Don’t Miss This $34 Pinot Noir (for $15)

If the following saga sounds a bit familiar, it’s because we had a couple of rounds of insane Pinot Noir closeouts from the Knez winery earlier this year. The ‘back story’ itself is one of the more unusual we have told in all of our years of doing this and this ‘Episode 3’ is quite the climax to the Knez trilogy of Pinot Noir tales.  We ‘ve already sold a ton but we took down a ton and a half and, really, there’s nothing out there this expensively made for this kind of price

For those of you who don’t recall that Knez story, here’s a refresher. It starts (and ends) with Peter Knez, a math genius who did quite well for himself designing things like algorithms used by Wall Street types. Apparently, around 2007, Peter and his wife decided to move to the Anderson Valley to live the ‘dream’ of a rural life in ‘wine country.’ These were intelligent, highly successful folks turning their attention to the wine business, though that part is not particularly unusual.

Here, these ‘city folk’ wasted no time in getting down to business. They acquired two of Mendocino’s prime Pinot Noir vineyards, Demuth and Cerise, in 2007 and 2008, and planted their own Knez Vineyard in 2009. Winemaker Anthony Filiberti, who was quite familiar with these sites from his work with the respected Anthill Farms, came on board here as winemaker/viticulturist (as well as partner we are told). It wasn’t long before the winery was attracting attention and praise from the media. They were making compelling wines and farming these outstanding vineyards biodynamically. Things went along swimmingly, or so it seemed, and this is where we are supposed to say, ‘and they lived happily ever after.’

As it turned out, we have to presume that these folks didn’t really find the ‘simple life’ to their liking. They have sold their vineyards, finding an enthusiastic buyer in Kosta Browne for their important Knez, Demuth and Cerise holdings. The only other thing to do was sell their supply of highly-reviewed Pinot Noirs. Some folks have money problems, others have family issues. But this just seems to be a case where the Knez folk simply wanted out. Because of the quality of the juice and the dirt, it didn’t appear that the process was going to take very long.

We, and you, have certainly done our parts in making a lot of great Knez Pinot go away.

As they say, success is in the eye of the beholder as well. Knez apparently did not think the sell-off was going fast enough for his tastes. So, he changed horses with respect to his representation and rolled out an even crazier price on his Knez Winery Pinot Noir Anderson Valley 2013! From another epic vintage in California, this bottling is made from approximately 2/3 Cerise and 1/3 Demuth fruit and saw a fair bit of whole clusters in the fermentation.

Antonio Galloni of Vinous Media was succinct in his praise of the Knez Winery Pinot Noir Anderson Valley 2013, “The 2013 Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley) is quite floral, lifted and delicate in style. Raspberry, crushed flowers and mint are some of the notes that grace this pretty, entry-level offering from Knez. Today (January, 2015), the 2013 comes across as a bit ethereal, with plenty of influence from the 50-60% whole clusters. The wine’s mid-weight personality leads me to think it is best enjoyed sooner rather than later…90 points.”

We’d make a couple of points here. The 2013s were much tighter out of the gate than the 2014s, and we think the nearly 3 years of bottle age has greatly benefited this cooler-climate Pinot noir allowing the fruit to expand and take on weight, and the nose to develop complexity. The bottle aging has already been done for you and, thanks to this rather unusual set of events, it’s like a Pinot Noir Black Friday all over again price-wise.

As you’ll possibly recall if you saw the last two offers, the single vineyard wines had original price tags approaching $50, and this one ‘listed’ at the winery for $34, not a bad price for the caliber of juice in this bottle. But thanks to this make-it-go-away offer, we are proffering this seriously intended, estate grown $34 Pinot for $14.98, about what you’d pay for some marginal commercial Pinot that probably isn’t even all Pinot!

Remember, Kosta Browne will be launching wines from these exact same vineyards starting in the 2016 vintage with, presumably, $90 price tags.  Needless to reiterate, this is a pretty fantastic, once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity and, based on the new owners of these vineyards, will not be happening again.

 

 

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.

 

 

NOT JUST ANY OLD BEAUNE

Ah, Burgundy.  No appellation is more frustrating or confusing, yet the joy of finding the ‘good one’ always seems to provide the impetus to continue the hunt.  Finding a deal is a bonus. The 2015 vintage has been a fun exercise because the vintage’s engaging ripeness definitely allows for a higher success rate.  Of course the trick, from our point of view, is to find the juicy little numbers that don’t have triple (or quadruple) digit prices.

Sometimes the quest is easy; sometimes there are riddles to be solved as there was with this sleeper from Joseph Drouhin.  We have been pleased with Drouhin’s 2015 red Burgundy efforts at a number of levels.  But when we first came across this one, it was a bit of a curiosity.  Labeled Joseph Drouhin Cote de Beaune 2015 but bearing a fancier label (with a resemblance to Drouhin’s Clos des Mouches label…sans mouches of course), it was priced $10 higher than their more plainly labeled Cote de Beaune Villages.

It brought about questions on our part since the labeling didn’t necessarily sync with our impressions of the workings of the Burgundy hierarchy.  As one might have expected there was a perfectly Burgundian explanation.  Drouhin is a big house and produces a lot of negocient wine as well as bottlings from their own estate properties.  The ‘Villages’ with the regular label can come from any one of 16 different individual villages (Aloxe Corton, Volnay, etc) and isn’t necessarily all estate fruit.

The Cote de Beaune, according to the folks at Drouhin, “comes from the vines of the Joseph Drouhin estate (total vineyard area around 3 hectares – 7.5 acres) as well as from the younger vines of Clos des Mouches and other Premier Crus of Beaune that have been declassified (a Beaune wine can be declassified into Côte de Beaune).”  The story here is that there is much better (and more specific) stuff used in this one than the ‘villages’.  However you wouldn’t necessarily know that from looking at the label.

Fun folks, those Burgundians.  But once you get the ‘lay of the land’ and consider the possibilities is in a top vintage, things like this can become your own precious little secret.  Pour it out and you’ll really get a feel for where this one can go, and behold its deep ruby color.  The wine is a little reticent at first, with a touch cooler edge that most of the ultra tender 2015s, but Burgundy fans would consider the touch more lift and freshness a good thing.

As the nose opens, the breeding of the grapes here start to unfold.  There are dark cherries and currants, of course, but also a penetrating florality and high notes of mineral and clove in the nose.  As it sits in the glass few minutes, the Cote de Beaune unwinds to reveal spicy layers of fruit and plenty of flesh, nicely juxtaposed with clean acidity.  The highlights, or maybe it’s the power of suggestion, suggest this one flashes a bit of its ‘Mouches-y’ pedigree, but in any case there is no doubt that this one merits serious attention in this expensive vintage.

James Suckling had some nice words for this one as well, offering, “Very floral and fresh with crushed raspberries and flowers. Medium-to full-bodied, dense and silky. Beautiful and layered. Lovely texture. Drink now. ..92 Points!”  Still young and very lively, it is certainly a fine choice for current applications.  By all means, ‘drink now’ after giving this one a few minutes to stretch.   But we also think shows the definition and class to allow one to ponder putting away a few bottles for 5-10 years.  Either way, you win.

Also, and perhaps as important, there’s the value.  Clos des Mouches itself sells for over $100, this one costs about 66% less.  Good well priced Burgundy isn’t easy to find.  But it’s out there if you are willing to dig.

 

 

Regis Bouvier Gevrey Chambertin 2015

One thing about the great vintages of Burgundy these days is that the level of commerce rarely is in line with the level of excitement.  The juicy 2015 vintage is a prime example of how it works, and perhaps something of a trifecta of things that can go wrong.  First, while very successful, the crop was small.  Second, because the crop was small and demand was high, the prices on some wines got to the point of silly.  Even with that, if you were a high-end collector and were willing to pay the substantial ‘ticket price’, you still might not get many opportunities to snag many cherries because the unattractive ‘bundles’ of various producers wines, and the risk associated with selling every level of those bundles kept a lot of usual purveyors from offering the wines at all.

If you are looking to buy some legendary label at the current, astronomical market price, the going is tougher than ever. If you are looking for good wine to drink, that is doable. Incumbent in great, ripe vintages is the success from top to bottom, and the possibility of finding some pretty fine juice at whatever price range you are willing to pay. To that end, let us recommend the Regis Bouvier Gevrey Chambertin 2015.

This is a terroir filled example of this famed village with the additional benefit of a ripe fleshy vintage. There are Burgundies that need to be contemplated because they are not forthcoming with their statement. Here that juicy cherry-leaning-to-black currant fruit unfolds and engages pretty quickly. Classic spice for Gevrey, with savory flecks of earth and mineral, this is an ambassador for the genre. If you are a fan of Burgundy that doesn’t seek status of a famous label, only deliciousness, this is a fine choice. If you want to show someone what Burgundy is about who doesn’t necessarily have a lot of experience, this juicy 2015 will serve you well. For us, Regis Bouvier has been a regular source of truly likable, reasonably priced, honest Burgundy for a few years now.

The bulk of his holdings lie in Marsannay, a natural place to look for value in a warm vintage. But this .55 hectare parcel of 45 year-old-vines gave him some plump, ripe, fine juice in this vintage from a more ‘prestige’ address. This is the kind of Burgundy that makes friends, with the early drinkability that the 2009s had, but plenty structure underneath if you want to give it a few years. Folks in Oregon and California make comparisons to Burgundy, and there are a number of good Pinot Noirs that carry price tags a lot higher than this one. Our point is that, if you want something that tastes like really good Burgundy, how about actual Burgundy? Options like this where the typicité, profile, the accessibility and the sensible pricing all happen together aren’t easy to find even in the best of times. Here’s a tasty one…$49.98

SWAN PINOT: HOME RUN FOR THE ‘OLD GUARD’

JOSEPH SWAN VINEYARDS PINOT NOIR TRENTON ESTATE VINEYARD 2013

 Historically, this is one of those labels where we never really ‘got it’.  The reputation of Joseph Swan has been exalted for pretty much our entire time in the wine business.  But perhaps because history doesn’t really matter to us when it comes to purchasing, only what’s in the glass, we have not been big fans.  A lot of the wines were a bit too, um, ‘exotic’.  Maybe we had the misfortune to have them all on ‘root days’ (arguably before anyone knew what that was).  But we never understood why the ‘old timers’ spoke of the label in such glowing terms, and presumably never tasted the wines that generated such a buzz back in the day.

It is with that history, and with full knowledge of the fact that a number of people will simply tune out as we are pitching a $70 Pinot with a 91 point score, we say that the Joseph Swan Vineyards Pinot Noir Trenton Estate Vineyard 2013 is bloody amazing.   We kept tasting this and looking at each other with the expression, ‘is this really that good?’.  The answer is, “heck yeah!”  It is one of the best Pinots we have tasted from anywhere this year, and we have been tasting 2015 Burgundies among other things.

Apparently the 40th vintage of this wine, it shows deft winemaking in its unfettered purity, haunting, subtle spice and anise tones to the deep dark red and blue fruits, refined tannins and just the right touch of acidity to make the wine pop on the palate.  If you are looking for some sweet, gooey ‘jamball’, this is not that.  It is instead a very focused, refined and harmonious expression of Russian River Pinot that can play alongside anything.

It isn’t ‘big’ as that is defined these days.  But it is deep and expressive, simply a gorgeous effort that made us reconsider our position on this producer.  We must, in all fairness, give some of the credit to 2013, one of the most impressive vintages we have ever had from California.  It was also one that was particularly kind to Pinot, giving the wines an unusual depth and power while maintaining balance.

Lisa Perotti-Brown’s description, while accurate and complimentary enough, sounds a little clinical, “The 2013 Pinot Noir Trenton Estate Vineyard presents a pale to medium ruby color and tar and asphalt-led nose, opening out to a core of raspberry preserves, red currant jelly and licorice, plus a waft of underbrush. Full-bodied, rich and powerful in the mouth, it gives mouth-filling berry preserves and anise flavors with a chewy backbone and a long, fruity finish.”

The score and the rhetoric, while pretty good for her, simply doesn’t convey our level of enthusiasm.  Maybe she had it on a ‘root day’.  In any case, this is a serious, layered bottle of Pinot that deserves equally serious attention.  There are lots of other wines that would be easier sells, but this one is very special, and maybe something of a game-changer for us….$69.99