Ken Volk’s 2005 Negrette and Open That Bottle Night

We’ve always loved Open That Bottle Night (which happens the last Saturday of February). And we’ve always loved Kenneth Volk’s wine – in fact, he was one of the first wineries we featured. So it seemed only natural this past Saturday to pick one of Volk’s that we have been sitting on for a while – his 2005 Negrette.

Never heard of negrette? According to Jancis Robinson’s site (scroll down), negrette is a “speciality of Fronton near Toulouse producing supple, perfumed, wine for early to medium-term drinking.

So what did we prepare on this special occasion? A Coq au Vin with a marinade made with a lesser brand of cabernet.  We flambed it and the whole nine yards. So how was the wine?

We opened it an hour before serving and we’re glad we did. The wine was ruby in color and had a delicate nose of earth, blackberry and a touch of oak that was a seasoning instead of a mask. By the time we poured and sat down, the wine had opened beautifully into a work of art. The wine was more about texture – balanced and silky, not bad for 14.4 percent alcohol. The fruit was still there and there were hints of licorice and blueberry towards the end. The acids were perfect with food and the finish was long.

We had purchased the 2005 vintage from the tasting room several years ago. The 2007 vintage is available now and tastes good. We want to get another bottle or two for cellaring. It’s that good and worth the wait.

Oh, and the chicken was pretty tasty, too.

Kenneth Volk Negrette – Tasty and Odd

Courtesy of Kenneth Volk Vineyards
Courtesy of Kenneth Volk Vineyards

Negrette is a true Oddball Grape if ever there was one. It’s not seen that much outside of France – or even within France.  It is a French grape, but if you’re going to find it, it will be in the southwest of France, in the Toulouse region.

Kenneth Volk’s negrette has the deep red, almost black, color of a syrah. The nose has cedar, earth and dark fruits similar to blackberries. This is a textbook example of that perfect balance of acids, tannins and alcohol that create a whole that is better than the sum of its parts. The finish lasted a good 15 seconds after we decided to swallow it.

The tannins were drying and could easily withstand a year in the cellar, in spite of negrette’s reputation as a wine best drunk young. The flavors can stand up to cheeses – we tried some yellow cheddar – and we can’t wait to enjoy it with Brie spread on a good baguette with some dried salami on the side. But a steak might be too much for it and it would be a shame to miss the fruit.
The negrette seems to be available in the Kenneth Volk tasting room but if you call the winery, they might ship it. It’s worth hunting for.

From Whence Comes the OddBallGrape

Ken Volk doesn’t know this yet, but in a way, he is a major inspiration for this site.  The president and director of winemaking for Kenneth Volk Vineyards, Volk has a long history of experimenting with grape varieties that no one else has even heard of, let alone tasted.

Ken Volk with his negrette (Photo courtesy of Kenneth Volk Vineyards)
Ken Volk with his negrette (Photo courtesy of Kenneth Volk Vineyards)

Some years back, when Volk was still at Wild Horse, the Paso Robles winery where he made a name for himself, there was this little red called blaufrankisch.  Most folks were a little wary of it.  We dove right in and discovered what a joy trying something really new and different can be.  Ever since then, finding those odd ball grapes has been one of our passions.  And when this site came together, it seemed only natural to name it after that passion.

Volk sold Wild Horse in 2003 and the next year bought the facility he has now in the Santa Maria Valley.  His first wines under his namesake label rolled out in 2006.

Mike’s first experience with the Kenneth Volk product occurred as the last stop on the bus tour from hell.  Anne was working.  The weather was beyond miserably hot.  The wines at the other wineries were all over-oaked.  And the rest of the winemaking club was cranky, to say the least.  But Volk not only took the time to talk to the group, the wines (13 different bottles) were a revelation.  Pinots, cabs, chards, maybe even a negrette or a tempranillo or something like that.  Mike didn’t take notes that day.  But it was an impressive tasting both in terms of the scope and the really good flavor.  When the wine tastes that good at the end of the day, you know you’ve got something special.

We also recently spoke with Volk at the Family Winemakers event in Del Mar, California, and yes, he will be producing some blaufrankisch starting as early as this year.

“I’ve got an acre and a half of blaufranckisch, which I’ll be getting a crop off of this year,” he said.  “It was a graft that I did last year, so I expect it to…  I’ll probably get two tons of it this year.”

But we’ll still have to wait another couple years or so before anything gets bottled and/or released.

But what drives his interest in different…  Okay, odd ball grapes?

“There’s so many interesting grape varieties out there that have interesting flavors and unfortunately, the industry is dominated by a handful of them,” Volk said.  “Every year I try to do a new variety I’ve never done before.”

Negrette (photo courtesy of Kenneth Volk Vineyards)
Negrette (photo courtesy of Kenneth Volk Vineyards)

And we’ll be featuring his negrette and his verdelho over the next few days.  You can find out more about Volk and his winery at his website,