BRIEFS 7-24-19

*La Rioja Alta is one of the elite producers in Rioja founded in 1890. Their La Rioja Alta Rioja Reserva Vina Alberdi is consistently one of the go-to values in Spain and the 2013 once again outperforms, particularly given that this was not a noteworthy harvest. This is Tempranillo from vines averaging 40 years of age in chalky-clay soils located at an altitude of 500-600 meters (1600-2000 ft) above sea level. A remarkably precise and tasty effort from a vintage that typically yielded more savory styled wine.  Red currant and strawberry with classic Rioja notes of balsamic, wild herbs, coffee and caramel. Typically this bottling pulls in 90+ scores and delivers plenty of character for its modest tab. This one hasn’t been reviewed as yet but we can assure you it is a wise choice as always and we expect it will get its due from the media in time.

*Winemakers Anthony Riboli and French born Arnaud Debons work closely with multiple vineyard owners from various districts within Paso Robles on long term contracts to produce the Opaque Zinfandel Paso Robles 2015 Each lot is fermented separately then blended and put in barrel for 14 mo. A classic, lush ‘old school’ Zin with outgoing boysenberry and blackberry fruit laced with peppery spice, but with sufficient lift and freshness to play in the current, more sophisticated marketplace.

*They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery. But what if your imitation is better than the original. This is our second go-round with one of the great under-the-radar Pinot Noir buys around. There is an extended story about owner/winemaker Seth Cripe who left Florida at age 17 with the idea of getting into the wine business. He worked at a number of Napa Valley venues starting at Swanson, and including eight harvests at Caymus. The short story is that he is making value wines in the mold of popular commercial brands like Meomi, but that have the purity, integrity, and varietal character that such brands don’t. Like the 2016 before it, the Lola Pinot Noir California 2017 surprises with its burst of plush, honest, varietally true dark cherry and mulberry fruit with tinges of spice and floral notes. For under $20, it’s a crowd-pleaser while also showing varietal integrity and honest flavors.

*It’s always kind of a dilemma deciding how much to say about something. If you are talking about a great functional wine at a value price, and excess of superlatives and an expansive story could end up being counterproductive. On the other hand, if we are too concise with our words, people might interpret that as a lack of enthusiasm. Be that as it may, the Dashwood Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2018 deserves a word or two. This has been a staple for us during long stretches of our history. There has been some label tweaking and some inconsistencies along the way, but this is the the best version of this wine in many years. Many examples of the Kiwi 2018s are overtly acidic, but the one hits all the right notes with tropical and grapefruit fruit, bright but not overly aggressive acidity, none of the ‘green’ flavors that plague many value Kiwi bottlings,and substance on the palate. One of the worlds great Sauvignon Blanc values.

THREE GOOD AMERICAN ‘VALUE’ REDS

Not words you are likely to hear strung together very often from us .  First, our definition of value is perhaps a lot different than the majority of the marketplace.  First, a value doesn’t necessarily have to be ‘cheap’, it merely has to deliver far above its purchase price.  For the sake of argument today, however, this trio all sell for under $20.

Second, it has to taste like actual wine, as opposed to some of the current mass market items that taste formulaic as if someone put some juice, wood essence and sugar in a blender to approximate a desired flavor that isn’t necessarily wine-like.  Worse are the ones that are manipulated to the point of utter soullessness so as not to offend anyone.  Sadly, most of what is out there in the ‘value’ category falls into one of those categories.

Our struggle is to find fun things to drink that have character, some varietal identity where a varietal is stated, and possibly even notes of place.   In other words, things that taste like they were made from grapes instead of in the laboratory.  In America, such wines represent a fraction of what is available because most of the ‘price point’ bottlings are controlled to some extent by corporate-type entities or those trying to compete with them.

We seek the small, the talented, the maybe even a little bit quirky and are thrilled when we find something we are excited enough to talk about.  Can’t remember the last time we had three such American wines at the same time.  Usually we have to ‘outsource’ for quality in this price range

Lola Pinot Noir North Coast 2016

Though they have been around since 2008, this is only our second encounter with LOLA.  Winemaker/owner Seth Cripe got bit by the wine bug at 17 while working as a busboy near his home in Anna Maria Island, Florida.  You’ve heard the story before many times about the person who works at various wine locales around the world to learn  ropes and then finds his niche.  Seth’s niche turned out to be making wine from important  appellations, but selling them at reasonable prices.  What a concept.  The LOLA Pinot Noir tastes like, um, Pinot Noir.  Good Pinot Noir and we aren’t trying to be wiseacres because you know so many of them out there only bear a vague resemblance to the real deal after they have been manipulated in the cellar and pumped up with some other varietal.

The winery is located in Napa, but the juice for the Lola Pinot Noir North Coast 2016 comes from Pinot-legit places like Mendocino, Russian River Valley and the Sonoma Coast AVAs.  Tender, fruit driven core, red fruits that lean a little blue, a touch of spice and violet, it is a surprisingly engaging quaff.  Since LOLA costs about the same as a mass-marketed Pinot whose name is five letters starting with ‘M’ and ending in ‘I’, we can’t imagine why anyone would buy that when they could buy this!  The only reason we can fathom is that people don’t know about LOLA yet.  The whole winery produces 12,000 cases total of several varietals, and there are hundreds of thousands of cases of our mass-market Pinot.   Clearly LOLA is still kind of an insiders’ find, but now you know.

We’ll leave here with the words of Jeb Dunnuck, who apparently also found this Pinot rather charming,

“…An excellent value …It saw a touch of whole cluster and 6 months in used barrels. It offers a sweetly fruited, pretty, elegant, classic Pinot Noir style (which isn’t a given at this price point) to go with notes of cherries, toast and spice. Drink it over the coming 3-5 years…90 points.”

Ryan Patrick Redhead Red Columbia Valley 2016

 Washington is still something of a sleeping giant when it comes to making value reds.  But we have certainly had our eyes opened by the likes of Alder Ridge and Powers, and little blends from folks like Bookwalter.  Behold our newest surprise, the Ryan Patrick Redhead Red Columbia Valley 2016.  An unpretentious blend of 56% Cabernet, 22% Merlot, 17% Syrah, 5% Petit Verdot, it has the size and polish to excel as a casual quaff, but if you pay a little attention you can also see that there is some serious fruit in here in top-flight grapes sourced from the Wahluke Slope.

The winery prides itself on its flexibility.  In their own words, “Many wineries use static recipes for their wines. Instead, the (Partick Ryan) winemaking team, headed by Kendall Mix, does daily fermentations with different yeast or temperatures to achieve a specific effect.  Batch-tinkering approaches have resulted in varietals and blends that have justifiably become famous for how they out-perform their price point. Ryan Patrick is known for its Naked Chardonnay, Redhead Red and Rock Island Red labels, and for its Reserve wines.

Only 15% of this charming, juicy, not-so-‘little’ red from Ryan Patrick saw any oak.  The focus here is on generous berry, black cherry, and cassis flavors.  At under $10 this is quite the bargain and the wine’s weight is more akin to a riper Bordeaux than something jammy from, say, Paso Robles.  As such it is more versatile with food and doesn’t get tiresome in the glass.

 Ultraviolet Cabernet Sauvignon California 2016

Samantha Sheehan had the good fortune to taste a lot of the world’s great wines at a fairly young age.  She knows what exceptional wine is supposed to taste like.  To satisfy her own artistic needs, she founded Poe Winery with the intent of showcasing specific California vineyard terroirs made in a transparent, minimalist way.  There’s also apparently a little whimsy as Poe also produces a nouveau Pinot, Vermouths and, of course, a Rose.  Apparently the winery is involved in a charitable endeavor or two, but there is still an awareness that not everybody can plunk down serious money for wine.

To that end, Sheehan has been making a wine called Ultraviolet Cabernet since 2010 in a price range that can appeal to a much broader audience.  Why ‘ultraviolet’?  Apparently it is a nod to ‘fruit ripened in the California sun’.  The wine also bears the banner “Bottled in the Napa Valley” with the wine’s appellation not immediately evident.  On the back label it says California Cabernet in a way that doesn’t really give the impression that it is an appellation reference.

What is evident is that, while this fruit may not be all from Napa, it also doesn’t taste like it is sporting the kind of Central California ‘filler’ that most ‘value’ Cabs seem to feel they need to have for cost reasons.  If it isn’t all North Coast fruit, it certainly tastes like it is.  What is particularly relevant here, besides the supple (particularly for a young Cabernet) cassis fruit component, is the texture.  There’s a suppleness to the midpalate you don’t typically see in wines of this price range, with rounder edges and laid back tannins.

It isn’t big or jammy.  It is a crowd pleaser certainly with enough volume and fruit that tastes like it is supposed to taste, genuine and rather elegant.  The stats are interesting in that the wine is 95% Cabernet and 5% Franc, and it sees 50% new French oak but the wood is definitely integrated.  The point is that it definitely shows a certain breeding and delivers a lot for it’s more than modest fare.