December 16, 2007

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Mark West: Pinot for the People

Alex Cose’s spent six years at Napa’s Peter Michael Winery under Mark Aubert working as production manager and oversaw the release of high-end Chardonnays costing up to $150 a bottle. Today, he makes wine for the Purple Wine Co. which produces Mark West Pinot Noir priced closer to $14. Cose’s background was in finance and he worked in the banking industry before a cellar rat job at Monticello Cellars in Napa Valley sent him on a path to pursue formal training in winemaking at Fresno State.

The Purple Wine Co. was started by Derek Benham, who founded Blackstone Winery with his brother, Courtney Benham. Blackstone was begun on a shoestring with 400 cases of Merlot and grew into a wine industry giant that was sold to Constellation Brands for $144 million. After selling Blackstone, Benham knew that Pinot Noir was the next hot wine.

Cose is an innovator. He was searching for more oak notes in the Mark West Pinot Noir and decided to add a small amount of amply-oaked Chardonnay. This did the trick and now the Mark West Pinot Noir contains 2% Chardonnay. 13% Syrah is also added to the Pinot Noir for structure and color. The wine is sourced from multiple producers and includes both grapes and press wine. Foreign sources of Pinot Noir might include Corsica if availability is tight in the States. Oak staves are utilized instead of expensive new French oak barrels. Alcohol is kept below 14% so consumers can comfortably drink more than one glass. The goal is not to craft wines that will achieve high scores, but to produce readily accessible and drinkable wine that people can enjoy now. Part of the winery’s manifesto is “Get affordable Pinot into as many hands as we can.” The slogan, “Pinot for the People,” is a extension of this goal.

Most of Purple Wine Co. production (they also make Mark West Chardonnay, Avalon Cabernet Sauvignon, Rock Rabbit Syrah, Rock Rabbit Sauvignon Blanc and Bex Riesling) is sold to restaurants and Mark West Pinot Noir is the Marriott Hotel chain’s house Pinot Noir.

2008 Carabella Dijon 76 Clone Chehalem Mountains Oregon Chardonnay

13.5% alc., 208 cases, $26. · Light straw color in the glass. Lovely scents of green apple, lemon zest, jasmine, vanilla and polished wood. Reserved but pleasing flavors of lemon, papaya, and apple. Fresh and crisp with an underlying minerality unadorned with oak. Hallock takes Chardonnay seriously and it shows. Good.

2008 Carabella Chehalem Mountains Oregon Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 681 cases, $35. This wine is a blend of the entire vineyard. · Knockout fruity nose right out of the bottle redolent with hi-tone spicy plum and berry aromas. Delicious essence of perfectly ripe cherry and berry fruits offered in a moderately rich format supported by fine-grain tannins and complimentary mineral-driven acidity. The wine is smooth and easygoing with beautiful harmony. Still fine the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle indicating a respectable longevity. Very good.

2008 Carabella Inchinnan Chehalem Mountains Oregon Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 150 cases, $54. 57% Wädenswil plus Dijon 115 and 114. · Moderate reddish-purple hue in the glass. Picks up aromatic intensity in the glass over time offering a plethora of aromas of dark stone fruits, allspice, rose petals, and a hint of cut flowers. Delicious dark plum and blackberry fruit flavors with a bit of sauvage, with eye-opening mid palate intensity, yet still only hinting at its future potential. Very smoothly textured with amazing persistence on the prodigious finish. A benchmark Pinot Noir for Oregon in 2008 that will be nothing short of spectacular in five years.

2008 Carabella Mistake Block Chehalem Mountains Oregon Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 90 cases, $55. In 1998, while planting Dijon 113 vines, some vines were mislabeled resulting in 13 rows of Pommard clone which gave some of the best wine from the vineyard in 2008. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. All the Pinot fruits are represented in the nose with some added floral interest and spice. Very tasty melange of dark red berries, black cherries and plums with an earthy undertone. Constantly intriguing, revealing nuances with every sip. Pleasingly smooth in the mouth with firm but silky tannins. I just love the seamless texture of this wine.

Mark West Winery Pinot Noir is distributed nationally. The wine is made in Graton, Sonoma County. The website is www.markwestwinery.com. 707-938-9229. Mark West: Pinot for the People

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