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.


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… ”