Holy cow, it is almost the middle of August and I swear I could feel a hint of autumn in the air today… ugh. Before you know it, the kids will be back in school and it will be too chilly to enjoy eating outside with a bottle of great wine. To make the most of the back half of the grilling season, here are a few of my favorite bottles that you can feel proud sharing with even your wine snob friends. And why do they need to know you spent less than $30?
Hartford Court Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2021
Hartford Court might be the most bucolic and relaxing estate in California, with grounds that could be right out of The Hobbit. Out the back of the winery, you can walk down lush bright green grass to a winding loop of the Russian River overhung with drooping willows and ancient live oaks. It makes you want to grab a book, lay down and stay until it’s too dark to read. Ah, the wine… right. I have never had a bad bottle, from their outstanding Zin’s, to their excellent and affordable Pinot Noir, all treated with extreme care. Rarely fined or filtered… pure Russian River in the glass. When it is a little too hot out for a big red, but I still want the flavor of a big red, this hits all the notes for me.
My Favorite Neighbor Harvey & Harriet Red Blend 2020
I am a sucker for Paso Robles Rhone blends, having been on the Saxum mailing list for over a half a decade. San Luis Obispo feels like no other place in California. Extremely wooded, hills and crags all over, and morning fog that turns the whole landscape fairly spooky. It would be called frontier if it weren’t so famous now. Eric Jensen owns Booker Vineyards (you may have heard of it) right next door to Saxum and l’Aventure. Booker Vineyards is a founding member of the Central Cali Cult wine scene and My Favorite Neighbor is a 2nd brand he created to collaborate with his neighbors and pay tribute at the same time. Harvey & Harriet is the bottling he makes from the My Favorite Neighbor brand to honor his parents, lovers of affordable wine. You are getting Booker-level winemaking for a fraction of the price… not to be missed. This is the bottle I am pulling out of the cellar when I am firing up the grill, totally versatile.
Walter Hansel Chardonnay Estate 2021
Literally a tin roofed tractor shed in the middle of a giant square(ish) vineyard abutting the Santa Rosa Creek, Walter Hansel is the epitome of unassuming. Apparently they rarely get visitors, because they treated us like dignitaries. As gracious as could be. They make a great Pinot, but the Chard’s are where it is at. They are mainly using Hyde and Hudson clones (not cheap, NOT CHEAP), which lead to a laser-precise white that almost always reminds me of clementine peel. I am always astounded that they can keep this stunner below $30 when most Russian River Valley estate Chardonnays are well over. Even the superb Cuvee Alyce comes in at a price about 30% below the market for similar single-vineyards. I have been enjoying this wine for years now, and every vintage I am tickled that they hold the line on price. Chill it down, pair it with food if you must. Me, I want to savor a glass of this on its own where I can pick out all the little nuances that make a Russian River Chardonnay truly great.