Holiday entertaining is not far off: It’s time to start building a shopping list of wines. Echelon offers surprising values from top vineyard sites in California.
Brand: Check out the Echelon label from California for high quality, affordably priced reds, especially Pinot Noir sourced from top growing areas.
Background: The brand was established in the late 1990s and featured the wines sourced off the emerging Central Coast region of Monterey County. It was an overnight success and was widely distributed across the country, including around Metro Detroit. It was purchased in 2011 by the alcohol beverage company Winery Exchange in Novoto, Calif., which set out to revitalize the brand. The brand has two tiers: the California Series is sourced off diverse regions around California, and the Collection Series focuses on its top lots from top ZIP codes: Napa Valley Chardonnay, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
Winemaker: Kurt Lorenzi, with an impressive winemaking career that includes Chappellet, in Napa, Estrella River, in Paso Robles, and Jepson, in Mendocino, is now vice president of winemaking at Winery Exchange and winemaker for Echelon.
Wines I tried:
Echelon Collection Chardonnay Napa Valley 2010, $15: A Napa Chard for $15? Be still my heart. This beauty is so pretty — white floral notes, green apple, tangerine, ripe pear. It was fermented and aged on the spent yeast in a third new French oak barrels. The wood broadens the palate, makes the flavors more complex.
Echelon Collection Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2010, $25: This baby is a bit like classic architecture: vibrant and compelling on the outside, innovative, complex and well-chiseled on the inside. It’s not jammy, but restrained in the style of Burgundy – tart cherry, vanilla, dark plums, a hint of smoke. It’a an elegant wine, with supple tannins and crisp acidity for balance.
Echelon Red Blend 2010, $14: Another great buy. The combination is predominately Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It’s packed to the gills with dense jammy cherries, blackberries, plums, vanilla and spice. So called “Red Blends” started getting popular a couple of years ago. It’s my guess some smart visionaries caught on that Millinneal wine buyers may not know what Meritage means, or appreciate that a Bordeaux-style wine is a blend, but they do comprehend the easy words “Red Blend.” No need to bone up on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec or Petit Verdot. In fact, these new red blends jazz things up with Zinfandel and Syrah. I think you’ll like Echelon’s take on the category.
Find locally: The brand is widely available at stores and restaurants (Macy’s). Check Wine Palace, Livonia; Nino Salvaggio, Clinton Township; Champane’s Wine Cellars, Warren; Kroger stores with higher-end wine departments; Hiller’s; Busch’s.