2 Wines I Didn't Want To Like, But Loved Instead

It's a well-worn trail.  Family-run winery expands beyond their original footprint.  Production increases, geography of sourcing leans towards cheaper grapes, and, regrettably, quality dips.  The expansion is usually preceded by some influx of new cash or outright acquisition.  Brands like William Hill, Edna Valley, and Chateau Souverain come to mind.  Whereas once their wines were risk-free no-brainers, now they are, well, not.

The first time I visited Hess was in the mid-late 90s.  They made a few highly regarded cabs from mostly Mt Veeder fruit, along with a few other mostly-overlooked siblings.  It was a novelty of a stop on the Napa Valley tour, what with its modern art collection in an ivy-covered gallery.  But I put my hands on as much of those bottles as I could afford back then.  Today, Hess is a growing multinational wine company with brands like MacPhail, Amalaya, and Artezin in its portfolio.  And the Hess brand itself has expanded well beyond its original Mt Veeder offering, as many larger wineries do, series levels ranging from specific vineyards to the more general California AVA.

The Hess Select series is at the latter end of the spectrum, but also includes bottlings from the slightly tighter Central Coast and North Coast appellations.  So, when a couple of Hess Select samples arrived, I wondered with a bit of skepticism if they hadn't followed that well-worn path.  Prepared not to like these as I was, I kept a mind as open as my mouth and plunged in.  And am I ever glad.

Would I prefer these wines be priced a few dollars lower? Sure. But that's because I'm a cheapskate.  And that shouldn’t stop anyone from feeling confident in reaching for them.

2015 Hess Select Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast $19
Though labeled as a North Coast AVA, this Cabernet is textbook Napa from a decade or two ago. That is to say, strong backbone, terrific structure, honest fruit, and all around drinking pleasure. The fact that it is available at the grocery store makes this all the more accessible. There are many evenings when I want to reach for a Northern California Cabernet, but so much of it has become overextracted syrup. Not so with this.  Solid and impressive.

2016 Hess Select Pinot Noir North Coast $20
I looked around for cameras to be sure I was not being punked after first tasting this wine.  (I actually did.)  This wine is undeniably California, but equally undeniable is its quality and character. Prominent acidity and high toned notes of burnt orange peel and crushed sun baked flowers flutter behind your eye. Yes, it’s got some body to it, but the balance and tension (yes, tension!) drink like heady coastal vineyard fruit at triple the price. Damn!