HANSEL PINOT: MORE THAN JUST ‘NUMBERS’

It has become the norm for consumers to ‘buy by the numbers’ or respond to some other publicity that calls attention to a particular producer. For that reason we still see Walter Hansel’s wines, which have performed admirably for a couple of decades after starting with some cuttings and a little help from Tom Rochioli, as still kind of under the radar. That is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s bad for them because they are performing well above the crowd but still aren’t quite considered the iconic producer they should be, though they don’t have any trouble selling wine.

The good part is that, because of their less-than-deserved notoriety and rather humble pricing, they are one of the best values in premium Pinot Noir. Take this 2016 Walter Hansel Estate Pinot Noir Russian River Valley. It is all estate-grown and made up of grapes from the five blocks on the property that are also the source of individual vineyard bottlings that do get their share of critical attention. It is loaded with personality, exudes a very tender and engaging palate of dark cherry and mulberry touched with the classic clove and spice notes that define the Russian River’s terroir.

As we have said many times, the ‘little guy’ is usually tasted among it’s higher intentioned siblings and tends to be overshadowed when the reviews are finally published. The thing is, as is often the case, once this one is given the opportunity to shine on its own, it impresses. We have been tasting Hansel wines for a long time and this is certainly among the most appealing. Fresh, lively and at the same time tender and seamless, this is what Pinot Noir is all about.

Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perotti-Brown gives a good assessment of the wine, “Pale ruby-purple colored, the 2016 Pinot Noir Estate has amazingly pure notions of crushed cranberries, Bing cherries and redcurrants with touches of garrigue, tilled soil and bay leaves. Medium to full-bodied, it delivers bags of crunchy red berry flavors and a lovely satiny texture with a very long, lively finish…91 points.”

But we know people, too, and among the individual estate designates, which score as high as 95 points, this one is less likely to get its due. We think the performance here merits a point or two higher. More important than numbers, this is a fantastic performer in the glass winning on all fronts, purity, complexity, palate feel and personality. Less than 900 cases were produced. For Pinot drinkers, this is a must. For our part, we have made the access price a bit more attractive with one of our special ‘click-through’ price deals.

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.