Winemakers like to say God made cabernet, the devil made pinot.
That’s according to Bobby Donnell, the winemaker behind our wine-of-the-week winner, the Olema, 2014 Sonoma County Pinot Noir that sells for $20.
The Olema is surprisingly supple for the price. But what sets it apart is its gorgeous red berry aromas, with a great concentration of bing cherry fruit on the palate. Layered notes of cocoa and spice up the mix. The pinot comes full circle with an impressive, lingering finish.
“We like to keep with minimal oak so that the fruit really shines through,” Donnell said. “We use about 30% to 40% new French oak. What sets it apart is religiously tasting and getting feedback from every lot, from production to bottling, to be sure we are blending and sourcing properly.”
Donnell said pinpointing quality grapes is crucial.
“Pinot being both fickle and elegant, if you don’t get it in vineyard you won’t get it in the bottle,” he said.
The winemaker describes his pinot as “easy on the palate, and easy on the wallet.”
“We stand apart in our ability to have both great quality and value,” Donnell said. “How do we do that? With me being in Sonoma County for over seven years, it’s finding those connections with the vineyards that meet our quality demands and working closely with those people …”
Donnell said what the uninitiated don’t know about pinot is that not all are rarefied and expensive. There are plenty of value pinots to uncork every day.
“We aim to make it a wine that can have a place on your table any day of the week,” Donnell said. “I think pinot noir is one of those wines that can be very approachable and adaptable with food. Some pinots are very fruit forward and some are very earthy; it’s one of those grape varieties that can really change.”
Donnell, 42, moved to Sonoma County from Calistoga in 2008 and joined Calistoga’s Amici Cellars in 2012. He has a BA in Hotel and Restaurant Management from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, graduating in 1996. He completed a UC Davis winemaking certificate extension program in 2010.
The best part of being a winemaker, Donnell said, is putting a cork in the final product.
“It’s knowing that all that energy and effort you put into it has made it turn out exactly the way you want it to be, that the time, energy and effort has paid off.”
THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING
Olema, 2014 Sonoma County Pinot Noir, 14.2% alcohol, $20. ★★★★
The Olema is surprisingly supple. What sets it apart is its texture, its gorgeous red berry aromas, and its great concentration of Bing cherry fruit on the palate. Layered notes of cocoa and spice are in the mix. This pinot comes full circle with an impressive, lingering finish. A smart pick.
Graziano, 2013 Mendocino County Carignane, 14.5%, $19. ★★★★: This is an earthy carignane with ripe red fruit -- cherry and plum -- coupled with a touch of smoke. It has bright acidity. Firm tannins. A long finish. Tasty.
Hanna, Two Ranch Red Sonoma County Red Wine, 14.5%, $34. ★★★★: This bottling has enticing raspberry aromas and bright red fruit on the palate. Crisp acidity. Layered notes of herbs and spice. Lovely.
Insurrection, 2014 South Eastern Australia, 15%, $17. ★★★1/2: An edgy blend that’s approachable. Bright red fruit, snappy spice. Easy drinking. A great quaff.
India Ink, 2013 Napa County Red Wine, 14.8%, $24. ★★★1/2: Bold black fruit with a gorgeous streak of black raspberry. Good concentration of fruit. Just the right dose of herbs and spice. Nice length. Solid.