Unusual Marin County reds, perfect for an unusual year

“All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray,” goes the 1960s Mamas and the Papas song “California Dreamin.”, that song was written in New York about being nostalgic for California’s mild fall/winter weather. It doesn’t feel so ironic now, not after a month of ashy dreariness.

Marin’s viniculture industry is in flux. Kastania Winery (on the Sonoma/Marin border) recently sold, Pt. Reyes Vineyards was up for sale, so was Devil’s Gulch Ranch, known for its Pinot Noir in West Marin. Even the 50 year old Pacheco Vineyards is now selling most of their prized Cabernet Sauvignon fruit, and rumor has it that McEvoy (the largest producer of Marin County wines) is scaling back that Marin County wine program.

But not to worry, the California we know and love is coming back, and leading the charge are a host of Marin County winemakers thinking outside the Marin County pinot noir box. For your drinking pleasure we have included a roundup of some of the most interesting red wines available, just in time for October. All are made with Marin County fruit or by Marin County winemakers, and in some cases, both.  

2018 Regular Fellows Red Blend (85% Montepulciano, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Primitivo), 13.5% ABV, $36

This brand new release by ace red wine specialist Patrick McNeil of Nicasio includes well integrated tannins, dark chewy fruit, and well balanced acidity. Regular Fellows is anything but, and might be one of McNeil’s most delicious wines, ever, and that is saying quite a lot. Using Marin fruit; Montepulciano from McEvoy Ranch and Cabernet Sauvignon from Pacheco Ranch, along with a dash of hot weather Lodi Primitivo thrown in for good measure, this wine is sure to please. Only 85 cases produced so get some before it’s gone. Home delivery is available as are mix and match six packs. www.winesthatdeliver.com.

2014 McEvoy Ranch, Red Piano, Syrah, 14.1% ABV, $45

The first vintage of McEvoy’s Red Piano to crack the 75% varietal threshold and thus be labeled as a Syrah. The rest of the blend is a well-kept secret, but since it’s a Marin County appellation (and in California 85% of the appellation must be present) one could deduce that McEvoy’s own Montepulciano, Pinot Noir and/or Refrosco play a part. Loamy, dense, velvety, and rich, this wine was barreled for almost two years, exhibiting the oaky undertones one would expect from that. 275 cases produced. www.mcevoyranch.com.

Non-vintage Sean Thackrey Pleiades XXVII, Red Blend, 14.4% ABV, $25

Is it Syrah? Sangiovese? Mourvèdre? Barbera? Carignane? Petite Sirah? All of them? None of them? The equally eclectic Mr. Thackrey is not telling. This multi-vintage, multi varietal cult loved blend is now on its 27th version. Originally Pleiades’ bottle read Bolinas, then Sebastopol, it now seems California will have to suffice, although Thackrey himself is firmly ensconced in Bolinas. Still delicious in a delicate Côte-Rôtie sort of way (viognier, a white grape, is a classic addition to their Northern Rhone wines there in France, and is probably part of this blend too) Pleiades might be one of the brightest easy drinking red fruited (raspberry, strawberry etc.) wines that there is. And at $25, it is a real bargain too. thackreyandcompany.com.

2017 Orsi Family Vineyards, Sangiovese, 13.8% ABV, $28

The vineyards might be located in Dry Creek Sonoma, but Bernard Orsi has been a Tiburon/Belvedere fixture for most of his life. Sangiovese (blood of Jove) is perhaps most famous as one of the primary grapes in Italian Chianti. However, it is equally vital to Super Tuscan blends as well as Brunello. Orsi’s California version is lighter and more fruit forward than its Italian cousins. Still very dry its fruit component leans more toward red fruit, rather than black fruit. If Sangiovese doesn’t float your boat, Orsi bottles an astonishing nine red Italian varietals total. Maybe one of them will. orsifamilyvineyards.com.  

2015 West of Temperance, Aglianico, 13.5% ABV, $46

The little town of Bolinas (pop. 1600) has more than enough room for two fabulous red varietal winemakers. West of Temperance’s Brian Ojalvo did spend some time as Sean Thackery’s assistant winemaker, and some of that comes through on his varietal choices. Aglianico? Really? Earthy, leathery and uber acidic this wine is the perfect palate cleanser for a fine meal. Decanting is almost a must, but once you start drinking it, the bright cleansing acidity makes it very hard to put down. Only 22 cases made. The 2016 version is rumored to be 14.5% ABV and should be available shortly. westoftemperance.com.