December 27, 2013
Introducing Robert Dwyer of The Wellesley Wine Press
We have been following wine blogger Robert Dwyer for quite some time now. Bob describes himself as a "value minded wine enthusiast" and the objective of his blog The Wellesley Wine Press is to "help others enjoy wine more while spending less money". As a value conscious retailer, we see eye to eye with him and follow his blog keenly as he unearths wine values. We are also impressed with his methodology to evaluate wine using his wwpQPR equation and have started incorporating wwpQPR analysis into our purchasing decisions.

We recently approached Bob to explore opportunities to collaborate and he agreed to write a guest column on our newsletter with his recommendations and wine analysis. This is the first installment of a hopefully long and fruitful collaboration with him. We hope you enjoy this initiative.
Guest Column: Gift Worthy Pinot Noirs for $30
Wine Blogger Robert Dwyer
A friend of mine recently asked for recommendations for Pinot Noirs in the $30 range that would be good to give as gifts. I've been blogging about wine for the last five years and in that time California Pinot Noir consumption has outpaced all other categories combined. What can I say? I love the stuff. Here are a couple that came to mind because of their high quality, crowd-friendly characteristics, food friendliness, and attractive labels. 

    

2012 Zepaltas Russian River Valley Pinot Noir


Back in 2007 Wine Spectator ran a feature on "The Hot New Dozen of California Pinot Noir". The article identified some of the most well-regarded Pinot Noir producers today: Folks like Rhys, Kutch, Black Kite and Zepaltas. It's as if 2007 was the 1983 NFL draft and John Elway, Dan Marino, and Jim Kelly were all selected in the first round.

 

Ryan Zepaltas has been assistant winemaker at Siduri while crafting his own Zepaltas Wines. Zepaltas was at his desk when Siduri's Adam Lee announced "Are you ready to sell some wine?" after spotting the 95-point rating Wine Spectator gave the 2005 Zepaltas La Cruz Vineyard Pinot Noir (full interview here). Since then, Zepaltas' wines regularly garnered high scores from major publications but he doesn't have to live and die by ratings since he's built a loyal following for his unique style of winemaking.

 

 

 

Single vineyard Pinot Noirs from Zepaltas retail for $42-$48 typically. Appellation bottlings from the Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley are in the low $30s. The Sonoma Coast wines tend to show red fruits, earth, and cherry pipe tobacco notes. The Russian River Valley on the other hand gravitates towards raspberries, black cherry, and rhubarb pie. I wouldn't be surprised by slightly sweet orange oil notes and mushrooms in either wine. These characteristics - along with the favorable price point considering the quality - make the Zepaltas appellation Pinot Noirs some of my absolute favorites.

 

The 2012 California Pinot Noir vintage provided a favorable respite after challenging conditions in 2010 and 2011. The abundant harvest gave producers the ability to exercise a great deal of discernment when deciding which grapes would go into which wines. The 2012 Zepaltas Russian River Valley Pinot Noir is comprised of grapes from the Nunes, Suacci, W.E. Bottoms, Devoto and Marshall Ranch vineyards. Based on the winery's description it should be one worth trying young then laying down a few more bottles to see how it settles down and evolves over the next 2-3 years.

 

2010 Alta Maria Pinot Noir

Alta Maria is a small producer from the Santa Maria Appellation in Santa Barbara County focused on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Viticulturalist James Ontiveros can trace his family roots in the area back to the 1700s. Along with winemaker Paul Wilkins, they were highlighted in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle on Winemakers to Watch in 2011.

 

Wine Spectator called the 2009 vintage of California Pinot Noir the "best ever". If you take all of the wines rated in that vintage that are less than $30 and run them through the wwpQPR Calculator you'll see a lot of the usual suspects like Loring and Siduri. But Alta Maria's 2009 (91WS/$28 release price) was a new one to me that was revealed by that analysis.

 

Pinot Report rated the 2010 Alta Maria Pinot Noir 93 points, calling it "full and complex": "Deep ruby color; complex aromas of stewed cherry, spice and herbs; rich and deep plum and cherry flavors with spice and herbal notes; some tannin and oak; good structure and balance; long finish. Full and complex Pinot that is a great match for grilled meats."

 

In tasting the 2010 and the 2009, both wines are outstanding. The 2010 is very well balanced with appealing fruit and floral aromatics and a well-defined supporting structure.

 

With its modest total production and limited distribution, Alta Maria is still flying under the radar screen. Combined with its attractive label and high quality it looks and drinks more like $40 than $28. It's an incredible buy, especially if you can find it south of $25.

 

Robert Dwyer

The Wellesley Wine Press 

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