Sonoma Hillsides Syrah Reminiscent of Northern Rhône

Today’s Story: Pax Mahle Wines

Pax Mahle Wines was established in 2000 by Pax and Pam Mahle with a focus on Syrah and more “esoteric” varieties that can thrive in the cooler climate vineyards of Sonoma County and Mendocino. Pax and Pam moved to California wine country in 1997, though after a few years with Dean & DeLuca sourcing wines Pax decided he wanted to move into the production side of the wine business. Though Pax quickly rose to stardom producing Rhône variety wines (namely his Syrah), he expanded into working with Trousseau Gris, Chenin Blanc, Gamay Noir, and Mission with similar success. Pax farms his vineyards eschewing the use of chemicals and crushes his fruit by hand and foot as part of his minimal intervention philosophy. Pax only uses natural yeasts during fermentation and sulfur is added as minimally as required for stabilization only. Thanks to the high quality vineyard sites and his winemaking philosophy, Pax’s wines are magnificent representations of the varieties and terroir from which they come.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Sonoma Hillsides Syrah

100% Syrah; 12.9% ABV

The 2017 Sonoma Hillsides Syrah is opaque medium to deep purple in color with moderately heavy staining on the glass. Once this opens up, the nose displays aromas of blackberry, spiced plum, blueberry, black pepper, green herbs, smoke, dusty crushed rock, and stony mineral. Moving to the palate, this Syrah showcases notes of tart blueberry, sweet juicy black plum, jammy boysenberry, black licorice, violet, sweet tobacco, scorched earth, mild baking spice, and mineral. This is medium-bodied with high acidity, grippy medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $50 (though you might be able to find it a few dollars less). I think this is a great Syrah and a great price-point for it. While young, it is very approachable after a bit of air and the purity of fruit and mineral make this a striking wine well worth the purchase.

Rising Star in Sonoma County

Today’s Story: Daniel Cohn Wine Company (Bellacosa)

Daniel Cohn started Bellacosa following the sale of his family’s famous winery, BR Cohn, in 2015. Having grown up in the Sonoma Valley, Daniel was surrounded by wine since an early age. He walked the vineyards as a young boy and played in the soil, worked in the cellars racking barrels and cleaning tanks as he grew older, and learned the wine business as it grew into one of his greatest passions. Add this all to the fact that Daniel grew up around winemakers such as Helen Turley, Merry Edwards, and Steve MacRostie and it is no surprise he ventured out to create this new endeavor with Bellacosa.

Daniel has so far experienced much success with his new label, being named one of the Top 10 Hottest Wine Brands by Wine Business in 2016. This did not come without a cost, however, as Daniel spends enormous amounts of time traveling to sell his wine. For instance, during 2016 Daniel spent 308 days traveling racking up over 200,000 air miles while visiting 250 cities across the United States. Everywhere he goes, Daniel flies coach class, brings a suitcase with three bottles of wine, feasts on Chick-fil-A and Taco Bell, and books budget hotels last minute to get both best price and constant movement. This work ethic is truly admirable, and one of my favorite stories is how Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s started selling his wine in select locations because he walked into the stores with a bottle of wine and asked over a tasting. For more on Daniel’s tireless efforts, check out this Forbes article.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Bellacosa Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.2% ABV

The 2016 Bellacosa is deep ruby (almost purple) in color. On the nose I get aromas of blackberry compote, blueberry, plum, strawberry rhubarb, brown sugar and baking spice, vanilla, slight smoked meet, and a hint of alcohol. Once in the mouth, this wine showcases notes of blueberry, raspberry, cranberry, light dusty earth, milk chocolate, and vanilla. One thing I’d like to note is that this wine seems to fall apart by the mid-palate, almost in such a way I had to ask myself, “that’s it?” Nonetheless, this is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) silky tannins, and a medium length finish with notes of red cherry and blood.

Price: $24. This is certainly a nice value and one of the better Sonoma Cabs I’ve had for price. Further, this is certainly within the “people pleasing” category for Cabernet Sauvignon so it could make a good wine to bring to Christmas dinner in a few weeks. Pair this with a bacon cheeseburger with caramelized onions on top.

Consistently Delicious Zin

Today’s Story: Ridge Vineyards

This is an easy one again today, as I previously wrote about Ridge Vineyards in my post History. Quality. Ridge. back on October 19. Long story short, this is another historic Californian winery and they produce some of my favorite Zinfandel-based wines and Cabernet Sauvignon. I highly suggest you read about their history if you haven’t already.

Without further ado…

Today’s Wine: 2012 Geyserville Vineyard

71% Zinfandel, 19% Carignane, 7% Petite Syrah, 2% Mataro, 1% Alicante Bouschet; 14.4% ABV

I’ve had this wine several times and across multiple different vintages, each time being a delightful experience. The wine is medium ruby in color while being moderately opaque. I simply let this breathe in the glass which helped bring out aromas of blackberry, plum, blueberry pie, black licorice, violet, and sweet tobacco. There is not a lick of tertiary aromas yet, which does not surprise me. Once in the mouth, I get notes of very dark plum, black raspberry, blueberry, dates, a hint of charred earth, and a touch of vanilla. This Zinfandel blend is medium-bodied showing medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a long finish with notes of black cherry.

Price: $45. As much as it pains me (as a consumer) to see Ridge prices rising from ~$30 a few years ago to where they are now, I still love these wines on a quality perspective. These are consistently well-made wines I suggest everyone try. Pair this with bbq pork or chicken, lamb, or duck breast.

Blood, Sweat, and Pinot Noir

Today’s Story: Kosta Browne

Kosta Browne is a very storied, highly sought-after winery whose Pinot Noir amassed a cult following over the years. The “winery” started in 1997 with two friends, Dan Kosta and Michael Browne, who both happened to work at a restaurant in Santa Rosa but desired to make their own Pinot Noir. Every night they both worked in the restaurant, each would save $10 of their tips stashed in an envelope in Dan’s desk (he was the restaurant’s GM and Michael was the sommelier). Once their savings grew to about $1,000, they were (almost) ready to make wine.

Short in their ability to purchase both grapes and machinery to produce wine, Dan and Michael received $400 from a chef at the restaurant to push them to their goal. With $1,400 to their mutual name, they spent $400 on winemaking equipment and $1,000 on grapes from Everett Ridge in the Russian River Valley which allowed them to produce one barrel of wine (24 cases when all said and done). Most of this barrel went to VIP restaurant patrons, and as it emptied KB turned to Sauvignon Blanc due to its lower-priced grapes and no need for barrels to age. This Sauvignon Blanc allowed them to turn profit more quickly, paving the way for a return to their focus on Pinot Noir.

Following that batch of Sauvignon Blanc, in 2000 Michael networked tirelessly to find someone willing to sell him (a small, unknown producer) high quality Pinot Noir grapes. His efforts paid off when he convinced John Ferrington, the former assistant winemaker at Williams Selyem, to connect him with the owners of Cohn Vineyard who ultimately sold him grapes. As their second batch of Pinot aged in the barrels, Michael constructed a business plan and the pair partnered with investors to augment their return to Pinot Noir.

Now, I would love to run through more of the history of Kosta Browne but it is quite an extensive story with many trials and tribulations along the way. Even more so following what I wrote above! I encourage you to visit their website https://www.kostabrowne.com/pages/stories/, which provides all you will ever need to know.

Note: Duckhorn Wine Company purchased Kosta Browne last year. At that time, KB’s waiting list consisted of 30,000 members who account for 85% of the 30,000 case annual production. The remaining 15% typically goes to restaurants or high-end wine stores in small quantities. It will be interesting to see how Duckhorn’s ownership affects the KB brand.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 14.6% ABV

Though I’ve been familiar with Kosta Browne for quite some time, this is actually my first time drinking a bottle. The wine is bright, clear ruby red in appearance with hues of rose petal toward the rim of the glass. On the nose are aromas of crushed raspberry, strawberry, pomegranate, florals, a touch of leather, and a waning hint of alcohol. In the mouth, the palate showcases notes of sweet cherry, ripe red berries, spice box, green herbs, and vanilla. Medium-bodied and elegant, this Pinot shows moderately high acidity, low tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. Overall a very velvety wine that will only get better with a few more years in the bottle.

Price: $140. This is definitely pricey for a Pinot, however given its rarity I see why it is priced this way. There are certainly other Pinots that deliver a stronger QPR (even their “entry” Sonoma Coast can be found online for $80), but if you really want to make an entrance and tell your company an incredible wine story, grab a bottle of single vineyard Kosta Browne…if you can find one.