WineInk’s 2018 wine of the year: AldenAlii | AspenTimes.com

WineInk’s 2018 wine of the year: AldenAlii

Convivial. It may not be a word often used in a wine column, especially one designed to honor a Wine of the Year designation. But it instantly came to mind when I thought back to the midsummer luncheon winemaker Dan Kosta hosted at Aspen's Ajax Tavern for the AldenAlli wines that he makes in partnership with his friends, Emeril and Alden Lagasse.

Beneath a sky alternating between sun and rain and sun again, Kosta regaled the attending guests from the local wine community with his stories, his wine and his warmth. It is something that comes naturally to Kosta as he travels the country, pouring and promoting his wines. His first label, Kosta Browne, became not just a cult sensation but a game changer for the way we think of pinot noir, and eventually led to a sale that made Dan quite comfortable, if you know what I mean. It also gave him the means to pursue his latest endeavor, WineInk's 2018 Wine of the Year, AldenAlli.

It is a ritual for publications and wine writers to offer up "best of" lists as the year closes. I used to eschew the concept as clichéd and self-serving, but a few years ago I began the process of actually looking back over my previous 50 or so weeks of columns and saw that there were people and wines that deserved to be recognized again. Last year it was a winemaker from Washington state, Gino Cuneo, who endeavored to make a delicious wine using the Italian appassimento method, the only domestic winemaker that I know of who does so. The year before it was winemaker Gianluca Bisol, who had resurrected a long-forgotten grape, dorona, on a Venetian island and not only made spectacular wines but also created a destination resort surrounding the ancient vineyard.

The point is, the Wine of the Year is about not just the wine, but the character of the people who make it. Hence this year's selection.

Dan Kosta, who grew up in Sonoma County, is the walking, talking personification of a rags-to-riches wine story. He was a sommelier in the famed John Ash & Co. restaurant in Santa Rosa when he and his co-worker and friend, Michael Browne, decided to pool their tips to make some wine. In 1997, they had raised $1,400 and bought a half-ton of pinot noir grapes, enough for 24 cases of wine and a hand-cranked destemmer/crusher. Eight years of work later their eponymous Kosta Browne pinots received adulation, high scores and, in 2011, was named Wine Spectator's Wine of the Year. Dan and Michael eventually sold the label to an investment group and it is currently owned by the Duckhorn Wine Co.

AldenAlli, Dan's second act with New Orleans super-chef and good friend Emeril Lagasse, has an unusual name. It is a conflagration of the first names of the pair's wives, Alden being married to Emeril, and Allison, now the former wife of Dan Kosta. There are currently three AldenAlli wines in the marketplace, a pair of pinots and a zinfandel. If you happen to be in New Orleans at any of the Lagasse restaurants it is a perfect place to give them a try. Like the aforementioned Kosta Browne wines, the biggest problem with a the AldenAlli wines may well be finding them. I was in a Montecito, California, wine shop recently looking for a bottle and was told, "We sell out almost as soon as we get 'em in." It's a nice problem for a winemaker.

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Of the three wines, any could be designated as the as Wine of the Year. The two pinots are extraordinary, but I particularly like their third wine, a Limerick Lane Zinfandel. Made by AldenAlli winemaker Shane Finley from fruit grown just outside of Healdsburg at the Bilbro family's magnificent vineyard, this wine is lush, powerful and fruit forward with a mouth feel that is velvet.

But as good as the wines are, and they are fabulous, it is Dan's story of generosity that prompted my selection this year. You see, Dan has been a board member of Lagasse's Carnivale du Vin, a wine and culinary auction which, over the years, has raised millions for the city and various charities. This year it became personal for Dan. When the fires raged through California wine country last November, he was one of those who lost a home in Santa Rosa. When confronted with tragedy, Dan turned the convivial spirit that is a trademark of his personality into a way to connect and help Sonoma rise above the circumstances and despair.

Dan, who had moved into a 40-foot trailer in the aftermath of the fire, spoke with Emeril and the pair came up with an item for the auction, a party at Dan's new abode. Under the "Fund-a-Need" moniker, $500,000 was raised from the auction and was distributed to the Napa Valley Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of Sonoma County to aid in recovery efforts for the families, wineries and hospitality workers affected by the wildfires.

His efforts are worthy of raising a glass. A glass of AldenAlli, the 2018 WineInk Wine of the Year.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at malibukj@aol.com.

Where to buy …

AldenAlli wines can be found at the following local establishments

Local Spirits – 435 E Main St., Aspen

Pinions – 105 S. Mill St., Aspen

Steakhouse 316 – 316 E. Hopkins Ave., Aspen

Free Range Kitchen and Wine Bar – 305 Gold Rivers Court, Basalt

Sopris Liquors and Wine – 1026 Highway 133, Carbondale

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