Hot wine value region: Mendocino County, CA

Wine — By KF Louis on November 21, 2009 at 12:46 pm

Compared to its massively bigger brothers Napa and Sonoma, Mendocino County receives little attention on the international wine scene. To me, this is both a shame and an evergreen value wine buying opportunity.

Here’s what a value wine buyer should love about ‘Mendo’: (as they say only in…Mendo…)

  • Wine tour buses rarely go there
  • Land costs less and so does your wine
  • Cooler climate varietals shine in this region (pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot blanc, etc.)
  • Many of the best wineries are family-run, with limited marketing budgets
  • Many brilliant startup winemakers often produce incredible values with Mendocino fruit

Speaking of brilliant startup winemakers doing wonders with Mendocino grapes, I’ve got a couple that you should pay attention to:

2007 Willowbrook Mendocino County Pinot Noir ($17)Willowbrook2007

I wish there were more cool-climate, American, sub-$20 pinot noirs on the market that are worth drinking. But thankfully, there is Willowbrook, which has knocked it out of the park again! Their ’06 DuNah Sonoma Coast ($20) is stunning, and this ’07 Mendocino is the top contender for my Value Wine of the Year award in the pinot noir category. Be forewarned: three years from now, I believe this very wine will be in the mid-$30s and you will be looking elsewhere for the next under-priced up-and-comer in the pinot game.

Copain L'Hiver 2006

2006 Copain “L’Hiver” Mendocino County Syrah ($13)

I have yet to find a better California syrah in the low teens anywhere. If this fruit came from Dry Creek, it would be minimum $35 a bottle (and I probably wouldn’t like it anyway, because I am usually not a Dry Creek fan). Filled with the rich leather, smoke and spice flavors that I love in a new-world style Crozes-Hermitage (Northern Rhone Region, wines are syrah based), this bottle is a steal at half the cost. Paring suggestions: serve L’Hiver at your last summer barbeque of the year or with rich braised-meat dishes in the fall.

2008 Copain “Tous Ensemble” Mendocino County Viognier ($20)

Viognier invokes strong feelings among the wine drinkers I know. They either love it or hate it, with no middle ground. While California is producing more than ever, I rarely find a viognier worth drinking in our $10-20 value range. That said, one Mendocino exception is the 2008 Copain (linked above). This is a great example of the rich and big style that some viognier lovers appreciate.

Enjoy, and let me know what you think of these wines.

*Photo credit:  K&L Wines.

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