Category:Wine reviews

Randall Grahm strikes again

2005 Ca Del Solo Sangiovese Last year, when Randall Grahm sold his Big House brand, those of us who appreciated unpretentious, good value, everyday wine waited for the other shoe to drop. Would his new venture, freed from what he called the golden handcuffs of success, live up to the reputation of the $10 Big House red, white and pink?

Yes, as it turns out. Grahm has released three wines under the Ca del Solo label ? a sangiovese, a muscat, and an albarino, each for about $15. In fact, these may be better than Big House (even allowing for the higher price). The sangiovese, with lots of dark fruit and a touch of Italian style not often found in California, is one of the best sangioveses made in this country, regardless of price. The albarino, made with the Spanish grape, is cleaner and more interesting than many Spanish albarinos I ?ve tasted, while the muscat has a wonderful balance between sweetness and acid and very bright orange fruit.

One caveat: Availability is spotty, mostly because Grahm made just 8,000 cases total, or just 1/50th of the old Big House production. He is apparently truly terrified of those golden handcuffs.

Wine review: Argyle Pinot Noir Nuthouse 2004

Argyle Nuthouse Pinot Noir 2004Argyle Winery’s efforts are not only well-made, but they’re almost always good values. The sparkling wine, at $25, puts many $40 French bottles to shame.

So what do we do with the $45 Nuthouse pinot? It’s certainly a quality wine, with wonderful earthy Burgundian overtones and trademark Oregon fruit. I liked it a lot. But $40? You can buy two nice bottles of $20 wine and you won’t be any worse off.

The problem is twofold: First, pinot noir is pricey because it’s not easy to make well. Save for some French vin ordinaire like Red Bicyclette. Lulu B., and French Rabbit, it’s almost impossible to find a decent bottle for less than $20. Second, wineries charge a lot because they can. Consumers are caught up in pinot’s media hype, which extends far beyond Sideways to the Wine Magazines, and they pay those prices because they think they’re supposed to. High-end pinot drinkers are some of the biggest wine snobs I’ve met.

As to the Nuthouse: If someone else is paying, enjoy it. If you’re paying, go buy two bottles of Newton Claret or Ridge Three Valleys.