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Finding Double Pleasure out of Napa

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Aug 2, 2006 2:11pm ET

Without a doubt, one of the greatest pleasures of being a wine critic is being able to direct readers to great wines that are also great values.

One of our recent office favorites is a tiny wine company called Olabisi (Nigerian for “joy multiplied”), which is based in Napa Valley.

But the grapes used by owner-winemaker Ted Osborne come from elsewhere – Syrah from Knights Valley and Syrah and Petite Sirah from Suisun Valley. And they’re awfully good.

Knights Valley, north of Napa, but in Sonoma County, is a well-known source of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.

Suisun, though, is one of those appellations that few people know of and even fewer know where it is. It’s one of the oldest appellations in California, and it's near Fairfield, in Solano County, east of Napa Valley. It’s more Napa than not, as it is within a few miles of the Napa County line, and for years the grapes have been considered as “Napa” grapes.

They’re obviously pretty good, and Osborne, who is also the winemaker for Piña Cellars in Napa, shows a deft hand for crafting wines of subtlety and finesse.

A year ago, the Olabisi wines had some highwater marks. The 2003 Syrah Suisun Valley King Vineyard ($22, 225 cases) earned a 91-point rating, and two other wines, the 2003 Petite Sirah Suisun King Vineyard (88, $35) and 2003 Syrah Knights Valley Betsy’s Vineyard (85, $22), were very good as well.

I just tried the 2004 versions of these three wines and can only say for now that they’re either as good as or better than the '03s, so this is a winery worth checking out. They are ripe, rich wines that are remarkably elegant and graceful.

Prices are $42 for the Syrah Suisun King Vineyard, $29 each for the Suisun Petite Sirah and Knights Valley Syrah.

I find it especially satisfying recommending producers like Olabisi.

You get a lot of bang for your buck, you’re supporting an upstart and you’re discovering great wines can come from places you’d never expect.

So when you’re drinking wines with friends you can pull out a bottle of Olabisi and tell them the story about this hot new winery and this hot little appellation in Solano County off Interstate 80, nestled in the rolling foothills behind the Fairfield Costco….

Telephone: (707) 803-0333
E-mail: ted@olabisiwines.com
Web site: www.olabisiwines.com

Hoyt Hill Jr
Nashville, TN —  August 2, 2006 4:25pm ET
I think it is an unfortunate sign of the times as regards California red wines that you are bragging on a $22 wine that you rate 85 points. With all the fabulous under $25, or even under $15, wines available in the world these days, shouldn't an 85 point wine sell for $10, and a $22 wine be a better wine? Why should someone pay $22 for this Syrah when there are dozens of superb Rhone Valley wines at that price?
La Quinta, CA —  August 2, 2006 5:20pm ET
James, I have been carrying the 2004 Olabisi King Vineyard Syrah(Suisun) in our retail shop since February. We also have a tasting bar, and I love throwing this wine into tastings as a "kicker". It blows people away! Now this syrah is not for the faint of heart. It is very big and chewy. I love it! I'm glad you wrote this blog, it gives people insight into what you and I get to taste before people even know about the winery/wines. Dustin.
Dan Jaworek
Chicago —  August 2, 2006 5:45pm ET
Unfortunately I have to agree with Mr. Hill. As an "upstart" I expect a certain amount of value from their wines since I could easily be buying wines from producers with long standing track records on quality. You can't drink a track record but like anything else, you feel better about justifying the expense when you know it comes froma a good place. Some humility on the part of these new producers should be in order. Last year I bought a Syrah based wine that James M. scored 90 points. I bought a case of it at $9/bottle. When you consider the distribution chain and the exchange rate, the deal gets even better. It too was from an upstart region, the Languedoc. But because of their place, the price is adjusted accordingly. Dan J
Michael Kakazu
Honolulu —  August 2, 2006 6:29pm ET
I enjoyed the 2003 Suisun Valley King Vineyard Syrah (91 points) at the time it was released last year. The bottle sold for $27.99 here in Hawaii. Unfortunately, I did not save any cases for myself and after a few sampling events I was completely sold out. I have just recently recieved the 2004 vintages and I agree they are better.
Gene Darby
Kansas City, KS —  August 2, 2006 6:45pm ET
I have had the pleasure of experiencing a bottle of 2000 Olabisi. I don't recall the veriatal, but I distincty remember enjoying it very much. If the quality is anything like that bottle; $22 is a very fair price. As everyone that reads this knows, there are great wines in every price range. I have only been collecting wine for a few years but I learned very quickly that while there are always some disappointments, the more I pay for a bottle of wine,the greater my expectation of consistant quality and longevity.
Douglas Johnson
Appleton, WI —  August 2, 2006 9:40pm ET
I agree with Messers Hill and Jaworek. There are plenty of 85 point wines selling for less than $10 so why would anyone pay $20+ for such a wine from an unknown winery. Rather than extol the virtues of this winery, you should be criticize them for their pricing.
Jeffrey Ghi
New York —  August 3, 2006 8:38am ET
Well be fair when comparing ratings. Grapes to grapes, vintages to vintages, area to area. You'd be hard pressed to find a good syrah for less then 10$ from the cali area. That being said, my personal feeling is that washington/oregon offers better bang for the buck when it comes to rich plum, velvety textured syrahs.
Jonathan Lawrence
August 3, 2006 9:18am ET
James, thanks for the info.; a friend and I accidentally "discovered" Pina Cellars a few years back during a Napa trip. I'm looking forward to trying other wines crafted by this winemaker. Too much is made of the price/value ratio: despite all this talk about wine as a "grocery" item, wine is also a "luxury" item, and some of the more pleasurable wine qualities do not survive large-scale production--or necessarily garner a higher rating. This is not to suggest that small lots guarantee exceptional wine--of course they don't. Still, they provide an opportunity for something special.
Hoyt Hill Jr
Nashville, TN —  August 3, 2006 10:08am ET
This is why I purchase so few California red wines. As a general rule, they represent no value in the current wine market place. There are exceptions, of course.
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  August 3, 2006 11:21am ET
Mr. Score Whore here.... I agree on the QPR problem already mentioned. You see, I get excited with 90 or 91 point wines that I can pick up for UNDER $10. One such is the 91-point 2003 Jacob's Creek Shiraz Reserve described as "Thick, with a layer of black pepper over a mouth filling gob of black cherry and licorice that cried out for grilled red meat. Drinkable now, better with some age. Best from 2008 through 2013." This wine sells for $9. The 2003 Suisun was $22, and the 2004 will be $42? Did these guys relocate to Bordeaux or something in the past year? Or were they just being nice guys and selling their wine at half-price last year (hee hee)? Yeah, right.
Simon Shamoun
Tarzana, Ca —  August 3, 2006 12:10pm ET
I tend to agree the price is steep for the rating the wines have gotten. I am a wine retailer, I think we have Wine Spectator / James Laube great values in every issue of the Wine Spectator. We sell all Varietals of wines from most countries, I think there are a lot of California wines that give you the best bang for the buck.
Robert Fukushima
California —  August 3, 2006 3:16pm ET
Here is one of those situations where score becomes a relative benchmark and not something that one can use relative to price/score ratios. As a syrah from California, I would expect that this wine is being compared to other California wines. If I want a California syrah, this one would represent something of a value against it's brethren. It's brethren are not from France or Australia, those are totally different wines.
Alwyn Sessions
August 3, 2006 3:23pm ET
James, thank for the recommendations. The 03 Valley King was certainly a value at $22, and your discovering this wine was a great help to value hunters. However, you loose me with the other two Olabisi wines. Yes they have good enough ratings and their 03 prices weren't ridiculously high, but how are they values? Value makes most sense as a measure of price/rating relative to the price rating of similar wine. As you know, there are many similar wines to these with comparable ratings but at a fraction of the price. Furthermore, the Valley King for 04 just went up in price to $42 and that's almost a 100% mark up. Thus, I ask you, what is it that makes Olabisi a place to which we should look for future values?
Andrew J Walter
Sacramento,CA —  August 7, 2006 4:30pm ET
Price is not the issue. When you are the "little guy"...it is hard to make really good wine and sell it for cheap (you'd starve). What Ted did that is special is turn to a relatively unknown area and exploit the terrior's tremendous potential. Based upon my tastings of the 03 Kings Vineyard Syrah and other wines from Ledgewood Creek Vineyards (now there is some price to quality ratio...check out their scores and everything is under $16) and Sunset Cellars, I am going to make a syrah from Green Valley (right next to SV and slightly closer to Napa County) from a vineyard managed by Don King. I'll let you know how it turns out.
Lois Burks
Austin, TX —  August 11, 2006 1:33pm ET
Olabisi's website lists a different price structure than quoted by JL. 2204 Suisun Valley Syrah, King vineyard-$28.00; 2004 Knights Valley Syrah, Betsy's Vineyard-$28.00; 2004 Suisun Valley Petite Syrah, King Vineyard-$39.00. It appears that maybe the price hike is a misprint???
Andrew J Walter
Sacramento,CA —  November 4, 2006 11:19pm ET
James...I do not know if you read the responses to these old blogs but my GV syrah is now in the barrel. Too bad you won't get a chance to taste it (as I am making only 2 barrels and its for fun anyways) but wow! This is some good stuff. Already a noseful of black fruit and white pepper (or maybe I'm biased...who knows??). That being said, I think this is an area that deserves further exploration by the wine world.

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