Given a choice, I prefer a wine that makes me think. It is brain over brawn -- a wine with a cerebral challenge vs. an obvious wine whose fruit just clobbers the palate without mercy. A great burgundy, for instance, makes me reach for descriptors. Not so an extracted Australian syrah. You sip the first, gulp the latter.
My bias was put to a challenge at a recent dinner of friends. I brought along a 2014 J. Lohr Fog's Reach Pinot Noir, a wine I knew would please. It did. In fact, the producer was well known to the group of occasional wine drinkers.
Lohr is known more for its chardonnays and cabernet sauvignons, which are also extracted and easy to drink. The pinot noirs from Monterey fruit are as big a challenge to Lohr as the grape is to any California producer. Alas, pinot noir is more susceptible to weather -- heat can overwhelm the thin-skinned grape and rain can bring on crippling disease.
Lohr's production has grown to more than 1.6 million cases and I see it everywhere -- in restaurants and retail stores. Lohr's success is because he understands what consumers want: flavor. Who besides me wants to think about a wine?
Whether it is his chardonnays or his pinot noirs, Lohr's wines have excellent texture, copious and ripe fruit flavors, density and richness that contribute to a soft mouthfeel. Not much tannin or acidity in wines that are designed for immediate consumption.
Lohr was buying Monterey County vineyards in the late '70s and making wine from his first winery in 1978. In the '80s he expanded his vineyard holdings to Paso Robles, St. Helena and Santa Lucia Highlands to build up his production.
Lohr's vineyard-series chardonnays are expansive with broad and lush tropical fruit flavors. Like the pinot noirs, their success is the result of a lot of manipulation: stirring the lees, punching over the cap, malolatic fermentation and generous use of oak barrels.
If you haven't tried these wines, now is the time. The two pinot noirs are priced around $35 and the October Night Chardonnay around $25. It's luxurious cuvee series are more pricey at $50 but these creative blends deliver a lot for the money.