interesting and better structured than in the past, for example. It helps when the main vintage we tasted was the 2012, a good year for quality as well as quantity.

Moreover, Alexander Valley chardonnays seem a lot better structured than just a few years ago, with good acid levels and a food friendliness that is refreshing.

Another trend that surprised me was the growing vitality of a number of Washington State sub-appellations for high-caliber red wines.

In particular, Walla Walla Valley, Red Mountain, Lake Chelan, Wahluke Slope, Horse Heaven Hills, Columbia Gorge and an especially interesting one, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, are now producing dramatic wines.

Ancient Lakes, a very cool Central Washington area, has only about 1,400 acres of grapes. The area was officially recognized as an AVA in late 2012.

Another trend I saw was in pinot noir, where there is a growing emphasis on more structured wines and less of the excessively ripe, higher alcohol wines. I expected this from the cooler 2010 and 2011 vintages, but was surprised that the trend continued in a warmer year, 2012.

Another trend worth noting was the growing greatness of wines from emerging regions such as Colorado, Michigan, Virginia, New York, and even vinous outposts like New Jersey, Idaho, Wisconsin and Indiana.

In that same vein, northern (cold climate) U.S. wineries that must grow the so-called Minnesota grape varieties have really gotten a handle on how to make them, and wines featuring Brianna, Frontenac and Marquette now are winning gold and silver medals from judges, some of whom were tasting the grape varieties for the first time.

One fad that quickly disappeared was the public demand for Moscato-type sparkling and semi-sparkling wines that raced through supermarkets in 2013 and 2014. By mid-2015, any remaining stocks of these pop wines were being closed out.

Wine of the Week: 2014 Qupé A Modern White, Central Coast ($17). Bob Lindquist has been a master wine maker for decades. Here he offers a medium-weight and most complex white with floral/tropical notes of citrus, chamomile tea (from the spicy white grape viognier) and a broad mid-palate from chardonnay. There is also a Rhône-ish finish because of 22% marsanne. It is best served with seafood with cream or butter.

Sonoma County resident Dan Berger publishes “Vintage Experiences,” a weekly wine newsletter. Write to him at winenut@gmail.com.

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