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.

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.

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.

HILLERSDEN ESTATE PINOT NOIR MARLBOROUGH 2016

We have been selling New Zealand Pinot Noirs since the 1993 vintage, prior to which we had no idea they even made Pinot Noir in New Zealand.  A Pinot Noir-centric Oregon purveyor went there and hand carried back things like Ata Rangi and Te Mata, and our impression was that this was clearly the start of something significant.  In the roughly quarter century that followed, the Kiwis have established themselves as an important Pinot Noir option in this marketplace.

Back then few here had a clear idea of the appellations or general lay of the land, but certain consistent profiles became apparently.  Generally New Zealand Pinots are cooler customers and a bit more savory.  Sometimes they can be downright sharp and green, perhaps just a bit too ‘cool climate’ for a lot of people’s tastes.  But the best examples have a more pronounced fruit core and more rounded edges, but still present their fruit in a more restrained, lifted, cooler-edged manner.  It is the ones that hit that happy medium of bright mulberry and dark cherry fruit with enough palate tenderness to give them a broader audience that really present the most viable and distinctive options for Pinot fans.

The best examples play to that, and Hillersden is a new face for us that offers a great look at a wine that is reasonably outgoing yet at the same time distinctly New Zealand.  The mulberry, plum and dark cherry fruit has both mineral and savory spice underpinnings, but also possesses a suppler palate-feel and somewhat softer edges to really give a good reckoning of the place without one having to forgive a touch of shrillness far too many other NZ reds have.

The combination in the Hillersden Estate Pinot Noir Marlborough 2016 makes for a compelling drink and the price point is relatively easy on the pocketbook.  In other words, we may have found a new player moving forward but this example certainly delivers.  Their claim is that they are the only family-owned, single estate producer in Wairu.

We had never heard of this producer before but that may have to do with the fact that their history only goes back to 2015.  They are in the upper Wairu Valley, which is a bit further inland and a bit warmer than many of the other Marlborough sites.  This would certainly help make the wine fleshier while still preserving the brightness of the flavors.  Winemaker Adam Kubrock actually grew up in Walla Walla and made Syrah and other reds but became enchanted with the cool climate winemaking Down Under.  This Pinot sees 10 months in 25% new French oak and all of the fruit is farmed sustainably.

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 .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!’

 

Pinot Noir auf Deutsch?  Sehr gut!

Pinot Noir has been a hot topic for some time now.  And the usual discussion about whether the pricing and performance is currently more exciting in California’s Central Coast or Russian River, or in special vintages from the Motherland (France), is the norm.  But with global warming, there are new considerations to the Pinot discussion, particularly in a juicy vintage like 2015.  Like …Germany?

No, we are not talking about some leafy tasting, brownish Spätburgunder that garners little interest outside of Deutschland itself.  We are now talking about extremely appealing examples of German Pinot Noir these days, wines that are competitive on the world stage.  At the top of our list in that category is today’s selection from Meyer-Näkel.

This player is no surprise either to us any more, though we must admit our surprise from our first trip to the region more than a decade ago.  We have sold several vintages of the Meyer-Näkel wines  since that time and they only seem to be getting better.   Werner Näkel himself is credited with putting the Ahr on the map internationally back in the 1990s and nothing has changed, other than the Pinots have taken on a deeper fruit component and a more tender mouth feel,  while never losing the lift, clarity and purity that make them special.  The Ahr Valley has a long history with the varietal and is only elevated by the current weather trends.

Yes there are easier things to sell than German Pinot Noir, but the quality at Meyer-Näkel has earned them the right to be included in any serious discussion about the varietal.  As you might have guessed, the 2015 vintage that was a watershed for the Rieslings was also very kind to Pinot Noir.  So the Meyer Nakel Spätburgunder (aka Pinot Noir) Estate 2015 has a bit more flesh and sweetness on the palate, making it perhaps the most ideal ‘crossover’ Pinot they have made.  Yet it still speaks of the unique micro-climate in this river valley.

Lively cherry and red berry fruit is accented with some smoky tones, cinnamon, slatey minerality, and a whiff of damp forest.  The fruit takes hold on the palate but there is a perfect tension that keeps everything bright and expressive.   For under $30, it can hold its own in any arena, with the personality best pegged as somewhere between Oregon and the Cote de Beaune, but with its own spin.  A must for Pinot lovers.

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.