Let's go back to Oregon for an example of a concept that's useful for wine-bargain hunters to know: The so-called "second label," a marketing approach in which a winery produces a wine under a different name and label than its flagship bottling.
"Second label" wines are normally more affordable than the winery's main line. But this "lesser" wine will often show the winery's characteristic style and may be a particularly good value.
Today we're tasting Pinot Noir from Rex Hill Vineyards, a relatively large producer by Oregon standards with 225 acres of vineyards. Its wines are fairly well distributed in the U.S., but may be more difficult to find in other countries. Like most Oregon wineries, its top wines are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. It also grows a little Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Blanc.
Now, about that second label: Every year, Rex Hill's president and wine maker Lynn Penner-Ash makes separate wines from each of the winery's vineyards, tasting and evaluating each as they develop in the barrel. Eventually, the lots regarded as best go into the winery's top products bearing the Rex Hill label, some sold under specific vineyard names or as "Reserve" wines.
The wines that don't make this first cut are blended and bottled under a separate label - the second label - and sold as Kings Ridge. The connection is no secret, but you have to turn the bottle around and read the small print on the back label to confirm that Kings Ridge is "produced and bottled by Rex Hill Winery," which is near Newberg, Oregon, in the wine-producing Willamette ("wil-LAM-et") Valley about 20 miles southwest of Portland.
Is there a difference? Of course there is. Rex Hill's 1999 Pinot Noir (tasting notes below) is an impressive wine, with a lot of the "Burgundian" characteristics that have inspired wine makers the world over to grow this sometimes challenging grape variety. The Kings Ridge 2000 Oregon Pinot Noir is a tasty wine, too, perhaps more of a wine for casual quaffing with food than contemplation. Both show some presence of oak, a characteristic that seems to be a signature of Rex Hill. But note the price: In my local shops, the Rex Hill sells for $25. The Kings Ridge is $14. For everyday enjoyment, the price makes a significant difference.Kings Ridge 2000 Oregon Pinot Noir ($13.99)
Clear cherry red. Spicy red-fruit aromas with smoky notes, interesting, if a bit odd for a Pinot. Bright and juicy tart-cherry fruit nicely balanced by fresh-fruit acidity. (May 22, 2002)
FOOD MATCH: Fine with alder-smoked salmon over pasta with butter and olive oil.
VALUE: A good "second label" value at this midrange price.
WEB LINK: http://www.rexhill.com.
Dark garnet, almost darker than you might expect of a Pinot. Ripe cherry fruit and a distinct tobacco-leaf scent; big and juicy cherry flavor well built on fresh-fruit acidity. (May 13, 2002)
FOOD MATCH: An excellent match with smoked salmon with roasted poblano peppers in scrambled eggs over fingerling potatoes. This recipe was featured in last week's Wine Advisor FoodLetter,
VALUE: An excellent wine, worth the special-occasion price.
WEB LINK: http://www.rexhill.com.
Today's wines, and many more fine wines from the Pacific Northwest, are available from our good friends at Avalon Wine, Northwest Wine and Gourmet.
Avalon Wine's excellent Website is not just an online store but a top source for wine-information content about the region and its wines, featuring expert columnists, a virtual library full of articles, and wine clubs. Avalon's broad inventory of Northwest wines is available at attractive prices and may be shipped anywhere in the U.S. that the law allows.
The folks at Avalon Wine love to talk about Northwest wines. You can call them direct at (541) 752-7418 or visit the Website at
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Thursday, May 23, 2002
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.