What do you get when you cross Helfensteiner and Heroldrebe? Dornfelder, of course! If this reads like a German joke that doesn't quite come through in translation, you are definitely on the right track. Dornfelder is a hybrid varietal native to Germany known for its dark, inky color and its ability to produce a hefty, masculine wine even in cooler growing regions. Southern California might not seem like the ideal location for such a grape since there's no shortage of warm weather or varietals that can produce powerful wines. However, the Huber family grows Pinot Noir in the Santa Rita Hills appellation, which is rather foggy, windy and even chilly by California standards. The Hubers are of German ancestry, and when German friends presented them with Dornfelder vine stock, they decided to give it a shot.
Based on the Huber 2005 Dornfelder, I'd say this was a well-gauged risk. The Santa Rita Hills AVA will ultimately be known for its Pinot and Chardonnay, but Dornfelder seems to be as well matched as Syrah, which produces very profound wines when grown in cool regions, to the area. The first thing you'd notice about this wine is that it has a proclivity to stain anything that comes in contact with it. Even the green glass of its bottle is dyed an eerie deep maroon below the neck. A little sediment caked on the bottle is fairly common, but this was a staining deposit of pigment. A similar effect could be seen in the decanter and glass, though fortunately the effect was not permanent. This Dornfelder is not so much a red wine as a black wine, and it coats everything in its path with an ominous, dark veil. The effect is similar to that of a teinturier like Alicante Bouschet, though as far as I know Dornfelder does not have dark pulp and all the pigment comes from its skins.
The impression the flavors and bouquet offered is also similar to that of Alicante Bouschet. The bouquet is very primal and grapey, with some gamey, mushroomy and floral notes present as well. The seeming viscosity of the wine in the glass is also evident on the palate; it's concentrated and thick. However, the acidity is also fairly pronounced, which prevents the wine from becoming a circus of exaggerated features. The presence of soft tannins rounds everything out, giving an integrated impression of a balanced wine. Indeed, it's delicious, though the acidity suggests it's better paired with food than without. Right now it's a mouthful of red (well, black) wine and might have a more elegant disposition in a few years. Despite its rambunctiousness, you do get a wine brimming with character and a ton of stuffing for a very reasonable price of $20, especially when 'average' Pinot Noir from Santa Rita Hills often runs about $40 (average relative to its SRH peers, though the average quality is outstanding).
Price: $20 from Huber Cellars