WHAT: Sometimes when you see cases of low-cost wine stacked in a wine shop or a grocery store, you worry that the wine might not be very good.
Some of those wines aren’t very good, but often you can get a very nice wine for not much money. Mark West pinot noir is one of those wines.
It has been one of the top-selling wines in the country for many years because when people try it, they like it. I often shy away from low-cost Pinot Noir, because it is a difficult grape to grow and a difficult wine to make well. But I love this wine.
Pinot noir grapes are delicate, small and thin-skinned, so they require special handling. The folks at Mark West have found a way to source good grapes from throughout California and produce wine in such volume that they can keep the price low.
The wine is a beautiful, bright cherry red in the glass with pleasant cherry and strawberry aromas with hints of spice. This is a very approachable wine, full of ripe fruit and soft tannins.
It has a great, silky mouthfeel with tastes of plum, strawberry, cherry and cola. The taste lingers pleasantly in your mouth. The tannins balance the ripe fruit perfectly, so this doesn’t become one of those unpleasant California fruit bombs.
The quality was helped by the great 2013 vintage, which saw ideal weather all across California. The grapes came from some of the best cool-climate regions such as the Sonoma Coast and Santa Lucia Highlands.
The wine starts with 90 percent pinot noir, then adds complexity with 6 percent syrah and 4 percent petite sirah.
After harvesting the grapes at night and during early morning hours the winery gently crushed the grapes before fermenting them in small stainless steel tanks. Daily punch downs helped extract maximum flavor and color from the skins. After a light pressing the wine was aged in French oak (35 percent new) for 10-12 months. Then the individual lots from each region were blended into the final product.
This is a great food wine, as well as a nice easy-sipping wine to drink by itself. It also would be great with the Thanksgiving turkey or ham.
WINERY: Mark West has been making popular pinot noir for nearly 40 years, buying grapes from prime vineyards around California. The winery started in 1978 with the goal of making quality wine at an affordable price.
The winery has never tried to produce super premium wines with high scores from the critics, or wines that need to be cellared for years. They have always produced good wines that people can enjoy now. Their slogan is “Pinot for the People.”
The winery went through hard times and ceased production until Derek Benham of Purple Wine Co. bought it in 2001. He rebuilt the brand and then sold it to Constellation Brands in 2012. Benham gained fame with Blackstone Winery, starting it on a shoestring and building it to an industry giant before selling it to Constellation for $144 million. He found similar success with Mark West.
The winery also produces California chardonnay and region-specific pinot noir from Russian River Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands and Carneros in California and Willamette Valley in Oregon.
GOES WITH: The Mark West pinot was a perfect pairing for pepper stew, a dish my mother and grandmother used to make. They used only green bell peppers, but I have added red, yellow and orange peppers to make it a bit more mellow. It is like a stew made of stuffed peppers.
With lots of tomatoes, ground beef, rice, onions and peppers, this stew needs a wine full of fruit to balance out the piquant flavors. We especially loved the way the stew seemed to draw out the cherry flavors in the wine.
This is a versatile wine and would pair well with grilled salmon, a juicy cheeseburger or Thanksgiving dinner, which often is a difficult meal to pair with wine.
Here is the stew recipe:
5 bell peppers
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 onion, chopped
3/4 cup uncooked rice
3 (14 ounce) cans tomatoes
Water (fill 5-6 tomato cans)
1 can tomato sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Beef broth, optional
Slice the tops off peppers, remove seeds and stems and clean well. Mix ground beef, onion, egg and rice in a large bowl. Using your hands squeeze the mixture until it is well mixed. Put the beef mixture in the peppers, attaching the tops of the peppers with toothpicks.
Place the stuffed peppers in a Dutch oven or large pot. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, water, salt and pepper. May add beef broth for more flavor. Simmer for about an hour, until peppers are soft and beef is done. Serves 8-10.