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July 22, 2009

Keeping an Open Mind in Monterey

I have never actually gone out of my way to be labeled “deranged”--but then Joel Burnstein told me that his Marilyn Remark wines have “a small, loyal, and slightly deranged following.”  Count me in.

To be honest, I’d never really heard of this label until I made a trip to the Monterey region’s River Road Wine Trail a few weeks ago.  Spread out along the slopes of the Salinas Valley about two hours south of San Francisco, this rustic, rural landscape is home to plenty of familiar, outstanding wineries including Chalone, Hahn, Paraiso, Talbott, and Mer Soleil.

But Marilyn Remark?  Someone I’d recently met had mentioned that the wines were good, but I had a full schedule of wineries to visit that day and was disinclined to waste time on one that I didn’t know.  As I drove towards the unprepossessing place--light years away from Napa Valley’s glitzy showplace wineries!--I was tempted to keep going, but on an impulse I pulled into the driveway instead of just zipping by on my way to more well-known establishments and made my way into the converted barn-winery-tasting room.  I found the owner, Joel Burnstein, puttering around the premises.

Instead of the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that are the most widely produced varietals in the Monterey wine region, Burnstein concentrates on the type of wines made in the Rhône Valley.  When I tasted them I was utterly gobsmacked by the high quality of these wines and by their genuine Rhône-like character.

The 2008 golden colored Roussanne had a honeysuckle perfume and both honey and minerality on the palate, plus a long, satisfying finish.  If you ever doubted that rosé is capable of great sophistication, try Marilyn Remark’s 2007 Rosé de Saignée, which is bone dry and crisp, with penetrating strawberry flavors.  The signature Grenache from the Los Ositos Vineyard floods the senses with bright blueberry, cassis and blackberry, while Grenache from the warmer Wildhorse Vineyard veers towards raspberry and chocolate elements, with big, round, sumptuous tannins.  Syrah--the backbone of Hermitage and Côte Rôtie--is here appropriately supple and complex, revealing hints of summer plums, juicy blackberries, leather and vanilla.  The 2008 VMR (Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne) from the Loma Pacific Vineyard (Monterey/Arroyo Seco appellation) had a sweet almost floral aroma, great texture, and the long, refreshing acidic finish that characterizes the best Monterey wines.  With a production of only about 2000 cases, the wines aren’t easy to find, but well worth seeking out.  Prices range from $22 to $45.

So who IS this guy Joel Burnstein?  He tells me that a mid-life career change is what brought him into wine from being a trader on the Pacific Stock Exchange in San Francisco.  He was already a devoted wine consumer, but a 3-week trip to France with his wife, Marilyn Remark, was the pivotal point in his life.  “We had driven from Champagne down to Cannes,” he recalls, “but we didn’t really like Cannes so we turned around and headed back to Champagne.  Along the way we stopped for lunch in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  About midway through the meal I looked at Marilyn and said, ‘This is what I want to do.’ That was either the biggest mistake of our lives, or the best thing that ever happened to me.  It depends which day you ask me about it.”

Burnstein went home and enrolled in enology studies at Fresno State University.  He then had an internship at Sterling Vineyards and ultimately became winemaker at Jekel and San Saba.  His basic winemaking philosophy is pretty straightforward:  “Making good wine is a two-step process.  One:  Get great grapes.  Two:  Don’t screw it up.”  As for me, I’ve now developed my own two-step philosophy for wine tasting.  One:  Keep an open mind and don’t just go back again and again to the wines you know--keep trying new labels, new regions, new grape varietals.  Two:  When it comes to wine, don’t be afraid of being labeled “deranged.”

Posted by Marguerite Thomas at 11:05 AM

July 8, 2009

Dutton Goldfield Pinots Make My Day

It's not every day that I sit down to a mountain of wines for tasting and evaluation and get up two hours later wishing there were more to come.

Then again, it's not every day that I run through a lineup as consistently stellar as the one my trusty assistant set up earlier this week. Wine after wine ranked high in my tasting notes, with 90-point-plus scores flowing from my pen.

Of course, there had to be a ringer in the group. Indeed, I had the good fortune to have a run of Dutton Goldfield vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs. This Sonoma County producer has been on a stupendous roll the past several years, cranking out with seeming ease well-balanced, complex Pinots and Chardonnays while rivals challenged our tolerance -- and patience -- for alcohol and oak.

Dutton Goldfield had it dialed in all along, and the new releases from the 2007 vintage are merely another in a string of successes.

I run down the superb Dutton Goldfield Pinots from Devil's Gulch, Dutton Ranch/Freestone Hill, McDougall and Dutton Ranch/Sanchietti in this week's WRO Reviews pages, as well as an outstanding Pinot from the Sta. Rita Hills and a limited-production Syrah from Chuck and Matt Ortman.


Posted by Robert Whitley at 11:24 AM

July 1, 2009

Wine Review Online Launches Wine Club

Today is a big day at Wine Review Online because it marks the "official" debut of our wine club in partnership with JV Wines of Napa.

This idea has been in the incubator for some time, inspired by what Michael Franz and I consider the bane of our existence, the ubiquitous "where do I find that wine you've just recommended?" question, which we both field with regularity.

Both of us thought it would be a great idea if we could identify a couple of gems each month and provide a resource that would allow you to find and purchase the wine. At a great price, of course!

So here it is, two wines -- a red and a white or two reds -- delivered to your doorstep each month for $39. We've even made a deal with JV Wines to provide free shipping.

If you aren't familiar with JV Wines, be prepared to be impressed. With more than 4000 selections at any given time, we have plenty of great wines to choose from each month. What we're looking for are wines that "over-deliver" on quality for the price.

This month it's two superb wines from Spain, a red from Rioja and a white from the Rias Baixas. We've selected a Napa Valley stalwart, the 2005 Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon, and a yummy new Chardonnay from the Central Coast of California, the 2008 Acre Chardonnay, for the month of August.

And this is just the beginning. On top of these superb wines at a fabulous price, club members also will receive a subscription to the WRO Reviews pages for the length of their membership -- even more bang for your bucks!


Posted by Robert Whitley at 6:16 PM