There is no question that the 2011 vintage was a tough one in California and much of the west coast of the USA. Especially for red wines. I had the opportunity to speak with someone whose family owns a winery in Napa. When I asked him about 2011, he told me they had to do berry sorting. This is a very labor intensive process in which individual berries (grapes) are sorted instead of the more common bunch sorting that takes place in many wineries. This was necessary because some berries on the bunch were good, and some were bad. By doing this they only lost 15% or so of their crop in 2011. Many locations lost substantially more.
In general, whites will be better in 2011 with Sauvignon Blanc leading the way. However, there are some 2011 California reds that look very good. Only one of these meets our test for value wine, but it is good to see some good reds coming out of the west coast in a very spotty vintage.
Line 39 Petite Sirah 2011 – This has an 86 rating from the Wine Spectator. It is pretty typical of Petite Sirah (NOT the same as Syrah). It displays both red and dark fruit, with some spice and tannin. At $10, this is a very nice wine. Burgers, hearty stews and such will go well with this one.
Meiomi Pinot Noir 2011 – This Central Coast Pinot is from the stable of the Wagner family of Caymus fame. Rated 92, it is actually better than either the 2009 or the 2010. Based on what wassaid about the respective vintages, I would have expected the opposite to be true. So much for generalizations. The 2011 is dark and rich with dark cherry, raspberry and spice. Personally I like the lighter style of Pinot Noir, but if this is what the grapes give you, go with it. This one goes for $18-$20, depending on where you find it.
Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel 2011 – Seghesio is well known for their Zinfandels, and this one does not disappoint. Whenever a reviewer wants to convey the idea that a Zin has traditional Zinfandel character, they call it “briary”. Connoisseur’s Guide calls this one briary and they give it 90 points. They also believe it will benefit from 2-3 additional years of bottle age. Not our definition of good wine cheap at $20, but worth it if you are a big Zin fan.
Another 2011 value wine that is not from California is the Lindeman’s Bin 65 Chardonnay from Australia. Even though we were talking about 2011 California reds, this Aussie white wine deserves a mention. The Wine Spectator has given this one good ratings before, and they give the 2011 an 86. The wine will sell for about $6-$7 in most places. In a large chain wine store near my home, it sells for less than $4. Say what? Yup. The definition of a no-brainer. And yes, I have had Chardonnay that costs much more that is not as good.