I’ve often said that the by-the-glass list is a window into a restaurant’s soul. I realize that this is not exactly ‘engrave-on-your-tombstone’ material, but I do believe it—and I’m still shocked at how many restaurants get every aspect of the by-the-glass program all wrong, from pricing to temperature to the glassware itself. Last year, we offered ex-sommelier Matt Ahern’s “White Queen” Chardonnay, which he created with restaurant by-the-glass lists in mind. He (like me, apparently) saw a dearth of genuinely good wine in this category and sought to change that. When I was buying wine for restaurants, the most exciting discoveries were undoubtedly the wines that worked as “glass pours”—not just financially, but qualitatively. I wanted every single glass of wine poured in my restaurant to have as much thought behind it as every morsel of food. And what I appreciate about Ahern’s Wonderland Project is that it doesn’t treat inexpensive California Pinot Noir as some sort of bulk-wine ‘branding’ experiment but as something to be taken seriously. This 2016 “Two Kings” Pinot Noir is best described as a wine from someone who’s tasted a lot of wine and who still believes—despite all the evidence to the contrary—that inexpensive California Pinot Noir can have real character. If you’re looking to elevate the by-the-glass program in your home, this is a fantastic place to start!
Ahern’s vineyard sources for this over-achieving Pinot Noir are both on the “Sonoma side” of Carneros: The “Kiser-Sangiacomo” vineyard straddles the Carneros and Sonoma Coast AVAs, spanning 170 acres of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Merlot planted in the characteristic silty loams of the region. Kiser-Sangiacomo fruit comprises 60% of the “Two Kings” blend, with the remainder hailing from another Sonoma-Carneros vineyard called “Sandman,” which is farmed by the Scribe winery. The wine was fermented on native yeasts in stainless steel, with about 15% of the must comprised of ‘whole clusters’ (i.e. grape bunches with their stems still attached), then aged seven months in French oak barrels, of which 20% were new.
As with his “White Queen” Chardonnay, Ahern delivers a Pinot Noir of balance and energy in the form of this 2016 “Two Kings.” In the glass, it’s a nearly opaque dark ruby with pink and garnet hues on the rim. The aromatics are a fruit-driven mix of black cherry, strawberry-rhubarb pie, damp violets, a hint of underbrush, and a hint of oak spice. On the palate it’s medium-plus in body, elegant and pure and full of energy—no sweetness or “cola” notes here, just bright, pure Pinot Noir goodness. It is ready to drink now: Serve it at 60-65 degrees in Burgundy stems alongside a nice crispy pork shoulder as in the attached recipe. This is a terrific “house wine” for those of you who have such things. Enjoy!