By The Glass
Single-source bottlings are crowding field
RECENTLY I was tasting some pinot noir with Gray Hartley, a partner in Hartley/Ositni's Hitching Post Winery.
We were sipping some 2005 Hitching Post Pinot Noir Corkdancer ($25.99), the winery's "entry-level" pinot noir that is a blend of juice from different sources.
I asked Hartley why Hitching Post didn't emphasize single-vineyard designates -- wines from one particular source. His answer: Hitching Post believes that when combining wines from different sources, each contributes something unique to the final wine, resulting in a better wine than if each component were bottled by itself.
Today we see so many single-vineyard designates -- wines that specifically state the vineyard source of the wine. The search for individualism, diversity and terroir (a French term basically referring to the place where the wine originates) is noble. Wine is a lot like people. Each has its own personality and, like people, some wines are preferred by some and not by others. So, yes, making wines from single vineyards is important and a strong trend in today's market.
But I was impressed by just how good Hitching Post's Corkdancer was. Considering that it is the winery's least expensive offering, I started to wonder why more wineries didn't make more blends, instead of bottling a gazillion small lots of single-vineyard designates.
IT SEEMS that we are getting a little out of hand with this plethora of single-vineyard bottlings. For instance, Rosenblum Cellars lists 18 zinfandels on its Web site (for example, Rosenblum Zinfandel Vintner's Cuvée XXIX, $12.99). As a retailer, it is just not practical for me to display and sell all 18. And how many consumers would buy one bottle of each to find out which ones they prefer? How would a person even remember all 18 names?
Suppose Rosenblum were to keep three or four of the best -- truly unique and special -- single-vineyard zinfandels and create a superblend from all the rest? Wouldn't that superblend be pretty interesting?
I'm not trying to single out Rosenblum, but rather using it as an example. It seems that a lot of wineries, especially new ones, are making single-vineyard wines without knowing if those single vineyards are producing anything special.
Realize that single-vineyard designates often sell for more than blended wines. So, naturally, if you are trying to maximize profit (or in some cases, just break even), you would try to promote your piece of land as unique.
My tasting with Gray Hartley started me wondering how many single-vineyard bottlings would be better off used as components in a blend. Where the right balance between blended wines and single-vineyard wines is, I don't know, but I do think that today, California is producing more single-vineyard designates than there needs to be.
Jay Kam is president of Vintage Wine Cellar. This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals.
This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org