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 .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RETURN OF THE BUNNY

This has been a wonderful recurring theme since Charlie Coniglio first walked into our office a few years ago with a Napa Cabernet in tow.  Sure we see a lot of folks peddling expensive Napa Cabernets but this one had style, depth, and the kind of vanillan, chocolatey blackcurrent theme that Cabernet drinkers love.  Even back then, $50 was considered a pretty attractive price on serious Napa Cabernet and we started to carry it in the regular lineup.  That was a 2004.  A few months later he came back to us with an extremely aggressive price on that same delicious Napa Cabernet and, well, it was an offer we couldn’t refuse.

We have done a number of deals since that time and have come to depend on this quirky relationship to keep us supplied with sensational and well priced (for the quality level) Cabernet whenever he had some to sell.  We dubbed the series ‘The Bunny’ because it is our euphemism for Coniglio, the family name (which is also the Italian word for ‘rabbit’).  ‘The Bunny’, by virtue of the series of thrilling Cabernet deals we have launched over the last half decade or so, has become something of a brand around here.

The style is remarkably consistent over the years.  We could almost cut-and-paste the descriptors from one year to the next as the style is classic, Cabernet lovers juice.   People have enjoyed these lavishly styled, full throttle Napa Cabernets, particularly at the kind of reduced prices we are selling them for.   It has been a classic win-win, and we are always interested to see what Charlie has in his bag.  The most recent ‘visit’ turned up another can’t miss Cabernet for a thirsty world.

The Coniglio Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2014 looks quietly impressive with its black label and broad-shouldered bottle.  It certainly doesn’t taste like a sub-$35 Napa Cab, though that might be because the listed winery price is $70.  Technically, this wine could have carried an even groovier Stags Leap District appellation on the label but ‘the bunny’ knows they’d probably have to charge more if they did that.  That kind of decision-making is above our pay grade and we certainly didn’t want to create a case for raising the tariff.  Let sleeping bunnies lie.

So what you have here is legit, well-endowed Stags Leap juice at a fantastic price.  This is typical ‘Bunny’ style.  You’ve got your dark, chewy, powerful Napa Cab with loads of cassis and inky black fruits, with a lovely sheen of chocolatey nuance from what tastes like expensive oak.  This wine has a bit more volume than many SLD wines, with more weight and a broader palate impression.  But the telltale elegance of the appellation lurks beneath. At $31.98 this is a pretty sensational value for a high quality Napa Cab!

 

Sneaky Good Buy on Cali Chard from Santa Rita Hills

First of all, we must make the point that this Pence has nothing to do with politics that we know of.  Blair Pence owns a 200-acre working ranch in the western part of the Santa Rita hills with his vines situated on rocky soils .  By their own description, “Seen from above, it appears as an island on an elevated plateau, which has been slowly eroded over time on all sides and is thus fully exposed to merciless cold ocean winds, morning fog and other Pacific Ocean influences. It is this combination of stressful conditions that provides the character considered essential to making great wines from our location.”

Thing is it seems like everybody has some sort of angle to assert that their wine is better.  This one actually is.  The Pence Ranch Chardonnay Santa Rita Hills 2016 is one of the best under $20 Chardonnays we have tasted from California in quite some time.  To some people that means something that is ‘rich and round, mouth-filling and oaky’ (and probably pumped up with residual sugar and wood chips).  If you are looking for that kind of in-your-face style, this is not that.

This one surprised us because it had sufficient size, a great palate feel, nuanced flavors of pear, ‘butter’, and apple, and bright acidity.  In other words, it tasted like Chardonnay, with the kind of fruit, purity, balance and nuance that engages rather than overwhelms.   We’re going to go out on a limb and presume that the winemaking probably has a lot to do with this.

As soon as we tasted this one, we were pretty sure whoever made it knew what they were doing. The winemaker of record here is one Sashi Moorman, a talented fellow involved in a few side projects as well as his own PiedraSassi, Sandhi and Domaine de la Côte labels.  The stuff coming out of Sandhi now is quite impressive, and his touche seems to have worked beautifully with Pence’s ocean-influenced Chardonnay.

Yeah we can produce a review from Jeb Dunnuck, “92 Points!  The 2016 Chardonnay Estate has some caramelized notes as well as ripe orchard fruits and brioche, lip-smacking acidity, a rounded, beautifully textured feel, and a great finish. Aged 9 months in 25% new Ermitage barrels, drink it over the coming 3-5 years.”

But one on one, as opposed to some kind of multi-item blind review tasting, one will be able to sense a lot going on.

This is a beautiful option in today’s varied Chardonnay world.  But it wasn’t made to win a tasting with added bell and whistles.  It was instead made to be what it is supposed to be, a well-made, tasty, versatile, personality-filled ‘real’ Chardonnay made by a guy who is well acquainted with what great Chardonnay is supposed to taste like.  A sneaky value, we could try and make a big splash but, frankly, that’s not the format to sell a wine like this.  This Chardonnay speaks for itself without yelling and enough people should ‘get it’.

SANDHI PINOT NOIR 2016: SANTA RITA AS IT SHOULD BE

As the old saying goes, nothing is perfect.  Now all of that may have changed with the advent of the ‘100 point scale’ which occasionally has wines awarded 100 points.  Isn’t 100 points on a ‘100 point’ scale, well, perfection?  In theory it would seem so, but what defines perfection?  Simply it is the ability to fulfill all of the parameters in the best possible way.  But it is also relevant to understand that someone has to decide what those parameters are.  Obviously you can‘t judge Pinot Noir and Chardonnay by the same standard.

Even with the same varietal, there are stylistic preferences that some might judge more enthusiastically than others.  The origins also make a difference.  Willamette Pinots, those from Russian River, Santa Rita Hills or Santa Lucia Highlands each have their own charm, but they also have long-established traits that define their appellation.  All have very different profiles.

So that being said, within the very specific subset of Santa Rita Hills, it doesn’t get much better than the Sandhi Pinot Noir Santa Rita 2016Beautifully orchestrated throughout, this is a textbook example of the appellation like few we have ever seen.  The aromatics show the cool dark red fruits, rhubarb, and wild herbs.  In the mouth there is plenty of refined, well-meshed, ample cranberry and mulberry fruit, a tapestry of earth, anise, and touches of oak in the finish.

To quote Antonio Galloni of Vinous Media,“… the 2016 Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita Hills) is positively stellar. Powerful and deep in the glass, with unusual depth, the 2016 has so much to offer. There is a level of sheer richness I have never seen in this bottling before. Blue and purplish berry fruit, lavender and spice flavors are all amped up. This is a very serious wine at the appellation level. Then again, the core of this wine is now composed of vineyards that belong to Domaine de la Côte. If there is one wine that over delivers big time in 2016, Sandhi’s Santa Rita Hills Pinot is it. Don’t miss it…93 Points! “

In any case, we haven’t experienced a better standard-bearer for the appellation than this one.  If you are a fan of the Santa Rita Hills, this wine hits all the right notes.  Does that mean perfection? Under a certain set of parameters, maybe so.  But at the very least, it’s seriously good, ‘Burgundy styled’ Pinot Noir crafted by guys (Rajat Parr and Sashi Moorman) that have great experience with real Burgundy, and, at $29.98, delivers a lot of value on a wine that plays at a high level.  Like the man said, ‘don’t miss it!’