December 24, 2007

The Bookshelf: A Critic's Gift

Paul%20Gregutt%20%26%20Karen%20Stanton%20toast%20publication.JPG In the miopic eyes of the Euro-Centric VOGs (Viticultural Old Guard), Washington wine remains a bit of a curiosity: exactly two pages in the new World Atlas of Wine while France gets 100. Co-author Jancis Robinson spends enough time in the Pacific Northwest to know better, but she's up against the London-based Mitchell Beazely publishing colossus.

Have no fear: Paul Gregutt to the rescue with a terrific guide devoted exclusively to the products of Washington's vineyards.

Gregutt, my colleague many years ago at Seattle Weekly who currently writes for the Seattle Times and has a lively website of his own, has given us the best gift imaginable: a guide to Washington wines that makes sense of the 500-plus wineries.

Not that Washington Wines & Wineries: The Essential Guide covers every single winery in the state; Gregutt limits himself to the top 100. Most importantly, he also picks the best vineyards, since nothing a winemaker does in the cellar will improve on the raw materials.

In all wine writing, the thing to watch out for is a philosophy that equates winemaking with watchmaking, that wine is something that must needs be "crafted." The "watchmaking" part is the discipline, the intellectual rigor, the sanitation. And, yes, the humility. And humility's what's missing at a lot of wineries. Not just those in Washington, mind you.

Gregutt also gets the history right. He doesn't fall into the oak-lined trap laid by monster wines. He values longevity, solid science and craftsmanship. Yes, he hands out scores, but they're almost irrelevant.

At about the same time Gregutt's book was released, Robert Parker's influential newsletter, The Wine Advocate, came out with a major piece on Washington wines, written not by Parker but by a recently promoted associate, Dr. Jay Miller. Miller knows little about Washington wine and is unfamiliar with the region's history, culture, winemaking traditions, or people. He sprayed high scores with abandon, sometimes making no sense at all (Walla Walla doesn't grow syrah, dude). The industry jumped on the article like thirsty camels, sucking up the praise for “Washington Wine.” and touting Parker scores. But they weren't Parker scores, they were Jay Miller scores. And they were, Gregutt points out, essentially meaningless.

Gregutt's tome doesn't include pictures, though. There's already a fine picture book by photographer Sarah Matthews. Want both? Amazon's got a good package deal.

Posted by Ronald Holden at December 24, 2007 4:09 PM | TrackBack

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Jesus Ron! You've got to get out of belltown ( yes your in France frequently. NO SYRAH IN WALLA WALLA! Come on!

Posted by: constance at January 2, 2008 8:21 PM

Jesus Ron! Where have you been? No Syrah in Walla Walla!

Posted by: Jefe at January 2, 2008 8:18 PM

Touché, Catie!

Posted by: Ronald at December 26, 2007 12:04 PM

Walla Walla doesn't grow Syrah, dude?

Do Forgotton Hills, Pepper Bridge, Cayuse, Spofford Station, Ahler, Les Collines, and Spring Valley Vineyards in Walla Walla know they don't grow Syrah?

Posted by: Catie at December 26, 2007 11:43 AM

Walla Walla doesn't grow Syrah, dude?

Do Forgotton Hills, Pepper Bridge, Cayuse, Spofford Station, Ahler, Les Collines, and Spring Valley Vineyards in Walla Walla know they don't grow Syrah?

Posted by: Catie at December 26, 2007 11:43 AM

Hi, Ron: Thanks for another year of great blogging. I will get a copy of Paul's book.
I have heard him speak at seminars and am
impressed with how down-to-earth he is.

Thanks to your recommendation, I am now reading
'I'll Drink to That'.

Have a great Holiday Season.


Posted by: Betty Frost at December 25, 2007 12:41 PM

I have a love-hate relationship with Washington wines (I buy them because I want to like them), and don't much agree with Gregutt's reviews most of the time (I understand that he's constrained by his job description), but I'd love to see YOUR top-10 list in terms of overall quality. What the heck--let's have your top-20, if you can come up with that many.

Great job on the blog, by the way!

Posted by: Clark Kent at December 25, 2007 10:36 AM
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