Leese-Fitch Pinot Noir Is Unmistakable Bargain

Leese-Fitch Pinot Noir, 2016
13.5 percent alcohol content
California, $13.99

Leese-Fitch Pinot Noir, a light, dry red wine with layers of complex fruit flavor, is good to drink any time of year.

Normally, I would have mentioned the sale price at the end of the column, but I want to encourage some followers to read on, those who lose patience after a line or two if they think the suggested retail cost is too high.

The Leese-Fitch line of wines is produced by 3 Badge Beverage Corp. and August Sebastiani, a fourth generation vintner whose great-grandfather started the Sebastiani family winery in the early 1900s. Samuele Sebastiani was a stone mason who came to California from Tuscany in 1895 and settled in Sonoma County.

Samuele prospered carting cobblestones to the ferry bound for San Francisco where they were used to pave the streets. He saved enough money to buy winemaking equipment, but he didn’t give up his day job right away. He hauled the wine along with the stones around in his cart and sold it to friends and fellow tradespeople.

Over time, Samuele bought land from the Franciscan monks, and the Sebastiani family winery was born, the company’s website says.

For many years, the Sebastiani winery was known for jug wines until August’s father, Don, moved the family business toward producing varietal and higher-end wines, eventually starting Don Sebastiani and Sons and producing a wide range of good, affordable wines.

While working in the family business, August began making his own wines and venturing into the spirits business. After buying the old Sonoma town fire station and converting it into a winery, August changed the name of his business to 3 Badge Beverage Corp. The name represents the service badges worn by his grandfather, who volunteered to fight fires and raised the money to build the station; his father, who was a volunteer firefighter at the station, and August, who served as a city council member in the building while city hall was being refurbished.

“All three of us worked in a public service capacity (within the fire station). It’s a very important part of my family’s history, and one I’m proud of and happy to share at every opportunity,” August said during a 2017 interview in Spirited Magazine.

The labels on the Leese-Fitch line of wines pay homage to the history of Sonoma with its name and with drawings of some of the city’s historic buildings.

Jacob P. Leese, who built the Leese-Fitch adobe in 1836 on the town’s plaza, was a merchant and early settler in Sonoma. He married the sister of Gen. Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, the founder of the town of Sonoma. The adobe was operated as a store until Leese sold it to his wife’s sister and her husband, sea captain Henry Fitch in 1849.

The front label of the Pinot Noire bottle honors the 1850s Toscano Hotel, while Cabernet Sauvignon, the other Leese-Fitch wine I’ve tried and liked, sports a drawing of the San Francisco Solano Mission, the 1823 structure across the Plaza from the Leese-Fitch adobe.

For the Leese-Fitch Pinot Noir, August Sebastiani blended 82 percent Pinot Noir from vineyards in the northern part of the Lodi region with 10 percent Barbera from Paso Robles and small parts of Valdique (a red wine grape) and Zinfandel. The result is a balanced wine with aromas of crushed pomegranate, fresh cherry and graham crackers, flavors of sweetened cranberries and blood orange and a finish with notes of nutmeg and vanilla, the tasting notes say.

Sebastiani recommends trying the wine with roast chicken or pan roasted vegetables served over brown rice and topped with pecorino cheese. It’s also a fine match with grilled scallops served with beurre blanc sauce, and it’s good to drink on its own or with appetizers.

Check out Leese-Fitch Pinot Noir. It’s widely available in New England, and it’s a bargain, even at the full price.

Note: For years, my wife, Sandy, and I have relied on the Lonely Planet guides to lead us on our travels.

Lonely Planet’s Food imprint has come out with a beautifully illustrated new guide to wineries called “Wine Trails: United States and Canada.”

In the Lonely Planet tradition, the book is full of photos and great descriptions of small, off-the-beaten-path wineries and their surrounding areas. It also includes recommendations for nearby bed-and-breakfasts, inns and farm-to-table restaurants.

Vermont represents New England, and along with a handful of the state’s other distinguished vineyards, such as Shelburne, Lincoln Peak, Snow and Putney Mountain, Barnard’s La Garagista vineyard gained a spot in the book. Owners Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber have been making world-class wines for a few years using organic and biodynamic growing methods on their Mt. Hunger Road farm and have received international praise for their efforts.

The book recommends making an appointment for a tasting or signing up for one of their tapas or dinner events, and I do too. The tradition of fine food and wine they established in their Woodstock restaurant continues on their farm.

Suggestions of wines in the $10 range are always appreciated. Warren Johnston can be reached at raiseyourglassofwine@gmail.com.

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