Great Wine Before It Becomes Great

Grapes that go in to Chateau Haut Brion's flagship bottling come from vines at least 30 years old.  There's a belief that older vines produce more prized fruit.  So, for 26 years or so, newer plantings...what?...get thrown in the trash?  Of course not.  In the case of Haut Brion, they used to bottle it under a partially hand written label for the family to drink.  Lucky family.  (Now it goes to market under a second label that won't dilute the first growth's brand equity, but generates revenue.)

Granted, these grapes might not get the same loving attention and expensive oak regimen that the older blocks enjoy.  But, hey, from a pedigree standpoint, they're tough to beat.  And they're often planted side by side to the established vines.

Haut Brion is definitely not alone in doing this.  In fact, it's quite widespread.  Some lower grade supply ends up in non-reserve bottles, some under other labels, and some in the bulk market.  This triage and segmentation, called high grading, provides producers with an outlet for those grapes which don't make the quality cut for the more expensive bottlings.  It also provides consumers with access to wines which, in their future incarnations, will be multiples in price.

One very accessible example of this is Mercer's Wine Out West series

Limited (for now) to a Cab and a Riesling, the WOW series leverages the production of two vineyards in Columbia Valley's Horse Heaven Hills.  The Riesling is from the long established Spring Creek Vineyard and the Cab from newer plantings in the Dead Canyon vineyard.  Tasting notes on both follow, but I've got a prediction:  When the Dead Canyon vineyard comes to maturity, winemaker David Forsyth will have had his finger on the pulse of the vineyard for a long time.  It will be producing fruit of such extraordinary, world class quality that Mercer will have to give birth to a reserve or cult label.  In the meantime, you can get a preview of this wine for a measly $15.

Cabernet Sauvignon Dead Canyon Vineyard $15
Concentrated, rich, tight.  Dark flavors with prominent tannins and oak.  Structured and proud.  Unwinds to welcoming and friendly with air and begins delivering more lush flavors.  Solidly framed with years ahead of it.  Kept it all together even after 3-4 days open.

Riesling Spring Creek Vineyard $12
The din of insanely delicious dry Rieslings from all corners of the globe have all but drowned out the falsetto of not-dry Rieslings.  But this incredibly balanced example makes a compelling argument to look beyond dry.  Vibrant, youthful, and succulent, its freshness is irresistible, even for a die hard dry-only drinker.  If they ever made a late harvest version, it'd be unreal.  Terrific value.