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james laube's wine flights

Consistency Is Often Underappreciated

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Dec 5, 2006 12:46pm ET

Today's conversation is about consistency in style, which is often overlooked or minimized in evaluating wineries and winemakers.

A winery that routinely makes wines that are similar in style and quality can sometimes get lost in the shuffle. Wines that are consistently very good, earning 88- to 89-point ratings, for example, often get pushed to the back-burner in favor of wines that score, say, a 93.

But if you like a winery's style, and it's consistent, it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks—you know you'll always enjoy wines from that winery. If a winery consistently makes a style that you don't enjoy, that's helpful, too—you automatically know to look elsewhere when purchasing wine.

We are now seeing that more wineries than ever are honing in on house styles and, in the case of Pinot Noir, you can see both the vineyard's footprint and the vintner's mark across a wide range of wines.

Take Merry Edwards. She's amazingly consistent with her Pinots, and she has a distinct style. Her Pinots are bright and vivid, with intense yet delicate flavors and crisp acidity. She also relies on the benefits of aging so that her wines develop a wider range of complex flavors.

A reader recently asked me if Edwards' 2004 Sonoma Coast Pinot is better than her 2003. I enjoyed a bottle of the 2004 the other night, and I'd say it's probably just as good. Perhaps it's even a little better.

Our December 15 issue, which focused on Pinot Noir producers, highlights more of my favorites.

But enough about my tastes.

How about yours? Which producers do you find to be the most consistent?

John Wilen
Texas —  December 5, 2006 5:19pm ET
Most consistent cabernets: Caymus, Pride, Switchback Ridge, Lewis, Merus

Most consistent winemakers: Bob Foley, Mark Herold, Heidi Barrett, Karen Culler

Other varietals: Rosenblum (zin), Aubert (chardonnay), Ramey (chardonnay), Joh. Jos. Prum (riesling)

Flashes of brilliance: Turnbull, Etude, Sherwin Family, Behrens & Hitchcock, Corte Riva
Steve Coyle
Chappaqua, NY —  December 5, 2006 5:56pm ET
Darioush Cabs. The 1999 was the best, but he is making great cabs. I hate the winery. Too over the top, but his wines are WAY under rated in my opinion. Great Viogneier as well.Williams Selyem is VERY consistent as well. Ditto for Patz & Hall.Bordeaux? I say Leoville Poyferre and Leoville Barton
Frank L Hugus
Danville, California —  December 5, 2006 6:34pm ET
I'm not sure what is is but we always are attracted to David Bruce Pinot Noir. Not just any of them either but the Russian River appellation seems to be our "go to" Pinot when we want to be sure. Gainey from Santa Lucia is also one of our favorites but the list is expanding... Campion and Tantara... and we are constantly seeking new opportunities. We'll look forward to your 12/15 issue. Thanks.
Paul Anderson
Longview, TX —  December 5, 2006 6:57pm ET
If I want to open a Pinot Noir and know I will very likely enjoy it I go for Cambria's Julia's Vineyard or Bench Break Vineyard. By the same token I have never opened a bottle of Foxen's Pinot from Julia's Vinyard and been displeased. I find it interesting how they both suit my taste considering how different they are in number of cases produced.
Scott Mcintyre
December 5, 2006 7:07pm ET
I would agree with previous comments about Pride and Williams Selyem, but I believe the most consistent producer over the longest period of time with the widest range of drinkability is Ridge. No one does it better.While I'm here, I do have to disagree with your inclusion of Rochioli on the list of Pinot Noir "has beens". First of all, they haven't been making Pinot nearly as long as the others on the list, most of whom deserve to be seen as "has beens". Second, not to include them on your list of 30 best pinot producers seems inappropriate when some on the list have produced only a few vintages and others aren't really wineries but labels (Does Roar deserve a separate listing from Siduri? They're both made from the same grapes by the same person, although the styles are a bit different).
Noel Owsley
Palm Springs, CA —  December 5, 2006 7:09pm ET
James, you mentioned in an earlier blog about the tasting last weekend at BV. Did you go? I am curious how they were.
Michael Mock
West Des Moines, IA —  December 5, 2006 7:10pm ET
Rosenblum is consistently very good to great. Anything by Susana Balbo (particularly malbecs) will be consistently good value. Other "go-tos" include Penfolds and Iron Horse (great value sparklers).
Brad Coelho
New York City —  December 5, 2006 7:19pm ET
Zind Humbrecht and J.J. Prum for Alsatian and German whites.Guigal, Chave, for Rhone Reds. Caymus, Sebastiani, Pride and Phelps for a their range in California.Penfolds and Clarendon are easy Aussie picks.Leave it off w/ the Produttori in Piedmont for showing how a cooperative is at it's best.
Mike Vessa
East Williston,NY —  December 5, 2006 8:48pm ET
Without question, the sine qua non of consistency is Shafer: Elias Fernandez,Doug Shafer and John Shafer...and wonderful human beings to boot!!
Totv
La Quinta, CA —  December 5, 2006 8:58pm ET
Kistler, Rosenblum, Caymus, Paloma, Pride, Domaine Alfred, Rudd, Miner, Penfolds, Achaval Ferrer, Montes Alpha, Beaux Freres, TOR, etc. etc......
Richard Robertson
Charleston, SC —  December 5, 2006 8:58pm ET
Here we go:Shafer: Not too many wineries that produce so many varietals with excellence the way that they do.Yalumba: Can't go wrong with any of their wines but my favorites are the Signature, Octavius, and Museum Reserve Muscat.Pride, Etude, Ridge, Robert Foley, Quilceda Creek, Cougar Crest, Lynch Bages (for quality and value), Don Melchor, and Andrew Will complete my list.
Michael Mintz
Washington DC —  December 5, 2006 9:07pm ET
I am going to definitely agree with Scott - Ridge has an incredible record of (mostly)under-rated, consistently great wines - chard, cab (even the Santa Cruz Mtns, much less Montebello). See a recent article in Slate magazine that says the same thing...Paul Draper deserves a lot of credit...
Mark Mccullough
GA —  December 5, 2006 9:22pm ET
Etude Cabernet, Lewis Cabernet, Pride Merlot, Rombauer Chardonnay
Jason Thompson
Foster City, CA —  December 5, 2006 9:31pm ET
I agree with John W. Rosenblum (#1 most consistent overall), Caymus, Pride. I would add: Concha y Toro Don Melchor, Spottswoode, Shafer, Kistler Chardonnays, WH Smith, Fonseca, Taylor's, Graham, Whitehall Lane, Leoville Barton, Haut Brion, JJ Prum, Beringer (but without Sbragia full time, less so on the whites), and almost every producer of Sauv Blanc from New Zealand...lead by Matua, Kim Crawford, and Cloudy Bay.I will add this: TOP PRODUCER IN EACH COUNTRY...USA - RosenblumFrance - Haut BrionChile - Concha y Toro MelchorGermany - JJ PrumAustrailia - MatuaItaly - Antinori???Portugal - FonsecaAfrica - Rust en Verde/Goats do Roam???Spain - ???Argentina - ???Someone fill in the blanks here...
Peter Czyryca
December 5, 2006 10:19pm ET
Tony Soter and Etude.You name me a vintage, I'll show you either an amazing pinot noir, cab or BOTH.
Robert Mathews
December 5, 2006 10:52pm ET
Argyle always seems to be pretty consistent when it comes to Oregon Pinot. While in that part of the country I'll add Columbia Crest. Always consistent year in and year out, with great price tags as well for everyday drinkers.
H Leah Amir
Los Angeles, CA —  December 5, 2006 11:19pm ET
I think I'm the only one that doesn't care for California wine, sorry.Armand RousseauComte de VogueJ.F. MugnierRobert ArnouxDomaine de la Romanee-Conti
Andrew J Walter
Sacramento,CA —  December 5, 2006 11:27pm ET
I don't think anybody has picked a bad one...but what about Owen Roe / Sineann from WA/OR? All of these wines are hard to get (at least in CA) but they are all great
James Mccusker
Okemos, MI —  December 5, 2006 11:36pm ET
I guess it also comes down to a consistency that you like. For me, it's Paul Hobbs and Heitz for cabernets, Pisoni and Melville for Pinot Noir, Brewer-Clifton for Chardonnay, and John Alban for Syrah/Grenache. It's a bit New World-centric, I grant you, but that's where my palate lies!
Kirk R Grant
Ellsworth, ME —  December 5, 2006 11:56pm ET
What a great topic! I wish I had more experience with verticle tastings. However here are my favorites that give me the same quality year & and year out. Germany: Joh. Jos. Prum, St.Urbans-HofOregon: Beaux Freres, Bergstrom, and Patricia GreenWashington: CopainCalifornia: Caymus, David Bruce, Orin Swift, Buehler(Zin)& JustinItaly: Sette Ponti, FalescoAustralia: Two Hands, New Zealand: Kim Crawford, Matua, and JohanneshofJapan: Suntory Tomi no oka WinerySpain: I look for wines imported by Jorge OrdonezFrance: Chateau de BeaucastelThere are many more but these are the few I've multiple sucesses with in multiple vintages
Timothy Moore
Tinley Park —  December 6, 2006 1:16am ET
Bordeaux - Leoville Barton: Washington - Quilceda Creek:Oregon - Archery Summit:Calif.- Pride, Phelps, Ridge & coming on strong Sea Smoke
John Jorgenson
Seattle, —  December 6, 2006 1:42am ET
If I were to rate the posts to this blog the way you rate wines, I'd have to give the folks a good 93-95. But I don't think there are more than a handful of these wines that are ever overlooked. Spottswoode might be one exception and perhaps Foxen another and there are a few that aren't as much overlooked as they are unknown, like Cougar Crest. I'm glad that Columbia Crest and Sebastiani were mentioned, but I really don't think they're overlooked because they have the "value" factor and are know by just about every "grocery store" wine shopper. They do have an uncanny way of releasing consistent wines year after year though. The wines I think really get overlooked are those from Spain, Portugal and Provance. There is the Bodegas Vega Siciliathat get all the attention (and deserve it), but there are at least half a dozen consistent producers each in Rioja (Haro), Ribera del Duero, Priorat and Toro that are overlooked every year. They're not going to get the Classic "95+" scores that people are looking for, but they'll get consistent upper eighties and the occasional 90. Frankly, we should be glad they don't get the huge scores, because if they did a bottle would go from being a bargain to being collectable (a-la-Cinq C¿ges). I think there is as much a problem with regions as there is with producers. Spain and Portugal aren't alone in this regard. Wines from producers in Walla Walla don't get much consideration away from the west coast, and the wines of Southern Oregon are very "overlooked" though many are very consistent year in and year out. Of the wines mentioned by other posters here, I'd pick Spottswoode as the most overlooked. But my personal pick would have to be Abacela or Conde de Valdemar (though they get the value nod too).
Bryan Bucari
Baton Rouge, LA —  December 6, 2006 2:25am ET
I have loved hearing about which wineries have been most consistent, but the question should be which winemaker is most consistent. Given the right area...to a certain degree, if a winemaker can't produce wonderful wines, they aren't worth their pay. I will give two names after I say that...Robert Foley & Nils Venge. Who can doubt what they do? I do love the wines that come from Lewis Cellars though; I think that winery across the board is extremely consistent.
Chris Haag
vancouver, bc —  December 6, 2006 3:04am ET
I agree with the Rosenblum and Ridge comments. Consistent wines at reasonable prices (Monte Bello excluded from the price comment) but always an excllent wine. I am also a fan of Peter Lehman, Kim Crawford, Don Melchor Cab and Banfi brunellos as all readily available, excellent quality and good value for money
Filippo Recchi
Florence, Italy —  December 6, 2006 8:27am ET
I would add a few Italian wineries: Felsina, Fonterutoli, Castello di Ama, Castello di Brolio, Avignonesi, Altesino, Planeta, Ca' del Bosco, St Michael Eppan, Villa Russiz.

And I join many others here in praising Pride: never had a less-than-great wine from them!
Katy Law
NY —  December 6, 2006 10:57am ET
El Molino, Cafaro, Felsina, Roumier and Ducru Beaucaillou as of late.
Michael Tracy
trabuco canyon CA —  December 6, 2006 11:04am ET
Seems Australia is a bit under represented here, I'd throw in d'Arenberg, (someone did mention Penfolds & Clarendon - very deserving) Torbreck, Two Hands and Seppelts, and a nod to Jim Barry.
Jason Fernandez
Boston, MA —  December 6, 2006 1:09pm ET
I saw a lot of references to Caymus (and totally agree) but thought I'd add Staglin and Buehler. I generally find wines from these wineries very good acroos vintage and varietal.
Steven Haught
Oklahoma City, OK USA —  December 6, 2006 1:18pm ET
Ridge/Lewis/Shafer/Rudd/Plumpjack
Jeff Kranz
Monticello, WI —  December 6, 2006 3:46pm ET
Cabernet-Caymus, Joseph Phelps, Lewis and JordanMerlot- Duckhorn and SwansonZinfandel- Rosenblum and ClineRiesling- John Jos. PrumPinot Noir- Argyle, Archery Summit and Sea Smoke.
Jason Thompson
Foster City, CA —  December 6, 2006 4:17pm ET
Katy L, nice addition with El Molino...very much on the super consistant but not well known meter. No one ever mentions them and their founder (who recently passed away). I would disagree with Cafaro. Decent, but not consistantly good. I would also ask for some Burgundies on this list from anyone in the know...especially under the $40 price point. I don't have enough experience with these b/c the good ones seem to have prices well about $40 (I am sure DRC is great, just too pricey for most peoples pocketbooks) so I stick with the good values in the new world for pinots(names I would include if they had more of a track record, Vision Cellars, Alfred, Roar, Kosta Browne, etc).
James Rego
Redding, Ca., Shasta County —  December 7, 2006 12:17am ET
How about a couple of great value wines like Buehler of Napa Valley and Columbia Crest of Washington, particularly, the Grand Estates label. These wine are cosistently good from year to year and always at a fair market price.
John Danby
Napa —  December 8, 2006 12:23am ET
I have to respectfully disagree with those who list Rosenblum among the most consistent producers. Note the creeping increase in alcohol in the big Zins (I read that current Maggie's is 17.5!), and there's so much experimentation with different barrel sources and types that you never know what you'll get. The 03 Carla's is so hot I still can't stand it, but the 99 was at least a full percent lower. At a recent Zin class, I couldn't believe the overwhelming oak in the 04 Rockpile Zin, which was completely different than the 03. And every vintage seems to add four or five new wines/vineyards (even Pinot!), so the quality/consistency potential is spread thin. If you pick specific wines, you might find consistency (e.g., Monte Rosso Zin), but not overall. I used to be a big Rosenblum fan and loyal club member, but no more. But strong agreement with those who listed Ridge.
Elyse J Ward
Buffalo Grove, IL —  December 8, 2006 10:45am ET
For Zin, hands down it's Seghesio - I apply the "Home Ranch" standard almost every wine I taste. For Cabs - Lewis, Hobbs, Shafer, Caymus, Altamura is strong as is Whitehall Lane (ex the '02 Reserve bottling, however it's not bad, just not good for them). Chard - Rombauer.
James Laube
Napa, CA —  December 12, 2006 5:43pm ET
Noel, no I didn't go, too much like work. Sorry I missed this earlier.

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