Follow the winemaker and discover some overlooked gems

April 29, 2023

At a recent tasting of a range of Pine Ridge Vineyards Napa origination wines, most of which were better-than-average 90-93-point Cabs, a lovely summer sipper was offered labeled Pine Ridge Vineyards Chenin Blanc-Viognier White Blend Clarksburg 2020. It incorporated the best components of both, 90 McD up to $14. Opens to a mixed bouquet of honeysuckle, orange and white peach blossom with a back note of fresh ginger. On the round, bright, layered palate, look for orange, lime, lemongrass and more white peach. Long, clean finish allows flavors to continue. A recent search found it for sale at Calvert Woodley in D.C. for around $12. I’m hoping to entice some local stores to bring some in, so we don’t need to break any ridiculous, anti-wine-bibber Delaware laws. The 2021, 89 McD, was a tropical fruit, mostly pineapple and banana offering. Established in 1978 by Gary Andrus, Pine Ridge is situated in a beautiful little valley of Stags Leap AVA in Napa just off the Silverado Trail. Their three best-known Cab labels are 93 McD Fortis, and Stags Leap District and Oakville, both 92 McD. They also produce wine from separate parcels across Napa. Barbara and I visited in 1981, with a National Restaurant Association tour. Their Cabs have been a justly priced go-to for me since then.

Parker limited production, Ventura, Santa Barbara, quixotic labels (such as Squeezebox-Ziehharmonika Syrah, Piranha Waterdance Syrah, The Hated Hunter Syrah or Duel Estate Syrah with the silhouette of a person pointing a cocked pistol), Manfred Krankl, Sine Qua Non when combined equal high-priced, mostly inaccessible wines. In fairness, they are also well made and consistently enjoy top reviews in the high 90s. Several of the labels (but not all) with good provenance double in price over a 5-year period. Their site announces USA (California), no address given and an 800 number. Get on the waiting list. My friend Robin bought a bottle of The Hated Hunter (named after Krankl’s grandfather, the notes say) 2017 and allowed a small group of winos to sample it, 98 McD for me. It’s an 82.4% Syrah blend with 5.3% Mourvèdre, 7.8% Petite Sirah and the rest Grenache, Petit Manseng and Viognier from four vineyards, aged 23 months in French oak, 59% new. It was dark, almost black, with garnet highlights. The bouquet kept opening and adding as the wine sat. Barrel spices, cherries, plums, meat, damp earth, ripe uncured olives and sage. Although it just entered an exceptionally long window, the fruit flavors and berry offsets were enhanced with hints of five spice, tobacco and eucalyptus. Rich, full-bodied and balancing nicely as tannins mellow. The finish is long and repeats the many olfactory properties. PA Liquor Board has it listed at $296. Regulars know I’m not a big buyer of wine in this range, but I must say the value was there for curious hedonists. 

Bill Coline asked about Ramey Syrah. Most readers know of David Ramey for his wide range of Sonoma Chardonnay, which enjoys a fine reputation as value, top-flight production across several terroirs. For some unknown reason his very reasonable, highly regarded Syrah labels are overlooked. Here’s Jeb Dunnock on the Ramey Rodgers Creek Vineyard N. Coast 2016, 94 points: “Reminds me of a good vintage of the Côte Rôtie La Mouline from Guigal. Awesome notes of incense, lavender, bacon fat and spring flowers give way to a full-bodied, voluptuous Syrah that has a sexy, seamless texture, sweet tannin and a big finish.” I wish to add some dark chocolate and white pepper notes. Blended of 92% Syrah and Viognier, co-fermentation employed native yeast and underwent malolactic, aged sur lie 12 months with monthly batonage total 25 months in 42% new French barrels, bottled 2018 unfiltered. These can be found under $65. When one considers the amount of attention and four years from grape to release, under $70 is a very fair value. The reference Cote Rotie Mouline 2016, 95 RP, would set you back about $450. If Mom likes Syrah, Rodgers Creek 2016 would be a wonderful surprise.


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