HIDDEN CAB STEAL

Talk about hiding in plain sight, this particular offer has us scratching our heads. In a world where Cabernet is king, and Napa Valley is the center of the Cabernet universe, why on earth would you market a Cabernet as Provenance Deadeye Napa Valley Red Wine 2016? The front label doesn’t even say that, or anything else. There is simply an artist’s rendering of something that loosely resembles a rifle sight or crosshairs zeroing in on some sort of target. While we had a good ‘what were these people thinking’ chuckle, the wine inside was anything but a joke.

This surprising complex Napa Valley ‘red’ is in fact 96% Cabernet Sauvignon (well into the realm where it could be labeled varietally) that sees 21 months in barrel! It has a real almost-old-school feel to it, and reminds us of some great Napa Cabs from the mid-90’s as Napa was just entering its cult period and things hadn’t gotten too ‘out of hand’ yet. Dark red and black fruit, something that could be described as “Rutherford dust” (though we have no idea where in Napa it came from), wonderful balance and a dense, juicy, rather polished palate, we expect most folks that are fans of Napa Cab will love the juice!

There’s the ‘rub’ and the advantage. Finding competent Napa Cabernet for under $50-60 is no easy task these days. Looking at the bottle, however, you would have no idea that this was Cabernet, and not some goofy proprietary kitchen sink blend vying to be the next ‘Prisoner’. The beauty is that neither will anyone else unless they read something about it somewhere (though there isn’t much). Apparently, this is the first release so few have seen Deadeye at all. Good vintage, fine effort, a delicious Cab for a modest fare and almost ‘witness protection’ anonymity, it’s a great deal as it is and there is no guarantee that the next one will hit the mark the way this one does.

ROCHIOLI DIRT, ROCHIOLI WINEMAKER, NEED WE SAY MORE

“Castalia is a legendary spring on Mount Parnassas in Ancient Greece favored by Apollo.  Its waters bestowed upon those who drank from its fountain the gifts of poetry and inspiration…”

The above quote is from the back label of this hidden gem of a Pinot, but the connection with Greece ends with the name. It did, however, seem as good a place as any to start a story with a rather close connection to one of California’s legendary producers.  We are always looking for the next remarkable find and, because of our apparently ‘unusual’ (so we are told) open door policy, sometimes the ‘next big thing’ simply walks in the door.

Now in all fairness, the ‘next big thing’ might be a little strong. It’s certainly not a question of quality as this is a screamer of a wine. But Terry Bering’s wine may never be ‘the next big thing’ simply because there isn’t enough of it and he doesn’t bother to court the media.  But there is certainly enough pedigree and experience behind this label-you-likely-never-heard-of to give it the kind of immediate credibility afforded few labels in today’s highly competitive market.

Let’s start with the vineyard designation on this lovely, precise, layered Pinot Noir.  The Burgundians had centuries to figure out the best places to grow Pinot Noir.  While California was definitely late to that party, we are definitely getting it figured out.  The Russian River is one of the premier, if not the premier spot for Pinot here in the golden state.  If this was like Burgundy, and there were Grand Crus, the Rochioli Vineyard would certainly be among of them.  This Pinot comes from that venerable property.

Getting Rochioli fruit is no easy task either.  It’s like those ‘friends and family’ arrangements…your name is Rochioli or you have been working with their fruit since long before they were recognized as one of the elite sites for Pinot (a la Williams-Selyem and Gary Farrell).  It’s a short list.  How did Terry Bering get on such an exclusive list?  He knows people. 

What people?  Well, the Rochiolis.  Terry has been winemaker at Rochioli for about a quarter century.  Talk about an insider, here’s a guy with intimate knowledge of the entire estate.  According to his notes, he has been making this Castalia label since 1992 and over that time has built the volume of this Pinot Noir up to a whopping…300 cases in 2016.  The core of the Castalia Pinot Noir Rochioli Vineyard Russian River Valley 2016 is from the Flad and Riverblock vineyards planted in the late 80s to the West Block clone, and the balance from three other vineyards on the property planted with 777,115 and 667 clones. This Pinot spent 15 months in 100% French oak, 25% new.

Given the extremely limited production and the fact that Terry has a ‘day job’, Castalia didn’t get very far in the ‘distribution chain’.  He decided to make the trek to SoCal a few years back (we started with the 2013) and actually physically dropped those first cases here himself. 

This is a special effort, but most folks could figure that out without tasting it.  It’s Rochioli Pinot made by Rochioli’s winemaker in what has already proven to be a grand vintage for Pinot Noir.  It’s not rocket science. We can tell you this is fabulous juice with classic Russian River spice (clove, cinnamon) beautifully woven with intense cherry and red currant and touches of vanilla. This is a classy, refined, exceptional Pinot that bears an incredible resemblance to those collectible Rochioli Pinots because it’s the same guy making it from the same hallowed vineyards.

Would we call this great California Pinot? Absolutely, and you know we’re pretty careful with our superlatives!  Give it a few minutes to unfold and you’ll see how all of the elements evolve in the glass.  We’d rather drink this than a lot of those blowsy, overoaked ‘mailing list’ Pinots from some of those other ‘famous’ wineries that cost a lot more.  Will Calstalia get a big score?  Not likely as few people even see it.  That also helps keep the prices reasonable and we have a special offer on this 2016 to boot (click here). There are still a few bottles of the Castalia Pinot Noir Rochioli 2015 as well.

RESERVE CAB AT ‘REGULAR’ PRICE FROM GORDON BROS.

One of the descriptions that someone here proffered with regards to the offer of Gordon’s Cabernet at a price like this is like just walking along minding your own business and a $20 bill is just sitting on the ground in front of you waiting to be picked up.  Imagine sitting quietly at your computer and a new email pops up that isn’t trying to sell you insurance, diet pills, or new phone service.

This email is about wine. In fact, it’s about a Washington State Cabernet that, thanks to a set of events, is one of the best values that you’re going to come across on a quality Cab.  Are you seeing sunshine, rainbows, cherubs and puppies?  Maybe hearing a harp? Well certainly that is a bit of an endorsement for a Cabernet that isn’t from the Napa Valley. 

Yeah, over the decades we have learned about trying never to ‘oversell’ anything. So instead we’re going to calmly, rationally explain why you should be excited to find a quality Washington Cabernet to add to your holdings with summer ahead of you and barbecue season in full swing.

Gordon’s wines have graced our pages, particularly for their relative value and varietally true style. But this particular offer bears special attention.  The 2013 Gordon Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is from the Columbia Valley, Washington, an area that long ago earned its wings as a source for excellent Cabernet.

Gordon Brothers pride themselves on being the oldest family estate winery in the region (starting grape planting back in 1980). They have been dependable producers that have relied on innovative farming to create fine wines.  In baseball terms, these folks would be solid performers that could occasionally get the big hit.  The 2013 vintage was one that provided such an opportunity.

The 2013 growing season was one of the hottest on records, right in stride with 1998 and 2003. Hot, 90-degree temperatures came on in early spring, prompting an earlier than average bud break. This heat spell was followed up by welcome spring rains that helped establish healthy canopies early in the season with bloom occurring early in June. Intense heat hung around from late June into mid-September when a dramatic shift in weather brought us a nice cool, but dry fall allowing for good hang time and a great finish for the harvest.

All of that lead to a riper than normal (for Washington) vintage that provided more amplitude  and flesh to the this blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot.  Tasted by a broader collection of our team, descriptors ran the gamut of melted grape Jolly Rancher kiss, new saddle leather, fresh turned earth, rose/floral bouquet and baking spices. The secondary aromatics are beautiful, pretty and “happy” with notes of nutmeg, fresh tobacco leaf, blackberry, pencil shavings, dark cocoa powder and toast.  The wine shows more open drinkability and palate impressions of confectionary black cherry, caramel, and black tea.

The best part is that, while this is a well-performing wine at its original $36.50 fare, some ‘market factors’ allowed us to pick off the last few cases of this reserve Cabernet at a greatly reduced fare.  The Columbia Valley has come a long way since the Gordons put down roots here. A little cooler stylistically than typical Cali Cab and positioned somewhere between that and a Bordeaux in weight, getting a reserve level Cabernet for under $20 ($19.98 to be exact) is a great ‘score’ for Cabernet fans.

EVENING LAND’S SALEM WINE CO PINOT NOIR EOLA-AMITY 2017

The whole story of the evolution of Seven Springs Vineyard over the last four decades has been a varied and interesting one reaching back to the ‘formative years’ of Oregon Pinot Noir.  But under the winemaking team of Sashi Moorman and Rajat Parr, it may be that the best times are still ahead for Evening Land.  Certainly the wines under the primary label continue to get critical acclaim, and they are at the forefront of the ‘hey we make pretty darn good Chardonnay in Oregon these days’ movement as well.  Certainly their credentials are in order.  But this time around we are talking about a relatively new offering that provides a classic demonstration of why we pay a lot of attention to the ‘small’ wines from important producers.

The Salem Wine Company Pinot Noir Eola-Amity 2017 is a more attractively priced version of what these guys do regularly, produce Pinot Noirs that are pure, fruit driven, unfettered and expressive.  The ‘Eola-Amity’ comes from three vineyards that are dry-farmed, sustainable and bio-dynamic…Eola Springs, Rocky Hill and the ‘home turf’ itself, Seven Springs Vineyard.  The soils are all volcanic.  The grapes are destemmed, fermented only with the indigenous yeasts, and the juice sees an 18-month sojourn in neutral oak.

This doesn’t come off as a ‘junior’ version but rather a more direct expression of the pure, intense, spicy dark red fruit character that makes this vineyard a special place.  There plenty of fruit intensity, nice lift to the finish, and engaging cherry and dark berry flavors as the central theme.  This isn’t geared as a Cabernet substitute, but rather a well proportioned Pinot made by guys who love Pinot and its Burgundian manifestations, for people of like minds.  In that respect it succeeds admirably, attractive right out of the gate and pretty accessible price-wise at $22.98. 

If you need critical acclaim, we couldn’t find any.  This stuff is pretty new to the market (starting with the 2014) and will likely never get a huge score because it will usually be tasted by the press alongside the bigger, fussier, more famous bottlings that come from here.  If, however, you are looking for an expressive, user friendly, purposeful expression of Pinot Noir, the Salem Wine Company Pinot Noir Eola-Amity 2017 will do quite nicely.

GO FOR THE BOLD

It’s pretty common for sommeliers and even Masters of Wine to try their hand at winemaking.  The results have been, ahem, varied to say the least.  But if you try enough of them, you will eventually run across someone who ‘gets it’.  In this particular case, master Sommelier Chris Miller, and the winery he founded called Seabold Cellars, were sent our way by a sommelier friend here in the OC who thought we should check these out. 

Miller established Seabold in 2014 with the focus on producing small lot site-specific Burgundian and Rhône varietals from the Monterey Bay region. He believes that cooler is better for certain varietals and such vineyards produce balanced wines that showcase their origin more than their winemaking. Miller learned winemaking working with the folks at Gramercy Cellars, Brewer-Clifton and Melville.

The Seabold wines impressed as they were both tender and lifted, and each one showed a few nuances that were definitely site specific.  They were very pleasing examples of cool climate juice that showcased the style yet were tender enough and possessed enough flesh to be engaging in the glass rather than, as so many are, more ‘intellectually challenging’ then enjoyable.  Had we not already had quite a selection of serious wines in the $40-50 range, we certainly would have bit on these.  We still might.  But we couldn’t pass up the Bold wines which were superior stylistically and well priced given the juice.

The concept of Bold was rather unique.  First one must understand that, while a lot of people say the same thing, these guys really are about the dirt.  Part of their ‘mission statement’ is “…During the year, more time is spent in vineyards than the winery. Our winemaking is as hands-off as possible, respecting traditional techniques and practices without being beholden to them.”  It shows in the wines. 

Where Bold diverts from the typical ‘second line’ scenario is quite specific.  The Bold wines are not made from the leftovers of the Seabold wines, but rather are ‘first run’ efforts with vineyards the winery has not worked with before.  They like to get really comfortable with the vineyard before they slap a Seabold label on a wine with that designation,  and Bold is part of that “getting to know you” process. 

No one we know thinks of the Arroyo Seco area as a hotbed for Sauvignon Blanc.  But maybe that’s because they haven’t been looking in the right place.  Miller found Zabala Vineyards in one of the warmest subsections of this narrow west-facing valley shielded by the Santa Lucia Mountains.  Planted in 1972, it is one of Monterey County’s oldest vineyards with soils of sandy loam covered with round riverbed stones.  The vineyard is family-owned, impeccably cared-for, and certified organic.

The Bold Wine Co. Sauvignon Blanc Monterey 2018 itself is an intriguing expression of the varietal.  There is plenty of richness in the herb-laced grapefruit, melon and pear fruit, plenty of freshness while the acids are not overly aggressive, and a remarkable sense of harmony.  It lacks the edgy bite that a lot of California Sauvignons possess and rather presents a rounder yet still lifted presentation of the varietal.  For under $20, it is an excellent choice and given the production (a mere 268 cases of wine) we’d consider this pretty much ‘insider trading’.

The same holds true for the Bold Wine Co. Pinot Noir Monterey 2017The story here seems typical of this producer, and focuses on the Balestra Vineyard which lies just north of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, on a very cold climate benchland property owned and farmed by a multi-generational family of farmers. Because it is closer to the valley to the sea, the wines from the property always show a certain bright, fruit-forward character which is often balanced out by a judicious inclusion of whole clusters during fermentation.

There’s a lovely texture here and a dusty, musky presentation of dark cherry and ripe cranberry fruit kissed with a little bit of woodsiness and some elements of spice.  For a generally savory Pinot, the edges are rounded and engaging and the wine has both flesh and lift to create a very pleasing experience in the glasss.  The terroir nuances rise above anything you can typically buy at this kind ofrprcie.  We think the ‘Bold’ wines present a pretty exciting option in a price range like this and there is legitimate excitement as to whether Miller has do with these in the purchases moving forwards.  They are certainly off to an impressive start given what we see here.  With only a few hundred cases this isn’t going to be a game changer for the market as a whole.  But it will certainly prove shrewd value ‘harvest’ for those that move quickly.

MAYBE WE SHOULDN’T LET THE OLD WAYS DIE…

There seems to be a growing trend among some California winemakers to go back to the more balanced styles of California’s formative years in the ‘60s and ‘70’s.  During all this time Husch winery has been doing the same things and delivering clear stylistic examples that have been virtually unchanged the winery was founded in 1971. It claims to have been the first winery in the Anderson Valley.  In 1979 the Oswald family purchased the estate and the third generation to run the winery are currently at the helm.

We bring them up not to praise their Cabernet or Chardonnay, which are still well made, traditional styles of their respective genre.  But they are stars with two genres of wine that aren’t widely grown or even talked about in California.  They are delicious examples of their breed and ridiculously cheap by today’s overblown California standards.

Part of the juice for the Husch Dry Gewurztraminer Anderson Valley 2017 comes from vines planted in 1968 and the cool climate here suits the varietal like few places in the Golden State.  As such it is dry, crisp, delicate, spicy and ‘Gewurtzy’ without being overdone or clumsy.  Sometimes Gewurz can be a little ‘dumpy’ on the finish, but not this one.  Clean, bright, varietal with a subtle fruit and floral nose, delicate spice notes through the palate, and lift to the finish.  Fire this up with a holiday ham or any number of lighter preparations of fish or fowl, particularly with an Asian slant.

If you think talking about Gewurz is off the wall, their Husch Chenin Blanc Mendocino County 2018 is a marvelous throwback (though it’s not a throwback to them as they have always made it this way).  They started in 1984 and have been making one of the best in the state ever since.  Yeah, Chenin has a bad rap thanks to a lot of mass produced examples when the genre was widely popular in the ’70s.  But a well made Chenin still has a place at the table or on the porch.  We think a touch of sweetness is necessary to offset the blazing acidity in this varietal, and this is a super refreshing display of orange, peach and melon flavors with a hint of ‘stone’ and great cut to the finish.  It has the same kind of food versatility as their gewurz, and is, again, silly ‘cheap’.

Sure it’s ‘hipper’ to say you drink some semi-oxidized lab experiment under the banner of ‘natural wine’.  But we’d rather have something direct, precise, and that does exactly what it should.  There is precious little of these varietals made in California any more.  But even though they are ‘old school’ they are riveting examples of a time gone by.

 

 

Value Sauv. Blanc from a Budding Superstar Winemaker

We pretty much gushed when we first discovered the wines of Bibiana González Rave Pisoni.  We could repeat her saga of making wine on three continents before she finally settled in the Golden State.  She has many irons in the fire this days and we can say that have never had a wine from her, in whatever price range it was, that wasn’t top flight.

In a few words, ‘this girl is on fire’, making a style that is deeply expressive, full flavored, energetic and precise.  Now granted, that would seem to be expected of the many of her wines that are in the $70-80 price range, though they do excel in that arena vis-a-vis the competition.  But what we find most enticing, in line with our philosophy of seeking out the ‘little’ wines from the top talents, is her value-driven Alma de Cattleya line.  We have been particularly enamored  with the Sauvignon Blanc which, at $16.98, is arguably the best buy among California Sauv. Blancs.

Her just released Alma de Cattleya Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County 2018 is, once again, a well put together, vigorously expressive mouthful of lime, guava, pear, fig, and fresh herbs.  The fruit ‘pops’ up front and expands across the palate, but the tension and acidity keep it humming right through the finish.  It is an attention-getting and beautifully fresh example of the breed.

The only potential problem with the wine is that it is made to be the best Sauv. Blanc it can be and true to type.  That probably means it will likely not get its due when judged in some 100 example mega-tasting the media often conducts which favors blowsier and more idiosyncratic efforts because they stand out in a crowd.

But one-on-one, this is a little value gem.  It’s in a straight up, juicy style with impressive purity, plus that insistent underlying hum that differentiates it from the rank and file of the genre. This is the ‘hot ticket’ among go-to Sauvignon Blancs.  Even though we can’t necessarily expect big ‘numbers’, knowledgeable insiders are snapping it up quickly.

THE RETURN OF GIBBS: SINGLE VINEYARD, ESTATE NAPA CAB UNDER $25

You never mind retelling a good story, especially one that has a happy ending.  8Such is the saga of Gibbs Cabernet.  There’s always a need for a well-made version of Americas’s favorite varietal (Cabernet Sauvignon) that doesn’t cost “an arm and a leg,” the search for really good Cabs at fair prices is ongoing.  Since Cabernet is still kind of a big deal here in California, we were pretty sure we found the value Cabernet ‘holy grail’ back in 2014 when we rolled out the 2010 Gibbs Obsidian Block Cabernet Sauvignon.  Estate grown on a vineyard near Saint Helena, a quality, pure, varietally honest effort, that had definite Napa terroir and style points to boot, seemed too good to be true.

We rode that horse for several vintages simply because we could.  I mean, why not?  It was pretty much everything you could ask for in a Napa Cab at this price.   The story itself deserves a quick refresher.  The Handlys, Susan (formerly Carpenter) and Craig, met at a label design company in Napa called Colonna-Farrell.   After moving to Saint Helena in 1977, owner and winemaker Craig Handly began working as a label designer with, a notorious design studio with a history that is closely tied to the success of Napa Valley’s wine industry..

Before finding himself involved in the production of wine, Craig began a design and photography firm, Handly/Hansen, which produced materials for wineries including Beringer, Kendall-Jackson, Robert Craig, Karl-Lawrence, and Elyse. Later, Susan and Craig began their own stationary company, which started to lose ground at the turn of the century thanks to the wide acceptance of e-mail communication. It was then Craig made his foray into wine production by starting yet another company, Terroir Napa Valley.

With a focus on the staple crop of Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, Terroir Napa Valley focused largely on producing single-vineyard wines that exhibit the qualities of the vineyard site. As fate had  it, Dr. Lewis Carpenter (Susan’s father), who farmed his vineyards in St. Helena for more than a half century, passed away. Craig Handly, his son-in-law, is now farming those choice St. Helena vineyards.   Those well situated vines, acquired long before the real estate craziness that is Napa today, are the source for the Gibbs Cabernet.

For whatever reason, the 2015 Gibbs didn’t make the cut after 4 out of five vintages previously.  But the 2016 is brighter and deeper and stands out in its field the way that the 2010 did back when we discovered the winery in the first place.  The Gibbs Cabernet Sauvignon Three Clones Napa Valley 2016 is 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot and 7% Petite Verdot that spends 8 months in French Oak.  It is 100% estate bottled, something virtually no Napa Cabs in this price range can say.  The ‘Three Clones’ moniker is a reference to the three different clones of Cabernet (6, 15, and 337) that are the heart of this engaging estate blend..

In the glass, the nose jumps forth loaded with spicy red and black fruits.  On the palate, all of the promise of the nose is delivered with the fruit character persistent from the cool black fruit core to the more jubilant, redder fruit center to the wine at large, with plenty volume to the flavors delivered.   If someone told you this cost $50, you’d taste the wine and look at the (single vineyard) Napa Appellation, and have no reason to question anything.  The kicker here is it is less than half that ($25)! Same as it ever was, this is one of the pre-eminent deals  on Napa Valley Cabernet.

 If you’re looking for the ‘hook’, there aren’t any scores or reviews on this one.  It seems this remarkable little wine is still under the radar, which is better for those of us that still just enjoy drinking a good Cabernet and don’t care about the media, particularly if the price is right.  We understand that it might be difficult to comprehend a well made, unpresuming, delicious Cabernet, from prime Napa Valley dirt, for under $25.  But it is certainly the kind of ‘adjustment’ one should be able make.  With only 1600 cases produced, the impact on the market at large will be pretty minimal.  But the possibilities for those ‘in the know’ is a whole different matter.  Good hunting.

 

 

 

ONE LAST WORD ON THE RAVENSWOOD ZINFANDEL BARRICIA FOR $14.98 THING

We sent this out as an email and then mentioned it again in our Sunday ‘week that was’ piece.  But we think this deal is so extraordinary, we want to make sure that everyone gets a look at it as, at the time of this writing, our source still has some wine:

“The odyssey continues, but the story lines are as interesting now as they were back some three decades ago when we started with Ravenswood, though for entirely different reasons.  Back in the 90s, Ravenswoods single vineyard wines were iconic.  We used to have ‘Ravenswood Day’ where we would offer up our allocations of these well reviewed , exceptional Zinfandels for distribution.  At the time we, a single store, were one of Ravenswood’s larger customers in California.  We sold everything from those compelling single vineyard bottlings to their ‘lowly’ but exceptionally performing ‘Vintners’ value series.

Then, one day, it all changed.  OK, maybe not all of it.  The key issue was that one of the first significant winery acquisitions of the modern era in California took place.  Winemaker/mind behind Joel Peterson and his partner Reed Foster sold Ravenswood to Constellation in 2001 for $148,000,000.  That’s a lot of zeros.  Can’t blame them for taking the money, but the rub was Joel had to stay and help keep an eye on things.  Small price to pay for that kind of coin and Joel, always the businessman, saw the wisdom in the move.

Once one of the most recognized brands in California, Joel had to know that the only way for the new owners to recoup that kind of investment was to ramp up production.  Once Ravenswood ‘went corporate’ most of the winery’s long term loyal supporters figured production of the personality filled, well-priced Vintners wines, as well as their other regional varietal bottlings, would predictably add a zero to their production level and churn out tens of thousands of cases of soulless corporate juice.   Predictably, that happened.

The same folks also dismissed Joel’s treasured line of single-vineyard Zinfandels as going ‘corporate’ as well.  What now?   Would there be some  50,000 cases of ‘Big River’ or 200,000 cases of ‘Old Hill’.  No. With these small, ‘heritage’ sites covered with low yielding old vines, there was no way to boost production.  The current iteration of Ravenswood does indeed put out a million boxes of Vintners Blend wines now.  But the historic single vineyard program has remained essentially the same as it was ‘back in the day’.  We talked with both Joel and his long-time winemaker Peter Mathis, who made Ravenswood wines for 20 years, and both of them had no clue why Ravenswood’s Historic Single-vineyard program was no longer revered.

Our best guess is ‘guilt by association’.  Certainly, there was an emphasis by the corporate bean counters to deliver big numbers. There were ‘stockholders’ and all sorts of new criteria by which Ravenswood would be judged.  As to the single-vineyard jewels upon which Ravenswood built their reputation in the first place, there was little reason to spend corporate marketing dollars to promote them.  In fact, we’d guess that the accounting dept. gets downright annoyed to have to keep track of such tiny numbers.  Eventually the media pretty much stopped talking about them.

Anyway the results of this story led us to a remarkable cache of Ravenswood’s treasured single vineyard Zins at fantastic prices in May of last year.  Don’t ask us about the machinations that brought this about, we couldn’t tell you. But we sent that offer to an enthusiastic audience.  We were pretty sure we were ‘killin’ it’ at $24.99 on Old Hill, Big River, Dickerson and Barricia, about the price we sold these special Zins for decades earlier in the mid-90s.

But even more inexplicable is the offer we are rolling out today on that 2013 Ravenswood Barricia Zinfandel.  What happened?  Beats us.  Everything with this program is the same or better.  Even though Joel’s bank account is larger, he still has ‘the fire’ concerning these vineyards.  The vineyards themselves are still the same, too…. old and super low-yielding. This is still some of the most treasured dirt in California.  Are they made the same way? Pretty much.  Joel himself says so, except now they can buy better equipment with a corporate bankroll.

So how did an outstanding example of true California Zinfandel, from a revered vineyard, made under the auspices of one of the true Zinfandel masters, end up at this kind of price?  Again, we have no clue, but we don’t care.  We simply grabbed every box we could of this once-in-a-lifetime offer.  This Zin  is sourced half from Zinfandel planted prior to 1892 and the balance from new plantings of Zin and Petite Sirah, which makes up around 20% of the blend.  That Petite gives the wine heft and another level of complexity.

The nose shows brambly blackberry and black raspberry augmented by brambly notes.  Big in the mouth with notes of pepper and spice, this one shows expansive volume yet both the tannins and acidity are nicely integrated.  The wine hasn’t skipped a beat over the years.  The only thing missing is the ‘aura’ of times past.  At roughly 1/3 the typical price, we can deal with that.  If you love Zinfandel, here’s a legendary Zin for a remarkable fare… ”

 

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NEW PINOT FROM AVERAEN

Every day is a winding road, and you never know what is going to roll in the door.  This was a good case for this particular wine as the buyer on call that day had never seen this particular wine before.  Came to find out that the store had sold the 2016 version of Averaen Pinot Noir and the other buyer, who had not seen the label previously, thought it was pretty cool juice and bought the 2017.  Can’t think of a lot better testimony for the wine’s quality than that.

The short story on this label was as follows.  The folks that made Banshee wines, and their value label Rickshaw, were at the INPC (International Pinot Noir Conference) and just ‘sittin’ round the campfire’ when they had a revelation that this appellation that they were in, located in McMinnville, was remarkably similar to where they were working in California’s Sonoma Coast.  Cold Marine wind funneling through low-lying gaps in the coastal mountain ranges and soils of a mixed volcanic and marine sedimentary soils played off of each other to create a very advantageous environment to grow Pinot Noir.  Clearly it was kismet.

Not only did the Banshee boys sense that this would be a good environment for premium Pinot Noir, but they had just completed a partnership deal with William Foley that took a lot of stress out of taking the Banshee/Rickshaw label to the next level, but they ran across one Adam Smith, a talented winemaker  who had bolted to the Northwest after making the first vintage of Banshee in 2010.  It was ‘kismet’ and Averaen was born.

The 2017 Averaen Pinot Noir reflects both their desire to make high-toned, cool climate Pinot Noir, and the distinctive element s of the 2017 vintage that made this a very successful but very unique expression of Oregon Pinot.  This was the fourth straight successful vintage in this part of the world (global warming?), but one that differed from the previous three harvests in its personality.  While the 2014-2016 run showcased the riper side of Oregon Pinot, the 2017s showed plenty of ripeness but also a higher pitched, fresher, more lifted profile.

The nose showed urgent but high-toned ripe red, spicy fruit from the get-go.  In the mouth, this expressive, lifted, almost ‘crunchy’ Pinot had plenty of well-defined, vivid red fruits that sat higher of the palate and delivered a wave of energetic flavors.  We were taken with the wine immediately and bought it.  Some two weeks later as we sat down to write these notes, Vinous Media put their comments on this wine on the front of their website.  Apparently we are not alone.

Josh Raynolds comments in that feature reflected our impressions of both performance and value here, “Displays abundant berry and floral character, with vibrant spice accents adding verve. Seamless in texture and appealingly sweet, the 2017 finishes with impressive, juicy persistence and resonating florality.  This is textbook Willamette Valley Pinot Noir at a great price. ..91 points (an even better score than he gave the  2016).”

The 2017 Averaen Pinot Noir Willamette Valley is  appealing, well-priced effort from a label that shows a lot of promise going forward from a group that was already quite successful further south (Sonoma Coast).  This juicy,  little number  plays nicely in the here and now in a higher-toned, ‘Burgundy’ sort of way .