David White's Splurge Wines

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2008 Rivers-Marie Pinot Noir Old Vines Summa

One of my buying strategies is to look for the personal labels of top winemakers. That's why I buy lots of wine from Rivers-Marie, the personal label of Napa Valley vintner Thomas Rivers Brown.

Thomas Brown is arguably the nation’s hottest winemaker. In 2008, he made history as the youngest winemaker to receive a perfect 100-point score from Robert Parker – and he received two of them, for the 2006 Schrader “Old Sparky” and 2006 Schrader CCS Cabernet Sauvignons. The next vintage, with the same two wines, he again received two 100-point scores from Parker, and also received two 100-point scores from the Wine Spectator’s James Laube. He was Food & Wine’s “Winemaker of the Year” in 2010, and in addition to Schrader, he’s the winemaker behind hot labels like Outpost and Maybach.

Under Rivers-Marie, Brown produces excellent Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon. But his most highly regarded wine is his "Summa Old Vine" Pinot Noir, which routinely sells for high above its asking price at wine auctions.

The Summa Vineyard, which was recently acquired by Brown, is one of California's most lauded Pinot Noir sites. Planted in 1979, the vineyard is located just west of Occidental, California, about six miles from the Pacific Ocean. The grapes were used in many legendary Williams Selyem wines in the 1980s and 1990s, and Allen Meadows of Burghound once described the 2004 Rivers-Marie Summa Vineyard Old Vines Pinot Noir as "perhaps the finest California Pinot I have ever had the pleasure of drinking."

The 2008 Rivers-Marie bottling proves that the site is still one of California's finest. The wine is intoxicatingly floral and sweet, yet somehow shows elegance and restraint.

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