Monday, May 16, 2011

Cerebral Pinot Noirs And Syrahs

While studying English and American Literature at UC Davis (where his father was a professor), Byron Kosuge had the self-realization that he couldn’t deny his farming roots. The son of a Colorado farmer turned University Biochemist, Byron Kosuge began his winemaking career at Saintsbury Vineyards in Carneros, CA in 1987 and continued to craft beautiful wines for Saintsbury for 14 years. He amassed a treasure chest of 90 point wines and built quite a reputation as one of the premier Pinot Noir producers in California. But Byron felt there was more out there to learn about Pinot Noir and he could only improve his craft by producing wines in another region. After the 2001 vintage, Byron took the plunge, striking out on his own. He clearly does not lack courage. He began crafting wines for his UC Davis roommate Emmanuel Kemiji at Miura Wines. Soon after he connected with Courtney Kingston of Chile's Kingston Family Vineyards and began producing Pinot Noir and Syrah for the Kingston family. The chance to work in Chile was intriguing because he knew the potential Pinot Noir had in the region. It also presented a unique and challenging terroir and, of course, the chance to travel. After a few years of working with Kingston Family Vineyards (he still consults for them) he debuted his own label B. Kosuge Wines in 2004. Byron clearly has no intentions of slowing down.

“…many of the people who have made the difference in the best vineyards never get their names on the labels. Among these growers, the ones I have the most respect for are those who never hesitate to roll up their sleeves and “do whatever needs to be done” to get it right.” – B. Kosuge

His approach is as hands on as it gets. You’re more likely to find him in the vineyard than in some fancy office pouring over financial reports while on the phone trying to open new markets. His idea of multitasking is punching down the cap while trying to fix the bottling line. He prefers walking the vineyards, working the vines, sorting grapes, and working the cellar. That is where, Byron believes, the best wines and the best techniques are born. The results of this approach speak for themselves. Byron crafts wines that show the true expression of where they come from. But what I found most intriguing is Byron’s ability to put his unique stamp on his wine while exercising restraint and working with what the vineyard provides him. Defining that stamp is almost an exercise in futility. His wines are paradoxically cerebral and emotional. They are round and polished but have a sneaky edge that is exciting and riveting. They are Rita Hayworth - voluptuous, a little bit shy, very dangerous, pin-up worthy with a dark side that’s only exposed to those who know the whole truth. And I’ll be damned if that’s just not plain sexy and worth every penny.

Byron’s talents are often overshadowed by his “rock star” brethren. While names such has Kosta Browne, Peay, Siduri, and Calera dominate the California Pinot Noir headlines and Sine Qua Non, Colgin and Dumol dominate California Syrah, Byron’s wines fly under the radar. That’s just fine by me. I prefer to pay for wine, not marketing and social media expertise. He’s pretty comfortable with the idea as well. Of the seven labels that bear his name, there is a mere 1,300 total cases produced, so he doesn’t have to spend his time or money flying all over the world to move boxes of juice. Instead, he can concentrate on developing his talents as a winemaker and vineyard manager. That’s time better spent. To sell his beautifully crafted wines he simply needs to find a couple of guys like me. I’m happy to oblige.

Recommended Wines

2008 Kingston Family Pinot Noir “Tobiano”
$25 per bottle
From Chile. Small production Pinot Noir that’s rich in style but elegant in nature. Look for black cherry, ripe berry and subtle Asian spice aromas. The palate is light on it’s feet but still packs enough flavor to have depth and complexity. A very enticing finish that shows good tannic structure that’s balanced by the fruit.

2009 Kingston Family Syrah “Lucero”
$25 per bottle
From Chile. I did a double take on the price. Those in search of opulent, dense syrah, look no further. Very impressive in its youth, the Lucero shows dark berry fruit with subtle cola and licorice notes. The palate shows great acidity helping to keep the fruit in balance and leading to a long and complex finish. Just over 1000 cases produced.

2007 B. Kosuge Pinot Noir “The Shop”
$45 per bottle
Wow, this is really good Carneros Pinot Noir. Perfumed aromas of wild rose and fresh raspberry tickled with sage, thyme and white pepper. The palate is round and polished, with medium body and a rather lengthy finish. It somehow manages to stay fresh and alive. Just 450 cases produced

2007 B. Kosuge Syrah “Dry Stack Vineyards”
$25 per bottle
Another stunning Syrah value. The Syrah from Byron is quite bracing and palate staining. Big and juicy with currant, blackberry and cassis finishing with a good dose of black pepper and spice. Really complex for the money.

To Purchase The Wines:
The Wines of B. Kosuge from Nicholas Roberts Fine Wines

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