May 8th, 2010 is the official date to celebrate the fifth anniversary of The Wine Century Club, an organization dedicated to seeking out and tasting as many different grape varietals as possible. Once you have tasted and documented 100 different varietals you apply to become a member of the club. Approximately one year ago I completed the first 100. The toughest part is keeping track, which is not all that tough with the spreadsheet the club provides. The funnest part is the seeking out and the tasting of the different varietals. Now I am working on my second 100 varietals. I have tasted #101, 102 and just this week, 103. Only 97 more to go before I become a Doppel member.
The Wine Century Club was started by Steve and Deborah DeLong of New York, creators of one of my favorite wine references – the Wine Grape Varietal Table – a beautiful poster done in the style of a periodic table listing 184 varietals organized by acid and body – two major factors in pairing wine with food. The Wine Century Club is an extension of their business of providing wine reference material, including maps of wine regions and tasting notebooks. Local clubs are popping up around the country and the globe. Currently, there are two century clubs in Washington – Inland Northwest Wine Century Club and Puget Sound Wine Century.
Blends count! The goal of tasting 100 varietals may sound daunting. The Club makes less so by accepting varietals in blends. The varietal does not have to be the only grape in the bottle. So a sip of Columbia Crest 2007 Two Vines Vineyard 10 qualifies you to mark off Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, Grenache and Mouvedre. Some varietals are very, very hard to find in any form except for blends. For example, Pinot Meunier, is rarely seen as a varietal bottling but is very important in the classic blend for Champagne. In Washington you can find it in Mountain Dome Winery’s Cuvée Forté, a traditional sparkling wine. Read the labels, ask questions, search for tasting and winemaker notes on the web, sip and keep track on the spreadsheet.
It is easy to start in Washington. This state grows at least 30 different varietals according to the Washington Wine Growers Association. (Unofficial sources say the number is 80.) Just drinking Washington wine can get you well on your way to your membership. After marking off the big six – Cabernet, Merlot, Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, all grown in Washington and other places in the world, seek out – Gewurztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Cuinoise, Viognier, Marsanne, Picopul, Pinot Gris, Mueller-Thurgau, Madeline Angevine, Siegerrebe, Rousanne, Muscat Ottonel, Orange Muscat, Black Muscat, Grenache, Zinfandel, Barbera, Petit Verdot, Nebbiolo, Mouverdre, Petit Syrah, Cabernet Franc, also all grown in Washington along with dozens more. Some are officially listed by the USDA, others are growing under the radar in vineyards or as agricultural research at places such as WSU’s Mount Vernon Research Station. Besides reading backs of wine labels, talk to the winemakers and the grape growers. They know what’s what and what’s where.
Steve Snyder of Hollywood Hill Vineyards (co-founder of the Puget Sound Wine Century club with Shona Milne) grows 20 different varieties. Some are destined for bottling and some are experimental. To celebrate the 5th anniversary this weekend, he is opening up a bottle of his own Regent, a wine that he does not sell and is not on the official report. When he pours me a sip I can mark off #104. Happy Birthday Wine Century Club!
Note: on May 8th follow the official festivities on Twitter with hashtag #wine100.