The Wine Club and the “Off” Year Conundrum
We’ve all been there; we waited several years to get on a much sought after wineries mailing list and are now receiving a steady allocation… then a bad year hits. Admittedly, that doesn’t happen all that often in California, but it does happen. Take 2011 in northern California. A generally cool summer prolonged the growing season and harvest started very late in most areas. Early autumn rains prompted growers and wineries to pick many varieties at lower Brix. This cool and wet autumn resulted in wines that were atypical of what we have come to expect. Most of us would say in a bad way.
Many of us are used to the big bold Napa Cabs that are the jewels of the yearly allocations we receive from wineries whose clubs we’ve joined. Most of these clubs (especially the most exclusive ones) have a policy of “buy or be dropped from the list.” That leaves some of us in the aforementioned conundrum; do we really want to buy that expensive wine when we know the wine is below the standards we are used to? Well, if you’re like me, you bite the bullet and buy the wine.
I belong to several wine clubs that send me a steady supply of Napa Cabernets from single vineyards that you can’t buy retail. I knew the 2011 vintage was subpar, but it didn’t hit me until I did a vertical of one wineries Napa Cabernet Sauvignon from 2008-2012.
The tasting was blind and done over dinner with a group of friends. At the end, we all voted on our favorites. Of the five wines, one stood out as definitively not as good as the others. It wasn’t bad, but it just didn’t have the depth of flavor of the other four. Sure enough, it was the 2011.
After that dinner, it hit me that I had read about 2011 being an off year and yes, I did have a bunch of it in my cellar. I then put together a plan to taste one bottle each of all 2011 Napa Cabs in my cellar and see what I had. Surprisingly, the first bottle I pulled (which truth be told was more of a Cab Franc/Merlot blend) was quite good. The next two wines that I drank were not. Both had a vegetal quality that I perceived as under-ripe fruit. I’m no expert taster, and I know there’s a term for that quality, but most of us don’t like it in a Napa Cab. One of the wines improved over several hours to become more balanced. It was more like Bordeaux than Napa Cab. The other wine never really came around. But, I finished it over two nights because darn it, I’d paid $95 plus shipping for it.
I guess when you think about it if you really like the wines a producer puts out year after year, buying the very infrequent bad year’s wine is the cost of receiving a steady supply. Yes, it does hurt a little when you’re not enjoying that expensive wine, but just think of the next bottle of that wine from a much better year and all of the pleasure you’ll derive from it. Most of us would say that’s what makes it worthwhile.
What do you do when faced with the "off" year conundrum?