Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Pinot Days Post Mortem

Sunday I attended the 3rd Annual Pinot Days festival in San Francisco. It was a beautiful day, and I arrived early for the two hour trade tasting which was a relatively tranquil experience. For the first hour it was wonderful to slowly go from booth to booth, talking to wine makers and tasting wines in a leisurely fashion. As they got ready to open the doors to the public at 1 pm things got progressively more and more crowded and by 1:15 I was OUT OF THERE.

So here are a few observations of my Pinot Days experience. I felt like I learned a lot about regional pinot differences, about some of the stylistic choices that the folks who craft wine are making these days, and have bad news about pinot noir under $20, I'm afraid.

1. Excellent pinot noir under $20 is a rare, nearly extinct species. That's the bad news. The good news is there is very, very good stuff to be had between $30 and $40. For the cost-conscious drinker out there, this leaves you with a few options. You can either give up pinot noir (which I don't recommend), or decide to splurge every now and again on a bottle that's between $30 and $40. Drink a few more varietals that are easy to find for under $15 and you've earned yourself the more expensive bottle. Eric Kent's Russian River Valley Pinots, for instance, are simply out of this world for between $30 and $40. I tasted some 2006 barrel samples that will have me signing up for their pre-release wine club, since I'm already a big fan of the chardonnay and the syrah.

2. Something wonderful is happening with pinot noir on the Sonoma Coast. I'm not just saying this because it's where I happen to be at the moment. Tasting the Peay Vineyards, Hamel, and Fort Ross wines side-by-side was exciting and revealed that the Sonoma Coast wines seem to have distinctive notes of earth and mineral along with sour cherry and a silky texture. The cool growing climate, with its marine influences, makes for winning wines. I find them complex and appealing, and this is an AVA to get to know better if you have been a fan of Oregon pinots and would like to try something new, or if you would like to venture forth from Russian River pinots.

3. Pinot Noir growers and makers are passionate about what they do. To talk to a winemaker like Peter Rosback of Sineann, Kent Humphrey of Eric Kent, or Bob Riskin of Lost Canyon about their winemaking philosophy and how they carefully craft their pinots is like taking a master seminar. Pinot growers and pinot noir winemakers seem to have a special vocation, and are able to weave together tales of soil, geography, hang time, weather, and fermentation until you can almost see the grapes growing and the juice flowing into the vats. Pinot noir and a strong sense of place go hand in hand, and only add to the mystery and the seductiveness of this grape varietal.

I'll have some proper tasting notes and winery profiles in the weeks to come, but if you have a chance to go to the upcoming Pinot Days event in Chicago you certainly should. It's a great event, and a great way to experience a dazzling array of pinot noir wines.

12 comments:

Richard A. said...

I am a big fan of Pinot so I look forward to your tasting notes and winery profiles!

JB said...

Ah, I wish I could have been there. Sounds like a fantastic way to spend a Sunday. Interested to hear if you encountered any great producers who don't have distribution? Though, if you did, they are bound to be snapped up from the exposure at this event.

Dr. Debs said...

RichardA, they'll be up soon. I tasted a lot in the $25-$50 range, rather than the really high end stuff, so hopefully these wines will be within the realm of possibility for most reasons, even if only for a special occasion wine. And JB, I've got some names for you. I'll send you them off line!

winedeb said...

OK Dr. Debs! I will be taking notes on your recommendations because these guys are out of my price range. But before I purchase for that special occasion, spending that much money, I will check with my notes from you. What a way to spend a Sunday!
Happy 4th of July!

Richard A. said...

One of my favorite Pinots that is $20 or under is the Paraiso Pinot Noir, Monterey County, Santa Lucia Highlands. The 2003 was superb Pinot, very Burgundian.

farley said...

Dr.Debs--
You should have hopped on the ferry and come visited me at Rosenblum. Ah,well. Next time.

Richard A. said...

Dr Debs, did you try the 2003 Fort Ross Vineyard Pinotage? I was surprised to see on Vinography that this wine, a Pinotage, was at the Pinot Noir festival.

Dr. Debs said...

OK, Wine Deb--I understand. There are some good splurges out there, to be sure. Thanks for that tip, Richard. I've not had that wine but will certainly look for it. I did taste the 2003 Fort Ross Pinotage back in March. It is a wonderful wine, full of blackberry, coffee, and chocolate. At $32 it isn't cheap, but it is very high quality and I'd spend that much on it for sure because it was so rich in varietal character. I'll be doing a winery profile on Fort Ross next Friday. Not wines under $20, but very good wines. Just so you know, there were folks pouring varietals other than pinot--cabernet, chardonnay, pinotage. Strictly speaking not allowed, but no one seemed to mind! And Farley, I'm hoping to get down there to see you this summer--with or without the ferry!

Robert McIntosh said...

In Fort Ross' defence, at least Pinotage is a 'descendant' of Pinot Noir (being a cross with Cinsault)

I read about this anomaly at the tasting on Peter May's Pinotage Club blog (http://pinotageclub.blogspot.com/) who was also excited to see Pinotage rate highy at such an event

How was your trip to the UK Dr. Debs? Wet?

Richard A. said...

I love South African Pinotage. I actually tried to order the Fort Ross recently but my local wine stores could not get it. I will be very interested to read the Fort Ross review next week. Thanks Debs.

Dr. Debs said...

Hi Robert and Richard. Robert, thanks for that oenology fact which I didn't know. And I didn't mind the different varietals that cropped up here and there--it was ok by me! And my trip to England was earlier in the month--the hot and dry spell--so it didn't even rain when we went to Bath. Richard, can you order direct from Fort Ross? Maybe you can even buy some and get them to hold it for a month or two? Robert's lucky, he can get his hands on Diemersfontein Pinotage, which was like drinking a double espress with your wine. Over here, the varietal is less common.

Richard A. said...

Sadly I am in Massachusetts where it is very difficult to order wine directly from a winery. I have had a little better luck with wine stores in CA, so I may need to try that route.