Thursday, March 22, 2007

Washington Bordeaux Blends: The Buty and The Betz

Bob Betz, one of Washington’s best-known boutique winemakers and a very familiar figure in the Seattle area, recently released two 2004 Bordeaux blends, one focused on merlot and the other on cabernet sauvignon. Always popular, they sold out more or less instantly at the winery, but can still be found at some retail outlets.

We decided to compare the Betz Family Winery 2004 “Clos de Betz” ($34), which is 60% merlot, 23% cabernet sauvignon, 7% cabernet franc, 6% petite verdot and 4% malbec with a somewhat similar wine released at about the same time. The second offering comes from Buty (pronounced “beauty”) Winery in Walla Walla, Washington, and is also very popular. It is the Buty 2005 “61% Merlot 39% Cabernet Franc” ($36).

When first opened, the Buty came across as big, round, soft and ready to drink. The Betz, on the other hand, was a little more austere. While there was plenty of fruit up front, a significant amount of tannin was also evident, suggesting this wine needed more time to be at its best. At the end of the first dinner at which these wines were served and blind tasted, panel members preferred the Buty.

In accordance with our usual practice, we then pumped the air out of the partially consumed bottles and stopped them up with a rubber cork. They were reopened a day later a second dinner.

The results the second time around were reversed. While the Buty had opened up slightly, showing a bit more complexity, the change was subtle as opposed to pronounced. The Betz, on the other hand, had “matured” into a very notable wine. The tannin and fruit were now integrated and the wine had developed a very interesting earthy dimension that was missing the first time around. Panel members agreed that of the two, the Betz was now the most sophisticated and appealing. It was also very drinkable.

The bottom line is therefore the following: if you are looking for an attractive, merlot-focused Washington-state Bordeaux blend for near-term consumption, the Buty is probably the better choice. On the other hand, if you are willing and able to cellar your purchase, go for the Betz. Ultimately, it is a better wine, but you should probably plan on keeping it somewhere between three and eight years. If you insist on consuming the Betz now, be sure to open it well in advance of when you plan to drink it and decant it. This wine needs a lot of oxygen if consumed young whereas the Buty can get by with very little.

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