Shop by the numbers. Or rather, shop by one number: 2012, a super vintage.
Consumers have several ways to tell if a wine is good from the outside of the bottle. We can look at the back label to find the name of a trusted importer. We can find brand names we have come to rely upon, or wineries such as Jordan and Honig that have homed in on, and mastered, just two varietals.
Or we can just look for this on the front label: “2012.”
Yes, it was a very, very good year in almost every wine region of the world, especially in the Northern Hemisphere. (In perhaps the wine world’s most iconic region, Bordeaux, though, the wines are less memorable than in many recent years, but still quite good.)
So like the squirrels scurrying about our yards at this time of year, it’s an ideal time to stock up for winter — and beyond — especially with so many sales going on at local stores. But don’t tarry, especially when it comes to domestic reds.
“We’ve spent a lot of years working to keep people interested and spending their small amount of disposable income,” said Mark Vlossak, owner/winemaker at St. Innocent in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. “With 2012, they’re just going to buy the stuff.”
After cooler vintages with smaller yields in 2010 and 2011, vintners enjoyed a bounteous 2012 in quality and quantity. Up and down the West Coast, the weather was picture-perfect.
“2012 gave you everything: purity, structure, complexity,” said Jason Drew, owner/winemaker at Drew Cellars in Mendocino, Calif.
Not only are the pinot noirs from St. Innocent, Drew and their neighbors proving to be stellar offerings, but the cabernets, merlots and syrahs I’ve tasted from Washington and California have been almost uniformly excellent.
I’ve always been a big believer in shopping by brand rather than vintage, recognizing that really good vintners can shine in any season’s conditions. But for 2012, even in the under-$12 world, the quality is higher than usual; boxed wines in particular are benefiting from the quality of that year’s conditions. (If you get a mediocre 2012 wine, it might be time to shop around for another label.)
And the more we move up the price scale, the more we can rely on getting something special.
“My impression is that in 2008 [Oregon’s last ballyhooed vintage], if you didn’t make great wine, you need to find something else to do,” Vlossak said. “Now with 2012, I’m not sure the quality was quite as ubiquitous, but the smart people made really, really good wine. There’s also a difference in that 2012 is a textural thing, not exactly richness but breadth in the mid-palate.”
All of that means that the wines are wondrously ready to drink upon release (and a lot of the major higher-end brands are just hitting the market) but have the right stuffing to benefit from cellaring for a year or three.
Spain’s 2012 red wines hold similar promise, and in Burgundy the quality is very high, but so, alas, are the prices because of scarcity.
As splendiferous as all of these reds are, it’s best to leave room in your budget for another shining light of that year: riesling.
The 2012s from Germany boast extraordinary purity and focus and balance. Plus they’re downright delicious, like so many of their brethren in this stellar vintage.
Somebody hide my checkbook and credit cards, please.
Follow Bill Ward on Twitter: @decantthis