Question for Randy C. - Printable Version

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- Drew - 03-25-2002

Randy, I know that you love Pinot Noir and was wondering if you could suggest any nice ones, West Coast, in the $30 or less price range that may be available retail now.


- Randy Caparoso - 03-25-2002

Good gracious, Drew, you're on the Wine Board, and there's lots of other worthy opinions out there. Among the major magazines, I think Wine & Spirits and the Wine Spectator do a pretty good job of reporting on the better Pinots as well.

But since you ask, I do have my personal favorites, which I'll go down the line on with reasons:

1. Au Bon Climat (Central Coast) - their finest are the "Knox Alexander" and "Isabelle" cuvees, blended from Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo vineyard sources, and to me these epitomize a grace and sensual texture (as opposed to pure power) almost always lacking in, say, most North Coastal California Pinot Noir.

2. Penner-Ash (Oregon) - Lynn Penner-Ash, who just stepped down as full-time winemaker for Rex Hill, practically crystallizes the delicate, finesseful, yet potentially deep style of Willamette Valley. While we're on the subject, the Rex Hill "Reserve" bottlings also reflect this great winemaker, and so shares the #2 spot on my list.

3. Ken Wright (Oregon) - Wright primarily does single vineyard bottlings (more than half a dozen each year), and they are masterpieces of the Oregon style (i.e. Pinot at its purest!).

4. Willamette Valley Vineyards (Oregon) - A year ago I would not have put this winery in my "Top 10," but today I do. Winemaker Joe Dobbes packs luscious fruit and sinewy textures together in his "Hoodview" and "Freedom Hill" bottlings.

5. Williams Selyem (Russian River Valley) - I would say that most California Pinot lovers put this producer at the top. Who am I to argue? They're still doing incredibly rich, plump, juicy wines, with compelling, lilting fragrances. Especially their "Rochioli River Block."

6. Chehalem (Oregon) - Often mentioned on this Web site. Among the "power" producers of Oregon, but always with velvet and finesse. Their "Rion Reserve" is their top-of-the-line.

7. Fiddlehead (Oregon & Santa Barbara) - Proprietor/winemaker/one-man-band Kathy Joseph has been at the top of her game in recent years. It's hard to beat her Willamette Valley as well as Santa Maria Valley cuvees for consistency of grace, silk and lacy perfume.

8. Flowers (Sonoma Coast) - Ultra-premium producer specializing in a California style (intense spice and berry fruit) packaged in deceptively light but lingering layers of flavor. Liquid seductions.

9. Archery Summit (Oregon) - Utterly delicious Willamette Valley cuvees. Usually lots of smoky oak, but it's primarily all about flavor and texture for this producer, and you'll almost always find lots of it in their various bottlings (I like their "Red Hills" estate).

10. Etude (Carneros) - After all these years, still the finest (my opinion, of course) producer on the Napa side of Carneros. Winemaker Tony Soter recently sold the label to Beringer-Blass, but for now is still guiding things along. Meticulously balanced wines with a signature "plush velvet" feel.

11. Beaux Freres (Oregon) - A deep, powerful Oregon style with a middle softness not usually found in, say, California. I like the Beaux Freres Pinots nice and young (3-6 years) while they're still effusively spiced, but you also have to allow for some tannic muscle (a good game bird should tame it).

12. Cristom (Oregon) - Winemaker Steve Doerner has been getting better and better every year since moving up from California (formerly the winemaker for for Calera) some 10 years ago. Generous oak and full structures mark his style, but always filled with plump, plummy, gripping Pinot fruit.

13. Costa de Oro (Central Coast) - Senselessly underrated winemaker/proprietor Gary Burk crafts marvelously lush, round, spicy Pinots in the same Santa Barbara compound that houses Au Bon Climat and Qupe.

14. Talley (San Luis Obispo) - Stupendously rich, juicy, smoky-spicy styles from a marvelous vineyard estate.

15. Domaine Alfred (San Luis Obispo) - A neighbor of Talley's, but more of the silken, finesse style. This, and the Flowers Pinots, are the closest thing to the Oregon style in California, which to mean means veddy, veddy good.

16. WillaKenzie (Oregon) - Can get a little big (for Oregon), but still wonderfully intense and spicy.

Hey, there's lots more out there. Ponzi, Westrey, Bethel Heights and Patti Green from Oregon certainly would be on some people's "Top 10" list, and I certainly wouldn't disagree. From California, Dehlinger (if you can find it), Hartford Court, and Merry Edwards are currently making modern legends. Iron Horse and De Loach are just now coming on strong, making North Coast California styles that are chock full of luscious, spicy fruit. I also love what Goldeneye (owned by Duckhorn) and Handley are doing in Mendocino -- crisp, scintillating Pinots of fine quality. I could go on and on, but one has to stop somewhere, after all!

- Botafogo - 03-25-2002

We sold a hundred cases of Two Tigers Hyland Vineyard Reserve Unfiltered Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 1998 (Oregon) last week at $3.99. We'll be offering two other cuvees from this winery coming from the same broker meltdown this coming week at $3.99 and $5.99 with a little over 90 cases of each. These are outstanding wines that should be orbiting around $20.00 or so.

File under "when bad things happen to good wines": the broker literally disappeared and the storage / trucking company sold them for the storage fees.....


[This message has been edited by Botafogo (edited 03-25-2002).]

- Drew - 03-26-2002

...and I value the opinions from ALL on this board. Just doing a little individual brain picking. My experience with pinot has been a little frustrating in that I seem to choose more bad than good wines and I remembered you stating once that you'd rather drink pinot than anything else. The selections, in this area, are slim compared to other varitels and the wines tend to be expensive. Translated that means I'm tired of emptying my pockets for bad pinot! BTW, sounds like a great find, Roberto,(now if we could work on Maryland's shipping laws...but that's another thread).


- Randy Caparoso - 03-26-2002

I would say no way you'd find "deals" like that out there in Maryland, Drew. Things don't operate like that for your distributors. I would say that the best Oregon Pinot Noir for the "regular" price right now is by Griffin Creek ($12-$16). At the last Oregon State Fair we preferred it over almost all the other Pinots in the $25-plus range.

Forgot to mention another California favorite of mine. Unfortunately, also rare and pricey: Ted Lemon's Littorai label. Gorgeous, delicate, fragrant wines, all silk and lace. Can't go wrong when you stick to the top-notch vintners (the ones with the "Pinot touch"), you know.

- Bucko - 03-26-2002

Randy ran a nice list of Pinots. My absolute favorite from OR is still St. Innocent. I'm just now starting to drink the 94s.

- Thomas - 03-26-2002

Drew, you are spot on. Pinot Noir is not an easy grape to grow and it is not an easy grape for winemaking--something agricultural that is not easy tends to be expensive at retail.

A good Pinot Noir is a wonderful thing--a bad one is, well, a bad thing, and I venture to say that there are many high-priced ones (at least in my tasting experience) that are plain mediocre at best. But there is another dimension to the mix: Pinot Noir has taken on FAD status; ultimately, that is the death of quality/value ratio--think what happened with the FADS Merlot and Chardonnay.

- Kcwhippet - 03-26-2002


I notice no mention of Siduri. Is there a reason for that? In fact, I rarely see them mentioned by anybody here.

- Bucko - 03-26-2002

I usually do not mention a wine if I have to trash it. I have had some nice Siduri wines but I have had some green, stemmy tasting wines that got fed to the drain gods......

- vinman - 03-26-2002

You know,
Something very easy to drink with very good fruit, some complexity, is organic, without too much tannin are the wines from Cooper Mountain. Currently applying for dynamic organic producer status, these guys are serious about their vineyards, their fruit, and direction. Nice to see that at prices that will not break the bank!

- vinman - 03-26-2002

Sure, we all ditch wine. Yet, regarding Siduri, Santa Lucia fruit is something that I have yet to hear is drain pour. Now, I have not always been happy with Hirsch offerings, but somehow have managed to force them down, with proper food of course! I give these folks credit 'cuz they rock 'roll on one speed!

- vinman - 03-26-2002

Randy's list is awesome. Now that I'm excited would it be OK if one more was quietly a Rex Hill 1999, standard Willamette Valley, less than $25.

- vinman - 03-27-2002

Cristom wines are strong and profound, always will be, 'cuz a bunch of folks would rather taste trees, than grapes! Just the way it is!

- Drew - 03-27-2002

You know, Foodie, I don't think that the Fad status has hit the Balto/Wash coridor area yet. I continue to see little offerings in the shops and little discussions concerning them. Syrah/Shiraz, Merlot and Cab seem to be the buzz wines in this area. I attended a nice tasting event in February with over 250 wines offered and not 1 pinot. Last evening when Eileen and I ate at Josefs restaurant I noticed 1 pinot offering, a Rodney Strong wine, out of a 10 page wine list...and this is a top shelf restaurant with many seafood and veal offerings that a lighter red would compliment.


- wondersofwine - 03-27-2002

I hope the Siduris I bought fall into the "nice" category. I bought two or three at the recommendation of the wine shop manager but haven't opened them yet. Will report back when I do.

- Randy Caparoso - 03-27-2002

I agree with the comment on oak in the Cristoms -- very generous. But he balances it out with intense, powerful fruit. The same for Beaux Freres -- tons of oak, and tons of fruit.

St. Innocent? I know you like it, Bucko, but that's where I draw the line a little bit -- I think the majority of his wines are a little too heavy in oak and tannin in relation to fruit balance. I mean, I love Mark Vlossak as a person, and his wines have that same exuberant character. Just slightly too much enthusiasm for oak for my taste.

Siduri: I've met and talked with Dianne and Adam Lee, and came away with the impression that they are true devotees of the grape. They live and breathe it, and also apply completely natural, minimal handling methodologies. The result are wines that vary from bottle to bottle (I know this, since I've sold all of their cuvees). The closest thing in California Pinot Noir to the "Gang of Five" in Beaujolais -- every bottle an adventure. I think this is why Bucko's had problems. I'm sure he's found some "funky" bottles (to be specific, some volatile acidity, or some oxidation, or some excess of sediment, etc.).

But when you get a fresh, perfectly clean bottle of Siduri (I especially like their Hirsch bottlings -- the most refined and graceful of their lots), you get lots of ringingly intense and pure Pinot Noir flavor. Something to write home about. I would say that at least a third of their wines deliver that, but at $35, $45 a pop, it's something of a crap shoot, I'm sorry to say. But these guys are good, so no doubt they're getting better as the years go by...

Pricing: Yep, all my recommendations are pricey. It's very, very difficult to make really special, low price Pinot Noir. Modern viticulture entails balancing of fruiting vines -- ratio of leaves to fruit, trellising for sunlight exposure, vine spacing, timing of thinning and hedging, and numerous other factors, all crucial to the final product. When you hit that balance with, say, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, it's perfectly possible to make wonderful wine yielding, maybe, 3, 4 or even 5 tons per acre. But with Pinot Noir, no matter what they do, the rule is still as close to 2 tons per acre as possible for decently intense fruit. So even before coming into the winery -- where the wine needs still more handcrafted, small batch attention -- Pinot Noir is twice the price to make. Just the way it is, unfortunately.

Finally, Pinot Noir as a "fad?" Nah... good Pinot is too pricey, unpredictable, and downright peculiar to ever amount to something like that. But what do I know? Even Bob Dylan, Courtney Love and Angelina Jolie have become "mainstream" in recent years.

[This message has been edited by Randy Caparoso (edited 03-27-2002).]

- Bucko - 03-27-2002

Okay, RC, next NWIWC I'll bring an old SI Pinot -- the oak comes into harmony with about 7-8 years on it. I'll serve the blackbird pie hot........... [img][/img]

- Randy Caparoso - 03-27-2002

Okay, Bucko... I'm always ready to be convinced!

Here's a story: Two years ago I was invited by Mark to a wonderful barbecue with a few other friends. We sat down at a table set amidst the barrels in St. Innocent, Mark did ALL the cooking, and he gleefully served virtually every Pinot Noir he ever made (I think going back to '88)... maybe I overdosed (in fact, I KNOW I overdosed), but I still came away with the impression: Mark is a great, lovable guy who makes wines as effusive and generous (fruit, oak AND tannin) as he is!

So I perfectly understand why you're such a big fan!

[This message has been edited by Randy Caparoso (edited 03-27-2002).]

- vinman - 03-27-2002

Can think of nothing in my brief experience on this forum that compares with the awesome discussion and subsequent comments on this singular topic. Have tasted tonight, (3) of the wines discussed, and realize that there is much to learn about my favorite prince!

- winoweenie - 03-28-2002

Again being redundant (or is that redumbant?) 'tis a pleezure having you back Randolph. On this thread I've been on a pinot kick since the wedding Sat and have gone thru 1994 to 1998 Dehlinger Pinots. Bucko, the same thing you are saying about the St. Innocents' (which I also happen to enjoy) are the identical things I said about the Dehlingers in our lil' discussion over a year ago. As of today I can't think of a Calif. or Ore. pinot I've been more impressed with than Toms 94 Octogon or Reserve bottlings.These two hummers raised the hair on the back of me neck. Have fun guys and no ear-biting whilst I be gone WW