Two Seattle wine sellers have launched tasting groups for drinkers seeking to knock 100 varietals off their life lists.
The Wine Century Club was founded seven years ago by a pair of New Yorkers who wanted to draw attention to "the many unsung grape varieties used to make wine." More than 1000 drinkers have since qualified for membership in the group, with men outnumbering women nearly 2:1. "But the gap is narrowing," pledges the club's official website, which also stresses that anyone is eligible to apply - "even dedicated Merlot drinkers."
But a significant proportion of wine lovers who download the electronic checklist abandon their applications after realizing they're dozens of varietals short of 100 (once they've crossed off 100 varietals, members are invited to begin working toward their next hundred.) So structured tasting groups have sprung up around the country, including at Laurelhurst Wine Merchants and Fremont Avenue Cellars.
"It adds a whole new appreciation," Fremont Avenue Cellar co-owner Sally Thomae says. "I think most people who have a casual interest in wine think there are 50 varietals, if not closer to 25."
Thomae's club is trying five wines at each session. She initially planned to tackle the list alphabetically, but got stuck on "E", so moved to a regional approach.
"What I do is I always make sure I can get the wine at the time we're tasting it, so if someone falls in love with it, we can get it for them," she says.
Her job's been simplified by the increased availability of wines made from esoteric grapes, she says. Thomae thought she'd have trouble locating an Erbaluche, a white wine grape associated with the Italian Piedmont, but "I was at a trade show for a distributor we hadn't used in many years, and there was Erbaluche."
Since club rules prohibit counting a single blended wine as a sample of all included varietals, Thomae searches for wines made almost exclusively with the featured grape.
"It's all about appreciating the difference in regions and grapes," she says.