Up the Quilceda Creek without a paddleSomewhere in the depths of the Great Recession, presumably because an existing customers decided that even 100-point wines were no longer worth the risk of a foreclosure notice, I cleared the Quilceda Creek mail-order list. In case you’re wondering why I accepted the open slot, let me clarify two things: First, with the exception of Bordeaux and Burgundy from my daughters’ birth-year vintages that I’m cellaring for their respective 21st birthdays , I never spend $100+ on a bottle of wine; and second, I try to keep my contact with wine clubs and mailing lists as I do with weeping rashes. But Quilceda Creek is a little different, because the wines – one of the inimitably influential (and controversial) critic Mr Parker’s most consistent and highly-rated darlings – all sell out directly via the mailing list upon release, after which they remain highly sought and rise commensurately in price.
If any bottle of fermented grape juice is worth a Benny, then it’s Quilceda Creek’s Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, at least if you like your Cabs dense, extracted, and larger than life. Think of the very best “cult” wines from the Napa Valley floor, shoot them up with enough steroids to power the Tour de France and Major League Baseball combined, and then somehow balance all that bulging, bronzed muscle with enough subtlety and grace to keep everything harmonious – imagine The Incredible Hulk dancing a perfect Swan Lake, or The Situation passing abstract algebra – and you’ll have some idea of what this freak-of-nature wine is all about. I’ve heard the superficially outlandish claim that Quilceda produces “value” wines – normally I bristle when people talk about $100 wines as anything but unadulterated luxuries – but score junkies will make the case: The past 6 vintages have earned 598 out of a possible 600 points, including four perfect 100s and two 99s, which probably makes for the cheapest “Parker Perfect” around, and frankly shames the ubiquitous triple-digit price tags that Napa still spawns like bacteria in a warm petri dish.
But this post isn’t really about the flagship Columbia Valley offering, it’s about Quilceda’s “Columbia Valley Red Wine”, a blend of declassified lots from its bigger and badder brethren that sells for a small fraction of the price. Unfortunately, it’s also about how even the world’s great winemakers, like Gold Glove shortstops, can post an error on a routine play. At $35 for the current release, the Red still counts as special-occasion material in our house, but considering how good the ’06s – broadly considered an inferior vintage to the 07s – turned out, and the opportunity to get a sense of what the 100-pointer must be like, I figured I had to stock up.
The catch, as with most mailing-list wine offerings, is that you neither get to taste nor read reviews before you commit to the purchase, and which is why I’m posting this, my first Official Bitch About People I Like: The bottle I opened last night was a decidedly mediocre wine, not at all balanced, and profoundly lacking in true varietal character. The professionals reviewers will tell you a very different story, 93 points across the board and oozing with accolades, but I’m here to tell you otherwise: This wine is hopelessly overcooked. The main turn-off is an unmistakable nose of over-stewed, almost raisiny, fruit, but the wine fails in the mouth as well, because all that rich fruit seems steeped in alcohol and creates an aggressive perception of heat. I would have guessed Zinfandel in a blind tasting, and not a great one.
To be fair, I have tasted at least a dozen Quilceda Cabs over the past 10 or 15 years, and I have absolutely loved each and every one of them, until last night; as they say, stuff happens. Maybe it was bottle variation – I really hope so, although I fear the likelihood is low for so young a wine from such a technically proficient winery – but until I try another one, I have to hold up my hand for a big finger-wag at the Wine Advocate and Wine Enthusiast for what appear to be blatantly partial reviews, and for the incredibly talented team at Quilceda Creek for releasing this wine under their otherwise unimpeachable label: I love all y’all, but the ’07 Red just isn’t all that.