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A Darker Shade Of Red

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Sep 12, 2006 4:40pm ET

Time was, red wines from California's Edna Valley--south of San Luis Obispo--were typically light in color, seemingly more anemic than healthy.

I still remember my first impressions of early 1980s Pinot Noir from Edna Valley Vineyard – pale red garnet in color, with decent flavors, but nothing to get excited about.

The other night, I was thinking of those days, and how things have changed, after taking home a few of the spoils from one of my regular blind tastings.

On the good days, I often take home a couple of bottles I’ve reviewed. It gives me a chance out of the office to think about what I liked about the wine, or appellation, or producer.

The wines in question were four of the darkest, inkiest, most saturated reds I’ve tasted, and they came from Edna Valley of all places.

I absolutely loved the four 2004s, a pair of Syrahs, a Grenache and a Grenache blend.

These days I can almost tell an Alban red just by the color.

In this instance, the wines were Alban's Lorraine, Reva, Grenache and Pandora Seymour’s Vineyard bottlings. All great wines, as has become the norm from this producer.

John Alban once used the words “motor oil” to describe the color of his reds.

I like “dark side of the moon.”

Alban credits the wines' color to the clones he brought from France’s Rhône Valley years ago when he planted Alban Vineyard, and thanks to him, many more of the reds from the Edna Valley appellation are now rich, vibrant and saturated.

Don’t think I’ve ever seen any wines that are darker.


Jay Anneaux
Gainesville, FL —  September 12, 2006 5:51pm ET
James how about the boys at Pride's facility making a cab, Merlot and Petit Syrah. Corte Riva!! When I was there and made my rounds the sample from them stained the Reidel. And they all were superb.
James Laube
Napa, CA —  September 12, 2006 5:57pm ET
Jay, I have like the Corte Riva wines; found some bottle variation with the '03s, and expect the '04s will be much better.
Mark Mccullough
GA —  September 12, 2006 6:18pm ET
Sine Qua Non Midnight Oil 2001. I think SQN may blend from some of the same vineyards as Alban. DARK rich thick Syrah with a fantastic nose and wonderful balance.
James Laube
Napa, CA —  September 12, 2006 6:26pm ET
Mark, I think you're right about the Alban connection...
James Mccusker
Okemos, MI —  September 12, 2006 6:36pm ET
James, I'm a huge fan of John Alban's wines - for my tastes they are among the best wines money can buy (and thankfully you don't need a king's ransom, just a little patience on the mailing list!). I would say that Manfred Krankle's Sine Qua Non offerings are in the same league as Alban's (perhaps not too surprising given that he sources some of his fruit from Alban). The 2001 SQN Midnight Oil is one to check out both for its color (very aptly named) and for its incredible taste!
James Mccusker
Okemos, MI —  September 12, 2006 8:59pm ET
James: That hour delay before comments are posted can really make one (i.e., me) look like an idiot (or at least like someone who doesn't pay attention)!
James Laube
Napa, CA —  September 12, 2006 9:39pm ET
James, that's ok. It happens to all of us! Typos and all. Glad you're chiming in.
James Mccusker
Okemos, MI —  September 12, 2006 11:02pm ET
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  September 13, 2006 12:29am ET
Didn't Domaine Alfred make some wonderfully concentrated PN out of Edna Valley fruit this year? I know your blog ended with Rhones, but it started with PN's that were diluted. A lot of progress on all fronts in this valley.
Larry Schaffer
Central Coast —  September 13, 2006 11:20am ET
What blows me away about his reds, especially his Grenaches, is knowing that most grenaches lose their color pretty quickly during and immediately after fermentation - it's rare to find a really dark bottled 100% grenache from California. There are exceptions, of course, and Alban is one of them! This does go to show what specific clones can do for a wine . . .In addition, the PN's from that area and just south certainly are showing loads of color these days. Again, this points to both clonal selections and, I believe, cooler ferments to try to hold onto that color . . .
Greg Malcolm
St. Louis, Missouri —  September 13, 2006 11:41am ET
I was surprised at how dark -- inky, almost black -- some of the 2005 Oregon Pinot's were that I tasted from barrel in late spring.
Dan Jaworek
Chicago —  September 13, 2006 12:07pm ET
I don't know anything about these specific wines, but I'm always skeptical when I see these wines that are.....black not red. When they reach that glass staining color and consistency, I suspect that they are over extracted. When they prove to be just that, they are usually heavy wines with no freshness to them. The alcohol is usually high as well has the glycerine character. When they are like that, they wear me out. They don't leave you with that want or need to another sip. And they can be unruly brutes with food. I don't particulary get excited to see wines like that in my glass unless its typical for that particular grape variety. When I get a "black" pinot noir, I'm usually turned off. My personal feeling is that the highly extracted inky wines are too highly prized. It forces all producers and their grapes to the same identity leaving much of the subtle characters of the grape behind. The inky dark wines have their place and the Rhone varieties are probably it. But I am tired of seeing other wines made in that style. Sometimes less is more.Dan J
Chris Lavin
Long Beach, CA —  September 13, 2006 12:10pm ET
I had a bottle of Achaval Ferrer "Bella Vista" 2003 Malbec that was so dark the glass was black after swirling. I love John's wines - Sey and Reva come into my restaurant periodically and usually bring a bottle from their son. They are some of the nicest people I've ever met. Did you know that Sey is drinking a beer on the label? Fun!
Paul Osborne
San Jose, CA —  September 15, 2006 5:42pm ET
Alban, yes, but try Wolffe up the street at half the price. Especially pinor noir('02;'03 and petite sirah'04(make sure to bleach your teeth after the petite).Alban lost the winemaker that made all those great wines (still local, but own production)...we'll see
Claude Boulanger
January 23, 2009 9:17pm ET
I open Midnight Oil and Guigal La Turque 2002 for good friends tomorrow night, served on Braised veal with fresh laurel leaves and tomatoes.. Wines will be carafed 4 hours and served blind. I question: which to serve first... Start with the 'male' or the 'female'... Thanks!
James Laube
Napa, CA —  January 23, 2009 9:33pm ET
Claude, serve them both at the same time, so long as it's blind...that gives them each the same chance for success.

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