Monday, January 22, 2007

Bargain California Pinot Noir? Not an Oxymoron

We've all been overwhelmed by the the volume of very good to excellent pinot noir coming out of numerous California appellations in at least the last 3 vintages. Sonoma, Russian River, Santa Rita Hills, the names ring of redolent wines that have captured the essence of pinot noir, the most tempermental and fragile of grapes. I will leave it to the masters to decide whether there is truly an Old World, Burgundian style of refinement and elegance competing with an more cowboy USA go for it approach with dense, dark berry and robust pinots. Suffice to say that in the $40 to $70 price range there are dozens of California pinots from recent years that are truly delightful, full of fruit, juicy, food friendly, gulpable. But the bargains? Not so fast. While pinot producers have not fallen prey to the reach for riches that cult and cult wannabe cab producers have, there has been tremendous inflation in pinot pricing. Having been on the Flowers mailing list from the beginning, through Greg LaFollette to the current winemaker, Tom Hinde, I have seen the prices for the fabled Camp Meeting Ridge to rise almost 100% over the last 10 years to a $65 per bottle on the current spring 2007 offering. Certainly good juice but a good value?

Turning to values, Navarro Vineyards fits the mold. In the Mendocino VA in Anderson Valley, Navarro is the birthchild of Ted Bennett and Deborah Cahn. These folks are into making fine wine, not a fast buck. The quality has improved dramatically of late and their wines are clearly in the top five quality to price competition amongst California wineries. Jim Klein, the winemaker, knows his way around vines and grapes. He produces worldly lots of of delightful Gewurtz and finesse driven Sauvignon Blanc, among others. But the vineyard's most recent production of pinot noir is a stellar example of this winery's goal of the finest of varietals and stunningly low prices. This must be a lifestyle for them not a cash cow. I love the Navarro 2004 Anderson Valley, Mendocino Pinot Noir, Methode A L'Ancienne at $25 a bottle, with a 6 and 12 bottle discount available at the website, and recommend it to all pinot lovers who don't mind a value now and again.

Tasting Notes: Earth and cherry notes on the nose, plum and black fruit (cherry, blackberry), tightly wound with a fine mouthfeel and texture, juicy and fragrant, a friendly metallic, graphite, plum finish. Needs a bit more time in the bottle to settle and relax. Fine juice.

Rating: Tasty

Cheers, Barrld