Red Mountain I Am

The story goes that when his Chateau Mouton was not included among the greatest of Bordeaux wine plantings in the historic classification of 1855, Baron Philippe de Rothschild adopted the motto: "First I cannot be; second I do not deign to be: Mouton I am." Philippe, of course, was the richest man in France at the time, and if his wine was not top of the charts, having the Rothschild name on the bottle has never hurt sales of Mouton. When your name isn't internationally famous, though, family pride has to be balanced with ease of marketing. Hedges is one of the proudest names in Washington wine, but when Tom Hedges founded Hedges Cellars 20 years ago, he didn't own a winery, let alone a vine. But you'd never know it, visiting the Hedges Family Estate today. For more than a decade, Hedges' Three Vineyards red has come to be known as one of Washington's most admired and most widely known wines. (The 2002 vintage was the hit of Taste Washington's luncheon in 2004.) But if you are trying to sell wine to a distributor in, say, New York, the name "Hedges" will get you about as far as a nickel will get you on the subway. That's why Christophe Hedges, the firm's head of marketing, tucks in the family pride when he goes out to sell the family product. Fortunately, he's got a mighty good alternative: the magic words "Red Mountain." It's not clear exactly why the Red Mountain name has caught on so quickly and mightily with the chattering classes of U.S. wine, but the fact is indisputable. Twenty years ago a hot dusty slab of gravel and sagebrush, Red Mountain made the cut when Wine & Spirits listed the top 10 vineyard areas of the world last year. Why? Climate, mostly. Red Mountain days can be hotter than blazes, but the steep slope guarantees that hot air runs off during the chilly desert night—a perfect pattern for ripening heat-loving red varieties without diffusing the structural acids. Tannins—the compounds producing the raspy mouthfeel of red wine—are major contributors to the flavor of wine, and tannins are what Red Mountain does best. A recent tasting of Hedges' releases displayed a veritable rainbow of tannins: Some started easy on the tongue and then swelled to fill the throat on the finish; some swacked you upside the head before dissolving in a pinwheel of sensation; others sustained and enriched juicy fruit flavors from beginning to end. Except for the bargain-priced CMS blends, all are made from Hedges Estate fruit. None is a wine for beginners, particularly the current merlot, a mighty, muscular mouthful that might please even Sideways' pinot-happy Miles. All are as Red Mountain as a fire bell, and worthy of the name.

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