Ever since I have been paying attention to wine, there has been one concept that has remained constant: wine should give you a sense of place. In other words, wine should be from somewhere. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately, depending on your perspective), I started studying wine and the effects of place in Burgundy where this “sense of place” reaches its apogee. There, emphasis is placed not just on towns, or even vineyards, but particular rows of vines.
Dave Phinney, founder of Orin Swift Cellars, turns that concept a bit on its head, however, with his relatively new Locations Wine project. Phinney challenges the notion that wine needs to be from one specific location, but rather can represent a country or a state through the art of blending wines that represent the best of several appellations.
I recently received several of the Locations wines and invited a few friends over to give them a whirl.
Locations Wine E-4: Retail $18. A blend of Garnacha, Tempranillo, Monastrell, and Carignan. This is the fourth edition of the Spanish “Locations” which is a blend of several different grapes from a few different regions in Spain. This is the first time I have had one of these wines from Dave Phinney. Honestly? Given some of the reviews I have read, I was expecting a much bigger and bolder wine, but this is decidedly Old World in its approach. Subtle red fruit with hints of mocha and a touch of earth. On the palate, a perfectly quaffable wine that is well-balanced and pleasant. It does lack a certain “oomph” however, but this is a fine wine for a mid-week meal and certainly merits the tariff. Very Good. 86-88 Points.
Locations Wine AR-5: Retail $18. A blend of mostly Malbec with a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon. This edition of the Argentinian “Locations” is inky dark with blackberry, tar, and a touch of black licorice. Rich and full on the palate, this stops well short of being overly fruity, but it certainly has fruit in spades. Along with the fruit comes chocolate and vanilla and savory notes accented by sage and thyme. Like the others in this series, this wine delivers well above its weight class and while this Malbec/Cab blend would love to see a steak come to the table, it is perfectly capable of handing it all on its own. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
Locations Wine F-4: Retail $18. Grenache from the Roussillon, Syrah from the Rhone Valley and assorted Bordeaux varieties. Initially, I was not all that impressed with this wine. In fact, it was closer to depression. While that is indeed overboard, I received three of the Locations wines and I saved this French one for last. Why? Easy. I am a French wine snob and I figured it would be the best. And it wasn’t. Initially. I left and opened something else. A few hours later, my wife convinced me (somehow) to watch Grey’s Anatomy with her. So I grabbed this for reinforcement. And did the extra time open make a difference. A big difference. Dark in the glass, with almost equal parts of cassis, anise, and spice. Juicy and full without being overbearing. Wow. Complete 180. And while the other two were quite good, this one actually does edge them out in the end (at least in my unbiased opinion). Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
Locations Wine OR-4: Retail $24. 100% Pinot Noir. I believe this is the only Locations that is a single variety, but I feel like I need to send an email to Dave Phinney to let him know that Oregon is much more than Pinot—there are over 70 varieties grown in Southern Oregon! But I digress. Wonderful nose of blueberry, tea, and a touch of eucalyptus. It leads of with rich fruit, but also plenty of acidity, which lasts all the way through. There is a bit of earthiness that comes in halfway through, serving as a backbone all the way to the finish. I have mentioned numerous times that it seems difficult to produce a high quality Pinot for under $30, but this one certainly comes closer than most. Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.
Locations Wine CA-4: Retail $20. Petite Sarah, Barbera, Tempranillo, Syrah, and Grenache. Looking over the varietal breakdown, there are a couple (Barbera and Tempranillo) that are not at the forefront of anyone’s idea of “California Wine” so I would love to hear why those were included. Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of both, I just find it a bit outside the norm. The fruit comes from four appellations: Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, and the Sierra Foothills, blended together to produce a rather inky dark wine with deep dark berry aromas, a dashes of black pepper, vanilla, and oak. Rich and round on the palate with a tangy spiciness and plenty of heft (15% ABV). This is on the verge of being a bruiser, but stops just short. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
Locations Wine WA-4: Retail $20. Syrah, Merlot, and Petite Sarah. I have not spent a ton of time in the state of Washington, but I hope that changes soon. More and more wine from the state is making its way out of the Pacific Northwest and consumers are realizing that there are both great values and high quality wines coming from the upper left corner of the lower 48. Perhaps not quite as dark as the California Locations wine, but this has bigger, riper fruit (primarily raspberry) and mocha on the nose, with a more viscous mouthfeel (although the alcohol is also listed at 15%). I am of the mind that chocolate and wine are a horrible pairing, but this might be an exception. Sure, there is plenty of raspberry on the palate, but the wine’s overall flavor profile screams chocolate. There is also some spice, a bit of black tea, and plenty of tannin suggesting this wine needs a bit of time, but right now? Grab some dark chocolate and go to town. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
Locations Wine TX-4: Retail $24. From the website: “Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Carignan, and assorted Bordeaux varietals.” (I put that in quotation marks since I am one of those people who cringes at the incorrect use of the adjective “varietal”—yeah, I need to get over it, but I just can’t.) Living here in Houston, I have seen this distinctive label many times at the H.E.B. so for this tasting I decided to purchase this—my first bottle of Texas wine. Well. There is a certain amount of funk to this wine—so much that I was convinced that it must contain a hybrid grape or two in the blend, and thus was surprised to see that it didn’t. There is a bit of stewed fruit to accompany the funk, but even on the palate that pungent aspect persists. I will reserve judgment on this wine until I get the chance to taste it again.
Note: All of the wines above were received as samples for review, with the exception of the Texas wine, which I purchased from Spec’s here in Houston.