Is Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Age Worthy?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Kosta Browne Pinot Noirs are some of the most luscious, rich, ripe and delicious new world Pinot Noirs on the market today. Their mailing list was already hard to crack before their 2009 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (95 points, $52) was named Wine Spectator's Wine of the Year. Now it's harder then ever to get an allocation of their wines or to find them at or near release price at retail.
 
Their wines have a reputation for being big. Perhaps too big for some given the expectation that Pinot Noir should adhere to its Burgundian roots. But there's plenty of new world wine enthusiasts who unabashedly love the Kosta Browne style for its velvety mouth-filling texture, generous fruit, and hedonistic deliciousness. Myself included.
 
This style makes Burghounds question: Are their wines age-worthy? The fruit will fade but the alcohol won't. Will these fruit bombs be in balance when they age?
 
I spotted an older bottle of theirs on an offer from The Spirit Shoppe (long-time supporter of the WWP - check 'em out) so I thought I'd take a chance to see how well their wines hold up at 10 years post-vintage.
 
I should mention up front that I enjoy wines on the younger side. I haven't had many "ah ha!" moments where I tasted a wine with significant age that made me want to invest in long-term cellaring.
 
High quality Napa Cab is typically relased with about 3 years of age. California Pinot Noir is released earlier - about 2 years post-vintage.
 
As a broad rule of thumb I'd say I like Napa Cab at around 4-8 years, Bordeaux at around 10 years, and California Pinot Noir at around 3-5 years. It's one of the reasons I like California Pinot Noir so much - it's a low-fuss wine.
 
For me, Kosta Browne is the George Clooney of California Pinot Noir. Here's what I mean by that... When you watch an old episode of E.R. Clooney still looks cool. Contrast this with the style of Don Johnson in Miami Vice: Cool at the time but in hindsight a little extreme and now dated. Kosta Browne is like Clooney because it's maintained roughly the same style but has evolved over time. And thier style has been fashionable all along the way. Most other wineries envy their popularity, yet some may take swipes at them behind their backs. But you can't help but like them and want to hang out with them.
 
Looking back to 2002, it was the year before their wines hit the big time and snared 95 point ratings from Wine Spectator. Their first publicly released wines were from the 2000 vintage. Spectator didn't rate their 2002 Russian River Valley Pinot but they did score the Sonoma Coast 87 points. When retasting it this year as part of a retrospective Kosta Browne review they rated that same wine 84 points. In other words it's a little tired.
 
Here are my thoughts on the 2002 Russian River Valley:
 
2002 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Russian River Valley
14.6% Alcohol
1,300 Cases Produced
$28 Release Price (back in the day)
 
Slightly browning transparent brick red. There's a hint of what this wine once was on the nose with light fruit and a touch of herbaceousness. Nice full viscosity on the palate and a medium-length finish. Ultimately it seems like this wine has been reduced to its most elemental components: Some fruit up front, weight on the palate, and alcohol in the background.
 
85/100 WWP: Good
 
Conclusion:
 
Tasting this wine felt like walking through Cooperstown right before closing on a quiet night. You can see the markings of a star early in their career but they haven't started to put up the .300/30 HR/100 RBI numbers just yet. A fascinating experience tasting this wine early in Kosta Browne's trajectory.
 
Further Reading:
 
Visit the Kosta Browne website to learn more and sign up for their mailing list.
 
Question of the Day: What drinking window is your benchmark for high quality California Pinot Noir?
 

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