The Other Guys

Don Sebastiani and Sons

In the U.S. wine industry, the last year or two hasn’t yielded an overload of good news. For that reason, I was surprised the other day when a statistic jumped out at me: The Other Guys, a division of Don Sebastiani and Sons, had a sales increase of 66% during 2010.

You may be wondering, who are these guys?

The elder Don Sebastiani served as the CEO of Sebastiani Family Winery for fifteen years. He left in 2000 to start his own company, long before the family operation was sold to Bill Foley. Along with his sons Donny and August, he has created wine brands such as Pepperwood Grove, Aquinas Napa Valley, Fusée and and Smoking Loon.

Don and Sons operates in the style of a European négociant. They own no vineyards, which frees them up to pursue the best wines and juice at the most advantageous market rates. Above all, they’re committed to providing a quality product at a reasonable price.

Pepperwood Grove is a good example. The wines are straightforward, pure and elegant in texture, and frequently superior to their more pedigreed counterparts—all for $8. The Pinot Grigio is crisp, with good acidity and ripe fruit; drink it around the pool, with finger foods, composed salads or fish. The Chardonnay is medium-bodied and tart, and both the Merlot and the Cabernet have a soft texture and an engaging fruit-punch character. The real winner is the Pinot Noir—lush, silky and plump, a good match for a range of bistro dishes. Speaking as a Burgundy freak, I’d drink it anytime.

For an investment of two or three bucks more, Smoking Loon is even better. It’s not quite a “fun label,” yet the packaging is unusual and attractive (if you can’t trust a bird smoking a cigar, then who can you trust these days?). While the Chardonnay and Viognier are both solid bottles, the big winners here are the Pinot Noir and Syrah. The medium-bodied, soft and earthy Pinot is that rare beast—a low-priced California Pinot Noir with some varietal character and class. The Syrah is tart and brash, with just enough fruit to keep the wine balanced; it’s an all-around barbecue wine.

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