Winemaking Against The Grain
Winemaker Dave Phinney’s Locations brand flies in the face of most winemaking tradition. In most cases, wine regions are all about placing their stamp on a unique style. In France, Burgundy doesn’t want to be confused with Bordeaux. Napa Valley doesn’t want to be confused with Sonoma. Even Rutherford wants wine drinkers to know that its Cabernet is different than neighboring Napa Valley regions.
On the other hand, Locations tries to blend across all the major appellations to produce a wine that represents the country, or state, of origin. The question is, when you break the rules and thousands of years of tradition in pursuit of expressing freedom, does it work?
We uncorked the four latest Locations wines to find out. In our minds the answer is a resounding “yes.”
The Old And New Worlds
The quartet of Locations wine included two from the Old World (countries in Europe) and two from the New (everywhere else). Adorned in their attention-grabbing “bumper sticker” labels, we sampled E5, a Spanish red; F5, French red wine; NZ7, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc; and WA5, a Washington red wine. Each is priced at $19.99.
Of the many Locations wines we’ve tried over the past few years, E is our favorite. Spanish reds are delicious and the Locations wine boundary-busting blend captures the spirit of the country. It is a blend of Garnacha (Grenache), Tempranillo, Monastrell and Cariñena. Three powerhouse regions are represented: Priorat, Ribera del Duero and Rioja. Also in the blend are grapes from Toro and Jumilla.
Pepper, black raspberry and vanilla flavors swirl in the glass. It has a silky texture and a long, lingering finish.
The entry from France is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and various Bordeaux varieties (we assume Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc and Merlot, maybe a few more). The grapes are sourced from Phinney’s network of growers in Rhone, Roussillon and Bordeaux. That prompts us to ask, “What is Burgundy, chopped liver?”
There is no arguing with the results, though. Grenache and Syrah are a classic Rhone formula. Syrah is also widely grown in Roussillon. The emphasis here is on red fruit, with notes of strawberry and cranberry with just a touch of earthiness. This is a solid and enjoyable wine and a great French value at sub-$20.
We uncorked the NZ at a wine dinner to serve with a spread of appetizers that included stuffed mushrooms. My wife is an extreme Sauvignon Blanc fan with a preference for New Zealand’s Marlborough region. For the NZ edition Locations stayed in one region, but sourced the grapes from three different valleys with different characteristics.
It is 100% Sauvignon Blanc and grapes come from Wairau Valley (known for crisp, grassy flavors), Awatere Valley (bringing the minerality) and Waihopai (with complexity from gravelly soil). This is a great bottle. Some people can get turned off by the extreme acidity in some Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. But NZ turns it down in favor of a more rounded, yet still crisp mouthfeel.
All the hallmarks are there including bright grapefruit and tropical flavors. The flavors of freshly cut grass add to the refreshing experience.
Pizza and Petite Sirah
Our final bottle, the WA, was popped for a casual evening dinner. We made flatbread pizza – one a Hawaiian style with pineapple and Canadian bacon, and the other a barbecue and chicken affair.
We go bonkers over Washington State wine and this did not disappoint. It is a blend of Syrah, Merlot and Petite Sirah. The producer is coy about the specific wine regions used, just saying it is sourced from “within the state’s best growing regions.” To us, that means it includes Walla Walla Valley, Horse Heaven Hills, and certainly Columbia Valley (which covers most the the vineyards in the eastern part of the state and drifts into Oregon too).
This is an elegant and enjoyable drinking experience. Although it has 15% ABV, it doesn’t taste “hot.” It is smooth and fruit forward with plum and black cherry notes. The Merlot softens the Syrah and the Petite Sirah adds a bit of mystery.
This is the first Locations Washington State blend and we applaud the effort. There are some unique AVAs in Washington, so we’d love to know specifically what’s represented in the blend.
We recently received a news item announcing that Locations has been acquired by E&J Gallo. We hope that the creativity and high QPR (Quality Price Ratio) continue with these wines. Dave Phinney has a magic touch with winemaking. He created the wildly successful Prisoner blend, then later built up the Orin Swift brand – both of which he later sold. Phinney will continue to be the Locations winemaker.
Whatever your location, you’ll like it better with a glass or two of Locations!
Full Disclosure: These wines were received as a marketing sample.