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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. He then made 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. The current version of Mark West Pinot Noir debuted in 2001. Constellation Brands also acquired Mark West Wines in 2012.
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.
The current winemaker is Jason Becker, who has degrees in winemaking, viticulture and agricultural business from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
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. There is wide retail availability.
In 2015, Mark West offered Pinot Noirs from California and Monterey County regions, and under the Appellation Series, Russian River Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands, Carneros and Willamette Valley appellations. Starting with the 2014 vintage, a "Black Pinot Noir" sourced from Monterey County was introduced that was touted as having "deep flavor, rich and full bodied, dark color, smooth finish," reminiscent of the Meiomi brand.
2014 Mark West MW Black Monterey County Pinot Noir
13.5% alc., RS unknown, $13.99. Black label and black bottle coordinate with this intensely colored and full-bodied version of Mark West Pinot Noir Winemaker Jason Becker uses the French Saignée method to remove the lighter colored wine early in the process to increase the skin-to-must ratio and increase the body of the wine. Aged 8 months in French and Hungarian oak 35% new). Other details are not available. · Dark reddish purple color in the glass. Aromas of vanilla, dark chocolate and oak lead to a richly endowed, full-bodied wine featuring flavors of blackberry, black currant, cola, mocha and vanilla. Plenty of oak overlay, low in acidity, inviting smoothness, and a bold, fruit-driven finish. Score: 88. Reviewed March 12, 2016 ARTICLE »
2013 Mark West Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., $14.99. A Mark West Appellation Series wine. · Moderate dark reddish purple color in the glass. The uplifting aromas of blackberry, dark cherry and toasty oak hold up nicely over time in the glass. Plenty to like in this wine with mid weight flavors of black cherry, black tea and dark chocolate clothed in silky tannins. A solid drinker with a reasonable price as well as good Santa Lucia Highlands character. Score: 88. Reviewed February 5, 2016 ARTICLE »
2011 Mark West California Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., $7.97. Fermented in small tanks with daily punch downs. Aged in French and Hungarian oak barrels for about 8 months. · Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. The most aromatically attractive wine in this tasting with scents of cherry pie glaze, spice and sandalwood. Middleweight flavors of red and black cherries with an annotation of brown spice and oak. Modest tannins and nicely integrated acid. Score: 86. Reviewed December 19, 2013 ARTICLE »
2010 Mark West California Pinot Noir
13.8% alc. $10. From primarily Central Coast appellations. Fermented in small lots with daily punch downs, lightly pressed, aged in French and Hungarian oak barrels for about 8 months. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas of black cherries, oak and dried herbs, fading in fruit expression over time in the glass. Core of middleweight black cherry fruit with plenty of oak flavors such as tobacco and toffee in the background. Juicy with mild tannins and up front drink ability with a silky texture. Becomes less desirable over time in the glass. May improve over the next 6 months as the oak more fully integrates. Decent. Reviewed February 22, 2012 ARTICLE »
2009 Mark West California Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., $8.50. Small tank fermentation, punch downs, pressed lightly and aged for 8 months in French and Hungarian oak. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Shy aromas of red cherries, strawberries and oak vanillin. Lightly fruited, but tasty melange of red cherries and berries with oak in the background. Mild fine-grain tannins with balanced acidity. Well worth the tab. Good. Reviewed May 15, 2011 ARTICLE »
2008 Mark West California Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., pH 3.76. $10. 51% Central Coast, 27% North Coast, 22% other. Fermented in small tanks with daily punch downs, pressed lightly and aged in 100% French oak (medium and heavy toast) for 8 months. Alex Cose is the winemaker produceing this singular wine which has received accolades for consistency and reliability in the under $20 category for the last several years. · Moderately deep color. A fruity nose that draws interest initially with notes of black cherries, berries and spice. Over time the wine shed some of its fruity charm, revealing aromas of mint and pine pitch. An easy drinking wine sporting composite flavors of black cherries, strawberries and boysenberries with some oak influence, a slight green note, and soft fine-grain tannins. On the lighter side and rather simple, but true to the varietal. Not a connoisseurs wine, but works as a daily drinker. Decent. Reviewed April 23, 2010 ARTICLE »
2007 Mark West California Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., $9. Fruit is sourced from coastal appellations. Produced at Purple Wine Co. in Graton (Russian River Valley). Fermented in small tanks after gentle crushing and punch downs and pressed lightly. Aged in French and Hungarian oak barrels for 8 months. The winery’s manifesto is “Get affordable Pinot into as many hands as we can.” The slogan, “Pinot for the People,” is an extension of this goal. · Pleasing fruit aromas of strawberries, cassis, and red Juju B’s, with a mild oak overlay. Aromas do not hold up well with time in the glass. Good berry and cherry fruit flavors with subtle accents of oak, char and herbs finishing dry and clean with decent length. Great value. Reviewed November 17, 2008 ARTICLE »
2006 Mark West California Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., $14. 56% Central Coast, 16% Sonoma County, 12% Mendocino County, 4% Napa County, and 12% other. · Red fruits, spice, oak char and smoke on the nose and echoed in the flavors. Silky, light and easy to drink. Plenty of pinotosity. The fruit lacks punch and is shallow on the palate and on the back end but I have tasted a lot worse for three times the price. Reviewed December 16, 2007 ARTICLE »