When a Private Label Wine under $20 wins 99 Points

The North Coast Wine Challenge counts among the most serious wine competitions in the United States. Open to any wine made within the vast North Coast region, this year a surprising contender appeared. “This wine came within one vote of being the best of the best in the competition. Very unusual for a private label,” said Barry Herbst, Bottle Barn’s longstanding wine buyer. He added: “but we have some good connections here, being around for 32 years.” 

The wine was the 2021 Barn Raiser Pinot Noir Russian River Valley from Bottle Barn’s home county of Sonoma. It garnered Double Gold in the Challenge and counted among the top ten best values at only $19.99 a bottle. The winemaker for this special bottling done for Bottle Barn remains a carefully guarded secret. Barry told me: “What I can tell you is that this is the press juice” from a Pinot Noir that usually costs $75 a bottle. A great value indeed for when you order wine online

The Wine: Why It’s So Great 

“The blend of vineyards are from very well-known Russian River properties. The wine is finished in a portion of new French oak barrels,” Barry told me. 

New oak barrels play help shape the flavor and aroma profile of Pinot Noir. When wine is aged in oak, several key interactions occur between the wine and the wood, leading to changes in its sensory characteristics. Oak barrels impart flavors to the wine through the extraction of compounds from the wood. These flavors may include vanilla, baking spices (like clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg), caramel, and butterscotch. Oak may also impart floral notes, like violet or rose, as well as herbal or earthy aromas. Tannins from the oak wood add structure and mouthfeel to the wine. Finally,  the minimally porous oak staves allow for a small amount of oxygen to enter the wine. This slow oxygenation can softens the wine's tannins and enhance its aromas, leading to a more complex and balanced wine. 

The Russian River Valley AVA, located in Sonoma County, California, has garnered worldwide acclaim for producing some of the finest cool-climate wines in the United States. Its terroir, characterized by a unique combination of soil, topography, and climate, shapes the distinctive characteristics of its wines, especially Pinot Noir. 

Russian River receives strong influences from its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, which moderates temperatures and creates a cool, foggy climate. This overall coolness is ideal for growing cool-climate grape varieties such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which thrive just as they do in Bourgogne. The fog that rolls in from the coast helps to retain the grapes' natural acidity, contributing to the region's reputation for producing wines with vibrant acidity and balanced fruit flavors. 

Bottle Barn and the North Coast Wine Challenge 

As noted by the Press Democrat newspaper, Bottle Barn not only offers superb value with its private label wines, locally made, but also sells as many North Coast Challenge winners as possible. “It’s one-stop shopping for people, and they can see everything we’ve got,” Barry told the reporter. Clients appear at the door “as soon as the list is published trying to get their hands on the winning wines.” 

“Some years there’s been a line out the door,” he said, especially if it’s a good value wine, like the year a budget friendly pinot noir took top honors. This year, that good value wine is Bottle Barn’s own product. 

Pinot Noir is a favorite. Berry said last year Bottle Barn quickly sold 30 cases of the winning Vaughn Duffy Pinot Noir after the competition helped put the small Sonoma Valley producer on the map.

“That’s something bigger retail outlets can’t, or won’t, do,” pointed out the Press Democrat. 

The Wine Challenge also provides an opportunity for local and national wine sellers to discover new offerings or producers. A true expert who curates the Bottle Barn catalog, Barry also served as a judge at the Wine Challenge, which uses blind tastings to evaluate the wines. 

So, whether it’s the fabulous Barn Raiser Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley or any of the other thousands of wines Barry and his team have selected, be sure you will encounter great quality and superb value when you buy wine online from Bottle Barn!

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