The Gryphon Crest pinot noir is an intriguing German red that offers value and quality
German pinot noir is an especially wine geeky sort of thing. There isn’t necessarily a lot of it, it’s not usually available, and it’s not an especially big deal in Germany (riesling is). So why is the Gryphon Crest Pinot Noir the wine of the week?
Because, for all of that, the Gryphon Crest Pinot Noir 2016 ($14, sample, 14%) is a decidedly interesting wine. It tastes like pinot noir – sort of Burgundian, but with more fruit. In this, it’s an excellent price given the quality.
Look for some smokiness and an almost menthol kind of thing, with soft cherry fruit and much less obvious earthiness than in a Bugundian pinot. The 14 percent alcohol seems to show, making the wine a bit hot, but that might have just been me.
• Joe Roberts’ “Wine Taster’s Guide” ($14.99, Rockridge Press) is neither pretentious nor expensive — which is why it’s on this list. Joe, who I’ve known almost since I started the blog, is passionate about the failings of post-modern wine writing, and especially that we buy wine we may not like because the process is so intimidating.
• The Benziger de Coelo Quintus Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 ($68, sample, 14.1%) is a gorgeous, structured — albeit not especially subtle — Sonoma Coast pinot noir. It’s full of dark fruit, maybe even some tea, and the soft tannins that used to be common in California pinot. Not quite sure how I got a sample, but very glad I did. Highly recommended.
• The Wine Curmudgeon has a drawer full of wine-stained tablecloths, mostly from dripping wine bottles. Hence, the marble wine coaster ($19.95), which not only would have saved many of my tablecloths but looks good, too.
• Ice wine is one of the great joys of the wine world, but is increasingly difficult to find and increasingly expensive. And it wasn’t easily available or cheap to begin with. So when a winemaker reader tipped me to the Kiona Vineyards Chenin Blanc Ice Wine 2018 ($50/375 ml bottle, sample, 9%), I asked for a sample — something I rarely do. And I was not disappointed. This is ice wine in all its glory — lusciously sweet, but balanced, with pineapple and tropical fruit and refreshing crispness. Highly recommended.
The 2017 is typical of the producer’s style: An earthiness that I like and that is almost Old World; restrained berry fruit, so not quite brambly but not California, either; and refined tannins. The latter are noticeable, but don’t get in the way and are not easy to do with pinot noir. Too many wines, even at this price, either forgo the tannins entirely or boost them so it seems like they sould be in cabernet sauvignon.
Highly recommended, and more than a fair value. This is on its way to being quite complex, and should be even more interesting in a couple of years. Yes, Thanksgiving wine, but a red wine for any occasion that calls for something well-made and a step up.
• Matua Pinot Noir 2018 ($13, purchased, 12%): This New Zealand pinot noir usually offers terrific value and pinot character. But the 2018 isn’t as pinot-ish as in past years – lighter in body, and less fresh and lively. It’s OK, but there are lots of OK pinots at this price. Imported by TWE Imports
The Villa Maria pinot noir is simple but structured — a fine value for pinot noir
There’s no reason why the Villa Maria pinot noir should be such a value and taste so much like pinot noir. It’s almost a Big Wine product, for one thing, and it’s almost impossible to find quality pinot noir at this price.
Nevertheless, that’s the case – a welcome relief in these days of sweet, focus grouped pinot. In fact, you can’t ask more from the Villa Maria ($14, purchased, 13%) at this price. It isn’t complex, but it is structured, with an almost Burgundian forest floor aroma, some herbs and tannins, and lots of bright berry fruit in the New Zealand pinot style. It’s especially impressive for an entry level product.
So how does this happen? For one thing, Villa Maria is still owned by the Fistonich family; its Big Wine deal is an import agreement with Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, and the latter is lot more hands off when it comes to telling its “partners” what to do. Second, I was lucky enough to meet Villa Maria founder Sir George Fistonich early in the blog’s history. He impressed me as someone who cared about the wine his company made in a way that too many others don’t.
Serve the Villa Maria pinot noir with the usual suspects, like lamb and salmon, but don’t be afraid to experiment with it. It would make terrific coq a vin, both as the wine for the chicken and to drink with the dinner. Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2021 $10 Hall of Fame.
Reviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month.
• Ava Grace Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($9, purchased, 13.5%): Light, almost riesling-y sauvignon blanc from California. It’s not bad if you prefer a less intense style, and it’s a fair value; it just tastes like there is a lot of winemaking going on in an attempt to make it less varietal.
• Tasca D’Almerita Nero d’Avola 2016 ($20, sample, 13.5%): Premiumized Italian red from Sicily made in an international style, which means it doesn’t taste like nero d’avola and it’s not very interesting. Imported by Winebow
• Château Malescasse 2016 ($25, sample, 14.5%): There are two ways to look at this French red Bordeaux blend. First, as a French wine that tastes French, with herbal notes, currant fruit, and that French mouth feel. Second, as an every day style of French wine that costs $25. Imported by Austruy Family Vineyard Import
Reviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month. This month: a terrific red Burgundy for Black Friday 2019
• Joel Gott Pinot Gris 2018 ($12, purchased, 13.2%): This Oregon white is mostly OK for what it is, with some lime fruit and what tastes like a little fizziness. But there are better made wines at this price.
• Toad Hollow Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($17, sample, 14.1%): This California red from Lodi is $12 or $13 worth of cabernet, which is not a bad thing. It’s reasonably well made, with with brambly berry fruit and almost cabernet tannins (though the oak is out of balance). But $17? Only in the premiumization universe.
• Domaine Thenard Givry Les Bois Chevaux 2012 ($20, purchased, 13%): A Premier Cru red Burgundy, the second highest classification, that actually tastes like red Burgundy (French pinot noir) at a tremendous price. It’s getting a touch thin, but still has earth, some forest floor, and telltale lovely red fruit. Imported by Beverly Imports
• Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais Nouveau 2019 ($13, purchased, 13%): This French red, made from gamay, is a November tradition. The 2019 version from Drouhin is a little thin, but mostly Beaujolais in style and taste (berry fruit). Which means it’s missing the horrible ripe banana fruit that too many nouveaus have had in the past decade. Imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co.