Hello friends. Among the many incredible values that have been part of the Olsen Estates fire sale, this is among the finest: a new discount on the most labor-intensive wine produced in Washington, a wine that you could cellar for 30 years.
Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt): “($55); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 94pts.”
We first offered this more than a year ago, and at that time, the wine was still at full price. Even at $55, I thought this was a fine value. Its technical stats were almost spot-on with Ste Michelle’s Eroica Single Berry Select, the only other TBA-style wine produced in Washington: similar alcohol, residual sugar, and total acidity. The Eroica bottling, however, is $200 per split. And let’s not even get into what a German TBA will cost you.
The reason this style of wine gets so pricey has to do with the labor involved. TBA stands for Trockenbeerenauslese. Translating from the German, this means a late-harvest selection (auslese) of dried (trocken) berries (beeren). Important distinction to keep in mind: it’s the grape berries that are dry, certainly not the wine.
What dries the grapes out is a lovely fungus called botrytis cinerea: noble rot. It punctures small holes in grapeskins, through which much of the grape’s water content evaporates, leaving concentrated juice behind. And if botrytis spread evenly throughout a vineyard, that would be one thing. But it doesn’t. It doesn’t even spread evenly through a grape bunch. What is required then, for picking a true TBA-style wine, is to have highly-skilled pickers make multiple passes through the vineyard, selecting individual grape berries that are completely botrytis-affected. That is exactly what happened in Olsen’s 30-year-old Riesling blocks, during mid-November 2008.
And so you’ve paid your fungus hunters to pick perfect berries, but now the fun is just beginning, because after pressing a tiny amount of highly-concentrated juice from each berry, you then have to get the wine through fermentation. And wine that comes in at 67 Brix takes a loooooooooooong time to get through fermentation. In this case 368 days: a year, and then another three days for good measure! When it finally finished, the alcohol sat at 7.1% and the residual sugar somewhere between 400 and 500 g/L.
It is one of the most difficult wines in the world to make. It takes chutzpah to even attempt it, and the fact that Olsen pulled it off so spectacularly only adds an additional shade of sadness to the fact that the winery went out of business. Still, if you’re going to go out, this is a wine to go out on.
Once I learned about the impending discount, I cracked open a bottle from my personal stash (I had put a bunch of bottles away at the original price), to check in on its progress. And wow, this is a singular tasting experience indeed.
The color is taking on amber tones with glints of orange. The nose is exceptionally aromatic and still quite primary, with notes of marmalade, sweet peach, honey, sea salt caramel, and white flowers. Some of the maturing botrytis notes of sweet pipe tobacco are beginning to emerge as well. On the palate, texture must be the first discussion point. This is beyond unctuous, without question thicker than real maple syrup. You could certainly pour it on your pancakes for an Haute Lumberjack Breakfast. The weight is exceptional, and this stains every inch of the palate with its honeyed goodness. There is mouthwatering acidity to balance all that sugar, and the finished package is truly something to behold.
Now, a quick word about pairing, since the question of when to open these bottles is a stumbling block for many of us. First: put the dessert course down, and step slowly away. This bottle is the dessert, and there is no reason to serve this with anything else sweet, unless you’re actually trying to rot the teeth out of your skull. If you’re serving this with food, find one of two things: either the sharpest cheese the monger carries (something in the bleu family works great), or the richest, silkiest pâté available (the texture pairs perfectly, and the salty-savory aspect complements the wine’s sweetness in a swoon-worthy manner).
This is the crowning achievement of the too-short-lived Olsen Estates Winery, and I’m hopeful that this lower tariff will make it more accessible. Sadly, there’s not much of it, so please limit order requests to 1 bottle, and we’ll do our best to fulfill all requests. The wine should arrive in about a week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping.