Advertisements for the holiday season are just around the corner, and the arrival of the 2016 edition of famed British wine critic Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book provides wine lovers around the world — including the Pacific Northwest — a head-start on gift shopping.
More than 12 millions copies have been sold since Johnson launched it in 1977, but sadly, this edition marks the final contributions of the late Cole Danehower to the Pocket Wine Book. The respected author and wine journalist from Oregon, who served for several years as Johnson’s correspondent for Washington, Oregon and Idaho, died Aug. 21 after a brief battle with cancer. Johnson’s publicist in the United States told Great Northwest via email that a replacement for Danehower has not been determined.
Experts such as Danehower continue to make Johnson’s almanac an extremely reliable resource for any serious wine shopper, regardless of where they are in the global marketplace.
“Space for only one wine book in your life? This is it,” wrote Howard G. Goldberg, former New York Times wine writer and columnist for Decanter magazine.
For those over the age of 40, perhaps the biggest knock on the Pocket Wine Book ($17) is the size of the agate type. It will test anyone’s bifocals, but that format — combined with the use of abbreviations and precise selections by its respected contributors — allows it to fit in the glove box, a purse or slide in a pair of cargo shorts for a trip to your local wine merchant.
“Even my obsessive abbreviation can’t squeeze all the possibilities between the covers,” Johnson wrote as part of his agenda.
Among the tips Johnson offers is to give wines of beleaguered Greece a chance.
“If I do suggest one country now for special consideration, it is Greece — and not for its seemingly endless misfortunes,” he wrote.
And those shopping for wine while picking up ingredients for dinner at the grocer will receive many worthy pairing suggestions from page 27-39 in the Wine Pocket Guide.
Danehower shares insight, info with Hugh Johnson
Danehower’s informative and concentrated chapter once again begins on page 260, and his intro provides several reasons why Johnson’s global readers should pay more attention to the Pacific Northwest as he shares the sense of infectious excitement that surrounds our corner of the world.
“Part of the allure is that the region’s northerly latitude gives more growing season sunlight and cooler night-time temperatures than in California, resulting in wines with fresher, food-friendly flavours,” Danehower wrote. “There is room for discovery here. New climates are being explored, new AVAs being designated, and new grape varieties being planted.”
Among the insightful sidebars Danehower includes is one titled “The myth of the 45th,” which points out the 45th parallel doesn’t run through both the Willamette Valley and Burgundy. The Dundee Hills are the same latitude as the Margaux region of Bordeaux, while Beaune shares the 47th parallel with Ellensburg, Wash., on the western edge of the Columbia Valley AVA.
“If latitude alone determined the character of a wine country (it doesn’t), then the Willamette Valley should be growing Cab Sauv and the Columbia Valley Pinot Noir,” he pointed out.
The 2017 edition may well reference new and pending appellations in the Pacific Northwest — the Golden Mile Bench in British Columbia, the Okanagan Valley’s first sub-geographical indicator (GI) established in March — as well as the proposed Eagle Foothills American Viticultural Area in Idaho and the bi-state Lewis-Clark Valley.
Col Solare, Gramercy join Washington elite
Four stars remain the highest rating given in Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book, and the Washington section shows 11 wineries receiving four stars, which denotes “grand, prestigious, expensive.”
Betz Family Winery, Cayuse Vineyards, Col Solare, Chateau Ste. Michelle, DeLille Cellars, Gramercy Cellars, Leonetti Cellar, Long Shadows Vintners, Northstar Winery, Quilceda Creek Vintners and Woodward Canyon each merited four stars. Newcomers to the group are Col Solare and Gramercy.
“Ste. Michelle and Tuscany’s Antinori join to make a single Col Solare red blend each vintage, invariably complex, long-lasting,” he wrote. “Less-expensive Shining Hill blend more approachable.”
According to the Pocket Wine Book vintage chart, the 2007 and 2008 vintages of Col Solare are ready to drink, but 2009 and younger will benefit from further cellaring.
For the Gramercy portion, Danehower wrote, “Master sommelier-turned-winemaker Greg Harrington makes voluptuous Syrahs. Recently added earthy Tempranillo, herby Cab Sauv winners, too.”
“Remarkably well-made wines, surprisingly diverse grapes and styles,” Danehower wrote of Sparkman. “Most notable: Rainmaker Cab Sauv, new Evermore Old Vines Cab Sauv. Look for spicy Ruckus Syrah.”
Oregon’s 4-stars include Antica Terra, Bergström
Oregon wineries receiving four stars from Danehower included Antica Terra, Beaux Frères, Bergström Wines, Domaine Drouhin Oregon, Evening Land Vineyards, The Eyrie Vineyards, Ponzi Vineyards and Soter Vineyards. Antica Terra and Bergström are the new members of the four-star group.
“Maggie Harrison left CA’s Sine Qua Non to make Will V Pinot N that now has a cult-like following. Recently added highly touted small-batch Chard,” Danehower wrote. “Josh Bergström’s elegant Pinot NS from bio estate are a treat; also increasingly brilliant Chard, esp small-lot Sigrid bottling.”
“Owner, artist, winemaker James Frey makes superb cool-climate Ries and Pinot N from Coast Range estate vines and other sources,” he wrote. “New leader for both grapes in Northwest.”
One of Danehower’s anecdotes within the text of his recommendations was the following line — “Easy way to remember local pronunciation: It’s Will-A-met, Damn it.”
Pocket Wine Book lists 5 Idaho wineries
Idaho’s emerging Snake River Valley wine industry now has five wineries listed in Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book as Coiled Wine and Sawtooth Estate Winery joined Cinder Wines, Koenig Vineyards and Ste. Chapelle for the 2016 edition.
Last year, winemaker Meredith Smith won five golds at the Idaho Wine Competition for Sawtooth, while Leslie Preston of Coiled captured the best white wine of the judging with her Dry Riesling and a double gold for her Black Mamba, a blend of Syrah and Petit Verdot. Danehower, one of the West Coast’s most-sought-after wine judges, served as a panelist for that competition.
For those who haven’t made the connection to the winery’s name, the Pocket Wine Guide‘s abbreviated listing of Preston’s project should add clarity — Coiled Snake RV (as in Snake River Valley).
“Owner/winemaker Leslie Preston helps to set pace in ID,” Danehower wrote. “The Coiled Dry Ries is pitch-perfect, while Sidewinder Syrah is scrumptious.”
His notes for Sawtooth read, “Winemaker Meredith Smith is upping the quality ante at this signature ID producer, esp elegant, lean Tempranillo and tight, tasty Syrah.”
Blue Mountain, Tantalus lead British Columbia
Once again, Vancouver-based critic Anthony Gismondi handled the British Columbia content, and the 2016 edition includes a bit of a shakeup within the listings.
Space limitations prevented Gismondi from going beyond 15 recommended wineries, but he did elevate ratings for Blue Mountain Vineyard and Cellars in Okanagan Falls and Tantalus Vineyards in Kelowna from three stars to the top rating of four stars. That makes those properties his two favorites in the province and the only wineries with four stars.
“New pioneers,” Gismondi wrote of Tantalus, “terroir-driven Pinot N, Ries, Chard from oldest (1927) continuously producing OK V v’yds.”
There is a newcomer to the Pocket Wine Book — Stag’s Hollow Winery in Okanagan Falls with three stars. Dwight Sick’s work with Rhône varieties and Pinot Noir was recognized in 2012 by Wine Press Northwest magazine, which named Stag’s Hollow its British Columbia Winery of the Year.
“Winemaker Dwight Sick exploring new heights mid-valley in Okanagan Falls with delicious Viognier, Grenache, Pinot N, Syrah,” Gismondi wrote.