Too Many SVs?
Early last week I had the chance to taste among many other wines a flight of three single-vineyard 2008 pinot noir offerings from cult pinot producer Ken Wright. Each vintage sees a release of a slew of single-vineyard releases from Ken Wright; Binny's picked up ten unique bottlings in the 2008 vintage alone.
So I was smirking before I so much as sniffed any of these three wines. I quietly announced to the guy sitting next to me that I'd be blogging about the Ken Wrights, about the overabundance of similar single-vineyard pinots (honestly, I've been sitting on this topic for a while). He passed it on to the guy next to him, and that guy gave me a dirty look and said, sarcastically, "Yeah, Greg, it's always a good plan to make up your mind before you've even tried the wine."
So, with my tail between my legs, I tried the wine.
The three Ken Wright single-vineyard offerings I tasted are all totally awesome. And each is distinctive and unique.
The 2008 McCrone Vineyard is the lightest of the three, with a nose of tight berries and cinnamon and other baking spices leading to a broad, heavy palate extracted raspberry and herbal qualities, and great lift. Next was the 2008 Carter Vineyard, which shows a lot more caramel on the nose, and has more of a dusty, elegant quality. It is darker on the palate, with more weight and a little tannic power. Last was the 2008 Nysa Vineyard, which is by far the most modern and plush of the three, with notes of chocolate covered cherries, milk chocolate, raspberry and blackberry preserves and a sort of briary brush herbaceousness. If I were tasting blind, I would not have guessed any of the three were pinot noir; they're much bigger and darker than I expect from the delicate grape. Aside from that complaint, these three wines are outstanding.
So I mulled it over in my mind for a few days. And then Wine Spectator's Harvey Steiman wrote this blog about the same issue focusing on the wide range of single-vineyard Sauvignon Blanc offerings from Saint Clair in New Zealand (I've had a couple; they're very good). Steiman is frustrated that a winery would make limited bottlings more expensive while sacrificing the quality of the regional blends they would otherwise be part of, especially if they show no additional level of charm or complexity. He writes "The whole idea strikes me as anti-consumer."
I guess so, but consumers can decide on their own if these bottlings are worth the extra money, and consumers can decide if there really need to be so many different single-vineyard offerings. Producers who underdeliver on their value-oriented wines will surely feel the pinch as unhappy customers look elsewhere.
Personally, I prefer a more complex, less expensive wine, and am less inclined to throw extra money at the idea of exclusivity. But at the same time, I certainly do recommend trying Ken Wright's 2008 lineup. It's not a good idea to make up your mind until after you've tried the wine.